Wednesday, July 25, 2012

love, true love

This weekend we were at a wedding of some wonderful friends that Shawn had the honor of marrying.  Shawn takes marrying people very seriously and has turned down more couples than he has actually married. Yet the 13 couples that he has married are all still together, and this makes us both very happy.  To know that we both invested time and love into another family and then watching as they grow in love with Christ and each other is so amazing.  We take no credit for it - but we do feel a special love for those couples that we got to bond with this way.

At a wedding, one of my favorite things to do is to watch the groom. While others are watching the bride and oohing and ahhing over her dress and her beauty, I am watching the groom watch his bride.  There are many ways a groom can react - if he is nervous he may look very serious.  Or sometimes I have seen a groom look like he is about to sign his life away (thankfully not at any weddings that Shawn has done!) Usually, though, I see a man that is starting to lose control of his emotions because his wedding day is finally here and his bride is coming towards him and she is beautiful - and she belongs to him!  

JP was that way.  I am tearing up as I think about his reaction to his beautiful Jenna.  He was emotional as I hugged him before the ceremony, but he couldn't stop crying and smiling as she walked (  toward him.  They were both full of joy, but his joy was overflowing.  

That is how Jesus feels about me.  

I am his bride.  He is looking at me and smiling and loving me and tears of joy are flowing freely.  He thinks I am beautiful.  Yes, the church as a whole is his bride, but I am part of that - I am special to him and he loves me.

I often don't think of God as singing over me; as dancing with joy for me; as someone smiling a smile so big and full you wonder if his cheeks are hurting.  Yet as I watched JP look at Jenna that day, I got a very physical picture of His love for me.  

So thanks for letting us be a part of your day, Mr. and Mrs. Stoffel!  And Thank you, Jesus, for your love for me.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

surgery fun

Thanks to all of you who prayed for Shawn this week when he had surgery.  He downplayed it a bit, so people were shocked when they saw the amount of stitches he had, but he is healing and doing well.  He had surgery Tuesday to remove a tumor from a salivary gland.  It required a bigger cut than I realized.  And since the tumor was surrounding several nerves, he is still numb - like he had Novocaine.  Also, it is starting to heal inside so it is itchy, but the outside is still numb so he can't even feel when he tries to itch it!  So frustrating for him, I am sure!

The bandages make it look like he had major brain surgery - but it was just a hard place to cover! lol

Swollen from the stitches

We are headed off today to do a wedding of two amazing young people - an honor that comes in with the title of pastor!  Thanks! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Crossing Cultures

Yesterday began our journey into things unfamiliar.  Shawn and I headed up to Ausable Forks, NY (Right outside of Plattsburg, for most of you who will ask me later) and met with Deacon Patti from the St. James Episcopal Church there.  What a wonderful time we had with this amazing group of people!

Having grown up in the CMA, we are not familiar with the liturgy and form that accompanies this church.  The first time I attended a service at Oaks with Hannah and Christina I almost laughed at my lack of knowing what to do - stand, sit, repeat, answer, etc.  I felt like a little kid instead of a pastor's wife - it opened my eyes to how "real people" feel coming into church! When we were in South Sudan it was the same way.  Yes, the service was in Moru and Juba Arabic, and every once in a while translated into a few English phrases.  But the big thing was that I couldn't even guess what was being said or what was occurring because I was as unfamiliar with the Anglican church as I was the S. Sudanese languages!

A couple of years ago I blogged about our friend who is a Methodist Pastor and going to his service during the Lent season.  I wrote, "I was deeply moved yet strangely uncomfortable....and realized I do not have the whole concept of praise and worship 'down'."  As we have began attending services with our Episcopal friends, I am reminded of this once again.  Yes, I LOVE our worship teams and the music and service at Compelled on Wednesday night, but it is not the only way to worship God.  As the word of God is read and the person reading ends with, "The word of the Lord," and the congregation responds with, "Thanks be to God," my heart leaps a little.  Yes!  This is the Word of God - alive and active and real and being recognized as so.

Yesterday was a wonderful experience in this church as we were warmly welcomed, hugged, kissed, and prayed for.  We sang formal hymns and then one of the congregants from Jamaica broke out the tambourine and fell into dancing and singing - and the whole congregation with him! Then we took communion together and focused on what Christ has done for us - which ended with more tambourines and dancing!  Shawn preached for the first time in the Episcopal church, and he got "amen-ed"  more than any other church we have been at.  While I had been prepared for a more formal service, I left feeling like I had been in the spontaneous presence of God in so many ways.  

One of the perks of raising funds is the chance to speak in churches and worship with people we haven't had the chance to be with recently - or ever.  I am very much looking forward to worshiping with you all! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I think we are

It's been a while since I blogged, and I am not sure if I should apologize about that or not?  haha - sometimes my ramblings even get on my own nerves!  Anyway...

We spent last week at Delta Lake with a camp full of people who love Jesus and were (mostly) excited to hear about our heart for South Sudan.  The thing that makes that ironic is how much I struggled with the realities of what life will be like when we get there during camp this last week.  As much as I enjoyed the community of people being around constantly, there was also the reminder that, despite the fact I think I am mostly an extrovert, I still have introvert qualities - like the need for time alone to rejuvenate and recharge.  Every where I went there were people - in the cabin was the whole family plus Christina and Logan, outside was the youth tab and people walking by, at the dock were lifeguards and kids, at the main tab was people that I loved seeing and having the chance to hang out with-but still made it so no matter where I was, I was not alone.  Honestly, I don't know much about team living.  While we were visiting SS I soaked it up and kept thinking how much our whole family would love not being on our own this time.  But to have people around all the time?  Well - I guess that's where communication comes in.

And then there's the practical out-workings of things.  I was sick in the middle of the week - fever and achiness and tiredness.  I just wanted to sleep, but it was almost 100 outside, so the inside of the cabin was intense and suffocating.  I started to feel panicky as I though about the heat in SS and living in that for months at a time.  The bathroom was a little walk away, and getting the kids to and from with everything we needed was tricky.  In SS we will not have a toilet inside our house (believe me, we wouldn't want it that close!) The bugs were everywhere and in everything.  Bug spray and sunblock were our perfumes.  There was no stove and fridge, and trying to cook healthy for my family on a limited budget with supplies that I had to think about ahead of time was not easy.

And perhaps the worst part was the constant layer of dust.  Dust on dust.  And then more dust.  Even when you showered, by the time you got back to the cabin you were covered in sweat and dust again.  Sigh.  I hate getting into bed with dirty feet, but by the end of the stay my sheets were covered with a thin grey color that was on all our clothes.

What are we thinking?

Can I really do this?  My teammates, who are people I admire so much, do this each day.  They get up and walk, face the heat and dust, spend time with each other and work through those days that you just don't feel like loving those around you, forgive and move on, face languages that still don't (may never?) feel or sound familiar, improvise when the power is out or the fuel is gone, get creative when the only fresh thing left in the market are the mangoes that you have been eating for weeks...well, you get the picture.  Life is not a picnic there.

Yet if you read their blogs (you can see them on the side of this page), meet them in person, talk with them, and get to know their hearts, you see people may be tolerating the circumstances that are not always the best because they have an intense love for Jesus and the work that he is doing in their hearts and lives and the lives of the South Sudanese people. Do I have that?  Do I really have the ability to do this?

Simply put - no.

Not in and of myself.  If left on my own I will love ME most and all the time.  My needs will be met despite what happens to others; my comforts will be more important than anyone else's; I will take the easiest way for me.  That is not just talking about the heat, bugs, and dust - but in those interpersonal relationships also.  I will forge my way into my own world and ignore those around me so I don't have to face the pain, discomfort, and ugliness that comes from living daily in this broken, yucky world.

So what to do?  On our recent prayer letter I quoted from Rose Marie Miller, "Here, then is my theme:  the only hope of liberation for a helpless, resisting caterpillar in a ring of fire is deliverance from above.  Someone must reach down into the ring and take us out.  This rescue is what brings us from the orphan state into that of son or daughter.  This is not mere supporting grace, but a transforming grace."

As I think about the things that we will face on the field - those practical, daily obstacles - I simply hold my hands up and ask my God to pull me out.  Pull me out of the fire of fear, insecurity, uncertainty, hopelessness, and worry.  And as he is lifting me out, I ask for him to give me his love, peace, compassion, passion, strength, and boldness.  Yes, there will be days when I am overwhelmed and tired and ready to pack it in (there are now, even in the comforts of this clean, air conditioned, comfortable home!) But He is in control of my life, my heart, my very self.  He loves me with an unconditional, unfathomable love - and I will rest in his arms.

So pray for us as we continue to prepare to go - for His joy and patience.  Pray that we specifically start to really know how much he loves us so we can have that overflow from us into whomever we are around.  And pray for our team that is already there and making their way there even as we speak. Thanks!  

Another in the fire

Maybe you don't know what the process to move overseas is like, but there was a lot of what we thought of as jumping through hoops ...