How did we get here?

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As many of you know, Andrew and I made the decision to move our family to the Dominican Republic at the end of October 2016.  Then in early November, Andrew officially accepted a position as the director at Caribbean Mountain Academy in the Dominican Republic.

Prior to getting married in 2008, Andrew and I had a very frank conversation about where we felt that God was leading us.  We both had a heart for people, and knew we wanted to serve in a ministry capacity but we weren’t entirely sure what that would look like.  Both of us felt that we wanted to work with youth, and I specifically wanted to pursue counseling.  I remember very distinctly having a conversation with Andrew that went something like this,

Andrew: “Do you feel called to foreign missions at all?”

Erin: “No, I never have.  There are too many hurting people here! Do you?”

Andrew: “No, not at all.”

Erin: “Okay, that’s good.”

Shortly after this conversation Andrew began working at Lifeline Youth and Family Services at a residential boys home.  He loved it!  After we got married, I worked for a year at a crisis pregnancy center while I waited to turn 21.  Once I was 21 I applied, and soon after began working at Lifeline as well.  There we have remained until now.

For about a year prior to the Dominican Republic opportunity coming up, I had begun feeling a great deal of unrest where we were.  Some of that had to do with having divided interests with family rearing and continuing at Lifeline, but I really believe God was beginning to transition my heart away from Lifeline.  In May of 2016, Andrew forwarded me a job posting for the directors position.  I emailed back and said, “Nah, I don’t want to move to the Dominican Republic”.  A few weeks later he emailed me again and told me he talked to the hiring VP, and really wanted to apply.  We talked about it that night, and  I was hesitant on the timing because I was at that point 7 months pregnant with our fourth baby, and feeling a bit overwhelmed already.  I told him if he felt strongly about it, he should apply.  He did.  He felt the interview went really well.  We started really talking about what the move would mean for our family, and what we would need to do to get there.  I even felt a little bit of excitement, and then…. Nothing.

We assumed that the hiring VP had chosen someone else, and so we moved on in every way.  Naomi was born, I began a Masters program, Malachi was enrolled in preschool, and things were moving along smoothly.  Then Andrew called and told me he was asked if he was still interested in the position.  We both sat through a second interview, and were scheduled for a trip down to see the ministry in action.  The trip was a whole six weeks away, and it seemed like an eternity.  As we prayed about it, we knew that this was likely our next step, but meeting the staff and the clients and experiencing the impact being made really confirmed it.

So, here we are.

On the way home from Pennsylvania (where our kids had stayed with family while we were gone), we listened to a few songs on repeat that repeat this concept of walking on waves, like Peter did when Jesus was approaching the boat.  Peter asked if he could walk out to Jesus, but once his feet touched the water he took his eyes off of Jesus, and looked instead at the waves.  He was immediately terrified, and cried out to Jesus in fear because he was beginning to sink.  This concept has been powerful imagery for me as I consider all of the ramifications of moving not only myself, but my four small kiddos to a country that I do not know.  Where Andrew and I will need to learn a language that we do not understand.  And seek to understand and appreciate a culture that is not our own.  I won’t say that every day is awesome, and I only feel excited because that is far from the truth.  There have been many growing pains in the process.  However, in the last few years I have been challenged and stretched in some hugely impactful ways and I have learned some very important preparatory things.

 

1.) We do not want to waste our lives.  In 2014, I lost my Mom to cancer and she was only 56.  That was (and is) hard, but through her life and death, she taught me an important thing:  lives lived faithfully for Jesus make an eternal impact.  I want my legacy to be one that points others to my Savior.

2.) Home isn’t found in places or things, but in people, and ultimately in Jesus.  As we consider what things to keep or sell/give away I am learning that those things are not home!  I love my house, but it’s not my home.

3.)  Even if.  Habakkuk 3 talks about a list of terrible things happening, and through each of those things over and over it says, “even if”… “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in my God, my Savior.  The Sovereign LORD is my strength…”

So, Andrew and I will lift our eyes above those waves, and look to the author and perfecter of our faith.  Because these short lives we have been given, will be lived for Jesus alone.

 

The Greatest Counselor

Six weeks ago I drafted our final DR newsletter and sent in our content to our communications team for the last time. In some ways, I wish that closing out a chapter of life was as easy as a signed, sealed and delivered newsletter. If I’m honest, that was probably my primary thought. I wanted that hard processing to just be over. However, as the different waves of grief have come, I come to realize more deeply that there is no simple way to close out a phase of life. In other ways, this slow, uncontrollable current of processing is probably one of the most important parts of the whole journey of the last six years. As we continue to walk on those waves, He has never stopped leaning down to give us fingers to cling to.

I have been working through the textbook stages of grief as I have been processing all that the transition meant, and means. My failure to process hard things while I was in the DR caught up to me. Shock hit hard at first and I was numb for a couple months. I remember texting my friend Sarah during this time that I was terrified of what was coming on the other side of numb. I would go to church with a bunch of strangers, and uncontrollably cry because of the depth of what was happening under the surface that Jesus had not yet given words or understanding for. I knew the hard stuff was coming, but he asked me to sit at His feet every time I tried to push past it. This shock phase kind of overlapped with denial— you know the whole “it’s fine, I’m fine, maybe I won’t have to deal with any of this.” If you just deny, maybe you don’t have to feel it? Then, I was really angry. Angry at the injustices, angry about the challenges we had to face and continue to face, angry about starting over. Again. I tried to bargain my way out, looking for the good things (there were a lot!), leaning into coping skills that had worked before, and finding that there was nothing I could really do to skip the hard. Then the depression hit hard. I felt hopeless like I was never going to get past the processing, this is when I really began crying out to the Lord and begging the Holy Spirit to be my counselor, He had done it before and I knew He could do it again. He sat with me, and it was a silent but sacred period of mad scientist journaling, and writing truths on my bedroom mirror, and leaning hard into what He had already taught me. His sufficiency. His love and how unlike human love it is. His role as a place of refuge, and my need to run to a place that felt safe, where I could feel hidden and protected. The Psalms about God being a refuge found new life in my soul. He let me sit there, and weep, and find comfort for what felt like a long time. And then. In a gentle but insistent whisper, He told me it was time to stop looking back at the hurt, the injustice, the loss, and move forward. He asked me to stop talking about the hard stuff that had become a broken record in my soul. To really leave it, and move forward. Then, He gave me the ability to do it. Now, I would say I am in a testing phase. A phase of figuring out how to plug into relationships again. How to allow my gifts to be used in this new context. I have run up against some barriers on the things that felt obvious to me, and I am not sure what lies ahead, but I know good things are ahead. I feel like I am right on the brink of acceptance– and truly finding the way forward. He is faithful, even when I am faithless. Does that mean I am almost out of the woods? Probs not– the picture below is more likely what’s coming. I will likely go back to the previous phases and back again about fifteen times in the next year, but I am looking forward, with hope.

This morning I woke up with a song in my head that was my go to for that final year of DR life. I was processing this idea of home and what it actually meant because we were anticipating a change, not only in location, but really another reset. A start over. New town, new people, no community. Again. The bridge reads: “Wherever I go, I’m home, ’cause you’re here in my soul. You’re an oasis in the desert, living water overflow.” And so I will sing again that Jesus is truly the only oasis in the deserts we travel through–inevitably.

Some tangible ways God has met us.

We made the decision that we needed to step away from living where we worked. CMA was beautiful because of this, but it was also unbelievably hard because of this. The first house we looked at and put an offer on was in the town of North Judson. Yesterday, Andrew and I drove up there with the kids to take them on a train ride (which was great!). While we were there we drove by the house we hadn’t closed on and were so grateful to see how God had protected us, and opened up the door for the house we are living in. His hand was so evident.

The house we bought we were able to walk through at the last minute, 30 minutes before we closed on it. Prior to that we had trusted our realtor/pastor Greg and had done no more than a video walk through. When we were driving there, it had just snowed and it felt like we drove forever and were unable to pull into the driveway. I began praying immediately that God would help us, somehow, build community after finding a house “in the middle of nowhere.” I am the most not lonely person on the planet with these country neighbors. We now know all of them on our block and beyond because they have stopped by constantly to drop things off, introduce themselves, and just be nosey sometimes. :). We go to church with four families within 2 miles of our home. One of them is a homeschool family, with kids the same age as our kids. It has been a blast getting to know them!

The campus start up is coming together well. The campus is looking great! Every time I swing through I am amazed at the progress that little team of staff is completing. The construction group and asphalt guys are plugging away. We had a team of fifty teenagers come through a paint, and landscape their hearts out. It’s truly incredible. Our impossible feat of getting staff hired is coming together and we are now only in need of a therapist, and 2-3 house staff. A far cry from where we were sitting even just a month ago. Finally, we just got our marketing launched last week, and Andrew has had one referral call for a student, and has 2 leads he will reach out to tomorrow. A repeat song at church has been “Impossible Things” by Christ Tomlin, which really resonated today as we reflect back. Keep praying for this new baby ministry as God continues to bring people to work, and students to serve.

I think the greatest blessing has been our church. Prior to making the decision to move, I began looking up churches because you know… I’m a planner. And I found First Church. While we were still at CMA we began streaming services whenever we were away at the beach, or had sick kids, and it was such an incredible encouragement to us. So, when we landed, we knew exactly where to visit. It is the largest church we have ever attended– but even that story of its growth is an incredible work of faithfulness from the Lord to His ministry there. We haven’t visited anywhere else. Their motto – Nobody’s Perfect, Everyone’s Welcome has been demonstrated again and again. We joined two small groups, plugged in with serving in VBS in June, and enjoy weekly softball games. As we have built relationships we are so encouraged by the heart and vision that is not lost on their people, young and (very) old. I feel safe, and openly weep every Sunday, and have given up wearing mascara. This month is their biggest outreach series of the year, and they pulled out all the stops with decorating the lobby with a Super Mario Brothers theme– complete with game consoles in the lobby, a castle at the kids entryway, cart races in between services, a slide, special snacks, a digital scavenger hunt to win a Nintendo Switch, and volunteers dressed up as characters from the game. While they take mainstream movies, and draw out biblical truths and lies from them. Naomi dragged Bowser into service with her today, much to our shock and embarrassment as parents–but he sat right down in our row and posed for photos. He even stayed with us until the countdown hit the 10 second mark.

Transition Reflections

Feeling reflective this morning as the rain comes down and I try to catch my breath from a few weeks of intensive packing. The packing up of a season that has held so many highs, and some deep lows. It’s incredible to think back on our initial newsletters and remember rolling my eyes when the marketing team edited a phrase in my newsletter to include “stars in our eyes”. Little did I know how true that phrase was as we were excitedly throwing things in boxes, and selling our last chapter in anticipation of beginning this one.

It’s very different to begin a chapter, knowing it is going to radically different, full of exciting news, and obviously full of opportunities to serve and love and learn. I fully intended to find ways to plug into the ministry with students. Andrew had big ideas, and knew he was going to get the campus professionally on some rails, and certainly financially on some. And then… we got here. I quickly learned that student ministries was NOT where I was wanted, and these students were nothing like my PWA boys. Andrew came up against a lot of resistance being the new guy on the block, and probably coming in a little too ready to change the world.

And yet, with all of the roadblocks and challenges. All of the sin that would come to the surface in our own hearts. God has been entirely faithful. Faithful to the work at CMA, faithful to his work in our lives. We are leaving completely changed people, in an entirely different season of life and I know that the old life won’t fit the same anymore.

He was also faithful in our relationship with one other family on campus. It took us a couple years to figure each other out, but those roots go down deep, and one of the most agonizing losses will be that of our framily – the Stucks. Our kids play (and fight) like brothers and sisters. They hardly remember life before them. Sarah is my talk about everything friend– life, Jesus, kids, sin. We have been through fire together. She hauled me and the kids to the city the next morning to replace our hamster that was eaten by a cat right in front of all of us. She was crazy with me when we thought walking to the pool would be a good idea when our husbands took BOTH CARS to a mens retreat (it took us 2 hours roundtrip with 8 children). She cheered louder than I did when we got an accepted offer on our house — she is also the reason we found the house. I don’t actually know how I am going to function without her and I think that just might be the hardest thing of all. Remarkably, that relationship is probably one of the hardest prayed for gifts I have ever known.

As I look towards the future, I wish there was less mystery. But, I just learned that facebook marketplace was a thing, I didn’t know that Apple pay existed, and what exactly is oatmeal cream pie flavored ice cream? Stepping out of the United States for five years was just long enough that we know the experience of learning our own culture again will be stretching. Even if we are living quite literally in the middle of nowhere. The future feels less sure, the closer we get to it, but God’s hand is confirming our steps in many of the same ways he did when we moved to the Dominican Republic. With the uncertainties of a new life, we are also experiencing the assurances of His leading, and that is the hope I am holding onto as we try to re-enter a new/old life.

Navigating this move with older kids is also a different experience. My kids are culturally from the United States, of course. They haven’t been deeply integrated into the latin American culture here because of living on campus. However, they’re not really “North American” either. Some newer kids on campus who are coming out of current United States culture used to get a kick out of all of the restaurants, stores, and movies our kids don’t know– not in a mean way, but just in a normal kid way. Malachi “thinks he might have heard of Target before”, and those uncertainties make him insecure. At the same time, I think this very thing is what is going to make him, and the other kids, stand out in some important ways. They are unafraid of holding conversation with people of any age, culture or race, and are unhindered by language barrier. People have been the highlight because there isn’t much else around. I wouldn’t change a familiarity with Target for the ability to really see people. I pray that it stays the same. However, I am also aware that those insecurities and feelings of “not being myself” are going to be norms that we need to face and talk through. Tears come at unexpected moments, and we need to pause and talk about the hurt behind the tears. Snuggles are needed a little more often. And the cold. My kids have been crying about 60 for the last 2 months. Pants and shoes are the worst. Selah experienced static on the plane when we came back in December a few years ago, and cried begging to know why her hair was sticking to her face– it’s comin’ again baby girl. We’re in for a lot of laughter, and a lot of tears.

I don’t have some deeply meaningful perspective on transitioning back, or even a way to recall all that has been. Someone asked me at lunch the other day if I was going to put together a memoir of our time at CMA. I joked that I needed to process it first and get some counseling, but in a lot of ways that wasn’t a joke. I am not the same. Neither is Andrew. Neither are my kids. How could we be? It will take awhile to look back without really painful memories, as well as tears from all of the good memories, and absolute confidence that God was kind, unbelievably merciful, and unwaveringly faithful.

I think that time will heal a lot. I think not working for a couple months will also bring a lot to the surface. We have been praying about a debrief program, but haven’t felt clearly directed by the Lord to pursue that. I also don’t really resonate with the tones of many of the conversations of missionaries that have returned. I don’t feel like a failure for leaving, I don’t think we stayed too long, I was never called to the culture specifically so while I will miss it, I am not grieving the depth of a calling to it– if that makes any sense at all. We are doing the same work, in the same organization, and those things ARE what we have felt specifically called to. So, I am still navigating what we need to transition well. In that in between, we will keep waiting, asking him to give us wisdom to wrestle with hope through the hard, and pray for lots of grace from those we are (sort of– different community that isn’t formed or known yet) coming back to. There have been many lessons learned, and many more to learn.

A need that is clear in this transition? I am getting a puppy. Obviously, to cope with losing my golden goober who cannot pass her serology test. So there’s that. Our litter will be born in March. His name will be Groot. Animals are my coping skill, and I am unapologetic. Send baby goats and chickens too (our new house is on 2.5 acres!).

Four years of learning

The last nine months have been difficult for me to communicate effectively in words, so I have largely been left speechless. My last blog post for our family summarized roughly, in an unprocessed place, a series of months that I can now hardly describe. I can describe for you the details, but I cannot describe for you the faithful work that God is still completing in my heart as the effects continue to be used for His glory alone.

The initial pain of a relational fallout to the degree that we experienced left us first numb, then angry (me – I can’t speak for Andrew), then raw and tender, and eventually, over time, we have continued to feel the effects of God’s healing and tender care. Over the summer, I read a few books that have continued to give me a language to process the first four years of our life here. The first was “Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” by Dane Ortlund. Which gave me a deeper understanding of a Savior who stands by, not ready to dive in and correct harshly, but one whose abundant kindness brings Him near to our suffering. Romans 2:4 summarizes this well, “Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” It is not then, a hard hearted judge who meets us in our failures and weaknesses, but a tender Savior rich in kindness, restraint and patience. This book changed my theological understanding. I cannot recommend it enough, and have many copies I would be happy to give away to anyone in the Dominican Republic who might be reading this.

Following that book, I read two interchangeably, and the first actually references the second a lot (which blurs the lines of which impacted me most significantly). The first was “Overcoming Bitterness: Moving from Life’s Greatest Hurts to a Life Filled with Joy” by Stephen Viars, and the second was “Dark Clouds Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament”. I read Overcoming Bitterness largely to discern if the broad range of emotions I was still feeling was due to a lack of forgiveness. What a grace this gentle book was. It talked about the realities of experiencing bitterness in relationships and circumstances as a part of living in a sin cursed world. I was so encouraged at the rest I found in recognizing the hedge of protection that the gospel has been over my mind and my heart. During a period of time when we were deemed unworthy of respect or trust, when relationship ties were ended, and we weren’t sure how to begin picking up the pieces of what was left, God used His gospel to keep us humble, and tender to what He wanted to accomplish in our hearts through it. Where we had mistakes to own, and where we needed to entrust our reputations and our ministry to a faithful Father. The second book, taught me the language of lament. The ability to fill the gap between my experience and what I know to be true about my Father.

So what?

I guess, I want to share something I have learned through a year I maybe would have opted to skip, that has impacted intimately, how I interact with other people in a broken world.

There are going to be situations in your life that are unjust.

There are going to be relationships that are broken, and will quite possibly never be mended on this side of heaven.

I am no longer an optimist that you can talk through anything and end up reconciled on the other side of that conversation… because there are two people involved, and not everyone wants to be reconciled.

But, in those situations you have a choice. You can despair. You can get revenge (passive aggressively or aggressively). You can grow angry and distant in your relationship with God. You can build a wall impenetrable to any other human that dare try to get close to you again. These are all natural (aka fleshly) responses to this kind of hurt.

There is another option.

You can choose to recognize the ways that you behave towards a Father who faithfully, never stops responding towards you perfectly. You can contrast his perfect love with the inevitable failures every other human love will be plagued with. You can recognize your own sinfulness, and failure to love well.

Then you can choose to delight in knowing a love unlike any other love.

You can accept the hurt that we will experience on this earth, and leave it at the cross.

Because one day, all those wrongs will be made right. One day, the hurt will cease, and only joy will abound.

You can choose joy and forgiveness today, because of the brilliant hope of heaven.


More intimately. You can choose to be vulnerable to people who will hurt and disappoint you.

There is a willow tree figure called “Grace”, that has her arms held out at her sides, chest exposed and open. This image has become something that will never leave me.

Grace (kindness undeserved) is a cleft for your tender heart. You can entrust your heart to Jesus. You can step into the full and abundant relationships he calls you into, not because people are trustworthy (none of us are), but because Jesus is trustworthy.

Grace allows me to contrast all broken loves with the perfect love of Jesus. His love is sufficient. When you take the standard of perfection off of other people, you can love them fully as they are. That is grace. The same grace that is extended to us, in our imperfection.

“Though You Slay Me”

We just returned to our house from a student graduation. The first since the start of a season of being broken in order to experience the same hands binding us back up. I say “us” speaking with the most intimate knowledge of what that process has been for Andrew and I, but really, it is a collective “us” living this weird CMA life.

I was encouraged tonight. Encouraged by a testimony of a student leaving with hope. Encouraged by the tears of two parents who experienced God’s breaking and binding up in their own lives and marriage. I am encouraged to get a seat to watch God’s hand at work in our students.

There was a clear call to faith. A clear call to trusting in a foundation that is deeper than what we can see right beneath our feet. A call to know the One who loves each of us with a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” (Jesus Storybook Bible). The glory was given to the Only One worthy of any of it, because we are aware anew of our brokenness. “Changing Hearts and bringing hope to individuals, families and communities” is the Crosswinds mission statement. But, as it was said tonight by Andrew Stuck (CMA Education Coordinator), we can’t take credit for any of it. God just does it.

I’m thankful for a Father whose “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” continues to refine me. That gives me room to fail, but then picks me back up and cheers on my next steps. That doesn’t call me a lost cause when my heart shows it’s true colors. I am thankful that he is faithful to break me, so that he can bind me back up. That He takes away. That He ruins me– so that He can show me that He is enough. That His cause is worth every tear.

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but these words by John Piper reaffirmed the words of people who God has put around us, to be vessels of his grace and compassion the last four months. Soak them in. Lift up your eyes, and know that Your Father loves you. That this life is not meaningless. That hope abounds because we have a Rescuer who breathes hope into the very darkest parts of our human experience.

“Not only is all of your affliction momentary

Not only is all of your affliction light compared to eternity and the glory there

BUT all of it is TOTALLY meaningful.

Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature, the fallen man

Every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of THAT.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism

I don’t care if it was slander or sickness

It wasn’t meaningless

It’s doing something

Of course you can’t see what He is doing

Don’t look to what is seen

When your mom dies

When your kid dies

When you get cancer at 40

When a car careens off of the road

Don’t say “It’s meaningless!”

It’s not.

It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory

Therefore, do not lose heart, but take these truths and day by day focus on them

Preach them to yourself every morning

Get alone with God and preach his words into your mind

Until your heart sings with confidence that you are cared for

“Though You Slay Me” – Shane and Shane Featuring John Piper

Altars of Remembrance

It has been such a long time since I have felt the inspiration to write. I have talked many times before about how, as we have lived here and watched years pass, it feels less like “new” and “adventure” and more like “everyday”, and “home”. This has been a normal progression of living in a place for long enough for some roots to begin forming, but it has also been a process of the development of deeper roots into our Father who is the very definition of a firm foundation. With that, inspiration for me to write about my life comes about as often as inspiration for you to write about yours!

2020 has been of course, nothing like anyone had planned, but here it has been extra odd. It started off with a staffing “crisis” that God covered in a span of a few months. Then Covid hit with quarantine, no missions teams, and a really odd summer program where only one student actually departed at the end of the summer. Then fall hit, with Young Life, and a consistent and steady flow of students (we will welcome our 19th and 20th students this week!). We also have several new staff starting in the next couple months. We have conversations about opening a third student house, and continue looking for more staff. With all of that momentum, there are things that have felt like a never ending winter. Struggles for unity in the staff body, discouragement, sorrow, and disappointment have felt like consistent companions during our entire time here (with maybe the exception of our first oblivious year), but on a much deeper level for the last several months.

Relationships and ministry are always perplexing and complicated because, it turns out, we are ALL both the woman caught in adultery– exposed for who we are, AND the onlookers unworthy to throw the first stone. And yet, ALL of us feel so entitled, justified even, to hold that stone of self-righteousness in our hand. We have tasted the sweetest of loves, and known the deepest grace, but we so quickly forget that in that secure love and grace is a call to live differently. To go against our very nature and love radically, and offer grace abundantly. It is a supernatural work that we are incapable of living out apart from the Holy Spirit.

For a year or so, Andrew has been working alongside a large team of people in the heart of our organization to develop many “safeguards” to prevent the Lasting Change, Lifeline Youth and Family Services, and Crosswinds family from the drift experienced by many organizations who started from a biblical foundation. These were rolled out as the “Tenets of Culture” and are not just ideas, or a paper that new hires go through, but a defining, foundational document of who we are as an organization. In this are concepts of the importance of our Christian faith being what motivates us in our mission in the lives of families. The reality that without a growing personal relationship with Christ– we have nothing to offer anyone in need. That we should assume the best of others on our team, and be willing to have hard conversations, and vigorous debate in order to grow stronger. So many biblical, and important concepts to guide us in our work with clients, and in our interactions with our co-laborers. Andrew and I are incredibly encouraged by this document and the time, prayer, passion, and effort that went into it. But, it has caused discomfort for everyone involved and the organization as a whole has experienced losses in staff, and from the first interview, these are things that are shared and agreed upon or not. It has been fascinating to watch the effect that at times has caused sleepless nights, tears, and hurt, while in the exact same moments producing hope, encouragement, and unity. Please pray for our organization as a whole, as we walk out these principles, and for CMA as it is also feeling many of the same ripples of change and transition. We are so grateful for this turning back to Christ, and are deeply excited about what God has for this ministry– all three divisions– in the coming months and years.

All of this to say, so much has happened since April.

2020 has been full to the brim of examples of God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness to our kids and their character and love for Him and people around them. Faithfulness to Andrew’s and my growth in knowing He is constant and sure when the winds howl around us. Faithfulness to us in His clear hand in bringing people around us who have breathed life into our souls, and encouraged us by their dedication to Jesus alone, and His calling in their lives. His faithfulness to CMA, and reassurance of His interest and involvement in what is happening here. His faithfulness to our whole organization and His protection over it.

We will look back on this time in our lives and remember the altars built to remember what He has done.

Year Four Begins/April Update

In the blink of an eye our third year at CMA came and went.  This milestone day of April 19th has come without much anticipation, reflection, or hoopla.  Which is unusual for me, but also, there isn’t as much new.  In so many ways, we are just living our lives and trying to serve Jesus.  When we arrived here three years ago, we had committed to three years.  It seemed like such a long time.  I remember calculating the ages of our kids and thinking how I just couldn’t imagine my little ones being a steady 7, and just shy of 9, 6, and 4.  We are no longer parenting toddlers.  Bottles, cribs, pacifiers, sippy cups and diapers are a memory.

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When we lived in Indiana, I remember thinking that we were living the good life.  And we were!  A good, blessed, obedient life.  But as I sit in a locked down campus, with a community of people during a worldwide quarantine, I can’t help but be thankful.

My kids childhood memories will be much consumed by lizards, palm trees, sunshine, and exploring tropical forests around our home with other campus kids, and our golden retriever.  A childhood so different from my own.  They know the taste and wonders of a salty ocean.  They are fearless of language barriers, and cultural and racial diversity.  They know what it is to be a minority.  They know what true need looks like.  They know what a good mango and pineapple should taste like, and they know that avocados should be the size of your head.  They can talk to anyone, of any age, without reservation because of the sea of new faces that, not during a pandemic, flows through our campus.  They are confused and fascinated by the cold.  They are delighted by American normals like Culvers, root beer, and playgrounds.

As we begin our fourth year, the life we have made here feels normal.  Sure, there are reminders that we are not in our home country, and we certainly don’t always feel like we “belong” here.  Our hearts ache for those we left behind when we came here, but in all of that, returning back to the U.S. increasingly feels less like comfort and familiar.

So if I was to summarize the last three years, I would say we have made a home here.  I would say ministry is hard and beautiful no matter where on the globe you find yourself.  I would say that I wouldn’t change a thing, and that I am more confident today than ever that God has called us to serve here.  That we know what it is to be aliens on this earth, and that we wouldn’t change the lesson that belonging and “home” are found in Him alone.

It is on this little island, we have learned what love is.  That it knows no boundaries within blood, language, likeness of mind, or denomination.

That our chief aim must be unity within the body of Christ at whatever cost.  Cost of comfort.  Cost of reputation.  Cost of pride.

We have learned that if you ask God to make you like Him, at whatever cost, He will.  It will be excruciating.  Like a drunken fool, you will ask Him for more, plead with Him for more.  Whatever it takes to reflect Him.  Because you have found a life source that is the greatest high you could ever know.  This process of dying will devastate you.  You will find wicked nooks in your heart that you never knew existed.  Some days, you will wonder if you have changed at all.  Your whole self will ache, your blisters will be tender, but He will help you to keep running.

We have learned that if you ask God to instruct you, and reveal Himself to you… brace yourself, because He is more than willing to lean in.  But in that, He is an incredible refuge.  Like a chick, you will nestle in under His warm wings, and find comfort in the middle of a hurricane.  He will show you such kindness in the hustle, you will never want to leave, and you won’t want to slow the pace and risk sitting on the sidelines.  Like Gollum with a ring, you will obsess over how precious He has become– the supernatural, all consuming draw will trap you.

As we begin year four, we marvel at how far God has brought us.  We keenly know how far we have to go.  We are astounded at His faithful work in the ministry He has entrusted to our hands.  Clay pots, entrusted with a treasure beyond words.

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7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

What a joy to serve Him, to partner with so many of you in the specific mission for the Kingdom of Christ.

May year four be a year that is a sweet aroma to our Papa.

Ministry Update

Covid-19 at CMA:

On March  the campus locked it’s gates and any staff not able to move onto campus was asked to shelter in place at their homes.  We made last minute grocery runs, and prepared to hunker down.  The decision was then made to keep the gates closed after another quick restocking run.  We are now closed until April 30th.

The unique environment of CMA has allowed us the ability to be all together as a staff and student body.  We still hold chapel, we still eat meals together, and we try and curb the boredom by hiking the mountain behind us, and having pick up games of ping pong, volleyball, corn hole, basketball, or whatever else sounds fun in the moment.

Summer Preparations:

During our last brief opening, Andrew and I welcomed a summer intern into our home.  She works for another ministry during the school year, but all of her room mates have transitioned back to the United States in order to avoid not being able to go at their scheduled time at the beginning of June.  She has added much life and joy to our family, and we are excited to have her be a part of our chaotic life of highs and lows.

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We are in a weird suspended period of time wondering what summer program might hold for us this year.  Most missions teams have cancelled their trips through June.  We have five student applications accepted, with deposits made, but we don’t know what the months ahead hold for us.

School Wrap-Up

The kids and I continue to plod our way through the school year, basically unaffected by the events around us.  In five short weeks Malachi will wrap up second grade, Levi will finish 1st grade, Selah will finish Kindergarten, and Naomi will have her siblings back to play all day.  We found some tadpoles, and did some research on how to raise them and when to release.  It has been so much fun to watch them grow!  Only one escapee so far, and four released back to the stream.

Because of some of the financial impacts of Covid-19 as well as the inability to have her come, we have made the decision to pay Clara, our house-helper through July, but will unfortunately not be able to afford having her return to work for us.  There were a lot of tears when she came to pick up her pay, and give the kids some “goodbye for now” hugs.  So that has been a significant change in our family life.

Business as Usual:

Much of our life has remained the same as it was prior.  We do miss being able to go out to eat or order in food occasionally, and we certainly miss going to the river, especially as the temperature continues creeping upwards.  We also cancelled an anticipation “end of school” beach trip, which was a disappointment to the kids.  But, overall, we are thankful for so much more than we can grumble about.  We have a full freezer, and a stocked fridge.  We have people to be around during a time when most of the world lives in isolation.  We have beautiful, sunny days to enjoy.

If anything, I believe that student ministries are continuing and in some ways have been benefitted by all of the extra activities with staff and families.  Relationships are growing, and most of life continues as though nothing is happening in the world.

Highs and Lows:

Andrew

High – Covid-19 has forced us to learn how to stream services from CMA Chapel.  Due to confidentiality, only those who attend CMA Chapel can join at this point.  But we hope to be able to record in the front in order to give supporters, missions teams, and families of students, the opportunity to attend digitally occasionally if they want to.

Low – Not being able to accept new students right now– We exist to help families, and it is hard to not be able to take new students that I am confident we could help.

Erin

High – I still have coffee and a porch to enjoy it on.

Low – I have no cream for said coffee. 🙂

Malachi 

High – Learning how to paint with watercolors.

Low – Clara leaving.

Levi

High – Climbing a pine tree SUPER high (this was probably both a high and a low, pride he could do it fearlessly, terror that he did it fearlessly).  He was about six feet from the top of the evergreen tree on the right.

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Low – I’m not allowed to have any screen time for a week!

Selah

High – Going to Grady’s birthday party.

Low – When Mom makes me walk up the mountain.

Naomi

High – Eating food (said without hesitation)!

Low – Not eating food (also said without hesitation)!

March Update

We have a newsletter coming your way in the near future, so I won’t bore you too much with material that will soon be repeated.

Family Update

At the end of February we went on a beach trip with our friends from Guatemala who also serve in the Dominican Republic.  We went up to the Samana Peninsula and were able to spend one of our mornings whale watching, which was so cool!  They breed in the Caribbean Sea every year in January-March, and then go North for the rest of the year due to lack of food.  We also visited the beach a couple times, and just enjoyed time away.  During our time our boys learned to swim well enough to dive for rings and swim back up in 6 feet of water.  This was exciting for a couple boys who would barely take off their floaties when we arrived at the pool.IMG_0701.JPG

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We are nine weeks out from wrapping up our formal school year.

Selah is wrapping up Kindergarten, Levi is finishing 1st Grade, and Malachi is knocking second grade out of the park.  Selah learned to read this year which is a far cry from the tears and gnashing of teeth that was the beginning of our phonics journey.  Levi’s big win this year is gaining confidence and speed in his reading– and the memorization of all kinds of facts about sea creatures he has discovered in his reading (the kid is a sea encyclopedia!).  Malachi is beginning to write his own stories about dragons (who he KNOWS are real), and journaling about his nature encounters– for a kid who used to stall out for thirty minutes every time he had to write more than his name, I would say he has improved.

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Naomi is a sharp little thing, and although we don’t do any formal school with her, she has picked up a ton this year.  She is so READY to do school with the big kids!

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Another fun school activity, is watching some tadpoles that the kids recently found in the stream near our house.  Once they begin to develop legs, we will release them and watch them grow in their own environment.  There are hundreds of them in the stream, so it shouldn’t be hard to observe them there.

Andrew and I are also doing well.  We have grown so much in our relationship with one another as an overflow of the ministry forcing dependency on the Lord, and requiring that we lean on one another.  God has also just blown our hearts wide open.  With His many revelations of Who He is, by requiring our full attention by the challenges He put in front of us, and by exposing us to people and ideas that were very different than what we had ever known.  In a lot of ways, we grew up here.  We are such a far cry from having our ducks in a row, ask anyone who lives on this campus, but we are not who we were when we landed almost three years ago, and for that, I am thankful.  We are teary eyed, tender, and expecting God’s involvement in us, our family, and this work.

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(Look at the Golden Goob in the background!)

Ministry Update:

As I look back even on just the last two weeks, it has just been so full, I am not really sure where to begin.  There are so many ups and downs that one second we feel like we are moving along really well, and then out of no where a tires blows, and we are stuck on the side of the road for a little bit.

We lost the first of the two big transitions of 2020 so far as the Gerent family packed up, and flew out on Sunday morning.  It was an expected change, and they were ready and excited for their next chapter, but the void is felt just the same.  As I cleaned up the play room last night with the kids, I couldn’t help but think of Chase (their toddler) as I packed up the trucks back in the “toddler toys”, and put up Selah’s baby dolls that Amelia (their 1 year old) so affectionately carried around with her.  I still hear her sweet little voice squealing “Baaaaaaby” in delight.  I think sometimes it’s easy for me to glaze over the losses I feel when people move back to the United States, but I am trying to sit with this one, and allow myself to experience fully the gaps left.  It’s a wonder missionaries who stay on the field any length of time have hearts left at all… that alone is the work of the Holy Spirit, to heal and mend, and continue His faithful work.  I also pray that heart healing over my kids who are feeling the loss of campus buddies.  Even today when they were enjoying watching a dump truck bringing top soil for the new soccer field, they mentioned how much Chase would have enjoyed watching it too.

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In that week, we also hosted a team from our organization for a partial week (they headed out early to avoid any travel restrictions).  On that team were some folks we have grown to appreciate so much.  Amy Shepherd, whom many of you have interacted with if you have ever donated any sum of money.  Deb Johnson, who Andrew and I worked with for years at Pierceton Woods Academy.  Kent and Nancy from the home office, who Andrew regularly meets with, and then Mark and Colleen Terrell, the CEO and his wife who works in Business Development in the home office.   It’s also a joy to meet staff from across the state of Indiana who come down on the trips.  There is just so much encouragement in seeing familiar faces, putting faces to names you see via email, and remembering that the mission is bigger than just what we are doing at CMA.

We also began that week with two representatives from WBCL– one of them was Scott the afternoon host, whom I’m sure you have heard on the radio.  We used to support the radio ministry of WBCL, and listened pretty regularly, and so it was fun to recognize his voice, and then introduce him to our world here.  As you know, WBCL will be raising funds this Summer in support of CMA.  Scott will be one of the main communicators on the radio, so it was important that he see the campus.  You will probably also hear some blurbs of Andrew here and there too, potentially including a live interview.  We are so excited for the opportunity to have them partner with us in this way!

Please keep on praying for Andrew and I.  For clarity in communication.  For wisdom in day to day interactions.  For soft hearts, dependence on the Father, and deep wells of humility.

Pray for the team here too.  For clarity in communication, for wisdom in day-to-day interactions, and for soft hearts, dependence on the father, and deep wells of humility.  😉

God is moving and working in our midst– pray protection over that work, protection over seeds being planted every day in our students, and protection as we continue to learn how to work as a united team for God’s glory.

December-February

Hello Friends!

I’m sorry it has been awhile since we have updated on ministry and life happenings as we spent the month of December in the United States, and then have been settling back in to our life here in the Dominican Republic.

Life and Ministry Update

This last month, we have been trying to intentionally host a few people on Sunday’s for lunch.  It has been a really good way to connect with people, and intentionally eat good food at home. We also hosted a Superbowl party, which was fun– it had been awhile since I had invited the staff up for anything like that.

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We welcomed a new staff to campus, and his transition in has gone well.  The new staff are kind of guinea pigs for a new system, so I am encouraged that the last few arrivals seem to be integrating into the campus life and DR life well.

We had a big hog roast hosted by Majaguita, the community where we just completed another house at the end of January.  It was a lot of fun to get off campus, and practice our Spanish some more.  The campus kids had an especially fun time swimming in the river, and enjoying one another.  The people in Majaguita are beautiful.  They love the Lord, and steward their resources with so much wisdom.  They come to our campus to help us with their horticulture knowledge, and willing hearts to serve us too.

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Time on Furlough

What a whirlwind our time in the United States was.  It was so good to see many of you, to hug on you, to hear some of your life happenings for the last few years.  This trip was just, complicated.

Leaving the D.R. I personally, was in a rough spot.  The last year and a half really beat me up.  We lost some really dear friends abruptly, and without having the opportunity to say goodbye.  We lost a lot of staff who finished out terms, but who also left feeling hurt, or undervalued.  We felt defeated around every corner.  Our campus church that had been so alive and growing, slowly dwindled down due to inconsistency in who was pastoring (we went without a chaplain for several months).  The situation with our neighbor and our water access intensified, but we had two separate well companies come… it was a whole saga, and we still don’t have a well yet.  We could not get staff in for no logical reason other than God was not allowing it.  When we hopped on the plane, we had just learned that week that both Andrew’s right hand guy, and our facilities managers, who had both been here for six+ years were resigning, but it wasn’t public knowledge yet.  In addition, one of our staff was headed out within the same week because he had received word that his Dad had cancer, and that it was in a late stage.  There was just a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of hurt.  There was a large part of me that wanted to run home, and forget all about things like minding my shower length, or saying goodbye and being the ones left behind again, or the potential of losing a sweet staff who was rushing home to a situation and a sorrow, that I personally know intimately.

Then we got back to Indiana, and it was so heavy there too.  In general, when we are on furlough, we view it as a time to serve all of you who so faithfully serve and support us.  It’s a different, and refreshing service, and we can always recuperate here later.  This time, the weight of burdens being carried, and the exhaustion in the eyes of so many that we love really hurt.  I sensed so deeply, the reality that we have been absent, and things are not the same.

When we got back to campus, I spent the first two weeks angry, because, anger is my processing emotion.  The feelings I felt were complicated.  I couldn’t sit down and write it out.  I couldn’t pray it away.  It was deep rooted, and heavy.

As I have sat with the Lord, He has whispered so many encouragements to my spirit.  As Andrew and I have talked about it, we both feel as though we were up against a wall.  It would not budge no matter what we did.  No matter how much we begged God to move it.

Since we have been back, God has obliterated it.

The well truck is here, and as I write I can hear it pounding away.

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We have a steady trickle of new staff from now until May– and they are breathing new life into a hurting body.

We are looking up and around, with gratitude for those who are here, ready to dig in alongside us for the next few years.

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We are hit with gratitude for the folks transitioning away in a healthy spot in the next few months.

We have a fresh hope, and expectancy of all that lies ahead for 2020.

I am happy to be at CMA.  Grateful to get to love and serve these amazing staff who I frankly just couldn’t even see through my own hurt.

The highlights of our furlough were staying for a couple weeks with Greg and Joan Harden.  The kids enjoyed forgetting to close the chicken coop door, and then catching the poor chickens.  As well as mauling the farm cats.  A sweet treat was Levi waking up to snow on his birthday.  It was the only day there was snow, and he immediately stated “I know why God didn’t give us snow sooner, he was waiting for my birthday!”.  Sweet.

We also enjoyed seeing some CMA folks who have moved home.  It was fun to catch up on where they are, and what God is teaching them where He has them now.  It also brought some closure to relationships that seemed to end so abruptly.  We also spent time with the Stuck family, who were on furlough during the same month.  It was so fun for our kids to play together in Indiana!

After that we headed to Goshen on Christmas Eve to spend the night with a couple, Pat and Jeryl who has been leading and coming down on missions trips for close to 30 years!  They were a part of the building of many of the facilities that we use and enjoy at CMA.  My kids also thoroughly enjoyed Pat’s donkeys. 🙂

Christmas day was spent with Andrew’s grandmother, Mom and Dad and Sister/My brother and their kids.

We then spent a week with Erin’s family at Brookpointe Inn, owned by a friend of ours.  It was crazy, because there are a lot of us, but the love between the cousins is precious.

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Our final week was spent in Pennsylvania where Andrew’s parents and sister/my brother live.  It was a good spot to end the trip, although, Andrew contracted Influenza B, which knocked him out for the first two or three days of that visit.  Not ideal, but no one else seemed to get it.

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So there you have it.  Almost three months of Stroup life wrapped in one, long post.

Highs and Lows

Andrew

High – The well truck is such a huge answer to prayer!

Low – Let’s keep it positive.

Erin

High – Breakthroughs

Low – Loss

Malachi

High – One of my new friends is moving to campus soon!

Low – That people keep leaving the campus.  Even the kids!

Levi

High – “That God gave me snow for my birthday.”

Low – “Learning Spanish.  I hate it! (but he uses it… SO….)”

Selah

High – “Being back with Pedo, Gerard, and Charlie and BoBo.”

Low – *Shrugs*

Naomi

High – “Me play outside!”

Low – “I not go with Richard.”

Just for fun:

 

 

 

 

 

What does Thanksgiving look like at CMA?

I thought it would be fun to try and document with pictures what some of our new Thanksgiving traditions look like.

On Thanksgiving, all of our Dominican staff work as usual, because here, there is no significance to the day.  In fact, my nanny this week asked me why Americans had a holiday dedicated to Turkeys.  ¿Cuál es el significado de los pavos?  Haha!  I think she frequently thinks that we are nuts.  So, I was able to give her an education on what Thanksgiving is, in the same way that she teaches me about Constitution Day, and many of the Catholic holidays.

It is nice to be able to run to the grocery store if you need a last minute ingredient, because nothing is closed.  However, much to my sad green bean casserole loving heart, there are not French’s fried onions to be found… even in the bigger city.  At least not with any consistency.

Our morning this morning really started with the lawn care guys coming.  Which is quite an event at our house.  The kids lose their minds as they remember all of the treasured toys they have left strewn about.  They swear each time that they will never forget their toys outside… only to repeat the ordeal every time… 🙂

While the lawn care guys are at the house, we always bring the dogs in.  Charlie noticed the mirror in our room, and began to growl and bark at herself.  She’s such a goob.

Once we were all up and around, we celebrated the start of Thankgiving with donuts, and spiced coffee (the kids only complaint was being limited on their coffee consumption), and then made our way down to the pavilion to help Maribel the business manager, set up all the decorations for our carry in Thanksgiving meal.  We have many of the traditional foods (Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and even swiped the last two pumpkin pies yesterday when we went to the city (Santiago).  Pumpkin is not a thing here at all, so this was a win! 🙂 . The decorating, and coffee drinking are becoming a regular occurrence on Thanksgiving.

After wrapping up the decorating, our family headed up the hill, and watched a recording of the Macy’s Day Parade, while Dad watched the Bears vs. Lions game.  It was even a little bit chilly in our house, so we cracked out a couple blankets. 😉 .

Our house looks, and smells like fall (thanks to Thieves essential oil in our diffuser) and some painted pumpkins, and our “thankful tree” (a new tradition this year, but one we will likely continue).  We also decked out Gertrude in her thanksgiving best.

 

I’ll post some more pictures once the festivities have concluded.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Ashes

I can count on one hand times that God has nearly audibly spoken to me.  Usually, after seasons of angst, and pleading with him to bring me clarity.

The first was one I previously have held very tightly to my chest, but one that released me from a very difficult season of grieving.  It was several months after my Mom had passed away.  I felt my family slowly drifting apart a bit.  Our main anchoring, the person who kept us all up to date on each others lives, and gave us all a reason to be together was gone.  My marriage was in it’s hardest season (turns out husbands don’t make very good Mom replacements).  There were a lot of moving pieces, and different grieving paths for each person in my immediate family.  Our childhood home was likely going to be put up for sale.  My little brother was young, and we were all concerned about him.  It was just yucky.  I began to really cry out for God to keep my family together.  Then as my Dad began to date again, I began praying for God to bless my Dad’s pursuit of marriage with someone who could help bind us.  I remember falling asleep crying for God to bring peace.  I had a dream, where we were driving around with my Mom in the car.  We knew she was on her way to heaven in the dream.  She had already died, but wasn’t gone yet.  I remember us reaching a point where she needed to get out of the car and leave.  I looked back at her, and very plainly, with the calmest voice, one that had calmed me my whole life, she said “Everything is going to be ok.”  Then that was it.  I can’t explain it to you, but I knew there was a deeper meaning to those words, and it was at that moment that I claimed that it was indeed going to be ok.  My grief never looked the same after that.

The second time was a couple years ago, Valentine’s Day 2018.  I had determined that year to pursue him in His word.  I vowed to read through the Bible, and I was faithful, but I was frustrated with him for not talking to me!  Why was I still such a lonely, lost mess?  I felt incredibly unworthy of love, and unloved by others, and by God too.  It was that day that day, while reading the account of Jesus’ death on the cross in Mark, that he shone through the branches of the tree, a giant, clearly defined heart.  It was just so blatantly obvious.  No tangible word, but a whisper to my heart, that he was near, and he was tender.  Not a tyrant.  Not an angry disciplinarian.  He was a tender, Papa to me.  It’s when I started to call him Papa in my conversations with Him.

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I already told you about the green valley and mango tree.  I also told you about my avocado tree lesson. 🙂

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Then Tuesday.

As I said previously, all of these instances have come after long periods of angst and prayer.  Those period of time usually impact my sleep greatly, and so I spend those nights praying about whatever is burdening me.  Recently, I have been sleepless again.  So, I have been praying for each person who lives on this campus, or works on it.  Usually, he gives me a lot of clarity or insight into my own heart during those nights.  Last night, however, he wasn’t giving me anything.  So, admittedly, I was frustrated.  Why would he not let me sleep?  He just would not relent with the restlessness.

I prayed, for the first time in my life, for him to give me a dream (I’m a Baptist ya’ll, we don’t pray for that!).  He didn’t.  Haha.

However, on Tuesday, as I was driving up the hill after lunch, I was talking to him, and saw Richard, one of the maintenance men burning the grass.  I got one word, again, almost in a tangible voice.  “Ashes”.  I was kind of irritated, again… like… what the heck?  Ashes?  So, I came home and began to pray, read and listen to worship music.  Trying to use all the avenues for God to bring some clarity.  The song, “Raise a Hallelujah” came on.  “Up from the ashes, hope will arise”

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I have a lot of feels in this season God has us in.  Disappointment in the staffing God isn’t bringing.  Sadness and compassion for the weariness I see around me. Disappointment that relationships are hard.  Disappointments with student setbacks.  Fundraising stressors.

So, I looked up the word ashes in a concordance that afternoon.  You can google it yourself if you’re interested, but essentially it has two main meanings in scripture.

  • Dust/ashes – a reference to our humanity, our physical dying bodies.
  • Ashes – repentance, grief (maybe mixed with repentance in scripture as hardship was often considered to be correlated to being in sin).

Interesting.

Then I came across in my “ashes search” Hebrews 9:11-14

“But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of creation.  He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

I think very tangibly, God has put it on my heart to communicate this idea.  I’m not sure who it’s for.  Earlier this week, I sent a variation of this same story to our staff team here.  I think it could be applied to me.  To you.  To this ministry.  To my church at home.  To the broader church in America… shoot, to the world.

As a staff body at Caribbean Mountain Academy,

We all want fruit.

We want breakthroughs for the students.

We want victory over sin personally.

We want new staff to serve here.

We want growth.

We want missions teams.

We want the joy of the Lord.

We want peace.

We want hope.

BUT

Is it God’s fruit, or do we take the glory?

Is it God’s breakthrough, or was it our wisdom and words?

Is it God’s victory?  Do we even think victory is possible?

Do we want new staff for God’s glory, or our comfort?

Do we want to grow in relationship with our Papa, or because we want to feel SOMETHING?

Do we want joy so it can be passed to others, or for our own contentment?

Do we want hope… but only if it’s tangible?

Ashes= repentance…

Repentance = fertile soil

Fertile soil = growth… fruit… hope… peace… joy… God’s kingdom here.

What you are talking to God about likely looks different.  But what are your motives in those desires?  Is it to benefit your relationship with Him?  With Others?  Is it motivated by a desire to make Him known?  Or is it comfort driven, fear driven, anger driven… what are your motives in prayer?  If you are frustrated because he isn’t answering… why isn’t he answering?  Why isn’t he answering the way you want?

Do you believe if he is saying no, that he has better plans for you?  That He really is sovereign and out for your GOOD (not necessarily your happiness?).

Take from this what you will.  If you’re not even sure where to begin with repentance, spent time just sitting with the Lord, asking for him to bring clarity in your own heart (not in others).  Find someone to walk with you who is a little further in their faith journey than you are (there is no shame in being discipled).

Let’s return to the Lord – together.  You.  Me.  Your family.  My family.  Your ministry, and mine.  As a church.  As a nation.

Hosea 6:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord.  He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.”