For any of you who have followed my blog from its early days, you’ll remember that it used to be called “Cooking Up Reciprocity” and was where I shared my adventures as a volunteer intern in the Philippines with PEER Servants/CCT, and where I played the role of “Elsa” for every Filipino child who laid eyes on me and immediately asked me to sing “Let it Go” (which I promptly had to learn!) One of the core principals of PEER Servants is the concept of reciprocity…that as we give of ourselves…our time, our talents, our friendship, our resources…that those we are giving to in turn become just as much, if not more, of a blessing to us. This was true in my experiences every day in the Philippines…I shared many of those stories…and its still bearing fruit through friends I met there who are still close to my heart today.
I’ve been a volunteer with PEER Servants since I was living in Boston in 2012, and being part of this global family has enriched my life in indescribable ways. And this next story is one I couldn’t wait to share with you! As most of you know, I had to leave my home in Florida quite suddenly the end of May when my health issues became so severe that I could not longer work or live alone, and I went to stay with my parents in Massachusetts to be near the laundry list of specialists I needed to see, and so they could help care for me. It took 5 months and a team of specialists in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland, Florida and California to finally diagnose the rare and complex issues I’m dealing with, and to put together a treatment plan. The first of which was a tethered spinal cord release surgery in Providence on Nov 17. I had a one week window of time in October between my pre-surgical clearance appointment in Massachusetts and my pre-operative appointment in Providence, and I flew back home to Florida for the first time since leaving in May, to get some winter clothes, tend to some things at my house (that my sister was so faithfully taking care of), and spend some precious time with my family there. The whole trip happened so quickly and last minute that no one knew I was in Florida besides my immediate family.
I arrived in Tampa, greeted by my sister and niece with flowers and hugs and kisses. And then the eerie stillness of my home…everything just as I left it, longing to be lived in once again, yet my knowing that it would still be several months until I’d be back home for good. I never told anyone this wish, but ever since I had to go stay with my parents, I’d wished that someone who needed a place to stay could use my home. The day I arrived in Tampa, my friend Leslie, who is the volunteer director for PEER Servants, got an email from her friend Kate, a fellow volunteer in Haiti, who has 2 young children, Samuel and Esther, and was looking to leave Haiti until the escalating situation there was under control. She was looking for a place in Florida to stay for the next few months…
I woke up that first morning back home in my cozy bed, so happy to be home, yet with great angst over having to leave again. I opened my inbox and read my daily Denison Forum email in which he urged us Christians to pray for boldness and went on to talk about the ways in which God was emboldening believers all over the world to be a light and a blessing to those around them. He closed by saying, “If we will ask God for the courage to stand for biblical truth and serve with biblical compassion, he will answer our prayer. Then, whether the world knows our name or not, God will use us for his eternal purposes.”
In that moment I prayed for boldness, that God would use me however He wanted, and that I would not get in the way of His plans! I went back to my inbox and there was an email from Leslie, who knew about my situation because she’s been praying for my health and following my journey for quite some time, thus thinking I was up in Massachusetts, and she was kindly asking if by chance I’d want to lend my home to this family, or if I knew of another place in Florida they might be able to stay. I yelled out “YES” so loudly my neighbors could have heard! I couldn’t believe what I was reading…the answer to a silent prayer that had been on my heart for so long, that was also the very real answer to a prayer prayed in faith by this family as they feared for their safety and well-being. Once again…El Roi, the God who sees me…was showing His love, omniscience and presence in a remarkable and real way.
What followed was a flurry of emails and Whats App messages of introductions and shared joy and awe at God’s loving kindness and provision. And as I went to work unpacking and repacking and getting my house in order for this precious family to come and live, I had a whole new purpose for being there for that quick trip I squeezed in between doctors appointments. I felt my house come to life…in the same way it does when I’m entertaining friends or hosting family, and in the same way I’ve always imagined it would if I had a family of my own. Rather than leaving an empty home, I was welcoming new friends to come and make it their own. I pictured them stringing up Christmas lights and baking Christmas cookies…which the pictures below prove has come true! I’ve always wanted my home to be a place where I could extend hospitality…as modeled by my parents to me. Hospitality is a spiritual gift, meant to uplift others, and we’re admonished that whatever our gifts are…to be generous with them! For after all… “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ James 1:17
God had me be back home at the exact moment I needed to be there, to make up beds and clear out closets, make up lists with WIFI passwords and security codes, and add welcoming touches that I couldn’t have done from afar. In additional to all the preparation, those days were spent in prayer as the situation in Haiti was rapidly deteriorating. Flights to the US were being cancelled and a fuel shortage was, amongst other things, threatening internet connectivity (hence all means of communication.) Kate and her family were trying desperately to make it to Florida safely, while her husband was (and still is) awaiting his visa so he could join them. I flew back up to Massachusetts on a Tuesday afternoon, and Kate and her kids landed in Tampa that same evening! And what a precious blessing they have been to me! Their faith has been both encouraging and admonishing…to keep my eyes fixed on our God, and not on our situation. Our Mountain Mover, our Great Provider. And in the true power of prayer…and what prayer warriors they are! I have been overwhelmed with their outpouring of love for me, their compassion and care as I underwent surgery, and the way they have delighted in my home and in my city. They send me pictures of my neighborhood as the decorations change for each season, of the Christmas tree in Vinoy Park, and the ice skating rink on St Pete Beach. Little things that make me feel like I’m back home. They love using my kitchen…something that of course makes me happy! And they delight in pictures of Spritz from afar (hence the Spritz birthday photo shoot I did for Esther!) And most importantly, they feel safe, they feel loved, they have reliable internet for school…the kids attending on Zoom, and Kate a teacher on Zoom. And they have seen God’s hand as their Good Shepherd in a very real way, and know that He hears and answers our prayers. I have come to love them all and this is a bond and friendship that will last our whole lives!
There’s an acute heaviness in our world lately. The problems around us are so big, I so easily feel helpless and like my prayers can’t even begin to make a difference. Or often when I do pray for our world, I feel deeply conflicted. How can I pray for a place like Haiti, for the 17 missionaries who have been held hostage for over a month now, for those desperately seeking a safe haven, fearing for their life, and then in the same moment pray for my struggles that seem so insignificant and trivial? I so often find myself praying for another person or situation, and then saying to God “if it has to me me or them, heal them God.” But this is God I’m talking to! The God who says, “Come to me, ALL of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
In those moments when I feel insignificant, I think of all the examples of El Roi, the God who sees me…of how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. That God knows the number of hairs on our heads; He knows what’s going on in every fiber of our being. He created the whole world…whole universe…calls out the stars by name, and yet knows mine as well, and cares about the details of my life. And now forever I will think of this story of reciprocity…the story of our God who heard a prayer, prayed by a family in desperation, and who knew the silent prayer of my heart; who met the very real physical needs of this precious family, and yet who spoke to the cares of my heart during a trying season. A simple prayer for boldness…a prayer to be used by God and for a means to serve…was not only heard, but multiplied!
“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the Lord is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalms 34:4-8 NLT
On this Giving Tuesday, I am giving to PEER Servants…towards a well in Kenya that will provide water to the Tuale Village. From PEER’s fundraising page… “Today the Tuale women have to walk 5 miles each way in a very hot climate to access river water that isn’t very clean. It takes the better part of a day to make the trip, and there’s risk of being raped along the way. This is far from the vision God has for the people of Tuale!” If you ever feel insignificant…like your prayers don’t matter, or that nothing you could ever do would have any significant impact…first of all, change that prayer into a prayer for BOLDNESS! Ask God to use you in a way that is significant. And then be prepared to ACT! A gift of $50 is enough to provide clean water to one woman from the Tuale village. Water for one woman who could then use her time more productively than walking 5 miles for water, and most importantly would be safe. How’s that for SIGNIFICANCE?