Have you ever had an experience that changed you forever? That's what happened to me while in Thailand. I went there to speak and present Stonecroft Ministries to the Asian Consultation of Project Hannah. Project Hannah (a division of Trans World Radio) is a ministry dedicated to setting women free from their cultural, emotional and spiritual prisons. Founded by Marli Speiker, it is in 109 countries and is transforming the lives of women first through radio broadcasts that pertain to women’s interests – how to take care of their families and themselves –and then through personal contact as women respond to the broadcasts.
At the Consultation I met 20 young women from 10 different Asian countries. They write and/or produce scripts for Project Hannah broadcasts and then personally respond to the listeners who contact them. I was in awe as I listened to each of these incredible women report on the work they are doing and the plight of the women their broadcasts are reaching. This is just a portion of the appalling statistics regarding treatment of women in their countries:
- In India, 5000 child brides are burned alive each year because their in laws do not find their dowry acceptable.
- In Pakistan, women are kept in houses without windows, only allowed out after dark so they won’t be seen by other men. When these women give birth they are so vitamin deficient from lack of sunlight, their hip bones separate, leaving them crippled.
- In Afghanistan widows and single women without families, die on the steps of hospitals because doctors refuse to treat them if they are not accompanied by a man.
- In Viet Nam 70,000 women are forced into sex slavery and prostitution yearly.
- In Nepal 200,000 girls are forced into the sex trade yearly.
- In Nepal 34% of the women are forced into marriage below the age of 15.
· The last day of the Consultation, we were sitting in the conference room listening to Marli’s closing challenge. Suddenly, our attention was drawn to the window were a pigeon had become trapped in the netting covering the air conditioner. We were on the second floor and the windows did not open so there was no way to rescue the bird. We watched its struggle in helpless horror. Finally, one of the men walked over to the window and pulled the drapes closed so we could no longer see the bird. With the bird out of sight, our attention returned to Marli - and in time the plight of the bird was forgotten.
Flying home the next day I was trying to process all I’d seen and heard. My heart and mind had been so impacted! I thought about the bird trapped and dying in the netting and how we’d pulled the drapes so we wouldn’t have to see its misery. My heart was so heavy. “God,” I prayed, “what am I supposed to do with this? I do not want to pull the drapes over all I’ve seen and heard this week.” The fact is, I don’t have to look far to find opportunity. It is right here in my home town - as it is in yours. All around us are women (and men) trapped in terrible circumstances. One in three American women endures sexual abuse in America. Physical abuse crosses all social boundaries and is far more common than you’d ever imagine. And there is the subtle but just as deadly trap so prevalent in our culture - the trap of self-destructive life choices . Everywhere we look God’s beloved creation is trapped in the netting of hopelessness and despair and the temptation is so great to just pull the drapes and continue on with our lives. But I pray, oh how I pray, I will never be comfortable with that again. God has much work to be done and we are who he has chosen to work through. Are your drapes open?
On October 27, 2010 I experienced another life changing event. My granddaughter, Milo Kora Mathers was born. I could utilize every superlative in the English language and still not come close to describing my feelings about this child. I tell everyone, "Oh! She is the most beautiful baby in the world!" and then laugh so they will know I'm joking, but the truth is, I am dead serious. My first glimpse of Milo catapulted me into a level of love I never knew existed. Every thought in my mind is overshadowed by a thought of her. I am enraptured by the sight of her, and overwhelmed with gratitude that God has let me experience this wonder. Every day now is marked with new significance because Milo is my granddaughter.
Another facet of this blessing is seeing my precious son as a father. I watch how he holds Milo with great tenderness, how his voice softens as he speaks to her and how he instructs me to properly wash out her bottle. I love how much a part of Milo's care he is, sitting with Lorena as she nurses Milo, changing Milo's diapers, swaddling her in a blanket. I remember as if it were yesterday doing all of this for him and I feel such completion as I participate in this blessed circle of life.
On a trip to New Zealand, which is known as the adventure capital of the world, I wanted to experience all they had to offer. Unfortunately, each adventure came with a pretty steep price tag so I had to whittle my list down to just two: cliff jumping and paragliding.
The cliff jump combined the freefall of a bungee jump with a giant canyon swing. Shocking is the only word that comes to mind and it was over in a matter of seconds.
My second choice, paragliding, was an altogether different experience. It had a profound spiritual impact on me. To reach the jumping off spot, we rode a gondola up a mountain and then a near vertical cliff high above Queenstown. About halfway up my heart started pounding hard. The gondola moved very slowly, giving me way too much time to anticipate what was coming. In fact, I finally just had to face the wall of the cliff and quit looking at how high we were climbing because I was afraid I would chicken out and I really wanted to be able to tell my sons, “I did it!”
On top of the cliff was a small meadow where I met the professional paraglider who would be my partner. He showed me how to spread the parachute out on the grass and helped me into the harness attached to it. Then he gave me the following instructions. “When I tell you to,” he said, “I want you to run as fast as you can toward the edge of the cliff. I just started at him, dumbfounded. I don’t know about you but running as fast as you can toward the edge of a cliff goes is just something you instinctively know you shouldn’t do.
Now to put it in perspective you really can’t run that fast with a giant parachute dragging behind you. And even if I did chicken out at that point, it was too late because my guide was running, too, and his legs forced mine to keep running – right toward that terrifying edge. Then wonder of wonders, as we ran, the wind started to pick up the chute, and before we reached the cliff’s edge, I felt the ground drop away and suddenly we were airborne. Oh, I’m telling you there is nothing to equal that feeling. It was an intoxicating elixir of incredible peace and magnificent beauty as we soared around and around high in the sky – just like an eagle.
Have you ever had an experience that left you feeling like you were vibrating with life, like every pore was oozing energy? That’s exactly how I felt when we finally drifted back down to earth. It was worth every second of fear I’d felt riding up in the gondola. It an experience that will stay with me as long as I live.
We had a wonderful, carefree time in New Zealand but as we boarded the plane for home, a sense of dread began to settle over me. I began to feel like I was in another gondola inching straight up another cliff. On our return we would be moving my mother-in-law in with us and it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do – except Steve and I were both convinced it was what God was asking of us.
For as long as I’ve known her, Edna’s been an unhappy, difficult woman. Now, at 90, her difficult nature is magnified by severe dementia and she can never be left alone, meaning my life was about to take a drastic change. The closer we got to home, the more I felt like I was harnessed into a chute and God was telling me to run toward the cliff of my deepest dread.
So many times life circumstances places us on a cliff not of our own choosing and we have no option but to run toward the edge of our greatest fear, deepest dread, sharpest heartache. But this is what I learned from my paragliding adventure. No matter how terrified I am of that cliff in front of me – it is in my best interest to run as fast as I can towards it – because running is what causes the wind to pick up my chute and carry me airborne!
And just I was harnessed to my guide, I am harnessed to God in life. He’s controlling the strings of my parachute! He understands when I’m too afraid to run and he’ll do the running for you. He has promised he will never leave me or forsake me and he’s promised that I won’t fall off the cliff!
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless…
And those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
Near the top of my “Things I love most about God” list is this: He surprises me. And since He knows me better than I know myself His surprises never flop – even though they sometimes come in odd packaging. For almost two years I have been living in one of His most remarkable surprises.
I was halfway finished writing a book I felt very passionate about when it became apparent my 90-year-old mother-in-law, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, could no longer live independently. We moved her – and all the destructive memories she’d authored - in to our home. When I said God’s surprises sometimes come in odd packaging I was thinking of her.
My speaking ministry was sharply curtailed as I became her full-time caregiver and the inspiration behind my book withered. I felt like a dried-up leaf clinging desperately to a branch that wished I’d let go. That’s when God revealed the surprise hidden within His odd packaging: an opportunity to rewrite Bible studies for Stonecroft Ministries.
The deadlines were tight, forcing me to scrounge up every free second for writing. If I wasn’t caring for Edna - for whom I felt no tenderness - I was writing about verses that said such things as: let your love overflow more and more or pray for those who despitefully use you. I’d attended enough writing workshops to know that the secret to good writing is writing what you know. That presented a problem. I couldn’t effectively write about God’s word if I wasn’t speaking from personal experience. I had to experience my love overflowing for Edna before I could write about it.
The timing of these two projects isn’t coincidental. (I sense God’s smile!) Writing these Bible studies means I am constantly digging into God’s word which means my fingers still have His love clinging to them when Edna’s needs trump my writing. This ongoing writing assignment has buried me in God, daily experiencing His resurrection, as I wade through the muddiness of loving Edna, of living out His word.