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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dreams for Christina

It was an ordinary evening- the caboose after a seemingly monotonous day's train. I had dinner with my parents and my dad suggested taking a walk in the neighborhood out the door we went and down the street. My dad finished walking as we rounded the corner back to our house after a short bit, but my mom and I kept going...not realizing a divine appointment lay ahead of us just a few in an unexpected package. Her name- Christina. 

I can't recall exactly what my morning prayers were this day, but I have a faint memory of asking God to bring people across my path whom I might be able to serve and love. 

She came walking up with phone and some wiry gadgets in hand, and my defenses were up. Who was this inner city looking girl with her white t-shirt and jeans heading toward us? In my parents' neighborhood, we know all the neighbors, we know faces, we know names. 

She was selling things that afternoon- magazines and the like. Door to door in the heat, tirelessly selling her "story"- trying to pull on the heart-strings of those answering the bell. It's doubtful she had success-not here anyway. They bus them in from out of town and use these kids- promising the moon... It's a form of modern-day slave labor if you ask me- empty promises in the end. No moon, no money, no magical life...only miles and miles from home, shoe soles worn from walking and eyes weary from facing strangers' rejections day after day, door after door. 

Her black face with eyes like diamonds and a smile gentle and kind...yet roughened by the hours alone, weeks of no sales, and lonely spirit...she just wanted to know where the closest gas station might be so she would have somewhere safe to stay, waiting for her "field director" to pick her up, because he wouldn't come till after dark... We assured her the neighborhood is safe-probably safer than walking the main roads with zooming cars and no curbs. So she waited at the entrance. Time ticked. We circled around and saw her. Waiting, white t-shirt barely glowing from car-light's reflection in the night sky. We checked on her. Went back and she was still there, so we brought her food and drink. 

She waited, we waited. We couldn't leave this 24 year old alone and afraid on the curb. Would they come for her? We chatted as we stood, and my mom was adamant-talking to her with stern love as a mother would her own child, encouraging her to lose the job and find something bigger God has for her life. Christina has two kids, and her own mom who loves her, and adopted siblings who are doing well. She opened up about her life and her spirit softened more and more. She told us of her youthful rebellion that landed her as a single mom with hardly two pennies.  She knew this wasn't the best job, but she felt ashamed to go back to New York and face everyone. 

I felt compelled to ask her what her dreams are. Her desires. What makes her tick? What has God planted inside of her heart that drives her, and just needs to be re-awakened? She loves English. Wants to be an author, or at the very least an English teacher. This girl wants to go back to school to accomplish these beautiful dreams. Oh dear Christina. On the corner of the curb, as night pressed on into deeper darkness, a solitary light was flickering inside of her, and I could feel the Holy Spirit moving, angels about. We laid hands on her shoulders, and she put her arms around us. The three of us women alone beneath the night sky, cars passing on the main road, and we lifted her in prayer to heaven, huddled in Jesus' name. She received it with gratitude and a shining dream was being rediscovered from underneath the brokenness, the fear, the shame. We made her promise to leave her job the next day. She said all day long she'd been praying for answers- where to go, what to do. "The devil's just been playin with my mind- I shoulda never left home. I need to go home. God has somethin else for me. This is an answer to my prayers." 

So we kept waiting with her, talking, laughing, one goal to spark something and help her come back to her heart. Come back to the future and the hope prepared for her. Come back to the dignity and great worth she has as a person created by God. Here stands a young mom, just a child herself, afraid on a street corner of a "white-person's" neighborhood. Betwixt the fear and the hope lies a soul created for greatness, only needing to be unlocked so that she might walk into her beautiful destiny. A destiny prepared for her before the foundations of the world by a God who radically loves her and knows her by name. Christina. His daughter whom He loves so much He gave His life for her on the rugged cross, to liberate her from chains of sin and poverty and fear into the freedom of righteousness and fulfillment and faith- a full life. A life lived out of the wellspring of the heart.

I've been reminded recently of this truth in Chip Dodd's powerful writing,The Voice of the Heart, "But if you risk acknowledging and understanding the substance of your heart, you begin to see your life change and grow and become full...One road well traveled as it is, keeps us in the existence of survival...The other leads to full life-a road along the heights that is rough going, yet joyous and full...the way of the heart."

Finally her ride came. We hugged her, not once, but twice. A stranger became a sister in that hour. The man who screeched his big white van up to us was yelling out the window, sarcastically at us "Don't shoot me, don't shoot me!" My mom scolded him, as a good mother does to protect one of her young, "Don't you leave this beautiful young woman out alone like that! It's wrong!" He yelled back some rude words and zoomed his vehicle around, whipped out of the neighborhood. 

Tears welled in my eyes and I prayed, "Lord Jesus, protect her, protect her." I feared for her, at the mercy of those men in that van. What obstacles may come tomorrow to keep her from getting home? My mom had given her just a little cash to help leave town and make the trip home. How will the enemy try to keep her in these chains? Lord God, liberate her and guide her by your light! Provide miracles along the way. Please help her fight for her dreams, to take a step of faith and risk and follow her heart, because the deep desires there are pools of purpose which You have filled...

"...Hope-the belief and trust-that another will meet you in your reaching out. Hope thwarted leads to despair...No matter what has happened to you in your life, you still have the capacity to reach out in hope to another...Hope grants us the ability to go on. Hope is the spiritual and emotional energy that makes us get up and turn the next corner to see if the answers might be there." -Chip Dodd.

Divine appointment. Dreams stirred to the surface of the soul. Hope remembered. Entertaining a stranger. A dark street corner with the light of Jesus illuminating the way. 

I shall forget not this night. I shall forget not this Christina.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Sound of the Ocean

I went for a run on the beach this morning. God gave a gift and held off the rain. It was glorious to see the dawn's brushed sky with strokes of pink and grey and blue hues. The wind was cool upon my face, reprieve from the thick shoreline air. Birds scampered across the sand, one seagull balancing on one leg, looking like an odd acrobat. When he noticed me coming, he quickly put his other leg on the ground, but after I passed him and looked back, there he was at it again, practicing his circus tricks.

Why do people come to the shore? What is it that we all long for as we go to and fro upon the land, groping for freedom, traveling to find water's rest? I think people do come for freedom- to look upon the expanse of the skies, how the blue air kisses the sea's far reaching waves, the horizon blending the two as they become one vast picture of hope. Something's out there...something we cannot see or grasp, but we can look as far as possible and feel the enormity of promise, the eternity of hope.

I think I come to hear the voice of God. To drown out the voices of the world and to just listen. As I ran and saw the morning sun rising higher and higher, lifting its head to light our day, I could hear the crash of wave after wave after wave. Something so calming about the repetitiveness, the knowledge that the next wave will come, the faith in the design and pattern of it all. His voice of faithfulness and sheer goodness speaking in those waves.

I think I come for healing. To see the vastness of it all, the sea so deep and far and wide and the great unknown...I can know that my God catches my every tear and can wash each one in His huge, foaming waves. He can swallow up my pain in the grand story of His plan, soaking the cares of my heart in His ocean of faith and hope and healing into a beautiful testimony of grace.

I think I come for stillness. To set aside the tedium and tasks of life, and embrace a moment of just calm. My eyes can catch a glimpse of the Lord's glory as the infinite beauty abounds in every grain of sand, every salty drop of water, every bird in the sky or crab on the land. To be on the edge of land, leaving the worries of life miles back, and dip my toes in the beginning of adventure and wonder and promise...having no idea what all is truly out there in those waves, but my life becoming humbly smaller in the grand view of this incredible scene.

Something saddened me in all of this, though. I was not the only runner on the beach this morning. I passed others, smiled, and ran. But what broke my heart was realizing that one of the reasons people come is to escape...Maybe I come to escape, too. Yet, instead of escaping into the presence of God, running toward His love and acceptance and purpose, so many end up escaping from it...they drown out the sound of the ocean, the whisper of His love, with iPods playing and heads tuned into the monotony of music, choosing that to drown out their thoughts, their experience, over the chance to commune with the Living God. How could anyone choose the voice of human noise over the voice of God? Why is it we drown in a culture of endless, clanging sounds, and forget that there is the most beautiful orchestra of peace awaiting us, if we only would listen? 

Yes, we live in a world of pain where we long to escape. Thousands upon thousands every year flock to the summertime shore to do just that, but they leave missing the most incredible chance to have truly escaped into wonder, beauty, and hope. The ocean is a place of listening, of healing, of stillness...if we would only realize that God wants to speak to us through those waves, pour the salt of joy over our wounds, and invite us to be in His calm, warm presence.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

God's Persistence over Hearts and Lives!

The following article was written by my dear friend, Mari Quillen, Founder & Executive Director of Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center.  May this story touch your hearts with hope...

In February, we held our annual banquet which was an exciting time of celebrating.  Dr. John Bruchalski gave an excellent keynote address and we had a surprise performance from a beautifully talented Christian music artist, Caitlin Jane.  Our client testimony with baby Noah brought tears and celebration and of course the food was delicious!

The night of the banquet, everyone in attendance was excited to hear all the wonderful things God is doing at the center.  Most of us thought it was just another fundraising event which would raise awareness, friends, and finances.  What most of us didn't know was that sitting as a guest at the banquet was Mariah, who is 18, beautiful, smart, and funny.  Mariah was also a client at the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center and was 8 weeks pregnant.

Mariah had been coming to the center regularly attending parenting classes through our Partners Program and very much wanting to be the best mom she could be.  She was taking her prenatal vitamins and in the truest part of her heart she wanted to carry the baby she was pregnant with.  She would come into the center and get support time and time again.  Occasionally though, she would say things like, "I really want this baby, but others think I should abort".  Mariah did not want to let anyone down, so she would teeter back and forth on carrying or aborting.

Mariah finally gave into the pressure and fear and scheduled an abortion.

The abortion was scheduled for the day after the banquet, so we invited Mariah to the banquet in hopes she would have the chance to hear another client's testimony who had chosen life a year earlier and was not one bit regretful as she held her one year old.

"I went to the banquet and heard the story of another client and I was bawling crying.  I am so glad I went," was Mariah's response the night of the banquet.  That night, amongst hundreds of people sat one girl who needed to hear the hope God gives in the midst of unplanned circumstances.

The Bible says we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.  One client's testimony gave hope to Mariah's heart.

The very next day, we were surprised to find out that Mariah and her boyfriend Greg did follow through with the abortion appointment and drove a couple hours away the day following the banquet, but as Mariah sat in that clinic and hours passed by and she was getting ready to proceed with the abortion, she realized she couldn't do it.  Mariah left the clinic still pregnant and full of courage.  Greg, her boyfriend, was still undecided.

That very night they both showed up to our Caitlin Jane benefit concert and hear the song "Unborn" (youtube it if you have never heard it!).  As both Mariah and Greg opened up their hearts to the Lord in church and tears flooded their eyes, and as they received support from others, they made the decision to both choose life for their little one and this time not turn back.

"Being in the church, hearing from other guys and God changed Greg's mind," Mariah said.  That very same weekend Mariah told us how a random stranger came to them and told them to read Jeremiah 33:3 which says:

"Call to me and I will answer you.  I'll tell you marvelous and wondrous things you could never figure out on your own."

The courage it took to walk out of that abortion clinic, the steadfast pursuing of God straight to the hearts of Mariah and Greg encourages me that no matter which way they turned, as they called out, God answered and showed them marvelous things...

*Thank you, Mari Quillen, for writing this beautiful testimony. To find out more about the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center and the incredible outreach they have to women and families, please check out their website: