Even in the darkness, I will make the choice

Being part of this moment in time in a place that is experiencing so much pain and loss and at the same solidarity and fortitude is an amazing thing. And though it might sound strange, I am thankful to be a part of it.

I’ll be honest…when this thing started it was up north and I didn’t think too much about it. I did think the few people in town with face masks were exaggerating a bit. But I don’t think I was alone. I don’t think anybody could have imagined 4 weeks ago what was coming.

But then schools closed and we all started paying more attention to what was happening and how quickly it was happening. Every day there was a new decree, limiting our mobility more every day, until we arrived at the only acceptable reasons to be outside were to go to the pharmacy or the grocery store or walk your dog. Over the last few weeks life has become claustrophobic…and most of us don’t have a yard to which we can escape the smothering walls of our homes.

Down south we have watched reports in horror of the heartbreaking tragedy that is occurring in the devastated north, while our own numbers continue to rise. Gurneys with the sick fill hospitals to overflowing capacities. Because there is no more room for the sick many are at home without medical treatment. People are dying alone or with only strangers surrounding them. Caskets fill cemeteries and crematoriums, waiting for burial or cremation. It is horrific and heartbreaking. And it would be so easy to give in to the fear that rages outside the door. To be quite honest, the last week has been the hardest so far. Not so much with keeping fear at bay but with coping with numbers that refused to quit rising, I have had an overwhelming sense of sadness.

A song my friend, Jennifer, wrote several years ago has been on repeat in my mind in these days. The song was originally written after she and her husband lost a close friend, and I find the words to be like balm to my hurting heart, reminding me of God’s greatness, goodness, steadfastness, and nearness. The title is Grief, and below are some of the lyrics.

Sadness is everywhere Anger fills our souls It seems more than we can bear And we’re losing control It’s not the end of the story There’s so much more of it to be told Somehow You’ll use this for Your glory You won’t leave us wounded, jilted or alone Life is so fragile It’s here and then it’s gone But we can’t be fearful This world is not our home So we will be glad We will rejoice Even in our darkness We will make the choice To live in Your love Your comfort and peace Until we are restored And death has met defeat

Even though there is sadness and grief, there is hope. We don’t have to welcome in the fear that is knocking on the door. How can we have hope when everything around us reeks of fear and chaos and sadness and loss? My response is similar to what I told my son a few nights ago when he asked why God would let the Coronavirus happen or when my daughter confessed her fears. We remember that God is who He says He is. The Coronavirus has not changed Him. He is good and He has a purpose. He holds all things in His hands. We put our hope not in doctors and governments and face masks, but in God, who is in control of it all.

So on those days when the sadness is overwhelming, I will let myself feel that sadness and I will grieve the incredible loss of life. But I will also cling to the hope and rest I find in Christ, remembering in whom I find my joy even in the midst of sorrow. Even in this darkness, I will make the choice to live in His love, His comfort and peace.

Lyrics used with permission from Jennifer Smith.

That Day We All Became Homeschooling Parents

Today’s post contains musings, thoughts, and insights into what has become our new normal for the foreseeable future. This is NOT a list of “How to’s” for surviving the Coronavirus. It’s meant to make you laugh, or at a minimum chuckle, and at some points to make you think, at least at a minimum. It is not something that will ever get picked up by TGC, Acts 29, BlogHer, or any other website. It is a bunch of random thoughts after 15 days of being inside. So for your reading pleasure, I give you a list of musings, thoughts, and insights…

1. I wonder if all the homeschooling folks out there have chuckled a little bit as all the parents in the whole world (an exaggeration, I know, but it’s close to accurate) who said they would/could never homeschool their kids have become homeschooling parents over night. We should all have shirts that say “Never Say Never!”

2. Trying to not go Ape Crazy on the kids/spouse. This is a hard one at times. Perhaps for you it is trying to help your kids with math but you have zero idea what Common Core math is so you teach them to carry the 1 because that MAKES SENSE. Things that make me want to acutally go Ape Crazy are 1. Schoolwork that won’t upload or download 2. I cannot understand Lil’ Paul’s homework (Italian) 3. Google translate is zero help with before mentioned Italian homework. 4. Kids constantly fighting (there are times I feel more like a WWE referee than a mom, but a referee that gets taken down in the middle of the fight). There are more, but nobody needs to know everything about me and my inner Ape. What can one do to keep the Ape inside and calm the angry beast down? Well, my inner Ape responds well to Paul giving me a “your inner Ape is rearing and you need to get it back in its cage” look; music by Shane and Shane (I know they’ve been around forever but with harmonies that are crazy (not Ape Crazy) good and actual biblical truth in their songs most of their older music is better than other people’s new music); praying; working out; reading my Bible consistently and not just when I’m having a bad day; finding a quiet spot for a few minutes; remembering God lovingly responds to me in grace and the inner Ape does NOT respond gracefully – it’s sin-filled ugliness and needs to go away. If the inner beast then is a manifestation of my sin, the goal isn’t to pacify the Ape and keep it at bay by throwing it a banana every once in a while, but for the Ape to cease to exist. This is only possible by looking more and more like Jesus every day (sanctification) so that eventually there is not a beast that needs to be pacified. This is one reason praying and reading the bible consistently is essential. The Ape needs to die.

3. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the freebies people are posting. It is amazingly awesome all the things schooling websites, zoos, museums, Mo Willems, and a host of other people/organizations are offering for kids and adults alike right now. But I’ll be honest, it has also made my head swirl. We just pick a couple and stick with them until we get bored. The ones we most enjoy at the moment are artforkids.com and Mo Willems, and I now wonder why it took me so long to be able to draw a few shapes, connected with some lines, add some witty dialogue and boom! Kids book done. Oh, that’s right, the creative side of my brain doesn’t really know how to draw without a how-do guide.

4. Make a schedule. This is so helpful, and I’m not sure why it was Day 13 before I thought to do it. Don’t be like me. A schedule is something we can control…but not really. It gives us the illusion of control. Sure, we can make a color-coded schedule and hang it on the fridge for all to see but everybody actually sticking to it (including its maker) is another thing, right? See, you might be in control of making that fancy rainbow colored schedule and perhaps even a bit in keeping to it but you can’t control all aspects of it. Just like we aren’t really in control OF ANYTHING. It’s an illusion, which is the first lesson the Coronavirus has taught us, right? But God being in control is not an illusion. The God/man who calmed the waves and rain and wind … he doesn’t need things like rainbow colored schedules. And that, in a time of chaos and confusion, gives peace and calmness. But go ahead and make the schedule because it helps you and your household stay sane and know what the day should look like even if the day doesn’t stick to all the colors of the rainbow colored schedule.

5. Call, text, email people. I’ll be honest, at the beginning of all this I thought it’d be hard but not so bad that I would find myself crying in the kitchen in the afternoons, frantically trying to get some Shane and Shane turned on. It’s the isolation from people that’s the hardest, even though I am constantly surrounded by three people. Constantly. Surrounded. By. People. I call or text an insane amount of people every day…or so it feels. We are beginning to crave interaction with other people and phone calls and texting and zooming just don’t feel the void quite as well as face-to-face interaction. God did not create us to be islands. We were created for relationship, foremost with Him, and then one another. There’s a reason it was not good for Adam to be alone. As hard as it is for me, I am reminded that I have my family, who I like as well as love the majority of the day. But we have teammates and friends who are single. As hard as the isolation is for us, it’s harder for them. So call, text, email, zoom, skype, FaceTime…do all the things to help others feel connected and not alone.

6. Endless Amounts of Time With Kids/Spouse. At the beginning of all the lockdowns, this sounded awesome. Finally, you can do all the things that you’ve wanted to do together. Then reality hits. Your boss expects you to maintain normal work hours while simultaneously homeschooling/refereeing your kids/entertaining your kids/making three meals a day/cleaning up after the three meals a day. You are busier than you thought you’d be. But, take time for the family. Or if you are single, take time for yourself. Play, create, be silly, go on an in-house date, laugh, read together. Do do the things you always wanted to do, but let’s go easy on ourselves. Let’s pick one thing and actually do that one thing. Then another and another. Let’s stay off social media and Pinterest that can make us feel less than because we aren’t doing all the things that others are doing. We have time, yes, but let’s make sure we are purposeful with our time.

7. Getting ready for the day is now optional. Where do I even begin with this one? Showering every day? Nope. I count it a win if my teeth get brushed and I can remember to put on deodorant. I repeatedly find that I wake up in the same clothes I had on the day before and quite possibly the day before that. My husband is thrilled with this new development in my hygiene. Kids want a pajama day? Why not? yesterday we did school as Star Wars characters, which was actually pretty awesome and highly recommended. I don’t recommend the lack of hygiene that I am currently displaying. On the days when I have actually put on something other than workout clothes or jogging pants or pjs I feel so much better. Even if I know I’m only going to see grocery store workers or the other three people in my house, putting real clothes on helps the psyche so much. Even if you are business up top and pjs on the bottom for a business call or church or just talking to your momma, make the effort. In other words, don’t be like me.

8. Dance. Have a good ole dance party. Why not? Turn on some Prince and dance likes it’s 1999. Let your hair down and your inner Justin Timberlake or Shakira out for a bit. It’ll make you feel tons better because there is no way you can get your groove on to your favorite jam and not feel better. Better yet, choreograph a dance, send it to your closest friends (those that WON’T post it to social media without your consent) and challenge them to a dance off. I tried to get Paul to learn the “I Had the Time of My Life” dance from Dirty Dancing but he wasn’t so keen on the idea, even after I proved to him that I already know about half of it from memory.

That’s it. That’s my huge, long list of thoughts, musings and insights. Perhaps my writing will become more regular now that I have all this free time on my hands…oh, wait, I forgot for a moment that I am now homeschooling two children so never mind. I don’t have time to write and you, being a homeschooling parent now as well, don’t have time to read it.

A couple of questions

How do you know if you have made something into an idol instead of just being really passionate for/about it?

It’s a good question, and a friend asked it to me about a month ago.

I’d been thinking about idols in my life for about a month prior, which stemmed from another conversation with two other friends.

I was reminded in that conversation that God is a jealous God. I once heard Oprah say something along the lines that she didn’t want to serve a god who was jealous of her. That is decidedly not what God is saying to us. He is not jealous of us but for us. He wants all of our hearts, not half or three-quarters. All. of. it. He is to be our first love and our greatest affections are to be for Him. And if we ever give something else that love and affection that He only deserves, we should never doubt that He will remind us of it. (For an example, please see the entirety of  Israel’s history in the Old Testament.)

I go back to the first question…had I made this thing in my life an idol or was I just passionate about it, as Jesus was passionate over Jerusalem?

In all honesty (and as you can probably guess) I had made it an idol. But how did I know?  Well, first, people I loved and respected and who always, always, always point me to the gospel, spoke truth in love to me on the issue. They listened to me speak about said thing and then spoke wisdom into the situation, encouraging me to seek the Lord about it, which leads me to the second thing I did to discern whether or not the thing had become an idol. It perhaps sounds cliché, but I prayed about it. And in the end, I realized that the thing was receiving more affection than God.

But again, how did I know that? In this case, when I was asked to possibly give up the thing I said “No.” And not a calm, nice kinda “no”. It was a screaming, kicking kinda “no.” And it was really loud. I said “No” for months until my friends lovingly pointed out my sin to me.

I was so close-fisted that I wasn’t even open to God’s leading or instruction. I put my desires and wants above God but also above the welfare of my family. I was holding on really tightly and I refused, absolutely refused, to open my hand. We have a saying where I come from that says, “She’s as stubborn as a stick in the mud.”

Yes, that would be me…a stick…stuck in the nasty, smelly, yucky mud of sinfulness that was idol worship.

The point of this whole thing is two-fold:

  1. When we are close-fisted with things we better start asking if we have made them into idols.
  2. My repentance and confession and therefore better relationship with Jesus would not have happened had my friends not lovingly spoke truth and wisdom into the situation. The keys to this are LOVINGLY and TRUTH. Nobody will hear us if we speak truths unlovingly. At the same time if we say untruths lovingly we haven’t pointed them back to the true gospel.  In order to do both of these things we should look to the founder and perfecter of our faith, Christ Jesus, and follow his example, seeing confrontation as good and necessary. Loving, gospel-centered (and therefore, truthful) confrontation led me to see my close-fistedness with something in my life that is actually a very good thing, realizing I had elevated it to a status more important than God. As a result, after confession and repentance I was able to put it in its correct place.

I end not with the question with which I started but rather, “Who do you have in your life you lovingly point you back to gospel-centered truth?” I hope you have someone, and if you don’t, I hope you will find someone.

 

For our good

Due to an upcoming oral procedure, Gingernut had to have some blood work done a few days ago. To say it was not fun is an understatement. She screamed and cried as soon as she saw the rubber band that would go around her arm come out. From there it was downhill…and it was a long hill. I’ll save you all the horrific details but in all the commotion there was a lot of illogical thinking going on in her 9 year old brain, such as “Mommy, if I do it then I get to punch you in the face,” and “They’re taking all my blood!!!”. After many long, painful minutes and me and one nurse holding her down while another nurse drew the very small vial of blood (not the huge one that she would lead you to believe had been taken), the deed was over. But it came with some a lot of tears, anger, confusion, and complete meltdowns – both from Gingernut and myself.

Gingernut could not see how having blood drawn is ultimately for her good. All she could see was the immediate pain it caused her. In the thick of it all, we are like that…we only see the immediate. But when we can’t see how suffering or disappointment or pain is for our good, what is our response?

I admittedly fail to respond in a way that reflects what I believe about God. “Life” happens and suddenly I forget that God is faithful and good and trustworthy. I forget He is near and present, instead ignoring Him as though He were something familiar that I pass by on the street everyday, like a lamppost or a mailbox. I forget in the midst of all that life throws at me that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light” and I try to carry heavy loads on my very weak shoulders. I become illogical believing lies about myself and God.

But what should our response be when life says, “I’m gonna draw some blood for an unknown reason that won’t be made known to you for a the unforeseeable future…or ever?” When everything is turned upside down how should we respond to God and then to our situation?

When God tells Abraham take everything he owns, pack it up, and head out to a land that He would show him later, I wonder what he thought. All we are given in Genesis 12 is, [s]o Abram went….” We are not privy to his thoughts here or even when God tells him to take his son (the son that would be his heir and make him a great nation) to the top of a mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. Thoughts, no, but words and actions, yes. His response when Isaac questions him about where the lamb is for the sacrifice is, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

Faith.

Abraham responded to God in faith. In Hebrews we learn that by faith Abraham obediently left his father’s house to go to a place that was to be his inheritance, not knowing where. By faith Abraham offered up Isaac considering “that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”

Abraham perhaps couldn’t see how going to an unknown place or sacrificing his son was for his good (and God’s glory) but he did it. He did it trusting that God is God and although his circumstances were perhaps unclear to him, God was not.

When we can’t see how something is for our good and God’s glory, it’s ok. Guess what? We don’t have to know. We aren’t even owed that knowledge. But we can rest easy. We can relax. We can breath deeply. Because the One who holds all things together…He knows and He wasn’t even surprised it happened.

Surrogates

Sunday night Gingernut and one of our teammates daughters had their first dance recital. It was spectacularly wonderful. Gingernut radiantly beamed as she performed the moves she had spent months rehearsing. I was filled with emotion and pride as I watched her every move across the brightly lit stage.

It is things like dance recitals and soccer games that make you miss having family around. I saw grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins…all for the other dancers. As we stood in line outside the auditorium, waiting to run like we were in Pamplona about to be trampled by bulls all in efforts to get good seats, I saw one-by-one different people from our community arrive to see two little girls dance.

And I was overwhelmed. These weren’t just teammates and friends but my community – my extended family.

I just read an article on The Gospel Coalition that addressed the number one why missionaries leave the field. In a nutshell, it’s the people they work with – their team.

I’ve seen how not having a team is not beneficial – we weren’t meant to work in silos. After all, no man is an island. Our biblical example is that we work with others. From the beginning God saw that it was not good for man to be alone.

However, being on a team does not automatically mean that you have community and will work together to achieve the same goals. Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen a sports team NOT work together? I spent an entire year watching Lil’ Paul play soccer on a team in which every kid played individualistically. They all wanted to win but they all wanted to be the one who scored, going so far as to steal the ball from their own players during games. Yes, it was sometimes quite painful to watch.

I’ve also seen and been a part of teams that not only work well together but have community, and it is a wonderfully, beautiful thing. There is the sharing of burdens and cares, laughter and fun, tears and hugs, conflict and resolution. What emerges from it all is a surrogate family.

I saw this play itself out Sunday night, as surrogate aunts and uncles gave up an evening of rest after a long day to cheer on two little ballerinas as they danced across the brightly lit stage.

Truth and Love

Truth.

Love.

Two very good things, that are very often separated.

A while back – like well over a year ago – my good friends/mentors/truth-tellers/pointers-back-to-the-Gospel, etc. Vince and Sharon clued me in on the fact that I am a glass half empty kinda gal. I was shocked and appalled. Nope. No way. I have always seen myself the other way – with the glass being half full. What they meant was that I am more of a realist than my glass-half-full-hopeful husband. I finally accepted the truth about it, acknowledging that once again Vince and Sharon were 100% correct.

What does any of this have to do with truth and love? Wait for it…I’m getting there.

Fast forward to a few months ago….After a somewhat painful conversation, I realized and truly understood for the first time that I am blunt. Shocker, I know. I am quite straightforward. But in my defense, so are all my close family members so I come by it quite honestly. To-the-pointedness, bluntness, straightforwardness – whatever you want to call it – is all fine and good unless it is done so with no kindness or love or understanding or any combination thereof.

One guess as to whether I was communicating things lovingly….

Keep fast forwarding to a few weeks ago….As I worked my way through Abide: A Study of 1, 2, & 3 John by Jen Wilkin, I was once again hit with the truth and love thing. There it was…glaring at me from the page…daring me to skip over it without reflection and prayer.

And this is what the reflection and prayer has awoken me to: because I live in a half-glass-empty realist world I can tend to communicate things in manner that does not consider the person sitting across from me. Depending on who that is, my communication can be seen as unloving and uncaring…even if it isn’t meant that way.

It’s all fine and good for me (or you) to be a truth-teller and to be to the point in that truth-telling. HOWEVER….it MUST be accompanied with LOVE. We must not only know ourselves and how we communicate but how the person across from us receives communication so that truth can be communicated clearly and LOVINGLY.

Does that mean holding my tongue sometimes? YES! Does that mean I have to think before I open my mouth all the time? YES! Does it mean that I have to have a filter? A resounding YES! Does it mean that I must actually think about the other person above myself? YES! YES! and YES!

It is in these moments that I sit in wonder and awe and gratitude for the Gospel and the grace and forgiveness I find there. I rest in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit reveals my sin in order to lead me to acknowledgement and repentance of that sin. His work does not stop there but continues to draw me closer to Him so that I look more like my Creator, in whose image I was created in and am to reflect…and I’m pretty sure He speaks in truth and love.

2 John 1:3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

 

Home

Home…

That word has become relative to me in some ways.

As a child, my home was with my parents and sisters and brother in McAdams, MS. It was a picturesque home from my point of view. The house was and still is surrounded by green fields that once housed cows and horses and the occasional goat that thought it was a cow. The house itself was filled with everything most houses with four children are filled with…laughs, yelling, games…and probably lots of clutter to my mother’s chagrin.

Even when I left home to go to college and then graduate school, the red brick house on a hill remained home. And to a degree is always will be.

After I married, home also became Ruston, Louisiana. My in-laws welcomed me into their family with open arms, as did the rest of Paul’s family. Their easy ways, huge and lingering hugs, and incredibly sweet dachshund, Abbey, endeared Paul’s parents to me from the time I first stepped into their house.

We spent the early years of our marriage bouncing around. We lived in so many different places (TX, VA, Italy), sometimes for a few weeks and sometimes for a few years. But it wasn’t until we settled in Winston-Salem, NC that I felt like we had found a place that we could make a home together and not worry about moving for a long time. We bought a three bedroom house with green siding and black shutters. There was large yard for the kids to play in and blueberry bushes lining the driveway. We opened our home and really learned what it means to live life with people. We shared meals, sipped coffee, cried and laughed with people who transitioned from people I barely knew to friends to family. And though we had put down roots and were settled in Winston, God had other plans. We were to move yet again. It almost goes without saying that leaving this home was one of the most difficult goodbyes we have made thus far in our lives.

We now live in Salerno, Italy. We have returned to the place that has held our hearts for so many years.  Over the last two years our two bedroom apartment, with its covered terrace and broken tile in the dining room and kitchen, has become home. We find ourselves living life much the same way we did in Winston – with many people coming in and out of our house, sharing meals, coffee or tea, and their lives with us.

We have spent the summer traveling to all our different homes, enjoying every single minute of it. But it isn’t the houses or towns/cities that we have been in that have made it home. It’s people. The relationships that we have with people from Texas to North Carolina will make each of those places home as long as we know them.

However, my heart longs for my home in Salerno. It longs for those people that I share my life with there. And when I am there, though I am “at home”, I will long for the people I once shared my life with on this side of the world.

He’s Still Working on Me

I spoke, when I should have been silent. It was a situation in which I had the opportunity to extend grace and understanding but instead allowed my pride and hurt to win and thus overshadow the gospel being lived out in the situation. I did not heed the Holy Spirit’s leading. I followed my own path and in doing so caused hurt to others. I paid no attention to the verses I had recently memorized…

Psalm 141:3-4 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil…”

Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

After reflected on the words I had spoken, guilt set in. I realized I had spoken words that should not have been uttered. I showed no grace, no forgiveness. And worse of all, I had memorized words but had not allowed them to penetrate my heart and transform me.

I had to examine my heart, which can be an incredibly painful process when we are honest with what we find there. What I found was ugly and dark.

One of two things could have happened at this point: 1) I could have wallowed in the guilt allowing it to eat away at my soul OR 2) I could ask God to forgive me, ask those offended and hurt to forgive me, and walk in the freedom that forgiveness and grace bring.

Honestly, I sat in the guilt for a few minutes before I cried out for forgiveness from God. And an extraordinary thing happened when I did…peace began to enter my heart and take the place of the ugliness and darkness of sin. Once I had asked forgiveness from those I hurt, peace reigned fully and relationships were restored but not to the previous status. I believe to an even higher one…one that is more grace-filled, understanding, and mindful of each other.

A childhood song came to mind during these two days and I kept singing it over and over to myself…

“He’s still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me”

Praise God that He didn’t create us and leave us alone. Instead, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:4-6)

 If my sanctification is a result of my efforts I will come up short every.single.time. I will fail. I will never look more like Jesus. But God, in his loving kindness sent Jesus to die for me and the Holy Spirit to renew me. Not only that, but we have the hope that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

That’s good news.

35 and counting

Well make me a cake and put a big ole 3 and 5 on top, ’cause today is my 35th birthday!

Please make it a cake without icing – preferably a buttermilk pound cake with a chocolate glaze. But I’d be happy with anything…as long as it is made in a bundt pan and comes with a chocolate glaze. Thanks.

Thirty-five has been looming in the darkness, just around the corner creeping ever closer, rearing its head and laughing at me every time I celebrated someone else who it had attacked.

Getting older is scary stuff. Wrinkles, cellulite, grandma hands, not being able to look at bread without gaining 5 pounds, and just the knowledge that I am getting older…it all scared me.

But that was then and this is now and I am not so scared anymore.

I’ve learned something in the last year. With age comes maturity, wisdom, not being defined by the world, and knowing who I am. I hope these things will increase with every year I gain.

I’ve been reflected on my life at different stages and how much I have changed…

The 5 year-old MacKenzie was a care-free kindergartener who spent her free time playing hide-and-seek and hanging from trees. She pestered her brother and spied on her older sister. She spent every Friday night with her grandparents watching TGIF and Baywatch and Miami Vice (apparently her grandparents left the room at some point). She loved being outside playing with her imaginary friends under the gumball tree pretending she had run away from home and “driving” the tractor with her dad. Her dad was her hero. Her mom was the most beautiful person she knew. She really had no worries in life.

The 15 year-old MacKenzie was painfully introverted. She had no idea who she was or where she belonged. She loved learning, especially science and English. She played in the band and took piano lessons. She skipped school the first day of turkey season to hunt with her dad in the morning, plant the garden after lunch and then hunt in the afternoon.  She fancied herself an athlete, although she wasn’t super great at it.She wanted to be part of the “crowd”, to fit in, although she never felt like she did, but she had a close group of friends whom she felt comfortable around. Her dad was still her hero even though she didn’t like all the rules that were handed out. She had no idea how patient her mom was with her through the painfully awkward teenage years.

The 25 year-old MacKenzie had moved away from home and was living in Texas. She was an almost seminary graduate who had fallen in love with the dreamiest guy she’d ever met and would be engaged to him a month later. She had friends who taught her many things ranging from it’s not a great idea to ride Six Flags roller coasters when you are sick to how to confront someone in loving manner. She was part of a church and small group that she loved and that changed her for the better. She had figured started figuring out who she was and began liking what she saw looking back at her in the mirror. However, she was still filled with insecurity. Her introverted ways held her back in many ways and from many things. Her tendency to think she had to be perfect led her to beat herself up every time she hurt someone, made a mistake, or failed to live up to an expectation. She was fiercely independent. Learning to dependent on her future husband would prove a challenge her first year of marriage. Learning to depend on her Savior would prove to be something she would have to learn over and over. She had begun to appreciate her parents in the way that you only can after you have grown up and entered adulthood yourself. Her father still hung the moon. Her mother began the woman she could only dare dream of being.

The 35 year-old MacKenzie has seen more of the world and is still married to the dreamiest guy she’s ever met and has two beautiful children by him. She’s learned the value of having deep, growing, mature friendships. Friendships that last. Friendships that push each other towards Christ. She has embraced her introvertness but has learned not to allow it to be an excuse not to push herself to do hard or uncomfortable things. She has found her identity in the One who gave it to her. She knows what she wants to be when she “grows up” and finally has the confidence to go for it. She has learned the value in having people in her life who don’t think like her in order to learn from them. She is learning perfection is not the goal but leaning in to Jesus is. She had learned that she doesn’t know everything and it’s ok to admit it. She appreciates all the sacrifices her father made that she doesn’t even know about. She is still trying to learn from the example her mother has set before her.

Getting older…no it does not bother me one bit. I welcome the wrinkles – it means I’ve laughed a lot and hopefully that there is some wisdom behind the lines. Grandma hands will mean I’ve worked hard and, I hope, have grandchildren to hold in them. Knowing I’m getting older means I know I’m that much closer to seeing Jesus.

But I can do without the gaining 5 pounds by just looking at bread….

Why Italy?

Today we celebrate our one-year anniversary in Salerno. The last year has seemed to have gone by faster than any I can remember. It truly has been a whirlwind.

As I reflect on our time here, I have been reminded of a question we were often asked,”Why Italy?”.

My response two years ago when we started raising support was different than it is today. Today my response is, “Why not Italy?”.

What people are really wanting to know when they ask, “Why Italy? is  “Why aren’t you going somewhere that needs the gospel?”i.e. somewhere impoverished or with no written language or in the jungle or AIDS-ridden or with no potable water.

I totally get this train of thought. Those are places we associate with missions: places that are hard to live, places that are “poor” according to American standards. Those are places I thought growing up missionaries went.

However, what I have come to understand is that people are going hell just as fast in Europe as they are in Southeast Asia. People in Europe need the hope and salvation of the Savior just as much as people in South America. What makes us think that just because there are churches in Europe, that the Reformation occurred on this continent, and that some of the theological giants in history have come from here that there is no need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I bet I could ask any of my friends serving as missionaries around the world and, while they could spout out statistics, it would all come down to the fact that the people their hearts are broken for need the hope of Jesus.

God is moving all across the world, and that includes places you might not think need to hear the Gospel. He loves the Italian just as much as He loves the tribal woman in Papua New Guinea. Jesus died for us all…and all need the opportunity to hear that message.

“But Italy is Catholic. They have the Vatican and the Pope. Why do they need missionaries?” you ask.

I ask you, “Does America have preachers? Does America have churches everywhere?” Of course it does! Does that mean everyone has heard the Gospel??? OF COURSE NOT!

Same thing applies to Italy. Just because the Pope is here, doesn’t mean that people have a relationship with Jesus. In fact, most of them could care less about the church, Jesus, the Gospel….They see no need for a Savior.

Our family has been sent to Italians because God has given us a love for them that can only be explained by saying it comes from Him.

I appreciate the question, “Why Italy?” because it gives me the opportunity to talk about a country and a people I love. So, please keep asking.