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Hope

“They devoted themselves to the prophets’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

For as far back as I can remember I have heard people reference a longing to return to the days of the early Church, “The Acts 2 Church.” Having spent much time wandering the streets of Jerusalem, I must admit I can’t help but daydream about what those days must have been like. The words, the miracles, the numbers added daily! The two things that used to boggle my mind the most, however, are the love had and community shared by the first century believers. What would it look and feel like to be so devoted to God that you in turn devote yourself to others to the point of speaking covenantually,”What’s mine is yours.”

In July of 2007 Patrick & I found ourselves in the midst of new pages in life and being written upon with words we never expected. We had no home church. This was new to us and frankly speaking, it truly upset my idea of the Christian walk. Yes, I know the Church is not a building, but the corporate body of believers in Jesus as savior. I had always been a part of such a body. And now we were in a place where after 8 years of close intimate fellowship with people who had become family, it was just we four. We live in a city that is often times referred to as “crowded” with churches, so we began our search for the people we would join our children and ourselves to as our church family.

We awakened early each Sunday morning and went through the routine of preparing for church and drove across town to “try out” each new place. As we did I asked the Lord to lead us to the people He would have us call “home.” I didn’t lay out before Him my list of requests for what I’d like in a church. I only wanted for my family what God had for us; the man who would speak the Word as directed by God; the Sunday school teachers and children’s church leaders who would seek God weekly and partner with me and Patrick in training up our girls in the way they should go; worship that was pure, for and about Jesus; and a community that would love us like Jesus, regardless of where we had been, what we had done, or who we once were.

Finally, after months of searching which often times resulted in quitting, we found ourselves walking through the doors of Hope Community Church one Sunday morning in December.

We asked where to take our children for classes, checked them in, and walked into the sanctuary and found our seats all without being greeted. Ironically, this was perfect for us! Only God knew how desperately we wanted to just blend and not be noticed. He loved us so much and cared so much about us living out His plan to hide us from a community of people who are typically quick to greet visitors. This was His way of delicately aligning His plan for us, people who were so fragile we might have shattered at the slightest approach.

We settled in for only a couple minutes (we purposely got there as close to start time as possible so that we would not be forced to be “fake” with strangers). When the lights dimmed and the music began to play, in the darkness I heard an angelic voice begin to sing:

You’ve taken my pain and called me by a new name.

You’ve taken my shame and in its place, you give me joy.

You’ve taken my pain and called me by a new name.

You’ve taken my shame and in its place, you give me joy.

That’s all it took. I broke. I thrust my hands up in the air, the flood-gates flew open, and I began to weep in the presence of God. With those tears and as the song continued, I felt my soul going through a baptism. I received hope that with the death and burial of my old life, I might receive a new life and with it a new name and joy.

As the service closed out and the team returned to the stage to close out with the same song they opened with, I heard God speak to me through His Spirit saying, “This is your safe place.”

We returned faithfully week after week. After our initial “visit” we were greeted every week and many of the faces became more familiar until it was just natural to see the same people every week. But we continued to “sneak” in so we really did not have any names to go with many of the faces we saw.

It wasn’t until two years later that we felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit to truly commit to this community by receiving their friendship and offering ours. What has followed as a result has been like nothing we’ve ever experienced within a community of believers.

They have not only loved us, but they have loved our children, and they have nurtured our call by speaking words of prophecy and knowledge and praying for us and giving to us constantly.

Which brings me to 3 weeks ago, July 2012.

We were in Israel for three weeks, California for one week, and Dallas, TX for a few days for ministry and family time. The whole time we were away from home we were hearing about the record-breaking temperatures in and around Springfield. We were bracing ourselves to return home to an unbearable summer and I knew that this was weighing heavily on my husband.

We returned home at 8:30 on a hot Wednesday night to find a cool house and new air conditioners in three of our rooms including our two living areas and our daughters’ bedroom. These were gifts from people who chose not to divulge their names, but we know they were from our Hope family.

Dear Hope Family,

There are no words to express the gratitude in our hearts (although I may have already written much more than some may have the patience or time to read:). Your gifts over the past 3 years have touched us much deeper than many we have received from others in the past, because we know that they came from wells of love and altars of sacrifice. You have provided for us, and more importantly for our girls, what we could not. We do not take this lightly. We love you all deeply and will always praise God for guiding us through the silent halls of Hope on that somber Sunday morning 5 years ago. In doing so, He lead us to YOU. Our desire is to be as much of a blessing to you, or more, as you have been to us.

We are so excited because we see in the Word that love like you have given us is often times followed up with “the Lord add[ing] to their number daily those… being saved.” (Acts 2:47) And that is our ultimate desire as a community.

We love you, our treasured friends,

Patrick, Rebecca, Eden, & Leia

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Leia Michal

Leia Michal – 1 week old.

Standing in the elevator riding down to the parking garage with my husband, tears began filling my eyes. It’s a girl. The ultrasound showed I was having another girl. I knew I could love another baby just as deeply as I did my first born if it was a boy. But, how could my heart possibly respond so to another girl? I didn’t share these thoughts with anyone during my pregnancy, but pondered them for several weeks.

As time went by and my belly swelled with life, I found myself torn as I began to fall fiercely in love with this little one whose face I had not yet seen. I wondered what she would look like. Would she look like her sister? Would she have dark skin like me? Was it possible she’d have blue eyes like her daddy? My excitement over this new baby was different. It wasn’t the awe and wonder that comes with your first-born. It was the more mature expectation that only comes from walking in familiar steps. I knew what to expect and I was so excited to journey there again.

Mommy and “both her girls.” Leia – 1 year old.

She didn’t receive the brand new clothes and baby gear her sister received. She would get clothes and gear that had been used. And somehow, I just knew she could handle that. I sensed that she was understanding and not the jealous type; that she was perfectly ok with being the second recipient of everything she’d receive.

She was born one day before her due date. How just like her! And as she entered this world something completely unexpected happened. A chamber of my heart I never knew existed burst wide open and a wellspring of fresh, brand new love came alive. I didn’t have to borrow from the love I gave to my oldest daughter. This new baby would receive a love that only belonged to her; a love I never thought I was capable of.

We named her Leia Michal. I loved the name Leia, but when I looked up the meaning in a Baby Name book, we learned that it was not a pleasant one. It means “weary.” Who wants to name their beautiful little girl “weary?” I tried to like other names with stronger meanings, but in the end, I just could not shake off Leia. So, we decided we would tell people the meaning of her name based off of the spiritual connotation found in a different book: “Beauty and Grace.” And we gave her the middle name Michal, which means “One who is like the Lord.”

Leia and her lifelong friend Ellie as flower girls in Tio Chris & Tia Laura Wiggs’ wedding. 2 years old.

Believing wholeheartedly that there is spiritual significance in what you name your child, I wrestled with whether or not her name was a mistake. Then one Sunday morning, the Lord revealed to me the true meaning of the name Leia. We were in a church service in Texas and the pastor’s message was about “High Praise.” He spoke from Genesis chapter 29 about how Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob always hoped to earn her husbands love through the sons she bore him. Finally, she realized that her children were not going to purchase her husband’s love. And verse 35 tells us,

 “ She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.”

Experience had made Leah wise enough to turn to praise in the midst of her seemingly hopeless circumstance. The pastor pointed out that up until that point in Bible history, the people of Israel had only worshipped. This is the first mention of praise and it came from Leah. At this revelation, my spirit leapt inside of me as I remembered a prophecy spoken over my baby when she was still in my womb:

“The baby in your womb will be a praise warrior!”

And she is. My Leia is a praise warrior. She lifts her little hands and dances before the Lord in praise. God, her father, and I will nurture her to know that she will dispel darkness through her praise. I know we’ve only seen the beginning of things to come as she continues to cling to Jesus with adoration, worship, and praise.

3 years old.

She sees angels and hears the voice of God and I am awe-struck at her closeness to my savior; to her savior. My nose sits perfectly in the center of her face, proudly declaring that she is mine. And she takes in her surroundings through her daddy’s eyes. They are evidence that she is the product of love.

Her kisses are sweet and wet and her snuggles are executed in a way that suggest her ownership over her daddy and me. She’s my little comedienne and will in no way relinquish that role in our family.

4 years old.

It’s a wonder that something so perfect and beautiful and heavenly could come from me. I gently outline the entirety of her face with my finger tips and for a brief moment I am sobered by the reality that I am touching eternity. She was formed in my womb by the One who has no beginning and no end, and she has been set apart for works which only her giftings and personality can carry out. I am humbled and tremble with reverence for God that I have been entrusted with the responsibility of training her up in the way she should run.

Happy 7th Birthday, my sweet Lei Lei Mikey!

5 years old.

6 years old.

My silly girl! 6 years old.

Leia and Mommy on Cinco de Mayo, 2012. Leia is 19 days short of 7 years old.

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Longing

This week I experienced the loss of a friend. She and I didn’t have a history of many years of intimate friendship. We knew each other for four short years. In those four years, though, every one of our encounters was very profound. I always left her presence knowing that I had just been with a spiritual giant. As I write this I can easily recall the many confirming words of knowledge she’s spoken over me since my very first encounter with her.

She was radiant and intriguing, yet she was authentic and always approachable. She unknowingly played a major role in my restoration and healing. She came alongside me in my affliction and spoke life and vision into me as if God had opened up His mighty hands before her to reveal His plans for me. My journal is filled with her words and I walk expectantly in my call because of her obedience to speak the heart of God. She leaves behind an amazing husband, who is also awe-inspiring, and two beautiful, small children.

This past March I lost my grandfather and had the honor and privilege of officiating his memorial service. Two years ago I was graced to do the same for my grandmother.

The Bible tells us that it is appointed unto men once to die. This is the unavoidable truth. We were formed in our mothers’ wombs by the hand of God, and from the time we take our very first breath our life here on earth is destined to come to an end.

There is a wide spectrum of emotions that death evokes in me. The first is usually shock.

 

How could someone who was here one moment, be suddenly gone in the next?

I tossed and turned at that very question the night of my friend’s death. The next emotion I walk through is sadness. I ponder the times we had together and I ponder the days my loved one will not be around for. The final emotion usually lingers a bit longer. It’s one I was surprised by the first time I experienced it. After the initial shock and the expected sadness, I experience envy.

I know that sounds strange, and trust me, I never mean to sound morbid. But, I’ll never forget the deep anguish I felt four years ago when my unborn daughter died in my womb. I grieved a gut wrenching grief. I hurt from the top of my head to the very bottoms of my feet. I shook my fists at God in anger and asked, “How could you?!” But when the pain and anger had dissipated I found myself left with envy. Jealousy.

I envy the saint who has passed from this life into eternity because in a split second they pass from this world into the presence of the one I love deeper and stronger and more passionately than I love any one else in all of heaven or earth.

I know there is much argument over whether a person moves immediately into the presence of God or if they sleep for a while. We do know one thing, though, and that is a person will close their eyes in this life and open them in the next. I will not care about how long my eyes were closed because I will finally be home.

I love my life. The Lord has filled my life here on earth with so many blessings. I get to spend my days with the most amazing little girls. God’s given me the most extraordinary man as my partner in doing life. And He grants me the opportunity over and over again to see the grandeur of the world He created and to adventure in it. Yet, I can’t deny that there is a longing deep inside of me to physically walk and talk with my God. And He longs for the same thing with me. He created us to be with Him! He created man and set him in the garden of His delight and then, the Bible tells us, He physically walked with him. It was not the intent of God to ever be separated from man. And since The Fall He has been consumed with fulfilling His promises in order to be with us again.

            “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.”

I’ve heard that said a hundred or more times. The problem, however, is that this idea is nowhere to be found in the Bible. In fact, the messages found in the Word are quite the opposite. For many of the great men of faith it was revelation of God, His son Jesus, and His Kingdom that ignited a fire in them which would cause them to set their people and ultimately the world aflame.

Moses met God in a burning bush and spoke with Him as a man speaks with his friend.

Isaiah saw the Lord high and exalted and the train of His robe filling the temple. He saw the Seraphs circling the throne crying out “Holy, holy, holy!” This revelation caused him to fall on his face like a dead man, opened his eyes to his sin-saturated humanness and caused him to answer “Send me!” when God asked “Whom shall I send?” I imagine it was the memory of this revelation that gave him the courage and the boldness to stand before a wicked and depraved generation over and over again and declare the words of the Lord.

Twelve men forsook their careers, their families, their homes, and any chance at ever again living a safe and predictable life to follow a carpenter. Why? Because they saw the face of God. They looked into His eyes and heard His voice. They experienced heaven and they and we would never be the same because of it.

Jesus himself said, “I can only do what I see the father doing,” and “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father.” He didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly kingdom.

And John, the beloved apostle, the Revelator, while banished to the island of Patmos was given first-hand revelation of things, which are to come. He heard the voice of God, which sounded like a trumpet. He turned to see the voice of the one who spoke and beheld the son of man. He was dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

How could he ever, from that day forward, live any other way than heavenly minded? He couldn’t. They couldn’t! And they didn’t. They and every single one of the great heroes of our spiritual heritage lived with their hearts and minds and actions focused on heaven and this has served humankind very well. They didn’t attach themselves to the fleeting things of earth. They lived as citizens of heaven, sojourners longing for home and the face and embrace of their beloved, father, friend, master, king, and God.

This same longing is at the core of every soul ever to walk the face of the earth since the beginning of time; in both the righteous and the unrighteous.

There is coming a day when our yearning will be put to rest. What a day that will be! The Bible tells us that there will be no pain or death or disease. Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes and we will finally be with Him for all of eternity. There will be no more discontentment or striving or longing. Every one of our desires and every one of His will be fulfilled. Oh how I love the day of His appearing! I want to hasten His return! The Spirit and the Bride say COME!!!

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