I needed to go to Texas to reconnect with my home church and to have a meeting in our corporate headquarters. Plus, I needed to connect with prayer partners, missionaries, and family. So I packed up the car for the two day drive to Texas from North Carolina.
I had earned a free night’s stay through my hotel club membership. Memphis is about seven hours from Asheville, so that makes it an ideal place to stop for the first night.
After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for some breakfast. The hotel doesn’t offer breakfast, and I thought their $9 breakfast buffet was overpriced for what they offered. So I jumped into the car and headed out, asking my Holy Spirit GPS where to go for breakfast. A few miles down the road I passed a bagel shop, but I was in the wrong lane. So I drove on until I saw a sign that caught my eye: Temple of Praise. I knew that He had done it again: ministry first, then breakfast. And that’s fine with me. I didn’t know what He wanted me to do there, but I observed for a little while.
The sign was in front of a squat gray office building. As I watched, a woman got out of her car and entered the building. I followed her, but lost her—where had she gone? It was still very early, about seven in the morning. There were no offices open at that hour. So I looked for the Temple of Praise. I didn’t find it, but I found Harmony Church. Of course, the church was locked up tight, too. So I just walked around the building’s two floors, praying and continuing to observe. One of the offices was called something like Spirit Resonating. Upon seeing that, I felt that familiar nudge. This was what He wanted me to pray about. So I prayed there until I felt the Spirit’s release to go back to the bagel shop for breakfast.
After breakfast, I got off to a late start (later than usual for me!), and arrived in Paris late. Yes, the headquarters for our European ministry is in Paris—Paris, Texas, that is. Our headquarters is the house of my good friend, Patsy, and her husband, Ken. Since I had arrived after dark, I saw that lots of people in Patsy’s neighborhood had Christmas lights on. When I commented on this at dinner, Ken said, “Let’s go out and look at Christmas lights.” So after dinner we piled into Ken’s pickup truck and he drove us around the neighborhood.
Christmas light viewing conversation usually goes like this: “Wow! Lookit that!” and “Oh how pretty!” etc. Finally, Patsy had had enough. She said, “I want to see more Jesus in these Christmas lights!” We rounded the next corner and there was a cross all lit up in someone’s front yard. “There you go, Pats!” Like a stubborn little kid, she crossed her arms and said, “No, I mean Baby Jesus!” Ken and I exchanged glances and I said, “There’s just no pleasing some people!”
The next morning Patsy and I had a corporate meeting, going over the various intricacies of being a tax-exempt organization. As the meeting ended, Patsy had to go to an appointment. I took that opportunity to connect with a missionary friend who was in need of prayer.
Serena has been on mission in several different countries, but most recently she’s been called to Italy. Then she was sidelined by a parasite that threatened to keep her off the mission field permanently. We had only previously been friends on Facebook, but since this day we were both in Texas, it seemed like a really good time to call her, pray with her, and encourage her—the very thing I am called to do in Europe, and now I was doing it in the US, too. When we had finished praying together, she did indeed feel encouraged and hopeful.
Then it was time to go to my old hometown, Bastrop, near Austin. So I packed up my things and hit the road. Again, I arrived after dark. Silvia was hosting me. I had never met Silvia before, since she moved to Bastrop after I had left. Silvia and I became instant friends. She’s a very sweet person, a schoolteacher. I would have loved to have Silvia for a teacher. Although I was staying in her house for 3 nights, I didn’t actually have much time with Silvia. That’s something neither of us could do anything about. She had her schedule and I had mine.
My schedule included a 4:00AM online Hebrew class. But since Silvia didn’t have internet, I had to find a place that’s open all night and quiet/private enough to have my class. I found it! On a whim, I went to the Holiday Inn, explaining about my early class, and asking if I could use their Wi-Fi the following morning. The desk clerk agreed and wrote a note for her colleague, explaining that I would be coming early to use the business center. When I showed up at 3:30 the next morning, the night clerk was happy to help me get set up. It turned out to be a perfect place to have my class.
During more civilized hours, I paid visits to various friends in Bastrop and Austin, including missionaries I met in Macedonia who came from the other side of Austin. After a good visit, we prayer walked their property, which they were hoping to find good renters for. Again, something I usually do in Europe, I did in the US.
This was amazing! I love what I do: encouraging missionaries. But it’s really pretty rare that I get the opportunity to meet them in the US and encourage them here. Now I was the one feeling encouraged.
I got to sit in on a Discipleship class at my home church, which was wonderful. The church had grown noticeably. I loved being there, renewing those precious friendships and making new friends.
The following evening I was able to visit my cousin Carmelita and her husband, Nigel. We are descendants of a couple that moved to Texas in the 1850’s. This couple had thirteen children, three daughters and ten sons—every one of which grew to adulthood, which in those days out on the wild prairie was pretty amazing. The family has a big reunion every year, and ours is the oldest continually-meeting family reunion in the state of Texas. Carmelita has a passion for genealogy, and has written a book detailing our enormous family tree—a gargantuan and painstaking task that boggles the mind.
Carmelita also writes a blog, so with family and writing, we have a lot in common. We’ve been friends on Facebook for several years. But since my life has been one of long-distance moves (every five years on average), we only just met last year for the first time. Carmelita gave me her book, and I gave her mine (Holy Goosebumps), which tells of our first meeting on Halloween last year.
The next morning I hopped in the car and drove to a suburb of Dallas to meet with another missionary. I had met Ellen in Estonia at a missionary conference. We had instantly hit it off, but had no opportunity to see each other since then. Ellen and her family are missionaries in Romania. They had come back to the US to raise funds and to spend Christmas with family. We met over a bagel and coffee, and she told me about the difficulties of fundraising. Then we prayed together. She said that she felt very encouraged to have met and prayed with me.
Finances are a common difficulty for missionaries. This is particularly the case for missionaries in Europe for two reasons: 1) people don’t think of Europe as a mission field, and 2) Europe is probably the world’s most expensive mission field (depending on where the missionary is based. Because of that, it is often difficult for missionaries to raise the needed funds to launch themselves into ministry. Some missionary organizations require missionaries to raise a certain level of funding before they will release them into ministry. And some missionaries come to Europe with the idea that they will get a job and take care of their own finances (“tent-making,” like the Apostle Paul). But the current economic climate of Europe makes jobs for foreigners almost non-existent.
Finances play into another common difficulty for missionaries in Europe: getting a visa and a permit to stay (like a green card). Without a job or without plenty of money in the bank, many European countries do not welcome missionaries. In some countries that are dominated by a particular religion, like Italy with the Catholic Church or Turkey with Islam, missionary or religious visas can range from difficult to impossible to get.
So the time spent talking and praying together was very encouraging for Ellen. But also for me. Amazing how that works.
I spent the night at my cousin, Estrella’s house. Estrella is Carmelita’s sister, and a fabulous hostess, glorious cook, etc. Estrella makes Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray look like pikers.
The next day I had a lunch appointment in Denton to meet Facebook friends who have always been very supportive, though we had never met in person before. I had met Joshua first on Facebook. He was so insightful, thoughtful, and spoke with great love and respect of his mother, Deborah. So I asked for her friendship on Facebook, too. I learned that Joshua has a twin brother, Justin.
I was very excited to meet this remarkable family, and I wasn’t disappointed. Deborah handed me a big shopping bag filled with incredibly thoughtful goodies, especially for a traveling missionary (a hat, a big purse, a fleecy shawl that doubles as a small blanket, warm slipper socks, etc.), and the bag also included a couple of books. Her recently-completed book and a book about Hebrew word pictures. She knew that I had begun studying Hebrew.
I had brought her my books, including the newest: Holy Goosebumps. It was fun to learn that we have these things in common: passionate love for Jesus and writing.
The twins are in their mid-twenties, and live with their mom. Joshua has a physical handicap from birth trauma that resulted in a loss of oxygen to his brain. Justin had suffered some kind of trauma shortly after graduating high school, and was very withdrawn. Despite their difficulties, the family was an absolute delight to meet.
I had an appointment in Abilene the following day, and no place to stay that night. I was prepared to find myself a hotel room, but Deborah invited me to stay the night with them. She invited me without knowing of my predicament or plans. Naturally, I said yes.
I followed her to their beautiful home in a town close by. There, we continued our conversation, then spent some time in worship and prayer. It was beautiful!
The next morning I hit the road early, not wanting to be late arriving at Cindy and Randy’s house. Cindy and Randy are a precious couple I met at a neighborhood church in Abilene back when Mom had lived there. Their heart for missions was so encouraging that we have stayed in touch, even after Mom had moved to North Carolina. Last year, I had not been able to get to Abilene, so I wanted to be sure and make the trip this year.
Cindy and Randy told me that they had left the church in Mom’s old neighborhood. They told me about their new church and its pastor, whom I would soon meet. We were all invited to a Christmas party at his house. Pastor Henry is a Messianic Jew—that is, a Jew who has found his Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus). I was very excited to learn this. My roommate on my tour to Israel was a Messianic Jew, and touring Israel had birthed in me a desire to learn Hebrew.
The party was loads of fun, and Pastor Henry told me that he would let me use his pulpit to speak to the church for 30 minutes. So when we got back home, I prayed and asked the Lord to give me a message for this church.
The next morning, armed with notes on points to cover in that talk, God did help me with a message for the church. And my message took exactly 30 minutes. God is precise! After that, they closed the service.
I was shocked. It’s very rare that I’ve been given a pastor’s pulpit to speak from—in fact, it’s only happened three times, and only once before that I’ve been invited to preach. I felt so honored and humbled. I hadn’t even realized that I would be the preacher for their service.
After the service the church had a Christmas pot luck luncheon. And with a good meal in my tummy, I got in my car and headed for my final Texas destination: my cousin, Kenny’s house in Tyler.
The long drive from Abilene to Tyler was made even longer by thunderstorms along the way. Sometimes the rain came down so hard that even with wipers on full-speed, they couldn’t handle all the water. Naturally, all the traffic slowed, so the five hour trip took me seven hours. I arrived after dark again.
Despite the late hour, I was able to get a good visit in with Kenny and Peg. Their church was having a special concert for the Sunday evening service. They asked if I wanted to go, and of course I said yes.
The whole service was magical: the scenery, the lighting, the singing, the music, everything. It was a wonderful evening honoring our Lord’s birth.
Afterwards, we went to visit Kenny’s mom, Aunt Sadie. The last time I was in Tyler, Aunt Sadie was suffering—both physically and from depression. She spoke several times about being ready to die. This time I was pleased to see that Aunt Sadie was living in a really nice assisted living apartment, and she has regained her sense of humor and love for life. The caregivers were very sweet to her, and her affection for them was obvious. What a happy difference from the last time I saw her!
As we returned home, Kenny asked if I would consider staying another day, but I said, “I can’t. I have a grandbaby due to be born, and I need to get back to North Carolina.” My sons live in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, about four hours from Asheville—not super-close, but so much closer than Italy. So the following day I hopped in the car and headed back to North Carolina.
Hurricane Mills, Tennessee
I drove to Memphis, but since it was only about four in the afternoon when I arrived, I decided to drive on. About two and a half hours later, it was dark, and I was tired. I checked into a hotel on the interstate and collapsed. Despite being anxious to get home, I had driven for over eight hours, and I was exhausted.
Early the next morning, I hopped into the car, glad that I would be sleeping in my own bed that night. By late morning I was crossing the state line back into North Carolina. Just then, on that remote mountain pass between Tennessee and North Carolina, my phone started pinging and pinging and pinging. This phone has the same signal for notifications as it has for sensing a Wi-Fi zone. So I didn’t really think so much of it, except that it seemed unusual for there to be so much Wi-Fi in that remote area.
When I got to Asheville, lunch was already being served, so I stopped at the grocery store and got myself some lunch to take home. I got another ping, so I looked at my phone. The message was a picture of a baby. I realized instantly the significance, and my joy bubbled over. I looked all around me, but there was no one I knew in the grocery store that I could share the joyous news with. So I paid for my lunch and took it home. I stopped in the dining room on the way in and, without saying a word, I showed Mom the picture. She also quickly realized whose baby it was and started showing it around.
So a great trip to Texas ended on the highest note possible: my new grandbaby’s birth. And this one is particularly momentous because she is the first girl born in our branch of the family since my own birth, nearly 60 years ago. Imagine that! Is she going to be loved and spoiled? You better believe it! God is good!