To my Grandpa…

Today marks the first anniversary of my grandpa’s death.

Wow.

I have no words. I don’t know what to say about him. He was great, but everyone knows that. He was godly and one of the most loving people one could ever meet. Again, everyone knows that. I feel like I can do a whole lot more with my words if I direct them to him, not you all. I never got a chance to say goodbye. Not really. It just felt like one day he was teaching me how to drive, and the next he was sitting in a wheelchair, hooked to an oxygen tank. I cannot recall how many times I said ‘I love you” during that week as he slowly died, but I cannot recall ever truly grasping the fact that he was leaving and that I needed to say farewell.
If I had that opportunity now, Grandpa, this is what I hope that I would have the pluck to say…

I love you. Even though I’ve said it countless times, I don’t feel like I’ve said it enough. I feel like I tend to show love more than I say it, and sometimes that can be a bad thing. If I haven’t said it enough over the past 21 years of life…I love you so much.

I admire and respect you. Grandpa, few men have the character and spirtitual strength that you do. Few men have nineteen grandkids who love the heck out of you, and who get so ecstatic when they get to spend time with you. We feel so great when you do stupid little things with us, like dance to One Direction songs, let us pretend you are Elvis so that we can get your autograph, steal our fries when one of us works at Five Guys *wink, wink*, or just sit and listen to us chatter about our day. Few men have as many admirers as you do, including many invalids and homeless people who would have no one else if they didn’t have you. These people feel so special and so loved when they around you, because you reflect the glory of Jesus so well that they have no choice but to see Him in you. I know that when God does call you home and away from this misery, so many people will be there to say goodbye. And not one eye will be dry.

I will miss you. Like crazy. I will miss being able to pick up the phone at any time and tell you about something funny that happened, or to ask for your advice. You give the BEST advice, and I honestly don’t know how I am going to make wise decisions without your guidance. I will miss bike riding, walking, and running with you. You know I hate doing things alone, and I had a whole heck of a lot more fun when you were with me, enduring the burning calves and the heavy breathing right there next to me. I’m so glad that you got to run one 5K with me, because we both won medals, and now they are on my wall where I can see them every day. I will miss your sense of humor. I will miss the way your face turns red when you laugh at yourself, even though no one else is laughing, and you can hear deafening crickets in the room. I will miss your oblivion. I remember that one time, right after I got my first job at Five Guys, when Grandma and I decided to leave hints around the house so you would guess. Five cookies. Five tomatoes. Five grapes. Five candy bars. All sporadically placed. You just walked around the house, hollering, “Man, why are you guys leaving so much food out for me today?” We laughed so hard that it hurt. I will miss the way you love Grandma. You hold her hand, even after forty-plus years of marriage. You hug her, tell her you love her, and tell her her chin is adorable. (That last one totally weirds the rest of us out, but it shows us how much you care about her. You love her chin.) You don’t let her out alone at night, or let her go places at any time that might be questionable. I will miss the way you guys argue; the angrier you get, the nicer names you call each other. That cracks me up so hard. I will miss watching your relationship, and I want mine to be just like it one day. A relationship is supposed to reflect, like a mirror, the magnificence of the One who created it. Yours, in my opinion, was an overwhelming testament to the way two lives can become one in Him.

I want my future husband to be just like you. Okay, let me rephrase that. If I get a man with half the character, love for Christ, and love for others that you have, I will be pleased. I want a man who has committed his life 100% to following Jesus Christ. Like you have. I want a man who loves everyone like crazy, despite their their monetary status or “rank” amongst others. Like you do. I want a man who dedicates his life to serving others, and doesn’t give a second thought to how much of his own time or money it is taking away. Like you have dedicated your life. I want a man with a quiet and gentle spirit. One who doesn’t yell, but instead gently talks out his problems with others. Like you. I want a man of prayer, one who drops to his knees at the first hint of a problem, and isn’t afraid to admit that the Lord is His strength. Just like you.

Grandma is one blessed lady. You’re not a one-in-a-million kind of guy; you’re a once-in-a-lifetime kind of guy. Despite her eye rolls, and her jokes about you being her second choice, she knows what we all do. She couldn’t have done better.

We all will miss you so much, and we can’t wait to see you in Heaven one day. In the meantime…thank you for the legacy you are leaving behind. I will be able to one day tell my children all about you. I can point to the legacy you have left them, and say, “Grandpa was just like Jesus. Learn to be just like him, and in so doing, you will be like Jesus.” Thanks for being the greatest grandpa a kid could ever ask for. I love you.

Large families: Burden or Blessing?

The average family size in America, from the year 1960 through the year 2014, is 3.131 members.  This is a small average family size, considering families were much, much larger in centuries past.  For example, during the 19th century, the average number of children a woman bore in her lifetime was seven to eight2. She raised these children to become strong, mature adults at an early age, and thus they moved on to bear large families of their own.  More often than not, a daughter would marry a young man in her early teenage years, and soon after start a family of her own.

Now, well into the 21st century, anyone who has more than one or two children is met with shocked and you-must-be-totally-crazy reactions.  In general, children are not given as much responsibility at such young ages any longer, and it is rare that two young people marry in their teenage years, or even in their early twenties.  It is this change in age and maturity progression that has drastically lowered the average amount of children a couple has during their married years.  However, despite the declining family sizes in America over the past two centuries, you might be surprised to learn that there are actually many families out there who are raising their families the old-fashioned way (in this regard, at least).  Many choose to raise big families based off of their religious beliefs and standards, and others choose this lifestyle simply because they love children.

I talked to many children and young adults who have been (or still are being) raised in well above-average-sized families.  I could continue to throw ‘small vs. large family’ statistics and information (based on my own individual research) at you, but I would rather let the living “statistics” speak for themselves.  What’s the verdict? Are children happy in unusually large families, or do they wish their parents had chosen a more socially-acceptable family size? I spoke to children from various families, questioning them on how they feel about being part of a large sibling group.  The responses I received are very intriguing.

“Big families are really interesting,” states Suzannah, sixth oldest in a family of thirteen.  “There is always lots going on.” According to Suzannah, there is rarely a dull moment in a family with lots of children; and, apparently, it is very convenient when it comes to work projects.  “We can do big jobs with our family.  Just our family…we don’t have to hire anyone else.”  That is definitely a new perspective on being part of a large family! Often, society assumes having a large family is a lot of work.  After all, raising kids in general is a lot to handle. However, according to all of the children I spoke with, there is convenience (and a whole lot more fun) in numbers.  “We [have a lot of fun] playing together,” says Ilana, sixth oldest in another family of thirteen.  “[We have so many] adventures and games we play,” adds Loriah, Ilana’s older sister.  Tyler, the girls’ older brother (third oldest in the family), agrees with his sisters’ sentiments, adding, “There’s lots of people to do stuff with.”  Activities that would normally be considered fun and exciting are doubled in their thrill factor when sibling groups are doubled or tripled (or even quadrupled!) Suzannah shares one of her favorite pastimes with her many siblings: “[In the winter] we would [go] sledding…then we would see how many people we could pile on the sled and get all the way to the bottom.  One time, we had five or six people on one sled…we were falling off as we were going down the hill.”  I did not interview a single child who regretted having so many siblings to choose from when it comes to having fun.  “You never get lonely,” says Delaney, seventh oldest in her family.  She thoroughly enjoys having many people to “choose from” when she wants to goof off, play, or just talk.

In addition to a whole lot more fun, I was told that being part of a large family makes for many funny stories.  Humor comes with the territory.  Ilana recalls a comical time involving her younger sister: Apparently, Shyla would pull at her hair just for fun, so their mom realized the best solution would be to cut off most of her hair.  Ilana says, “…Mommy cut off Shyla’s hair, and she had to wear cut-off stockings on her head.”   The rest of the family got a good laugh, that’s for sure.

Apparently, hair removal is a common story when it comes to younger siblings.  Dakota, fourth oldest in his family, shares a story about his younger brothers.  “Carson went into the bathroom with Drake…they were fooling around…Carson shaved his eyebrow [off] with Daddy’s razor.”

Although everyone I talked to was in agreement that being part of a large family equals more group fun and humor, there are, of course, aspects to this lifestyle that most everyone agreed they could do without.  “It gets noisy sometimes,” says Brady, second oldest in his family.

“[I hate] not ever having my own space.”  Hannah is the third oldest in her family of nine.  “Not all big families live in mansions.”  The others have similar dislikes:

“I don’t get peace and quiet a lot of the time.”

“I never get my own quiet time.”

“[I really don’t like] the lack of privacy.”

“The noise [is my least favorite part].”

Thus, it is basically unanimous that the very aspects of large families that make living with so many people enjoyable are the exact same parts that cause annoyance.  Everyone needs alone time, and most people get tired of constant noise.  Although the noise and excitement that come with many siblings can be fun most of the time, there are some times, according to my interviewees, when enough is enough.  Noise is noise, and the more kids, the more noise.

As we have learned, there are apparently both good and bad facets to being part of a large family.  The real question is this: are these children planning to continue on with their parents’ convictions and lifestyle, or are they going to choose a different route with THEIR future families? Several of my interviewees admit that they are not hoping for a large family.  When asked how many children he wanted for his future family, Tyler’s response was: “Hopefully not too many.”  Hannah claims that she wants four children.  Delaney also says that she wants four or five kids.  “It’s too noisy with too many [kids].”

The vast majority of the children and young adults that I interviewed, however, openly shared that they would like as many children as their parents chose to have, if not more.

Suzannah says, “[I want] as many as God wants to give me, but I kind of have five in mind.  [But really], whatever God gives me.”  She has chosen to adopt the belief system and lifestyle in which she has been raised.  Her parents believe that children are a gift from the Lord, and that limiting their family size would be limiting His blessings to them.  Suzannah agrees with this logic, and will happily accept an above average-sized family of her own, if that is what the Lord chooses to give her.  Many of the other children I talked with share the same belief system as Suzannah and her family, and most of them are willing to accept as many kids as they are given.  “I want seven,” adds Ilana.  “I like uneven numbers.”

“[I want] at least ten,” states Loriah. “It’s fun to have a large family.”

This is the final conclusion that I have come to, based off of my research, my various interviews, and the massively-sized families that I have met and have seen flourishing far and wide in America.  “It’s fun to have a large family.”  Twenty-first century families have a lot to live through and overcome, simply because they are living in an age when there so much modernization and change going on around them.  These speed bumps are multiplied when a family is three to four times larger than the average, but research is showing that having many kids does not always equal more work and stress.  “Many hands make light work” is very much true, according to the children from large families I have met and watched in their native environments.  Yes, work is multiplied when children are multiplied; however, not only is work multiplied, but the fun is also amplified.  We are discovering that having lots of siblings is good for a child’s soul, and what is good for the soul will be carried into the next generation of families.

Suzannah sums it up best: “…It would be very sad and lonely to be an only child, I would think.  [Being part of a large family] has its benefits, because you’re kind of forced to get along, otherwise your life would be miserable…Family is a huge part of any life, and the more the better.  There’s more people to live with, [and] more people to share memories with.”

 

1http://www.statista.com/statistics/183657/average-size-of-a-family-in-the-us/

 

2http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/35975

Edited by: Mindy M.

 

Set Apart Lilies

I grew up with parents who sincerely believed in raising set-apart daughters for the glory of Jesus Christ.  I did not fall in love with this idea at first.  In fact, throughout the majority of my teenage years I lived in mental and spiritual objection to their Biblical standards.  Thankfully, God got a hold of my heart.  He began to mold it, as He always will be molding it, to reflect His.  I am so thankful He pursued me because without Him I would literally be garbage.  He makes me who I am, and because of that I want to honor Him. However, as I have traveled this journey, I wonder, “Are there really girls out there like me? I mean, I’m nothing special, but has God called other young women to step onto the road less-traveled in mad pursuit of Him?” The answer is YES! I admit that these girls are few and far between.  If I am looking for them at every turn, I won’t find them.  I believe God wants every young woman to set aside her life in exchange for His, but because of sin most of them make wrong choices and decide to walk down the wide and easy path of fun, popularity, and, they think, happiness.  As I have traveled and met people and lived out new experiences, I have met all types of people.  Among the countless friends I have made all over the world, have been quite a few young women who are sold-out for Jesus.  I now have no doubt that there are real set-apart women living real set-apart lifestyles for God, just out of sight of the human eye.  I went to France as a nanny, and met one of the most set-apart young women I know.  My family moved to Arizona for several years, and I met several more (one of whom is now one of my closest and dearest friends).  I spent about three years in the Iowa/Nebraska area, and during that time attended a church full of set-apart young women.  I also met several families in our home school community, who were and still are teaching their daughters to model the same lifestyle.  Most of these girls are grown up now, and many of them continue on in their goal to live their lives for Jesus Christ.  Several of them have married, and several have children.  The rest, like me, are still single, striving to learn as much as we can about living a life for Him as set-apart single women.

I have chosen to share the stories of several of these young women here.  I do not necessarily agree with every point that they make, but the reality is that not every young women set-apart for Christ thinks the same.  Even among like-minded Christians, there are differences.   My hope is that you will glean spiritual knowledge from their lessons and lifestyles, and that God will in turn convict you about your importance in His Story.  He wants you to surrender every aspect of your life to Him, and sometimes He uses other people to convict us of those aspects that we still cling to tightly.  Many girls have gone before us, learning valuable lessons along the way.  Some of them have chosen to use these lessons to encourage others who are following a similar path.  These are their stories…

 

I call Kayla Cameron my “bestie.”  She is so joyful, so fun to be around, very sweet, and very loyal.  Most importantly, she has chosen at a young age to “take up her cross” for the Cause of Christ.  She is a wonderful example to those who know her and, I hope, to all of you.

“I’m 16, and the oldest of 7 children.  I am an (almost!) home school graduate, and enjoy…music…crocheting, baking and just plain having fun.  Some of my passions are using my music to glorify God, taking care of people, and being a good friend.”  Like me and many other young women I know, Kayla has grown up in a conservative family, and as she has gotten older she has taken what she has learned from her parents and applied those lessons to her own walk with God.  “One of my family’s major convictions growing up was that…my siblings [and I] were going to be home schooled.  My parents didn’t want us to be exposed to all of the worldly influences that public school brings, such as drugs, alcohol, and being taught that evolution is a fact…I wouldn’t trade being homeschooled for the world.”  Kayla was also taught the importance of modest dress.  “My family’s view on modesty [is] that we should be dressed in a way that [will cause] people [to] look at our faces, not our bodies.  We mainly wear skirts/dresses, which must be knee-length or below.  We are allowed to wear pants, but if we are going to, we must wear a long shirt or a tunic with them.  My dad prefers…skirts, and I do too.”  Kayla and her family live in Arizona (where the temperatures can reach into the 100’s!) in a house with no air conditioning.  Understandably, Kayla and her siblings wear shorts to bed as a means of keeping cool through the hot summer nights.  Kayla explains how it is not as much a matter of how long the skirt is, how tight the jeans are, etc. as it is a heart issue.  “A few years ago I wouldn’t wear pants for any reason at any time.  I felt like it was “unspiritual” to wear pants.  As I got older, I started to realize that God doesn’t care whether I wear jeans or floor-length skirts.  He cares about my heart.  Of course, if I’m wearing pants they have to be modest, but I’m not any more of a Christian when I’m wearing skirts than I am if I’m wearing pants.”

Besides their views on home schooling and modest dress, Kayla and her family have also been strongly convicted in the area of relationships; in other words, courtship vs. dating.  “I get asked the question, ‘why don’t you date?’ a lot.  I got to work with my dad once-a-week, and he works with a lot of different people who know our views about dating, homeschooling, etc.  Whenever I get asked the question, I tell them that I believe that God has one man for me, and I shouldn’t have to go looking for him.  God will bring him to me, and to me dating is like saying that I don’t trust God and am going to go find him myself.  My mom always tells me that dating is ‘practicing divorce.’  I mean, think about it.  You try out one guy and then say, ‘Eh, I don’t think I like him,’ and try another guy.  I believe courting is how God wants us to go about relationships.”  Courting sets boundaries for a couple that would otherwise not be put in place.  Some couples may see those boundaries as a hindrance, but those who are striving to remain pure and do everything for the glory of their Lord should see them as safe barriers.  The word ‘court’ is not in the Bible, nor is the definition ever endorsed.  However, as we read through God’s Word, the commands we read concerning purity, marriage, sexual morality, etc., we begin to see that God is interested in our relationships and He wants us to use this aspect of our lives, just like every other aspect, to glorify Him.

Finally, Kayla reminds our readers.  “You’re not perfect.  You’re going to make the same mistakes over and over and over again.  You’re going to bang your head on the wall and say, ‘Why am I so stupid??’ But you know what the amazing thing is? God’s grace and forgiveness are unending.  No matter how many times you fall down, He will always be there to pick you back up, and that’s truly an amazing thing.”

 

Heather Cofer is my second cousin.  As is common with not-so-immediate family members, we did not meet right away, but when we did we hit it off well.  Heather is the second oldest of eight.  She recently married a young man from another Christian family, and they recently had their first baby.

“First and foremost, my passion is Jesus Christ! He is the aim of my entire life and the One who sustains me and fills me with joy.  I love being His! I absolutely love being a wife and mother, encouraging other young women in their walk with the Lord, and [I] have a heart to minister to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies.

“I’m an interesting mix between introvert and extrovert.  I love people, and I also love having quiet, alone times.  I seem to collect hobbies of all kinds (especially things that keep my hands moving).  [I enjoy] piano, jewelry-making, hair-cutting, crocheting, [and] cross stitching, to name a few.  I am the wife of a wonderful, godly man, Judah, and the mom of an absolutely adorable…one-year-old boy, Jude.  Some of my favorite activities include going on walks with Jude, trying new coffee shops with Judah, and having people over to our home.”

Heather has lived a fascinating life as a missionary to Mongolia.  Her parents believe that their #1 focus in life is to help their children draw closer to Jesus, and this was evidenced by the way in which they have raised their children.  “Our family moved to Mongolia when I was seven-years-old.  I never struggled with living there, but embraced it wholeheartedly.  I am so thankful for the family the Lord saw fit to put me in! We really looked forward to coming back to Colorado for furlough, but it was hard at times.  We were definitely somewhat of the ‘oddballs,’ but it was a good way for my parents to talk…with us [about] what it means not to find our fulfillment in fitting in.”  Heather’s parents are also convicted in the area of modest dress.  “My family’s dress standards had always been quite modest, but became more so as we grew older.  We girls were always allowed to wear pants, but were careful about the cut.  (Being a girly-girl, I usually preferred dresses anyway).  My parents always wanted the way we dressed to be a blessing to others and never a stumbling block.”

Often, as a young woman gets older and starts making her own decisions, her standards can deteriorate.  In Heather’s case, God has used her maturity to raise her standards and give her more of a desire to please Him in everything.  “As I have grown in my relationship with the Lord, I’ve realized a few things: 1) That all my standards must be tested against and based upon Scripture.  This being the case, I must be teachable and ready to change if something doesn’t align with the Bible.  2) Part of being teachable is seeking godly counsel.  As I entered my teen years, my mom became my mentor and best friend….rather than simply trying to be independent and formulate my own opinions I sought out my parents more and more for their advice.  Because they were seeking the Lord, they were also constantly pointing me back to Him.”

Several years ago, Heather started her aforementioned courtship.  Her relationship with Judah was a wonderful testimony to the Lord and what He can do in the lives of two people completely surrendered to Him.  “Judah and I met when we were 12…but started our relationship when we were 17.  We courted for a little over a year before getting engaged, and then had a 14 month engagement before getting married in August 2011.  Our relationship was long-distance for 2 of the 2 ½ years we courted…God was so incredibly faithful! The things He taught us during that time were innumerable.  He taught us the importance of depending upon Him to form and and keep the relationship (especially being long-distance), and keeping Him first in our lives.  We learned how invaluable it was to be surrounded by wise, godly people who loved us and helped hold us accountable.  We learned that when our eyes were turned onto ourselves, we were bound to do things we regretted later on.  And we learned that as we walked in a manner that was pleasing to Him, it was more beautiful than we ever could have imagined!

“We were pretty careful by most standards, especially on the physical side.  We saved our first kiss for marriage, which was the best decision we could have made! It’s definitely worth it.  But there were times we wish we would have been more careful, especially [in] how much physical contact we had with one another.  No one comes out of a relationship saying, ‘I really wish I had done more.  I regret not being more physical with one another.’  But it’s almost always the opposite.  It is always better to err on the side of being more careful out of a desire to be more honoring to the Lord and the person you are in a relationship with.”

Heather has learned a lot since she has moved out, gotten married, and started a family.  She still strives to stay close to the Lord, even amidst her busy schedule.  “I used to be incredibly disciplined in my daily quiet times before getting married.  [Even though] this was a good thing…I found my righteousness in how long I read my bible and prayed rather than finding my righteousness in Christ alone.  After getting married and having my schedule change quite a bit, it took me a little while to figure out what quiet times with Him were supposed to look like.  But it was during the first couple of years of marriage [that] the Lord began working on my heart to show me that I needed to read the Word and pray to know Him and love Him more, not to feel more spiritual.  The Lord has used Judah in my life in so many ways to reveal areas that need to be refined and sanctified, as well as displaying unconditional love and patience through him (Judah).”  Heather and Judah have one strong desire for their children.  “Our number one desire for our kids is that they would love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength – being willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel.”

Heather’s final word of advice to our readers is this: “Make Jesus your number one focus and your deepest desire.  Make Him your priority and your highest treasure.  This is the absolute best way you can prepare to be a godly wife and mother! It’s easy to adopt the mindset of, ‘well, my husband isn’t around to fulfill my deepest desires yet…so I’ll seek Jesus until he comes.’  Believe me, this doesn’t work.  Only Jesus can fulfill the greatest longings, needs, [and] insecurities we face in this life.  And then the man we marry or the children we have are meant to be a help in driving us closer to Jesus.  If you look to them for all those things, you will be gravely disappointed.  But if you seek Jesus first, the man you marry will be the greatest earthly gift you will ever receive, and your children will be an outflow of that! And even if you never marry or have children of your own, you can be sure that He will be far more than enough!”

 

Miracles Happen

Miracles happen every day, all around us.  Every fall afternoon that showers rain is a miracle.  Each snowflake that falls during the winter months is a beautiful miracle.  Every baby that enters the world professes to one of the greatest miracles of all time!

There are also different kinds of miracles, such as the one I am about to share with you.  Miracles do not come only in the forms of raindrops and snowflakes, but they can also be found in the pages of stories that are as real as they are.  I would like to share with you all the story of a special woman, and how she experienced a miracle that only a few people share in; the miracle of a second chance at life.  Sharon wasn’t supposed to live, but she did, and because of that she is a living miracle.

Sharon is the wife of a small-town pastor in Ohio, and mother to two daughters.  Kristen, her oldest, is a homeschooling mother of four, while Kendra, her youngest, is in her twenties and enjoys traveling.

“Kendra was ten years old at the time,” Sharon says, “and Kristen was married.”  The date was December 23rd, 2001, and Dennis, Sharon, and Kendra were currently living in Tennessee where Dennis was pastoring a church.  Sharon was in-between jobs, waiting to start work at her next position until the holidays had passed and life had calmed down.  (Or so she thought!)

“…we were going to buy groceries for Christmas dinner.  My mom was in town, and she and Kendra decided to stay home from the grocery store.”  Dennis and Sharon hopped in their car to drive the short three-mile route to the store, anxious to buy what they needed and get home to spend the rest of the evening with Sharon’s mom and their daughter.  After purchasing their groceries, they turned around and headed back towards home.  The speed limit along the road that took them back home was estimated at 35 mph, due to the many curves.  Without warning, Sharon was knocked unconscious, and even now she recalls nothing of what happened at the scene of the accident.  Sharon’s husband remained conscious throughout the whole terrifying event, and he later told his wife he had learned that the man in second car never even touched his brakes.  He slammed straight into Dennis and Sharon’s four-door Ford Taurus, on Sharon’s side of the vehicle.  The couple was later told that the man driving the other car was drunk, and was estimated to be driving 70 mph when he hit the Wheeler’s car.  Sharon and Dennis were both injured, but Sharon’s injuries were gruesome.  They included three cracked ribs, a major internal head injury, severe internal bleeding, missing teeth, and glass shards in her face.  Dennis was fortunate enough to escape with only a few glass pieces in his face and hands.  Sharon praises the Lord for His mercy in protecting her husband from further injury, as well as for His grace in keeping her mother and daughter safe at home that fateful night.

Sharon was cut from the badly damaged vehicle, and raced to the nearest emergency room.  As she recounts, the first thing she remembers after the accident is waking up in the hospital.  She says, “I remember lying on a table, crying, ‘my back is hurting so bad, my back is hurting so bad.’”  The pediatricians did their best to minimize pain for Sharon, and attempt to stop her internal bleeding.  Sharon smiles, as she remembers that day.  “We have always kinda laughed because…we felt like the doctors didn’t really care since it was two days before Christmas.”  She was released from the hospital several days later, but the repercussions from the accident were far from over.  Sharon experienced unexplainable ‘attacks,’ which she compares to the symptoms of a seizure.  These attacks hit her anywhere from sixty to seventy times a day.  Soon afterwards, she began experiencing regular headaches.  Sharon lists the many physical issues she faced following the accident.  “I had to go to the hospital a couple times because I had some horrible internal bleeding going on.”  She explains that it took almost a year for her to start feeling “normal” again.  “I still have trouble with my head and hip.”

Many people don’t believe in miracles.  They believe in luck, fortune, or karma, but certainly not real-life miracles.  Sharon, for one, is a firm believer in miracles, because she witnessed many of them that night.  She was hit broad-sided by another vehicle going at 70 mph, and escaped with no damage to her heart or lungs.  Her mother and daughter were not with her in the car when the accident occurred, sparing Kendra’s life and probably Ruth’s as well.  Sharon also claims to have, literally, been held by an angel.  She is still awe-struck when she tells the story.

Immediately after the accident, before anyone else had even arrived on the scene, Dennis recalls looking over at his wife who had been knocked unconscious.  He later told her that a man had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and was sitting behind her in the vehicle, holding her neck and attempting to bring peace to the situation by reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.  “There was no way anyone could have gotten into the car,” explains Sharon.  “Later, [Dennis] turned to thank him.  He was gone.”

Sharon genuinely believes that an angel stopped by their accident that night.  As Dennis recalls, the man addressed him by name after he appeared in their car.  “He [had] no idea how that guy knew his name.”  To this day, neither she nor Dennis can understand how the man managed to climb inside the vehicle, how he managed to get back out unnoticed, or how he knew to address Dennis as “Mr. Wheeler.”  God was watching over her that night, and she has no doubt that He sent one of His Guardian Angels to watch over her and help her through those terrible few moments before help arrived.

Near the end of my interview with Sharon, I raised a serious inquiry.  “If you had the option to go through this again, would you choose to relive this experience?” Sharon’s first response was a surprised, “Wow.”  She has so many reasons to hate God for what happened.  She could drive herself crazy harboring bitterness and hate toward the drunk driver who nearly ended her life that night.  Instead, she has chosen to abstain from negative thoughts and feelings, and instead focus on what she has learned and can continue learning through this situation.  “There have been so many times that I wished it hadn’t happened.”  However, “I have learned how to be compassionate toward other people who have gone through that kind of thing.”  Sharon once worked with a young woman who lost her five-year-old son in an accident involving a drunk driver.  She can relate to the woman’s loss, because she knows how it feels deep down to know that alcohol, when it is mistreated and abused, can be a deadly weapon.

Alcohol or no alcohol, Sharon is not going to let this man or what he did to her mar her love for the Lord or her zeal for life.  I asked her how she managed to walk away from this with not so much as a little bit of hatred or anger for this young man.  She explains to me her perspective on the situation.  “There is no sense in harboring bitterness against someone who did you wrong.  People may not heal physically, but if they don’t forgive they may not heal emotionally or mentally [either].  I was never really angry at this guy that I can remember.  To this day, I cannot even remember his name.  I was…[angry over] what he did to our car and our family, but I wasn’t angry at him.”  Sharon is a very passionate believer in Jesus Christ, and His command to “love your enemies” and “bless those that curse you” has been her driving force throughout this whole situation.  “I think for myself one of the things I learned…is you have to forgive.”  About two years after the accident, Sharon started praying for this young man.  She has chosen the path of love, forgiveness, and prayer.  “I started praying for this man, that someone would come alongside him and steer him in the right direction.”  Sharon believes that Christians are supposed to love their enemies, even when that “enemy” is the one who changed your life forever.

A changed life does not mean a broken one.  Sharon has decided to accept what happened to her thirteen years ago, and look at her situation with thankfulness for what could have happened, but through a miracle did not.  As said by author Neale Donald Walsh, “When God steps in, miracles happen.”

 

A Poll

You have seen my work.  You know that I love to write.  You know that writing is a passion of mine, and a way I set my mind at ease.

Now it’s your turn to choose my topic.

Challenge me.

Pick a topic you would like me to write about.  A person you would like me to interview.  A story idea you would like me to take a shot at.  I will choose a random idea from your suggestions, and take your idea and turn it into words.

How does that sound?

Okay…the challenge is on!

A ‘Chocolate Bomb’ is Good Medicine

WWII is one of the most tragic events in history.  During the conflict, it is estimated that anywhere between 50,000,000 and 85,000,000 people were killed.  Countries worldwide wanted more power, more dominion, and more property.  This greed and discontentment lead to a war that lasted six years, and killed millions of innocent people! However, despite what most people think, evil was not the only mien during this horrible time of conflict.  If you were to look past the evil and death of that period, and peer through the blackness, you would find a few people who did what they could to ensure that the helpless victims of the war were not left alone to their misery.

I had the opportunity to talk with such a person.  Starlyn Cross* (Starlyn Keller, before she married her husband, Bob) lived during the time of WWII, and she was one of those few people that chose to take a broken time, and spill across its shattered reflection a large dose of good Christian love.

“My family moved to Germany in 1948, when I was twelve-years-old,” she says.  “My father was a captain in the U.S. Air Force.  Throughout the war, he and many others transported injured soldiers from the battle field back to safety in the states.”  Get in, save lives, get out.  That was the mentality of the pilots flying into Germany.  What grabbed my attention, however, was not the Kellers’ involvement in the actual war efforts, but in their collective efforts towards helping provide relief among the war-torn Germans.

Starlyn’s father was also one of the pilots who participated in the Berlin Airlift (also known as ‘The Big Vittles’), flying in food and coal to the starved and freezing inhabitants of West Berlin.DSCN3517

“The Americans, British, and French worked together to fly in cargo planes full of food and coal to the needy people,” Starlyn explains.  The pilots’ motivation and intuition was amazing! “They had to fly in such close proximity to the buildings, that their wings would nearly skim the walls as they flew into the city.  Every three minutes a plane would fly into Templehof, Berlin,” Starlyn says.  “They would land, crews on the ground would unload the cargo, and then the pilots would take off again and head back home.”

The pilots, among whom was Captain Keller, worked hard to save German lives during that difficult time of starvation and need.  Deep down inside they had to know they were doing good, and that brought them an automatic sense of joy and accomplishment.  Starlyn, however, was one of the few people who actually got to see the fruits of that labor chronicled many years later! She told me about a recent experience she and her husband shared.

“As an anniversary present several years ago, my husband took me to a German-owned bed-and-breakfast in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  He knew that I would feel right at home!” Starlyn tears-up as she tells me the story.  “We were the only guests staying at the hotel, so we spent many hours sitting on the back porch and talking with the owners about Germany and its intense past.   One time, I remember the husband started getting all choked-up, as he explained to us that he is alive today because of ‘The Big Vittles’ project.”  Starlyn’s heart still breaks as she remembers what the man told her.  “He said he had lived in Berlin during the post-war blockade.  Every day he would go out and collect food and coal from the pilots flying in, and take them back to his family.”  Starlyn and I are both overcome with this man’s testimony, and with the impact that Captain Keller helped save the lives of this man and his family! “He was a recipient of the Berlin Airlift relief efforts.  I don’t remember his name, but hearing his story was so special for my husband and me!”

Captain Keller was not the only one who took it upon himself to bring joy to the millions of suffering German people.  Starlyn herself was a part of a war effort that is still honored to this day! This project was known as ‘The Little Vittles,’ or, in modern terms, ‘the chocolate pilots.’

“A pilot, Captain Eugene Williams, took the idea of ‘The Big Vittles’ (flying in food and coal), and decided to construct a ‘Little Vittles’ (flying in chocolate and chewing gum).”

Starlyn explains, “I was part of an American Girl Scout troop in Wiesbaden, Germany.”  This troop took it upon themselves to get creative, and make something seemingly small and insignificant that ended up bringing great happiness to millions of children! They decided to make ‘chocolate-filled shmoos.’DSCN3516[1]

The children’s comic, Shmoo, was first introduced in 1948 by a man named Al Capp.  The comic looks much like a little snowman, with a round body, bowling pin-shaped legs, and a small head.  “We made shmoos out of parachute material,” says Starlyn with a smile.  “We sewed them together, kept the bottom of the figurines open, and stuffed Hershey’s chocolates and chewing gum inside! Then we closed it up with drawstring, and sent them off to the pilots in the Berlin Airlift.”

The pilots of ‘The Little Vittles’ would take the shmoos that Starlyn and the other Girl Scouts had made, put them on their planes, fly in low over the German villages, and drop the Shmoos full of candy to the waiting children below.  As the ‘candy bombs’ fell from the sky, children would scatter, attempting to gather as much candy as they could.”

The ‘chocolate pilots’ routinely performed this act of kindness on their ‘off hours,’ when fighting the war was a forced mentality for another day, and giving chocolate to starving children was a way that they could bring even a little joy to the young ones’ grieving hearts.  Starlyn and her father were so privileged to be a part of that effort.

Starlyn’s family lived in Germany until the year 1951.  During that time, they grew together as a tightly knit family and learned many great lessons that would remain with them for the rest of their lives.  Starlyn explains her greatest lesson, in a passionate statement that should be the grateful echo of all Americans.  “I learned that America is the only country that extends grace to those that want to kill us.  America is the only country that intentionally occupies enemy territory.  During World War II, Germany was one of our greatest enemies, but America still sent her forces over there to occupy the country and keep peace! This is the most important lesson of all, even today!”DSCN3519[1]

Starlyn’s story is one of grief and sadness, yet also one of kindness and joy.  Captain Keller and his daughter were two of a small majority who decided to step outside themselves and their miseries, and instead look upon the needs of others.  They proved that love is possible, even during dark times when evil men seek to kill and destroy! They also proved that Americans are vastly unlike other countries, in more ways than one.  We cross the lines of enemy territory in order to extend grace.  We step into the field of turmoil, unnecessarily at times, to love the inhabitants whose leaders would rather have us killed.  We not only stand up for our rights, but also for the rights of our helpless enemies!

This should prompt us to stand up for those who sacrifice their lives for our freedom, raise the flag, touch our hearts, and proudly proclaim: “I am proud to be an American!”

 

*Name changed at request

A Missionary’s Secret Weapon

They are the shadows you never see.

They are the gunshots you never hear.

They are the knife you do not know is there, until you feel its sharp edge at your back.

They are Mission Nannys.

This is their story.

There are many people all over the world who daily sacrifice their wants, needs, likes, and dislikes for the sake of others.  They bend over backwards in order to serve those around them for the specific Cause of bringing glory to the One who they love, Jesus.  Some of them are recognized and publicly thanked, while many of them go completely unnoticed and often unappreciated.  A group of women called Mission Nannys, who daily sacrifice their lives for missionaries all across the world, are part of the group that almost never steps under the spotlight.  They give daily support to missionaries.  They give missionaries the regular help the need.  They are missionaries’ secret weapon.

“A Mary Poppins for missionaries?” This was the thought that popped into Betty Sullins’ head back in the late 1990’s.  Was there a way for women to travel to far-out lands in order to offer a helping hand to families working hard to share the Gospel with others? Could such a thing be possible? She was soon to find out!mary_poppins

Betty Sullins, mother to six and widow since the early 1970’s, is the founder of a non-profit organization called Mission Nannys.  The purpose of this organization is just as its title suggests; sending men and women to places all over the globe in order to serve missionaries in their homes and in their mission fields.

“Back in 1991 the Lord used the lives of a [particular] missionary family to reveal to me the need that missionaries have for a ‘nanny,’” says Betty.  “In the states, at that time, many people utilized…nannies to help [them] do basic domestic tasks.  Why couldn’t missionaries have the same privilege?”

Betty took it upon herself to form an organization that would do just that! She approached the IRS, and through them Mission Nannys became a group that was legalized to issue tax deductible receipts, and use them towards the daily living expenses of the nannies out on the field.  Mission Nannys would be the ‘home base’ for men and women traveling to far-off lands to serve missionary families!

Betty explains, “Alumni directories of major theological schools were surveyed, and information sent out to the pastors.  Then the mission boards were surveyed and told of the service.  We got many applications for the use of Mission Nannys.”  Despite this overwhelming response, Mission Nannys was still in need of its most important facet; the missionary nannies themselves! “Advertisements were placed in Christian magazines and have run continuously seeking volunteers.”

Through much prayer and trust, Mission Nannys began to procure women of all ages and situations to join forces and serve missionaries all across the globe!

“The Mission Nanny has the opportunity to travel overseas, visit out-of-the-way places, and make new friends in the mission family.”  Betty expresses her gratefulness toward everyone who participated in supporting this wonderful new idea.  “I am so thankful and grateful to the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Edgewater for their financial and prayer support for me…It has been such an exciting time for me and a time to truly praise God for all that He is doing in the families who have requested help.”

That was all back in 1991.  A new century has dawned, and with it a whole new legion of nannies! Women and girls ranging in age from 18-75 began serving in many diverse countries and states all over the world, including Japan, Spain, the Fiji Islands, Croatia, Seattle, Romania, and more! Now, a whole new set of opportunities has emerged! Mission Nannys can now apply for work in the Czech Republic, Africa, Bolivia, Albania, France, Bethlehem, Turkey, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cambodia, Asia, Honduras, India, Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates), Mexico, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, Thailand, as well as various places in the U.S.

Each nanny works as a volunteer.  She is supported by her family, friends, church, and anyone else who feels lead to give money towards her cause.  This can all be very stressful on the nanny, but, in the end, it is just another way for her to put her trust in the One Who is sending her, and fall trustingly into His strong arms!

I, myself, worked as a Mission Nanny for two different families over the past two years.  My first destination was to a small village near Paris, France.  I spent two-and-a-half months with a Dutch family, taking care of their house, their two young boys, and eventually their baby girl (who was born during my stay).  I met new friends, many new people (including a young man from Poland and a young woman from England), and enjoyed the opportunity to experience new cultures.  I had a great advantage on this trip, because not only did I get to see France, but I also had the privilege of living with a family originally from Holland, and learning about their culture and language as well.  I learned French, ate lots and lots of French bread, was taught how to drink soup without using a spoon (I felt like Heidi), and learned how to keep my temper when everyone around me was speaking Dutch, among many, many other things!

My second destination, several months later, was to Mount Vernon, Washington.  I spent three months with a young missionary family to Bolivia (who was back in the states for the wife’s schooling), spending countless hours with their two little boys.  I came away from that place with a larger dose of patience than I originally had! The boys were adorable, but like any three-and-two-year-olds, they had a way of trying their beloved nanny’s patience!DSC_0112-2

Overall, I loved working with the Mission Nannys group.  Betty Sullins is such a strong Christian, and not only does she help her nannies book their flights and work through their financial problems, she also offers sound Biblical advice and prayer before, throughout, and after their time away from home.  I highly recommend this organization as an opportunity to anyone who has a love or an interest in children, travel, serving the Lord in new places, and missionary life in general.

So…a ‘Mary Poppins’ designed specifically for missionary families? I think so.  The hard-working nannies of Mission Nannys do not often get credit for their work, but the Lord sees, and the Lord blesses! They spend countless hours scrubbing floors, cleaning the kitchen, cooking, baking, changing diapers, making beds, cleaning rooms, running errands, and anything else “their” family requires of them! Sometimes they are the only one who keeps the house running, and no one else is aware of their efforts! The nannies’ main goal, however, is not to be noticed.  They are serving because they love the One who saved them, Jesus Christ, and they want to bring Him glory! They base their work on the Bible, from the verse in Titus 2, which says: “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can train the younger women…[and] in everything set them an example by doing good.”

They really are the ones behind the scenes, working hard for the Lord! They really are the knife you never feel, the gunshot you never hear, and the shadow you never see!

*If you are interested in becoming a Mission Nanny, or am interested in enlisting the help of nannies for your own family, please visit: www.missionnannys.org