Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jonah's Baptism

I found out I was pregnant for the first time ever during a trip to Vienna, Austria thirteen years ago. John and I had been married and Christians for five years, and we were visiting the family that hosted me as an exchange student when I was just sixteen. I was overjoyed and very nauseous, which made for an interesting trip. John took the lead in praying daily for the baby to "have a heart for Jesus" and continued until he was born. Sometimes we overlooked praying for health or prosperity, but we always prayed that he would love God.

Something told me I was carrying a boy, though we never officially found out. At that point, neither of us could read a sonogram any more than we could read Chinese, so we stayed blissfully ignorant and kept praying for him--or her--to love God. The majority of my pregnancy was spent in training for the mission field in Abilene, Texas where we were enrolled in church planting and Portuguese classes. I spent a great deal of that time asleep in the library while John and the rest of the team faithfully prepared. We watched the infamous destruction of the World Trade Center on the classroom television just one month before my due date, and I wondered what kind of world we were bringing our child into. During the eighth month we had an accident which totalled our car but left us unscathed. Tests showed a healthy baby.

Finally, the due date for the first grandchild on my side of the family was just around the corner. I was induced a bit early for edema--and hugeness in general. The labor was relatively long and unfruitful for the majority of the day and there were positions which caused the baby to lose oxygen, so they elevated my feet and kept me in one position. It was the closest thing to torture I have ever experienced, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I spent Jonah's first couple of weeks of life in a bout of postpartum depression. Jonah cried and cried and cried. I cried and cried and cried. I loved him and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. God's creation is funny like that.

We moved to Brazil when Jonah was eight months old and he continued expressing his dissatisfaction on a daily basis. We weren't sure how much of it was normal baby stuff and kept trying to figure out what we were doing wrong, with little success. Eventually one of the girls on our mission team, who happened to be a speech pathologist, recommended that we have him evaluated during an upcoming furlough. We did and ended up staying in the States for the next three years, in and out of treatment and therapy. We never got an official diagnosis, (although there was a lot of talk about autism) but we watched God effectively heal our son. He began to really talk at about five and even read quite well shortly after that. He became very affectionate and funny. He was a pleasure to be around. I didn't love him any more than before, and I realized how amazing God is to make it possible to love a child deeply, regardless of behavior.

It's been a long and difficult journey with equally larger amounts of pain and reward than anything else I've ever put my heart into. Jonah turned twelve last October and has grown and matured in ways that have far surpassed our expectations, one of which is his ability to understand spiritual concepts. He tends to discern the precepts behind Bible stories that many adults I know cannot find. We take that to be our answer to those many prayers we prayed while God was still forming him in the womb.

Last week, during a trip to visit our church family in Tennessee, Jonah decided to be baptized into Christ. It wasn't the first time he asked to be, but it was the first time we felt he was ready. He and Andy used to play "baptism" in the bathtub together, and we wanted to be absolutely sure it wasn't still a game for him. I trust the Holy Spirit to begin to reveal to him things we can't teach him on our own. I'm not sure I have ever felt prouder of anyone or anything, and again I marvel at God's grace.

Congratulations, My Beautiful Boy! I am so hopeful for your future and look forward to an eternity with you. Dad and I have only helped you reach the starting line. We are especially thankful to these wonderful families who have been an integral part of your life, witnessed your baptism in Nashville, and have pledged to help you finish the race strong.

Thanks, also, to those of you who have been there along the way in one of the ten--if I haven't lost count--places he has lived. We're planning a local celebration to honor this very special milestone in our family's journey. It's been an action-packed twelve years and we want to pause in thanks to God and ask for many more.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"I Found Christ Here!"

The last you heard from me was in November, which is shameful, not because I think you have nothing better to do than read my blog, but because God has been working in ways that really should be shared. As you know, John became the director at The Gem, a family fitness center, in November. He has worked tirelessly to organize and streamline a confusingly multi-faceted business. The facets seemed more like tentacles at times, and we've been wrapped up in them more than we've liked. That being said, all the hard work and sacrifice has been worth it, because the place has changed a great deal for the better. There is a new mission statement identifying Jesus Christ as the center, a new staff who seem more like a family to each other and to us, and a renovated building, as well as completely reorganized programming. Everything feels new and alive and purposeful, and our membership has quadrupled! We're still recovering from sizable financial issues which almost closed the place down last year, so we're not yet in the clear but hope to be very soon.

All of that is well and good, and we envision The Gem becoming a booming business and a household name to the surrounding communities. But those of you who know us know that's not exactly what feeds our souls. We want to see people come to know Jesus Christ, either for the first time or more fully. That's why, of all the exciting stories I could tell you about these past few months, I want to share this one first:

Of all the mountains John faced when he stepped into the leadership role at The Gem, there was an undeniable spirit of dissension among some of the group class instructors and members. It was a web of gossip and backbiting that had gone unchecked between the time the previous administration left and John stepped in. We prayed that God would clear out the negativity, then John confronted it head on. There was a tangible reaction, and a few instructors quit while some of the members even cancelled their contracts. God is faithful and soon enough there was a new peace that settled over the place. John and I began to pray about what would fill the hole that was created by the percentage of withdrawal we experienced in the aftermath.

Before long, as quickly as some had gone, others who left because of the dissension came back--instructors and members alike. LaRae was a favorite Zumba instructor who quit The Gem last fall to manage a restaurant. When she heard about the changes taking place at The Gem, she came to check it out for herself and asked for her job back. John informed her of the new mission and our vision to make it a more family friendly environment. She was inspired on her own accord to put together a playlist of Christian music to incorporate into her dance routines and presented the songs to John. She took a pay cut but said it was worth it to do what she loved and to be in a good family environment.

During a recent staff meeting, John asked the question, "How are we going to convince people who came and left before November to give us another try? What is different about this place now?" LaRae was quick to answer that it was very different and much better. He pressed for details that might be shared with a skeptic. She searched for words and finally and articulately exclaimed, "I found Christ here!" We visited her family's local church weeks later to see her baptized.
That was just last month and we've already seen the Holy Spirit work in her to make her more into the image of Christ. LaRae has even been moved to share her faith with others at The Gem by doing devotionals with her students.

We're excited to work alongside LaRae and to get to know her better. We also want her to know you, her new Christian family, better so please feel free to comment and let her see a glimpse of the faithful support she has worldwide.