Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Abrielle Braxton ~ Joy Comes in the Morning

Abrielle Braxton, my dear friend and teammate crossed over to the other side of eternity on December 6th. I met Abrielle about this time last year at our MAG Christmas party. She and her husband Joel came into town for the festive occasion. They had been poised and ready to launch onto the field to be MAG missionaries in Rus Rus, Honduras nearly three years ago when Abrielle was diagnosed with cancer. Since that time she and her amazing husband Joel had been fighting against the cancer with chemo, radiation and, most recently, a bone marrow transplant. They moved to Burlington, NC last February as they had been given positive results that the cancer was gone and they had been put on a maintenance schedule to have regular check ups. We were thrilled to receive them and have them on staff with us. 

                                          

Abrielle and I worked closely together to decorate and make signs for our MAG Open House/Dedication event in April that we lovingly dubbed Magapalooza. Abrielle had many gifts and talents, one of them was creative hand-lettering.  She took the lead in casting an artistic vision and I gladly followed providing support to that vision. We shopped together gathering supplies from various local thrift and consignment shops as our budget was very thin. It was during this time that I first really got to know Abrielle and hear bits of her story. She wasn't one to really talk much about herself but I am a persistent questioner and I was able to glean pieces and parts of her story

                                          
                                                

One thing that really made an impact on me was her way of talking about things. She was very careful in not allowing herself to speak disparagingly of anyone in her life. She very naturally spoke about things in a Psalm-like manner. What I mean by Psalm-like is that she was real in sharing challenges but never focused on the challenge alone but focused instead on God and how He would have her flesh out her faith in whatever difficulty she encountered whether it be in circumstances or in relationships with others. I don't know that I have ever encountered someone who so beautifully embodied such grace, not in glossing over tough things but in accepting that God is in control and by genuinely wanting to be found faithful in how she chose to respond to those tough things. 

                                                      
                                                           
"The countdown begins! Transplant Day is Day 0 on August 17th. Days leading up to it are called Day minus 10, day minus 9... Days afterward are Day plus 1, day plus 2.... the first 100 days of recovery are the hardest.  Right now I'm feeling warm and tired, but otherwise good. It was a busy day, so I'm trying to work up the energy for studying the Bible. I'm going through the psalms of the ascent (120-134) and am now on 126. It is so refreshing to remember who God is and that He is on my side. He is good not only because of what he has done for me, but simply because of who he is. Cancer doesn't win if I die; it wins if I fail to cherish Yahweh with my whole heart. When you pray, please pray that I will cherish the Lord above all else." ~Abrielle Braxton, August 7, 2017 (I bolded the words)


                                    
                                                                        
(Giving)


(Receiving)

                                                             
(Transplant is complete!)


"Day 0 has arrived! Transplant will happen at about 11:15! It's just one small bag (a little anticlimactic), but oh so significant. They will monitor me very closely for a while, taking my vitals every 15 minutes.  I am praying that our Great and Wonderful Mighty Glorious God Yahweh heals me and protects me from the harmful effects of everything I've been through. Regardless of what happens, I will sing His praises forevermore because He is good because of who He is, and whatever it takes my greatest prayer is that He is glorified. I am weak, but He is strong. His strength is shown in my weakness, and His plans are so much greater than anything I could ever imagine. He comforts me always, he guides my path, gives me purpose and joy unending. He has redeemed me, and I am glad! I certainly am not afraid to die, but I greatly hope He has more work for me to do here on earth for a long long time. Where he leads I will follow. My joy is in Him, and He is on my side ready to defend and protect me. They say the next 100 days are the hardest, so I will be heavily depending on God, Joel, my medical team, and the rest of friends and family. I ❤️ you all. Thank you for your love, generous gifts 🎁, donations 💲, words of wisdom, words of encouragement, and most significantly thank you for your prayers 🙏. Please join with us today and every day in praising God Yahweh for hearing our prayers, providing for our needs in common and miraculous ways, for giving us comfort, joy, and peace through all things, and for having a supreme plan. Most of all please continue praising Him even if we don't get what we want. He is so good to me; I love Him so much. 😘" ~Abrielle Braxton, August 17, 2017 (I bolded the words)

The above quotes illustrate Abrielle's hope and faith in Yahweh regardless of the circumstances surrounding her. 

Steve and I got to spend some time with Joel and Abrielle in late October. We spoke about the bone marrow transplant and how amazing it was that within three days of receiving her father's donated bone marrow the blood flowing through her veins were no longer carrying her DNA but her father's  DNA. She joked she could commit a crime and if any blood was left at the scene it would have her father's DNA and he would have to pay the price of the crime! 

What a wondrous real-life example of how Christ died for us and His blood covers us. As believers we are no longer recognised by our sins, we are recognised as sons and daughters of the Most-High God. Jesus's DNA is left at all our crime scenes, he pays the full price for us. And just as it took three days to transform Abrielle's blood DNA from her's to her father's, Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave three days later on that miraculous Easter morning. His work was completed in three days. Another amazing thing is that before Abrielle received her dad's bone marrow she had chemo and radiation to basically zero-out her immune system so that it would be less likely to attack the new blood cells being made. Basically it's like a blood system-wide reboot happened within Abrielle's body. Her blood DNA died out to be reborn with her father's blood DNA. Another example of dying to the old self and being reborn as a new creation in Christ!

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
~ John 3:3

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
~ 2 Corinthians 5:17 

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
~ 1 John 5:4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
~ 1 Peter 1:3

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
~ John 3:6

In the short time that I got to live life with Abrielle and Joel I was deeply encouraged by their commitment to God. They, together, lived a life of full surrender to the Sovereignty of God. It was remarkable to see them weather the storms of life with such poise and grace; digging deeply into obedience and faith.  Joel exemplified a Godly model of a husband. Joel loved Abrielle in sickness and in health. He and Abrielle were one. They were a team. You couldn't be around them for long before understanding that they were truly remarkably unified in love for God, others and each other. Please pray for Joel as he grieves the loss of his best friend and beloved bride.


                                               
                                                    

Abrielle was intentional and kind. I am inspired by her beautiful example. I hope to live a life more deeply surrendered to God. I want to praise Him more and complain to Him less. I hope to learn calligraphy and make artful hand-lettering an expression of how beautiful words can be, both audibly and visually; lifting the spirit and mind. May my words be like Abrielle's - creatively crafted to be elegant, winsome and life-giving. 


                                                      
                                          
                                          





Monday, October 16, 2017

Member Care

Healthy, Resilient, & Effective in Cross-Cultural Ministry by Laura Mae Gardner is the latest book I've been reading, highlighting, and bookmarking. This book calls itself, "a comprehensive member care plan." As I am the Member Care Coordinator for MAG, Missionary Air Group, it makes sense I am carefully engaged within the pages.

What is member care? I'm so glad you asked! I will quote the sample job description from Gardner's book, "to prepare, equip, strengthen and empower our staff for effective life and service within our organization... and beyond!" Sometimes I've described member care as the soft skills required for effect international workers. In MAG's case we specialise in aviation that primarily supports medical missions in Guatemala, Honduras and Gabon.

The technical skills of the job are obvious, you must know how to fly a plane and maintain it. As an international worker you likely will need to learn another language and culture. Those hard skills are
clearly necessary to succeed in being a pilot deployed to a field program with MAG. However it's the soft skills side of the job I am most heavily involved with developing for our organization.

Soft skill sets are vital for effective international workers. Those soft skills are mostly encompassed within an individual's spiritual, physical, emotional and relational health. In order to be on mission with God one must maintain spiritual health, often far from heart-language church services and discipleship. This requires a dependency upon the Holy Spirit and a deep understanding one's identity in Christ.

Some of the emotional and relational health markers are hardiness, resiliency, life-long learning, self-awareness and getting along well with others. Such things don't come so easily to us human beings especially under the cumulative weight of living cross-culturally.

As member care coordinator I am building avenues through which our members can develop, maintain and grow along the way. That means I am heavy on networking with like-minded organizations. MAG is a fairly young organization so we are thrilled to get to join in and share resources with others. I have had the honor to join JAARS staff in their Intercultural Communication Course, ICC, which is a four plus week intensive training course for new international workers. Our MAG members are able to get excellent training through this program.

As I continue to develop member care for MAG I am continually researching how other mission sending organizations equip and train their staff. It is a big job but one I am passionate about. There are many other aspects of my job I am still in development of such as screening of new members, resourcing counseling, debriefing and writing policies and procedures to ensure consistent care standards.

Please pray for me as I do not have a strong gift of administration. Writing of policies and procedures is slow going for me. The things that have taken up most of my time in this first year has been directly connecting and caring for our missionaries.

All this to say my job has stretched me greatly. I am on a high learning curve and at times feel very out of my depths. When those times happen I push into God and reach out to other more experienced professionals. I am greatly blessed to work with a wonderful headquarter staff here in North Carolina. I have been on field visits to Guatemala and Honduras to get to know and connect with our international staff. As we move forward pray we stay in step with Christ and boldly push into hard places with great love and compassion.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Traveling Chucks

 A few weeks ago I was able to join some dear friends to pause life a bit and linger together. We talked about all kinds of things but what truly anchors us is not our classic canvas chucks but our shared striving after a Spirit-led life. 


Leanne's Prius carried us miles stretched across smooth ribbons of road. In the air conditioned hybrid we found our conversation drawn to the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5-7 The Message (MSG)

You’re Blessed
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.


These words both trouble and comfort. 

The Traveling Chucks has been a gift. These remarkable women I get to adventure with have inspired and encouraged me on a soul-level. From our first trip days after I took our two oldest children to boarding school a country away on a foreign continent in 2010, to this last trip in 2017 God has shown up. He spoils us by showing us the wonder of this planet and the joy of traveling together. We've been on land and sea, near and far. We've seen elephants, hippos, and african grey parrots in the wild. We've even rescued a sea turtle much to the chagrin of a Gabonese fisherman. God is the author of adventure and friendship. He knits us together in this great big life. A life fraught with heartache and loss as well as love and purpose. 



The Sermon on the Mount is a clear call us to live out His Kingdom culture. His Kingdom culture is vastly different from the cultures of this planet. It's a tall order and one that can not be fleshed out in my strength alone. I need His Spirit and fellow adventures to inspire and encourage me along the way. Honestly everyday I have to fight against the culture of this world that values self and comfort and puzzles over such sentiments of being less in order to be filled more with God. I can be so easily swayed by HGtv and entertain thoughts that pop-corn ceilings are evil and granite counter tops are the answer to the all that ails. 

Thank you fellow Traveling Chucks:

Leanne Barnard
Hannah Trosen
Lisa Marie Mangang
Stephanie Meckley (Bean)
Quinn McGarvey
Renee Valach
Robin Roark Frey
Wendy Coons
Megan Straw 
Barbara Staudenmaier
Olivia Blase

And thank you to the many, too numerous to count, that have sojourned with me in this life. Our feet are not just shod with classic canvas converse shoes but vastly more importantly, "with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15).