Thursday, 20 December 2012

Hope Abounding

Merry!  Merry! 

We write to you with warm Christmas greetings and holiday cheer!  It’s hard to believe Christmas is just a few short days away!  Fall morphed into winter with such anonymity, and now here we are, packing our bags for holiday travel.  We are thrilled to be traveling home and look forward to spending time with our friends and family.  My mom told me this morning that Omaha is a Winter Wonderland.  We’re eagerly anticipating the soft falling snow, a crackling fire, steaming hot cocoa and festive celebration!

The next few days will be filled with welcomed chaos—crowded airports, last minute shopping, reunions with family and friends.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle, our prayer is that the true gift of the season will be ever present on our hearts.  This year has taught us so many things.  Living in Kingston has opened our eyes to pain, poverty and struggle like never before.  We’re seeing firsthand how hard life is for so many, and how broken this world seems.  (Sadly, you don’t even have to live in Kingston to experience this sort of paradigm shift.  Our eyes have been glued to the coverage in Newtown this week, and the pain is too great to begin to understand.) 

The amazing thing about Christmas is for one brief moment, our eyes turn from the pain and look to the hope of Jesus Christ.  It should be like this year round, but our vision gets muddled—by life, by loss and by evil we don’t understand.  This week, we’ve been thanking God for the gift of His Son.  This gift brings hope to weary souls, comfort to broken hearts and good out of even the worst atrocities. 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Romans 15:13

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas, full of hope abounding!

With Love,
Kevin & Cass

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Simply Bliss

This blog is for Kevin, the love of my life.  I can’t believe it’s been four years since we said “I DO.”  It feels like it was yesterday…such a cliché thing to say, but still so true.  I remember waking up that morning on a flat air mattress between my sisters, praying it was real and not just a dream.  I remember the pre-wedding flurry, arriving at the church in a frenzy of bridesmaids and hairspray and waterproof mascara.  I remember walking down the aisle to your tear-stained face, never surer of anything in my life.  I was so blissfully happy, so certain that no one in world had a love like ours.  I’m still certain of that today.

They say the wedding is only the beginning—that your love grows stronger with every passing year.  Four years ago, I didn’t think that was possible.  Now I totally get it.  What we had then was just the tip of the iceberg.  I had no idea how wide and long and high and deep and rich and safe and fun and exciting our love would be.  Simply put, you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. 

I’m just so thankful for you, so abundantly grateful that I get to be your wife.  You still put a smile on my face every time you come in the front door.  I still go to bed every night feeling like the luckiest girl in the world, to be lying next to you.  I just can’t believe I get to do life with you.  I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again and again:  You are the funniest person I know and you make everyday a hilarious adventure.  Even the mundane and difficult days are better by your side—still mundane and still difficult, but so much more bearable together. 

You have the most gracious heart of anyone I know.  You forgive so quickly, almost effortlessly (as it should be, but so often isn’t).  When I morph into the rotten & selfish me (the me that would be if Christ hadn’t come to my rescue) you have a way of loving me back, of smothering me with mercy and patience and kisses until I can’t see anything but God’s love and your love.  Your heart is a bottomless cup of forgiveness.  You’re such a tangible expression of Jesus in that way.

The past four years have been the best years of my life.  Not only are you my Carmex holder, kitchen dance partner, cockroach killer and coffee maker, you are my favorite companion, biggest advocate, and greatest treasure.  

I am eternally grateful to the Great Matchmaker for giving me you. 

Happy Anniversary!  I love you!


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Little House in the Jungle

Sweet dreams sans mosquitoes! 

Nel & Kevin

Hi Family and Friends!

Kevin and I had a weekend adventure on the north coast of Jamaica.  A good friend of ours, whom we met shortly after arriving in Kingston, operates a kids’ camp and retreat center in the hills of St. Ann—a lush mountainous parish on the ocean.  We spent the weekend at camp, enjoying the beauty and helping with some work projects around the property.

It was a throwback to the Good Old Days for sure.  We sat on the porch and listened to an orchestra of tropical insects, their chirping and buzzing creating a masterpiece we’d never before noticed or appreciated.  We snuggled under our mosquito net and listened to the rhythm of the pouring rain, rarely silent or still enough to enjoy its soothing presence.  We ate fresh guava, ackee, and avocado pear and picked lemongrass straight from the garden for afternoon tea.  I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s cousin, with less farmland and more lizards—Little House in the Jungle, maybe?

One of the most encouraging parts of the weekend was our friend, Nel.  Nel is a nurse from the Netherlands, who has lived in Jamaica for close to forty years.  She came in her twenties and has devoted her life to serving the people and the country of Jamaica, which she now considers home.  I've never met another person with the purity of heart as Nel.  She lives simply.  She has few earthly possessions.  Whatever she has she shares willingly.  She doesn't want for much and she doesn't envy others who have more.  She trusts fully in God’s provision. 

One of Nel’s greatest qualities (which I’m striving for in my own life):  Nel believes that whatever she collects on earth won’t go with her when she dies, and she lives her life accordingly.  We all believe this conceptually—we realize we can’t pack a suitcase for heaven.  Unfortunately, most of us (me included) live as though we’ll be able to call the movers on our deathbed and give them the forwarding address.  We focus on obtaining more; on collecting earthly treasures because we think they’ll make us happier.  We scurry to keep up with the Joneses, thinking a bigger house or newer car will fill the void in our souls…only to find we’re just as unfulfilled in the bigger house, but with more rooms to clean. 

Nel doesn’t have many earthly treasures, but when she gets to heaven, she’ll be one of the richest ones there.  Our time in Jamaica is teaching me so much:  That more stuff does not produce more joy.  That less can be more.  That a simple life is a refreshingly satisfying one.  That a generous heart produces a fulfilled spirit.  And that treasures in heaven are the ones worth collecting.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
Matthew 5: 8

With Love,
Kevin & Cass

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

To Emma With Love

Dear Emma,

Happy Birthday Mi Amor!  Do you remember what that means?  I taught it to you a few weeks ago, when we were together for Labor Day.  It means “My Love.”  This is a fitting nickname for you, Mi Amor.  You are my love, and the love of so many more.

Today is your Sweet Sixteen.  Can you believe it?  I met you when you were eleven.  You welcomed me with open arms.  I was so nervous to meet Kevin’s family and so worried I wouldn’t impress.  But you accepted me from the start.  Before you even met me, you loved me…I think maybe because Kevin loved me, and somehow you seemed to get that.

This is one of your most endearing qualities, Mi Amor.  The way you love from the heart.  You love people for who they are, not what they do, or what they wear or how they look.  These things of the world don’t matter to you.  I wish we could all be more like you in that regard:  We place so much value on passing worldly whims, which are here today and gone tomorrow.  I wish we savored the important things, as you do.  I wish we loved more freely, without expectation or judgment or fear, as you do.

You are a beauty, Mi Amor, in the truest sense of the word.  Your childlike faith and purity of heart radiate a loveliness that few contain.  All the money in the world couldn’t buy these qualities.  I hope you know how beautiful you are, such a rare and precious jewel.

Thank you for teaching me so much about life, about priorities, about eternal perspective.  We don’t know what the future holds for you, but then again, we don’t know what the future holds for any of us.  God knit you together in your mother’s womb, did you know that?  He knows every hair on your head.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and God has a great plan for your life.  I’m just so thankful that a part of His plan for you included me.  I can’t imagine my life without you.

I love you, Mi Amor.  Have a Happy Birthday!


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Ruffled Feathers and whatnot

Hi Family and Friends!

It’s hard to believe we’re approaching our first-year anniversary of our move to Jamaica.  Time has certainly flown by!  Here’s a peek into some of our morning coffee conversation, as we reflect on the ways the past year has changed us: 

Life in a third world country has grown us into more adaptable people.  We’re reevaluating our wants and needs, and understanding what a difference a culture makes between the two.   For example, I want a second vehicle.  When I lived in Houston, it was a need.  I needed a car…to get to work, to run errands, to be independent of my dear husband and not have to worry about coordinating his schedule with my own.  Now, I realize that a second vehicle does not qualify as a need in most of the world.  Kevin and I share a car.  And we are surviving (gasp!)   We could have survived in Houston.  We would have adapted and figured out how to make it work.  I venture to say that most Americans—particularly our generation – aren’t keen on adapting.  Especially if it means any sort of inconvenience or personal sacrifice.

If anything, the past year has taught us to adapt—to make the most of whatever situation comes our way, even if it’s less than optimal.  We’re realizing how most of our problems are “first world problems.”  We grew up in a high functioning, progressive, first world country where all our needs (and most of our wants) were abundantly met.  Most Jamaicans are not so lucky.  The country is poor, the government corrupt, the economy tanked, and the future bleak.  Yet the people adapt.  They find ways to survive.  They make the most with what they’ve got.  And they take care of each other along the way. 

We have learned a lot from them.  When we count our blessings, the list is twice as long.  So many things we used to need are now merely wants.  So when they appear, we’re so much more aware and so much more grateful.  And when they disappear, for a brief moment or an indefinite period, we adapt and forge ahead.  The list ranges from big to small:  Equal opportunity without regard to race, law-abiding citizens, honest policemen, punctual airport transportation, hot water, air conditioning, fat free creamer, a good steak…all things we’re thankful for, but no longer expect.  Perhaps it’s a matter of reevaluating expectation.  We hope the process is making us more grateful, more patient, more flexible people.

Not that it’s always easy!  But, it’s easier than it was nine months ago.  And I happily pour an ample amount of fat-filled creamer into my coffee each morning, knowing fat free creamer is a first world problem.  All in all, my feathers aren’t as ruffled as they used to be.  I suppose that’s progress, because ruffled feathers do nothing for the body, mind or soul.

With love,
Kevin and Cass

Sunday, 12 August 2012

His Heart Goes Out to Us

August announced itself with gusto in the Murphy household.  We returned from Alaska and settled into a semi-normal routine, only to pack our bags and head out again for another week’s travel.  Kevin had business in St. Thomas and San Juan, and thanks to an airline voucher I received a month prior, I joined him for the trip.  We arrived home Thursday with enough time to do a load of laundry and catch a few hours of sleep before Kevin flew out again to Texas, to serve as a groomsman in his best friend’s wedding.  I’m starting to accept the fact that “normal routine” may not be part of this season for us.  An exciting realization on one hand, as there aren’t many times in life you have the opportunities we have here.  On the other hand, the flexibility required to navigate a season like this has been a character builder for a girl who loves the simplicity and predictability of routine! 

Because international flights aren’t exactly budget-friendly, Kevin attended the wedding alone and I stayed in Kingston.  I’ve been home alone all weekend, thoroughly enjoying the silence and lack of agenda.  Silence breeds reflection, and I’ve spent the last two days doing a lot of reading, journaling, thinking and praying.  To be honest, there have been several bumps in our personal lives the past few months that I wanted to hash out with God—grief that’s hit too close to home, ailing loved ones, trying relationships that we never anticipated would be trying.  The simple reality of living in a fallen world and doing life as an imperfect person with other imperfect people can be exhausting.

I was reading my Bible yesterday morning, seeking solace for an overwhelmed heart, when I came across a story that brought great encouragement.  The story is short—just a few paragraphs long told only once in the Bible.  Jesus and his disciples are entering a town called Nain.  As Jesus approaches the town gates, a funeral procession is going out.  The only son of a widow had died, which is basically a death sentence for the widow herself.  Her son was her last means of support, and with him gone, the widow is penniless and alone—a bleak and hopeless future.  The commentary says she would likely be reduced to begging for food.

Luke tells us that when Jesus saw the widow, “His heart went out to her.”  He saw her pain, was filled with compassion and responded.  He touched the coffin, commanded the dead son to get up, and the man sat up and began talking!  (Can you imagine the widow?  In my mind she surely faints.  I’d want to be the one with the smelling salts and witness the look on her face as she realized her son was alive.  Unspeakable joy no doubt.)

I love that Luke tells us nothing of the widow’s spiritual condition.  We don’t know if she was a spiritually devout woman.  We don’t know if she spent hours in prayer, or gave lots of time and money to serving God.  We don’t even know if she believed in Jesus.  For all we know, she was a mean, selfish woman who deserved a hopeless future.  It wasn’t any merits earned by the widow that caused Jesus to respond.  It was the compassion in His heart.    

“His heart went out to her.”  This statement is so beautiful to me.  I picture Jesus taking His heart—full of endless mercy, compassion and love—and handing it the widow.  He turns her tragedy into triumph and her tears of sorrow into tears of joy.  As I read the story, I realized that Jesus does the same for us.  Whatever our circumstances, whatever our pain, His heart goes out to us.  He doesn’t respond with apathy or harsh judgment.  He doesn’t leave us to figure it out on our own.  He responds with compassion and the power to rescue.

God’s heart goes out to us.  Even if our lives our amuck and we’ve played a part in the mess we’re in (as we likely have).  Even if our pain is great and our faith is small. Even if we haven’t prayed for months or more.  Even if we’re not even sure what we think about God.  His heart goes out to us.  What great encouragement for whatever your story and wherever you are.

With love,

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Jamaica to Juneau

Glacier Bay
Home of 1,375 square miles of glaciers!

Hi Family and Friends!

July has been a crazy month in the Murphy household!  We were blessed to go on a Bucket List adventure: An Alaskan cruise!  Earlier in the year we sat at our kitchen counter and started our Bucket List — something we often talked about but never actually put on paper.  Under “Run a marathon” and “Become fluent in another language” was “Alaskan cruise”.  We had no idea this dream would be fulfilled so soon!

We went with my family the first week of July.  Although cliché, we truly created memories that will last a lifetime.  Never before had Kevin or I experienced beauty in such pure form.  The mountains, glaciers and glassy waters of Alaska made me wonder if heaven might be similar (although hopefully a few degrees warmer!)  The Bible tells us that God’s creation reveals His greatness, and it seemed as though all of Alaska was celebrating God.  The exploding sunsets, jumping whales, curious sea lions and unconquered mountains all seemed to be shouting, “God is magnificent!”  It’s like they were bursting to tell the world of God’s glory.

The trip was the first time in a long time Kevin and I were totally disconnected.  No phone service, no internet, no text messages, no conference calls.  It made me long for simpler days, before e-mail synced with cell phones, when cell phones themselves were a foreign idea, reserved only for the rich and famous.  It was good therapy, and something I think everyone should do at least yearly: Disconnect entirely.  Eat meals and actually converse with the people you’re with, without texting or playing Words with Friends under the table.  Surround yourself with nature—without your iPhone, without Facebook, without ESPN or the Bachelorette or whatever it may be for you.  Reflect on your life and the things you’re grateful for.  Enjoy the moment.  Sit in silence.  Stop planning the next thing.  I think we’ve forgotten how to do this.  And unfortunately, it’s our relationships and our own personal sanity that are suffering.

We’re back in Kingston.  Life picked up where it left off, in such a flourish it’s hard to even think straight.  But our souls are refreshed.  And we’re awestruck by God’s creation and declare along with it the glory of our Father.

With Love,
Kevin & Cass

P.S.  I've included a few pictures from the trip below.  Please enjoy!

Cruising through Glacier Bay

Juneau to Kingston: 4000 miles.  Can't believe we made the sign!

Whale watching
(With patience and perseverance we saw over 30 whales!)

Victoria, BC

Monday, 25 June 2012

Unfading Beauty

Kevin and I spent the weekend on the North Coast of Jamaica.  Kevin had a work function and I went along for the oceanfront view and beachside piña coladas.  We stayed at the Ritz, wined and dined on escargot and other unknown delicacies (you know you’re someplace fancy when you can’t pronounce what you’re eating) and brushed shoulders with some of the biggest names in the Caribbean tourism industry. 

On Saturday night we attended a gala.  Kevin wore his three piece suit from our wedding; complete with handmade cufflinks made out of shoe string, as he forgot his actual cufflinks in Kingston (The ingenuity of that boy still surprises me).  I wore high heels for the first time in years (literally).  I am not a high heel girl…I wore slippers on my wedding day; if that gives you any insight into the priority I place on comfort.  Prior to the gala, I spent an entire day shopping for a comfortable pair of heels, and quickly realized this was an oxymoron.  My feet are still recovering.

The gala was hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.  They were celebrating fifty years since their inception, and honored the lives that had led and influenced along the way.  The Association’s first president opened the evening.  He was an old man — I’d guess in his late eighties.  His hair was white, his fingers arthritic, and his skin like a prune.  When it became obvious he couldn’t climb the two stairs leading up to the stage on his own, people rushed to his aid and quite literally lifted him up and positioned him in front of the podium.  He was surprisingly articulate and verbose, and his eyes lit up as he relived his golden years.  The sad part was…nobody really cared.  As his speech dragged on far over his allotted time, people simply stopped listening.  There was a low rumble in the crowd, as guests carried on private conversations at their dinner tables, oblivious to this former president’s attempt to prove he had once been someone worth listening to.

As I sat in my chair, wondering if this man realized his years of power and prestige were a thing of the past; I felt a common thread between him and all mankind:  We’re all in the process of fading away.  We may be in different chapters, but the book ends the same for everyone.  And the closer we get to the end, the more we realize how short the book is and how fast the time’s gone.   

One day (sooner than we think) we’ll all be in the final chapter.  Our beauty will fade.  Our strength will fade.  Our power will fade.  Sitting at the gala, I felt an urgency to live for something that will not fade.  To spend my time and energy investing in things that will outlast this life:  A gentle spirit, a kind heart, a generous soul.  I want unfading beauty.  I want treasures that will last forever. 

It’s something I’m working on—or rather, God’s working on in me: Striving for beauty in my inner self, and investing in treasures that can’t be destroyed.  It’s a challenging lesson to master, especially in a culture that embraces the external.  Though beauty and power are fleeting, they are still alluring, and it takes boldness and great faith to resist the world’s charms. 

So here is a toast to the courageous among us who pursue unfading beauty and fix their eyes on unseen treasures they may never receive on this earth.  May I be counted among them.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6: 19-21

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Rescue Mission

Not long ago, Kevin and I were running at the Mona Reservoir, a large lake-like body of water, surrounded by mountains and lush vegetation — a touch of calm in the chaos of Kingston.  In our effort to “shape up” we run a few laps around the reservoir several times a week.  We usually go early — between five and six in the morning — to beat the Jamaican heat and get it out of the way.  (Let’s be honest, no matter how much of a runner you may be, it always feels good to check it off your list for the day!)

This particular morning, we’d been running just a few minutes when movement caught Kevin’s eye.  Stumbling across our path was a panic-stricken bird.  It was covered in thorns, and appeared to have flown into some sort of cocklebur bush.  The bird kept trying to walk, trying to fly and was unsuccessful at both.  Sheathed in thorns, it couldn’t take a step without falling.  This only made matters worse, as every fall further embedded the thorns in its little body.

Kevin and I are both fierce animal lovers.  Every house we live in comes with a stray cat, which we pseudo-adopt, feed, and introduce to the human world.  Living in Jamaica, we have lizards, spiders and roaches galore, but even in my fear I can’t kill them.  Instead of a destiny swirling down the toilet, most are captured and freed by my courageous husband (while I cheer on from the dining room tabletop). 

All that to say, when we saw this little bird’s dilemma, we both melted.  We followed it around a few minutes, trying to devise a rescue mission that wouldn’t involve missing fingers or transmission of the bird flu.  Every few minutes we would timidly snatch away a thorny branch, only to be snapped and squawked at.  We were beginning to feel like the situation was hopeless — that the bird was destined to be the afternoon snack of a badger or snake— when two more animal lovers came walking our way.  These folks were brave.  The man gently picked up the bird, the woman held his beak shut with two fingers, and Kevin and I laboriously picked out all the thorns.  It took at least half an hour, and as we worked the bird went from flailing and fighting to resting calmly in the man’s hands, as if he knew we were trying to help.  When the little bird was finally free, the man set him on the path, and we all watched like proud parents as he took a few steps and flew away. 

As we finished our morning run, I couldn’t help thinking how often we act like that little bird.  We are encased in thorns — the worries that overwhelm us, the burdens that crush us, the sins that entangle us, the lies that blind us.  We desperately try and escape.  We’re determined to figure a way out on our own, but the harder we try the more exhausted we become.  All the while, God is right there waiting, ready to pick us up and gently remove our thorns.  He wants to deliver us from a life of worry and fear.  He wants to teach us how to fly.  But so often we resist, driven by fear instead of by faith, relying on ourselves because it’s too terrifying to relinquish control.  If only we would trust in the goodness of our heavenly Father!  Yes, it might hurt a little.  The first thorn removed may cause a sting.  It might be an arduous and painstaking process, one that leaves us vulnerable and exposed.  But once we’re soaring free, we’ll realize it was worth it.  The Rescuer made us to fly.

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

Striving to soar,

Kevin & Cass

Monday, 7 May 2012

On NASCAR and Prayers

Downtown Kingston

Greetings and Happy May!  Hope flowers are abloom wherever you are, and that your heart is also blooming in love, joy and celebration of life!

I’d like to describe to you our experience of driving in Jamaica, as it’s a big part of our daily lives here.  I’m not quite sure how to start, as it seems there are no words to accurately express the pandemonium that ensues when we start the engine and hit the streets. 

I’ve decided the best way to convey the experience is to compare it to a video game: Every man for himself, all the odds against you, may the best craziest driver win.  There are a few loose rules.  Traffic lights and stop signs are options for creating order, but the majority of drivers see them as an inconvenience and waste of time.  Obstacles pop out at any given moment:  Bicyclists carrying shovels, bamboo stalks, and other random objects, stray dogs crossing the street on a whim, barefoot children chasing each other, goats, pushcarts and motorcycles are just a few of many hindrances you may encounter en route.  Public transportation exists in the form of large, sluggish buses that have a mind of their own and make frequent, sporadic stops.  If you get behind one of them the game is over for you.  Not only are you stuck for the indefinite future, but the fumes might kill you on the spot.  Drivers believe in using all lanes, regardless of the traffic flow to get to their destination fastest.  The pot holes are more like large lunar craters, and during rainy season you really need an ark in lieu of a car.  It’s a white knuckled, heart racing, close-your-eyes-until we get there experience.

Interestingly, Kevin THRIVES on the roads here.  A little known fact about Kevin is that he’s certain his life’s calling involves being a NASCAR driver.  He’s never actually been in a racecar, but he “feels it in his bones” that given the chance, he’d take NASCAR to new heights.  The Kingston streets only confirm his calling.  He navigates the chaos with the finesse of a feline and views every obstacle as a chance to channel his inner Jeff Gordon. 

Given my husband’s aspirations, it’s no surprise that when we first arrived in Kingston, I was certain we wouldn’t last more than a week without catastrophe.  Every morning when Kevin left for the office, I literally hit my knees in prayer, begging God to protect him and help him make it in one piece.  The situation was so desperate and so beyond my control that praying seemed the only option.

After a few months, I got used to Jamaican driving, and the threat didn’t seem so big.  We were getting along fine, and I was actually driving around town running errands (without having a panic attack).  As I became more comfortable, I started praying less.  I was kissing Kevin good-bye and starting my day, without giving a thought to asking God for protection.  So often comfort leads to complacency, and as the danger diminished, so did my prayers.

Last week I was driving to the golf course to pick Kevin up after an early morning round.  As I was driving, the Holy Spirit so convicted me of my self-reliance and lack of prayers.  I couldn’t think of the last time I had prayed for protection.  I thanked God for protecting us so far on our journey, asked forgiveness for not making prayer a priority, and prayed that He would keep me safe as I drove to get Kevin.  I picked Kevin up and we headed back to house.  As we were driving, out of nowhere a car pulled out in front of us, totally oblivious to our presence.  Because of our speed and the hill we were descending, there was no way to avoid an accident.  I slammed on the breaks and waited for the “crunch.”  I knew both cars were totaled, and my mind was running a million miles a minute, trying to process the hassle, the damage, and the number of probable broken bones.  It seemed to last forever…I kept waiting, and waiting and waiting for the collision.  But it never came.  Our car stopped inches short of the other vehicle.  I’m talking literal inches.  You couldn’t have fit a paper clip between the two bumpers.   

I can’t prove what happened that afternoon, but I believe in my heart God heard my prayer for safety, graced us with protection and miraculously stopped the collision.  In my mind, I see Him watching the scene unfold, reaching His mighty arm down to Shortwood Road, and stopping our car with the strength of His fingertip.  Then He gives us a gentle smile as we close our eyes in thanks, chuckling to Himself as we drive the rest of the way home sending hi fives to heaven.

So often we wonder if prayer really works, and so often we can’t see tangible results to confirm that it does.  But sometimes God gives us such vivid proof that it can’t be denied.  And those moments keep me praying.

“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” 
(Isaiah 59:1)

With Love,
Kevin & Cass

Monday, 30 April 2012

Enduring Hardship

One of the most exciting things about this season is how God is growing our faith in ways that might not have been possible had we never left Houston.  Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is in regards to hardship.  It’s humbling to admit now, but part of me felt like God owed us in this transition — that we had taken a huge leap of faith, so He better not let us down (and that certainly meant hardship would not be involved!)

Initially, I felt God wasn’t doing a very good job holding up His end of the bargain.  It felt like we had leaped, only to be left free falling without a parachute.  Every aspect of life was hard.  We were in total isolation in a foreign city, forced to adapt to the realities and frustrations of life in a third world country.  The people were crazy.  The driving was crazier.  Simple survival was the best we could hope for.  To be honest, I’m not sure what exactly I expected:  A fairytale transition where every Jamaican I met begged me to be their friend?  A city identical to Houston, only nestled in a Caribbean paradise?  A massive migration of the roaches and mosquitoes to another island upon my arrival?

Looking back it seems so silly.  But it was during my quiet time one morning that God taught me a HUGE lesson.  I was frustrated by all the frustrations and wanted answers.  And God, in His abundant mercy, graciously overlooked my faithless, feeble spirit and revealed how He wanted to use this time to grow my faith and mature my perspective.   He led me to the account of the hardships that Apostle Paul encountered during his lifetime of service.  In brief:

Paul was imprisoned, flogged severely, exposed to death again and again, received 40 lashes minus one (It was assumed that 40 lashes would kill someone), beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked three times, spent nights in the open sea, went without sleep, knew hunger, thirst and nakedness as if they were dear friends, was in danger in the city, in the country and at sea—which which basically means everywhere, and the list goes on (see 2 Corinthians 11).

I read these verses and felt an overwhelming sense of conviction: I don’t have a CLUE about hardship.  My measly complaints paled in comparison to Paul’s experiences, and pale in comparison to so many suffering around the world today.  God has been so good—not only in this season, but throughout our entire lives.  He has never, ever failed us.  He promises to use every circumstance, no matter how difficult, painful or disappointing, for our own good (Romans 8:28).  A comforting promise, if we would only believe!

Paul knew great hardship.  But he also knew great contentment.   And he shared his secret with us: Contentment isn’t about your circumstances.  It’s not what you have or have-not.  It’s about the condition of your heart.  It’s choosing to trust no matter what chaos surrounds you.  It’s standing firm in your faith instead of faltering when the going gets rough.  Contentment comes through enduring hardship, whatever that may look like in your life, and choosing faith over fear.  It means believing God’s promise that we can do ALL things through Him who gives us strength (Phil 4:12).

So stand firm, dear friend.  No matter what you’re enduring, know that God is faithful and that He is using your situation for good.  That we can do ALL things (not some things, small things, most things but ALL things) with His great and mighty strength.  Now that’s certainly something to celebrate!  

With Love,

Kevin & Cass

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Feels Like Home

Hi Family and Friends!

As some of you know and many of you don’t, I spent the last six weeks in the United States, visiting family and friends all over the country.  What started as a weeklong trip to North Carolina with my in-laws turned into a whirlwind US Tour.  I’m beyond grateful for the time I was able to spend with loved ones, and owe a HUGE thanks to my understanding, supportive hubby for holding down the fort in Kingston and encouraging me to enjoy the flexibility of this season to visit my nearest and dearest.  I don’t think we’d been apart that long since our long distance dating days, and I’m thankful to once again be sleeping under the same roof as my handsome husband!

During my travels I spent a lot of time pondering the idea of “home”.  I felt very much like a vagabond those six weeks—living out of a suitcase, wearing the same purple T-shirt for days on end, borrowing hair dryers and toothpaste and washing machines, sleeping in five different beds in four different states.  People would say, “You’ve been gone so long!  Are you excited to go home?”  To be honest, I wasn’t sure.  The thought of “going home” invoked a somewhat muddled image in my mind.

I started my trip in Oklahoma, on my grandparents’ farm, one of the closest places to heaven on earth.  Childhood memories of hot dog roasts and Easter egg hunts and summer days at the creek make Oklahoma feel like home as much as any other place.  My Mimi and Pawpaw are two of the people I love most in this world, and our kitchen table conversation, spades tournaments and Burger King lunches have shaped me into who I am today. 

I also spent a few weeks in Omaha, my childhood home.  As a kid, home was the little blue ranch on Hickory Street, with the brick mailbox and herb garden and red front door.  But the house was torn down years ago, and now something bigger and newer stands in its place.  My parents moved during my college years, so the house they now live in has only been my temporary home – a visiting spot for holidays and long weekends.  Initially, I thought this might be strange – that it would be a house but not a home.  But quickly I realized there is more love and joy and laughter in that house that any other place on earth and that creating new memories is equally as wonderful as cherishing old ones.  So now, the orange brick two story with the winding sidewalk and blue-gray front door feels like home.

As I write, I am back in Kingston, thousands of miles away from home.  But Kevin is here.  And God is here.  And with them my heart feels safe and loved and protected and happy.  And although the country is foreign and the culture is different, we’re creating memories and sharing life, and growing into the people God wants us to be, which makes this feel like home as much as any other place.

These past several months, I’ve come to realize that home is not a city or a street or even a house.  It’s the people you love and the people who love you.  It’s the memories you create and carry within your heart.  It's the friends you collect along the way.  Home travels with you, in the part of your soul that makes you who you are.  So no matter where you are or wherever you go, you’re never very far from home.

With Love,

Kevin & Cass

Sunday, 8 April 2012

From Kevin with Love

Hello all!  Greetings from Kingston…..a.k.a “The Rock”, a.k.a “Jamrock”, ak.a. “Kingston-Town”, a.k.a “On the IMF Watch List for Economic Depravity”, a.k.a. “No problem mon”, a.k.a “Lots of problems mon, a.k.a. “Home”…..

I am filling in for my lovely wife who cannot blog this month because she is back in the United States.  I have been able to squeeze some writing time in-between by bachelordom activities of watching ESPN until they start rerunning the programming at midnight, not doing laundry, not keeping the house clean, and definitely not putting the decorative pillows back on the bed in the morning.  No worries though, I normally get back into my married routine a few days before Cass gets back so that there is a seamless transition upon her return.  You always have to play it cool....

Cass: “The house is so clean!”
Me: “Of course it is.  Why are you surprised?  I appreciate a clean house.”
Truth: I had to skip work in order to get this thing in shape before you got home.  I spent 8 hours cleaning up my messes and considered bringing in a Jamaican housemaid for backup on numerous occasions.

Anyway, things in Jamaica have been hectic and a bit taxing over the past four weeks. Work has been crazy and Cass being gone is never fun.  Over the past month, I have been traveling across Jamaica for business.  I’ve been up early and back at home late.  I figure that I might as well take advantage of this time with Cass away to grind away at growing business across Jamaica.  However, I am starting to feel the effects of my schedule, and find myself living in a continual state of being worn out.  Being worn out in a third world country feels different.  My body and soul both suffer.  Navigating the urban chaos of Kingston and enduring the daily grind seem to affect my spirit and my heart.  It takes a lot to get my spirit down, but I have found that a tough week (or day) in Jamaica can do it.  Whether I am dodging the constant potholes and peddlers or spending 45 minutes at the local drive thru to grab a “quick” lunch, some days are just tough.  There have probably been more days here in Jamaica that I have needed a “spirit revival” than I can remember in my whole life in the states. 

Generic Disclaimer: just to be clear…this isn’t a sob story about life in Jamaica.  We have an amazing setup here and have really fallen in love with the island.  We are blessed beyond belief.  I am just referring to the realities of third-world life.

Living in Jamaica, I have a greater awareness of my spiritual self than ever before.  When all your comforts are stripped away and you become a stranger in someone else’s land, you naturally become more in-tune with your spirit.  I think the Lord is really using this season to teach me big lessons.

The fact of the matter is that me being in Jamaica has nothing to do with how much I should be seeking daily “spirit revival”.  Whether you live in Houston, Kingston, Nairobi, or Beijing, we all live in a fallen world.  The daily battles we face as repercussions for our sin-nature can really beat us up.  If we are not careful, our spirit eventually dulls into a vacuum of lukewarm apathy.  The Lord is teaching me that my number one priority each day is to be in-tune with my spirit and His working in it.  If I can be aware of how the Lord is filling me each day, it will spill over into all of my interactions, allowing me to be a shining light in a dark world as opposed to a faint glimmer or no light at all.  Imagine what this world would be like if all believers were truly reviving their spirits on a daily basis….what witnesses we could be!

I have recently come across some verses that have really spoken to be on this issue of revival. 

-          In Isaiah 57, the Lord says the following, “I live in the high and holy places, but also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed, and what I do is put new spirit in them, I get them up and on their feet again…”  This really hit me.  The Lord is saying that no matter what our days have thrown at us, no matter what sin has caused us to stumble, the Lord gives us a renewed spirit.  It does not get more encouraging than that.
-          II Chronicles 16:9 (The Message) says, “God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.”  This is the real action verse for this topic.  Yes, the Lord can provide us with a new spirit, but he seeks those that are sold out for Him.  If we are in a fully committed relationship with the Lord, pursuing Him with all that is in us, THEN we will find Him and our spirit will be renewed.  Sometimes I am guilty of reading Isaiah 57 and then shutting my Bible.  Just because God promises us something, doesn’t mean that we don’t have to act.

I am so thankful that we serve a Lord that actively seeks us and - if we allow Him - can be our constant source of revival in this world.  What hope and victory that brings, ESPECIALLY when the going gets tough.  My prayer is that God will find me on His search for those totally committed to Him, on any day and at any hour.

Thanks for reading.  Cass will be back posting in a week or two.  Until then, the decorative pillows will remain on the floor...


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Gratitude List

The months leading up to our move to Jamaica were difficult ones for me.  Not only were they emotionally taxing, but navigating the waters of an international move, ESPECIALLY with a country that operates under the “No problem, man” mentality proved extremely challenging for this detail oriented planner.  When we finally loaded our belongings onto a 20-foot crate and watched the movers pull out of the driveway, I honestly wondered if the crate would end up in Jamaica or Timbuktu.   

During those days, I wrote journal entry after journal entry, expressing my fear, frustration and lack of faith.  I begged God to calm my anxious heart, and wrote things like, “Are you here, God?  Please help.”  Words like overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted appear over and over again in the entries.  I felt frustrated at our circumstances and frustrated at God.  We were taking a step of faith with this move, so why wasn’t He making this a perfect, seamless transition?

In early October, a month or so before we moved, I wrote this sentence in my journal: “The person with an abiding Spirit of gratitude is the one who trusts God.”  I’m not sure where I read it.  I’m certain I didn’t write it myself, as gratitude was the LAST thing on my mind.  But it triggered something in my spirit.  I realized how UNgrateful I had been the past few months.  I was so focused on the things that weren’t going my way and so preoccupied with the fear of losing control (as if I had it in the first place) that I didn’t even notice the abundance of blessings around me.

I decided to write a Gratitude List.  A list of things I was thankful for — big and small, silly and serious.  Writing the list did something deep down in my soul.  Self-pity and worry were replaced with awe and reverence at how good the Lord had been to me.  Bit by bit my faith increased, and I felt God teaching me that part of the adventure is learning to trust Him.  Here’s a portion of the list:

My Gratitude List

For Kevin
For Grizzly (our seven pound Maltipoo)
For my family
For Papa’s salvation — that I know he’s singing with Jesus right now
For my health and the health of those I love
For a full belly — that I don’t really know hunger
For the beautiful weather
For my education
For safety — that I don’t go to bed afraid
For coffee
For mangos
For clean water
For Jesus
For forgiveness
For grace
For people who love me just as I am
For country music
For meringue cookies — that they taste so good and are easy to make

I've reread my gratitude list on many occasions, and continue adding to it on a regular basis.  I recommend a Gratitude List to anyone feeling discouragement or despair.  Your circumstances may not change.  But your perspective certainly will.

With gratitude for you,

Kevin & Cass

Monday, 27 February 2012

Real Simple

Hi Friends & Family,
In our short time in Jamaica, one of the things that has surprised us the most is how ignorant we were to the luxuries of our life back home.  We’ve always considered ourselves grateful people, keenly aware of God’s blessings and goodness in our lives.  However, being away from our “normal” made us realize how much we took for granted in our daily lives.  There were so many comforts we deemed necessities – air conditioning, a dishwasher, high speed internet, two vehicles.  There were other comforts that didn’t necessarily qualify as necessities, but certainly things we’d rather not live without – Starbucks, DVR, a 24 hour gym, I-Phones, etc.  We strived to live simply and avoid the slippery slope of consumerism, but without even realizing it, we became dependent (or at least accustomed to) comforts of the world.  Not that enjoying worldly comforts is wrong…it was our attitudes that needed to be checked.  It’s crazy how quietly entitlement creeps into your heart, often leaving you ungrateful, unpleasant and unsatisfied.
In a sense, our move to Jamaica has taken us back to the basics.  The Western culture urges us to live for the next big thing: The newest gadget, the next smart phone upgrade, the bigger house, the nicer car.  In Jamaica, most of the people are simply focused on surviving the day: Feeding their children, making a few dollars, having money for the bus fare home.  Here, no one has the luxury of living for “the next big thing.”   Because of this, we’ve found people aren’t looking to “things” for fulfillment.  Instead, they look to invaluable treasures that bring lasting, soul-satisfying joy.  They look to faith, family and friends.  Being surrounded by this mentality made us realize how far we’d gone astray from our desire to live with an eternal perspective.  It has certainly been a humbling and refining process, and something we continue to work on daily.
They say a picture paints a thousand words.  Included below are several photos reflecting how our lives have changed the past few months.  We hope they bring a smile to your face (and don’t deter you from booking your flight to visit!)
With Love,
Kevin & Cass
The Air Conditioning

The Dryer

The 24 Hour Fitness

The Dishwasher

The Monday Morning Traffic

The Trash Collector

The Security System

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Celebration of Love

My Valentine
My other Valentines...celebrating in Jamaica
I love February.  It’s a nice change from the long, mundane month of January, which always seems to pass at a snail’s pace.  It’s a bridge between winter and spring, and the anticipation of fresh blooms, new life and warm weather is always exciting.  My birthday is in February, as is Valentine’s, and these are two of my favorite days of the year.  There is something about Valentine’s Day that makes people happy.   It’s kind of like Thanksgiving.  When you dedicate a day towards giving thanks, you start to realize how much you have to be thankful for.  When you dedicate a day to love, you start to realize how much love is all around you.
This year, there was a paradigm shift in my perspective of Valentine’s.  I’ve always thought of it as a romantic holiday, which it certainly is, but this year it became so much more to me than that.  My parents and sister were in Jamaica over Valentine’s, and instead of a candlelight dinner for two, we had a family dinner with hamburgers, fried plantains, and chocolate cake.  We celebrated the love of family — the people who adore you despite your dysfunction, who always want the best for you, and who embrace you just as you are.
Later that night, we took Valentine’s pictures.  Kevin and I couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves.  Five years ago our relationship blossomed at a Valentine’s banquet.  We were both dressed to the nines, and have lots of glamorous pictures from that night.  This year, we were in sweats, lacking makeup, hairdos, cologne or even a dab of lip gloss.  As we posed for pictures, I felt overwhelmed by how grateful I was for Kevin and so amazed by how our love has grown.  After three months in Jamaica, one of the things we’ve realized is that the best way to work on your relationship is to move to a foreign country, where you don’t know a soul, don’t understand the culture, and don’t have anyone else to turn to but God and one another!  This year, Valentine’s Day was a celebration of our companionship — of the adventure of doing life together, of choosing to cherish one another (even when it’s not easy), and of the love we couldn’t fathom growing this wide or long or high or deep.
I also found myself reflecting on friendship this Valentine’s Day.  When I think of the friends who have shaped me, supported me and shared life with me, my heart nearly explodes with love.  God hand wrapped some of the most beautiful people and gave them to me as friends.  From San Francisco to Washington DC and everywhere in between, I have friends I could call at any hour and they would be here if I needed them.  This year, Valentine’s Day was a celebration of friendship — of friends I talk to once a week and friends I talk to once a year, of friends who have taught me the joy of differences and the gift of grace.  I am a richer, better person because of them.
Lastly, this Valentine’s Day was a celebration of God’s passionate, unfailing love for each of us.  I’ve grown up learning about this love, and always believing in it, but this year it was different.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve needed God so much, and been so dependent on Him during a season full of so many changes and unknowns.  I’ve been acutely aware of my inadequacies and desperately in need of His peace, presence and provision.  He hasn’t failed me yet.  This Valentine’s Day was a celebration of God’s ravishing love — love that restores, redeems and never, ever fails.
I don’t think there is a greater gift than loving and being loved.  Take the final days of this month to love the Valentines in your life with reckless abandon.  Take it from me; you won’t know what to do with the joy that fills your heart.
And now these three remain: Faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love. 
1 Cor. 13:13
With love abounding,