The Lord is Our Strong Tower

Dublin Castle, Ireland
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 18:1-3 (ESV)

Kelly Motto: The Lord is my Strong Tower

When it seems like the world is in ruins and everything is falling apart around us, we are reminded that there is a place of security and strength to which we can run. Even if we are far away, there is a beacon of hope, a lighthouse in the storm. The Lord stands strong in the midst of our struggles and battles. We can run to safety at his side and trust him to fight against the enemy that would destroy us.

While this summer did not look anything like we expected it to (see Brandy’s posts – France, Switzerland), it has been educational. We were able to visit with a number of missionaries in Europe, which was what we hoped for. We were also able to visit Normandy, France as well as Mont Saint Michel (definitely marked off a couple of lifelong “to-do’s”).  One of the most amazing things about our travels this summer was the number of castles we have seen. The vast majority are ruins, but some have been restored or are in the process of restoration.

Monastery in Glendalough, Ireland
Monastery in Glendalough, Ireland
Doune Castle – AKA French Taunter’s Castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I found myself looking at these structures wondering about their history, about who used to live there and what their lives were like. Wondering why they abandoned such a seeming ideal structure. Had there been a family tragedy? A war? Financial ruin? Legal troubles? A move for a job that paid better than farming?

When we visited Nomandy, we saw many structures that had been rebuilt after being bombed and blown up in World War II. The reason for their destruction was obvious, but the fact that they, from their Humpty Dumpty state, had been put back together was remarkable. Restoration is an extensive and expensive process. Undoing years of neglect sometimes involves completely tearing down and rebuilding, often with the original materials. Sometimes, rather than rebuilding, the structures are scavenged for building materials for other structures, such as the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard near Avignon, France, the largest standing aqueduct that was contemporary with Jesus Christ.

Pont du Gard, France

Why are some structures maintained, some rebuilt, others repurposed and still others abandoned? The difference is in the level to which someone cared about and for them. In a Genesis 3 world, it takes time and effort to maintain anything. Everything is moving toward destruction, degradation or death. This is both a law of physics and a spiritual reality.

The state of Christianity in Europe can be seen literally and symbolically in the bones of churches strewn across the landscape.

Many churches have been “re-purposed” as shops, pubs and museums. I guess I am glad that some of the architecture and art has been maintained, but it is a stark reminder that it is a gravesite of a once worshipping body of Christ.

Monastery in Glendalough, Ireland

These stone and wood structures suffered the ravages of years of neglect. As I pondered the history, I imagined the process of decay. Except for cases like Normandy and the rapid decay brought on by explosive forces, the ruins were the result of small things left unchecked. Water, the universal solvent, leaking through a bit of thatched roof. If the occupants noticed and fixed the leak, further damage was prevented. Uncorrected, water gets into the walls and either begins to wash away plaster or nature begins to encroach. Soon, a stone comes loose allowing in more water or animals seeking a safe home. Fast forward a hundred years and you stand before a ruin.

Hope helping the boys down at St. Andrews Cathedral, Scotland – originally built in the 12th century

Spiritually, there are many who have neglected their Christian walk and are little more than crumbled walls where once stood a beautiful cathedral. As the proverb says, “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:10-11) That is not to say that rest is inappropriate, but extended periods of laziness are.

In our spiritual lives, it looks like skipping our time in the Word once in a while so we can catch up on some sleep, followed soon after by sleeping in every morning with the intent to spend our lunch time with the Lord. Then we only read the Bible on Sundays at church, then we forget to take our Bible to church (we have it on our phone after all). Before long we are looking on Amazon because the sermon is boring and it is better to stay awake not listening than fall asleep piously.

So it goes with neglecting prayer, fellowship, giving, evangelism, etc. “Little” sins like a wandering eye, a grumpy attitude, looking out for one’s own interest grow into lust, anger and selfishness. We should not be surprised when our love for the Lord begins to wane and our faith begins to feel stale.

We need not despair when we see cracks in the walls or leaks in the roof. It does not mean that all is lost, it is a prompting from the Lord that we should attend to our house, that we need to pay attention to areas that have been neglected.

Maybe there is someone in your circle that used to be a strong Christ-follower. Have you ever wondered about their history? What happened in their lives that left their faith in ruins? What seeped into a small hole and created a crevice?  A broken relationship? Lost job? Some “small” sin? When things don’t go the way we planned sometimes we assume that God is either powerless, unloving or absent. Discouragement and frustration become footholds that the enemy uses to weaken our faith and eventually breach the walls of our fortress.

Perhaps it isn’t someone else whose faith-walls are crumbling. Many Christians have lost some of the zeal and excitement of their early walk with the Lord. While everyone has days where they are anxious or discouraged, when we notice that we are having more bad days than good that is a prompting from God. When we notice that leak has made a stain, that the stain has developed into a crack, that the crack has become a gap, the Holy Spirit is giving us a glimpse of reality, a moment of clarity.

Unlike all those neglected church buildings reduced to ruins, our God cares enough for us that he will never abandon or forsake us. “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) We can run from God, or rather inch away from God, at the risk of ruining our earthly lives, but we have the promise that God will complete his work in us, working all things (including our rebellion) together for his glory and demonstrating his love for us.

 

Reflections on Our Summer, Part 1

     The end of November may seem an odd time for our “What we did during our summer ‘vacation’” essay, but we’re finally back home (although not in the water quite yet). Looking back at our summer, it’s amazing to see God’s plans and how they overrode our plans. We thought we were going to spend the summer getting caught up on homeschool, admin, financial reports, and blog posts 😉 Dennis was going to work on research for his doctoral project. I was going to finish my certifications in counseling. We would never have bounced over the Atlantic without the promise of a few months to be still (and access to the internet). God knew that and I feel now (it’s taken some time to get here) that He used that plan to get us to Europe. After the disastrous month in France (if you missed that blog post, you can read about it here), we were searching for what God had in mind. He seemed to insist that we keep doing what He called us to do – spend our time helping and encouraging missionaries. In fact, even while we were in France, we had a missionary family spend a few days there before they headed to language school. It was a great opportunity to share our stories and encourage each other (we sure needed it at that point!).

     We left France in search of peace for ourselves and the least expensive way back to the US. We knew our chances of getting a military space available flight during the summer were pretty slim, so we were looking for places to stay cheaply in Europe. Driving to and flying out of Paris was the cheapest option out of France. We searched for places to stay with many different ministries in Europe. We talked to quite a number of missionaries and ministry leaders in Europe during our search for places to stay. We didn’t get to meet most of them, but we’ve certainly made new friends through email. A 3 hour detour to Switzerland became the new plan when a family offered us room and board for almost a week (although I have to admit, I was hoping to get to go to Switzerland).

     On our way to Switzerland, we made our first stop at Pont Julien, a 2000 year old bridge that was only about 5 miles from where we had been working (we just never had an opportunity to leave). We spent our “first night of freedom” near the Pont du Gard. (On a side night, if you ever think staying in a safari tent sounds like fun, maybe think again. The sheer number and size of the spiders was slightly terrifying. Caleb made the mistake of teasing Hope after she screamed when a large spider came inches from her face, and he ended up having to trade beds with her. You could tell he was freaking out a bit too, but he held it together and survived the night without any screams or bites.) The Pont du Gard is the highest and one of the best preserved ancient Roman aqueduct bridges that provided water to the city of Nîmes. It was part of the 31 mile aqueduct system that was built in the first century. First century! We’re talking about when Jesus walked the earth! It stands 160 feet high and only descends 1 inch across the almost 1/3 of a mile length. The system carried 8,800,000 gallons of water a day! Mind blowing and beautiful.

Pont Julien
Climbing is almost as important as breathing in our family.
Pont du Gard
Quite a view from the top
Pont du Gard – 2000 years old!
     We were invited to stay at the Hotel Kurhaus in Grimmialp, a Christian hotel/retreat center tucked in the Alps about an hour south of the city of Bern, Switzerland. A wonderful family with 4 children run it. As it turned out, the husband had served as a missionary for many years in Guatemala. His first language is Swiss German (which I didn’t even know was a language before arriving in Switzerland), but his Spanish is perfect. His wife spoke some Spanish but was more comfortable with English. Our conversations together were probably pretty comical to any outsiders as we had four languages going at once, if you include the accidental French instead of Spanish! He said God has quite a sense of humor. They didn’t get to visit Mexico/Central America this year; instead God brought part of Mexico to them. 
Hotel Kurhaus Grimmialp
The surrounding view was stunning!
Such a bright green!
And daisies, my favorite!

     We also met other families that were there for a retreat. True to our children’s nature, they jumped right into soccer games and the playground (which absolutely would be outlawed in the US because it was too much fun, ie. dangerous) with the other kids and had a blast, even though they didn’t speak the same language. Language only creates a barrier if you let it – challenging still, yes, but it doesn’t have to separate us (and we are very blessed that most of the world speaks English). Dennis helped build a VERY large teepee for their summer programs (but sadly, no pictures) and the kids also enjoyed playing the family’s chickens.
Soccer game with a beautiful view
A little bit of foosball. Micah used the log to give him a little height.
I would “watch” the kids play soccer all day with a view like that.
We took a few days to relax and explore some of Switzerland, including caves, castles, lakes, and an Alpine slide (check out the full video here)! Oddly enough, I wanted so badly to be on one of the sailboats out on the ice blue lakes surrounded by the high snow capped mountains. It was just incredible. My favorite thing was the quiet evenings, listening to the cows’ bells as they wandered the hillside in the dimming pink sunlight, as the sky slowly turned to an inky shade of blue. 
     
     Words and pictures just can’t touch the beauty of Switzerland and the people there (even though I tried). Hope has decided she wants to live there and I would happily visit her often. Switzerland provided the peace we desperately needed. 
Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name. Psalm 66:4
Oeschinensee near Kandersteg, Switzerland
Micah and Seth climbing rocks
I finally got in a picture 🙂
Just breathtaking
They spent at least an hour skipping rocks. Somehow, Dennis tossed a rock and it hit Sarah in the headed and then bounced off sideways and hit Caleb in the head! Thankfully it was pretty small and they were both alright.
Castle ruins near Interlaken
More climbing! Sarah’s getting a little hand from Daddy
View from the castle
Some of the climbing was easier
Hidden in the trees
We stopped by the Victorinox flag store in Geneva. We all had our knives engraved. Micah, Seth and Sarah all got their first Swiss Army knife. Dennis and I got the latitude and longitude of the Swiss store.

Urgent Need!

We need your help!

Ok, so this is a very hard thing to ask. In the past four years, we have poured our lives and resources into the boat and the ministry to which God has called us. We have just received
the response from the state of California regarding our appeal.

Bottom line up front: we owe California $15,945.15 for something they call “use tax.”

When we started this journey four years ago, we had more than $50,000 in the bank (and a full-time, good-paying job). We had paid off all our debt including cars and turned around our financial world thanks in large part to Financial Peace University and Dave Ramsey. Today, not including our shipyard bill of about $3000, we have a balance in the bank of -$200. We have $4667.45 of ministry expenses on a credit card (Sorry, Dave Ramsey, life happens). The yard bill will go on the card as well.

We are extremely thankful for those of you who have supported us financially. At this point, our financial partners provide $1500 a month ($1100 after this month). This is roughly 25% of our monthly ministry expenses. To this point, the balance has come from our savings and retirement pay. The rule of thumb on boat maintenance expenses is 10% of the boat’s value per year. For us that is about $20,000. That doesn’t include other expenses such as marina fees, fuel, immigration, etc. Our boat payment alone is $1300 a month. These expenses are inherent in getting to missionaries. Once we arrive, there are the expenses of actually coming alongside the missionaries – such as transportation to them from wherever the boat is moored. Having done this for two years, our savings is depleted to $2083.38. (The kids each have about $15,000 in 529 plans thanks to an inheritance from Brandy’s grandfather.) We have nothing additional going into college or retirement savings. My monthly retirement pay is $3665.50. That goes toward food, clothing, shelter and education. We are not getting rich off of this ministry, at least financially. We are living frugally and modestly, seeking to be faithful with that which God has entrusted to us.

. It is basically sales tax for the purchase of our boat. We did due diligence for about a year to find out if we were exempt as non-resident military and had no luck. At the time of purchase, we had set aside the approximate amount, but as we never received a bill or response from the state, we spent that money on maintenance and repairs to the boat.

Additionally, last month we got to the bottom of an indebtedness to the US Department of the Treasury regarding an overpayment by the Navy. When I returned from Iraq, they failed to stop my special pays for Imminent Danger, Family Separation and Hazardous Duty. I knew I was overpaid on these and had put aside the overpayment. Before I retired, we had about $3500 deducted from my paycheck the payday before my retirement ceremony. (Ouch!) Since I no longer had access to my LES (pay stubs), I was unable to verify exactly what it was, but, since it was the same amount as my overpayment, logic said that it was my repayment. What we were finally able to discover was that was the federal tax on my untaxed combat zone pay. We hadn’t considered the federal tax. So, we still had additional indebtedness to the government of about $2000.

We know that God could make this disappear with a mere thought, but it appears that he has other plans. Part of that plan is to invite you to participate in serving missionaries in Mexico and Central America.

Here is what we need:

First, prayer for us. This is frightening, discouraging and challenging
to our faith and sense of calling. I’m sure you all know the weight that a financial burden can have. We do not think this is God’s way of telling us to sell the boat to pay off the debt and quit, but it is a storm and Jesus appears to be sleeping in the stern of the boat.

Second, prayer for our finances. Obviously, we cannot pay these debts in our financial situation. I know everyone has challenges, but we know that our God will meet our needs. We also know that he uses his children as stewards of his wealth. Please pray that those on whom God lays a burden to assist would trust and obey. We are first and foremost asking for a one-time, special gift for this specific time. Of course, we are also looking for regular giving parters. If God puts it on your heart to help, you can donate online at: SUPPORT

Finally, prayer for our ministry. We are planning to visit our missionary contacts in Loreto and La Paz as well as assist a new boating missionary family in La Cruz. Around the first of the year we will partner with missionaries in Guatemala, missionaries in Honduras in the spring and missionaries in Panama in the summer. There are many miles of open water between here and there, so we need your prayers.

Well, that WAS different.

The summer is almost over and we’ve yet to post anything. There’s much to say, but it’s been hard to relive some of the situations to put them into words. So, we just didn’t and instead we have been dreading this post. Today I (Brandy) decided that maybe putting it all down “on paper” might just be the therapy I need (and then it’s taken another couple of weeks before I feel ready to post it).

We had so many reasons to believe that spending a few months in France was a great opportunity (see our previous post about this), but as it turned out, most of those expectations were based on misinformation. This post is long, but I feel many of you may be wondering about all the details (well, I’m a detail person).

The path and open area on the left were completely overgrown. I didn’t even know there was a path there.
Pictures from their website – not at all what it looked like.

House sitting at a small AirBnB in France sounded amazing! We were told to expect 1-2 hours of work per day – “Just check to see that the rooms are ready and greet the guests with the keys when they arrive.” It sounded pretty simple. We felt this was quite fair, and was going to fit well with our needs to finish this year’s homeschooling with the kids and allow Dennis the time he needed to finish his dissertation during hurricane season. However, as it turned out, we were working 8-12 hours per day. We arrived to rooms that were not ready to be occupied, unkept grounds with 3’ tall weeds everywhere, a partially finished fountain with water and mosquitoes that had apparently been sitting for weeks.

Nothing like the picture from the website. 
We needed to clear the driveway and paths to the rooms since the gardener wasn’t doing his job.
Guests had to walk around the cement blocks, pile of sand and tools.
The weeds were taller than Micah and Seth when we arrived.
Mosquito breeding ground. We drained it several times while we were there and treated the water with cinnamon (it kills mosquito larvae).
Second fountain. This was supposed to be finished in May and still looked like this when we left in July.

 

We were doing laundry around the clock, waking to put another load in the washer and hang up the sheets and towels that weren’t quite dry after 2 hrs in the dryer. With inadequate numbers of linens, it took hours to wash, dry and iron before we could finish preparing the rooms. The one residential European sized washing machine and dryer were severely inadequate for running an operation of that size.

And speaking of size, the property was quite a bit larger than we were led to believe. There were four 2 bedroom cottages with kitchen and bathrooms plus 3 other smaller rooms with 2 beds and a bathroom. There were a total of 17 beds plus 4 towels per bed. The rooms were almost always full, last minute reservations were common (11pm) and a few times she didn’t even let us know someone was coming (they’d just show up with an email reservation confirmation)! In 32 days, we cleaned the rooms 80 times. That’s about 200 bed changes and over 800 towels in a machine that would only hold one set of sheets at a time (and that was cramming them in)! They also insisted that we iron the sheets with a small ironing board and one iron (I’ve never seen anything come out of a dryer so wrinkled)! Apparently the owners lived in 4 of the rooms and only rented 3. We also found out that they have never been there in the summer months either since they purchased the property two years ago. They had someone watch the property last summer and he refused to return this year. They had no idea of what we were talking about when we tried to explain that it was physically impossible to wash the sheets and towels and get them back in the rooms in time for the next check in. There was certainly no time to take any day trips, much less an overnight trip to Paris as they suggested back in April. We even had to carefully time the trips to the grocery store so no one arrived to check in while we were gone.

Laundry on a Sunday morning
An hour per load in the washer and another 2 hours in the dryer. Still most of the towels were hung to finish drying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were told there would be minimum maintenance, possibly flipping a circuit breaker or two. The gardener would be around to handle anything more involved. We saw him only a handful of times during our 5 weeks and he never finished what he was supposed to, much less help with maintenance. In just the first few days, Dennis fixed two shower doors (one was leaning against the wall when we arrived), replaced 2 toilet seats, cleared multiple clogged drains, purchased and replaced a door knob, repaired multiple sink drains, pulled and sprayed weeds, trimmed a huge bush that was hanging into the pool, killed a poisonous snake, and replaced over a dozen light bulbs.

Additionally, they told us they would provide a detailed book of instructions, where to find circuit breakers, simple tools, contact information, and all supplies for 3 months. There was nothing left for us in the way of instructions. We continually asked for contact information for the gardener and only had enough supplies for the first week. We spent approximately $200 of our own money on things such as distilled water for ironing, small trash bags, light bulbs, toilet cleaner/deodorizer, parts for shower door, kitchen sponges, door knob, toilet seat, laundry detergent, toilet paper, coffee pods, and cleaning products.

Hope’s poor ankles. The fleas loved her.

The living conditions we were given were quite lacking. The “fully furnished 2 bedroom apartment” contained a queen mattress on the floor, 3 twin beds, a futon, a desk, a table and 10 mismatched (some broken) chairs. No closets, no shelves, no drawers. The kitchen did have quite a lot of dishes, glasses, and pots and pans, however they were all broken, chipped, missing handles, etc. The pantry was left (3 weeks) before we arrived with dozens of open packages of cereal, flour, cornmeal, and the insects that hatched. We were constantly dealing with maggots and moths long after we threw everything away. The infestation of fleas (they had two indoor pets) made things quite uncomfortable. Without exaggeration, we had hundreds of flea bites. The toilets in all the rooms were full of tiny flies when we first arrived as well.

The small car in “good condition” that we rented from them (we were actually paying them!) turned out to be frustrating also, but a necessity to go purchase the needed supplies. They said it didn’t need any maintenance in the coming months, but we would be responsible should something break, “like a flat tire.” However, the tires were old and had very little tread. Add to that the window that didn’t roll down, key fob didn’t work, the only door lock mechanism didn’t turn, and it wouldn’t shift into second gear. Not exactly what we would call good condition.

We were in constant communication with the owners regarding the guests who would be arriving, however all of our concerns and questions were mostly ignored. We were never given the gardener’s contact information, they never acknowledged the fleas, the unfinished fountain and dangerous tools left out, car problems, or really anything. They failed to tell us that “our space” was the common area and kitchen that guests were allowed to use. That made more sense when we discovered that they lived in the 4 rooms upstairs and the downstairs (our space) was just the common area, extra kitchen and office. When I asked about extra linens or how she kept up with the laundry, her response was just that we’d figure it out. No options or even a thank you. When we asked for them to order more supplies and have them delivered (a few days after we arrived), they said to just go buy them at the store. We never were reimbursed for our gas for these trips. When we told them we couldn’t find the right parts for the broken shower track after 3 stores in 3 towns, she refused to order them. Instead their plan was that Dennis should just use the parts from another room that had the same type shower and move the pieces back and forth depending on which room was occupied. Besides being a horrible idea, the rooms were both almost constantly booked. She also wouldn’t block the room from new bookings until it could be fixed either.

After a week of this drama (yep, week 1), we let them know that we could not stay the entire summer in this type of situation. We agreed to stay a month because we knew it would be a hardship on them to find someone else (although practically 100 others responded to the same post I did). We told them we would continue to work hard to make sure the property was clean and the guests were comfortable and happy. We did our best to keep things cordial and polite since we knew we had another 3 weeks.

During the remaining weeks, Dennis reattached screens on every window, replaced another toilet seat, fixed outdoor chairs, defrosted refrigerators, fixed air conditioners, We had one night that the hot water was out on one room (with the rudest guest we had) and our kitchen sink. The 2 water heaters were working fine and the owners weren’t responding to our questions. Finally after almost 2 hours of trial and error and walking the property, Dennis found a gas water heater in the gardener’s tool shed that the pilot light was out. He relit it and half an hour later, at 11pm, we were back in business. Finally around midnight the owners responded that we should check the gas water heater. Dennis refused to take care of the roof leak and the owners still hadn’t addressed it when we left.

We also emailed them to discuss a payment for our work, reimbursement for the supplies we purchased, and especially no charge for the car. We found out through a guest that they charged a cleaning fee. They again completely ignored our email. Dennis did some research on the average minimum wage in France (for a 35 hr week and we were working more like 50-60 hrs/week). We also looked up the cost of a furnished apartment in the area. Just counting the two of us (not taking into consideration the work our children were putting in), we should have been paid about 6000 euro/month ($6970). The average rent was only 500 euros. We asked them for a payment of $1500 (the cleaning fees for the number of rooms we cleaned) to help cover our travel expenses, plus reimbursement for what purchased for their property. Nowhere near what they would pay actual workers (it worked out to about $1/hr) but still a bit to help us.

After a week, we sent another email, requesting acknowledgment that they received the first email. They had, and said they would get back to us soon. We continued to ask them every few days with the same response. We were also informed that they couldn’t have anyone arrive until Monday, the 9th, 3 days after we said we were leaving. That added another extremely difficult weekend. We agreed to stay if they would pay us what we were asking. On Saturday, the 7th, Dennis sent another email asking for a decision on the money or we weren’t cleaning any more rooms. We did clean the rooms though, and had them ready for the next round of guests, so I guess this was just a bit of an ultimatum to get them to give us an answer. I sent another message stating the rooms were clean and ready but we really needed an answer. Well, about 9:00 that night (the whole day passed!) the answer we got was that someone was coming to collect the keys, we had less than an hour to get out, and after the property was inspected for damages, he would reimburse us for the supplies we purchased!

What?! Damages?! We were shocked and angry. How many things had Dennis fixed?! Our reimbursement was long overdue and shouldn’t have been held ransom anyways. He said if we weren’t out that night he would charge us 225 euro (if I remember correctly) to stay at HIS AirBnB since we weren’t working. He completely ignored the fact that we were, in fact, still working! We hadn’t packed because we were cleaning all day, still doing laundry and awaiting another guest. I had made a reservation to pick up the rental car on the 8th so we couldn’t leave anyways. He said we could stay if we agreed to clean all the rooms on Sunday. We felt so bullied! But we did it. That property was cleaner the morning of the 9th than it had probably ever been! We were reimbursed for our purchases (not for gas) and given about 400 euros ($464, not even a third of what we asked). It didn’t even cover half of our flight to France.

The kids said they learned a lot from the summer, mostly that the world is a contrast of people. We met people from 6 continents while we were there. So many countries and languages came to our doorstep, including a young US missionary family serving in Africa. Some of our favorites were from Sweden and Russia. We had people stay 15 hours and use every possible towel, bed, bar of soap, steal toilet paper!, leave dirty dishes on the counter, trash everywhere but the trash can and expect someone to clean up after them. Others would stay 2-3 days, use one towel each, wash every dish they used and even take the trash out themselves. I know our kids will always be the latter because they know that behind the scenes is someone who does the cleaning. They certainly learned that their actions affect others.

We learned there are those that will bend the truth, take advantage, and bully to get their way. But there are many more who are kind, friendly, and love to share their lives with those they meet.

Thankfully, this was only the first part of our summer. Our God can and does make beauty from our ashes, and those stories are still to come.

King – the ranch cat and my favorite part of France.

It’s only been TWO WEEKS?!

It’s barely been two weeks since we left Mexico. Our sail north from La Paz to Puerto Peñasco was everything from calm and boring to rough with lots going wrong. In other words, a pretty normal sail for us. The 4 days we worked and put the boat to “bed” was some of the most physically demanding and exhausting work we’ve done in awhile. But she’s safe and secure and all cleaned up. We took the sails down, lines down and everything outside is now inside. She looks naked! We don’t look forward to putting all back in working order in the fall.

We spent 3 days in Phoenix with friends from our “Young Marrieds” days at College Ave Baptist Church in San Diego in the late 90s. We’re so thankful for their hospitality and friendship for so many years. Other friends loaned us their truck (while they’re off floating along the coast in Central America). We caught a cheap flight from Phoenix to New York, drove to McGuire AFB in New Jersey and then caught a military flight to Mildenhall, England. We’ve spent the last week in Scotland with another set of dear friends from our “Young Marrieds” class. The last time our three families were together was 2015 and our 12 kids always pick up as no time has passed at all, just like us adults. We are so blessed!!

It’s been so refreshing for us to spend time with our wonderful friends. It was exactly what we needed after some physically and emotionally tough months. And that’s good because tomorrow we start our 3 months in France. Dennis has already made a plan for finishing up his doctorate. The kids and I have some big plans for getting some major school work done too (ok, I do, they don’t quite know yet). We’ll enjoy the time to roam around 2 acres and meet many wonderful people who come through the ranch. It’ll be such a change for all of us and we’re excited to see what God has planned.

Oh, that reminds me, we were given information on two missionary couples from France while visiting our friends’ church in Phoenix. Also, we just reached out to a missionary couple looking for some R&R not too far from where we’ll be in France. We will probably also make it to Ireland in September where we’ll have the opportunity to visit missionaries from my childhood church. It’s pretty exciting!!!

The ugly side of our ministry

Life is full of many things, some pretty and some ugly. We want everyone to see the pretty stuff – the things we brag about, sharing every last detail. But there’s usually also stuff that’s ugly. This is the stuff we hide. We don’t like to think about it even ourselves.

So far we’ve shared the pretty stuff with our ministry, but there’s an ugly side, a hard side. Things that bring us to tears oftentimes.

Today we said “See ya later” to the missionary families we’ve been working with in La Paz. It was rough. There have been tears in our family tonight. We’ve been here one month. That’s all, but in some ways we feel like we’ve known these families forever. And leaving is hard.

Our family spent over 20 years in the Navy saying “See ya later” to more friends than we can count. We learned to never say goodbye. One, it’s just WAY too hard. And two, a lot of times we do see them again. But I’ll say this, it stinks. It didn’t get easier just because we had done it so many times. If anything, it got harder. But we continued to jump in immediately when we moved somewhere new. We made friends quickly. We found a new church, a new grocery store, a new friend to list on our kids’ emergency contact paperwork. We continued to cry and mourn when we left to go somewhere new, knowing the new place wouldn’t be like the old place. It would be different, but we would hold to the hope and knowledge that every time we moved before, we’d eventually make that new place home and it would one day be hard to leave too. I had no idea that the 20+ years in the Navy was part of our preparation for becoming missionaries.

The very nature of our ministry, reaching out to serve those who serve, means we’re constantly on the move. We’re only in a place a short time. We connect quickly. Our kids connect even faster. (I have to say, it’s amazing how fast our kids connect. I am SO proud of them.) And then we leave. It’s hard on us and it’s hard on the missionaries. These families have left their homes to make a new home in the place God called them to serve. For some it’s a lifetime and others, it’s a season, and it’s just hard. They’re in a new place, finding a new grocery store, making new friends, and many times even in a new language. (Tangent – Missionary kids are remarkable. They’re called Third Culture Kids. They are usually from one culture, live in a second, but become a blend of the two – creating a unique third culture. It’s sometimes difficult for them to feel like they ever fit in. Next time you meet a missionary kid, tell them you think they’re awesome, because they are.)

We know we’ll stay in touch and we hope to see these families again. But we know that even if our paths don’t cross again on this earth, we will see each other one day in Heaven.

Jesus makes even the ugly stuff beautiful.

 

 

A little bit about Mexico and the ministry here (in a video)

We’re winding down our time here in La Paz. The marina is officially kicking us out this week (well, our month is up). The last few weeks have been a blur but in a good way. This past week we were able to take one of the missionary families into our world for a day. We took a daysail up to Isla Espiritu Santo (which is Spanish for “Holy Spirit Island”).

 

It’s a beautiful lagoon and small coral reef. We pulled out the snorkel gear, paddle boards, and boys’ kayaks. It was a pretty fun and relaxing day!

 

Here’s a video we made for the kids at my parents’ church in Alabama as they are learning about Mexico. We thought many of you might like it as well. We aren’t great at this video thing, but we gave it a shot. We’ll keep working on it and maybe put Hope in charge of video production next time 😉

 

 

 

And Now for Something Completely Different

“The wind (pneuma) blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (pneuma).” – John 3:8

We’re going to France for 3-6 months!

 

Did we lose you there? Here’s the situation:

Once again, the name of the game is flexibility. When we chose the name for our website, we had little idea how true it would be. Our willingness to be led by the Spirit (pneuma / wind) has meant that Brandy has had to grow in the area of letting go of control. Her ability to plan and organize has been a strength for the decades of our married life, but lately it seems that the Lord is working to teach us to trust Him more than ourselves or even our God-given strengths.

In the latest unveiling, we are feeling strongly led to France – and not sailing there. We have an invitation to house sit in the South of France.

There are several reasons that this is a reasonable and viable option. First of all, it is a direct answer to prayer. Our trip north to La Paz was not in our original sailing plan (though apparently it was in God’s). We had intended to be half way to El Salvador by this point. Hurricanes get a (majority) vote in this part of the world. Officially, hurricane season starts in June, but the first one last year was May 9. El Salvador is still technically in the hurricane zone (the very southern edge), but historically speaking, isn’t known for having problems. We were a little anxious about getting there because it meant we would be in a hurry and on a schedule. The saying goes that the most dangerous thing to have on a sailboat is a schedule. Not that laid back is a requirement (though it helps), but when you have to be somewhere by a certain time, you are more inclined to do things you might not otherwise.
 So, we would be hurrying south for several weeks, pushing ourselves and the boat, racing against the clock with no truly safe locations to hide if a hurricane does form early this year.

As we saw it, we had three options for this hurricane season (officially June 1 – October 31).

1. Stay in La Paz longer and then sail north into the Sea of Cortez as hurricanes get further north. The hurricanes in the western Pacific usually start in southern Mexico/Guatemala and move gradually north throughout the season. Space for a sailboat in La Paz is considered premium and they charge based on that. This is by far the most expensive marina we have stayed in. It’s not something we can afford for an extended period of time. And, it’s still in the hurricane zone.

2. Sail north into the Sea of Cortez. This isn’t such a bad option. There’s plenty of amazing things to see and beautiful places to visit in the Sea of Cortez. The missionaries we spent time with last spring are still in Loreto. Again, it’s super expensive there too, and not somewhere we could afford for more than a month. And, well, Loreto is still in the hurricane zone too.

3. Sail to the top of the Sea of Cortez (hey, our insurance company finally says this is out of the hurricane zone!) and haul the boat out for the hurricane season. Many boaters choose this option, so it is quite common and safe. We’ve spoken to several dry storage places and found one that can haul our boat (really, our friends left their boat there last year and they have a bigger boat than ours, so no issues like last year when we tried to haul the boat in Loreto). The haul out and storage fees are quite cheap and it’s in a very secure location. But, if we go with this option, we need to find somewhere to live for 3-6 months.

During all these discussions of what to do and where to go, Brandy spontaneously responded to a post on World School House Swap looking for a house sitter for a bed and breakfast in the South of France. A few hundred other people did also. I mean, what are the chances?

Well, I guess they are pretty high when God is directing our path.

We were their first choice! We will be at Zocalo Ranch near Oppede, France, in June, July and August, with the possibility (depending on whether or not we are granted extended visas) of staying through September and October. The kids are ecstatic! A 2-acre ranch surrounded by lavender fields (there’s even a lavender museum). Land to roam around. Cherry, fig and olive trees. A pâtisserie just a short walk away. What a change this will be for all of us!

We’ve already reached out to a missionary agency in the nearby town and are waiting to see what God wants to show us this summer.

There are more reasons that this is a huge answered prayer. It solves our hurricane season problem mentioned above. It also allows us to save some money. The storage fee will be less than $300 per month. Since we will not be using the boat, maintenance and upkeep costs will be reduced. What about plane tickets, you ask? Well, one of the benefits we paid for over the past 20 years is free space-available military flights – including to Europe. The money we are able to save will pay for things like new solar panels, a new solar arch, a new dinghy (or major overhaul of our current), cockpit enclosure, and possibly a higher output watermaker (=everyone gets at least one shower/week and maybe some laundry).

In addition, the deadline for Dennis’ Doctor of Ministry project in support of our ministry model is approaching. The plan of working while sailing to exotic locations hasn’t worked out as most of his time in these exotic locations is occupied with fixing the boat. France will provide 90 or more days of a desk and good WiFi (both unavailable out here) to research and write. Brandy will take advantage of this time to gain additional training and preparation for the work ahead.

As flexible and available as we are, there are still bureaucracies to deal with. We are running into some challenges with long-term (greater than 3 months) visas for France. We have been in contact with several French consulates and are gettting the run-around. We haven’t been able to get an appointment and it appears that there will be none until the beginning of June.
 So, at this point, we will likely only stay the three months, then have to leave Europe. September is still hurricane season, so we’ll possibly spend time with our friends in Scotland before crossing the pond again. We will make our way back to the boat, take care of those big projects, splash the boat and start south again. We have contacts in Guatemala, Honduras and Panama that we will plan to support next year.

We appreciate your prayers as we do all the stuff that is involved in hauling the boat, getting visas (or not), working out details and moving overseas. We are especially excited about what the ministry will look like there. We look forward to sharing the new thing that God is doing.

One week down in La Paz…

Since we arrived in La Paz last Monday, we’ve been busy! Our first night here we went to Applebee’s for dinner. Mmm, those were some delicious burgers and just what the doctor ordered for our American stomachs.

We have a few boat projects (and other stuff) that we decided to jump on while we’re dockside (way easier than at anchor).

-Solar…our old panels just aren’t keeping up. We’ve been limiting our power use as much as possible (refrigeration only and solar lights at night) and still having to run the generator every day. So, we’ve been doing a bit of shopping, networking and finding stainless steel guys who could help set up a new solar system (Caleb just pointed out that I’m not talking about a new galaxy).

-repaired (well, almost finished) our dinghy…it went flat just a couple of days before we left La Cruz. It blew a hole along the forward seam. We’re hoping this repair will hold. That’s our only way in from anchor (which is another reason we’re actually in a marina right now).

-filed our taxes…boy, that was different and much more challenging after all our years on active duty!

-made several LONG walks around La Paz to find grocery stores, electronic stores, solar panels, and people

-cleaned our fish tank…we can actually see our two cute little fresh water fish again

-kids are catching up with and spending time with their other boat friends who came here from La Cruz also

-I went to a “What my boat did during summer vacation” seminar, which could also be known as “It’s almost hurricane season, what do I do with my boat?!” This has been a constant topic around here lately and the more we discuss it, the less confident we have become that we can sail south before the first hurricane of the season. That’s not exactly something we want to get stuck in on our way to El Salvador (where we intended to spend hurricane season). The first one last year was May 9. If we leave La Paz (planning around May 7ish) and go as fast as possible south, it would still probably take a month (did I mention that sailboats aren’t known for their speed?). That timeline isn’t looking good, so we’re exploring other possibilities for the summer/early fall.

-and we cut Caleb’s hair for the first time in almost two years!

What’s going on ministry-wise…

We arrived a few days early (what?! And on a sailboat even!) so our new missionary friends were still spending time with their family visiting from Canada. We thought we’d make ourselves at home in La Paz and get started on those boat jobs.

The missionaries we worked with last year in Loreto told us about a Christian couple here in La Paz that runs a bed and breakfast called CasaBuena. They told us to go see them if we ever made it here. So they were on our list. We were also given the name of an English speaking church and a horse therapy program for disabled kids from another cruiser. Our first morning here we were asking some other boaters about solar panels and were told we must go meet Milton. He apparently had a “solar farm” on the roof of his B&B. And maybe you can guess this, but the B&B was CasaBuena! Let me tell you, this is the most impressive solar setup I have ever seen! He even has it wired into the city grid and pumps power to them all day! So as we’re spending an afternoon getting to know them, we mention the church we were told about and the horse therapy program. Well, the church is right there on their property, and Milton’s wife, Susu, runs the horse program!! They also know all the missionary families that we’re here to see! Hope has been joining Susu with her horse ministry to disabled children and definitely in her happy place. Horses are Hope’s love language 🙂

 

We also spent a few afternoons with the Thiessen family last week getting to know them. The kids hit it off too. We spent Saturday evening at their youth ministry which had 25-30 kids (I didn’t count, but it was a lot). The kids had a blast playing gaga ball and even Micah and Seth jumped right in with these teenagers. I loved how everyone was accepted and cheered on no matter their skin color or the language they spoke. Mine may have been a little lost though when it came time for their lesson (ok, I was too). We’ll keep working on our Spanish skills. Everyone enjoyed April birthday cake at the end!

Sunday morning we drug our tired selves out of bed (everything is late here in Mexico and we’re still on a sailor’s schedule) and made it to church just a few minutes late. It was another packed house! We stayed after for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon with Milton and Susu while our kids enjoyed their pool.
Tomorrow Dennis and Hope are traveling a couple of hours by car to renew her passport and then she’ll head out to the horse ranch for the evening. We’re going to lunch with 2 missionary families tomorrow and then going over to the Thiessens in the evening. As they run a sports ministry here, we may be joining them at their basketball practice Thursday evening and their tournament Friday evening. Thursday morning Dennis will be going to a men’s breakfast with the local church. During the day on Friday we’ll be joining the Thiessens and several other missionary families for lunch at their missionary prayer day. Saturday…well, we haven’t planned that far yet but I’m sure it’ll be busy!

Thank you for your prayers for us and we ask that you also pray for the many missionary families here in La Paz!