Rescued by My Misfit Church

Two of Mom’s three dogs are “rescues,” that is that she got them from the pound instead of from breeders.  Rescues tend to be mixed breeds, and if not adopted, they will be euthanized.  In many ways, I can relate to rescues because I feel more like a mutt than a pedigreed purebred.  And like the dogs, I was under the sentence of death, but Jesus rescued me.

All my life I’ve felt like a misfit.  I didn’t know precisely what to call that feeling until I moved to Italy.  As a foreigner in Italy, I finally understood this misfit feeling to be feeling foreign.  Yes, all my life I’ve felt foreign in my own country, and even among my own family.  Peter Wagner in his amazing book, Your Spiritual Gifts can Help Your Church Grow, points out that this is a sign of a missionary gift and calling.

I moved to Asheville over a year ago, but in truth I have spent very little time living here.  During this time I have visited a few churches to which I had been invited, but mostly attending Mom’s church and going to Bible studies and services here in the retirement community.

The first church that I was invited to (the day after moving day) was the church next door.  It is a small, very friendly church and the worship style is chandelier-swinging—which I love.  I like worship that is uninhibited and free because then I know that the people behind me (I prefer sitting down front) aren’t shocked by my uninhibited show of love for my Lord.  I have visited some churches where I have gotten comments about the freedom of my worship.  One pair of teenage girls once told me, “Wow!  You just don’t care!”  That could be taken a number of ways, but I prefer to take it as a compliment.

Most of the time I live in Italy.  And because of my traveling lifestyle, even when I’m in the US, I haven’t had a whole lot of opportunities to attend this church or get to know its people.  Until now, that is!  Before going to the conference in Dallas, I attended a Sunday evening service (before Thanksgiving) in which each of us was asked to share what we are thankful to God for.  In hearing about what they were thankful for, I learned that almost everybody there was a rescue like me—rescued first by others in the church, and then by Jesus.  Many of them are misfits like me.

The associate pastor told me that the church’s mission is to help those people who have been wounded by bad church experiences.  Certainly there are a lot of those, not just in Asheville, but all over the US.  It certainly is good to know that there is a place where misfits can fit together and all of us can be rescued—by each other and by the Lord.  I love my misfit church!  God is good!

Nomadic Kindred Hearts

Yesterday at the conference I met Rosy.  Right from the start she seemed to be the most interesting person in the room.  I met her just before the Ladies Coffee, which was a social time built into the conference.  I didn’t register for the Ladies Coffee right away just because the idea of a Ladies Coffee didn’t really appeal to me.  I don’t really fit in with most of the women there.  But the Holy Spirit had urged me to register for it at the last minute, so I did.  I asked Rosy if she was going to the Ladies Coffee, and she said that she was.  So we went off together, leaving her boyfriend, Bobby, to attend the next session without us.

Rosy is doing something that I had always dreamed of doing, but never had the freedom or the resources to do: she lives in her fully-equipped camper van and has been traveling around the country since she was laid off from her job.  That’s a courageous and daring thing to do, and I admire her a lot for doing it.  When I bought my camper van in 2011 (see my first book, Look, Listen, Love) I had thought of doing that, but in Europe.  My camper was stolen, which put an end to that dream for me.  Nevertheless, I still think about it sometimes when I’m traveling around in Europe.

Rosy also blogs.  So there we have a lot in common: writers, nomadic at heart, plus we’re both attending the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Conference, so we both keep our ears open for the trumpet’s sound.  I love all the new friends God has for me!  God is good!

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture

Greetings from Dallas!

I am here attending the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Conference.  The conference has only just started, but already God has been very merciful, helping me through what could have been a couple of bad logistical problems.

The first was the drive to the airport.  I left Asheville yesterday morning to drive my son home to Chapel Hill, and then turn back and on to the airport in Charlotte.  I had budgeted about seven hours, even though Google Maps had predicted that the total trip would take only a bit over five.  I had added an extra hour to my driving plan so that we could have lunch together at his local sushi palace.  Leaving him on his doorstep with a full stomach and sushi leftovers, I headed on toward Charlotte.  Google Maps either didn’t know about the construction on Highway 85 or that it was the tail end of Thanksgiving weekend and certainly both played a part in the drive time taking every bit of seven hours.  I didn’t really hit delays until about 35 miles outside of Charlotte, but I was really glad that I had decided to head straight to the airport and not take my time.  In the long term parking lot, I hailed a passing bus that had just gone by the shelter before I could get there.  The driver graciously stopped for me even though she was not at an official stop when she did it.  On entering the airport, I was especially glad that I had my boarding pass with me and no luggage to check.  The flight was delayed by nearly half an hour, but that’s not a problem when you have no connection to make.  It gave me an opportunity to breathe and even get a light dinner before boarding.

In order to avoid the expense of renting a car that I would really only need twice a day, I had selected an airport hotel near the conference site, which was another airport hotel.  My plan was to take the shuttle to the airport and then catch the other hotel’s shuttle.  My hotel’s shuttle departs for the airport every hour on the hour starting at six AM.  As I thought about this plan, the enormous hassle and potential of hours lost waiting for one shuttle or the other began to worry me.   Rather than worry, I simply prayed instead.  After a good night’s sleep, I had thought to catch the six AM shuttle to the airport and arrive finally at the other hotel in time for the conference start at eight.  Good plan, but I missed the six AM shuttle.  I decided that it would be OK if I were a bit late for the conference.  And who knows?  I might arrive on time for the conference anyway.  So I got a quick breakfast and signed up for the seven AM shuttle.  The shuttle driver was there, and he asked me what terminal I was going to.  I told him about my crazy shuttle plan.  He wanted to know where the other hotel was, and I told him.  He said that since he had only two stops to make this morning, he would take me to the other hotel.  In fact, he said that he’ll be working all week, and that he would take me every day, assuming that he doesn’t have a lot of stops to make.  That is an answer to prayer, and one I would never have thought to hope for!

So once again, I’m feeling like God’s favorite kid.  God is good!

Gotcha!

Part 1

As promised, here is the story of how I came back to God after 8 years of sincere atheism:

After having had a genuine experience of God (that is, born again, baptized in water, baptized in the Holy Spirit), I suffered a series of setbacks.  I was devastated the day my husband announced, “I don’t believe in God any more, and I don’t love you.”  This was only 3 years into our marriage, and we were already parents of a little boy.  He didn’t move out, but things between us had definitely changed.  He was a workaholic, so we settled into a pattern that kept the marriage together for another 30 years: He would usually say something hurtful to me on his way out the door, and I would cry and despair for an hour or so, and by the time he returned home about 12 hours later, I would be over the hurt, and things would be fairly pleasant until the next morning when it usually happened again.

Thus began a slow decline in my Christian walk.  We had recently moved to a suburb of Dallas and every church that I had tried seemed empty and dead.  One preached about money, money, money, and even posted on a bulletin board in the foyer how much money each person had given the previous month.  Outrageous!  It seemed like we had not only left our hometown, but also the Lord.  Finally, I just stopped going to church.

Not coincidentally, I also began to drink—a lot.  Before long, my drinking was really out of control.  So I was already far from God when both my sisters-in-law lost their babies within 6 months of each other.  Then I read in the newspaper about 3 women in New York City who had thrown their babies out the window.  I decided that either God didn’t exist or He was lazy.  I became agnostic because I wasn’t ready to let go of the idea of God, but essentially, I had.

The final blow came when Phillip, my childhood sweetheart, was killed in a highway accident too horrific to describe.  Phillip had been the only person in my life to show me unconditional love.  With Phillip’s death I became a radical militant atheist.  If somebody tried to give me a religious tract, I would respond, “I don’t want that sh**!”

Looking back, I can see God’s hand on my life because just 3 weeks before Phillip died I had quit drinking.  This was God’s timing because when Phillip died I was so depressed that I wanted to crawl inside a bottle and never come out again.  I would have welcomed death except for the feeling of responsibility to my son, who was 7 at the time.  I had quit drinking because of having blacked-out at yet another party, waking the next morning to find my husband so angry with me that he refused to speak.  I knew that I must have embarrassed him, so I told him that I would quit drinking.  He (having grown up with an alcoholic step-father) said, “I’ve heard that before.”  And I’m sure he had, but not from me.  That statement made me so mad that I decided I would make him eat those words.  I didn’t have another drink for 20 years.

So although I was a radical militant angry atheist, I was no longer an alcoholic when Phillip died.  God allowed me to have my stew in my anger for almost 8 years.  It’s hard to sustain anger for that long, so little-by-little I became less angry at God.

Shortly after we moved to Durham, North Carolina, we visited my childhood home in California for the first time since moving away 19 years before.  I had such good memories of that place and my childhood there that returning to real life in an abusive marriage sent me into the worst depression of my life to that point.  For the next several months I avoided the few friends I had made, and cried through my days.

Then I started having suicide hallucinations.  There were 2 of them.  It was always either taking the big kitchen knife and cutting my throat from ear-to-ear or plunging the knife into my heart.  Both were so frighteningly real that I didn’t know that they were not really happening.  In the middle of doing the most ordinary kind of household tasks (putting wet sheets into the dryer, setting the dinner table, bathing the baby) I suddenly had the knife in my hand and I turned it on myself.  I felt the sharpness of the knife, but no pain, and I felt the hot, sticky blood on my skin and smelled the copper-salty smell of it.  Then I would find myself back where I had been, with the wet sheets in my hands or the baby in the bath tub.  I would immediately run and hide in my closet, terrified.

One day in the closet I suddenly realized 2 things: 1. I didn’t want to kill myself (I would never do that to my children) and; 2. If I ever did want to kill myself, I would never do it with a knife.  And those 2 things led me to a 3rd realization: these hallucinations were coming from someone, and it was not me.  Given that I sincerely did not believe in God, therefore I also didn’t believe in the devil.  But I was very aware that there was some kind of a presence, and it was not a good one.

I went for counseling, and I worked at counseling with all my might.  I wanted to get over this thing.  Every appointment I talked non-stop about everything that had gone wrong for me in my life.  If it hurt, I talked about it—every angle and every nuance.  It was like emotionally disemboweling myself week after week.  And my counselor offered no help, no insight, nothing.  She might have been a bobble-head doll, just nodding and taking notes as I vomited all the pain of my soul.  I told the counselor that I wanted 2 sessions a week because I shook, unable to sleep for 2 days before each session because they were so unpleasant.  So we went to 2 sessions a week, and that was actually better.  After a couple of months of that, I somehow came out of the depression and the hallucinations stopped.  At that time I quit going to counseling and instead started taking a creative writing class.

One day in the car I heard a Bob Dylan song that I had never heard before.  I only just today learned the name of the song: Positively 4th Street, and it starts out, “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say that you’re my friend . . .”  As I listened to the song, it seemed that Jesus was singing to me, saying things like, “You say you’ve lost your faith, but that’s not where it’s at.  You have no faith to lose, and you know it.”  It was just like receiving a rhema word, only through a song.  And for a few months I started getting rhema words on billboards and in overheard conversation.  I knew that it was supernatural contact, and I knew that it was God, although I still sincerely didn’t believe in Him.  Now I know that He was wooing me, pursuing me, getting me ready to come back to Him.

To be continued, but until then, here are the lyrics to Positively 4th Street:

You’ve got a lot of nerve
To say you are my friend.
When I was down you just stood there grinning.

You’ve got a lot of nerve
To say you’ve got a helping hand to lend.
You just want to be on the side that’s winning.

You say I let you down,
You know it’s not like that.
If you’re so hurt, why then don’t you show it?

You say you’ve lost your faith,
But that’s not where it’s at.
You have no faith to lose, and you know it.

I know the reason that
You talk behind my back.
I used to be among the crowd you’re in with.

Do you take me for such a fool
To think I’d make contact
With the one who tries to hide what he don’t know to begin with?

You see me on the street.
You always act surprised.
You say, how are you, good luck, but you don’t mean it.
When you know as well as me,
You’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once and scream it!

Now don’t I feel that good
When I see the heartaches you embrace
If I were a master thief perhaps I’d rob them.

And though I know you’re dissatisfied
With your position and your place,
Don’t you understand, it’s not my problem.

I wish that for just one time,
You could stand inside my shoes,
And just for that one moment I could be you.
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes,
You’d know what a drag it is to see you.

Holy Power from On High – Why Not?

Lately God has been speaking to me about two important issues: the first is His supernatural power that is made available to us, His children.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” (John 14:12).  In fact, open your Bible and read that whole chapter because from there He promises to give us the Holy Spirit—the Source of that supernatural power.  Notice that there is no exception made, it’s “whoever believes” in Jesus.  And Jesus says that we will do “greater things” than He did.

The other thing that God has been impressing on me is the need for us to live a holy life.  Of course, when we are born again the holiness of Jesus becomes our, too.  But again and again God encourages us to be holy because He is holy, to put to death the old man, to run the race in such a way as to win the prize, and to bear fruit for the Kingdom.

I had a strange experience when I was in Texas this summer.  I was driving through Dallas from west to east in the fastest way possible: on the President George W. Bush Toll road.  Then I felt the Holy Spirit urge me to get off the toll road, so I got off, and it was an industrial looking area with a big church.  So I drove to the church, which looked closed, but then I drove around to the back, and there was a bookstore that was open.  So entered and looked around.  Immediately, I found The Pursuit of Holiness with Study Guide by Jerry Bridges, and it was on sale for only $2.  So I bought it.  God has really been talking to me through this book.

Then I began to realize that there is a connection between accessing God’s supernatural power and living a holy life.  Consider this: we cannot truly live a holy life without the Holy Spirit’s help; and we cannot live in God’s supernatural power unless we are living a holy life.  Of course, I cannot claim perfection in this, but more and more I am understanding that God wants us to live in our full inheritance as well as in holiness.  Why not?

Serendipity—Another Word for Coincidence

Dictionary.com defines serendipity as having an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune or luck.  http://dictionary.reference.com/.  If you know God, then you know that He is in control, and there are no accidental desirable discoveries nor luck.

I started to write the first part of this post between flights back in August when I returned to Texas to help Mom move to another state.  Moving is a very busy, exhausting activity, so I had never finished writing it.  The second part happened yesterday afternoon, and the third part happened this morning, which served as the catalyst to finish writing.

My Brazilian Buddies

Greetings from Dallas!

Today is a travel day, so I’m writing this between flights.  I came back to the US to help my mom move.  When I checked in at Milan Malpensa Airport three hours ahead, like they say to do, of course there was no one to check in with.  I don’t know why I keep showing up three hours early for these early morning flights, but having missed a flight because of a very crowded airport check in line, I want to avoid missing another flight.  The only other people there were a Brazilian father and daughter.  They were also flying across the Atlantic today.  We talked, and became friends, trapped together as we were, waiting for a ticketing agent to show up.

A ticket agent did eventually show up and check us into our flight.  We were flying to Frankfurt first, and then I would fly to Dallas.  When I was checked in, and passed through security, I found my gate at the far end of the terminal.  But we had stood there waiting for the ticket agent for such a long time (over an hour) that I felt like I needed to walk the kinks out.  And since I wanted to buy a bottle of water and a last cappuccino before leaving Italy, I walked past our gate area in search of an open coffee shop.  I heard someone running up behind me, with urgency in his voice saying, “Signora!  Signora!”  I turned around and it was the Brazilian father.  He told me, “The gate is back this way.”  I thanked him, explaining about the need for a walk and a cappuccino.

Having satisfied both needs, I returned to the gate and sat in the open seat next to the father and daughter.  While waiting for boarding I became very drowsy.  Father and daughter got to their feet and headed for the line as soon as boarding started.  I waited, in no hurry to be confined to an airline seat any longer than absolutely necessary.  So they were among the first to board, while I was one of the very last.

On the plane I found my seat, stowed my backpack, buckled up, and promptly fell into a deep sleep.  Those who know me know of my ability to fall asleep quickly and deeply sitting up in a car or on a plane.  I believe that this is a gift from God for a missionary who travels as much as I do for ministry.

As we were about to land I woke up and reached for the bottle of water that I had brought.  In my peripheral vision I saw a boldly striped blue shirt on the person sitting next to me—it was the Brazilian father with his daughter next to him in the window seat.  “It’s you!”  I exclaimed, and we laughed about how I had been so sleepy that I hadn’t even looked to see who was sitting next to me.  I told them that it had been very pleasant traveling with them, even if I hadn’t known it was them.  And as we parted, I wished them a buon viaggio (good travels).  And I marveled at how funny life is sometimes.

Going to Church

Yesterday was my favorite day of the week: Sunday.  I love Sunday because I love going to church.  I love going to church so much that I go to my own church in the morning, and another in the afternoon.  I go to two churches in the US, too.  The reason I love going to church is not the music (though the music is excellent) or the preaching (which is also excellent) or even the fellowship (which is wonderful).  The reason I love going to church is because I always go expecting to meet God—and I’m never disappointed!  When you expect to meet God, He always shows up.

I go and sit as close to the front as I’m allowed (some churches reserve the very front row for leaders and/or the worship team).  I sit down front so that I won’t be distracted.  This is especially important if the service is in Italian, which it is at my home church here in Milan.  From that place down front I find freedom to worship God with complete abandon.  In the past years when I sat back toward the middle, I found that I became self-conscious because those around me didn’t raise their hands or dance in worship.  Down front, where I can’t see what others are or are not doing, I just worship God from my heart and my spirit, completely uninhibited.  It is possible that there are people behind me watching me and wondering what kind of an exhibitionist-lunatic I am.  But since I can’t see them, and since I don’t know what they’re thinking, it doesn’t concern me in the least.  I would rather be David than Michal, and being down front allows me the freedom to dance like David (2 Samuel 6:16-23).

After church I went home with the intention to rest and then go to the afternoon service of the sweet little church in Monza.  But I rested a little too well and fell asleep.  When I woke up, it was clear that I would be late getting to church, even if each train was right there, waiting to take me.  I considered going to the church up the road, instead.  But when I prayed about it, I felt like God wanted me to go catch the train to Monza.

So I walked to the train station, and once inside, I was coming off the stairs and onto the platform when a young man said, “Do you speak English?”  I said yes, and he asked if the train would stop at the Porta Garibaldi train station—the same train station that I needed to take to get to Monza.  I explained that all the trains on the Passante line stop at all the stations in the city.  Relieved, he asked me if I was on vacation, and I told him that I’m a missionary here.  His smile got wider, and he said, “Well, what do you know!  I’m on my way to church.”  He explained that he just arrived from Australia as a student, and that his mother had found him an English-speaking church on the internet.  It was one I had heard of, but it had closed down some years earlier, as far as I knew.

Now it was my turn to smile more broadly, I said, “Hey!  If it’s OK with you, I’ll go with you.”  He was very happy to have my company, so we went together, following the directions sent to him via e-mail.

It turns out that the English-speaking church has a mostly young congregation composed of students, like my new Aussie friend.  The music was great and the preaching was solid.  I love young churches!  This was truly a gift from God—and all because I was late for church!  God is good!

Coming to Church

But that’s not the whole story of so-called serendipity.  The pastor of my home church in Milan made an announcement yesterday as the service was ending, saying that the last Sunday of the month would be evangelism Sunday, and that we should each bring someone to church with us.  I prayed about who I should invite, and Barbara immediately came to mind.

I have known Barbara for most of my eleven years in Milan.  And I’ve often wondered if she might be one of the reasons why God keeps me in this neighborhood, where I’m currently occupying my third apartment.

This morning I had to go to the gas company to set an appointment for them to turn on the gas.  On the way home I stopped by the street market to buy a few things.  I love walking through the street markets, but today it was drizzling.  Rainy days at the street market can be miserable, but drizzle isn’t so bad.  Suddenly, there was Barbara.  I’ve had it happen before that I’ll be thinking of her and she suddenly is there.  Between her work, my travel, and my move, I hadn’t seen her for over a year.  We had a joyous reunion right there in the market, and I invited her to come to church.  I had invited her before, but something always interfered and stopped her from coming.  She assured me of her interest, but said that she doesn’t know if she will have to work.  So I told her that I will call her on Saturday.

Barbara has been interested and asking questions for years now, and this time I believe that she will come to church and meet her Savior.  Serendipity?  No way!  This is the hand of God, and God is good!