Case and point: we are rushing down the stairs and since it’s impossible to do it quietly with Jack & Violet, Smadar comes bursting out her door exclaiming “Jack & Violet come in here! I have something special for you!” What might it be? Curious excitement is on both of their little faces! She excitedly hands them an almond branch with a few new little pink blooms on it. Jack looks past it like, "yeah, where’s the surprise?" I can see the branch is pretty but not quite sure what the excitement is. “Shkedia! Shkedia!" exclaims Smadar. (almond blossoms) Here is this 37 year old woman giddy with excitement at the shkedia/new blooms on the branch. She exclaims that these are the first blooms of the year and she was so excited that she broke off a branch, just to give to Jack & Violet. (*almond trees are the first trees to blossom each year)
What struck me was how incredible this was. This genuine excitement of a new season approaching. Jewish people even have a specific blessing for a new season:
“Baruch Atah Ado-noi, Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam, Sheh-he-che-yanu vi-kee-yimanu Vi-hee-gee-yanu laz-man ha-zeh.”
“Blessed are You God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.”
Now as we take walks with the kids we have a new appreciation for the trees blossoming around us. Signs of a new season. Signs of God’s faithfulness. Signs of God’s provision. What will this season hold for each of us? How will we depend on God in this coming season?
Each year in the Central Valley of California when the almond trees blossom I will think "shkedia! shkedia!" and be reminded of Israel, Smadar, my kids at ages 2 & 3, this season of life that I will never live exactly the same way again. I will never see an almond blossom the same way & for that I am thankful.
In a rush this morning I left my oatmeal bowl on the table. I enjoyed most of it, but there were some little oats still on the sides & bottom of the bowl. I hurried to get the kids ready to go to Pop & Gran’s house & then took on the job of cleaning the apartment. By the time I was back in the kitchen & ready to tackle a literal MOUND of dishes, I looked over & there was my oatmeal bowl – crusty. Hmm…now I had a choice: scrub as hard as possible & still fight the chance that some oats will hang on for dear life….or…soak the bowl & come back. Since time is precious these days with 2 little ones, I chose the latter.
I did some other housework & when I returned to the “MOUND” I really didn’t remember my oatmeal bowl…it was somewhere in the bottom soaking. By the time I got to the bottom, I was miffed with the amount of dishes I was doing. Why did I let them pile up so high? Anyhow…I got to my little oatmeal bowl & as I swiped the sponge into it…it was immediately clean. Voila! But the bigger voila! was what God impressed upon me right then.
I have junk. Crusty junk in my life I’ve just let sit for too long. I know it’s there…getting crustier by the day, hanging on for dear life, and stubbornly refusing to come free. When I’ve “gone to God” about it I’ve found myself feeling like, where do I begin? I begin to ask for forgiveness and then I think “oh yeah…there was that sin too...ugh”. To be honest I’ve given up…it was simply too defeating. It made me feel so bad about myself. I didn’t want to confront the junk. What I really didn’t want to do was scrub the oatmeal bowl that had been sitting for too long.
"SOAK in Me."
"Soak in My goodness. Soak in My love. Soak in My mercy. Soak in the remembrance of the way I've forgiven you in the past. Soak in how I've set you free. Soak in My majesty. Soak in My might. Soak in My ability to be bigger & stronger than your sin. Soak in My Living Water."
It was so incredible to be reminded that I don’t only come to Him and ask for forgiveness. I need to come before Him, worship Him, and let my crusty sins soak away in praising Him for how GOOD He is. The longer I soak, the easier it is to become truly clean. When the bowl is clean am I am reminded of how awesome He is, then I can begin to understand that He really is the Living Water that washes me clean.
Tomorrow morning as I fill my oatmeal bowl I can say out loud, “Your mercies are new EVERY morning! Great is Your faithfulness!” …and I’ll take care of the oats before they get all crusted to the side.
I get home, lay the kids down for a much needed nap, place my flowers in a vase & unload the groceries. I have meals planned out for the next dinner, breakfast, lunch & dinner (25 hours of Shabbat). I pick up the mess from the day, do a couple loads of laundry, clean all the floors, think about dinner & then wait for John to get home from class. If I forgot something at the store I'm out of luck - John's last class goes until 3pm & by then all the stores will be closed. Yes, the stores will be closed! By 2pm (in our neighborhood) there isn't a single store open. The large shopping mall will become a ghost town, the supermarkets will all be locked up & even the falafel & schwarma shops will have their large metals doors rolled down over them...until sundown on Saturday evening, when Shabbat ends.
From sundown on Friday evening until sundown on Saturday evening Jewish people observe Shabbat or Sabbath. Taken from Genesis 2:2-3 at the end of the creation story:
"By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done."
Once 2 or 3pm hits there is really nothing to do for the next 25 hours (in most of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem). The entire bus system stops, there are a few taxis (Shabbat rate is 25% more expensive), restaurants are closed, shopping is an hours walk away and without a car we are forced (in a good way) to observe the Sabbath. We would never be inclined to observe it like a Jew because there is no need to but what we are learning to do as a family is to rest. Saturday is a special day because meals have been planned out, the house is all clean, laundry is all done & the parks are full of families & everyone seems in a content mood. People are inviting guests over for Shabbat lunch or dinner, going to synagogue (3x), spending time with family & overall just living simple for an entire day. All their meals have been prepared are are being warmed on plattas (i.e electric hot plate).
A family we met in the park invited us over for a Shabbat lunch last Saturday and it was lovely! They did the traditional blessing of the challah bread, kiddush (literally, "sanctification") which is a blessing recited over the wine to sanctify the Shabbat and we had a kosher meal of course - this one was meat (so no dairy products) & lots of authentic Israeli & Shabbat-specific dishes. We had a lovely conversation where it was asked if we are making "aliyah" (immigration to Israel). That's where we make it clear we are not Jewish & that opens the door to a much bigger conversation and "what are you doing here?" is usually the beginning of it! We are asked if we are making aliyah in most conversations we have so we have lots of opportunities to share why we're here.Anyhow, Shabbat is a special time. I have found myself busily preparing on Friday in anticipation that things will stop on Saturday. It's a time set aside just for spending time with friends & family, for resting, for thinking about spiritual things, for ceasing from work & not feeling guilty about it...for resting and not feeling guilty about it.
To our friends, family & supporters of our continued ministry:
We come once again to you with exciting news regarding change!
In Isaiah it says,
“But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland."
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NLT)
As we read this we are excited how this passage (and all of Isaiah 43) seems relevant not only to us but to the people and land we feel called to.
Let’s back step a minute – for those of you who never read the newsletter we wrote after returning from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Perth we invite you to please read it. It is posted just below this post. Our 5 months at YWAM Perth were not short of challenges – one after the next. To sum up all that we experienced would take many paragraphs so the letter on our website is the briefest and most sensitive summary of our time there. Most importantly we are moving on and that’s where we cling to God’s promise that He is “about to do something new!” In the midst of much turmoil in our hearts while at YWAM Perth, God’s peace was truly like a river for our family. Not only was His peace present but also His clear direction for our future.
In the first week of our time at YWAM Perth God began to direct us to where he we would take us next: Israel. This beautiful and Biblically historical land is clearly where God is leading us. Many people have asked, “How are you ‘called’ to Israel, or any place?” The prophet Jeremiah put it best when he wrote, “You will seek (the Lord) and find (the Lord) when you search for (the Lord) with all your heart.” We clung to this truth and can say that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our next step is to follow the path to Israel.
This is where things get interesting! In this initial year John will be in a graduate study program at Jerusalem University College. This Christian university is right in the heart of Jerusalem. As we look to our future in ministry we feel that Biblical knowledge will play a key role in bringing others to Christ and also discipling those in their current walks with Christ. When we had the privilege to travel to Israel last September with Ray Vander Laan (That The World May Know Ministries) we were forever changed by what we learned about the Text (the beautiful marriage of both the Old and New Testaments). We know that a more intense study of the Text will open doors for a number of ministry opportunities in our future.
As far as ministry opportunities in Israel, these will come in the natural form of daily life and also working with Care Corps International to coordinate working relationships and initiate potential partnership projects. We have found an apartment in a working class neighborhood of Jerusalem – even a lower economical end of town – and we hope to make relationships by living daily life. For Laura this will come through getting Jack enrolled in a preschool (“Gan”), spending time at the park with Jack & Violet and meeting other parents, getting to know the people in our apartment complex and making relationships with the people that God puts into our path in natural situations. Both Laura and John will be working under Care Corps to build working relationships for future collaborative ministry opportunities, and John will be growing in his Biblical knowledge and grasp of discipleship through his studies. We are called to be Jesus’ disciples and we feel this includes knowing our Bible and passing this on to others. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Although God has clearly swung open doors for us to move to Israel we need your help to fund our living and ministry costs. John received an academic scholarship from the university and was also awarded a merit-based scholarship from another Evangelical foundation that covers the first semester of his school tuition. Praise the Lord! John will continue to pursue scholarships for the second semester tuition, but we need support to help with the cost of our “daily life” ministry living in Jerusalem and liaising for Care Corps International. We continue to trust the Lord in where He’s leading us and trust He will provide in a way we that can’t for ourselves. How we wish we could sit and talk with each of you to explain our YWAM Perth experience, to tell you all the ways that God confirmed Israel to us and to share with you openly about our heart to learn, grow & become His disciple so that we can make disciples! We are excited about what’s ahead. We are nervous about what’s ahead. We are called to what’s ahead.
On a more personal note, since being back in California we’ve had the opportunity to work in a walnut orchard, do a large video and print project for a local business, set up a website for a local business and even put together a large play set for a family – all in an effort to provide some money to live on and help save for the future. We’ve been living with Laura’s parents and have been blessed spending time together. They have welcomed us with servant hearts and it’s been wonderful! The kids have loved playing in the blow-up pool, spending time with their cousins and running free out in the country. We’ve also visited John’s family and likewise been blessed by family and wonderful moments spent together. It’s been a FULL and FABULOUS summer! Changing directions to Israel will have its unique set of challenges for the kids – going from spending so much time with family and cousins to being with just our little family will be emotionally tough. Also, going from Papa and Mimi’s comfortable house to a small, quirky apartment will be rough but we’ll make the best of it. We are more than ready for the adventure ahead because we know it’s God’s plan and that He will help us through it!
Below is our financial breakdown. It’s especially stretching to trust the Lord for financial support during such an economically unsure time but our hope is not on the things that are seen, but unseen.
Projected Expenses for August 2011 – July 2012:
Rent and utilities: $18,000 ($1500 mo.)
Health Insurance: $2,000
Food & Household: $8,400 ($700 mo.)
Transportation: $600 ($50 mo.)
House set-up costs: $1000
Funds raised to date: $11,000
Total Need: $22,700
We treasure your prayers for us. We value any support you can give. All gifts are tax-deductible when given via Care Corps International. We love you and thank God for you. Thank you for taking the time to read this long letter – so much to say, so little space!
For information on Care Corps visit www.carecorps.org.
Lots of love,John & Laurie, Jack & Violet
Here are some fun pictures of our "FULL & FABULOUS summer":
Practically off the plane from Perth & into the car for a 15hr drive to the Oregon coast for a week (with John's mom & dad & extended family) of agate hunting & more fun! Amazing time to clear our heads & focus our hearts!
Fires, kites, warm clothes! Oh and that gorgeous ocean! Ahhhh!
All the cousins together to put their hands in new concrete at Papa & Mimi's house!
A run in the irrigation canal...the absolute best to stay cool in the Central Valley heat
A run in the cotton field...
A run in the corn! Lots of running this summer!
Going for a ride...
Come on Violet, let's go!!
Went down south for my cousin's wedding & had a fun chance to go to Huntington Beach. John dug a huge hole & that pretty much entertained them all afternoon
4th of July with friends
"Celebrating America's...and our independence!" - Jack & Violet
Jack can throw water at, wrestle with and tackle Violet and she laughs...we look at her like we might be upset & she cries!
Colorado River with extended family! So much FUN!
Texas! So fun! We flew out to visit John's family for a week and it was full of fun! ...and super good food
Making pizza with fun Auntie Liz!
Violet acting so lovely with Pop & Gran...
"It's been a full summer, I'm exhausted!" - Violet
ALL PLAY & NO WORK MAKES A POOR FAMILY! HA! There have been so many fun moments this summer & it's been a blast but we haven't only played. Well, Jack & Violet have...but we've had lots of opportunities to work (as you can read in the above letter). The camera just comes out when fun is being had!
Hope you enjoyed a glimpse of what we've been up to. COUNTLESS hours outside...running, playing, water, Jell-O, Rocket Pops, swimming, digging, discovering, planting with Mimi, riding on the golf cart, helping, laughing, enjoying, getting dirty and loving life!
The countdown begins...13 days until we leave for ISRAEL!
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