Shoot To Kill

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We were awoken abruptly in the middle of the night with the sound of three gunshots nearby.  Silence.  Three more gunshots and I reached over and grabbed Casey’s arm in the dark. Silence.  One more shot. 

 

Unfortunately, it’s not completely abnormal to hear gunshots if you live in the community of Ocean View.  Gangsterism is a part of life and we know many of the gangsters and their families who live near us.  We don’t feel threatened by them and the gang violence is towards other gang members, not innocent bystanders.  However, there are moments that sharply and aggressively remind you of the danger around you and the fragility of life. 

 

We talked about the shots fired the next morning, how jolting it was, and how especially ominous the final and lone gunshot was.  Casey remarked “that shot was the shoot to kill.”  He was right.  The other shots were aimed at another person to hurt them or stop them or wound them, but the final shot must have been at close range and was the shoot to kill.  That was the shot to take someone out for good.

 

This really got me thinking in spiritual terms and how the enemy must have a ‘shoot to kill’ tactic for each of us too.  The devil fires many different ‘shots’ trying to take us all down in many different ways.  John 10:10 says “The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy…”  We don’t realize it but the enemy is always trying to attack us.  It’s a part of our reality that we don’t like to think about, but ignoring it can be unwise.  1 John 5:19 says, “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one”.  Going even further, 1 Peter 5:8 describes the enemy as “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour…”

 

In contrast, Jesus Christ offers us so much more - “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).  God wants an abundant and full life for us in Him; every single one of us.  But we are under attack and to live not recognizing our spiritual reality it is blind ignorance.  There is a death warrant on each of our heads.  The enemy wants death in our relationships, death in our families, death in our emotional lives, death in our finances, and death in our relationship with God, just to name a few. 

 

Thankfully we weren’t in danger the night of those nearby gunshots, we must live aware of the spiritual battle around us all.  I pray we ask God to help us see our world in new ways.

Doing GOOD

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Thousands of women and I attended the Hillsong Colour Conference this past week in Cape Town, South Africa.  God certainly did spectacular things there and exceeded all expectations.  But what truly made my heart sour was nothing related to the production, world-class speakers, or epic and memorable moments from the stage.

This was my seventh Colour conference to attend, and as usual I had the beautiful privilege of hosting women from Ocean View for the stunning event.  Since it is a world-class conference it would be something out of reach for most of the families of Ocean View that support themselves and so many other around them.  Year after year, Hillsong Church has graciously sponsored a group from Ocean View so they woudn't miss out on the appointment with God.  Not only does Hillsong help sponsor our tickets, but they also provide transport, welcome the ladies as if they were royalty, and feed and personally host us throughout the entire conference.  They truly go above and beyond and it makes us feel like the most exclusive guests at the conference.

During one of the sessions where we were hearing about the incredible and inspiring work of people around the world for the kingdom of God, I sat listening with my Ocean View sisters and was overcome with emotion.  I don't have to travel around the world to see brave and sacrificial work done by the people of God, I only need to look to my sisters in Ocean View.  These women serve and love in ways that I could never imagine and each have a story of life in Christ that moves me.  They inspire me greatly and I found myself deeply grateful for their time at the conference to be refreshed and renewed for what God had for them to do in their lives.

What an honor to be a part of a church that truly considers others and shares what God has given us to those outside.  They love and care for the Ocean View community and I count it as such a privilege to help host these stunning ladies.  May we NEVER neglect doing good!

“Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

-Hebrews 13:16 ESV

Choosing Bravery

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Our son Keller is starting a new chapter in his life this year as he is now attending Grade R (called Kindergarten in the USA) and it's been a huge transition for him.  When we went to visit the school and had the 'meet the teacher' day, he ended the day crying because he was so overwhelmed and just wanted to stay at his playschool.  My heart was broken watching him struggle and we began to tell him over and over again that he was BRAVE.  He is BRAVE.

Now Keller has started school, and today was a true revelation in my heart that Keller doesn't need to become brave because KELLER ALREADY IS BRAVE.  Today Keller went to school just as normal but a friend who teaches in his school sent us a beautiful picture of him as he chose to be brave today and get dressed up as a skeleton which he had never done before.  He was smiling with pride and my momma heart soared to know he is choosing bravery in something that was an obsticle before.

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Every day at school, without the help of his obsessively loving parents, Keller is choosing to be brave and step into new and unknown things.  We watch from the sidelines and cheer from the background and couldn't be more proud of him.

But as I cheer I can hear God speaking very clearly to me about my own path and the obstacles that are in my way.  Just as we have been telling Keller to be brave, God has been telling ME that it's my turn to be brave.  It's time for ME to choose bravery.

Having a child with special needs is a journey that is hard to even describe to those who haven't walked this path.  You live constantly planning, thinking, therapizing, sacrificing and praying for your child and each day is a challenge to tackle.  We have walked that road for three years, but now our little miracle is flying into his own world and living bravely all the things we have taught him.  It is stunning to watch your child thrive, but can I be honest that it's also strangely painful to see your child fly away.  I have walked with Keller every step of his past three years and what he is doing now is beyond my wildest dreams, and when I am honest it also causes a sharp pain in my heart because I am no longer needed.  This calling that was put on my life to be a special needs mother, the calling I never asked for and never-ever wanted is now part of my identity.  But what happens if it's NOT my identity any more?  What I never wanted is now so deeply who I am that I do not know how to separate from it.  Part of me doesn't want to separate from it.  All of me doesn't know how to separate from it.

And so in this confusion and heart pang God is telling ME now to choose bravery.  God knows my hurt and searching and has gone before every moment I am feeling.  God is telling me to choose to be brave, even when I would rather cry and be overwhelmed like Keller has in previous times.  God is telling me to BE BRAVE.  May we always choose to be brave.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – NELSON MANDELA

Too Close to Home

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We are seriously living the dream as American missionaries living in Cape Town, South Africa.  We have been here 8 years now and so things aren't 'new' to us anymore and we have learned so many lessons.  We live in a 'coloured' (mixed race) township of about 300,000 people called Ocean View and it truly has become home.  There is so much to be thankful for, and yet every once in a while things hit too close to home....

In recent times the people of our community grew a great anger and unrest about the state of policing and protection for the innocent in our community.  The gang situation has been worsening and it seems our home is a place where people who are running from the law come to hide.  This creates violence between the gangs.  Most of the times the violence is late at night in the dark corners of the community, but every once in a while it comes out into the open.  Recently a young boy was shot and killed as he stood in his own home as his family prepared for a wedding the next day.  It was unthinkable and tragic and wrong and the community went in an uproar.  Eventually we began to see riots outside the entrances of the community, a common way of protesting in South Africa.  People take tires and burn them with oil, they throw rocks at cars, and they chant with signs and shouting about their complaints.  It usually starts honest and passionate and can sometimes end violently.  Unfortunately this is what we encountered surprisingly one morning.

We were leaving to take the children to school one morning, and had been hearing through the social media conversations that the protests were heating up in the front of the community.  We had our children and two teachers in our car and hoped to simply drive out the back of Ocean View.  We got to the entrance and immediately the bonfire of tires and gasoline sent chills down my spine.  The fire was ominous but was in the middle of the road and so I thought I could simply drive around.  As I began to drive, three Rastafarian men suddenly surrounded my car and began angrily shouting at me.  "Turn back!  Turn around!  Go back!!"  It all happened so quickly but what I remember clearly was the look in their eyes of mad hate.  They were so aggressive and had never met me a moment in their lives.  For some reason my first instinct was to roll down my window and calmly and clearly speak with them.  I began to tell them that we WERE going through and that we had some place to be.  No matter how calm I was, the fact that I wasn't heeding to their anxious instructions only made them more angry and they then began to shake the car and continued to shout.  At this point (again I am not sure why this was my response) but I got louder and ordered them to stop, which they did.  They quickly (and strangely) calmed down and shyly said I could pass (looking around to make sure no one saw).  I said thank you and we drove on.

Only then did I notice that the kids were crying in the backseat and the teachers, both residents of Ocean View, were also very shaken up.  We all were in shock.  It just happened so fast and I had no idea how I would respond to it outside of the moment.  The children quickly calmed down and we talked about it many times afterwards to make sure they weren't traumatized.  The teachers debriefed with their staff at school and were fine.  For the rest of the day, however, the moments kept playing in my mind over and over again.  I knew the outcome, and I knew that I just reacted from my guts in the heat of the moment, but what if it had all escalated?  What if they had thrown the rocks at the car (which happened to other cars)?  What if they had forced us to get out?  Who knows what could have happened to my precious children?  What if it had all gone terrifyingly different?

We love living in this community and absolutely love the people of Ocean View, but violence and pain are unfortunately a part of the story as well.  We can't always predict what will happen and things like 'safety' are viewed differently by us than most we know.  However, when it comes TOO CLOSE TO HOME it can really rock my soul.  What am I willing to put out there for this calling?  How much risk is too much?  How much love is too much?  How much of what my children experience and witness is too much?  How much of what I experience and witness is too much? 

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I am glad that I provide the space to wrestle with them when they simmer to the surface.  They do not have concrete answers but they need to be asked.  The need to be noted and the questions need to be felt.  Once I allow myself to wrestle with them I settle back again into the glaring certainty of our call to Ocean View.  I sense again in my soul our family's calling to live among these friends as neighbors and family.  Soemtimes the cost may seem too much, but it's not today, and it wasn't on that day.  The cost is actually NEVER too much when it's what God has called you too.  After the questions and the wrestlings we find a deep peace in knowing our calling and being obedient.  And we know God is with us, and that even when it seems too close to home, our home is really in HIM.  And we are really good with that.

 

Shining a Light

Recently in Ocean View I have started up another Shine course.  Shine is a course created by Hillsong Church with a goal to use Biblical principals to teach woman about their value, worth, and inner potential.  It has profound principles, is full of truth without being overly 'Christian,' and just creates a fun and touching atmosphere for women to connect with one another and themselves.  I absolutely love teaching it and the fruit that comes from each course.

The women I am teaching all doing various sorts of volunteer work in the community of Ocean View, as well as being from the community of Ocean View.  To me, this means that these woman already know the life that comes from helping and serving others, and so I honor them already.  What they don't always know is their own value and beauty, and already we have begun to uncover that in our time together.

Being around these woman has reminded me of the beauty in allowing your own light to shine.  One of the women began to share her heart and her story, and how much her life changed after she came off drugs.  She had been addicted for years and years, and now her new life in Jesus is completely different away from that lifestyle.  She now serves the people of Ocean View alongside her daughter, determined to make those around her know the love of God.

I am stunned by how significant a life and heart can change when Jesus Christ shines His love on them.  I am stunned by how much light comes out of this woman as she shines for Jesus.  I am stunned to see her huge potential and in awe of all I know God will still do as He shines through her.

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Time and time again as I spend time with friends, old and new, in Ocean View, I am struck by the fact that it is not I who is shining the light of Jesus on them, but them shining the light of Jesus on me.  Through their lives and hearts I get to see a part of God that I have never personally experienced but am humbled and awestruck to know.  Who knows what God has ahead for these women, and even for my own life.

The Edge of Autism

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Our days with autism, could be numbered.

We are walking a journey with our Keller James that is miraculous and unbeleivable.  It is at the same time hard to take in and yet all we have wanted to see for years.  It's the days we dreamed of... when we were brave enough to dream.

Keller has finished creche (preschool) and in January 2018 he began Grade R (kindergarten).  He attends the same school Kieren attends, a normal primary school filled with neuro-typical boys and girls.  The school does value inclusion and has a few kids on the spectrum and with other intellectual disabilities, but it looks likely that Keller will not be one of them.  For sure, he was nervous about the change to 'big school,' but he is ready, and we, his biggest fans in the world, know that he will thrive.

At this point we have been told by multiple therapists that Keller does not have ANY of the symptoms of the autism spectrum and some have recommended that we meet with our diagnosing doctor about taking away his diagnosis.  This can happen, where a child would 'lose a diagnosis' because of intervention and an overcoming of symptoms.  We see Keller still struggling at times with focus and other tasks, but we agree that truly his defining autism symptoms are no more.

I someone wonder, with a huge lump in my throat, HOW DID WE GET HERE?

How did we get to a point where our child has no symptoms of autism and absolutely thrives in every part of his life?  Was that other child we had just a dream or was that really our life?

We know that Keller's autism diagnosis at 22 months was very real and it was very accurate.  He met all the criteria for autism and had symptoms that were moderate.  Our lives were completely turned upside down by the diagnosis and our family became intervention experts and all personal therapists for Keller.  

We have walked a three year journey with Keller where every moment was an opportunity to have therapy and help him learn and our efforts have proven fruitful.

What has been the most fruitful in this journey with autism has always been PRAYER and the PRESENCE of GOD.  We have always known that God was with us and have always seen His hand on Keller’s life.  There are changes and advancements that could have only come by a miracle and we never will forget what God has done.

What is Our Response?

I was in McDonalds, trying to mind my own business with my chocolate sundae, and accidentally I once again overheard the conversation I hate to hear.  One person asking another about the community of Ocean View, and saying, "Aren't you SCARED to go there?"  I honestly stopped listening right there, because I am personally tired of creating my own response.  But in these days, even I have to admit it's a valid question.

We witnessed another tragedy recently in Ocean View, another death among many, but this one was different and it has shaken our community to its core.  This was a young girl who was sweet and loved by many and never deserved to be mistreated at the hands of such darkness.  There are unfortunately many deaths we hear about, but most of the are people involved in gangsterism and drugs, and so sadly death is sometimes a part of the lifestyle they have chosen to be in.  But not Cameron.  Cameron wasn't a gangster, although she did associate herself with some people who were not good characters.  Cameron wasn't involved in the gansterism and darkness of Ocean View herself, and her death has shocked and scared everyone in our community.  We all find ourselves asking if we are scared to be in Ocean View...

So what do we do in this time, and in the face of this darkness.  What is our response?

There have been many already.  People have left, or have pulled out their associations with Ocean View.  People are angry and fed up with gangsterism and those affected.  People are terrified at who or what could be next.  People are judgmental about the 'others' who these things happen to and separate themselves from it completely.  But to me, all those responses are separation.  They are separating ourselves from those affected and those hurting, assuming we are going to figure out how to be the safe and secure ones in the face of darkness.

Unfortunately I just don't know HOW to do that.

I don't know how to seperate myself from Ocean View because it's my home and it's my people.  Maybe with other darkness, other pain, other heartache I could stay away from it, but this heartache is in the middle of my own heart and I can't shake it.  I can't just walk away.

I am SO GRATEFUL that I can't seperate from this pain.

As the weeks have gone on and people have moved on from the pain of Cameron's death, I have thought about how thankful I am to not be able to seperate.  I am thankful that this is my home and these people are my family.  I know how this entire community has rallied around Cameron's mom and brothers to love and support them.  I know how the community of Ocean View has risen up to speak against the darkness and violence and try to bring it to an end in unity.  I know how people have woken up day after day, and even when they are afraid, they have still entered into this community and lifted on another up, because that is what you do with family.  The values that are expressed in this community, as dark and violent as it can be, are beyond anything I have experienced before.  

So many others look at Ocean View and only see the terrifying darkness.  My response is different because I look at Ocean View and see the overcoming LIGHT.

The Season of Silence

Nichole Nordeman has this incredible song called 'Seasons' that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.  She talks about the seasons of the weather and how it is the same with us in God.

"And everything in time and under Heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath

And still I notice You when branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter" -Nichole Nordeman

Lately I have found myself in a season and it's one I don't particularly like.

There is a season I also don't like and it's winter.  Winter is harsh.  It's dark.  It's cold.  It's tiring.  These words can describe the season of life I have been through in many ways, as well.

Seasons can be hard, and they can feel like they are never ending.

But recently, when I was talking once again to God about my current season, I heard him whisper sometimes extremely important.  He whispered, "It's a SEASON."  

Season.

This was a loud whisper because my particular season had been a season of SILENCE.  But what was so stunningly important to hear from God was that it was a SEASON.

I immediately thought of the four seasons of weather and later this song. 

That whisper was life to me because it was not God telling me he was taking away my circumstances, or going to now speak really loudly, or change all the things in my life that I don't like.  But it was God reminding me that what I was facing, for me a season where God was glaringly silent, was just a season.  And while seasons come and they come with a vengeance, while they can be slow, and dark, and cold and painful, they are only a season, and they eventually END.

Seasons are beautiful because they come and then they go, and at the end something new begins to sprout up and grow. 

So I wait in my season and I look out the window, I rub the ground with my feet, and I look over the mountain for the spring breeze in the air.  Because my season is just a season, and I am promised by God that something NEW is about to grow.

 

"And everything that's new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
And what was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green

So it is with You and how You make me new
With every season's change
And so it will be as You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring" - Nichole Nordeman

 

 

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The Embrace of Missions

A man steps out of a muddy cargo van in a foreign land and meets the eyes of another man.  They embrace, they shout, they weep.  This is not the story of two family members reconnecting after a a long time apart, but rather two Christian brothers from completely different worlds, contexts, and backgrounds reuniting on the mission field.

 

Those of us who have experienced a short-term mission trip can remember going to new lands to be overwhelmed by new cultures, languages, smells, foods and experiences.  Personally I was involved in short-term mission trips to Mexico, Jamaica, Equador, Honduras and even Africa.  Those who have been ‘sent’ to these new lands look back on their experiences with full hearts.  What I notice, however, is that what I remember most of those trips is not the new languages, foods I ate, houses I built, songs I sang or children I hugged.  All I can remember is certain people.  And I remember them vividly.  There are those people who even though you don’t share culture, background or language, somehow you become a brother and sister in Christ.  For me I remember Raymond, Marta and Emmanuel. 

 

Who do you remember?

 

For Keith Cathcart, he always remembered Chuky.

 

Many of us connected with young Chuky in Mexico because he was young and funny and open.  Working with Faith Ministry on the border of Texas and Mexico, we were there to serve families in poverty and help them to build homes as they built up their lives.  This faith-based organization came around these families with the hope of Christ, and for one week we would come in and to build and love alongside them.  In this context, we all felt like we connected with the people of Mexico, but evidently Chuky connected with some of us too. 

 

The embrace story that I shared was not long-lost family but instead Keith and Chuky reconnecting after 10 years of not seeing each other.  10 years of no communication at all and coming from WHOLLY and COMPLETELY different worlds but yet their hearts had connected and they were once again reunited in embrace.  It was unplanned and paints a picture of something deep in the heart that longs for connection, is created for connection, and rejoices in the connection.

 

Many years later, my husband and I serve on the mission field of South Africa with our two children.  We now live on the mission field, living among a community of people who are disadvantaged, and I see people coming and going almost daily whose aim is ‘mission’ and to love those who are in need.  They come in and set up kids’ clubs, paint faces of little children, feed soup to the hungry, walk through the community and share about Jesus, and everything else in between.  Sometimes being on THIS side of missions I even wonder if it is making a difference?  The kids seem to go back to normal, the next day the people are hungry, and do they really remember the Jesus they had just heard about?

 

But then I see a story like Chuky’s and something in my soul says that THIS is the power of missions.  The power of missions, the possibility of missions, the PURPOSE of missions isn’t the painting, and work, and evangelizing, and face painting, although those things are needed.  No those acts are only the vehicle for the EMBRACE of missions.  The hope is that two people from completely different worlds and cultures would meet and connect and their lives would embrace in a way that changes them both forever.  No it doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s nothing short of holy.

 

So missionaries, both short and long term, I encourage you to keep reaching out, to keep connecting to keep looking for your ‘Chuky’ and to give them all you have while you share a short moment in time together. 

 

It’s the power of the embrace.

 

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We Need Each Other

We just need each other. 

Today I was in a group of women and we were focusing on early childhood development, but honestly it could have been a group talking about anything.  That space is simply sacred: the space when women come together to learn, to grow, to pray, to seek, to laugh, to cry.  We did all those things together today but one brave woman really opened up her heart, was vulnerable and let us into her broken places.  I was in awe because it’s so hard to say “I am not okay.”  We would rather do ANYTHING than say we are not okay, even if we could not be more undone if we tried.  It’s hard to be broken and its even harder to SAY that we are broken.  But in this sacred space this woman did admit and we came around her and shared and talked and listened. 

It was special. 

It was sacred. 

It didn’t fix or solve anything but it did show her that she wasn’t alone.  She wasn’t crazy.  She wasn’t the WORST.  She found a little bit of hope and a little bit of strength in her sharing and she learned she could keep trying. 

I have been reminded over and over again lately that we simply need one another.  We can’t go it alone.  Shame and grief tell us to hide, tell us we are alone, tell us we are the only one, tell us that we can’t overcome.  But shame and grief are liars and they don’t have to final voice.  WE DO.  We have to open up.  We have to come alongside others.  We have to open up.  We have to find that hope.  And we have to keep going forward together.

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