Friday, August 31, 2012

Chapter 6: The Valley of the Shadow of Death

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
The title of this chapter is making me laugh because I’m totally talking about high school.  It sounds so dramatic to call it that, but seriously… high school sucks.  For the most part.  I think 9th grade would qualify as the worst year of my life.  My sister and I were 4 years apart in school, so she left for college as soon as I started high school.  I didn’t realize that she was such a huge part of my comfort zone.  When she left, it broke my heart.  I was really lonely without her there, and this is how I felt on my first day of school.  My school was huge, and I instantly felt lost.  Some of my friends were there, but I hardly ever saw them due to the amount of people and classes.  I also decided to quit band so I could focus on ballet, so I never saw those friends after that.  And for some reason, my 9th grade classes were impossibly hard.  I always made good grades, but now my grades were suffering.  Each day felt like a fight for survival.  My lunch period was straight out of a high school movie where I literally tried to hide to get away from the mean kids.  I just wanted to melt into the walls and disappear. 
At that time, I had a pet parakeet.  I’d had him for about 4 years and trained him to talk and do tricks.  Seriously, coolest bird ever.  I started noticing that my parents were having some trouble, so between that and school, this little guy was becoming the bright spot in most of my dark days that first semester.  Then on Christmas Eve, after being sick for a couple of weeks, he died.  This was the lowest point I had reached thus far in my life.  I felt like I had no one, no joy, no purpose for living.  I don’t remember much about that Christmas or the couple days after.  Then my birthday came, and two of my best friends came over to celebrate with me.  They just sat there with me and were just, well, there.  I don’t think they ever knew how much that meant.  
I felt like I  finally started to wake up that day.  The light at the end of the tunnel began to shine as I've learned it always does after a low point like that.  The next semester I met one of my best friends who began to go to church with me and actually found and helped me rescue a kitten, who became my next pet:)  It seems like things gradually went up hill from there.  High school was still hard, but I began to develop an amazing group of life-long friends. 
I also began to find my place in ballet and became more and more involved at my dance studio. 
But most importantly, I began to really pursue a future in missions…

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chapter 5: Growing Up

I think of Kindergarten through 3rd grade as the time when I developed my comfort zone.  I was at the catholic school, my family had found a great church in town with lots of activities for kids, I had fun friends, ballet, t-bat, piano and horse-back riding lessons, beach trips in the summer, etc.  I can’t think of a single bad thing during those years.  Then in 4th grade, I transferred out of the catholic school and into the public school system.  This was the first time I was taken out of my comfort zone.  New kids in a new and very large school… I quickly learned what it meant to lean on the Lord for comfort and to pray continually throughout the day.  When I would get nervous and feel like I needed a friend, I would pray.  I grew up a lot that year.  I grew up even more the next year with my second major surgery.  I’ll never forget it.  I had come home from school with a really bad stomach ache, and then that pain made the dreaded move to my lower right side.  I woke up that night from a nightmare screaming in pain, so we rushed to the emergency room.  It was crazy because it was my mom’s second trip to the ER that night.  My sister had just come home from the beach with a horribly bad sunburn that ended up needing medical attention, so Momma had just come home from the ER when I woke up.  It turns out that I had appendicitis, and my appendix had ruptured.  They did surgery within the hour.  I was in the hospital for a week and went home to recover for another week.  This was the first trial of my young life, and it taught me to cherish the “comfort zone” times.

7th grade started a bitter-sweet time in my life.  The bitter part involved school.  Y'all know what it's like.  I was surprised and slightly shocked when I saw my friends start to separate into different groups based on popularity, and I lost some of my childhood friends.  I was not popular and felt like I got made fun of for everything; clothes, hair, that I was in band, etc.  But mixed in with all of that bitter was a lot of sweet.  This is the year that some of my life-long friends began to surface; friends that would become my best friends in high school.  The Lord also began to build up a passion in my heart towards the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20.  There was a family at our church who had been missionaries in Malawi.  I got to know them, heard them speak several times, and saw the most amazing pictures I’d ever seen.  I became absolutely fascinated with Africa and began to dream about going there one day.  In 8th grade I had my first opportunity to go on a missions trip.  We went to Cherokee, North Carolina and did outreach and construction on the reservation.  By the time we left, I was absolutely passionate about missions and knew that I would do everything I could to end up as a missionary in Africa.  But first, I had to survive high school…

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chapter 4: Testimony

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:14-15
When we moved to Valdosta, my mom became friends with a couple of women who invited her to a bible study.  We began reading bible stories at night, praying together, I went to preschool at a small church in town, and then ultimately enrolled at the local catholic school for kindergarten.  The Lord began softening my heart towards Him.  I remember beginning to feel conviction of my sin and an intense compassion towards others who were hurt or sad.  We had regular mass at school where we would file into the beautiful cathedral-like church, learn songs about Jesus, and have a short talk from the priest.  I clearly remember walking into mass one day and sitting at the end of one of the pews with plush red seat cushioning.  The priest stood and made his way to the front to begin his talk for the morning.  I remember watching the “eternal flame” candle flicker in the dimly lit sanctuary.  The priest told us the story of Jesus’ death that day.  It was familiar to me; how he willingly walked his cross to where he knew he would die because He loved us so much that He would offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, so that we can have eternal life.  I knew this history from the Bible; had heard it countless times.  But this time, the priest went on to say, “If you love Jesus and want to accept His offer of salvation, you need to ask Him to forgive you of your sins and come into your heart and life forever.”  I might have heard these words before, but they had never made sense like they did that day.  I was surprised to hear this and immediately knelt down on the soft cushion below my seat.  I remembering praying to Jesus, apologizing that I didn’t know I needed to ask Him into my heart.  I asked Him right there to forgive me and come into my heart forever.  It’s hard to put into words what happened after this.  As I slowly followed the line of kids out of the church, I felt the Holy Spirit enter my heart.  It was a warm, powerful, peaceful presence that strongly settled over me and then into my chest.  I had no words, no thoughts, just an overwhelming sense of quiet.  That’s the best way I can describe it from my 6 year old memory.  I don’t think I said a single word for the rest of the day.  In the months that followed, I remember asking the Lord into my heart a few more times just to make sure it worked;)  But I never and have never truly doubted Jesus, the truth of the Bible, my faith or salvation because of how profound and real that moment was.  I’ve had to turn to the memory of that moment more times than I’d like to admit for assurance, especially as I traveled the world and met so many wonderful people of other faiths.  But because the Lord graciously blessed me with something as real as that, I was able to make it through those times of doubt.  And when my world was rocked to the core.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chapter 3: Hey y'all!

Now as a three year old, I didn’t talk very much.  My mom was a little puzzled back in Germany of why I wasn’t talking like I should.  I seemed to understand everything, both English and German, but I didn’t say much.  She laughs about it now.  Apparently when we arrived from Germany to the New York airport, I was holding her hand as we got off the plane and started walking through the crowded halls.  I stopped dead in my tracks, gripped her hand and declared “Momma, they speak English!”  My mom says she hasn’t been able to get me to stop talking ever since;)  Years later when I lived once again in a non-English speaking country, I realized that not talking and just observing people is the way I learn another language.  More on that later.  We arrived in the small city of Valdosta, GA and shortly thereafter found our new house.  It backs up to the forest and behind that the swamp, so we had an enormous playground and backyard to explore.  There were tons of neighborhood kids our age, and I have countless memories of playing hide and seek, riding big wheels, and running after the ice cream truck with a whole group of little friends.  My mom started realizing that I was beginning to pick up the local accent when I came home from pre-school one day and showed her my drawing of what I called my “hayouse”.  She said, “You mean your house.”  I innocently responded, “No m’aam, my teacher said it’s my hayouse!”  It was just downhill from there.  It’s in my blood now.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever completely lose it even though it’s been years since I’ve lived down there.  It really comes out when I'm tired, had a glass of wine, or after watching Steel Magnolias;) Anyways, it was around this time that my parents enrolled me in ballet lessons.  Apparently I was beginning to walk pigeon-toed, so they wanted to nip that in the bud.  This started my passion and career in the ballet world.  This also marked a significant time where my mom met a group of women that would help change our lives forever…

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chapter 2: Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

My dad was stationed at a base just outside of the cutest little German town you’ve ever seen. 
We lived there for three years on the bottom floor of an apartment complex with a great little backyard.  One of my earliest memories is standing at our sliding glass door to the backyard, staring out at snow that was way over my head.  We made some lifelong friends over there, two families in particular.  An older German couple adopted our family and another military family who also had two girls about our ages.  They became like grandparents to all of us. 
Herbert passed away last year, but Maria still lives in their beautiful little German home with the garden and bee hives in the back yard.  Now while in Germany, our family traveled all over the place.  I have no memory at all of our travels, so I grew up with this curiosity to revisit all of the places we went.  But more on that later.  After three years of European life, my dad received orders again to transfer.  Little did I know that we would be moving to the place that I would forever call home.  We were going back to the States and moving to a place flowing with sweet tea and peaches.  We were on our way to South Georgia!

My Story

Introduction: The other day I was speaking with Hank’s Grandma Ruth, and she mentioned a very significant time in my life that she knew nothing about.  This got me to thinking about how a lot of my family (now that I’m married) do not know much about my testimony.  This inspired me to use this blog to tell my story.  This is dedicated to Grandma RuthJ

Chapter 1:  Welcome to the world!  Here's your passport.
One warm afternoon in Texas, I was born into a family of three.  My dad was active duty military, a hero who fought in Vietnam, who looked like he could be straight out of the Beetles.  Appropriate seeing that one of their songs inspired my name.  One of my earliest memories involves my parents singing “Michelle, ma belle” to me when I was going to sleep. 
My mom was a beautiful professional modern dancer, model, and an Arizona native whose adventures had taken her all over Europe. 
My sister was the picture perfect of Strawberry Shortcake, with the cutest red hair and freckles that you’ve ever seen.  My favorite picture in the whole world is of her face when she saw me for the first time on the day I was born. 
So I made us the family of four.  My dad had received orders for a transfer when the doctors found a problem with one of my kidneys.  Our move was postponed while they ran tests and ultimately did surgery when I was about 5 months old, resulting in a big scar on my side today.  It was around Cinco de Mayo because my mom remembers a big celebration going on outside the hospital when I was recovering.  Shortly after, we received the transfer orders again.  We were moving to Germany.