Celebrating Desert Wanderings

I don’t do very well with in-between times. I don’t like waiting, especially after sensing God’s leading in a certain direction. It doesn’t make sense to me why sometimes God doesn’t speed up the process. His timing is, so often, not mine.

I have been reading through the book of Exodus with my children this year. We’ve studied the miraculous saving of the baby Moses, his own exile to the desert, his encounter with the Great I Am, his return to Egypt and then we read about the plagues, the Passover and Israel’s final departure from Egypt.

But we realized that God doesn’t lead his people straight to the Promised Land. As if reading this for the first time, I stumbled out loud over Exodus 13:17-18.

 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, for that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.

God leads his people to the desert because they weren’t yet ready for war. They had a lot to learn before they marched around the walls of Jericho with Joshua some forty years later. They needed to understand the nature of this God who led them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They needed to trust in God’s provision of food and water for them daily. And they needed to receive his law in order to know the holiness of God and just what he required of his people.

During this time in the desert the Israelites did not settle down in order to live there permanently, but lived in tents, or booths. It was a time of in-betweens where God’s people were already delivered (from Egypt) but not yet living where God intended them to (The Promised Land of Israel).

One of the commands given to Moses by God (yes there were more commands than just ten) was to celebrate a yearly feast to the LORD called the Feast of Booths, which celebrated the LORD’s provision for and presence among the Israelites during their desert wanderings. (See Leviticus 23)

Starting on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Tishri, many Jews and some Christians will celebrate the Feast of Sukkot, or Booths. This is the final festival in the seventh month of Tishri, preceded by the Feast of Trumpets and the solemn Day of Atonement. Sukkot is a joyful time, celebrating the autumn harvest of grapes, figs and olives in Israel and commemorating Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness for forty years. There are differing opinions on when this feast begins, but many will begin their celebration on sundown of September 27 by constructing sukkah, or tabernacles, to remember how the LORD provided for the Israelites during their wandering in the desert.

I am intrigued by the Jewish Festivals, but especially by the Fall Festivals. Jesus, through his death, resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, has already fulfilled the Spring Festivals. The Fall Festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot look forward to the things that have not yet been fulfilled through Jesus Messiah. We look forward to the return of Christ and to his setting up of his kingdom on this earth. We look forward to his conquering of our enemies and doing away, once and for all, of the curse of sin and death. We look forward to his actual, physical presence! I believe that this Feast of Sukkot looks forward to the time when we will be forever with the LORD.

I want to learn about this feast and try to celebrate it as best as I can, not because I am under compulsion to do so, for I am not bound to the Law as those who were under the Old Covenant. No, I want to celebrate because I want to look forward to the day when we will feast with Jesus and remember his faithfulness to us during our own desert wanderings on this earth. Our own time of already but not yet. For now we see as in a mirror and are looking forward to that time when we shall see face to face!

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

 

Waiting for the Harvest

One week before school started we put our house on the market. There were a few reasons we waited for this unusual time to try to sell our house. We had to wait for our foster daughter to go home before we could get ready to move. We also had to wait on God to impress upon us just when we were to move our family. We have wanted for some time now to move to the country, but we needed to know that it was God’s timing and His plan. Exactly one week before our house was officially on the market, Jason finally told me that he had heard from God and that now was the time to go.

This last month has been a hurricane of activity and work as we have painted and packed and fixed up our house to sell. Three days after it had been listed, we had a contract and we were looking to close on September 22. It all seemed like God was moving and things were going so smoothly.

Until the day we drove out to Madisonville to look at a property we were interested in purchasing. On the way there, we got the call that our buyers were backing out of the contract.

Jason had to pull over on the side of the road as we decided whether or not to go ahead and look at this land, even though we couldn’t put an offer on it anymore. We were shocked and disappointed, but decided that since we had come this far, we should at least see the property, so we continued.

And fell in love.

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It’s been two weeks since our house has been on the market again and those two weeks feel like an eternity. We are in the waiting again and every time, no matter how many times God has proven Himself faithful, it is unbearable to wait on Him.
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The other day I was hungry. Being at the tail end of the shopping week, there was hardly anything to eat in the house. Well, hardly anything that this paleo mom could eat anyways, so I found myself in the garden desperate for something to fill the void. The remaining figs weren’t ready yet, the tomatoes were green, there was okra galore, but I was getting tired of okra. What I really wanted was for the three gigantic cantaloupes to fall off the vine. Hadn’t I been waiting all summer for them? One of them was yellow and heavy, but the vine still clung to the fruit with a death grip that meant it just wasn’t quite ready yet. But I didn’t care. I reached out and wrestled the fruit from the vine, struggling and twisting it until it tore free. I brought it close to my face and inhaled, but it wasn’t sweet. I smelled earth, but not the fruity aroma it was supposed to have. I took it inside, washed it off and brought it to the cutting board. I cut into it and the fruit was the right color, a deep orange, but it was hard to slice and even cutting it produced no aroma whatsoever. I knew I had done this fruit wrong, but I was hungry and it was too late now. I made the best of it, sliced the rest of it up and ate a bowl of no-taste cantaloupe.

It filled my belly, but there was no delight in eating it. 
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I received an email from our realtor, the same one who had shown us the property in Madisonville. He had been responding to an email I had sent him, asking him to pray for us in this process of waiting on the Lord once again. He encouraged us that he and his wife were praying for us and he proclaimed that we could trust our Daddy, that in His KAIROS timing, He would make a way for us to sell our home and purchase what He had for us.

Kairos is the Greek word meaning, “fitting season, opportunity, time.” (Strongs Concordance) It is used many times in Scripture to tell of the time of the harvest.

Do I believe that His timing is kairos? Do I trust Him?

Most days it doesn’t seem like it as I fret about the inconvenience of keeping the house in pristine, show-ready condition. When I read about the financial crisis about to hit our nation and despair that the house will never sell. When I start to doubt that maybe we missed His voice or didn’t do everything we were supposed to do.

But then, I return in surrender to the One who has proven again and again His faithfulness to me. The One I know I can trust. The One who speaks to the depths of my being that He longs to give me the desires of my heart. Me!

I can choose to trust that His timing is nothing short of perfect.

I decided to wait to let the cantaloupe actually fall off the vine before I took matters into my own impatient hands again.  When I did that, I discovered that waiting until a fruit is ripe and in season is the best way to enjoy it.

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It smelled divine and tasted even better.

A Happy Ending

One year ago, to this very day, a three month-old baby girl was placed in my arms for the first time. I was given the charge to take great care of her until her parents got their act together. If they got their act together.

This was the second foster placement we had and my family knew somewhat of the unknowns belonging to the fostering realm. There were no guarantees really. Kids could stay for a month and then be whisked away to stay with some obscure family member with a freshly-done home study, or they could stay a year or two. Or the parents could relinquish parental rights and the child would stay forever.

The truth is, I didn’t want her parents to get their act together. I wanted to raise their daughter as my very own.

For about two months we heard absolutely nothing from CPS as far as if her parents wanted her or were doing their services or trying to get her back. And that was fine with me. Our family quickly bonded with the little joyful girl and we affectionately called her “Bella” (the Spanish way, with the L’s having the Y sound).

Two months into our story of doctors’ appointments and sleepless nights, Bella’s lawyer called me and scheduled a visit to check on her. When he came, he told us the heart-breaking news: Bella’s parents did, in fact, want her and were doing whatever they could to get her back. Apparently her father was seen crying in court because he wanted his daughter.

I say “heart-breaking” because how could I give this child back? I wanted to keep her. I remember standing in my bedroom, with my hands clenched tightly into fists as I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “Give her back to me, my child.” I balled my fists tighter and cried out, “No, God! I don’t want to. I don’t want this story to end like that!” But with tears streaming, I knew I had to let go. I softened and my hands relaxed until I was holding them wide open. She is not mine. She’s never been mine.  

We’ve always been stewards, haven’t we?

I got to see Bella flip over on her stomach for the first time. I captured on video the first time she called for Daddy, “Dada dada dada dada!” My children experienced the thrill of making her laugh. I experienced the thrill the first time she slept through the night! And then the agony of the first teeth she cut, and then she didn’t sleep for a long time. We got to witness her first time eating solid foods and then realized that she would only eat if Addie fed her! I was there for her first halloween, her first thanksgiving, first christmas. We shouted encouragements as she began to army crawl across the floor, in the particular way she would drag her whole body with her right arm. We were there when that turned into a true crawl and then when she would pull herself up to stand and stay there crying because she couldn’t get down! Oh how we loved her!

And her parents loved her too. Two times a month for two hours Bella had supervised visits with her parents. Four hours a month. Very early on, upon meeting them, we realized that they truly wanted their daughter back and were not just playing games with CPS. Little by little, our trust in them grew , as did our compassion for them. One day, we were invited to Bella’s mom’s birthday party at a park! And soon after, we invited them to our house for Bella’s first birthday.

You see, theirs is a success story that is not your average CPS case. Mom and Dad did their services. Completed every single one. Dad stayed with Mom, even though his leaving would have gotten him his baby girl. He chose to stick with her because he is an honorable man. And then, I just can’t help but think that with everything against Bella’s mom, an abortion would have been such an easy way out. But she chose life. She chose life even though she knew her baby would be ripped out of her arms when she was days old.

We’ve had them to dinner at our house and we’ve heard their stories. And I cannot even begin to understand the heartache and brokenness they have each experienced. We have such tender love for them both and it is only because of Jesus that our paths would be brought together and that I would be able to give them back their daughter.

Three weeks ago, Bella returned home to her mother and father. We miss her greatly, and the tears and the sadness come, especially from my tender-hearted Jeremiah, but there is such joy in this that it is quite difficult to be sorrowful. We loved Bella well. She has returned home to a good place with parents that love her and want to bring her up to love God. God has turned their lives around.

This story ends where theirs begins. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Why Am I Afraid to Love?

I had just pulled the big, white Suburban, full of kids, into the driveway. It had been the second day of Vacation Bible School and I had volunteered. The baby had fallen asleep immediately, even before we had pulled out of the church parking lot and I intended to keep her asleep and transfer her into her bed as soon as we got home. I opened the rear passenger door to get her out, unbuckling the seat belt as gently and quietly as I could. I lifted her up and turned around and almost bumped into my neighbor, Richard. He had come over and was standing right outside the door of the SUV, waiting to talk to me. It was a little past noon and already I could smell the alcohol on him.

“Just give me one minute,” I pleaded, hoping the interruption would not wake the sleeping child in my arms.

“How many kids do you have now?” he remarked as I frantically grabbed at my keys and opened my front door and swept upstairs to put her down to sleep, wondering all the while what in the world Richard had come to talk to me about and if I could accomplish my task of keeping the baby asleep and then gather my boys and their best friend, whom I had left unprotected in the car.

I came downstairs as the boys wrestled and laughed their way inside. I noticed my purse and the diaper bag inside the house and Richard just outside my door.

“I brought your stuff inside,” he said to me, motioning to the bags on the floor.

I panicked, but recovered quickly and apologized for leaving him  as I explained the importance of making sure the baby stay asleep. As I talked, I walked outside and closed the door behind me. The midday sun beat down upon us and the windless humidity and smell of his intoxication hung heavy about us.

Richard began by telling me that his daughter (with whom he lived in the house across the street) was moving to a different house and that he needed to get rid of some of his things and he had a wood lathe that he wanted Jason to have. He said he couldn’t sell it, but needed to get rid of it, or else it would be thrown away.

I told him I would talk to Jason about it, but that we did not have a truck to move it and that we were trying to get rid of some of our things in order to simplify our lives. Then I asked him where he was going.

And his answer has broken my heart.

“To a shelter,” Richard said, worn eyes looking down. “My kids are done with me and this is the end of their help.”

I stood there silent. There were all of these churchy answers floating around my brain, wanting to come out like, ‘Just trust in Jesus,’ or ‘God will heal you, just ask him.’ But I couldn’t say any of that. Maybe he didn’t want to get well. Or maybe he had already asked for healing and healing hadn’t come. And I don’t have answers for an alcoholic.

I said all I could think to say. “I’m so sorry, Richard.”

After telling him I would talk to Jason, he squared his shoulders and walked as dignified as a broken man could walk back to his daughter’s house.

I wish I could tell you a happy ending to this story. But my fear got in the way of my love. A couple days later I noticed a pickup truck in their driveway and the hustle and bustle of packing and loading. When we came home from VBS that afternoon I could see Richard sitting in his garage, amid cardboard boxes and a mattress leaning against the wall. I deliberately parked the car, got all the kids out on the opposite side of the driveway, so Richard could not see us and I ushered the kids inside the house quickly. I even scolded Thaddaeus for hanging back on our front porch, looking for a toad he had trapped earlier that day.

I was afraid of Richard.

I was afraid to even wave at him and acknowledge his presence.

I was afraid of his brokenness and so I hid inside my house.

This morning I opened up the garage door to take a walk and I noticed that Richard’s car was gone. He had moved and my last chance to say goodbye had been wasted because of fear. I wept as I prayed and repented for my lack of love. And then I remembered something that had happened last year. I remembered my daughter, Addie, had written a bunch of notes that had said, “Jesus loves you,” and she and Jeremiah had run around the neighborhood ringing doorbells and leaving the notes, to the infuriation of some neighbors and to the blessing of others.

I remember one evening being outside with my husband as our boys rode bikes on the street with the neighbor kids. Richard had come out of his house and walked over to Jason and had told him, in a choking voice, just how much that note that Addie had left meant to him. Jason asked him, in the sincere and strong way that he has, how Richard was doing. Richard’s eyes had filled with tears and he said, “Not good.” But then he squared his shoulders and walked away back to his house.

Why am I afraid to love? I think it’s because I believe the lie that in order for God to love me, I must be perfect. When I see the vagabond and the addict and the homeless man, I start to believe that love is dependent upon the wise choices we make. They have not made wise choices and therefore are below me. Not worthy of my time or my attention or my money. Not worthy of my love.

But I forget that I am the ragamuffin. I am in desperate need of the love of God and He loves, oh He loves me, not based on anything good that I do or any good choices that I make!

As Brennan Manning, one of the men most humble and secure in his own brokenness and belovedness in the Father, has written:

Our trust in Jesus grows as we shift from making self-conscious efforts to be good to allowing ourselves to be loved as we are (not as we should be).

You see, my daughter had it right when she wrote the notes with the cheerful and uncomplicated message.

Jesus loves you.

When I allow myself to believe that this is true, it casts out my fear and empowers me to love others.

 

 

 

 

Behold the Love!

I have the privilege of sharing my story on my dear friend, Kelly’s blog today. I have written for those who have felt unworthy of the Father’s love and for those (like me) who did not even know their need for it. May it stir us to begin the journey of beholding the unfathomable love bestowed upon us by our good Father.

It was ten years ago, when my oldest daughter was but six months old, that I began the journey of knowing the love of the Father. We were at Maranatha Bible Conference, a family camp along the shores of Lake Michigan that my mother’s side of the family has been going to for almost 30 years now. The missionary focus that year was Mission India and the speaker was John DeVries, the kind of man who just radiated the love of God like no one I had ever seen. He instructed us to pray the Word of God and gave us an assignment that week to use the passage of 1 John 3:1 and each day take only a couple words and pray that God would reveal them to us in a great way. Unbeknownst to me, in the instruction to pray the Word of God slowly and thoughtfully, he was teaching me the ancient discipline of lectio divina.

To read more, click the link below.

http://thesobieskicrew.blogspot.com/2015/06/behold-love-by-kristin-brown.html

The Fifty Book Challenge

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I want to share something that has been an invaluable tool that has gotten us through the past two Houston summers. I didn’t come up with this on my own, but was encouraged to give it a shot by one of my true friends, Angela. It’s called The Fifty Book Challenge and it has revolutionized our summers.

Here is the gist of it: your kids have three months to read fifty books, after which they receive fifty dollars to spend on something real.

Two summers ago when we tried this out on Addie and Jeremiah, we all were uncertain as to whether or not they would finish the books in time. Let me tell you something. Fifty dollars has proven to be a huge motivator for our kids. 🙂 Not only did they finish the challenge in time, they had one whole month left!

Let me give some guidelines:

1. The books must be within the reading level of the child. This may seem very overwhelming, but it challenges them and keeps their interest. Some books will naturally be longer than others. We gave them freedom to read smaller fiction or nonfiction that were age-appropriate, which balanced some of the longer reads we also encouraged them to read. I have also said that books of the bible count in this challenge as well. There are great reading lists online for different ages. Utilize the summer reading lists public schools hand out, or the summer displays in the library. You will go to the library. A LOT. Let your kids choose, but also pick a few books you want them to read. Also, any chapter books that Jason or I read aloud to them during that time period counted as a book to add to their list. (Just our personal rule).

2. They have three months from the starting date to finish their fifty books. For example, this year we began on June 5 and will end on September 5. If you break down the days, they generally have a little more than a day and a half to read each book.

3. They must spend their money on something real. This rule has proved to be very difficult to define. Our children are exposed to so much toy junk through advertising and most kids will come up with a lot of ways to spend fifty dollars before they even have it. I am trying to figure out a witty acronym for REAL, which gives them parameters for spending. Our definition has been to spend the money on something that lasts, something that is good, something that is educational. The first summer Addie spent her money on gerbils and Jeremiah spent his on legos. They could both prove to me that their choices fell within the boundaries of something real.

4. Give them at least an hour a day to read. This is the absolute best part of it all. We just got back from a trip up to Dallas and on the way home, all three of our kids were QUIET for at least an hour as they got out their bag of books and their reading logs and started devouring words. (Thaddaeus was reading quietly out loud, as early readers will need to read aloud or to an adult).

Have fun with this! There are so many benefits they will receive from reading multiple books. Our kids have truly learned to love reading during this time and have gained a tremendous sense of personal accomplishment from finishing this challenge.

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Because, let’s face it. When you are handed a crisp fifty dollar bill that you earned, that is a great feeling.

A Mighty Rushing Wind

I met an old man from Bangladesh the other day. He had bright white hair and only one tooth in his mouth. I was drawn to him. He asked me about the baby I pushed in the stroller. The baby that looks nothing like me, with her deep brown eyes and jet black hair,but who has belonged to me for these past nine months. I tried as best as I could to explain to him what fostering meant, and maybe he got it a little, but it was apparent I could not communicate exactly to his understanding. But that encounter that morning was no accident and I could feel the Holy Spirit within me pushing me towards him. I could sense the love that God had for this precious Muslim man. So I asked him if he knew that Jesus loved him. “Oh, you mean Isa?” he asked. “He is one of our prophets.” “Yes!” I cried. “And Isa loves you!” And he began to speak to me that he did not believe that Isa died, but was taken up to heaven. And then he told me that he believes that Isa is coming back to fight alongside militant Islam. And I told him, with great joy, “Oh yes! Isa is coming back. I believe that too!” And as I spoke so briefly with this Muslim man, I stood before him and I held out the good news of Jesus’ love. This. This in the face of the grand scale persecution going on throughout the world of militant Muslims against my own Christian brothers and sisters. Today is Pentecost Sunday. The day the Holy Spirit came upon the believers for the first time as they waited and prayed together for that power that Jesus had promised would come over them.

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:2-4

Jews from many countries were gathered in Jerusalem for their pilgrimage to the Feast of Pentecost. Jews from the nations, speaking different languages, heard the good news of Jesus being preached to them in their very own tongue. Peter preached from the Hebrew Scriptures and they were convicted and responded to the message. And three thousand were baptized and added to the church. The Jews knew Pentecost or “Shavuot” to be a festival of the first fruits of the wheat harvest. This came fifty days after the festival of the early first fruits of the barley harvest. In this feast of Pentecost, the first of the wheat harvest was taken from the earth and baked into two loaves of bread and waved before the Lord in praise for the promise of a greater harvest at the end of the season. In Jerusalem, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, God was fulfilling the meaning of this festival harvest by a harvest of souls. But not just for the nation of Israel. For all the nations of the world.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. Psalm 67:1-2

This morning I awoke to the most violent wind blasting through my backyard. I pray that the Holy Spirit would break out upon us in a mighty rushing wind. Oh church, let us rise up and proclaim the rich message of salvation, through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that all nations will come to King Jesus. Let us get down on our knees and pray that God would send us out to the fields, white for harvest. The time is now. So that one day, we will hear every nation, every language, every tribe declaring the praises of Jesus. And I hope to hear that man from Bangladesh, with the snow white hair and the one tooth, declaring the praises of Isa.