Wednesday, April 17, 2019

South Africa Part Two: Ministering in Africa

This first part is not going to sound glorious, but it is necessary context and was a big part of my initial experience
To be honest with you, I struggled a lot the first three or four days of the eleven day trip. 

I felt a combination of “unbelief” in God, apathy, and scathing self-condemnation. These feelings made me feel isolated and ashamed. I felt like the only "doubting Thomas" among a group of fiery, gospel-breathing revivalists. Once, one of my teammates asked me, "Michelle, are you enjoying yourself on this trip? You might as well tell me the truth - its written all over your face!" I smiled wryly and told her what was going on. Thankfully, I had enough sense to reveal my struggle to several girls in leadership. Each time, this created the chance to receive their earnest acceptance, encouragement, and clear minded guidance. This helped a lot, but even so, I continued to fight misery.  
 At one point, on the brink of a panic attack, a thought (from God) cut firmly through the swirl: “Michelle! You must master your mind. No one is going to master it for you.” From that time on, I unilaterally rejected all thoughts in my head that were self accusatory. (The Holy Spirit is our advocate whereas the Devil is the accuser of the brethren.)

Even so, only after several days did I notice something: the South African Christians who attended our healing meetings were very reluctant to hope for a healing miracle or admit it when they were healed! There seemed to be a sluggish unbelief/apathy that the minister had to push through each time in order to pave a way for the power of God to flow. In ministry, I noticed my teammates over and over again urging local people to come to God for relationship, but local people reflecting their hopelessness and self condemnation. Slowly it dawned on me... 

Though I brought SOME of my own baggage onto this mission trip, the mind-numbing, overpowering experiences of unbelief, apathy, and hopeless condemnation were NOT my own – they were part of the local spiritual atmosphere! (I also found out that there were several other members of my team who were having the same experience. I was not the only one!)

Note to anyone doing foreign missions: Spiritual atmospheres differ in different geographical locations. Be aware of changes in your inner world and recognize them as coming from outside of yourself.

Ministering in South Africa was an odd combination of amazing miracles happening constantly, and people not seeming very impressed. It seemed like almost EVERYONE who asked for prayer said they were healed. But very few seemed surprised or particularly excited. 

(As an American, of course, I may be misinterpreting the actions/reactions of people in South Africa. I can only observe and guess.)

On two occasions little girls who were hard of hearing recovered their hearing as I prayed for them. (One a girl in the slums, one a girl in a middle class church.) Their mothers earnestly assured me that the girls couldn't hear out of one ear before, but now, after prayer, they could! Both girls were responding to whispers near their deaf ear, when before the mothers had to shout to get a response. Even though the healing seemed genuine, neither the girls nor the mothers seemed particularly amazed or excited

On one hand, I wonder perhaps if people simply believed it when we told the people in Africa that God was going to heal them, and thus were not surprised when it happened. (In the same way that, when a doctor says, "Take this pill and you will feel better" we aren't surprised when we feel better after taking the pill.) 

(Note, there were many exceptions to this trend. There was a woman who had been paralyzed who started to run around the room with joy, and another woman who literally yelped in surprise when her blind eyes were healed. There were many instances of people dancing with joy after being healed of physical pain.)
This picture was taken while going door to door in a township. Seven people were healed, three gave their lives to Christ, and one was delivered of demonic oppression.

One by one, nine adults told our translator that they had been healed. All but one girl, who looked very sad. Then everyone together prayed for that one girl. Then she looked up happily and said the pain was all gone.

Sometimes it seemed that people might be over reporting healing. In one healing meeting I led, everyone seemed to be jumping at the chance to share a testimony on the microphone. On the other hand, especially in the wealthier churches, it seemed that people were UNDER reporting healing; when pressed, they would cautiously admit that they had been healed of something. What a variety of experiences depending on the day and the context! The one thing that seemed consistent, however, was that miraculous healings were happening everywhere we went - some harder to prove, some undeniable - some when we prayed, some when we simply preached the gospel -but constantly happening!

On a different note, I noticed that, for all I was struggling internally, whenever I was in an active ministry situation, I felt like a totally different person – love clicked into gear and suddenly I was confident and powerful, practically glowing with assurance! 

One time, while doing power evangelism in a slum, I felt overwhelming love for the woman standing in front of me. I released this love into her injured leg. When I stood up, she wept in my arms. I led her to imagine Jesus standing in front of her. She told me she could see Him; He was covering her in His cloak. She was comforted. Oh, and her leg was healed.
This isn't the woman whose leg was healed. But this is another woman I loved at first sight. <3
When I reflected on this phenomenon of becoming full of power when ministering, my teammates informed me that this is called, “Grace”. When we are no longer operating in our own strength (because we don't have any strength, or because we are out of our depth,) it gives opportunity for God's strength to enter the equation.

I was MOST aware of my abject reliance on “grace” in the context of leading services and preaching. 

The first few days of the trip I considered asking Daniel (the trip leader) if I could be exempt from preaching because my personal spirit seemed so disturbed. One morning, however, I felt drawn to review my sermon. Quite out of my normal routine, I ended up practice preaching my entire sermon to an attentive audience of bushes and flowers. A couple hours later it was announced that I would be preaching at a homeless shelter that very night! Since God had prepared me specifically for it that morning, I felt reassured that all would be well.

On the way to the service I felt quite nervous but also at peace. I was perfectly aware that no matter how well or poorly I preached, the effect of message would depend entirely on whether God moved in the room. It was much like praying for healing – I pray and then God does whatever He is going to do. I don't get the credit if He heals; I don't get the blame if He doesn't. Regardless, I was going to stand up in front of those people, open my mouth, and see what happened.

There were about 20 rough looking men and women assembled at the homeless shelter when we arrived. I felt physically weak with nerves. But true to form, as soon as I stood in front of them, the love took over. There was so much love, there was no room for fear! Confidently, I thanked them for welcoming me and for coming to be part of the meeting. I told them it was my first time to Africa and thanked them for being so wonderful. They nodded and murmured in acknowledgement. I told them I wouldn't know if they were understanding me, so would they nod their heads throughout the message if they understood. They obliged and I grinned in appreciation.
I then dove into preaching the entirety of Ephesians 2-3. Verse by verse I explained the relevance to them, emphasizing that being “dead in sins” is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, educated or not, churched or unchurched, white or black, American or African, all of us were (or are) “dead in our sins”. We are all equally dead! 

Jesus' offers of new life in Christ entirely by grace. No one deserves it more or less. Even the faith by which we believe is a gift from God, so truly, no one can boast of being any better than anyone else. But God invites EVERYONE to become alive in Christ. He has seated us in “heavenly places” NOW so that we can start to experience and enjoy heavenly life NOW (before death.) This is good news! 

I pointed out that new life is also a great unifier – God has invited people from all human groups to form a new group, unified by being alive in Christ. I was there as a representative of that new group to invite them to come and become a member with me. I finished with Ephesians 3:14-21, praying for them that God's Spirit would strengthen them in their inner being to be able to grasp the extent of God's love (which surpasses knowledge) that they might be filled with the fullness of God. Amen!

At that point I suddenly didn't know what to do next! I knew an alter call needed to happen, so I hastily handed the microphone over to Zach, my teammate assigned to lead that service. He took it from there. Five people raised their hand to accept Christ / rededicate their lives. 

After that we lined up at the front to offer prayer. Three women came to me and two of the three experienced physical healing. I loved them all. As we walked out I caught one of the guys who had raised his hand to accept Christ. “You are my brother and I don't know if I'll ever see you again. Can I give you a hug?”

PS. In our final debrief, when each of us shared a single highlight from the entire trip, one of my teammates said that seeing me preach in that homeless shelter was the time she has seen the Holy Spirit embodied most tangibly in her life. It became her "Kodak Moment" for the entire trip.


And by the way, I got my own break through into freedom, faith, hope and joy about four days in to the trip. (A day or two after preaching.) I had been ashamed of being weak in faith, but really I was under spiritual harassment. During one of our debrief sessions, a leader asked if anyone was experiencing insecurity or a negative pressure on their chest. I raised my hand. The people around me prayed for me. For about 60 seconds my distress increased and then there was a release and a relief, followed by a delicious, heavy peace. After that night I felt much more my "normal self". I was able to connect with the team, start each day with hope, and return each evening with joy.
Denise, one of my teammates who asked me
if I was ok when I was not ok. She helped
me stay afloat when I needed it most.
Miss Kathy, Daniel Newton's mother and
deliverance extraordinaire! She was a great
encouragement and help to all of us!

 No matter what you are experiencing, please don't keep it hidden. Share with people who can speak truth, hope, and strength into your view of yourself and your situation. Share also with people who can stand with your against whatever spriitual forces may be at play. If you are doing something worth doing, there will probably be resistance. Its not something to be afraid of, but it is something to recognize. That was one of the lessons I learned ministering in Africa. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

South Africa Part One: Grace Place Mission Trip

I just got back from an 11 day mission trip in South Africa. What a ride....  Over the next few days (hopefully!!) I'm planning to put up several posts about the trip. This first one is about the team and the organization of the trip itself.
Daniel Newton leads a discipleship community in Redding California called Grace Place. The community includes more than 6 houses of young people, all participating in weekly “family nights”, ongoing spiritual homework, and hierarchy of both mentoring and being mentored. I didn't realize it when I signed  up, but this particular mission trip to South Africa was led by Daniel Newton and was functionally a "Grace Place Mission trip". I was one of only around 10 non-Grace Place members on the 50 person team!
First team photo in South Africa just after disembarking the airplane in George
It was definitely the best organized mission trip I've EVER been a part of.

Daniel has led 18 mission trips to South Africa. He and his right hand man, Jonathan Carter, planned everything down to the finest detail, a symphony of moving parts. For travel days, our group of 50 people was divvied into 10 groups of 5 people each. Each group had an assigned leader who would make sure no one got lost and that we always had our cell phones, wallets, and passports. We were instructed to walk in pairs, creating two long columns in order to minimize our impact on the walkways. 

During ministry days, we were divided into ministry groups, each with an assigned leader and assigned preacher. At the beginning of the trip the most experienced members led/preached (as an example), but soon the rest of us started getting turns as well. Leaders were encouraged to activate and utilize their team members as much as possible. Everyone was expected to be ready at any moment to give prophetic words, share 5 minute testimonies / gospel presentations, pray for healing, or even prophetically sing/dance/rap!
Jay Bell, sharing the gospel with some young men. A few moments later, our team leader casually asked him to RAP for them. Jay doesn't rap. But he did that day!
My friend Victoria getting called on to lead worship in a street meeting (with no warning.)
For the first 4 days of the trip we were supplied with sleep aids to speed adjustment to the 9 hour time difference. Daniel's philosophy is “Good food + good sleep = good ministry.” We slept in beautiful, peaceful, comfortable hotels. Though meals were often quite far apart, we always ate heartily and there was almost always dessert. In addition, Daniel supplied us with morning vitamins and evening enzymes, as well as making sure our schedule included a daily hour of quiet time with Jesus.
The view from the retreat center where we first stayed in George, South Africa
Breakfast in Bethlehem, our second city in South Africa
I was intrigued by the culture Daniel has created within his Grace Place disciples. They were clearly very loyal to him, especially the young men. He had several interns (both guys and girls) who had been serving under him for five or six years (BSSM only lasts three years.) The loyalty and trust reminded me of a general surrounded by his captains (or perhaps Jesus surrounded by his 12.)
Daniel in light blue, surrounded by his own
Daniel leads with both kindness and sternness (Romans 11:22). Often I would hear people responding to him with “yes sir”. Daniel also, however, tussles with the guys and intentionally pulls students aside for one on one time, very like a “good father”. He has such natural authority that, while we traveled through airports, at a single gesture from Daniel, the entire column of 50 people would halt and wait motionless until he gave the signal to move again. It was beautiful to behold.

There was also an interesting social dynamic between men and women. Men unloaded all the luggage and pushed the carts for the ladies. Men and women did not sit next to each other on overnight flights. There was a dramatic lack of “drama” on the trip – almost ZERO flirting. (There were two couples on the trip and I didn't even realize they were dating till five days in!) 

Guys and girls alike had a simple, sweet openness and friendliness about them. Though I was joining a group of people who had literally lived together for years, I felt extremely welcomed and included. Pretty much everyone (guys and girls) went out of their way to get to know me and see how I was doing. The guys acted as genuine “brothers”, safe, consistent, warm and supportive. The girls were remarkably sweet and wise. Everyone seemed very openly themselves, no need to perform or compete or fear rejection.
Finally, you could see the emphasis of Grace Place spiritual values. The Bible was clearly very highly valued. Scripture verses poured from people like grain out of an overfull sack. In fact, all Grace Place prophetic words are requested to have a scriptural reference attached. (Something I found out after giving a prophetic word without a particular scripture involved....)
Zach preaching the word
Zach and I ended up being on several ministry teams together, including doing children's ministry together twice, once while he led, once while I led. He is a joy to have on a team.
Grace Place also has a pronounced emphasis on “Faith righteousness”. The gist of it is this: Our justification does not come from behavioral change, but rather our behavioral change comes from our justification. You can't fix yourself by trying harder, and you don't have to fix yourself before coming to God – you are transformed BY coming to God. The harder you try to fix yourself apart from God, the worse off you will be, since God is the solution. So come to God! This message was at the heart of most of the sermons (as well as many of the conversations) I heard on the trip.
But back to the “organization” of the trip.

Here was our general daily structure: We had breakfast around 8:30-9:30, followed by an hour of private time with the Lord. Then we went out on our first ministry assignment of the day in groups of 4-8 people 

Ministry assignments varied from door-to-door power evangelism, to praying over policemen, to ministering in prisons, to visiting orphanages, to praying for the sick at hospitals, to presenting at school assemblies etc. We ministered from roughly 11am-3pm, then we would return to the hotel/retreat center to eat a bag lunch and debrief in our team. 
Sharing the gospel on the radio
Praying for healing in the home of a woman who lives in a poor neighborhood (no electricity or running water.)
The entire group assembled again at 4:30 to receive new assignments (new ministry groups) and then leave for the evening. Evening ministry often involved services of one kind or another. One night, for example, I was on a team that visited a homeless shelter (I preached that night) and another night I led a team which put on a “Healing Service” in a tent in one of the slums. 

We regrouped around 8:30pm for dinner, followed by large group debrief. (Daniel supplied us with a bowl of candy and endless rounds of Rooibos tea.) We consistently ended around midnight, which left us eight hours for sleep before breakfast.
Ministry time at the end of the healing service I led. Nine adults had already been bealed and were joining in the prayer for this young woman, the last person of thei night to request (and then receive) healing!

Me sharing a highlight from the day during evening debrief
Preaching to about 20 adults staying the night at a homeless shelter
Considering that 5-10 teams went out twice each day, as a large group we ministered 10-20 places a day. I personally did door-to-door ministry in slums twice, visited a care program for street kids, a school for kids with disabilities, an orphanage, a homeless shelter, and several different healing services, to name a few!

Joy of the Lord filling a woman who has just cut off her witchcraft beads and accepted Christ as her savior and Lord.
At the end of the day, each team reported how many healings, salvations, and demonic deliverances we had witnessed, recorded testimony stories, and uploaded photos/videos. Some of the more amazing testimonies included an entire room of young men at a juvenile prison giving their lives to Christ, a woman who had been bedridden receiving deliverance/healing such that she could walk outside for the first time in 27 years, a miraculously restored knee cap, two cases of children healed of hardness of hearing, and a formerly paralyzed woman running around the room in joy! The leadership team consolidated the testimonies and media and posted a daily highlight reel on Facebook. 

Like I said, EXTREMELY well organized. It was an honor, as well as a privilege to be a part of it!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Worlds Collide

After a weekend together in Redding, I took Adam to the airport yesterday. As I type, he is flying back to Kochi, back to the world where he lives, back to the world we once shared.

I left Kochi three years ago. Though I promised the world (and myself) I would be back by spring, I have not (yet) returned. I talk with friends from that era fairly frequently, but for three years I had not seen any of my small group of most intimate friends from that time.

Adam was one of those friends.

Adam (or as we affectionately called him, Panda san,) was the best friend of the guy who was my turbulent love interest at the time; Adam was also the best brother of Licca, my closest girl friend at the time and, of course, close friends with wonderful Sergey, the fifth member of our group. When conflicts arose, Adam was the strong pole in the center, lending support to all the rest of us. Amiable, gentle, gracious, faithful, patient, thoughtful, and very easy to get along with. Safe. Kind. Adam.
Adam was a huge part of Kochi life. We met because he was studying for a PhD in Material Science at the Japanese university near my apartment. My heart jumped when, a couple months ago, he mentioned his plan to attend an academic conference in Flagstaff AZ, a mere hop, skip, and jump away from my current life in California! As it turned out, we even passed through the San Fran airport at the same time - he going TO Arizona, I coming FROM Virginia.

Adam agreed to extend his stay in the USA to spend the weekend with me in Redding. I am not usually an exceptionally generous person, but in this case I earnestly did everything I could to bless, welcome, and honor Adam. I tried to fill our time with beautiful, enjoyable activities. During our two days together, we visited an Escape Room, did a wine tasting, played Dixit over chocolate, walked through a botanical garden, hiked a waterfall trail, went to church, and joined a Memorial Day cook out. For his part, Adam brought me a big box of assorted Japanese snacks and often jumped in front of me to pay for both of us when we ate out.
Dinner and Dixit with Jordan

Escape Redding with exceptionally smart friends
Adam, Jordan, Lucy

American Food
American Picnic

Whiskeytown Lake with Nicolas
Adam is as easygoing, amicable, and gracious as I remembered. He treats me with the steady faithfulness of a brother. Though we had not met in three years, it felt for all the world as though it had only been a few months.
In the gaps between activities, Adam filled me in on Kochi news. So-and-so left Kochi for this job, so-and-so is graduating soon, so-and-so got married. Though most people from my era have left, a few of my old friends still meet up occasionally for dinner with my previous landlord; they still play volleyball sometimes; there are still trails and mountains and rivers. Our friend Vlad still goes fishing. Adam has taken up jogging. 

While we chatted in one of my favorite Redding cafes, reality started blinking in and out. For a split second at a time, my brain would try to reconcile the inconsistency of seeing Adam in Redding and, for an instant, I was with Adam in my LANDLORD's cafe in Kochi. I found myself accidentally calling my present day friends by the names of my old Kochi friends, as well as expecting Adam to know the experience shared by my California community.

Worlds collide...

Similarly, I kept getting the timeline mixed up – operating on the assumption that I had left Kochi last summer, not three summers ago. Japanese words and songs that I haven't consciously remembered in years started coming to mind, as though they'd never left. It was as though the past three years in America had been clipped out of the strip, past and present stitched together to create an unbroken stream.
As Adam said during our Bandy Creek waterfall hike,
"Now I don't feel I am in America. Poland, Japan, this could be anywhere."
As we walked around Redding, I realized that, over the past five years, my lifestyle has been quite consistent, regardless of country. Then and now, I seek mountains, rivers, gardens, food, fun, and friends. I love to celebrate people and together experience both adventure and beauty.

I also noticed however, a certain emptiness in my conversations with Adam. No God. No sense of bigger purpose or direction or even hope. Just the pleasure and interests of the present.

In contrast, on the way back to the airport on Monday, my BSSM friend Veronica talked almost the entire trip about her thoughts, hopes, expectations, memories - all brimming with mentions of God. She is looking forward to interdenominational relationship building; she is thinking about her friendships with people of other religions; she talks about the various things God has taught her recently; and about she spent the past few weeks preparing for the transition back home.

Personally, I felt like there was an uncomfortable inconsistency between my normal worldview/lifestyle of faith and the way I lived/spoke in front of Adam. It's not that I ever did or said anything “unChristian”. But I also didn't brim over with loving confidence in Jesus and Holy Spirit. I rarely referenced God or brought Him into the situation, even internally.

I felt the tension very uncomfortably.

Here I am in Redding, after TWO YEARS of full time discipleship/ministry school, mute before my unchurched scientist friend. But on the other hand, it is also true that I am inviting him into my world, bringing him to church with me, introducing him to other Christian friends, and answering questions when they come up. All the while I'm fighting to stay honest – both with him and with myself.

Adam is a representative of the era of my life and community of relationships which challenged my faith the most! It makes sense that living out my faith in front of him will be a challenge! But I am rising to it. It isn't “all or nothing”. I'm still growing, learning, improving. All is well.

I'm so glad my past in Japan got the chance to visit my present in California. The past three years I have struggled with feelings of guilt and shame for having left Japan. (Almost as though I had initiated a divorce.) Parting words of love did not compensate for the fact that I was choosing to leave. Since then I've stayed in touch, but continued to feel uneasy and shamefaced. With Adam's visit, I got the chance to reconnect with that dearly beloved era of my life - show honor and love - and part as friends. The worlds have collided, interacted, united, and now run parallel. I hope who the present me will get the chance to visit that world sometime soon. Perhaps in the spring....

Saturday, May 26, 2018

First Passing

I flew out of California, (back to Virginia,) the day my Grandma died. My sister, Tiffy, picked me up the next morning and took me to the house where now only my Gandpa and Dad live.

Neither Grandpa nor Dad were home when we arrived, so Tiff and I put on music, opened the blinds, replaced the dolorous table cloth with my rainbow worship silk from Russia, and filled Grandma's overlarge margarita glass with fresh flowers from the yard.

Throughout my two weeks in VA, I visited Grandpa/Dad four times. (Twice with Tiffy, once on my own, and once for the funeral.) Both my Grandpa and Dad are strong, rational men. And yet both of them loved this woman, my grandmother, very much. Multiple times that first day, while they tried so hard to stay grounded, I witnessed tears spring to their eyes. The first time I cried was when I saw their tears.
For my own processing, I felt a desire to go through the house and neighborhood and take photos. I put these photos in an album titled “Over the River and Through the Woods...” I felt like I was neatly folding and laying to rest all the continually buzzing memories attached to these objects and locations, leaving that era of my life with Grandma in good order, meanwhile also laying the foundation of a new era with Grandpa. Tiff and I both now feel a newly intimate connection with Grandpa. He is a rare gem. He has so much life experience, intelligence, and wisdom, not to mention a beautiful, poetic soul.
Part of transitioning (for all of us) was transitioning the house from “Theirs” to “His” (which includes HIS affectionate memory of her.) Tiff and I helped Dad and Grandpa reorder (and declutter) Grandma's den, dresser, desk, and closet. Grandma (true to her Great Depression wisdom) kept EVERYTHING. Every paper, jar, bag, shoe box, plastic hair curler.... All impeccably in order, but absolutely unnecessary. Dad and Grandpa, both minimalists, managed to throw away (or donate) something like 12 contractor bags of stuff all the while beautifully and tastefully retaining the look and feel of Grandma's spaces.

When I made it up to Northern VA at the end of my trip, for the first time in over 10 years I visited the home Grandma lived in when I was a child. Rain poured down, but I got out of the car and walked around the property anyway. It felt important to me.

I looked through the open gate into the back yard. Most of the trees I remember were gone without a trace. The whole yard looked so small, it was hard to imagine how all those trees could've even fit! The “hill” I used to sled down now appears to be little more than a gentle rise in the grass. The old dogwood tree in the front yard is gone, replaced by a fragile-looking sapling tied to a stake. I noted the various windows of the house, and remembered the stories which took place behind each. But I didnt knock on the door. It was enough to look, remember, and let go.

After Grandma's house, I went to my maternal Abuelita's old house for good measure. It looked so like how I remember; It seemed the layers of time were very thin, past and present sharing space. It really felt like my childhood self and baby siblings could be just behind the door, ready to spill out onto the front steps at any moment. As I gazed on the door, it felt that the house was also watching and waiting, eternally poised for the children to return, completely unaware of this innocuous adult looking back so intently. Perhaps both of us somehow believe that – somewhere – those children live on and – someday – they will come back.

This was the second time I cried.

From Abuelita's old house I went to my aunt's house to visit my Abuelita and Abuelito in the flesh. It was a very nice visit. I managed to hide my grief when they, upon seeing a photo of the old house, asked, “Where is that? Did we live there?” Even without some of their memories, they seem pretty jolly.
 They are happy with their life, past and present, and they are contentedly comfortable with the prospect of dying sometime soon. Abuelita mentioned cheerfully that she is interested in assisting with some of the arrangements for her funeral. Why not :) It's her party! Sigh.... Time passes on...

Speaking of funerals, Grandma's was LOVELY. I haven't been to many, but this funeral takes the cake (gluten free, of course.) I shouldn't be surprised, but Grandpa did the most amazingly good job planning it. The service, which took place on Mother's Day, was full of beauty, joy, and glory to God. It really captured Grandma's values and essence. Grandpa chose cheerful, tuneful music, wrote Grandma's testimony for the eulogy, and invited each guest to RECEIVE a fresh flower to take home with them. In the middle of the service my family was invited up to offer two worship songs (Come to Jesus, and I Can Only Imagine.) They weren't musically perfect, but they were perfectly glorious. The Holy Spirit hung thick in the air and Angels joined the song.

My Mother and Mother's Mother on Mother's Day
After the service, the family all went back to Grandpa's house. Aunts picked at a large honeyed ham while uncles grilled burgers outside and my adult cousins chased Tiffany's toddlers around the house. Gentleness and grace permeated conversations. Love and kindness was the order of the day. Meanwhile, a youthful portrait of Grandma presided from the mantel.
Laraine Noyes

So we toasted the past, present, and future. As I said on Facebook the day Grandma died, the world is definitely not the same without Laraine Noyes. However, the world is also not the same because she lived. Born in 1929, and born again in 1976, the mother of sons, grandchildren, great grands, and endless generations of Bible Study Fellowship babies, she certainly had a huge impact on the future of the world.

For me individually, she gave me my middle name, modeled a loving relationship with her sister, taught me to love horses, saved bread crusts so I'd have something to feed the ducks, spent endless hours with me at the park, and endless dollars on me in birthday shopping. She demonstrated unconditional love (though, like a little stinker, I didn't appreciate it much at the time.)

I spent so much time with her over the years, (from my birth till her death,) but looking back it seems like a drop in the bucket. Though I told her over and over in the final months and days, I hope she knew I loved her. I certainly know she loved me. I guess that is sort of how love works – you express as much as you can and hope it is heard, felt, believed.

Remember the past but live in present. Let hindsight enlighten choices in the current season. Cherish the past, but never forget to love in the present.

Grandma, if you can hear me, I love you and I appreciate you forever! Grandpa, (who I'm fairly confident can hear me,) I love you and I appreciate you forever. Abuelito and Abuelita, I love you and am so grateful for the legacy you pass on to me, along with a lifetime of memories. Dad, my Daddio, my wonderful father whom I love, I love you!!!! Mom, my inspiration and aspiration and eternal encourager, I love you!!! My siblings, Tiffany, Carlos, and Tobias, I'm so blessed, honored, and grateful to get to share with you this adventure called life. I love you forever.
The Four Children - All Grown Up
Onward with life!