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What God Taught Me in 2016

God taught me a lot in 2016. We moved from the city out to the country to live on a farm. The country had been my heart's desire for years and it finally happened. Living in the country, I felt the most peace I had ever experienced in my life (until I saw a snake). That was my happy place...within the first month there I couldn't imagine ever living anywhere else. I could only see staying there, after all it was my happy place and I was really in need of the peace that place brought me. Our children truly loved it. They loved the animals, freedom and slower pace it brought to our family.I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33 ESV

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I also did a lot of growing personally during that time. If you don't know my background, I came from an abusive home. Many times as a child I wasn't allowed to have my own feelings. I was too often told how to feel, told when to smile, and always told to get over "it". "It" was usually some form of physical pain accompanied by verbal assault. Not really something you can just get over in a matter of seconds. My whole life, in one way or another, I had been hearing "get over it" without having the proper tools on how to get over it. Something about preparing to live in the country and actually living in the country on a farm was freeing. I feel like God used that time to teach me that I had a voice. He taught me that I had choices and that I could in fact make those choices without worrying about what others would think. In the end what mattered was what God thought. That had never really occurred to me before. Most of my adult life my choices have been thoroughly questioned by others. Maybe well meaning others, but generally I walked away feeling like I was stupid for whatever they were questioning me about. When you are 21 and get married to a man seven years older than you with 3 children then go on to have 6 children and adopt a teenager, you get ALL the questions, judgment and ridicule. So before moving to the farm it never really occurred to me that I only needed to consult my husband and my God. Really it was a weight off my shoulders. I needed not to worry about what others thought about me or the road that God was leading me down.

But the biggest and most important thing God taught me in 2016 was that I wasn't doing as well as I thought I was. I had this certain area in my life that I really struggled with for a while. By "struggled" I mean at one point I flat out refused to even consider doing what the Bible called me to do. Since I've gotten older and had a best friend guide me in this area I had grown a ton in the last few years. I bet if you had asked Jeff he would have even said I was doing a good job in this area. If you had asked me if I had that area down I would have said "yes". But God showed me different and even then I argued with Him. For those of you that know me you know I can be pretty hard-headed, so the fact that I argued is probably no surprise to you. In April of 2016 when Jeff was on his mission trip to Kenya God and I had a little conversation. It went something like this.

Me-I really need to sleep can you please make me sleep?

Him-You need to let go and submit.

Me-...what? I am submissive.

Him-You need to stop holding him (Jeff) back.

Me-...WHAT? He's in Kenya right now, I'm not holding him back, I just keep him level-headed.

Him-You need to let go and follow him.

Me-But I don't want to move to Kenya.

Him-You need to stop holding him back and follow him.

I just wanted to sleep! My husband was 9,000 miles away, the dogs were barking, I was hearing noises, it was 4 am and I was starting to worry/freakout/panic. Instead of sleeping I was learning...learning that an area I thought I had "mastered" I was still weak in. Though I had grown leaps and bounds in that area I still needed more growth. So for the next several minutes I cried. I cried because I knew that meant I had to say goodbye to my happy place, friends and family. In that moment I knew we would be moving to Kenya. For me I feel like that is every area of my life...if I think I have it mastered then I'm just missing something. God taught me to always be looking to grow and learn more.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

 

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Movin' On Up!

green-light

Several months ago, when we first got a sense of a "green light" from God on our move to Kenya, we had a February date in mind for our move. Well, as things have progressed, we are bumping up our move date to the first or second week of December. God willing, we will be in Kenya for Christmas!

Please be praying with us for the following:

  • Our house is under contract! Please pray the closing is smooth and on-time.
  • Passports have been applied for! Please pray they arrive on-time.
  • Funding: While our move, land, and construction of the orphanage will be, God willing, covered from our personal assets, we are still in need of commitments totaling about $1,000/month for our orphanage costs.
  • We are having a garage sale November 3-5 to sell off most of our belongings.

Words cannot describe how blessed we feel to have people partnering with us through prayer and financial support. God bless each and every one of you. You mean so very much to us!

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First World Problems

Where have we been? Yikes time has gotten away from us. While I would love for this blog post to be all about how the house is sold, passports have been purchased and plane tickets are booked, I can't. Life has been full of hiccups over the last several weeks. I've had a constant reminder of just how "first world" our problems really are and had an even bigger drive to just get to Kenya already. I've found over the last several months that knowing the life God has called us to has made lots of struggles we have here just seem silly and less important.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.James 1:2-3

As many of you know we put our house on the market at the end of August. Our house is the only thing that we own that has any real value, so naturally it needs to be the first thing to go. I'm not a real estate guru by any means, but I don't think that the end of August was the best time to list a house. So here we are with a house listed that we know needs some work (mostly cosmetic), at not an ideal time and we have renters so that makes showings "tricky" at times. We are currently working on closing on our 4th offer. Obviously this hasn't been a smooth-sailing process, and while we are close to closing, it could also fall through. Over this last month I have processed many different emotions. I've gone from nervous to excited to let down to frustrated with moments of positivity. Please pray that the house sells now. In so many ways we are at a stand-still until it has been purchased.

house
house

Our house in Garland. God willing, it will be sold this week.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Phillipians 1:6

While dealing with the ups, downs and frustrations of selling a house, we had vehicle repairs to deal with. Basically, Jeff's car died. It was a 2000 Camry with over 250k miles, but we were really hoping it would work until January for us. I think we were asking a little much! After fixing it multiple times we decided to call it quits and move on. I think knowing that every dollar that was spent on that car was one less dollar going to Kenya made it an easy decision for us. Now if only the logistics of trying to run a family with one vehicle were that easy. Jeff drives a lot for work so it isn't an option for me to take him to work and keep the van. 5 days a week the kids and I are without a vehicle during the day. It actually hasn't been too difficult, but we are for sure planning more and being more intentional about errands and things that happen outside of our house. Good preparation for Kenya!

shopping

Grocery shopping at 9pm on a Tuesday night.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV

I'm a fixer...if there is a problem it comes natural to me to research, get a plan and make things work. So when the house isn't selling I go into "fix it mode". I start trying to find ways to make things work out better. When the car breaks down, I literally try, and often do, fix it. I usually hit up Google and youtube looking for parts and videos. Several years ago we had a laundry pile issue, one day laundry looked caught up, the next day it was overflowing. Then on pinterest I found the soulution to taming our laundy pile. Once Jeff built our new sorter and we put the new system in place it worked beautifully. Now 5 years later we still use it and it really makes life easier. For the last month or so I have been in plan and fix it mode and for most things I have a backup plan. :) I have lists upon list and backup plans for my backup plans.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

I feel like I constantly struggle with being still and knowing God has this and trying to fix things. While I know the house will sell in God's time and that the He will provide exactly what we need to move it is also hard. It is hard for Stephanie in the flesh not to question why the struggle. I like to feel like I'm doing my part, like I'm preparing our fields for rain, but it could also look like I'm trying to make things work according to my plan. The truth is this isn't my plan at all...my plan was to live here on our little farm, enjoy the peace that this move brought me and raise our "babies". So that busyness that is seen in me and that could look like I'm trying to force things to work in my favor is really me trying to do my part that I feel like God is calling me to do. My heart is to only cover my bases and plan best I can so that I'm not holding up stuff on our end, so I'm not standing in our way!

Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house. Proverbs 24:27

Please pray for us! Pray the house will sell, pray that we won't grow weary of all the details, pray that we will see our "first world" problems as just that and please pray for funding. God is using many people to make this move possible and we are so grateful for those willing to join with us and help us get to His calling for our family. We hope to update everyone on where we are at financially soon!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12

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God Made Me for Africa

Eric

Eric Liddell was made famous to most of us by the movie that tells his story of Olympic gold and his love for God, Chariots of Fire. In the 1924 Olympics, Liddell refused to run in the heats for the 100 meters, the race he was favored to win Gold in, because they were on Sunday. He instead ran the 400 meters, a race he was not favored in and knew he had disadvantages due to his racing form. He ran right into history books winning gold with a personal story that shocked the world. The movie ends with these words placed in text on the screen: "Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of World War II. All of Scotland mourned." The End.

While the movie tells a good story about something Eric Liddell did, the last few words written on the screen at the end of the movie tell the real story of Eric Liddell. Though he was one of the most famous athletes of modern times and the Olympic glory of Scotland. Though he was a Christian who refused to compromise. Though without question, Eric Liddell was made to run. Yet more than anything else, Eric Liddell believed that "God made me for China."

Here is where I can identify with Eric Liddell. While I've never been much of an athlete, I do know what it's like to feel that God has made me for a nation other than where I am from. For over three years now, I have not been able to shake the feeling that God made me for Africa.

How can I love a continent that I have never lived in? God...that's how. Many years ago I began to have an unexplainable fondness of Africa. At the time, I had never been there. As a matter of fact, this past April was my first trip. But over the years, God has given me an undeniable love for Africa and the people who live there. In my recent trip to Kenya, I could not shake the feeling that this was to be home. At least as home as any place in this life can be.

The last several weeks, very little has worked out according to our plans. We are selling our house in order to raise most the money needed to purchase the land in Kenya and build Mercy Children's Home. This is where our family will live and also raise and disciple as many orphans as God will allow. Initially we are planning for room for 80 orphans. However, selling our home is taking much longer than we expected. We have also been experiencing several issues with our 16 year-old car that has 250k miles on it. (I know, imagine that...haha) We just need it for about 4 more months, but these repairs have been getting pretty expensive. We have also been passing around some sort of respiratory illness. It especially has hit Steph and I pretty hard for a couple weeks.

In all this, I realize if we are going to praise God in the good times, we must praise Him in these rough times. We must count it all joy, knowing that God is producing steadfastness in us. (James 1:3) And regardless of whether or not our move to Africa goes according to our plans and whether or not the funds come according to the way we plan, we are moving to Kenya. We have no doubt that this is God's plan for us. We know there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord (Proverbs 21:30). We trust that God will work out the details according to His plan. We trust that God will provide according to His purposes. We can do nothing else but go, because God made me for Africa.

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Proverbs 21:30

In a previous blog post I said that James 1:27 was my life verse and it is, but I think I (or God actually) have added another one to it. A few days ago I was venting to Jeff about all the things that were going wrong. Over the last 3 to 4 weeks Satan has been FULL on attacking our family so I was having a "poor me" moment. In this moment I was listing off all the things that weren't going right and complaining about how I was just ready to be done with these things. I was ready to consider them fixed or finished. Jeff breaks into my "poor me" fest with "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord." (Proverbs 21:30) I reply with something like "yeah, yeah I know", and honestly there was probably an eye roll in there somewhere. My eyeroll was about knowing he was right and him always seeming to have the right answer at the right time, not out of disrespect to him or God's word. Obviously rolling my eyes is something that I need to work on not doing. ;)

Anyways, I did know that NO plan can succeed against the Lord, I really did. But later that day it hit me. It was like a "duh moment" if you will. The full impact of that verse kept washing over me, almost in waves. In some sort of way this verse became my mantra...it has been stuck on repeat in my head since then. Every time I hit a road block big or small "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.", runs through my head. Shortly after my "poor me fest" I was working on Jeff's car again (that is a whole different blog post all together ;)...the bolt I was trying to get off was so STUCK! This bolt probably hadn't been removed since it was put on the car 16 years ago, so here I am, way in over my head feeling like I can't do it, but knowing I need to and there it is, "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord"...and I kid you not, as I'm trying with all my might the bolt loosens...I, with God's help, was able to get that bolt off. Probably sounds dumb to some of you that I think big ol' God cared about me getting this bolt off. But I just know He did. He cares about the big and small things! A few days after this we found out that our house wouldn't be bought by the couple who had been working towards buying it for the last 4 months. So here I am again with all sorts of thoughts going through my head, and feeling the panic set it. We do need to pay for the land in Kenya, we do need to have thousands of bricks made, we do need to be making progress in our move to Kenya, but can't until the house sells. But then God steps in, "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord."...He's right! God has this, He does. So why do I continue to stress about it?

Reed car

Even Reed tried to help me get that bolt off!

I think I continue to pick up all these burdens and carry them with me because it is habit. As a child I wasn't raised in church, I didn't know there was a God that I could rely on. My childhood was a chaotic childhood...my parents, who are completely different people today, were then often involved in their own life which usually included drinking, drugs and my father being unmedicated but bipolar. Often I was left to figure out things on my own, play on my own, wonder what was happening in my life on my own. As I got older I learned that if I wanted anyone to watch out for me it had to be me. If I had a problem I needed to fix it. Old habits die hard. I try, I try to take it to God and drop it at His feet, but for me the reality is that often times I return to pick up. I'm a work in progress, always trying to make changes and be more like Jesus. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion. (Philippians 1:6)

So here we are about a week out from all of this and we have a car that works, we have a house that is listed for sale, we have great friends and amazing kids. And just like Jeff said to me "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD." The house will sell, the land in Kenya will be bought, an amazing home for us and many others will be built, STORIES WILL BE CHANGED, mine probably the most.

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Visits, Goodbyes and Home.

Jeff and I frequently get asked the question of how often we will be back in the states for a visit or how often we will be coming home for furloughs. I wanted to pop on here real quick and explain how we see things going as of now. Just like the "sudden" call to move to Africa (more on that here) , God can do and does exactly what He wants when He wants ;). We will continue to follow Him should He call us back to the US at some point. But for now, the reality is that visits will be few and far between; very far between. Travel from Kenya to the US takes about 2 full days; a hotel stay (well, we are choosing that for the move) and at least 2 planes, but more likely 3. Plus a 7 hour drive to Kaya after arriving in Nairobi. Getting 9 people to an airport, on a plane, off a plane, on a plane, off a plane, grabbing 20 something bags and to a hotel will be no easy feat, nor will it be cheap. We aren't moving to Kenya with a large missionary group backing us. AFM (About-Face Missions) is a small international ministry connecting Christians with global indigenous pastors assisting and supporting these servants in their God-given missions to carry out the Great Commission and serve the needy. AFM was founded in 2011 by Jim Ball and David Shelton. Jim is now a full-time missionary evangelizing unreached people groups. David is now serving as AFM President and Director. AFM is ran by an all-volunteer staff of seven folks from various locations in the US. We are a 501c3 so all donations made to AFM on our behalf or the behalf of any of our other supported ministries are tax deductible. We will be the first missionaries sent into the field by AFM. So while we will be supported by donnors we won't have thousands of extra dollars to be flying in for visits...not even every third year.

Linda and Ann

Pictured above areLinda and Ann, 2 of the orphans living with AFM supported Pastor Samson and his wife Ruth in Moi's Bridge, Kenya.

Coming back home...Well, Kenya will be our new home. We are leaving Texas and building our new home and life in Kenya. Kenya isn't just a 5 or 10 year move for us, this is where Jeff and I plan to grow old together. God willing, this is where we plan to continue to raise and possibly grow our family. Our main purpose in Kenya will be to care for orphans and widows, discipling all whom God will allow. It is our desire, God willing, to be a blessing to the community in which He is placing us. While we will have help with the children's home, we do not have plans to turn it over to someone else anytime soon, so that will make leaving for an extended period of time hard.

The kids...We've been very honest with them about our move and the likelihood of us not returning. We've told them that we won't be able to come back often, so if you ask them when we are coming back they will probably just say they don't know. Just know that's not because we haven't discussed it, it is literally because we don't know if or when we will be back in Texas. We tend to over prepare/inform our children for things if that is possible, that's just part of the way we have chosen to parent. We like for them to know what they are committing to before they just jump in head first. A quick example is Caitie desperately wanted to go with Jeff to Kenya back in April. However she was very sad when we told her we (and by we I mean mainly me) wanted her to wait until Jeff had been so he could help prepare her for the unknown of another country. My "Momma gut" kept telling me that Jeff needed to go first so he could help prepare her. Obviously she disagreed, but ultimately she understood and trusted us. Well you should have seen the look on her face after her Daddy came back and told us the "bathrooms" there were literally a HOLE in the GROUND. I thought she was going to burst. She would NOT have been okay with that at all and that isn't something that her Daddy could have easily explained to her in the moment.

Pictured above: Left, the two dark brown structures are Toilets at AFM Mercy School. Right, Urinals at AFM Mercy School.

As far as our 3 adult kids, we are so hoping that they will come and visit us. They have each said they will come and visit...my heart just might burst if we are ever all in Kenya together. Leaving our "big boys" as I call them will most definitely be the hardest part. I literally can't talk (or even type for that matter) about it without crying...it feels so wrong. But at the same time I KNOW that we have been called to this. I keep thinking of all the things we are going to miss or what we might miss or "what ifs". Two of our boys are graduating in May of 2017; one from high school and one from Princeton Theological Seminary. While I keep telling myself that it is "just a ceremony" and we have been there for them for this whole "school career" it is heart-breaking to know that we will miss these important life events and many others.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37–39, ESV)

Our supreme affections belong to the Lord. We have no doubt that this move is of Him. While leaving behind our "big boys" will be a difficult trial to our entire family, we count it all joy, giving God all glory and honor and praise.

Pictured Above: Our 3 "Big Boys". Left, Cory (25) Top, Quinn (22) Bottom, Kyle (18)

Will we ever see you again? I don't know the answer to that, but we hope so. I can tell you that we will have a room for you (even enough room for a group of people). You, yes you, are invited to come and see what God is doing in Kenya! I've always heard that mission trips were expensive...like $3000 or more. Well, not here. We are purposefully building a room for guests. If you are able to come and stay with us all you will need to do is get here...I mean there...Kenya, get yourself to Kenya. We will feed and house you for as long as you can stay. A quick Google search will show you that you can get a round trip ticket for around $800, and I bet if you have some sort of flyer points you can use those to make it cheaper or possibly free. Yesterday I even saw some one way flights for under $600, and for us, that is exciting!

Also if you want to see us while we are still here in Texas, let one of us know and let's make it happen! Life is busy, I completely understand that. But we would love to see our friends and family before we go, even if it has been too long since we saw you last. If you want to come to the farm let me know and I can throw lunch or dinner together and we can visit. This move has forced me to adult and actually have a calendar/planner. Can you even believe that I've made it this long just winging life ;)? So let Jeff or I know if we can write you down and visit (at our house or yours) for a while before we move in February!

Planner

Pictured Above: My First Adult Planner!!!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and pray for us. Your prayers are felt and are sincerely needed.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26, ESV)

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Our Large Family Bible Study

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

Our parents want us kids to grow up understanding and wanting to learn more about the Bible. I find this to be a very important part of our everyday lives. I feel it is important because it makes us grow closer together as a family and closer to God.

Bible Study 3

What does Bible study with so many people at so many different ages look like? I will share a little bit of our controlled chaos with you. We generally do our study in the living room, but we've also done them outside by the fire and even in the park after playing some basketball.

Family Bible Study outside by the fire

We start Bible study by doing a couple of worship songs chosen by us kids. Daddy hooks up his tablet to the T.V. and finds the songs with lyrics on YouTube. We then watch the video and sing along, sometimes the little girls will dance while singing. Worship is my favorite part and I usually have a few suggestions picked for when Dad asks us for ideas.

After worship, we take turns reading from the Bible. We all know that reading happens right after worship so there are always a few kids ready with their hands in the air hoping Daddy will notice them and call on them first. Sometimes Daddy has to gently remind them that he knows they want to read and they will get the chance to. Most of the time we read Proverbs "Proverbs of the day", as we call it. This is when we read the chapter number that corresponds to that day. If we read a chapter a day, we are reading through the book of Proverbs every month.

Bible Study 2

Everyone gets to read, even Aspen (3 years old). Us older kids usually pair up with the ones who can't read yet. The reader will whisper a few words at a time to the little one and then the little one will repeat it out loud so everyone else can hear. It is important to include everyone so that they will get excited about learning and won't see Bible study as boring and unenjoyable.

The hardest part of Bible study is paying attention. Let's say Daddy called on Karson to read the next ten verses. You know you are going next so you try really hard to keep up. Then Reed comes over and sits on your ankles and sticks one hand in the air saying "yah! yah!" pretending you are a horse. Then Aspen sits next to you with a pen trying to doodle on your Bible. While you try and pry the pen from her, Violet comes over and asks you to open her Bible to the correct spot because her Bible closed, again. By the time you focus on reading again, you have forgotten who was reading and then you notice everyone is looking at you expectantly.

Reed playing horsey "Yah! Yah!"

We don't always do Proverbs of the day though. Daddy sometimes has a sermon that he wants us to watch. The last sermon we watched was about modern Christian families. Voddie Baucham was talking about his views on marriage, discipline, and education. He said something that really stuck out to me. He said that only one kid out of ten stays a Christian after their freshman year of college. Only one out of ten! That is why studying the Bible every day is so important, not just on Sunday and Wednesday.

Bible Study 4
Bible Study 4

Watching a sermon. Probably Matt Chandler, or Voddie Baucham, or Paul Washer, or...

After our Proverbs or sermon, we spend time going over what we learned and asking questions. It is very important that we understand what we learned so that we don't have a confused and twisted interpretation of the Bible. Daddy is very good at answering any questions we have. Sometimes Bible study ends up being pretty long because Daddy loves to explain things...sometimes he gets very into it and gets pretty detailed by answering questions we hadn't even thought to ask.

Nearly every  Bible study ends up in a discussion of the Gospel. We often discuss how great it will be spending eternity enjoying God and exploring the depths of the Gospel with Him and His Saints. Daddy also tries to help us understand that as children growing up in a family that spends alot of time in God's Word and proclaiming the Gospel, we have a great responsibility to repent and believe the Gospel. We also are taught that repenting and believing are not one-time events, but rather continue in the life of the Christian. We are taught to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)

When we are done reading and we have all of our questions answered, we close in prayer and then sing Doxology. Every time without fail, Lala (Violet) volunteers to lead us. We memorized this song as a family a couple of years ago so we just sing it a capella, no need for YouTube.

Bible Study

Pastor John Tino from Massailand, Kenya stayed a couple days with us and was gracious enough to join us for Family Bible Study.

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Deuteronomy 11:18-19

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