The ministry of the lake

Every time we go to the lake Brad brings a book along as if he’s going to have some magical time where he isn’t watching the kids to read.  Sometimes I grab a book too, just to play along with this fantasy.

Even if I had a half an hour of solitude, I would probably spend it people watching.  I’m convinced the lake is full of the most interesting people in the county.  There are the moms that dip a toe in the water with their toddler, young adults horsing around in the deep end, teenagers getting in trouble, adolescents twirling off the high dive, grandmas waiting in the shade with a towel, leathery ladies frying in the sun and chain smokers at a picnic table.

It you were to encounter some of these people in public, they might be what you refer to as “sketchy”.  You may avoid eye contact on the sidewalk or lock your car doors while driving by.

Despite the diversity of the lake crowd, in my 20 some years of swimming there I have never witnessed anything worse than a slew of curse words spoken too loudly.  No fights, arguments, or illicit substances.

It turns out the diversity of the lake crowd results in unity.

There is one purpose for going to the lake and it’s to have fun.  It doesn’t matter if you like to swim, eat burgers, play putt putt or fish, the lake has it all.

In the bible Paul tell us that unity in the church is going to look a whole lot like diversity.   He says that some people will be teachers, some pastors, others prophets, evangelists or apostles and that their jobs are to equip the church until we are one unified body.

I love the lake because it’s fun and unpretentious.  Nobody expects you to be who you aren’t and it’s OK if you are still rough around the edges.

Likewise, in the Kingdom of God you are accepted, whether you’re the leathery lady or just dipping a toe in.

Jesus wants you.  His desire is for you to have fun and be yourself, stepping into your identity as a child of God.  He needs everyone, the rebellious teen, rambunctious adolescent and the waiting Grandmas, for the Kingdom to be fulfilled.

You are desired.

The fire

The noise first alerted us to a problem.  Our old house had been renovated so often that the living room was a windowless cave.  We often found solace in the protection from dangers that lurked outside, but tonight it was a hindrance.  It was late that is when bad things happen.

Orange light filtered through the diamond window of the front door as we crowded together to look.  I gasped as tongues of fire consumed the house across the street.

That was the nice house on the street, I moaned.

When 50% of the street was vacant we learned to appreciate the houses that were nice.

Sirens wailed in the distance.  Coming for us, I thought.  Momentary pride over being amid such excitement flashed through my mind but quickly I scolded myself for craving negative attention.

A fire truck roared down our quiet street and we moved to the porch. The heat felt like we were at a huge bonfire, warming my face from 100 yards away.

The entire neighborhood was awake now.  Huddled safely in twos and threes, gazing back and forth from the fire to their neighbor they whispered.

Do you know what happened?  Isn’t that the house that was busted a month ago?  I heard they had a pretty good operation going there.

My mind flashed to that warm evening in May, pushing my toddler boy on the swing in the big Maple behind the house.  The gaggle of neighbor girls surrounded us, taking turns pushing him too hard for my comfort.

Don’t go so high, I warned.  They giggled, probably at my prudence.  These girls walked across the street alone from the age of three and I was worried that my 2 year old would fall out of a baby swing.

I enjoyed their company and the ability to feed them the love they lacked, but sometimes I wanted to be in my yard alone with my child.  Maybe someday we would have enough money and time to put a fence up, but for now their eagle eyes spotted me every time I came out the door.  Besides, isn’t that what we came for?

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a black van pull up across the street.  It seemed out of place, but most of the view was blocked by the side of our house.  As I turned my attention once again to pushing my son a loud crack rang out and in an eternal instant I realized this was a SWAT raid.

Fumbling with the buckle I grabbed my boy out of the swing while and shooed the girls home.  I probably should have walked them home, but in my own panic and worry I took care of us first.  Besides, they didn’t seem fazed, just another day in the ghetto.

Locked.  The back door was locked.

I pounded and pounded for what felt like an eternity.  Maybe it was only 3 minutes, but it was the longest three minutes of my life.  I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t have a key, and I wasn’t about to run to the front door where danger lurked.

Finally, he peeked out, realized it was me and opened the shoddy old door wide.

I walked in shrieking and trembling.  Trauma has a funny way of bringing out the rage in me.

Why didn’t you let me in?

I didn’t know you were outside, I’m so sorry.

We watched out the bedroom window that evening while the police plopped a folding table on the porch to measure and record large packages of drugs.  This was nothing newsworthy in a city the size of ours, but we surely couldn’t stop watching.

The heat brought me back to the fire, a reminder that we lived in an abnormal place.  The kind of place where people eyed you when you told them where it was.  I could never do what you do, they would say.  A pleasant way of saying you’re crazy.

Tears formed as I looked to see folks from the neighborhood, gang members, young men, old men, carrying the weight of the hose from the hydrant to the truck.  This is why we moved here, I thought.   This place is more than a statistic.

I started to see past the brokenness, the hurt and the pain.  This was a neighborhood, just like any other neighborhood, full of good and bad.  As often as I sat trembling at the bad, I more frequently thanked God for the good.

This neighborhood was alive.  People spent hours outside, knew your name, and said hi as they walked home from the bus stop.  I couldn’t help but smile when the opening of a fire hydrant on a hot day turned the whole street into a pool party.  It wasted thousands of gallons of water and was illegal, but kids splashed in the spray, the old folks sat down and dipped their toes in the dirty stream that washed by.

We were no longer frightened by the outward displays of fear and antagonization, knowing there is light in the darkness.

Time seemed irrelevant as we watched the flames lick the house.  How long did we stand there?  30 minutes, an hour?  How long does it take to extinguish a fire?  The house would smolder for days, and the neighbors would gossip for even longer.  This marked the beginning of the summer of fire, a rash of vacant houses burning hot in the night.

That summer, in the midst of the fires, I would imagine the rainy days as God’s great cleansing of the sin and evil in this place.  Maybe it was just rain, but it gave me hope to imagine more  Why not expect things to be different, for good to break through the bad, for the light to shine in the darkness?

Months later I would sit on the porch watching a girl dressed in pink ride her bike up and down the sidewalk in front of that burned out house.  A glorious reminder that God will make all things new someday.

Years later we would watch out that same upstairs window as the city demolished the house.  In one day it was gone, and in it’s place a dirt lot sat waiting, expectant.  The only way to experience newness is to demolish the old.

Business, not as usual.

Not many know this, but the first business Brad and I ever started was an online hookah retailer.  Yes, you heard me right, we sold hookahs in college.

I can’t stop laughing while writing this out because it seems so long ago and so foreign, but once upon a time this young married couple at Ohio University went into business with a friend because they thought they could get a corner on the hookah business in Athens.  Plus, we enjoyed smoking the fun fruity tobaccos.  They were somehow “better” for you because they tasted good, right?

This isn’t something you lead with when introducing yourself, or even when sharing your life, but it’s an important part of our story because it was one of the first times we decided to do life differently.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well and we weren’t able to quit our jobs and lived as the hookah kings of Athens, but we began to learn lessons about what it means to own a business.

A few years later after doing the “normal” job thing we both quit to travel and pursue God in greater measure.  We developed our own businesses because we knew deep down there had to be more for us than working 40 hours a week to make a corporation rich.

We built our businesses, I took pictures and Brad designed websites, and we made them work mostly on our own.  We prayed about them and when things were hard we asked God to bless them and help make ends meet.   The beautiful thing is he always did; we always had enough.  We built our businesses and God was our sidekick.

A few years passed and after many late night front porch sessions it was decided that Brad would build a new company that helped people self-publish their writing.  We were older and more in tune with the Lord.   Through prayer this direction felt right, but it was still us doing the building and the grunt work.  Again, we would come to the Lord with prayer requests when money was tight or when there was a tough situation, but this was still a business that WE made and that WE were in control of.    Despite that, He has blessed this business beyond measure and we have learned to hand over more of our lives, little by little, to the God and creator of our Universe.

God began calling Brad and I to full time ministry this past year.  We explored and prayed for what that would be, and slowly the vision came into focus.

We are to start a School for Kingdom Writers here in Zanesville.  Students will live here for two years, immersed in both a writing and Kingdom living program.

For the first time in our lives, this is all God.  There is no way this school would come to fruition by our own accord.  It’s too mighty and massive and we are not skilled in all the parts necessary for it to thrive.  Oh, not to mention the large cost it will incur, and we are a people that live committed to doing everything with zero debt.

But God has relayed to us in many prayer sessions and prophetic words via our brothers and sisters that HE is going to do this in His power, not ours.  We are merely vessels, but he has assured us to dream the big dreams that he is laying on our hearts because they will certainly come to pass.

This doesn’t mean we sit back as passive spectators in our life, but it does mean that we can choose to not participate in the worry and stress that comes with starting a non-profit.  We get the chance to trust our creator fully and without waver, knowing that even as we’ve held onto parts of our lives for our own, HE STILL PROVIDED FOR US.

This is a defining moment in our lives as we take the leap of faith from in control to His control.  We are all in, ready to look like fools for the sake of the advancement of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  His wave of great mercy and love is coming in and it will wash over everything in this land, in this community and The School of Kingdom Writers is going to be one part of how He chooses to spread His message.  To God be all the glory.

Healing.

This is the story of a miracle many years in the making.

Five years ago I sat in our little yellow car with two young boys outside of the minute clinic. Brad’s ear was pained with infection. One prescription later we were on our way home.

After a week the infection was not resolving so off to a primary care doctor he went. Another prescription in hand, a little stronger, and he was on his way home.

And again he went back, still with pain. “Here, try this one, it’s a little stronger”, they said.

Going to bed one night he told me his face looked off as he was brushing his teeth. I was quick to shake it off until I looked closely in the low light. “That’s weird,” I thought, “it looks like one side of his face isn’t keeping up with the other”.

We feared for a stroke and prayed about what to do. A little internet searching led us to believe that he was experiencing Bell’s Palsy.

He went back to the doctor where he was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, most likely triggered by the massive ear infection his body was fighting. It would resolve on it’s own, but the ear infection required the strongest antibiotic that could be given.

The ear improved, and Brad regained movement of his face (but not before we had family photos taken. What a way to remember this time in our lives!).

A few months later at a book party in the governors mansion Brad spent the entire time vomiting, laying on the cool marble floor of the swanky bathroom.

The only thing we could trace it to was a frappucino he had earlier in the day, something he rarely drank.

Later that year we were due to leave for NYC to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade but Brad had such excruciating pain in his foot the night before we were to leave he had to crawl to the bathroom. In the ER they diagnosed him with plantar fascitis and gave him some anti-inflammatory medicine. The medicine cleared the majority of the pain in a day or two leaving him able to trek the streets of New York.

Over the years dairy began to bother him more. He stopped drinking straight milk, then ice cream, then butter, and then cheese. Eventually, he couldn’t even have baked goods or cooked foods with a small amount of dairy in them. Accidental ingestion caused vomiting and flu like symptoms for a couple of days.

The foot and ankle pain would also reoccur often, something we eventually self-diagnosed as tendonitis. Brad would be laid up for a day or two until the pain and inflammation subsided.

Doctors diagnosed him with this and that but there were never any cures offered, never any hope for healing.

I don’t know why, I imagine it was God, but one day I began searching about the strong antibiotic that he was given.  I found heaps of information about the terrible side effects it can cause right away, and years later as well. The pieces were falling into place: the dairy allergy, the tendonitis, the awful heartburn weren’t random but were all consequences of a class of antibiotics that now come with warning label.

It was good to know why, but the prognosis felt hopeless.  How could this damage ever be reversed?  Would he spend the rest of his life dealing with these chronic symptoms?

We ate dairy free, yet Brad was still often sick or in pain. For a while he worked with a natural health doctor and we significantly changed our diet. Restoring his gut health alleviated a lot of ongoing symptoms, yet it did not completely heal him.

About a year ago God prompted me to start praying for restoration for Brad’s body.  I did pray and over time my prayers gained authority as I witnessed miracles and gained knowledge of who God is and what He will do.

This past December, a bad cold led to bronchitis and another ear infection for Brad. He began to seek natural health supplements, then, through prayer, felt prompted to give this infection to God and trust in His healing only. God was going to heal him, God was going to restore him and we had to be patient and trust.

After many weeks of pain the ear infection healed without the use of antibiotics.

Four weeks ago Brad caught a stomach bug. I had an inkling this was part of the healing process, and later when a friend sent us a picture of Brad receiving healing prayer from our small group I knew it was. He included the words: “I pray today that the prayers we prayed that day were answered.”

He recovered from the stomach flu and my prayer turned from one of healing to one for knowledge. I knew Brad would never willingly try dairy because of how sick it made him, so I prayed when the time came he would accidentally ingest it and have no reaction.

We waited and prayed.

One Sunday our friends had us over for a pizza party. There were two salads, one with goat cheese and one without for Brad. Well, Brad missed that memo, thought the goat cheese was cauliflower and accidentally ingested it! We prayed that there would be no reaction and for total healing.

He had no reaction, no vomiting, no cramping!  Completely and totally fine.

Brad has had no reaction from kefir, butter, or yogurt. Two nights ago he drank a few ounces of fresh cow’s milk and we woke up in the morning amazed at his health and God’s fulfilled promise.

All glory to God!  Praise him for his miraculous work in our lives!

Redneck swimming pool.

I remember the day the well witcher came. I was both intrigued by the idea that this man with his crooked stick would find a source of water in the ground and disturbed that my parents actually hired him to do so.

We never had enough water. It was clean, pure water but it was not in abundance. I grew up letting yellow mellow not because it was environmentally friendly but because we didn’t want to run out of water for supper or the laundry or a bath.

That well witcher worked his magic but the water never ran clean enough to use.

On good, hot summer days my dad would load up the plastic blue rain barrel in the back of his old white Ford and I would eagerly hop in the front seat with him. Windows down we drove into town to my aunt’s house with the abundant city water that would quench our withered garden.

While the barrel filled from the backyard hose I ran wild for an hour with my close cousins, playing in their small city lot. I remember these evenings well, a testament to how simple the best memories in life are.

We would say our goodbyes and, on the very happiest evenings, when we got home my dad would let me change into my suit and jump feet first into my very own redneck swimming pool.

Melody

My dear friend Melody has a story that’s full of more abuse and trauma than most of ours, but also one of a redeemed heart that bears witness to an unfailing and ever loving God.

She let me into her story 4 years ago, and for 4 years these images and words have been stored on my computer.  I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to put them together, but I am happy that I can now share it with a desire it that it gives others hope.  God has not forgotten us, not even in our darkest darks and our lowest lows.

When Melody was four years old she had a dream that God came to her, the glowing white God of contemporary Christianity, he came to comfort her on the eve of her sister’s surgery.  In the dream God told her: “Don’t be afraid and don’t worry, surely I am with you for all of time.  And I will always be with your sister.  Don’t be afraid and don’t worry.”

His pursuit of her was real and constant, woven throughout both her good days and her bad days.

I feel privileged to share with you the story she told me on a rainy November day.

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I remember her telling me “Wake up, wake up Melody, today is my wedding day. I’m going to get married today.”  I felt like someone just dropped a concrete block on my stomach and I just cried and begged her not to do it.

It was in 1982, so I think I was 6.

My stepdad was a rageaholic, he would beat us and touch us where he wasn’t supposed to. He was always preying on us.  He would tuck us in at night and say “this is normal”.  My mom was always defending him and saying he can do that if he wants to.

I think for a long time I never even questioned it.

My sister went to high school, and he really beat her bad.  She got twice as much as I did.  It’s partly her personality because I’m a fighter and she would just sit there and take it.   She got really busted up one day and went to school and the teacher told because he had to.

They did this whole investigation, they were taking pictures of stuff and it looked really bad but you couldn’t see it on the polaroids.  They said I could go home because I didn’t have any signs of abuse, but she couldn’t.  So I was there by myself so I was catching all the hell.   You know I was a fighter and I thought I could take him.

I always had that feeling in my stomach that this can’t be right.  Once they took my sister, I knew, I knew it was wrong and I was just daring them all the time.  And I would say things like I wont just leave like she did, I’ll have your ass thrown in jail, you’ll lose everything.  Fuck with me again, I dare you.

When I was 13 she said I know where your dad is and you can go see him if you want. Every memory I had of him was terrible because my family hated him and nobody ever said anything good about him. I never agreed or disagreed with them because I didn’t know, I always wanted to wait and find out.

He has this tattoo on his chest, this flower, and it has my sister and I’s name on it.

And he said, “You’re always close to my heart and you’re always near me. And I know I fucked up and I can’t ever make that up to you and I know your family says terrible things about me and it’s true, but I did love your mom and married her and I loved her. And you two were conceived in love. It’s the only thing I ever did right in my whole life.”

I was so thankful to hear that.

He said, “We were going to name you after me because we just knew you were a boy.”

When he heard the doctors say I was a girl, he said he heard this song, “In my heart there rings a Melody” which is this old Christian hymn.

He said, “I heard it like I was sitting in church, I could hear that song. I knew your name was Melody, I knew to name you Melody.”

He started talking to us about when we were babies, and I leeched onto every word he said because I had never heard this stuff before.  He said I was so sensitive and if they just made a funny face I cried.

I’m still like that.

It comforts me that if Jesus came here and he was in a stable, it’s OK that this is where I was. I wasn’t forgotten about, discarded. My value as a person doesn’t equate to what I feel like my hand was dealt.

It took me a long time to get to this place where I felt peace about that. That’s a lot of work to get to a place where I can embrace that and not be ashamed.


An important part of Melody’s story that isn’t included above is that her father was incarcerated for 23 years of her life on a conviction of rape.  Praise Jesus, I know personally that Melody has had to do a lot of hard work to be at peace with this and He has been faithful to her in her walk.