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...