Friday, November 27, 2009

I Can't Help Myself

I just can't help remembering. 20 years ago, I was sitting on a "Big Iron Bird" in the middle of a 22-hour + adventure, making my way towards my new bride-to-be and two beautiful little girls who knew me at the time as "Daddy Sam". After a summer of challenging ministry, a conviction that the Lord was changing my ministry focus and unexpectedly falling head-over-heels in love in the Philippines I returned the the U.S. with an unrelenting drive and determination that I would get back to the Philippines before Christmas. As a seminary student with no job, no house and a really, really beat up car, it seemed improbable that I was in a position to get married, let alone support an entire family, but when God opens a door he also provides what it needed once the threshold is passed!

There was quite a bit of concern that I had bitten off more than I could chew. My mentor's wife asked me with great concern in her graceful Southern Bell style, "Sam, I concerned about you Dear. How are you going to support a wife and TWO children?" I didn't know the details, but I had spent literally every day of my life since my 5th birthday praying for the Lord to lead me in my choice of a wife and now His guidance had led me to Luz. I didn't know the particulars, but I knew I would lead me step by step and He would provide the way.

My presence on the plane was proof that the Lord WOULD make a way. On the heels of returning from the Philippines, I had just raised support for a pretty costly mission trip and here I was convinced that the Lord wanted me to return to the Philippines in less than 4 months. A dear Brother from Brazil gave me some great advice - "Sam, tell the people you know what you honestly believe the Lord has done, and what you believe he is doing now. All the while work, pray, plan, do all you can, but leave the results to Him. If it's truly His will, you'll be on a plane by December." In the last week of November 1989, I was on a Northwest 747 headed for Manila. I can't help but remember how the Lord provided.

I can't help but remember thinking about those two little girls and how my dearest friends worked so hard to help me to communicate my love to them. These friends had helped me make some flip page picture books with sound for the girls describing life in South Carolina as well as helping me make some cassette tape recordings of children's stories Like "The 3 Little Pigs", complete with sound effects and supporting cast voices. Our dorm mates got more than a few laughs listening to us make silly voices and use sound effects from our record collections to simulate the Big Bad Wolf blowing down houses! I'll never forget the HUGE hugs I received from my girls when I got back to Manila and how my friends' support had helped me to connect just a little bit closer so that I could lay a foundation for the family God was building.

I can't help but remember waking up after my first night back in the Philippines in a mission house surrounded by missionaries from New Zealand who had heard bits and pieces of the story of how Luz and I met and who were so gracious in offering encouragement and support as brothers in the Lord even though we were so newly acquainted.

I just can't help but remember feeling the Lord's peace as a coup attempt erupted 2 days after my arrival and I politely declined an invitation to leave the Philippines until a "safer" time arrived. I remembered being told that there is "No safer place than the center of God's will." As planes flew overhead and shelling was audible in the distance, I knew what God was doing, and new that he would see us through.

I just can't help but remember the joy I felt as the 4 of us stood together in a Manila park and a friend took a picture of us as night fell. God had answered the prayer of a lifetime and an abundance of prayers for daily guidance, and I was right in the center of His will, enjoying the fruit of His provision.

Over the next month, I'll be sharing my thoughts of this special time of my life. Anniversaries are designed to help us to remember times of great importance and to reflect on the impact of those times on our lives. At the 20-year mark of my amazing life journey as a husband and father, I am compelled to remember a time when God blessed me in such a powerful way, that even the gleanings of that wonderful life harvest are producing more fruit than I can contain. I hope you'll indulge my testifying of God's greatness to me through this life changing time. I'm sorry, but I just can't help myself. I hope you'll remember something wonderful that God has done for you and perhaps feel moved to some spontaneous praise too! Until next time...


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The New Kid In Town

Today the Lord has blessed me to reach my 46th birthday, and I am truly happy and thankful. But even in what is considered, "middle age" I find myself challenged anew being placed once again in the position of being "The New Kid in Town". Some of you remember a classic song of the same name performed by the 70's group The Eagles. At the time that "New Kid in Town" was hot on the charts, my family was in the middle of a major move that would ultimately find us in what was to become my most cherished High School experience in Hanau, Germany. At the time, however, the move was an unwelcome intrusion on what was to me a perfect existence. My father saw my displeasure and in a move to teasingly encourage me actually bought the Eagles album Hotel California, which included the hit "New Kid". I was not amused, but my dad played that song at every opportunity and would turn up the volume and sing along every time it played on the radio - If you knew my dad, you would realize just how funny that was - but at the time, I wasn't smiling at all. I had toughened myself and steeled my will to believe that I knew all I needed to know and nobody had anything to offer my of any value in any of the places we were heading. Well, once I got to good ol' Hanau American High School, the kindness heaped on me by fellow students, the excellent education passed on to me by the teaching staff and the amazing Military community in which we lived softened my heart and taught me that being the "New Kid" on the block can open up important doors of perspective and teach lessons that are sometimes more difficult to learn in familiar environs.

Now that I am approaching one month of service in a new ministry setting, I am finding that the Lord has once again placed me in a position of being "The New Kid" and is calling me to be still and allow Him to teach me important truths through the freshness of a new setting. As we arrived here in Racine, I quietly wondered if my breadth of ministry service and experience had hardened me beyond my ability to respond to things I knew should touch my heart and lessons I knew the Lord would teach. A series of events this week, reassured me that my heart was not yet beyond reach and my brain was not hardened to God's efforts to teach. As our senior pastor preached a powerful message on Philippians 4 about the importance of learning the secret of contentment, I felt something welling up within me and spilling out from me that I had feared I had lost the ability to produce - tears. Not tears of sorrow, but tears of affirmation, that a deeply held truth that had been confirmed by God's Word and found a place of conviction within my heart.

Last night as I began to consider my approaching birthday and my mother's selfless and tireless commitment to make me a man who stood for good, the tears were back. Again, not tears of sorrow, but tears of gratitude for a life well-lived and an example that continues to shine in the hearts of those who knew Georgia, even as my mother's earthly lamp has been extinguished for over a decade now. Then this morning, as I returned from delivering Joana to school, the worship song "Shout to the Lord" came up on the play list and tears of joy came to my eyes as I was reminded of past times I had heard that song and the ways in which I have seen God faithfully work over the years as that song has been sung and we served with it as our soundtrack.

I am convinced that the new setting has made me open and sensitive to humbly listen to what the Lord is saying and to allow Him to teach me and touch me in ways that can sometimes be harder to achieve when we are in familiar territory and feel we have it all together. Therefore, I'm sharing the present with you I believe the Lord has given to me in my 46th year of life. Isaiah 43 puts it this way:

18 "Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.

19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.

God has a mighty way of transforming a place that seems impossible to navigate or find your bearings into a new and living way that transforms, inspires and restores. You may not be the new kid in town, but God surely wants to do a new thing in your life today. Don't fight it. Let the joy come and let the tears flow and allow the Lord to teach you new lessons that will change your life and the lives of others. Until next time...