Photos courtesy of Ryan Prouty

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Agape takes an American picnic to Haiti

You all do not hear from me too often and there's a reason for this; Travis does the most amazing job at keeping you updated and sharing our lives with you that I don't have much to say after she is finished. But I have an experiential edge on her with this one. Most of you know, other than those who live with me and those who have attended the Free to Love Marriage Conferences (cops and perps too), that I am a fairly quiet guy. Well, that can mean a number of things as you know, but I will just share this with you. As I ponder in my silence at times, I am gathering what God does not want me to miss, or I am just trying to make sense of what is happening around me. As I met with children in Haiti, there was not too much to be said. Not only were we 30 something apart in age, we did not speak one another's language. This made talking, well, senseless. So we smiled, and shook hands and just sat on occasion looking at one another. Worlds apart and unable to communicate. What a picture of what it must have been like at the Tower of Babel. Fortunate for the children pictured below, they had teachers, teaching them in their language (Creole) and sharing the saving grace of our Savior with them each day.
The main purpose of our trip to Haiti just a little over a week ago was to encourage the missionaries in Port au Prince by bringing them a good old fashion picnic from the US of A. And we did just that. Charlie and I had chicken and burgers and dogs moving on and off the grill like a Kansas Tornado. We even threw some BBQ sauce into the mix to bring a little Kansas City flare to the event.

The young lady to my right could not stand to watch so I took some time to teach her the trade of the grill. She had not seen a grill quite like the one we shipped down and left for the event, and I am fairly sure she had not cooked a burger on a grill before, so she jumped right in and helped, eager to learn. I found this attitude of service to be in all of the staff at the International Mission Outreach (IMO)where we stayed, they wanted to learn and serve as best as they could. Charlie Gardner addressed the missionaries who attended the picnic with thanksgiving to them for what they do each and every day.

On Sunday morning we attended the service at the IMO. As most places I go in the world where the people are generally a little smaller that the big boned North American, the boys found their way to me. We exchanged a bon jour and then sat and enjoyed one another's presence. Here we are attempting to learn one another's names. I still don't know what his is.

On Sunday evening we traveled to a village in the mountains to the North of Port named Terre Rouge. We had to trek through a large segment of Port to get to the road to head north, the below photo shows the state of the "roads" and waste management plan of the city.

This church, on the mountainside, built in 1946, was packed the night we attended (about 80 or so). The pastor who built the church is still there and attended the service with us. The service was lit by a lantern that was positioned at the pulpit, and there were no instruments, but the place was alive. The pastor's son is now a pastor and they treated us to a meal afterward including goat and several other fixings. They went all out on our account.
The staff at the IMO treated us like kings and queens for our entire 5 day stay. I helped when they would let me, but it seemed to be an insult to them for me (and the others) not to allow them to serve. An extremely caring and kind bunch.

I will finish up with this, the sun rises and falls on the righteous and the wicked, the poor and the rich, the haves and the have nots alike. What we focus on will determine our mindset wherever we are, no matter if we are in the most affluent of cultures or in the poorest of our Western Hemisphere. Remember, that no matter where you are in life, IT IS TEMPORARY. This life is short, a blink, a rain drop, a dash mark between two dates. Keep the faith, depend on Christ for your strength, and move mountains in His name. Paul

Monday, April 20, 2009

The God of Hope

Sorry, its been a while since I have posted anything of substance on my blog. I guess that's because it takes time to sit and gather my thoughts and allow God to speak to me. He likes me to sit quietly and listen to Him...I don't do enough of that. SO, he hit me over the head at church on Sunday with a fabulous message from our pastor. I want to share the cliff notes with you as I also update you on the crazy going ons around here.

Appropriately enough, the message was about hope (as some of you brighter ones may have already figured out! Good for you, you are paying attention, you were probably straight A students...can't relate!) How perfectly timed considering what our family, our church, our police department (we will always think of CRPD as ours!), and our country are going through right now.

Our pastor gave us six keys to overcome hopelessness (and I even wrote them down so I wouldn't mess them up because I knew I wanted to share this with all of you):
1) The God we serve is the God of HOPE! We are not self sufficient (shocking revelation isn't it??) Romans 15:13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

2) God is for ME! He is for my marriage, my children, my job (or lack thereof), my leisure activities, everything! He is on MY team! Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
And Romans 8:35-39 35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. I had a light bulb moment when he discussed the difference between pruning (done to grow us and make us more fruitful) and discipline (done to draw us away from our sin into the light of salvation and forgiveness). I already knew those things, the light bulb came on when he explained that these 2 things LOOK and FEEL EXACTLY THE SAME. AND, they both serve the same purpose in the end, to make us more like Jesus. So, when those trials come, I don't need to ask why, I just need to submit myself to the shears, whether they are for pruning or disciplining, I need to look hard into my life and see if I am nurturing a pet sin, or if I am walking with Him, and grow from the experience. HOW can I do that???? I often ask that of God. I tell Him, "Wow, I don't know what you are trying to get through to me, but I want to get it quickly so I can move past this and not endure this trial again!" I am sure He gets a great giggle out of that one! "If she only knew...", I am sure He's thinking! Which leads me to the next point.

3) Keep your eyes on Jesus! Just that easy, right?? No? Yeah, NO!! Hebrews 12:2
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
This is where healing can begin! Proverbs 3:5-8 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

4) Beware of the enemy! I Peter 5:8
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
He is real, and if you are a follower of Christ who is trying to walk in the light, he will target you! Be ready! II Corinthians 2:10-11 And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, 11 so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes. We need to be familiar with his schemes so we are not outsmarted!

5) Avoid isolation. Galatians 6:2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. It is not a suggestion, its a command that we share our burdens and be transparent about our struggles. WOW, how many people do that well????

6) Don't take shortcuts. Proverbs 3:5-6 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Its pretty rare that the path God wants us to take is the shortcut, or the easy way out! I love one thing Matt said, "God is never for us breaking the rules." Its usually not convenient to remember that though!

I love this illustration to highlight the point of keeping our eyes on Jesus and off of our circumstances. He told of a man shipwrecked as the only survivor on an uninhabited island. Stranded, he foraged around and made some shelter and gathered food and soon learned to hunt and fish to feed himself and to make tools and other necessities out of the elements available to him. One night as he was heading back to his "home" he was devastated to find it in flames. All of his hard work and possessions were lost in that moment. He was utterly devastated and without hope. At that point, he fell asleep on the beach. He awoke the next morning to footsteps and voices. In disbelief he stared at a ship just off shore. The crew told him they were there to rescue him because they had seen his smoke/signal for help! Your life might be ON FIRE right now and that may be the smoke signal that brings rescue! Just when things seem hopeless, Jesus wants to be our HOPE! He is our HOPE for rescue from death and evil and sin in this world. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

We have faced a hopeless situation in regard to our housing. We have not found anything available that is comparable to where we are for the same price. We haven't tried to see if anyone will come down (as they did with our current house) yet, but it looks hopeless. We still haven't heard about the house across the street either. We are choosing to keep our eyes on Jesus and ask you to continue to storm the gates on our behalf that we will witness a miracle, either in our own attitudes (in accepting moving to a less desirable neighborhood, smaller home, etc), or in the home owner's who hold our fate in their hands. We know God is in control and has great plans for us!

Officer Tim Davis (Cedar Rapids Police Department) is slowly improving. Here is today's update from his wife:

"Tim is doing very well, he can get in and out of his wheel chair by himself, walk with very little assistance and talk very softly. He has 3-4 hours of therapy a day, six days a week and each day he improves. They have not yet stated how long we will be here but Tim is impressing everyone he meets. Visitors are still limited to family and close friends and the best times to visit are after 6 on week days and afternoon on weekends. During meal times is difficult because Tim needs to concentrate on eating and we have been spending time with the boys for dinner. Visitors on the weekend keep Tim busy but he is easily tired so visits should stay short. Thank you to everyone that has organized, volunteered or attended a benefit for Tim, he is slowly becoming aware of what is going on and can't believe the support."

Against the odds, he is recovering and doing much better than expected already! Praise the Lord! Thank you for your faithful prayers!

My friend Erin's twins are doing very well! Little Sophia went home quite a while ago (forgive me Erin for not knowing the exact date!) and Isaac is making great progress in the past week! He finally scooched his buns over the 5 pound hurdle! It was a magic number for him! Please continue to pray for him, and for Erin and Matt and their older girls Grace and Elizabeth as they deal with the NICU stresses and also have found themselves in the middle of a mission field (isn't that just like God???) there.

Agape's plane remains grounded in Eleuthera, Bahamas. They are searching for another engine and a replacement loaner engine is just finishing up an overhaul so Agape can use it until the true replacement is found. They are hoping to go down this week to replace the engine and bring back the blown one. This will cost over $150,000. Agape just pledged to be debt free and used their reserves to accomplish it. This situation also looks hopeless. Please pray that discouragement will not gain a foothold at Agape. With God on our side, we can not fail! They are continuing to make all of the scheduled flights and were even able to continue with plans to fly in American food (ribs, hot dogs and burgers with all the fixins, plus an incredible treat--ice cream!) to Haiti for an appreciation picnic for missionaries in Port Au Prince. Paul, Charlie, Stephanie, Rod, Janet, Teresa, Robin, Stan, Jenny, Marilyn, Louisville (Sam), Heather and Chad went to Haiti last Wednesday to treat the missionaries, minister to them, and further relations between them and Agape Flights. I sent him with a camera, so watch for a post by Paul about his trip! He gets back in less than one hour!! YIPEE!

And after reading MckMama's blog tonight, I have to add some of her prayer requests to mine as well. I have followed her since July when her baby in her tummy (as we say at this house) was sick with too fast of a heart rate and was not expected to live. A miracle happened and he recovered without any of the bad heart rhythm until several weeks ago when it reared its ugly head again. Stellan (her 5 month old baby boy) will undergo an ablation tomorrow inside his heart to try to eliminate the electrical pathway of the bad rhythm. This is very risky for someone so small and the odds are stacked against them, but they are not hopeless! This family is a strong Christ following family and have used this trial to draw closer to Jesus. Here are her requests before Stellan's procedure tomorrow: "Would you pray that Dr. A will have wisdom as to if he should move forward with the ablation after the esophageal study? If he does move forward, would you pray that he will have clarity of mind as far as how aggressive to be with the ablation in order to fix Stellan's problem without putting him at undue risk for complications. Would you pray that the tiny catheters the doctors use will not nick Stellan's coronary artery? Would you pray for peace for me and my husband? Would you pray that heart block will not occur during the surgery? Would you pray that the extra pathways Stellan has will be located and successfully destroyed? Will you pray that, if they need to go through his septum, that it will heal as it should? Would you pray that in the days after the surgery (In infants, coronary damage sometimes doesn't appear for up to three days, so we'll be here for the rest of the week at least it looks.) we will cling to Jesus and not to fear?

I was hoping that it wouldn't come to this. I am not going to lie at all, I am scared and have a pit in my stomach that will not go away. But peace like a river washes over me time and time again as I turn my eyes back on Jesus.

'For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.' 2 Timothy 1:7 "

Finally, on a little lighter note, but also hopeless, is Gabe and Riley's baseball team. They are winless this season. I told you about Matt working with the boys and they have had some major success with batting (I think they just needed a little confidence!) Riley has had a couple triples, Holden hit a home run, and Gabe has hit solidly driving in runs and getting doubles every at bat! The kids on the team are finally starting to catch it too. Its like they decided that it was more fun to try to hit the ball than watch all the pitches go by PRAYING for a walk. The others are starting to get hits as well! Saturday they came back from a 1-10 deficit to make it a heart breaker at 9-11! I am proud of them and their willingness to stick with it and keep trying, even in the face of hopelessness! I know they are learning about a characteristic of God that I am also getting a crash course in, and that is perseverance!

I don't know what you are going through right now. Are you facing a hopeless situation too? I would LOVE the opportunity to pray for you. I would count it a privilege. (I might even learn how to spell that word! I swear I have got to come up with a different word because I can NEVER spell it right the first time! Thank you God for spell check!) Would you please leave a prayer request in my comments? I love each of you reading this with the love of Christ!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Familiar Faces

We were greatly blessed by some familiar faces this week! OH, I just never get tired of seeing familiar faces and hearing familiar voices!! I admit, I am becoming familiar with people here and have even ran into people I know at the grocery store on occasion (and I even occasionally remember their names), and we recently ran into Gabe's school teacher when we went to the Chinese Buffet for Easter (apparently everyone DOES go there for Easter)! But nothing substitutes for people who really know us and who we really know! Friends Sally and Donnie Whaley and their daughter Molly winter here in Florida (but not close enough!) and stopped by on their way back to Iowa! They also had a familiar puppy face with them! It was so fun to see one of Kim and John Williams' dogs who we had known as Caleb all grown up and adopted and loving Florida I might add! He is now known as EZ, just Z, or Zach now. He was so good with Molly and didn't need a leash to stay right by her side! Paul got to know Donnie better and Sally and I caught up and chatted about homeschooling (I so admire home school moms). Their visit was brief, but SO refreshing! Thanks so much guys for taking the time to stop and lift our spirits!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Break 2009

I know you have all been dying to know what people who live at the beach do for Spring Break! Let me tell you, we relax and have fun! No flight, hotel, rental car planning required! We were so ready for a break from our hectic pace! I was worried about entertaining these kids all week with no baseball games to distract us or school to occupy their time and give me alone time. I was most worried about them being kind to each other and me being kind to them when they are unkind to their siblings. Can you tell this has been a bit of an issue at our house lately??? I asked the ladies in my Bible study to pray for us! That was the ticket! We had a great week! We all worked together, were kind, and had a great time! It helped that we had company in several forms. First, on Monday this turtle visited our neighbor Jack's yard and we had fun checking him out. We picked him up to return him to the canal.
We had to adjust our Monday plans when we drove to the library at 10 am and found they didn't open until noon. We went back home and I bribed the kids with future movies from the library. Yes, bribery works wonders! I have to confess that I was WAY behind on my own chore box, so we dragged out all the ignored chores and did some heavy duty cleaning for THREE straight hours. I told the kids that they could pick out 3 movies EACH if they stayed on task and didn't complain. Their attitudes were AMAZING! They would finish a chore, we would inspect and find another chore to do for THREE straight hours (did I already mention that??) They never complained, not even when I decided to tackle all the black marks on the tile with a scrub brush on my hands and knees. We rounded up all the scrub brushes we could find and everyone helped out! The tile looks 100% better! We could have eaten lunch on it! We got all those pesky chores done like DUSTING (yuck) everything including the woodwork and blinds and light fixtures, cleaning the light switches and outlets, sliding glass doors and the monster mirror in the dining room, and all the every day stuff too! We all felt so good about what we accomplished!! I was SO pleased with the kids and their diligence that I took them to pizza hut for a late lunch (thanks to their book-it coupons) and then to Dairy Queen for dessert, and finally to the library to pick out their movies and books.
They are CHEAP labor!! It was happy hour at DQ, so anything through a straw was half price! After dinner, Paul's friend Michael Kellerman and his 2 boys Jacob and Noah (same ages as G and R) arrived from Chicago for a visit!
They immediately discovered they all were chess players and a tournament was begun:

Later, Michael showed them a trick to doing a head stand, and they all gave it tries for a long time!
Tuesday morning, our pastor (Matt, who played baseball in college) had agreed to do a short baseball clinic for the kids at church who play. It was a chilly day (by Florida standards), so they bundled up and all went to the field:

They learned some special throwing techniques.

And base running techniques too (which made them good and tired!)

Fielding techniques....
And generally had a great time! Here is the crew L to R: back row: Jacob, Gabe, Brent, Matt
Front row L to R: Josh, Noah, Holden, Derek, Brandon, Riley. I missed the batting practice when I ran to the post office (my new home away from home), but they learned some great techniques that should help them out immensely, if they can implement them instead of the bad habits they already have!

After the baseball clinic, Michael took all the kids to Myakka River State Park to go fishing and alligator watching. They didn't do very well with the fishing, but caught a couple:

On Wednesday, Michael did some sight seeing while I took the kids to Bible Study so they could swim in a warm pool (it worked out well for all of us!) Then, Michael took the boys up to Siesta Key. I sent my camera with them for some pictures, but neglected to put the batteries back into it after charging them...oops. No pictures, my fault! While the boys were gone, we girls went with Kate to do some shopping, specifically, it was half price day at the Salvation Army (so we are compelled to check out the deals!), and Alayna needed an Easter dress too. We had no luck with her dress after several stores. I was shocked at how difficult it was to find fancy dresses for little girls! We had a great time anyway. The hunt is the fun part!

Wednesday night the Kellerman's treated us to dinner out. This time we skipped the atmosphere and went to a place that was recommended for its FOOD! We went to an Italian place (and all the servers and workers there spoke Italian or had an accent!) and the food was great! Afterward we came back home and the kids played with Noah's Nintendo DS:
While I made a paper Praying Mantis that Kate gave Alayna. It was quite difficult for me, I can't imagine a kid having the patience to do it (it was a kids meal prize from Chick-Fil-A), but as you can see, Alayna was pretty happy when it was done!
Here is what we started with:
Thursday it warmed up and the Kellermans headed out and our clan headed to the beach to meet Kristen and Felicia and their boys. We had a great time, got some sun, and built forts. What more could we ask for??! Here is the beginning of their hole/fort:
And after several hours and recruiting help from other kids, it grew enormous! Riley's head is just above the sand level at the deep end!

This alligator was made by a couple near us. When it was all done, they used shells as the eyes and teeth and claws. It looked great, they were quite talented! You can see her forming the spiny processes on the back in the picture:Later, I got to play with Zach and Ryan (Kristen's boys) and we pretended to feed cookies to the alligator (we had to be careful not to get too close or risk getting eaten ourselves) and tried to build our own alligator. Those boys had a blast at the beach! It was so fun to watch the carefree attitudes with no agenda but fun!

Friday, Paul had the day off! WOO HOO! It was his first day off since Christmas! We planned to go to Busch Gardens, but after the long day at the beach and the heat (it was already 80 degrees that morning), everyone agreed we would rather rest by the pool with our library books and watch another movie! I was surprised, but relieved too. Alayna and I set out in the afternoon to find her dress and finally hit pay dirt at Beall's. It reminds me a lot of Kohl's.

Paul spent the day looking for a new rental house for us. We found out that our landlord wants to hike the price again and that she is ready to find new tenants who are willing to pay it. We looked at a house on Thursday evening that is owned by a couple at our church, but its really a 2 bedroom with a den that could work as a bedroom with no closet and an office that is detached but accessible through the lanai that could be a bedroom. The price is right and it is our back up plan. It is a really nice house that has been recently updated and is just a few blocks from Agape AND the beach. We're just not sure how to make the bedrooms work out yet. We looked at a couple more houses on Saturday, but still nothing that compares to the house we are currently in. We know God has a plan! We are not down, but we certainly are preoccupied by this turn of events. It takes a lot of searching to find a house! The house directly across the street is a second home for an attorney who lives in St. Louis who was only here briefly around Christmas. Our neighbors who we know best take care of the grounds for him and suggested we ask him if he is willing to rent the house to us. It is bigger than this one and it will take a MIRACLE for him to agree to our price. BUT, our God is the God of miracles, and I know He can make the owner's heart favorable to us. There are several reasons why we want to stay in this neighborhood: Harvey and Felicia Johnson just moved in down the street, they have a son Aaron who is a GREAT kid and friend to our boys in spite of being a little older than them, I have a great carpool worked out for school, we are close to church and in a central location to Sarasota, work, school, and close to the interstate! Would you please storm the gates of Heaven on our behalf for this house for the next few days? He wanted a few days to think about it and we should know something by the end of the week. I can't think of anything easier than moving across the street! PLUS, my sister and mom will be moving possibly in the month of June, so we need to be settled and know where we will be so they can find places for themselves. I know God has a perfect plan and I am excited to see where it leads us. This problem also brings up other questions, like should we just break down and buy a house? Should I go back to work so we can afford to do that? Is the market starting to turn around so that this is a wise move, or should we continue to wait? We just want God's perfect will for our lives to be so clear that we can't miss it! Please pray that for us most of all! I can't tell you how much I appreciate knowing you stand with us and behind us and intercede for us!

Easter dress up

I am pretty sure this picture sums up how everyone but me felt about this photo shoot! The light was awful, that cloudy, overcast sun that doesn't seem to bother you until someone tells you to stop squinting! Here Gabe is just trying to open his eyes a bit! Paul was just in a mood...

or maybe I was squishing him! Everyone got their attitudes adjusted and we did manage to get a couple good pictures (but just a couple)!

We couldn't remember how to work the timer, so no family picture that day. We'll have to try again, maybe the light will be better and everyone will be in better moods!