God’s voice in the storm

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From early Friday morning until late Saturday afternoon, images of whirlpools and roller coasters flitted into my mind again and again, as seven women plunged deep and soared high exploring the endless love of God together.

It began with a rather humorous reminder that our loving Father in heaven cares about the details of our lives.  If we watch carefully we can see His hand in the what, the when, the where, the how, the why, and the who of everything.  On Friday morning we were paying close attention.

Our plan to overnight at Camp Harmony to discuss the feminine in the image of God had been in place for two months when an impending ice storm threw everything into question.  On Wednesday Kristina and Mary Ellen cancelled, but Shari accepted a last minute invitation. Teresa was still undecided, but Joy, Natalie, Anna, Elaine and I were committed in spite of the ominous forecast. Just before I went to bed on Thursday, I emailed Camp Harmony to confirm reservations for six and possibly seven.

Friday morning while I was still asleep, Elaine and Natalie exchanged a flurry of messages to explore the possibility of meeting somewhere along the turnpike for a few hours instead of overnight at Camp.  Anna awakened me with a text to tell me that a location for our meeting was under discussion. I emailed Deb (the office manager at Camp) to warn her of a possible cancellation, and sent a text to Joy.  The hook-up along the turnpike presented a few problems: Natalie wasn’t free until four, we didn’t have immediate contact with all involved, and I can’t drive on unfamiliar roads after dark because of my cataracts.

It was after eight when I discovered that Elaine and Natalie were not texting as Anna had assumed, but rather they were using Facebook messenger.   I still had no contact information for Shari who I hadn’t met, or Judy who decided to come with Shari after I signed off Facebook on Wednesday. I emailed Deb again to say there were three possibilities: reservations for five, reservations for six, or complete cancellation.  Then Teresa joined in on messenger to say she decided not to venture out into the coming storm. (Reservations for five)  I acknowledged her wisdom and wondered if perhaps we should all just follow her example.

Joy finally entered the fray at 8:30 and she was game for anything! She suggested that the two of us meet Anna and Elaine for just two hours, but for me the appeal of staying warm and safe in my own home during an ice storm grew stronger.  So I asked the Lord to make our path clear—and the phone rang.

Elaine was on her way to pick up Anna (without night gear). They would drive the entire distance to Camp, meet us in the cabin from 1-6, and drive the four hours back to reach home before the ice hit. Of course Joy was totally in favor of the new twist in our ever-bending plan. We agreed to stay in the cabin overnight and drive home Saturday after the roads were cleared and the sun was high.  Natalie was at work and off the grid, but we assumed she would join us.  Both the identities and the plans of Shari and Judy were still a mystery to us as we moved forward.

This time I called Deb to confirm that we would have at least three for the overnight with two day visitors.  She laughed and said that the cabin was open on Saturday night and we could stay till Sunday when the roads would be completely clear.  I called Anna and told her Joy and I would meet them at the cabin, and mentioned that it was open the next night. Without Elaine’s night gear (which includes bedding), that option was off the table for the two of them.

I picked up Joy just after eleven.  We laughed about the ups and downs in the five hours of wild texting, messaging, phoning, and emailing that brought us to that point. That point, to be precise, was less than a mile into our journey. Joy’s phone pinged. Elaine’s message said they would not reach Camp until two because they were circling back to get her night gear so they could stay with us until Sunday morning!   While I got gas, Joy called Deb to confirm the cabin for two nights.

We didn’t do the normal thing, the tempting thing. We didn’t cancel our plan to gather in His name because of the storm, and heaven alone can record the powerful blessings God poured out on that tiny cabin in the hours that followed. Total strangers became close friends. Charismatic and Anabaptist worshiped in harmony.  Democrat and Republican experienced unity of Christ!  Together we found insight, healing, and direction for the days to come.  We were paying careful attention, and with our minds fixed on Him, we saw the mighty hand of God moving constantly in our midst.

The Lord speaks most often in a still small voice. We only need to listen.

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A Collision of Visions (Part 1)

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Tony’s Small Engine Repair, 245 Franklin Street in Clymer

Habakkuk 2: 2-3 is one of the first scriptures I claimed as my own.

Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
 For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.

I started this blog in 2011 to write the vision of the homemaking ministry that has been nurtured in the hearts of many women in our rural Appalachian community for nearly twenty years.  But those who know me best realize that my vision of a building, for ministry beyond the walls of our numerous church buildings, reaches back more than twice that long.

In my early teens, I began to imagine a beautiful building where everyone is always welcome and always finds comfort and support.  My first thoughts centered on a dream house for my mother where all her children, and all their yet-to-be chosen spouses, and all her yet-to-be-born grandchildren could stay overnight at the same time.  But when my grandmother died in 1974, I began to think of something more like a super great room, a kitchen-dining-recreation room combo where the growing families of the 26 cousins who grew up on Prosperity Hill could all gather to share meals and visit comfortably on special occasions.

My mind has constructed countless buildings over the past 50 years, but since 1977 when I rededicated my life to Christ, those fantasy buildings all had one thing in common: every house, every complex, every campus in my imagination has been a tangible expression of the unity of the body of Christ in our community. The many and varied buildings of my mind are always used for the many and varied works God wants to work outside the walls of our places of worship.

When Gramma’s House became a legally established ministry of In His Hand, it seemed as though it was finally the appointed time for the vision to speak to our community.  We looked at real buildings in Hillsdale, Purchase Line, Commodore, and Cookport.  But the vision tarried.  Our meetings ended, I went to Texas for cancer treatment, and In His Hand lost incorporation status through a legal technicality.   It was not God’s time to grant Gramma’s House a place and a name in our community.

Though it tarries, wait for it.

During those years, while God burdened my heart with a longing to see the body of Christ united in service beyond the boundaries of our church programs, He was also working in another heart.  Joy was just a child when she first felt the pain of broken relationships in congregations where her father pastored.  As she matured, her desire to see Christians experience the healing of God’s love led her into counseling.  Through her marriage, her motherhood, and her work as a therapist, Joy gained an ever deepening understanding of how God uses relationships to transform us into the image of His Son.  She longed to share the healing power of life-giving relationships with others, especially those in the body of Christ.

In 2013 God brought Joy, Natalie, Jenn, and Lorraine together.  Having bonded at a weekend retreat, they began gathering together weekly.  Through these informal get-togethers, they discovered firsthand how transparent friendships can encourage, heal, and inspire.   With the support of her life-giving friends, Joy’s vision focused clearly into Heart Working Women, a platform to tell other women how God uses relationships in His work to make us whole.  It was the appointed time!

While Joy was bonding with her friends, the vision of Gramma’s House faded into the background of my life.  In January of 2015, I learned that cancer had metastasized to my liver and lungs, and I focused on the rapidly approaching portal of the world to come.  Then last year, totally unexpectedly, Joy’s pastor husband received an invitation to serve in our little congregation miles away from her precious CORE of friends.  She was certain that abandoning the newly launched Heart Working Women ministry and her CORE support would not match up with God’s character, yet it seemed that God was mysteriously working His plan to move her and her family to the tiny village in the center of the Appalachian range.

And our visions collided!

Joy found heart working women in the hearts and faces of women in Purchase Line, and surrendered to God’s evident plan to extend her tent pegs.

I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me —Habakkuk 2:1 

Now we are watching, and waiting, and praying and together about a very real building in Clymer (pictured above) where Heart Working Women can glorify God in Gramma’s House.

We invite you to watch and wait with us as our visions continue to collide.

Books to Brooms Part II

In 1987 when my obsessive-compulsive study habits had reached a peak, I was a member of Purchase Line Church of the Brethren.  PLCOB was then (and is now) one of those little, rural congregations where everyone knows everyone else.  We fell quite nicely into the category that Rick Warren (of purpose-driven fame) calls “the family reunion church.” Fellowship was important, covered-dish dinners were frequent, and family connections provided stability.

Because the church was small, and I was active in the ministry, I knew of many deep, serious problems in relationships.  In my intellectual arrogance, I thought I had the answer to all our woes: BIBLE STUDY.   I naively believed that if every Christian made Bible study a top priority, problems that had plagued the church for two millennia would just disappear like so much morning mist.

How blessed we are that the Lord is gracious to His children!  He does not condemn us for our ignorance.  He only requires that we keep our hearts open to receive Truth, and over the next few years He gently exposed the error in my thinking.

Through my job as Activity Director in the nursing home, I met the pastor of a local assembly (a term preferred over church) that fit perfectly into Rick Warren’s description of “the classroom church:”  they placed an emphasis on study, right doctrine, and understanding the original languages of the text.    Pastor Tim was a gifted scholar, and I joined his Tuesday and Thursday night exegetical Bible studies.   The Bible Speaks Assembly (as it was then known) was absolutely devoted to the study of God’s word.  I had found the church/fellowship/assembly of my dreams!  Although I never experienced the phenomenon personally, I certainly approved when I heard that even at baby showers they searched the scriptures together.

Looking back over the three or four years I faithfully attended Greater Grace (the assembly name was changed), I am fascinated by the way God revealed Himself to me both through His people and in the circumstances He allowed.

My first surprise came in the friendships He gave me.  At every Tuesday and Thursday evening Bible study I saw the same three single people: two women and a man.   I soon learned that on Wednesdays they traveled together  to a Bible study in Pittsburgh (an hour or so one way). Now those three were really my kind of people!  Or so I thought at the time. Now I can’t even remember their names.  Instead the Lord bound my heart first to Liz, then to Marianne and Joan, and eventually to Leslie and Susan: five mothers with small children.  They all loved the Lord and His word, but they had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to devote all their time to attending Bible studies.

The next unexpected thing God did was use my intimate communion with happily married women and their sweet children to teach me why the apostle Paul so enthusiastically endorsed the single state. (1 Corinthians 7:34, 35)  No longer did I simply accept my singleness as part of God’s plan for me, I rejoiced in the freedom it allowed me.

But the most surprising thing the Lord taught me in those days of intensive, corporate Bible study was that my simple solution to the problems in the church had missed the mark.  Greater Grace was just as vulnerable to the kind of trouble I saw at Purchase Line, the same kind of trouble that the enemy uses in every community of believers to divide those who desire to serve the Lord.

And so it was that in 1989 when I started spending less time with books and more time with brooms that I also started thinking deeply about the indispensable role that mothers, grandmothers, and all homemakers play in creating faithful disciples for Jesus Christ.