Training leaders in the nations
I was thinking back about how, when I was a child, our family used to take road trips all the time. My sister and I would sit in the back seat, she (the elder) with her drawing pad and me with my stuffed animals, sound effects and silliness. These were the days before built-in DVD players in cars, computer tablets, smart phones, Game Boys, portable CD players and, yes, even before “Walkmans.” (Such a dark age compared to today.) All we had were road games and our imagination. And our imaginations were pretty lively.
On one such trip, us two girls in the back seat came up with a comic-strip character: Super Fuzz, a super-hero cat who could do amazing antics. My sister would draw as we developed the feline’s traits and devised stories of brave and courageous adventures. I was always writing something when I was younger…stories, poems, songs. Who would have thought back then that one my main jobs would be writing when I grew up?
We never know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future, as the cliche´goes. But it’s true. I felt like the Lord just wanted me to write an encouraging word about not giving up. We all have dreams or something we want to accomplish, whether it be getting married, having a baby or becoming a famous actor. The choices are wide open. I know we can feel trapped or limited by those circumstances and persons around us, but God has no limits or boundaries. He is outside, above and over all!
My favorite verse since I was 10 has been Phil. 4:13 – ”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Don’t let someone tell you what you can’t do, let God tell you what you can do. Keep looking for that job, keep practicing your scales, your pirouettes; keep saving to get out of debt, keep exercising and eating right. Whatever it may be, keep believing. Ask for His strength. Let your imagination run wild. You never know what the future holds. You may become a writer, a musician, a pastor, an investor, a grandma, a coach, a politician, a painter, a business owner, an architect, a chef, a father. There are so many options and phases in life.
You could even be a super-hero comic-strip cartoonist. Feed your dreams with the Word. Let God be your guide and director of your affairs. Don’t give up. Choose to be like the character my sister and I created, Super Fuzz, and have adventures and live fully.
Spring is finally here. I know some of you may still be under a few clouds and snow, but here in Florida it is sunny and in the 80s. I could not resist the warmer weather, so I took my laptop out back and sat in the shade to work. But as I determined to focus on the screen before me, my spirit was distracted by all the beauty and sounds around me.
I closed my eyes for a moment and listened. There were short chirps coming from the trees overhead, a loud blasting caw emanating from the neighbor’s yard, and various bird calls antiphonally panning from right to left. A breeze blew, ruffling leaves and swaying branches. For a moment I felt like the boy in the movie August Rush, captivated by the symphony of sounds playing in the air, hearing them rhythmically organized and articulated. To me, it wasn’t just meaningless noise, it was music—Nature’s music.
With my eyes shut, my spirit relaxed and enjoyed the spring symphony. It sounded like the birds, the trees, and the wind were all praising the Lord in one accord. I could feel my spirit rise within me, wanting to join them in song. The presence of God seemed to float through the vibrations of Nature’s orchestra, causing such peace and joy to settle over me.
I didn’t get much work done this afternoon, but the “time of refreshing” that came from His presence was wonderful (Acts 3:19). As the seasons are changing, let me encourage you to take some time to sit in God’s beautiful creation, be it in the mountains, at the seashore, in a park, or in your backyard.
“The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen.”—August Rush
Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning.” How true, how true. I am counting the days until my race this coming Sunday. I am running in my first marathon and am beginning to get a little nervous. It is an excited nervousness because I am attempting to do something I never dreamed I could do.
I never even started running until my early forties. Then I ran a 5K race just to set a goal in front of me for motivation and I got hooked. Not long afterwards I ran my first 15K, just ecstatic I finished. As I began to run a few times a week, my self-image improved and I lost some weight. I even subscribed to Runner’s World for tips, reading about trail runs, warm-up stretches, and how to avoid dogs without getting hurt. In the back of the magazine was always a list of all upcoming marathons and half marathons. I would look at all the photos from the advertisements of runners smiling and having a good time. What an accomplishment that must be, I thought, running twenty-six point two miles. So I kept thinking about it more and more. And that was the beginning of a thing—-my first marathon.
By this point I had run a couple 15Ks and was looking for the next challenge and there it was right before me, a qualifier for Boston, Chicago, and New York, right here in Jacksonville—-26.2 with Donna, the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer. I had seen it on the news for the last two years and had even run on the same road they did a few days afterwards, with the running pink ribbon logo painted on it and pink banners still in the yards. I pondered the thought, could I really do this? It’s a marathon for heaven’s sake!
After filling out the registration form online, I deleted it-—twice—- putting my laptop down each time and psyching myself out of it. I didn’t think I could do this. Maybe I could just run the half marathon. But then would I kick myself for not even trying the whole one? Well, this year I could do the half, and next year I could do the whole, I reasoned. But I am not getting any younger, so would it be harder then? I cannot tell you how many times I went back and forth in my mind, talking myself into and out of doing this marathon. Finally, I put my information in on the form, clicked the submit button and it was over. It was a done deal. I was now going run a marathon.
My official training began in August. I downloaded the guide from the internet, taped it to my bedroom mirror and rejoiced every time I could cross another day off as done. Since then I have run in the ninety degree heat, the rain, the freezing wind through the winter and even on the cement streets of Manila and through a neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have run with friends and I have run alone; up bridges and on beaches; in the morning and at night. I run. I am not very fast, but I run.
Now, I am about to get to the end of a thing-—this thing, the marathon. Only a few days are left on my training schedule to cross off and I am getting nervous. Yes, that excited nervousness like I said before. I often think of Paul’s words to the Philippians where he says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” when I run. It helps to inspire me.
So if you happen to be out near the beach on Sunday, I’ll be running. The town will be full of pink ribbons and bows. Runners will be running for hours. There will be cheers and tears and plenty of sweat. And by early afternoon, it will be the end of a thing. I can’t wait.
One of the scariest times in my life was getting into a taxi at 4 in the morning for a 3 hour drive to the airport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to leave the country and to, quite possibly, never return. Robert, Darren and I arrived in Miami without a single key in our pocket or purse; we owned nothing any longer. Just a few hours earlier we had a house, a cat, two dogs, a truck, a motorcycle, a church, a clinic and a future as missionaries in a third-world country. Now what did we have? Nothing; it was all gone. The only thing we owned now was faith.
I must say that this experience was a real faith-shaker. As Joni Mitchell wrote in a song some years ago, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” (Big Yellow Taxi), I came to realize the truth in these words. But I also knew the words of another song that says, “He did not bring us out this far to take us back again; He brought us out to take us into the promise land” (it’s old). I knew there must be a reason God had sent us off to live as missionaries, waited for us to get used to that, then bring us back to the states not knowing what or where to turn to next. Well, at least we knew Who to turn to. This was one of those life-changing episodes where my faith got tested.
I know, like you, that the Word says God is faithful and true (Rev.3:14); but mine was more of a head knowledge rather than heart. I knew He had always been faithful in my life, even to provide for us on the mission field. In many, many ways I knew He was faithful, but it was time for a stretch. It was time for that knowledge to make the long journey of 14 inches from my head to my heart. Sometimes when things are the most difficult, I feel like my faith grows more, do you? I’m pressed into God out of desperation. During this time in our lives we were desperate; we had no home, no job, no income, no future that we could see. But here’s the good part-within two weeks of stepping foot on American soil, our church and families rallied around us and we had a house someone let us live in, furniture, a rented vehicle, food to eat, and even a provision for Darren to attend a summer camp. Now THAT is God’s faithfulness!! Of course, that was six years ago and God has continued to be more than faithful to us; above and beyond all we could ask or think.
So what’s the point of this Stepping Stone? It’s a call to remember that God is faithful. Psalm 77 is a great psalm to read when we’re in the press and are wondering where God is in the middle of our difficulties. The Psalmist looks back and recounts the goodness of God in his life. I like to use this dramatic episode of my life to remind me of the past and how faithful God has been to me. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13:8); He changes not. If He was faithful then, He will also be now. He will not bring me out this far and just leave me there or let go of me to return right back to where I was. He’s increasing my faith every day, and I bet He’s increasing yours too.