Monday, April 14, 2014

Road Trip South

For ten years, we traveled south for Spring Break.  I miss those days.  Packing up and heading to where the sun shines is always so welcome in April.  So when Ally and I got invited by Ally's friend Sarah and her mom to visit the campus of Liberty University in Virginia we said yes.

There's nothing like a road trip.  It may or may not be all about the food as you'll soon see.  Either way, I have pictures of our adventure.

First part of the week, I went to Syracuse to speak to a MOPS group about marriage and raising kids.  I love doing this so much. The moms were eager to hear some good news - like that they will survive this season of parenting.  They will.

I stayed over and then raced up to the Adirondacks to grab Ben.  I figured he may as well take a look at Liberty too.  And I wanted to spend some more days with him.  Because I'm his mom.  And I miss him.

I saw a tip about packing I decided to give a try.  Since six of us were cramming into a seven passenger van, we were politely asked to pack light.  The tip was to put each outfit into a large ziploc baggie and coordinating jewelry in a smaller one.  Take a look.
 It totally worked.  I squeezed 4 outfits, 4 pairs of shoes, my toiletry bag and a few other things into a medium sized bag.  I'll be doing this again.

After one hour of driving (phew!), we were hungry for breakfast.  Everyone around here stops at Krispy Kreme.  It just so happens Drew's dorm is minutes away.  Coincidence?  I think not.  He had a few minutes before his first class, so came down and had a donut with us.  I just never get tired of seeing all three of my kids together.

The picture on the right is of our Liberty crew.
After awhile back on the road, it was time to introduce Ben to the movie Frozen.  Can you believe he hadn't seen it? 

A quick stop for gas is where I saw these giant pickles.  Thought they reminded me of Scott and me.  Sportly and Sassy.

 Or maybe not.

We also ate at Chick Fil A and Sonic.  You have to when you're down south.

The campus is gorgeous and huge.  I don't want to admit to how many times I got lost. We enjoyed some beautiful warm sunny weather and loved seeing some pretty colors too.
Of course, we technically were there to check out the college.  Ahem.  This is convocation.  Chapel.  Thousands of students gathering to worship and hear the Word of God preached.  It was quite something to take in.  I loved it. We ran into many of the kids friends.  It's always fun to see familiar faces.
We attended many admissions sessions.  Eventually I lost interest (shocking) and took to people watching.  Scott would have lasted much longer. This guy in front of me clearly had checked out as well.  I wanted to know what he was listening to in the worst way.  Ben wouldn't let me ask.  On another note, aren't these the cutest sandals?  Pre-birthday gift.
We also got to go to a football game on campus.  It was exhibition but still fun.  And one of us won a free t-shirt.  They were being thrown into the crowd.  I didn't exactly catch it, but it was coming straight for me when the dude in front of me snatched it right out of my hands. Not cool.  I think he felt badly about it because he turned around and gave it to me.  As he should have.
A bit of an over-smile but the kids make fun of how I smile in pictures. They yell at me and I get nervous.  Then this happens.  They might need a spanking.

Saturday morning we awoke to my birthday.  No big deal, of course.  I met the kids for breakfast.  The food on campus was pretty good.  Resident students say it's always better on College For a Weekend.  Works for me.  Had a custom made veggie omelet.  
Then Ally wanted to take some selfies of us.  This is the new thing in case you live under a rock.  Kids don't make or buy you a card anymore.  They make a frame of pictures and post it on instagram.  I'm not complaining - I got one from each of my kids and I loved all of them. 
Scott was kind enough to give me some pre-Birthday love letting me have some gifts in advance like the much anticipated new MercyMe Cd.  He rocks.  Scott, that is. Well, the CD does too.  You'd better get it.  You won't be sorry.

Still, it was kind of weird being away from home and away from him and Drew for my birthday.  These two sillies made up for it. 
 Not too old for a little cuddling on mom's lap.  Actually, it was kind of painful.  One of them is very boney in a certain area.  Not mentioning any names.
I guess they are not too cool to still walk like this with me too.  I like that.

It was a great weekend.  I don't know if either of them will end up at Liberty, but I sure liked checking it out with them.  I thought they might ditch me for all the fun and for the students they roomed with.  So I was quite surprised to get lots of time to hang out with them. I thanked God for each moment.

All good things must come to an end and  I was ready to get home to Scott.  Later that night I read one facebook message after another and found a stack of birthday cards waiting for me.  I thanked God for giving me a beautiful life.  I'll never run out of things to thank Him for.

And now we have begun Holy Week.  The last days before Easter. We have so much to celebrate.  I'll have more to say about that.  Stay tuned.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Panama Ben

Proud mama moment  - please welcome my guest blogger, our son Ben's summary and insights from his mission trip to Panama.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Panama, what a trip, what an experience. As my mom said on her blog, I am “a missions trip junkie.” Therefore as soon as I heard about the sports trip to Panama I wanted in. At first it was easy to sign up, pray about it, and get excited. Then it came time for writing support letters and facebook posts asking for support through prayer and finances. Prayer is normally easy to get, yet financial support is tougher to receive. Especially considering that many supported me a year ago, giving me the opportunity to go serve and minister in the Dominican Republic.

So I sent out my letters and prayed for God’s will in regards to my participation in this trip. In the beginning I hit almost half of my support fairly easily, but then for at least a month I did not receive a penny. I got a little nervous and antsy, wondering if this trip was a part of God’s plan for me. So I continued to pray and put my trust in God’s plan. Then within a month through a couple of generous donations I hit 100% on the dot. Wow! What a blessing and literally it all came in a week or so before my parents were looking to support me and figuring out how much they could give. Boom, God provided all my financial support even before my parents could try to support me. But this is not the end of it, I received a few letters and wa-la I had over $100 in spending money! It is just humorous to think I was worried about God providing for me to go on this trip. Ye of little faith, God provides, what a blessing.

Next thing I know we are having weekly meetings for Panama.  They started as short meetings after class with brief overviews of our trip and reminders to send out support letters. Then they became hour long meetings on Mondays, with details of the trip, and laying out of everyone's role on the team. My role was to be apart of the “choreography routine,” because never ever will Word of Life endorse “dancing.”

So a few days before the trip we received our shirts, gear, evangelism tools, etc. Then after lunch on Thursday we turned in our packed bags and took our last test. Then at 3:30 am Friday morning we hopped in our Trailway bus on our way to JFK, where we then flew to Miami and finally  on to Panama City. We arrived in Panama around midnight and drove to the Word of Life property to sleep, and then the trip began.
Right away we got into the thick of ministry. Everyday started with quiet time, when we could dig into God’s word and talk with Him through prayer in order to get our hearts right. Then we would eat breakfast and pack up the bus for a full day of ministry. 
Just about everyday in the morning we would go to a either an orphanage or typically an elementary school, where the kids typically wore uniforms. We would then set up the puppets and get in costume for our “choreographed dance.” My costume consisted of: long, blue cargo capris; a brightly colored, light blue polo, with a brightly colored red hoodie vest over the top it; and bright yellow, knee high socks. Then to top it off, I picked out my hair, wore a visor, put up my hood, wore trippy glasses, and had a black tooth (made by putting eye liner on my tooth), not to mention make up with freckles. 
Our presentations normally consisted of a juggling clown starting us off, followed by at least three songs by our choreography team. Followed by the puppets who sang a song and the story of the Good Samaritan, and then we would sing “How Great is Our God,” the chorus in Spanish. The gospel would then be presented with the help of the wordless book and we ended by handing out wordless bracelets to the kids.

Next we would go back to the Word of Life property to eat lunch and swim in the pool as a part of what you could call a siesta. On occasion we would go to the beach for lunch and try our best to get tan, however most just got red.  Close enough I guess. If we ate lunch on property we would then help do some chores around the property until we would play soccer around 3 or 4. 
Depending on the day we would have either a club or school team come to our property or we would travel to their field. Each game was a full length game, mostly without refs depending on the game. Then at the end of each game one player from our team would share their testimony and then the director of Word of Life Panama would give the gospel and an invitation for salvation. 
After a day full of ministry we would return to the property for dinner, where we were always provided with a Panamanian soda! The soda was delicious and came in glass bottles.  It was pretty classy. Then we would clean up dinner and meet together as a group to talk about the ministry of the day. This was a time that we grew closer as a group as we were able to encourage each other, tell of our individual experiences, and talk about things that God has been teaching us.
Near the end of the week we got to play basketball after the meeting, which was awesome! After all the busyness it was then relaxing time, until we all took cold showers and headed to bed. This was a regular day in Panama.
Now this is all good and dandy, but you are probably wondering how I was affected and what I learned, so here it goes…In retrospect, I thought I had a good handle on missions and thought I could do it with my own strength based on my previous experiences. Yet after each missions trip I always feel weak and realize it is by God’s grace that I can be used for His work. 

Each missions trip is different and each one brings new challenges. The challenge for me on this trip was trying to prove myself. I mean this in the least arrogant way, but generally I have a solid reputation and have heard lots of compliments from my participation on previous missions trips. Therefore I felt and realized that I was trying to impress the team leaders and the team. How foolish! It is God who worked through me in the past trips, so why would I try to impress others with “my achievements”?  God really convicted me to that I need to point the glory to God and not seek the applause and approval of others. As well as trusting in God for strength, where I can be used more effectively?

Another lesson God taught me on this trip was leadership. I was not in a leadership position, but through the leadership of the team leaders and the leadership of the missionaries we worked with, I learned a lot. In Panama, Word of Life is very understaffed and is in desperate need of young workers to continue the work into the future. Yet the director and his wife never seemed to show worry about the current state of their ministry. Rather they were casting a vision for future ministry and being proactive in looking for new ways to reach the Panamanian people. How cool is that? They have put their full faith in God to provide for their current ministry and are striving to be used in bigger ministry in the future. That is true leadership, trusting God with your ministry and laying down a vision to lead your team into the future.

Lastly, I learned from the leaders of our trip, Matt and Micah Melville. They challenged me as a man and in my leadership throughout my life. One night Matt called us all out about shaving and how we need to pay attention to the little things. As Jesus talked about in Luke 16, regarding the shrewd manager, and said, “Whoever can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much.”  I was convicted about my faithfulness to the small responsibilities I often neglect. How can I expect to be used by God with big things if I am not faithful to the small things He has given me?

This next picture is of a cross that sits on top of one of the mountains we hiked up.  When we got there we could carve our name on the cross.  To be there forever.  It was really cool.
Thank you all so much for your support!! God is good and I am so blessed to have gone to Panama on my fourth missions trip. The global church is alive and well. Our Lord desires to use us for His purposes, we just need to be willing and open to Him. God does not require the talented, rather He just requires a willing and open heart. The workers are few, but the harvest is plenty. 

Thank you for providing for me to go to minister in Panama and be involved in God’s work there!! I learned so much and have memories I will never forget. I learned and experienced so much and just wanted to give you a taste of what you allowed me to participate in. God bless you!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Seafood Enchiladas, Wedding Shoes, 2 Great Sermons, Airflight Tracker....In Short, My Weekend

Monday again.  I see the sun.  I know Spring is on its way - it has to be - it's March 24th!  Still, we woke up to a dusting on the ground and just had a brief squall that dumped some more white on my brown yard.  Not cool one week from April.  Oh well, now the sun is back out so I thought I'd write while I'm in a good mood.  Anyone else notice how the weather can change a mood?

So about our weekend.  In case you're dying to know what I did, here's a glimpse.  I pray I can make it brief so you don't regret coming over.

Friday I shopped for the shower I'll be giving Brittany very soon.  It was so much fun.  The lists were in action and I was cruising through them and our checking account like a woman on a mission. Nothing like planning a party.

Later that day Ally went on an outing with her youth group for the night so I badgered, I mean suggested to Scott that we hop, skip and jump down to have dinner with Drew.  I mercilessly may have pulled out this card, "Soon he won't be living just an hour from us but may move far far away and we'll only see him once a year.  Then we'll be sorry we didn't go see him more often."  He's a good egg that Scott Burtis.

Because Drew was torn between dinner with his awesome, thoughtful, fun parents and March Madness (give me strength), I promised a restaurant with tvs.  We chose a Mexican one nearby and had ordered and been brought our drinks before we realized there were no tvs.

I swear it was not planned on my part.  Seriously.  I consider it God's favor.  I have to say that I had the most delicious meal too.  While the two vanillas (clones) ordered some boring dish that I could make at home, I looked over the 254 entries and gave it my best shot to create my own.  You see, I wanted chimichangas, which they had, but none featured seafood.  Could they make a seafood one I asked?  No.

This perhaps God's favor on Scott and Drew who mocked me for trying.  Instead, the manager (owner maybe?) suggested the seafood enchiladas.  Because I am so easygoing, I agreed and oh my word, they were good.

Next we walked around the mall.  Just for fun, I thought I'd look for a pair of shoes for Drew's wedding.  God's favor again.  I found exactly what I wanted.  A friend had given me a coupon so I got them for cheap!  I dig a good deal. 
Nice, huh?  I've been wanting a pair of nude shoes and I now I can say I HAD to buy them.  Then I stumbled across this dress.  What do you think?
Is it too 80's (note the ruffle in the middle)?  I had a 20% off coupon and it was marked $4.97. Still I agonized over it because I didn't really need it.  Alas, my lifetime philosophy of how to build a wardrobe (buy cheap when you find a bargain and later you'll be glad) won out and I purchased it for a mere $4.00.  I came home and tried it on for Scott who I knew was thinking 'you don't need another dress' then I spotted a sweater in my closet the exact same green and knew it was meant to be.  My heart was at peace.

After dropping the boy back off at his dorm (and squeezing him extra tight) we made a stop at the place where the red light was on.  Just because we had to.
One of us could barely wait til we got in the car because, well, they were warm!
I didn't have one because I'm still doing January eating.  Don't feel sorry for me or proud of me, I ate enough sweet carbs in December to carry me until next year, or at least until this summer's wedding, provided I can fit into my dress.

Saturday was a fun day of visiting friends and having a girlfriend spend the night.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Sundays?  Before we went to a church where Scott would preach, we watched Andy Stanley live from his church in Atlanta.  Oh how we love Andy.   He spoke this week about Jesus healing the man born blind and everything pertaining to it.

The main thrust being that when we read the Gospels we should deliberately look for what we can learn about God, the Father because that's one of the reasons Jesus came to earth - to reveal what the Father is like.

Side note - if you're reading the Gospels with me right now, let's make that our focus too.

These nuggets stood out and are proved in John 9.
1.  God sometimes chooses to display His power through our pain.  Pain is not always a result of sin.
2.  God deals with people individually.

I came away re-energized to live in such a way that God gets glory through my pain.  As much as possible, not just the bare minimum.  This is going to require less whining, sniveling, shrinking from who I am in Christ and speaking from a place of God-confidence.  I'm sucking it up.

Secondly, I love the picture Andy painted of how Jesus could have healed people simply with his voice or in mass groups even in just one day - heal them all with one sweep of His power.  But He didn't do that.  He spent day after day ministering to the large crowds one individual at a time.  He gave each one His time, attention, and (don't miss this) His touch.  Amazing.  He is not an impersonal God.  He's not just "God who so loved the world.".  He is God, who so loved Angela and God who so loved you.

You can listen to the sermon if you click here (part 2).  Did you know I read minds?

If that wasn't enough for one Sunday, Ally and I got to hear Scott preach too.  When he was wrapping up the thought that God has works prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10), he told a story I've heard him tell many times but it hit me with fresh gratitude...and tears, of course.

He shared his longtime prayer for our kids that they would do more for God in their lifetime than he or I could ever do.  He linked the answer to all the missions trips (each are named in my last post) our kids have been on at their ages.  Good works God has prepared in advance for our kids to do.  Phew.  He is so good.

And this is yet another reason why I love church.  Sermons.  With personal illustrations.  God uses them to cheer us on and equip us for our journey, not to mention dazzle us with His greatness.  Get to church people! 

Well, this brief post certainly has gotten away from me in details (shocking!), so let's wrap it up.

Had you stopped over Sunday afternoon, you would have found me frequently checking the American Airlines airflight tracker watching Ben's plane fly back from Panama to JFK.  Cool technology, but still somewhat unnerving to see that plane and imagine your kid completely surrounded by ocean beneath him without either parent there. So grateful to get that first call hearing his voice back in the good old U.S.of A.

I will save photos for what I hope to be the next post - Ben as my guest blogger - telling you all about his trip.  Stay tuned!

I also facetimed (not a verb, not in the dictionary, please forgive) with Brittany for an hour or so.  Scott said I was being bossy as I asked questions and gave her homework that will help me complete my lists.  I asked her if she thought I was bossy and she said, "No, not at all!" with a cute laugh.  Bless her heart.  Young love.  I wonder how long I'll get away with it.  Perhaps it's time to step away from the wedding plans.

Last but not least, we watched Frozen (Scott hadn't seen it- gasp!) but what's so interesting about that? - everybody's doing it.  One of my favorite lines is (from Kristoff), "Ice is my life."  Seems to be ours too here in NY.  Let's go Spring - we're ready!

Have a great day and thanks for hanging with me to the end.

PS - speaking of March Madness, my favorite team, Gonzaga (because "that's fun to say") is out.  Guess I'm done watching.  Not that I was watching to begin with, I just asked Scott for updates.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Son is a "Junkie" Would You Pray For Him?

Please pray for my son.  He's a junkie.  A mission trip junkie that is (which is exactly how we tried to raise him) and he's hopping on a plane very early tomorrow for his 4th trip outside the U.S. 

Some years ago we adopted a family dream - to take each of our kids on a mission trip to a foreign country.  Having been a part of a church who highly values and regularly participates in missions, we have seen that dream realized. (Yay North Syracuse Baptist Church!)

Imagine our delight when our kids catch the bug and continue to pursue every opportunity to go again.  Drew, Ben and Ally's passports are filling up and so are their hearts.  To date, collectively one has been to Kenya, New Orleans and Peru.  Two to Brazil and Costa Rica, and all three to Dominican Republic. 

Can I just stop one minute and tell you how deeply grateful we are as parents that they have these experiences inside them?  It is our hope and prayer that through these trips they see with their own eyes and hearts what cool things God is doing around the world, the people God wants reached with the Gospel and how they can be a part of it - lest they think American culture is all there is

Tomorrow morning (incredibly early) this tall drink of water (a.k.a. Ben) is flying out of JFK with a bunch of Word of Life Bible Institute students to spend their Spring Break (9 days) assisting missionaries by using sports to minister to kids of all ages in Panama.  Would you kindly pray for all of them?

We are asking not just for safety, but for God to move Ben toward the things that matter to the heart of God.  For direction and calling in his career/ministry direction.  That God would use him cross-culturally to participate in His purposes for all those they will come in to contact with on this trip. That Ben and all the students would be ruined for ministry.  And most importantly, that God will be glorified in all of it!  Yesssss!

A special heartfelt thanks to those of you who have supported Ben financially, for those of you who have already begun praying and for those of you who might just add your prayers to this trip.  We appreciate you all so much.  (I almost wrote y'all, but am not quite southern enough to pull it off.) Thank you for caring for our family this way.  We are blessed!

If you want to follow his trip on facebook, LIKE Word of Life Missions Spring Break Panama 2014.  Or go straight to the page by clicking here.  Ben assures me they will update it daily.  I certainly hope so.  Mom will be checking.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Don't Be Anxious - That's An Order!

So this morning I was reading the next two chapters for my Easter reading project.  Matthew Chapter 5 was first.  As I worked my way through I thought it was a lot to take in.  The Beatitudes, be salt and light, don't be angry, don't give in to lust, mean what you say, don't take revenge, love and pray for your enemies.  How am I going to remember all that, let alone obey it?  And I still have another chapter to read today.

A little overwhelmed, I prayed this, "Lord, I want to retain all that I'm reading today.  I want it to sink deep down in.  How about if we do it this way - you call me out on anything I'm violating or not doing too well at?"

(Although sometimes painful, I'm always a big fan of asking God to correct and discipline me as necessary, lest I cease changing and growing.  And as per usual, God answers as He sees fit.)

Moving on to Chapter 6.  This is what I like to call the secret life - giving, praying and fasting in secret.  Check.  Lay up treasures in heaven.  Check.  Eye is the lamp of the body, keep it healthy.  Check.  No one can serve two masters - love God not money.  Half a check.

Then this...
25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Well.  There it is.  Talk about a prayer answered instantly.  God means business and I am immediately aware that I am living in this passage - just not the way He wants me to.  There's a strong message here for me.  You too?  Six times the word anxious appears in nine verses and God forbids it.  

While the order is direct - "Do not be anxious" - it is also tender because He understands our humanity and weakness and tendency toward anxiety.  He's meeting us right where He knows we may find ourselves.  How cool is that?

We must not miss that, in spite of us, He offers promises, not condemnation.

This is a sacred echo for me lately.  When I'm standing at the corner of Doubt and Trust - even when I haven't yet taken a step but my body is facing toward Doubt - He doesn't respond with condemnation or negative consequences. He responds with grace.  Ephesians 3:20* kind of grace.  Exceedingly abundantly more than I can imagine.

I wonder about this amazing grace. I increase my study because I fear I barely grasp its depth and that might be causing my recent anxiety.

Maybe the problem is that I think God is like me.  (Big mistake.)  I know I would grow weary of someone as needy as me.  My patience would run out.  My generosity would dry up.  I may even try to distance myself if the neediness lasts too long.

But that's not God.  There is no one like Him (Jer. 10:6).  His grace is for all who believe Him in faith (Eph. 2:8).  His love is everlasting (Jer. 31:3).  He will provide all our needs. (Phil. 4:19).  He does not grow weary of us (Isa. 40:28).  Can I get an amen?  I'm choosing to receive that today and I hope you do too.

I don't want Him to refer to me as "O you of little faith"(Matt 6:30).  I much prefer, "Woman, you have great faith!"(Matt 15:28); "Your faith has saved you, go in peace."(Luke 7:50)  "Daughter, your faith has healed you!"(Mark 5:34);  "I have not found such great faith..."(Luke 7:9).

Wouldn't you?  Jesus finds faith irresistible. As you can see above, He called it out whenever He came upon it.

But back to our concerns.  Verse 32 deserves to be highlighted, "...Your heavenly Father knows you need them all." All your needs. All my needs. He knows.

Repeat after me: I will not be anxious.  (I imagine I may have to repeat it a few times until it changes me.)  Let's link arms and walk by faith, not relying on our sight. God will take care of us.

It's an order with a promise.

P.S.  One last thing I absolutely have to point out is this.  Three out of four of those scenes listed above are exchanges between Jesus and a woman.  Woohoo!  If you've never been told how much Jesus esteems women, receive it now.  When Jesus came, He elevated women to equality with men in His sight.  He loves you and has a plan for your life.  You are never less than.  Believe it!

*"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work in us."