Trusting God Through Life’s Transitions

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I guess I’m just a rolling stone. I move–a lot. I am in constant momentum.  I don’t really plan it that way, it just happens.  And now it looks like its about to happen again.

For two years I have been tutoring Chinese students for a reduction from my rent but that has come to an end. After teaching every week night and most Saturdays my landlord and I cannot come to an agreement about the rent. I believe we are even while she insists I owe over $4,000.

God seems to be saying it is time for something new. Transition and turmoil seem to come at the same time. It is a test. Will you buckle under the pressure and the stress or will you trust God and rest in His more perfect plan.

I am always reminded of Ecclesiastes–”to everything turn, turn, turn . . . there is a season turn, turn, turn . . .and a purpose for everything under heaven.

Some people are like moss growing on a rock and others are like the stormy sea. We must learn to be like those who lie down in green pastures and like those who flow peacefully like a tranquil river to the sea.

We can neither allow ourselves to become stoic and stuck in a rut nor can we constantly try to fight and swim upstream. There comes a time when we must give in to God’s greater plan which often involves transition.

Change is hard. It is hard for those who seem the most settled and it is hard for nomads like me.

I wonder why some folks live in the same house, work at the same job, live life the same way–year after year after year. I must admit there have been time when I envied their stability.  They seem to always know who they are, where they belong and what they are doing.  And they seem to nearly never worry.  They are beyond self-sufficient.  They are certain, steadfast, predictable, stable, secure and slow to change . . . They are reliable and down to earth.  Boring but always dependable.

Not me.  I am the sanguine to the max.  I am motivated by the challenge of something new.  I am an unpredictable nomad and the girl with itchy feet.  I am a tinker, a gypsy, a missionary, a globe trekker, a flighty vagabond. They call me Ruby Tuesday. I am the adventurer, the risk-taker, the crazy, passionate impromptu lover of all things undiscovered, exciting and new.

I am the curious cat who eagerly wants to make the most of my life . . .

My life is an amazing journey but being transient isn’t easy. The road gets old.  The stigma of being homeless is enormous. The feeling of never being settled is depressing. Embarrassing, too. The unknowing is the hard part. It is hard to shut out the sadness, the frustration, the fear. Uncertainty looms at every corner. I don’t want to burden my friends or my family and I hate feeling like I am incapable of taking care of myself.  I cry a lot and I pray.

And I do resist transition.  I enjoy feeling settled.  I collect a lot of stuff.  I like it where I’m at.  I’m learning to be content.  I want to come home to a warm bed and familiar surroundings. I want to plant a garden. I’d like to paint the living room walls.  And yes, the deepest desire of my heart is to find a husband and have a permanent home to call my own.

I guess I tend to talk out of both sides of my mouth.  On the one hand I want freedom to just go and serve the Lord–anywhere, any place and any time.  On the other hand I want the comforts of home.

We are living in difficult times and I honestly believe God is saying we can’t always have it both ways.  We are either on the fence or we’re off.  We either jump in with both feet or we wade near the shoreline barely wetting our toes.

Be careful when you start calling yourself a missionary.  God will surely put you to the test. The mission field is everywhere but it is no place for wanna-be’s,

In 2009 I got sick and had to leave my teaching job at the local college.  My income went from  nearly $40,000 to under $5,000 in just a year.  Dye to insurance problems it took me almost two years to finally have my surgery and in that time my income dwindled even further–at one point less than $2,500 for the entire year.  And yet my God provided everything I needed on time every time in the most unexpected ways.  In fact my kitchen was so full of food I often found myself giving it away.  Same goes for clothes and household stuff.  And since 2009, I have done more outreach and mission work than I ever would have imagined.

images (15)God sees the heart and often times the transition we fear is exactly what we need to move into the plan God has for us. Yes, the Lord gives and takes away but I have discovered He does not close a door without opening another one and often what we give up is far inferior to what God has waiting on the other side.

I have a big mouth and a penchant for adventure. When I pray I say I will go and do whatever God calls me to.  I say there is nothing I want more than to be God’s little journalist, His missionary, His scribe.

I realize I am not satisfied with a “normal” life and probably never would be.  I want more and when I ask for more God hears and He delivers.

Crazy things happen.  What’s up is suddenly down.  Oftentimes it looks like injustice but it is Ok because God always has a better plan. The tide turns quickly. A thundering voice says “Follow me”. That’s when God challenges me to trust Him.

Will I do it?

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Its scary and its adventurous . . .  its not “normal” to not know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there. But one thing I have learned for certain is my God never leaves me or forsakes me. He gives me what I need when I need it.  Who He calls He always equips. When one door closes a better one opens.

God is our hope as we go through transitions in life.  He is our strength and He has the answers.  He will light your path and direct your steps.  He will send angels of mercy to help you and guide you.  He will equip you and use you.  He will take you places you never imagined.  He will give you the desires of your heart,  He is your greatest hope and an ever present help in times of trouble.

 

Hot Coffee and Hope

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ImageI woke up the other morning at 5:30 a.m. and no matter how I tried I could not go back to sleep. 

I counted sheep; I read my bible; I prayed; I tossed and turned; I got up and washed my face.  I could not go back to sleep and I did not understand the reason why.

It was the first really cold winter morning.  All I wanted to do was curl up under the covers for at least a couple more hours.

I found myself begging God to let me get some more sleep or to at least tell me why I was so reluctantly awake.

I got nothing but silence in return.

I finally crawled out of bed.  I put on a cozy pair of furry slippers and decided to step outside.  I realized it was the day to put out the trash.  In nothing but my PJ’s and my furry slippers I proceeded to pull the huge green trash barrel down to the edge of the road.

From a distance I heard someone say “You better get back inside lady its really cold.”

I ignored the voice until it said the same thing over again.

It was foggy outside—that dull gray fog that comes before it snows.  Not in Florida—but anyone who has lived up north knows that look in the sky.

The second time I heard the voice I looked up and down the street to see where it was coming from.  To the north a saw the shadow of a very large person with what looked like wings.  What?  Yes, wings.

I rubbed my eyes hoping to see the image more clearly.  Was it a person or some sort of angel?  Is this why I couldn’t go back to sleep?

 Perhaps it was some sort of divine appointment.

I started back towards the house and then I heard the voice for the third time.  I turned around slowly and now saw a person bundled up in a big tan blanket standing at the foot of my driveway.

It was barely daylight.  I couldn’t imagine where this person had come from of if the person was even for real.  So I slowly engaged in a conversation . . .

“Who are you?” seemed the most logical question to ask.

“I’m Brett,” he responded.

OK, not Gabriel.  Probably a human after all.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Trying to get warm,” he answered.

Wow , , , silly question, I thought and then my mind went blank.  What do you say next to a total stranger wrapped in a blanket at the end of your driveway when it’s not even 6:00 a.m. below 30 degrees and the coldest day in Florida?  It was one of those “what would Jesus do” moments so I invited him inside for breakfast and coffee.

My roommate Anne already had a pot of hot coffee brewing.  And the guest, who turned out to be a homeless kid who had been sleeping in a field right down the street, was thrilled that somebody cared enough to offer him a warm cup of brew and some food.

We ended up talking to him, praying with him and ministering to him for almost two hours.  He had a lot of pain and bitterness from a broken relationship with a girlfriend but as we prayed I also sensed he was estranged from his mother and very tormented by their lack of communication.  My own tears began to flow as I spoke healing and life and forgiveness back into that relationship and encouraged him to call home just to say he was OK.  He understood and agreed to do so—this time without asking for money, without saying he was in trouble or on his way to jail and mostly without any expectations and completely unwilling to engage in any type of argument.

All he asked for before he left was a pair of socks.  We gave him another blanket. We packed up a duffle bag full of food and hygiene products and then bid our new friend farewell.  We hope he called home.  We hope he was able to get some reconciliation. We hope he found shelter.  We hope we planted some seeds and had even the smallest impact.

The bible says we should be very careful how we treat others because we might be entertaining angels unaware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Years After the Quake in Haiti: Hands of Healing and Hope

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In 2010, I went to Haiti as a photographer just days after the earthquake.  While there, I had the opportunity to work closely with medical teams from all over the world.

I witnessed human hands performing surgeries, feeding the hungry, digging through the rubble-tossed remains of buildings, carrying children through long lines of people waiting to be seen by doctors or nurses.  I watched hands cutting up debris with chain saws, sorting through supplies, building shelves to set up a pharmacy, pitching tents, carrying the wounded on make-shift stretchers, directing traffic on the streets crowded with volunteers, animals, government officials and the shocked and displaced survivors of one of the world’s worst disasters.

I saw compassionate hands reaching out to assist, praying with arms stretched to the heavens, helping the elderly across the road or up steep hills, distributing toys, blowing bubbles or tossing balls with children. I saw hands touching in agreement, hugging those who were tired or frightened.  I saw hands wiping away the sweat and the tears.

On my first trip to Haiti, I watched a top surgeon from Harvard make paper airplanes beneath a mango tree and another world famous physician create balloon animals after his 12 hour shift performing life-saving operations.  I saw the skilled hands of an 85-year-old dentist reach into the mouths of malnourished people who had swollen infections the size of tangerines.

I took another trip to Haiti in 2011 with Joan Hunter Ministries.  Once again, my main role was as a photographer to help document the work being done.

Joan Hunter is carrying on the healing ministry founded by her parents Charles and Francis.  For several decades, the Hunter’s have travelled the globe ministering healing and training others to use God’s Word and the laying on of hands to deliver others from sickness, demonic oppression and disease.

On this trip, we partnered with Pastor Rene Joseph, founder of Loving Hands of Haiti.  First pastors from Port au Prince and surrounding areas came for several days of training.  Then there was a huge three-day healing service near the palace in downtown Port au Prince.  Thousands of Haitians filled the streets and came forward seeking prayer and deliverance from the trauma and injuries still lingering one year after the earthquake.  I watched miracles happen.  I saw legs and limbs grow, heal or come into alignment.  I watches intense manifestations as spirits of voodoo, superstition and other evil things were cast out from tormented souls.  I saw crutches and wheelchairs discarded as the lame began to walk.

I came to the realization, in 2010, I had watched and documented medical professionals using their hands to heal in the physical realm while in 2011, I had witnessed Joan Hunter and her prayer team using their hands to pray and heal in the spiritual realm.  Meanwhile, I had also seen how loving hands did the hard work needed to make it possible in both situations.  In the end I came to a far better understanding of how God uses human hands to accomplish His good work on earth.

227676_2012337431291_7286371_nEven behind the camera documenting the work of these anointed physicians and healers—I came to the realization that God uses our hands. Yes, God wants us to be the hands, the feet, the heart needed to do His work on earth.  God looks for willing hands to help; feet that are willing to go; and willing hearts to proclaim a message of healing and hope to the nations.

Hoping for a New Thing

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The New Year always brings a great opportunity to rethink our goals and priorities and to de-clutter our houses, our schedules and even our minds. Out with the old and in with the new.

The bible also is full of promises to help us better understand that a “new day” comes with each new morning sun.  A glance to the east and we see this magnificent great gift peak above the Atlantic and slowly dip between the clouds until it graces the morning sky.

The bible says joy comes in the morning and if we could only grasp the importance and the value of the new day promise and all it holds for us we would surely begin to claim and proclaim that transforming joy.

The new day is a symbol of hope. It is a second chance; it is a clean slate. No matter what went down today, no matter how bad or how sad or how ugly, the new day emerges with a chance to welcome all it holds with a better attitude.

The new day is a reminder that God has promised He will do a new thing–in our hearts, in our minds and in our lives.  He can bring about change.

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to share a good word about the hope and promise of a “new day”.  I tutor Chinese students who come to America during their high school years in hopes of getting a better education and gaining acceptance into an American university.  Some of my students have been in the U.S. for three or four years and some to English lessons in China before coming to the U.S.  Others are struggling with very limited speaking, reading or writing skills.

One of the boys I work with is a 14-year-old with very limited English skills.  He attends a private school and takes the first level course for English as a Second Language (ESL).  His friend and classmate who also came with him from China was in the same class but graduated up to the next level.  This student, however, failed the exam and was forced to stay in the lower level class.

When I arrived for our teaching session he was a bundle of emotions.  He was sad, frustrated, angry, feeling helpless.  I was disappointed as well but knew he had further to go to get to the next level.

As I tried to think of the right way to encourage him I recalled a magnificent sunrise I had witnessed a few days earlier.  That sunrise was so awesome I pulled my car to the side of the road so I could get a picture.

All it took was a flashing image of the rising sun to zip through my mind and then out came the words I needed to change the atmosphere and to help encourage the boy with a powerful message of hope.

I told him that each new day is a blessing and whatever has happened today or yesterday can be put behind us.  I told him the reason the sun paints such a beautiful picture in the sky is to remind us that the very same God that tells the sun to shine also tells us to get up and let our heart shine and to have great hope for everything to be better because it is a brand new day.

The more I spoke the simple truth of what a new day brings, the more he listened.  I watched his face morph from droopy sad eyes and a frown into a smile and eyes wide open and glistening.  Suddenly I felt the need to get animated so I stood up and flung both arms backwards over my shoulders as I said “Throw back the past,”  Then I shrugged my shoulders and lifted my hands straight up and shook my head from left to right. “No there is nothing we can do to change it.”  Next I put my hands forward, palms up then pulling my hands back toward me in a beckoning gesture I said, “Lord, bring in a new day.”

The boy stood up and joined me.

“Throw back the past.”  “No, there is nothing we can do to change it.”  “Lord bring in a new day.”

We repeated it over and over.  I prayed under my breath and watched the helplessness disappear.  I saw a frustrated sad boy’s frown become a smile and I heard the excitement in his voice.  He started moving around the room and pumping his fist into the air.  I think he even started dancing.

I was reminded how powerful our words can be.  I was reminded of how prayer and promise can change the atmosphere.

I get so flabbergasted at how God can take a situation like this and bring about such a powerful opportunity to witness and share a message of hope. Just think about it . . .

I was teaching a young boy who comes from a culture that does not know religion and imprisons Christians for preaching God’s Word and yet, for a few moments it felt like I was in the midst of a revival.

Maybe I was.

A Jabez Kind of Hope

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It is a new year and with it comes great expectations–plenty of optimism and hope. But what will all your hoping bring?

While hope is a wonderful thing, it can also be so intangible that it slips away. Poof!!!!  A here today but gone tomorrow kind of hope seldom produces results.  In order to thrive hope must be steady and strong not whimsical or flighty.  Hope is not bi-polar.  Hope is not designed to be compulsive or obsessive.

A vibrant, healthy hope has to be nurtured and fed and manicured and grown. Hope can be stubborn and rebellious or it can be flexible or it can be compliant. It helps to get a handle on it; to nail it down and to define what it really means before it grows wings and flies away leaving you hopeless or bitter, lost or confused.

Truly–who wants to spend another year chasing hope?  The key is simple–define it early and clearly.  Otherwise it just may become an illusive butterfly.  Oh my . . .

Hope is a such grande term.  It is a “skies the limit” type of verbiage. There are so many kinds of hope–which one is best?

Must I really pick just one kind of hope without paying homage to the rest?

Hope is one of those words which we toss around haphazardly–often without thinking.  At times we diminish its potential because we either don’t believe or don’t take it seriously enough to go after it like we must in order to see it grow into its full potential.

We too often take hope for granted.

We know hope multiplies and at times it can even be contagious but we fail to realize that in order for that to happen we must become hope-bearers.  We neglect our duty and then act surprised when hopelessness spreads faster than hope. I believe the root of the problem stems from our lack of definition and our failure to be specific when it comes to our own hope.

If you could choose, what would you hope for–what kind of hope would you want? I would choose a Jabez-kind of hope.

Say what?

ImageJabez is a biblical character found in the Book of Chronicles in the Old Testament of the Bible. He is an obscure man who obtained his namesake because he was born in pain.

So I’m thinking we all were born into pain because child-birth is painful.  Taking this concept a step further, I also consider that we all anticipate turning points in our lives when we can leave our painful past behind and enter into a new and more hopeful future.  This is one of those times.  Our turning point is 2014 and the new year is a great time to gain a new perspective on hope.

The interesting thing about the life of Jabez is how God turned his painful past into a new life of victory just because he cried out a very simple but heartfelt plea.

When Jabez prayed, he didn’t ramble vague requests.  He didn’t drag out his request.  He didn’t use formulas or rituals.  He didn’t turn his prayer life into some fad or hoopla.

Jabez simply made his request clear, concise and sincere:

Oh Lord, bless me indeed and expand my territory. Keep Your hand on me, and keep evil from me, that I may not cause pain!’

And with that, God granted his request.

There is a tie and a place for all types of prayer. Sometimes we must pray on bended knee.  Sometimes it takes wailing and great travail. Sometimes it takes tears and sometimes it takes shouting.  Sometimes silence is required.

Through Jabez we learn the art of simplicity and clarity.

Although the story of Jabez took place over 3.000 years ago, the impact can still be relevant today.  In our own obscurity we can make our prayer to God specific and simple and, in doing so, we can turn whatever seems hopeless into a clear and attainable hope.

On New Year’s Resolutions and the Gift of Hope

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“I have the opportunity, once more to right some wrongs, to pray for peace, to plant some trees, and sing more joyful songs.” —William Arthur Ward

On December 30th I celebrated yet another birthday–and in just a few more hours we will enter into the New Year.

I could make a long list of New Year resolutions–things I want or things I would change but in reality my list is short:  I want weight loss, my daughters healing, a husband.  I know these are huge requests.  They are worthy ones.  These are the “due season” desires of my heart.  And yet, if there is just one thing I would want most in 2014 it would be to keep on sharing the gift of hope.

With great expectation we enter in to 2014.  What will it bring?  Prosperity and success or maybe tranquility, peace and rest.  A roof overhead, feet on the floor, a new road leading somewhere or perhaps an open door.

There once was a time when I was always wanting more.  No matter how I tried, I was never satisfied.  There was time when I was very concerned about birthday gifts, new year’s resolutions and material things–but now I’m quite satisfied with the intangible stuff.  I just want whatever life brings. I don’t know if this means I have finally grasped what it means to be content.  I don’t know if I’ve giving up on stuff I can’t obtain or maybe wisdom really does come as we grow older.  Maybe I’m finally learning to trust in God and His perfect plan for my life.  I only know I am no longer striving and that results in less stress and more thriving.

For my birthday my 90-old-old mother gave me $20. I spent it on gas for the car, light bulbs, toilet paper and a jug of milk.  My kids came to the house for cake and ice cream and they brought their kids and that was a perfect party.  The one that couldn’t join us, called and that brought joy to my heart.  Friends sent birthday greetings on facebook.  I spoke with my sister in New York for almost an hour. Tonight I will usher in the New Year with my aging mother by my side, a thankful heart and maybe a glass of red wine.

For those who know me all of this may sound a bit strange.  Perhaps it sounds too simple for the girl who perpetually complicates things.

Me, the big dreamer; the ever persistent one; the one with the overactive imagination.  Me, the nomad and the flighty one.

Yes I am the perpetual spur of the moment risk-taker; the unfocused one; the one with the wild imagination; the free spirited gypsy.  I’m the impulsive, impromptu and often impractical missionary.  I’m the one who always seems to be in waiting or planning out the details of my next big move.

People say I ought to settle down.  I would if I could . . . maybe.  Or maybe I’m just not wired that way.  I color outside of the lines.  I’ve often been told I am like a square peg in a round hole.  I still don’t fully know what that means.

I used to care but now I don’t because I will never please everyone and the naysayer’s will always find something else to criticize.

So what if I don’t fit in the hole?

Here is what I do know:

I know I have only one life to live and I want to live it to the fullest–and yet I want to be satisfied with what life brings instead of striving to make things happen.  I know I don’t need to rely on tangible stuff or lavish gifts to be happy and content. I know God has a wonderful plan for me and He uses me to bless, inspire and to help others–and that alone is a great honor.

I have learned that the things that matter most are those things that cost nothing and can never be replaced–those things that can’t be lost or destroyed in a disaster or stolen by a thief.  I learned all of that after surviving a house fire and on the mission field.

I also know the greatest gift I could ever desire is the gift of hope.  It is the one thing that keeps me motivated and inspired. It is what helps me to get back up, to shake the dust and to keep moving forward whenever difficulties come my way. Hope is what helps me to stay strong when I am weak.  Hope drives me to care about others and to believe I can actually inspire or encourage through my writing, through community service, through teaching, through whatever acts of kindness or compassion I can share.  Hope is the essence of my faith.

My Christianity is built on hope.  People perish without it.

I was told if I ever started a blog I would need to pick a topic others could relate to and I would need to come up with a theme that could remain timely and consistent. I chose hope because I knew it had unlimited possibilities.  In the right frame of mind you can find a little hope in everything.

On September 11, 2013 I started this blog called The HOPE Report because I honestly felt America needs hope more than ever–and hope is the one thing all people, all over the world, can relate to regardless of their differences and diverse situations.  Furthermore, I thought if I could just share a little hope I could make a difference for maybe just one person and that would be a good and worthy thing.

The Bible says Christians are to be soul-winners.  The only command Jesus gives us is to love God, love others and love ourselves,  The Great Commission we are called to is to “Go into all the world and share the Good News of salvation . . .”

It is a salvation based on hope.  And so, for me. I must be a hope bearer.  As a scribe, my writings must be of hope.  As a teacher, hope must be the lesson.  As a missionary, I must reach out with practical help and a message of hope.

My resolution must be to share the gift of hope as often as possible and with as many as I encounter in 2014 and always.

Christmas at Operation Hope

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IMG_2126Imagine what it might be like to count on Florida’s citrus industry as your only means of income.  For about 150 days, you will work long hard hours picking and processing fruit. You get paid by the basket–not by the hour.  All said and done you will have enough to pay for your modest housing, to send your children to school in clothes from the thrift shop or possibly the sales rack at Walmart.  You will have just barely enough food for the family and the utilities will be paid.  You will probably be able to gas up the car as long as you don’t travel too far and have no unexpected repair bills.  You will not have health insurance so hopefully no one gets sick.

That’s great until around December when the cold weather starts to settle in and the fruit begins to shrivel up and the citrus trees go bare.

Life is never easy for migrant farmers or their communities.

In Fellsmere, FL (one of Florida’s biggest citrus communities) there is a beacon of light through an agency called Operation Hope. Operation Hope supports families in need with a food bank and an after school program which offers reading, math and computer instruction.

Operation Hope began as one man’s wish to help. Jesse Zermeno would drive his truck from his home in Melbourne to hand out food and hope to the needy in Fellsmere. That was in 1997. Today, he and his wife, Jan, run Operation Hope’s facility in Fellsmere serving over 14,000 people.

IMG_2120Every two weeks Operation Hope hands out food to whomever has a need. Recently child care and a school was added serving children from ages 2-5. The agency also created a study lab with 16 computers for their after school program.


IMG_2140Each September, the agency provides back packs and school supplies.  Last year over 800 children were given essential school supplies. Students also can use the computer lab after school.   At Thanksgiving time, over 700 turkeys were distributed to local families.
The agency also helps match over 400 people with seasonal job opportunities.
Unfortunately the citrus season ends just as Christmas and cold winter starts–and that leaves many families feeling the pressure and the uncertainty of not knowing how they will get by until harvest time comes once again in the fall.
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Each Christmas, Operation Hope goes all out to ensure local families have reason to celebrate even if they are facing financial hardship.
For the past few years, the agency has delivered over 3,000 new toys to local families–and they have put on one of the biggest and best Christmas parties in the area.
This year, an estimated 500 families were treated to a full Christmas dinner as local musicians provide full day of entertainment.  The event was a true community outreach as several churches from Brevard and Indian River Counties came out to help celebrate–giving away cookies, clothes, bread, bibles and other goods to the families.

IMG_2111 IMG_2128This year, my ministry United Media Missions was able to distribute three cases of children’s bibles provided by Ray Hall with the Prison Book Project in Titusville.  We also gave out several Spanish and NIV bibles along with several bags full of winter clothes and dozens of small toys and stuffed animals.
Its always a great joy to be able to contribute to a worthy cause. Team work makes it happen.  Thanks also to CenterPointe Church in Palm Bay and to the Biker Ministry from Calvary Chapel in Merritt Island for their ongoing commitment to the people of Fellsmere and for their continuous participation in the annual Christmas event.

Hope for the Homeless and a Young Girl Named Desiree

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She sat on the park bench–alone and all huddled up tight to brace the cool wind.  She had no jacket–nothing to keep her warm.  

The temperature was dropping fast.  I watched her shiver and I thought for a moment how God cares for everyone especially the sparrows.

She reminded me of the desolate angels I have so often seen at Rainbow Gatherings while serving with the Jesus KitchenImage
ImageImageImage.  Her head was shaved close on one side.  Her hair hung chin length on the other with a tiny braid and a little pink ribbon.  Piercings and tats and all of that but what I really noticed when she lifted her head was her eyes.  The eyes are a window to the soul and they tell the story . . . Her eyes told me she was lost and tired and feeling so very alone.

Before I could reach out to her, she tucked her head into the bend in her elbow and ignored the people passing by.  I tried to say hello as I shuffled to and fro but she didn’t notice me.  

I flashed back on a picture I bought a few years back because it reminded me so much of my own daughter.  It is a picture of a little girl all alone in a forest looking very frightened and alone.  When you stare at the trees hovering over her they eventually change shape and you can see the branches morph into angels.  I can’t tell you how many times that picture gave me the hope and reassurances I needed to believe God has angels watching over our prodigal sons and daughters.

I tried reaching out a few more times to no avail.  I quickly came to the conclusion that she was probably ignoring my efforts.

A few feet away we were serving up Asian salad, hot chili and rice.  I had been cooking all afternoon and preparing for this all week. We put a couple dozen blankets, warm sweat shirts and paperback bibles on card tables and told the homeless to help themselves. The food and clothes went quickly.

A huge black man (he must have been nearly seven feet tall) crouched down and hugged me as he wrapped himself in a heavy blanket.  

“Tonight I’ll stay warm,” he whispered while grinning from ear to ear.

Another man, a bit older and looking like Santa with puffy red cheeks and a somewhat disheveled white beard, politely asked if he could have seconds on the chili.

“Of course,” I replied.  “Have as much as you want.”

As more people arrived, he took it upon himself to promote the food.

“You’ve got to try the chili,” he insisted to everyone who would listen.,

Two volunteers, Matt and Joe, dished out bowl after bowl.  I tried to keep up but my mind was somewhere else.  

My eyes kept drifting back to the lost little girl trying to get comfortable on the park bench.  She was a long long way from home but her countenance hit home for me as I thought of my own little prodigal shivering and cold, alone on Christmas Eve and trying to find comfort in a jail cell.

I dried my eyes.  I took a deep breathe.  I decided any lost little girl on Christmas Eve was surely worth one more attempt.

I walked over and plopped myself down beside her.  She had no choice but to respond.  As she lifted her head, her cheeks were stained with tears.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

She looked shocked that I would care.  I didn’t give her enough time to say it was none of my business . . .

“Yeah I’ve been crying too.  That’s why I stay busy,” I blurted out.

“You were crying?” she asked in amazement.

“Yep, I miss my daughter.  You remind me of her,” I said with tears swelling up in my eyes.

“I miss my mom,” she acknowledged and then proceeded to tell me her story.

Desiree, age 19, left her hometown near Syracuse, N.Y. several weeks ago.  She and some friends had been homeless and decided to head south for the winter.  They arrived on Florida’s Space Coast and have been living in the woods.  They’ve been getting meals at the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen and that’s how they heard there would be blankets, warm clothes, some tents and bicycles given away–and some food in the park on Christmas Eve.

The idea of hosting a Christmas Party for the homeless came from a guy named Mark who has a little bus ministry.  Each Sunday he takes the homeless to church.  He has no sponsors and no church backing but he does this out of his own heart–quite likely as a way of reaching back to a place where he has also been.  

Mark is a dynamic and committed Christian whose zeal is highly contagious.  Oddly enough I heard of his ministry and his need for others to help him give the homeless a little Christmas joy when I read his posting on Craigslist under the section for “volunteers”.  He simply asked for help to provide food and Christmas in the park on Christmas Eve.  Sadly, few others responded.  

And yet there was enough.  God is good.

 

Hope and Disparity

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sleep2Tonight I will soak my feet in a tub of warm water as I watch my colored TV and sip a warm cup of imported tea.  I will relax peacefully in my comfortable home while thinking about holiday decorations, the lines of shoppers at the mall and the money I spent on Christmas gifts, spa time for my toes and nails, and yes, my jewelry party bling.

imagessleepThe house I live in has about triple the space than what I really need.  The payments are much higher than I really can afford.  I could easily downsize my furniture and could get rid of more than half of my clothes and shoes and still have more than most.

I don’t think of myself as materialistic but in many ways I am. I can easily become a hoarder.  Shopping might be my worst addiction.

The one thing I learned from a house fire, several trips to disaster zones and time spent in Haiti is that none of it really matters.  We can stock pile stuff or live comfortably when we have barely enough–we can’t take it with us when we leave this earth and the things that matter most in life can never be lost or stolen or destroyed by a storm or any other disaster.

Christmas is the time of year when we go in debt or get depressed or feel insecure based on how much we have, how much we give or how much we receive.  We too suddenly lose focus on what really matters and the hope and joy that the season is supposed to bring.  If I give you a tin container filled with homemade peppermint bark is that any less of a gift than spending what I can’t afford on something you really don’t need.  Christmas should not be about proving our love with our pocketbooks; it shouldn’t be about out-doing someone else; its about love and happiness–not materialism or greed.

On Christmas Day we will scrape more than enough food off our plates into the trash than what it might take to feed a village in some other part of the world.  And that bag of socks or ugly sweater you don’t appreciate–why those gifts could keep someone down at the homeless shelter warm all winter.

I am always in awe when photo-journalists do their job really well and give me something important to think about.  That was the case when I stumbled upon Where Children Sleep, an eye-opening project by photographer James Mollison.

Mollison’s amazing report takes a look at children from all across the globe and the diverse environments they go to sleep in. The series presents a portrait of each child or adolescent accompanied by a shot of their bedrooms. While some have a bounty of possessions and a lavish bed to rest their head on at night, the images reveal that some are not as fortunate. At times, though, it can be difficult to even refer to the space they sleep in as a bedroom as there is no actual bed. In the case of Bilal, a 6-year-old Bedouin shepherd boy, the young boy is left to sleep “outdoors with his father’s herd of goats.” Alternatively, 4-year-old Kaya in Tokyo is adorned in frilly dresses that her mother spends $1,000 on every month, which is reflected in the abundance of toys and luxury items that fill her room.

The series is currently available as a photo essay and fine art book that offers a variety of lifestyles, as seen through the portraits of children and their bedrooms.  I stumbled on it a couple of weeks ago and the images still haunt my mind.

Take a look for yourself , , , I promise it will make you rethink what matters most and maybe you will even re-adjust your Christmas shopping list.

http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/james-mollison-where-children-sleep

Delivering Hope in Lake County and Beyond

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images.bosticBob Bostic of Tavares, FL is on a mission to deliver hope to the hungry.

I first met Bob in July 2011 right after the Midwest tornados.  Brevard County missionary Joe Hurston helped us to connect when he heard I was filling up a U-Haul truck with supplies to take to the tornado survivors.  Deliver the Difference was kind enough to donate a couple pallets filled with pre-packed meals.

Responding to disasters, shipping meals to Haiti and other third world countries and providing nutritious meals throughout central Florida is how Bob Bostic, director of Deliver the Difference is able to help fight hunger at home and around the globe.

Last month the agency delivered 1,000 Thanksgiving meals throughout Lake County.  The holiday meal packages were designed to feed a family of four containing an 11-14 pound turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, yams, cranberry sauce, bread rolls, and pumpkin pie.

The agency has a simple and clear mission:  To fight hunger by delivering the difference one meal at a time.

In addition to providing holiday meals, Deliver the Difference orchestrates an impressive children’s feeding program and ships thousands of pre-packed meals from their warehouse in Eustis, FL.  Volunteers meet monthly to assist with the packing and shipping.

The organization got its start in 2010 by packaging 200,000 meals for the earthquake disaster in Haiti. In that first year they packaged 246,000 meals. In 2011 they shipped 100,000 meals after the Japan earthquake, then 50,000 meals were packaged after the Alabama tornadoes.  Also in 2011, another 10,000 meals were packaged and shipped after the Joplin tornado.  Also in 2011, the agency sent 154,000 meals to the Horn of Africa. At the end of the year 2011 over 507,000 meals were packaged and distributed globally.

Bostic said that’s when he started to notice the number of homeless in his own community and decided to do something.

In November 2012 Deliver the Difference prepared and served Thanksgiving dinner for over 1,200 people. In December, they prepared and delivered over 800 Boxes of Hope in Lake County. Over 2,400 volunteers gave their time to package the meals.

We feel the name “Deliver The Difference” is perfect because it is what we do, we deliver the difference to families and children in need, said Bostic.

According to Bostic there are over 3,500 school children in Lake, Sumter and Marion counties who are homeless.  So in 2013, the agency launched an ambitious feeding program for local children by providing over 400 children with 1,500 meals per week.

To learn more about Deliver the Difference and how you can help stop hunger, please visit their website at http://www.deliverthedifference.org/stf.htm

They are located in Lake County, Florida.

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