Will You Marry Me?

2 Peter 3:11

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Message version of verses 3 & 4 read:

3-4Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust. o the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I don’t know about you, but I love invitations.  Most of the time.  Weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers (especially if the baby is there too!).  I love all of these life events.

Seventeen years ago I received the most exciting invitation this side of heaven.  On March 3, 1995 Larry Brandon invited me to be his wife.  I was living in Denver at the time and one night during our daily phone conversations Larry asked me why I hadn’t moved to Michigan yet.  I informed him that I had not yet been invited.  A week or so later he flew me to Michigan for the weekend and in the parking lot of the Bay City Saginaw airport Larry gave me an invitation that he’d made on the computer and printed out for me.

It read:

Although we haven’t known each other very long

My feelings for you can’t be wrong

Please agree to be a part

of my of heart

and of my life

Take this ring and be my wife

Love,

Larry

I was so excited.  This wonderful man who I’d only known 5 1/2 weeks (no I don’t recommend this, but….) was inviting me to share his life in the most intimate way possible.  Two months later we were married and the nearly 15 years that we were together we the best years of my life.  Our love for each other was the stuff that Fairy Tales wish they were made of.  Yeah, it was that good.  Until cancer cut our happily ever after too short.

This intimacy is only a foretaste of the invitation we have received from Jesus Christ.  Jesus loves us so much that He paid the ultimate cost, the ransom required for us to have a relationship with God.  He longs for us to know and desire Him as much as He desires us.  Jesus is inviting us to know His Father as He does, up close and personal.  Not just for a few temporal years on this earth, but for all eternity.  Happily Ever After has nothing on this invitation!

This picture was taken right after our wedding ceremony. When Jesus looks at us, there is more love in his eyes than there is Larry's eyes. WOW!!!

A Little Lamb named Mary

I’ll Fly Away sung by Mary Juengel and Sarah Schieber

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15 NIV

 

I have a friend whose 11-year-old daughter is fighting Leukemia.  She was diagnosed last fall and now this little Lamb is having to go through horrendous chemo.  One week in the hospital and one week at home for eight weeks.  She’s half way there.  All together her treatments will last 2 1/2 years (I think that’s right).  At the end of her hospital weeks Mary gets mouth sores and nausea among other side effects.  So much for child to have to go through.

Mary has one very important thing going for her.  Her love for her Savior, Jesus Christ.  Mary’s trust is a portrait of the faith of a child.  When she’s feeling well she sings praise songs and her momma posts them on Facebook.  When she’s not feeling well she vocalizes her trust for the God that loves her and holds her, and her momma posts them on Facebook.  Mary is a modern-day Billy Graham, just by her faith, love, hope and transparency.

These are the kind of  situations that beg the question, “why?”  Why are the ones who love Jesus getting sick.  There is no answer for us of course, at least not this side of heaven. There is no promise in the Bible that exempts us from the broken-ness of our physical bodies.  Ours is not to know why.  Ours is to be like Mary.  Trust that there is good that is now and will continue be to coming from our faith in the midst of trials.  Hope for a future with another view from the mountain top while we’re still exhausted from trying to climb out of the valley.  Love our Savior unconditionally just as he loves us, knowing that no matter what we’re going through…. he’s been there.

Mary is always prepared to share her faith.  There is nothing at all shy about her love for Jesus Christ, she freely sings it out from her hospital bed, from her home, from her heart.  There is so much to learn from this little Lamb.

Heavenly Father, we try to have the faith of a child but we know that we fall short.  We try to keep our focus on You Lord, but there are so many distractions.  We try to love you unconditionally, but we still get angry when things don’t go our way.  Please forgive us God.  Thank you Lord for the inspirations to greater faith that come to us from the little Lamb named Mary.  Protect her, please heal her, and continue to use this precious child to give us a glimpse of You.  In Jesus name ~Amen.

 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…..

Sometimes I Cry by Jason Crabb

 

Hosea 2:14, 15

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor (trouble) a door of hope.
There she will respond (sing) as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

I came to Guatemala in search of Jesus in action.  I guess that’s the best way to describe it.  Missions trips were something that Larry and I had always planned to do “someday”, but our “someday” was cut short.  I first heard about this particular mission project last year when we went to church with Jeff & Amy Brandon, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law.  Something in my spirit perked up when Pastor Jim was talking about it and my heart whispered back, “next year”.  When next year arrived and we were moving to Allendale anyway, it was time!

As I said, I came to Guatemala in search of Jesus in action, or the real Jesus.  The Jesus who got dirty and sweaty and reached out to help the ones in need.  Something else happened along the way.  I came face to face with myself.  I didn’t care for what I saw.

Dan, the mission director, asked us the very first night if we loved Jesus or if we were in love with Jesus.  Being in love is so much more than just loving.  When you are in love your thoughts never stray from the object of your affections.  You are consumed with them.  You long to be with them every moment that you are apart.  I love chocolate, but I’m not in love with chocolate.  I had to admit that I treated my relationship with Jesus more like chocolate; it was there when I was hungry for it but otherwise I just left it alone.  My relationship with chocolate was probably stronger than my relationship with Jesus.  Ouch.

What I found in Guatemala was a woman who knew all the right things to say, knew the words to all the right songs, a woman who talked the talk but couldn’t walk that path because deep inside she was still full of resentment.  How could I profess to be there serving the Savior that I love while my spirit was still gray with resentment because my husband was not healed of his brain cancer on my side of heaven.  How human, broken, and selfish that is!  God did not take my husband.  He restored and perfected my husband and brought him home to glory.  My life is still so full of undeserved blessings that I take for granted every day.  Even simple things like safe water.  I do think about that now when I go to the refrigerator for water that is filtered of even the chemicals used to make it safe so that it tastes good.  A bathroom that can handle toilet paper and has a roof and door and seat….  A large house, not huge but compared to what we saw there it is a mansion!  I have 4 sons that I am so proud of.  Three of them have grown into amazing men.  School for them wasn’t an impossible dream.  They are all paying for their own college.  Drew, Wade, and Scott… I am so proud of you.  I love you more than you will ever know.  I fall short in so many ways as your mother, but my love for you will never fade!  The fourth is Noah, a gift to my loneliness.  I see bits of each of his older brothers and his daddy in him everyday.  I have the love of my husband’s family as well as my own.  I have a steady income. I have the privilege of worshiping God openly without fear of persecution.

All this and more, and yet I still held so much resentment.

I set out to court my Savior, to fall in love with him in the days we were down there.  I found Jesus in the work.  I found Jesus smiling in the brown faces that were overjoyed to see us, to have someone care enough to reach out to them.  I found my own heartbeat again.  I found joy in the trust of a little girl who only wanted me to love her and hold her. I found that I could leave a bit of my heart behind and still be overflowing with the love of God.

 

The last evening before the flight home we had devotions that were a bit more intense than they’d been so far… and they’d been intense.  That evening found me kneeling on the floor with my head buried in my arms on my chair, a river of tears that could not be stopped wracking my body with soul shattering sobs.  My only thought was, “I’m so sorry, please forgive me.”  That phrase rang out inside me over and over.  My Jesus was there with his arms open, waiting patiently for the resentment to flow away from my heart, whispering to my spirit, “It’s time, let it go.”

I went to Guatemala to find Jesus.  Jesus didn’t need to be found, he was with me all the time.  I had to go to Guatemala to lose myself and fall in love with the One who saved me.

This drawing is an image that captures my week in Guatemala. God promises us that He catches every tear and He gives us beauty for ashes. The roses are the ones that Heidi wanted me to paint on the walls of her new home. I will be painting them on the wall in my new home as well.

 

Put on Your Sunday Clothes

Mighty to Save video

Isaiah 61:10 – 12

10 I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

The first medical clinic day was in a remote mountain village.  Remote being a vertical term.  The drive took well over 2 hours, but we traveled less than 40 miles over roads that at times were not even trails.  How the driver knew where to go I will never know.  This was a village that had seen few if any white people.

The first thing I noticed was their clothing.  These people showed up in their very best clothing to stand in line all day to speak to someone about their physical needs.  All of the women wore traditional Mayan garments of hand-woven skirts and hand embroidered blouses.  Even the old women had their hair braided with colorful ribbons.  What were we wearing?  Jeans, t-shirts, sweats.  I wonder what they thought about our clothing?  I wondered then at the level of respect and honor they showed us that we did not show them.  I hadn’t even brought nice clothes along.  I felt so humbled by their attire and what it represented.  I’ve rarely ever seen such beautiful craftsmanship.

Breaking the ice with this village was a bit more difficult than it had been at the village where we’d built the houses.  These villagers had no reason to trust us beyond the words spoken to them by the native employees of the mission base.  It didn’t take too long to coax the children into games of catch, jump rope, frisbee, coloring and nail polish.  I had taken along some yarn and a crochet hook and decided to see what would happen if I sat down and started to crochet.  A simple rosette bracelet took about 5 minutes to work up.  After I got started a couple of grandmas came over to see what I was up to.  When I gave the first one away to one of them I was soon flocked with mammas, grandmas and girls who wanted a bracelet.  I kept working on them until it got too dark to see.  As I was sitting there surrounded by women in beautiful hand crafted clothes, children laughing and chasing the members of the team, Guatemalan men standing around keeping a watchful yet entertained eye on their family members and the beauty of the Guatemalan mountains around us… I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandmother.  Grandma taught me how to crochet when I was 9-years-old.  I wonder if she ever dreamed that I would be sitting in a tiny Guatemalan village crocheting rosette bracelets to show a bit of Jesus’ love.  I doubt it, but I’m sure she was smiling that day!

After the sun went down the movie came out.  The Jesus movie.  For many of them this was the first time they’d ever seen a movie at all.  After the movie Hermanos Jesus got up to preach about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We didn’t need to understand his words to be touched by his passion for his Savior.  When he gave out the opportunity for Salvation, nearly the entire village came forward to receive this priceless gift.  The energy in that small one room school was even more overwhelming than it had been at the home dedications.  The lights seemed to glow brighter, the tears that gathered in every eye glimmered with the hope of the cross.  Hugs and prayers and smiles and joy.  The mission director told us later that one of them came to him and requested more leadership and discipleship.  God is so amazing.

To Be Continued………

Hello, my name is………

He Knows My Name video

Isaiah 61:7

7 Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.

Today I’m going to back up a bit and fill in some of the details.  Details with names like Heidi, Linda, Henry, Willy, Yenifer, Elder, and Dolce Maria.  Details with smiles, tears, giggles and hands.  Lots of hands.  Hands reaching and holding, leading and helping, praying and preparing.  Hands with arms that hug and hold on.

Heidi is a beautiful 17-year-old wife and mama.  Her 14-month-old son Austin is an adorable little chubba with soft black curls.  The team that Noah and I were on built the home for Heidi and her husband Anabel and their son.  Heidi was somewhat shy, but determined to help out however she could with her new home.  She was often working with one hand while holding Austin on her hip.  Heidi’s joy and gentle pride in her new home was far greater than my joy in my new home.  We were blessed and privileged to be a part of their lives and kneel with them as the committed their lives to Jesus Christ in a moment so powerful that I cannot even begin to find the words for it.  Heidi was as much a gift to us as we were to her.

You can see a picture of Heidi, Anabel and Austin in yesterday’s post.

Linda is my little scarf.  Her favorite place was in my arms with her arms wrapped around my neck and her head on my shoulder.  Her sweet whispers for “dolce” or sweets were more often rewarded with a kiss on her cheek than actual candy.  Mostly because as soon as one child had a piece of candy you were swarmed by the rest of the children in the village and the candy was soon gone.  We each had one or two children who we became attached to emotionally.  Linda was mine.  She would come take my hand, regardless of what I was doing, and pull me somewhere in the village to show me what I could not understand.  The love and trust that Linda poured into me during those few days were a gift beyond measure.  Linda’s family had already received their house and they never missed a discipleship meeting.  When we gathered around to pray for the houses little Linda was right beside me with her hands on the houses as well.  A tiny little wisp of a girl with more power in her simple prayers than the rest of us put together.

Henry, oh Henry!  Henry is a deaf and mute little boy that the mission nurse has unofficially adopted.  He was cast aside by the village and Erin was told not to bother with him because he was nothing.  Erin is now referred to as his “white mama”.  For someone who can’t speak, Henry made sure that he was well known by all of us.  He has no trouble communicating what he wants.  Henry loves to draw.  He will cover every tiny space on the small pieces of paper he can find with pictures and tug at your hand to show you his artistry.  I would not be surprised at all if I see Henry’s artwork on display in museums one day.  He is quite a gifted artist.

Willy is an adorable little boy with a huge smile and ginormous sweet tooth.  I don’t really know any details about Willy’s life, I just know Willy.  Everyone knew Willy and Willy made sure that he made each of us smile.  Willy was Noah’s favorite while we were there.  He loved playing with Willy.

Yenifer is absolutely beautiful!  She is maybe three years old at most.  Beautiful eyes the color of chocolate pudding.  A smile that would light up your soul.  Soft black hair that always seemed to be attempting to caress her kissable cheeks.  The first two days anyone could pick Yenifer up and carry her around.  She giggled and hugged freely.  The third day Yenifer was fine as long as none of us picked her up.  As soon as one of us tried she would start to cry very loudly.  The common remark when holding Yenifer was that we all wanted to take her home with us.  Somehow that remark had been translated to Yenifer and she was suddenly terrified that we were going to take her away from her family.  We all felt terrible.  She had been so full of joy until she felt threatened.  These children were all full of joy at the simplest things that we never think twice about.   Seeing themselves on our cameras was something they never tired of.   If we had been able to bring them home with us we would destroy them.  In our desire to give them the world we would remove from them their contagious joy and replace it with the same restless boredom that our own children have.  Thank God we could not bring Yenfier home with us.  Her light needs to shine!

Elder is a 19-year-old young man who should be strong and vibrant.  His body has been so invaded by the parasites present in the water supply that his kidneys are shutting down and he can no longer even walk.  Elder’s family was one of the four families that our teams built houses for.   For Elder this new home was amazing.  He could now see during the daylight hours and there would be the possibility of a cross breeze to cool his feverish body with the window and door on their new house.  There was a tangible energy surrounding the house when the team was inside as the Gospel was presented, almost as if the house itself were preparing to receive Jesus Christ.  The team members who were in with the family had tears in their eyes as they described Elder’s hands reaching for heaven to receive the love of the Savior.  This was the final dedication of homes and at the end we all packed in to the room as much as we could to pray for Elder and his family, all of them now our family as well; adopted children of the one true God.

Dolce Maria….. Sweet Marie.  While we were in Guatemala the orphanage that is attached to the mission base received a new guest in the form of a 2 week old premie baby girl.  I’ve seen baby dolls that were bigger than Dolce.  If she had been born in the U.S. she would still be in an incubator in a hospital until she weighed enough to bring her home.  This sweet baby is blessed beyond what she will ever know.  She is in the care of loving, committed Christians who will raise her in a veritable castle.  The conditions at the base are so far beyond what she would have experienced had she not been brought here.  Holding the little peanut was a nightly competition. 🙂

These are but a few of the “details” of the trip.  I cannot sufficiently express the gifts I received …. in the details.

To Be Continued…….

Restoring Places Long Devastated

Until the Whole World Hears

March 6, 2012

Daily Devotions written by Shelley Brandon, Grief and Encouragement Coach

Isaiah 61: 4 – 6

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.

The village that we worked in building houses is situated on land that was once a thriving but now abandoned plantation.  Few of the original concrete buildings remain.  Anyone who had been fortunate enough to claim one was blessed indeed.  Most of the dwellings were mere shanties thrown together with rusted scrap metal.  No light, no window, a blanket for a door, dirt the only floor.  The floors were swept every morning by women who carefully tended their meager homes, grateful for some type of shelter from the elements.

The homes that we built for them were smaller than my bedroom.  One 8’x10’ room with one window, a plastic skylight in the center of the metal roof, a real metal door, cement floor, dry-walled inside and cement board with stucco on the outside made a home.  A metal awning in front for a covered porch nearly doubled the living space.  Most of their days are spent outdoors and this awning provided both shelter and shade.  This modest building was more than most of these families has ever known.  The simple gifts we brought along for the families were for them more extravagant and overwhelming than any Christmas I’ve ever experienced.  Tears of gratitude and joy filled their eyes as their new homes were dedicated to them.  Tears of overwhelming humility filled ours.

As each home was dedicated, the team that built the dwelling went inside with the family, the mission directors and a Guatemalan Pastor named Hermanos Jesus (does it get any cooler than that???  Sir Jesus!)  The other teams surrounded the house in a human chain of prayer.  As Hermanos Jesus presented each family with the Gospel of Jesus we all prayed for the Holy Spirit to break through the bond of Mayan religion that had been co-mingled with Catholicism into a warped and twisted belief system that had glass-topped coffins in the churches with a wax Jesus inside.  In two of the houses that bond was broken!! In another it was cracked as the mother committed her life to Jesus in spite of the controlling fear that had been instilled into her children by her absent husband. The fourth family was not yet ready to make the commitment, but did not outright reject our Savior asking that the evangelism team come back to talk with them more.  This evangelism team held discipleship meetings in the village every week.  They would not be forgotten.

We weren’t prepared for the spiritual battle that we’d been warned about.  Everything from the noise of the village children, dogs fighting with each other near us that had been napping together earlier, loud music from somewhere that had not been heard all week, a Pepsi truck driving back and forth on the narrow dirt road trying to sell his sodas to the villagers and some guy with a P.A. system on his truck verbally running his own commercial for whatever it was that he was trying to sell.  Anything that could distract us from our prayer vigil was used against us, even the weather.  The only rain we encountered all week fell in those few hours.  Our mission for the eternal destination of the wonderful people was under attack.  When the distractions became too much, we sang.  Any song we could remember the words to we sang, from Jesus Loves Me to Revelation Song.  I have never been so spiritually exhausted as I was when we were finished but I have never been so content in the moment either.

To Be Continued…….Image

Now You go….

March 5, 2012

Devotions written by Shelley Brandon, Grief and Encouragement Coach

Isaiah 61

The Year of the LORD’s Favor

Moses with Radiant Face (1638 painting by José...
Image via Wikipedia

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins

and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,

and in their riches you will boast.

Every night in Guatemala, after we ate and cleaned up, we had a time of praise & worship and devotions.  In the mornings before we left we were each to spend time alone with God.  It was during the personal time with God that my eyes were brought to Isaiah 61.  I was floored by the first verses and continued to feel my jaw sagging to my feet as I continued to read the entire chapter.  This was my personal devotion during the whole trip and it will be my focus this week as well.

The first verse brought to mind Moses when he was talking to God through the combustible bush, I could almost hear Him whispering to me, “I have heard the cries of my people in Guatemala and I’ve come down to help them….. now you go and do my work.”  I felt so inadequate and small compared to the enormity of the needs there.  I’m sure Moses felt like he was ready to conquer the world and shouted out, “CHARGE!” Or not.  I heard Ken Davis say once that the part of Moses should have been played by Martin Short.  If that’s the case then I’ve got to be the I Love Lucy version, “Whaaaaaaaaaa!”

At the same time I was also very hopeful and felt the stirrings of something I’d not felt in a long time.  Life.  In the hours spent in the sun, at the base of an active volcano called “Fuego” or fire, I felt life in my achy, sweaty, dirty veins.  I’m sadly overweight and prone to migraines, but each day I knew that I had a purpose.

And I was not alone.  For the first time in more than two years I was surrounded by new friends every moment of every day.  Community.  We were not created for isolation.  In the villages I found a new meaning to community.  These beautiful people had more community than I’ve ever known.  It wasn’t just a matter of meeting with your neighbors for coffee; it was so much more than that.  They were dependent on each other for the very necessities of life.  I’ve never personally experienced that level of poverty and I’ve never been blessed with level of joy.

To Be Continued…….