Saturday, September 1, 2007

August blessings and trials

"O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting." 1 Chronicles 16:34

The ever-cute Gweny and Jesiah. Gweny turns 1 next week and Jesiah is 2 1/2.

There have been many blessings over the last month, as well as many difficulties the Lord is using to refine me. One blessing was getting to see my friend Jessie and her family (Ian, Emilie, and another girl on the way!). She's a friend basically from birth who I grew up with laughing and crying, playing and fighting. She's been an encouragement and example to me over the years.
She lives in California now so I don't get to see her often, but she came back to visit family here in Miles City a few weeks ago so we had a few hours to catch up, which was awesome.

We recently got back from visiting friends and presenting at 2 churches in western Montana. A great friend, Lindsey, hosted us at her house for a few days in Belgrade (near Bozeman). We also got to meet up with friends Josh and Lisa and Ryan. Up above are Gretchen and Houghton, Lindsey, Josh & Lisa, Ryan, and me. Lindsey is orignally from Miles City (I used to be her really mean babysitter way back in the day so if you want to hear stories about that, let me know. :) Josh and Lisa lived in Miles City awhile after high school and went to our church there. Ryan is an old family friend Gretch and I grew up camping and going on other vacations with. They treated us to great meals and great fellowship.

On the way to Lindsey's, we blew out a tire in the van so Houghton got to lay in the interstate, or really close to it anyway, to change it. We were blessed that it didn't blow completely before we pulled over and that we were only half an hour or so out from Lindsey's so we could limp in with the doughnut. We ended up needing to purchase not one, but four new tires for the van! Quite an expensive trip to Belgrade, which is about 4 1/2 hours from Miles City.

At Lindsey's, aside from getting to catch up with her and friends, she also treated me to some "spa treatments" for my rediculous sinus and respiratory infections. She and I enjoyed breathing deeply from steaming bowls of water one evening! Lindsey allowed us to really feel at home and comfortable to just relax and rest before taking off again. You're the best, Lindsey! I thank God for you!

We headed back on the road to go to a little town in NW Montana called Ronan, which is up near Kalispell and Flathead Lake. Ordinarily, it is gorgeous up that way, but fires and smoke made it nearly impossible to see the mountains. We stayed with a friend of Houghton's named Aaron.

Aaron hooked us up with a house to stay in that was right up near the mountains and was big enough for us to spread out. It was such a blessing! We all healed up from our consant sicknesses from the last 2 months (I had everything from infections to colds to the flu and we were running really low on energy and brain capacity after being sick so long). The house had a huge grand piano that allowed me to practice up on my songs for accompanying Gretch and Houghton for a few songs during presentations. We hadn't been able to do them much because my playing was pretty scary but I at least have those 2 songs down now! Aaron's parents, Fred and Tammy, made us into complete bums by cooking meals for us for every lunch and supper the entire week we stayed there. They made some amazing food and were fantastically hospitable. The church they attend in Pablo allowed us not only to present during the entire service of both morning services, but also to put on a dessert for those interested in returning in the evening. The Pablo church gave us a love gift that covered the cost of replacing the tires, as well as for a much-needed alignment and oil change, praise the Lord! We need to check on the brakes next, but God's been holding up the travel van! It was so encouraging to have a good-sized crowd back for the evening service who asked questions and were interested in God's work in Vanuatu! We were also able to hang out with people from the church a few other times during the week to better get to know them.

One of the fun things about staying up in the mountains was the animals who graced us with their presence. We saw deer every day up by the house, but also enormous wild turkeys and one day even two brown bears!

The bears were far enough away to require zoom so I don't have great pictures of them, but they really were fairly close. When we came outside the house to photograph them, they stood up and stared at us, then ran off awhile later. We didn't walk very far away from the house after seeing them... but it was amazing to enjoy God's creation.

While we were becoming healthy human beings again in Ronan, Josh came up to visit us for a day. Gretchen and Houghton went to Bible school with him at Frontier in Wyoming and performed in the touring choir along with him. We headed to his home for the next weekend to present in Frenchtown, which is next to Missoula. On the drive, we went right past the raging fires. We had been told we may not make it down to Frenchtown because of efforts to keep the fire from jumping the highway, but the firefighters were working hard and kept it to the west. Many buildings and homes were just barely spared though and the fire came right up to the highway in a lot of areas. In Frenchtown, the property of many people was ruined or burned. Please pray for provision for all the families and individuals hurt by these fires!

This picture is at Josh's house in Frenchtown. He's the youth pastor at his church as well as working another full time job so he's busy! Despite being busy though, he invited us into his new home and like so many others we are so thankful for, was gracious and hospitable to us. At his church we were able to present for a few minutes in the morning service, as well as do the special music and Gretchen and Josh led worship. They also opened up their youth service with an invitation to the whole church for everyone to come back in the evening for a full presentation. Again, the individuals at Josh's church were welcoming and several expressed interest in what God is doing in Vanuatu.
We began the trek back to Miles City the Monday after worshipping with Josh's congregation. Again, Lindsey hosted us in Belgrade for a few days while we made contacts with a church there and gave the kids a rest from the road before heading on home. At Lindsey's we got to see her new school (she's the choir teacher at Belgrade High) and she gave us some tips to work on for our songs we've been playing in churches.
Now we are back in Miles City until the middle of September to work on our piles and piles of paperwork! It is incredible how much time it takes to update blogs, write letters to go in all our newsletters we are sending out, get packets together for pastors, call pastors to schedule upcoming presentations, fill out ministry expense reports for our organization, and just catch up on correspondance, not to mention regular bills and finances since we are gone so much. Please pray for wisdom for us in the day-to-day about how to prioritize all the things that must get done. We are easily putting in 12 hour days and could easily do much more than that to catch up and be on top of the paperwork. It's been incredibly overwhelming, as has much of this time of deputation.
Again, I think I say it in every blog update, but I am SOOO thankful for those of who are faithful to pray. There is a serious spiritual battle against unity on our team and being together so much is definitely a blessing, but leaves a lot of room for frustration with each other especially when we are feeling overwhelmed. Praise God that He has given all of us a willingness to work out misunderstadings and frustrations. Also, there are a lot of discouraging days when it seems we aren't being effective or that we are running up against walls trying to set up our schedule with churches and finding individuals to stay with. Just the other day I read this verse and realized how fitting it is for me right now:
Isaiah 48:17 "This is what the LORD says — your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go."

The Lord is teaching me a lot about myself and my utter dependance on Him for my strength, energy, joy, encouragement, fellowship, and help. This has definitely been a time of much trial through difficulties but as I said above, also a time of unexpected and unbelievable blessing. Praise God for using the difficulties to refine and the blessings to lift up! The verse I quoted at the top of this blog I'll quote again:

1 Chronicles 16:34 "O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting."

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