Surprised by Joy

Happy New Year, or as the Japanese would say,  ?????????????????????????????????which means “Congratulations, it has opened” (By the way, if your computer doesn’t want to read the Japanese fonts, my apologies. Just imagine a whole bunch of weird writing).

And ‘opened’ it has.

I was thinking of not sending a blog this week because, to tell the truth, life is settling into a normalcy and dullness that we had once hoped for, giving me little grist for thought.

Of course we celebrated the New Year as you did, only perhaps we were hot while many of you up north were cold.   New Years Eve found 6 of us stuffed into our tiny apartment, plates on laps, jockeying for a chance to get a word in edgewise.  Later in the evening we wrangled an invite to some lovely church friends of better fortune, and we all strolled over to their place on the 30th floor of the tallest building in the city, relaxing in the warmth of the evening and the beauty of the fireworks.

Tony has picked up a once-a-month “gig” in a wonderful church called Burleigh Waters Bible Church.  January 3rd was his day to preach.  These are lovely people who love the Lord as well as his sermons, and while rewarding …. again……little to blog about.

After church we headed with a few of them to the nearby aged care facility for the second service.

The residents gathered, mostly in wheelchairs and many of whom I would describe as pretty much “out to lunch”. I had a lovely conversation with a bright eyed and articulate woman, we talked about her daily activities and her position in the community.  Then she said she needed to get started walking home, up over the mountain. It was then I realized we were on different planets.

The service proceeded, nothing out of the ordinary.

Then a tiny shriveled old woman was wheeled in.  She had her hands up on her cheeks, as if she was trying to hold her head up.  She had a blank stare……that is until she bolted us all out of our seats with a very loud wail.

As we settled back, she carried on with this loud wailing “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” thru the sermon. I sat nervously, but Tony, a veteran preacher who’s soldiered on in many unusual circumstances, never missed a beat and finally finished up, occasionally thanking the lady for her heartfelt “Amens”.

Then we sang the old favorite, “How Great Thou Art”.  About the second verse, we noticed the wailing had changed pitch.

Discretely at first and then with open gaped stares, the whole congregation turned their heads when they realized the lady was SINGING ALONG!

With her eyes closed and hands still holding her face tightly, she mouthed every word of every verse. Tony stopped the music and said directly to her, “I sense that you’re a Christian!”  She nodded with fervor (and another loud wail).

As the service ended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  It was like an angel had been in our midst.

Before anyone was aware, she’d been whisked away by a nurse and we were left to wipe our eyes and wonder what had just happened.

The chatter with the others revealed that she was a very old Chinese lady who was always vacant, never interacting with anyone or making an intelligent sound of any kind.

But God had pulled back the veil just a little bit to show us a beautiful faithful servant who verified the scripture, “Thy word have I hid in my heart…….”

As we folded chairs and pulled ourselves together someone remarked, “Come to think of it, I’m thinking the wails actually were AMENS!”

My New Year’s cup had been filled and I went away feeling blessed and encouraged.  God is indeed faithful to show us a bit of how it’ll be when all the hindrances are gone and we can gather at the throne and shout unashamedly “Hosanna!”.

How Great Thou Art. Even in the midst of the “dull and uneventful”, God can always make it special.

Till next time,


The Surprise Sermon

……continued from last week about the “surprise sermon”.  You’ll have to read last week’s blog if you missed it.

After Tony came to understand that he was in fact scheduled to preach (in Japanese) that New Years Day morning, he came running back down the aisle and headed out of the church.

Being the supportive wife (‘don’t you dare mess up here’) I also leaped to my feet and followed him.

There in the foyer, I found him banging his head against the wall.

Uncharacteristically feeling some real compassion, I said, “How can I help you?”

With his head still against the wall, he mumbled….“Keep me from running. I don’t even have my Bible!” he groaned.

“There’s Bibles all over’ helpfully gesturing to the stacks behind me.

“They’re all in Japanese!” he snarled.

I left him to work it out and returned to my seat before our five year old noticed I was gone and got creative.

After a few moments he came back in and strode confidently down to the front holding a ‘furoshiki” in his hand.

A furoshiki is a large silk scarf, probably left at the church by mistake by someone long forgotten.

And this was his sermon:

“You know what this is”,  he said, holding up the scarf.  “We all know it is Japanese custom when you go to visit someone, you take something wrapped in this furoshiki……a cake or a book or some little something.  You place it discretely somewhere on the side of the entrance hall as you step up into the house.  You don’t point it out as a gift except maybe to say quietly, “Here’s a little something for you.”

The hostess, according to custom, makes no sign of recognition, and leads you into the room for your visit.  When you leave, she will bow until you’re out of sight and then and only then, she’ll tear open the scarf with the anticipation of a child, to see what wonderful thing you’ve brought her.

Then, whenever she comes back to visit you, she will bring your scarf, this time with something else that is, again, not mentioned or recognized.  She will lay it carefully at the door as she comes in… and so the game continues.”

By this time, Tony had found his feet and the congregation was enthralled, happy to have a sermon so simple that they could understand. I was able to exhale and shift back in my seat.    Then he continued…

“Well.  We’ve just had Christmas where we celebrate the birth of our Savior…….

“God has left us with the most precious gift ever, wrapped, not in a furoshiki but in swaddling cloths, laid in a manger with not enough fanfare to match the occasion,  on Christmas day.

“……….and now our question must be:  What will we give Him in return?”

That pretty much nailed it for the “shortest and best New Year’s sermon ever”……given by someone who didn’t have the language but had the Emmanuel Savior to stand with him and help him thru the day.

Here is a little poem I came across just recently, written by a 19th century poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti.  I think it says what I feel today after possibly our best Christmas ever!

What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd

I would bring a lamb,

If I were a wise man

I would do my part, -

Yet what I can I give Him,

Give Him my heart.

Have a blessed and safe New Year this week!  We’ll be in touch

Marsha and Tony

Tommy’s Christmas

Merry Christmas!

With all the hustle and bustle I don’t know if you have time to read this, but I just wanted to take a minute to reminisce with you for a minute about our time in Japan……

During our first few years there, we had limited Japanese vocabulary.  We still laugh about the New Years Day SERMON that Tony had inadvertently agreed to preach but actually had understood nothing.  We showed up in our finest, picked a good ‘Baptist’ seat located at the back, settled in and were perusing the bulletin.  Suddenly Tony gasped and nudged me.  Together we noticed, with terror, that the sermon was apparently going to be given by Tony Woods.  He literally RAN down the aisle during the first song and grabbed the pastor, gesturing and pointing at his name.

The pastor smiled and said in simple words Tony could understand, “When I asked you a month ago, you smiled and said “Hai”.  (this handy word can mean ‘Yes” but also can mean, as Tony had chosen to understand, “I hear you, keep talking”).

We learned a lot about paying attention after that……..

But the best thing Tony came up with in those early years was a simple sermon, lifted from a Guideposts magazine, called “Tommy’s Christmas”

It told the story of a pastor/carer who had a home for troubled children.  One Christmas eve, he sat at the desk and tried to imagine a Christmas sermon that would get the uncluttered point of Christmas across to the kids in contrast to the flurry of all that had already been said.

Try as he might, he couldn’t think of anything and found himself finally giving up and heading to the celebration with nothing.  He was trusting God to provide something as he made his way to the auditorium when suddenly a helper came to him and asked if he could do something with Tommy.  Trying not to be irritated at the interruption, he made a detour, arrived at Tommy’s room, and there, as so often before, he found the shy and traumatized boy cowering under his bed in the dark.

“Tommy” he called out cheerfully, “Come on out for the party……..there’ll be cake and songs, and we really want you there to celebrate with us.”

Nothing. Not a sound from under the bed.  Maybe you can see where this is going…..

After a few more explanations and admonitions, the pastor knew what he had to do.  Getting down on his knees, he took off his sport coat and wiggled in under the bed with Tommy. It was only then that the little boy was finally able to reach out a tiny hand and allow himself to be drawn out.

When they stood up and headed toward the door, the pastor had his sermon.

In Philippians 2: 6-11, we read about Jesus doing just the same thing. “Who being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped… but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance of a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross………”(continued)

We’ll never forget that sermon preached so many Christmases by Tony that it became a favorite request among the churches after time.  Japanese love to hear the story of a GREAT GOD who became a humble little BABY, and so do we.

As you’re reading this, we’ve just returned from our church’s Christmas carol service. This concludes 3 nights of a living nativity with all the ensuing animals and whatnot.  Open to the community, we pulled a large crowd, first for the jumping castles, face painting and sausage sizzle (it’s summer here) and then to sing and praise God for Matthew 1:23……. “And they will call him Immaneul, God with us!”

Have a blessed Christmas and I’ll tell you what happened at the impromptu sermon next week.


Where’s the Mattress?

Dear Friends,

IF you have time to read this during this busy season, you may appreciate the little story I heard recently.

Let’s look at a mattress.  We all have them.  But do you sleep (or attempt to) on top of the mattress or under the mattress?

If you’re letting circumstances, schedule and it’s demands, and all the other burdens of your life overwhelm you, you may feel that you’ve got that big mattress on top of you……and it’s suffocating you!!  But if you leave the circumstances to lie on the bed and you can get on the top, you can have a safe and restful sleep!

How true this has been to us lately.  We’ve had our share of overwhelming circumstances, but I’ll have to say that most of our ‘suffocating weights’ have been happy ones, nevertheless, sometimes we think we can’t get a breath!

I’m happy to say we’re sailing into the Christmas season with joy and mostly peace.  Our grand baby Micah Neal has been almost the perfect baby, as least as we see him.  Apparently we’re not there as he gurgles and coos thru the nights making Mommy into a staggering hollow eyed, but still smiling, zombie.  Fortunately Nathan has a month off to wrangle the other boys and we pop in for hugs and kisses when we can.

I’m also happy to feel more and more at home here.  My search for life as we know it has rendered me everything except grits…….guess Australians never discovered the joys of soaking stuff in lye and then eating it!  I even saw some “Sweet Baby Ray” bbq sauce somewhere……. but now I have to remember where. (it’s mid summer here, you’ll recall)

This is not a proper blog, just a note to say we pray that you have the best most ‘blessed’ Christmas ever and we’ll catch up when the flurry passes.  By the time you read this, Tony and I along with daughter and her lovely husband have been to the biggest gathering of Japanese Christians on the Gold Coast, where Tony will introduce the Anagaion discipleship program and make plans for our involvement there next year. After dinner on the grounds, we’ll toddle over to a church in Brisbane and participate in their annual “Sing Along Messiah” … the only way to fully enjoy the piece.

Then while most of you folks in the other hemisphere are waking up to Sunday, we’ll be settling in for a good night’s sleep… on top of the mattress!

Interesting observation: people in Australia traditionally greet each other this time of year with “Happy Christmas!” Somehow the word “merry” got left behind somewhere on the way Down Under. But rest assured “Christmas” is still very much a part of the greeting. Our hearts and prayers go out to those who must edit their words for fear of being politically correct. But correct or not, please accept our wishes for you and yours: MERRY CHRISTMAS!


PS, While you’re celebrating the season, please say a word of prayer for my sister, Sherry and her husband. He’s been having several health issues lately that’s been making things tough around there. Pray for healing, restoring, and a real sense of the “reason for the season”.

Thanksgiving Down Under

Hello all.  I imagine many of you are living on leftovers and wiping your mouth on your sleeves and remembering a great Thanksgiving as you read this.

We, on the other hand, spent Thursday hugging our grand boys (age 4 and 5) goodbye and moving into a new apartment where we plan to stay until we finally settle into our house in a few months.  I believe I saw a roast chicken in the pile of luggage, but there was no celebration except for……


November 21st Kylie had the third boy, Micah Neal Woods, in just 30 minutes.  8 lbs 6 oz, 22.4 inches, all boy and all healthy and beautiful.  In the week that has followed, she’s come home (thank goodness) and Isaac and Ezekiel are very good if not a bit too affectionate big brothers. Daddy Nathan has a few weeks off, so we were able to leave them to it.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a trouper as Kylie. She’s amazing.

We continue to ‘settle in’, getting delivery of our new car to pair with the one that was practically given to us.  We’ve decided to call them “Hoot”, which is how we feel about the surprise gift one, and “Nanny” because it seats 7 and we hope to take our boys out and about often…….Together they’ll be “Hootenanny” which anyone our age remembers  once meant “a good time”.

Our health improves.  The Aussie doctor told Tony he does not and has never had Type II diabetes, which is a praise point.  I am almost back to normal……  wrestling with babies will do that to you.  Thankfully we’ve both began to take off some of those pounds as well, but we’re a long way from the goal with a beach Christmas looming near. We probably will be very quiet about our progress! ha

Our apartment is TINY.   I thought things were tight in Japan but this one is about 1/2 the size of our Tokyo one.  We were here for a day when I said, “Where’s the table?”  There is none, but I can’t complain as it’s just what we need, and the pools, exercise room/jacuzzi and BBQ areas will compliment our life here in the area known as “Surfers Paradise”, just minutes from both kids and the church.  Who knows? We may just stay here and skip the transition into the rest home!

Another praise point, our FREIGHT from Japan has cleared customs and will be delivered to storage this next week.  We can’t open it until we move permanently so we have to keep going to the store for all the little bits and pieces.  Tony just decided to wrap some presents while I write this, but realized we have no tape! ha

We have loved catching up with our church as well. Today we had our annual meeting and are encouraged to see that growth thru evangelism seems to be the goal.  While we’ve been gone these last 8 years, the church has not only held its ground but has grown and prospered.  We are happy to slip back into ‘home church’ responsibilities even as Tony has been accepting preaching opportunities and of course renewing all of our Japanese ministry contacts.  It almost feels like we’re not retired……..

So as you can see, we’ve been FILLED with THANKS all week.  This next week will be so busy with Christmas programs (both grand boys)  two churches with their Christmas events, etc. I may not get a blog out to you next week, but I imagine you’ll be swamped as well.  Isn’t Christmas a great time to fill your heart with love for our Savior and the God who shared Him with us? Because of this great love, we can spill it over to our families, near and far, as well as all of those who don’t yet know the story.

Talk to you soon!  Marsha

Joy in the Journey

It’s true that we’re living in paradise.  The Gold Coast at the beginning of summer can be and has been this week beautiful beyond words.  We’ve been in a timeshare while we wait for a more permanent housing solution.  It’s overlooking the beach. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, paradise that it might be, I recently had to say to Tony, “When are we going to be able to RELAX?  Every day we have to put on our ‘big people’ clothes and rush out to the banks, realtors, phone companies and medical services.    Relocating isn’t a picnic, as I’m sure many of you know! In fact we’re thinking of our friends the Morgans who are closing down 20 some years and moving out during this time. And of course Tony continues his online seminars for his doctorate that has him pretty well consumed.

But then while I’m complaining about living in paradise, the world is in mourning, not just for Paris, but for the situation we’re in worldwide…..

Last Tuesday I attended with my daughters and a couple of friends a ‘Sisterhood’ evening sponsored by Hillsong, a name you may recognize as the largest evangelical church in Australia.  The Sisterhood-themed evening was packed out with mostly ‘beautifully’ dressed women of all ages.  We were met at the door by bow-tied young men serving canapés and fizzy drinks. Smiling women descended upon us offering hand massages and foot spas.  Words like ‘opulence’ and ‘luxury’ came to mind.  Much later we were ushered into the auditorium where we sat down to participate in a two hour long worship extravaganza from Hillsong leadership.

What I walked away with (after all that pre-pampering) was the compelling exhortation, impressed on me over and over…. “Girls, we’re not finished yet”.

While we may be privileged to have what we can call a ‘good life’ here in this place, our JOB…our CALLING is not finished until we’ve reached outside of ourselves to the entire world and they have heard the gospel message. The closing prayer was a prayer of salvation for anyone who had visited and wanted then and there to become a believer and get busy.

What really resonated in my soul as we left was that no matter how lost and unsettled I may feel at the moment, and while it’s true that my day JOB may be finished; my circumstances may be different……. essentially nothing has changed. I still have the work I’ve always been called to do which is to SHARE CHRIST.

The Gold coast might be a ‘pretty’ place, with more than enough pizzaz,  but my son the cop can attest to the fact that there are plenty of folk here, in all walks of life, who need the Lord.

This morning we heard an excellent sermon talking about David’s prayer in Psalms 51:2 to ‘restore to me the JOY of your salvation’. It’s not our SALVATION that we’ve lost, but maybe in these trying times worldwide, do we still have the JOY? Are we sitting around being ’saved’ and forgetting that there are countless passages in the Bible about ‘working out our Salvation” as well?……something for me to think about.

We look to the future with a renewed sense of joy and of responsibility to keep fighting the good fight.  We don’t know what that will look like, but God does.  Tony’s already got a lot setting up for us, with preaching and teaching and of course we’re expecting grand boy #3 any minute…….

I’ll blog as long as God is speaking to us, but next Sunday we’d appreciate your prayers and patience as we go to Brisbane for the day with the Japanese there.  Tony will be introducing his “Anagion” course. ( )  We’ll probably get back too late to touch base with you all, but stay tuned!

We’ll keep you posted!


Live from Down Under

I can’t believe it’s been a week since we landed in Australia. Tony and I are still in shock, not really sure if we’re actually here. The journey began 6 months ago when we packed our bags and said goodbye to Japan. Now after more miles than I care to recall, some precious opportunities for ministry up in Maine and the bittersweet experience of time with family and friends all over America, we’re finally here in the beautiful Gold Coast. Aussie friends keep asking us, “So how long are you here for?” to which we reply, “Til the Lord takes us home!”

I have so many things I want to share with you, but I think I need another week to sort my life out a bit. In the meantime, may I send along the same blog I sent last week? We were in Bangkok with “iffy” internet connections, and I’m not real sure it even sent out. If you’ve read this already, please forgive me.

More to come next week. Love ya all,


From last week:

About 5 years ago we were in Bangkok, having a wonderful life and ministry when suddenly, quite by surprise, we were recalled to Japan.  We cajoled and pleaded, but the answer was still Japan.

I’ll never forget the last night before we boarded the plane, having packed up and with nothing to do, we walked to the nearby park for one last stroll.  There, we heard a beautiful voice across the night, someone singing the song from Les Miserables, “I had a dream”.  In a unified gasp of hopeless self pity, Tony and I sat down and bumbled thru tears.  The words, “I had a dream, and now the dream is gone” echoed in our minds as we faced an uncertain and a seemingly unwanted future.

Well, as most of you know, as soon as we had settled into Tokyo life, lips still a bit stuck out, the Higashi Nihon Dai Shin Sai, or Tohoku Great Earthquake with the resulting Tsunami hit on March 11th.  It happened right in our ‘home town’ of Sendai.

Immediately we looked at each other and knew that we were the natural choice to be on the scene because of our history, and the transfer had indeed been a ‘God thing” all along.  The mission related as we left last May that in retrospect, they have no idea why they felt it necessary for us to return, but we were able to say WE knew.   We had our work cut out for us for our last years on the field.

And now, as you’re reading this, we’re on a plane to Australia.  We are due to land at 6:00 PM tonight and be met by our kids and begin the life or Riley, or should we say ‘retirement”?

While you were entertaining all the ghosts and goblins at your doors last night, the clock ran out on our career.  We haven’t been ‘unemployed’ since college days, but are thinking it might be kinda nice, at least for awhile.  On Nov 2nd Tony will have another three-week long seminar working on his doctorate, hopefully moving him towards the anticipated graduation soon. We pray that the timeshare we’re staying in for the first few weeks until we find a place to rent will have internet.

But speaking of emotive songs, we heard another one recently……maybe we were able to hear it this time with a bit more positive, befitting our current attitude

A few weeks ago we were able to participate in a reunion, not of family per se, but of a family of young missionaries that went out together in 1973 to serve 2 years, planning to change the world.  We were called “Journeymen” and we made bonds (largely during our 7 week ‘boot camp’ like training) that have lasted these 43 years.  I can’t tell you how much fun we had for three days, telling stories, often on each other, and generally reminiscing.  We’re for the most part 40+ years worn, fatter and balder, although some of them have kept their outward youth in amazing ways.  Sadly we’ve all reached the age where the requisite percentage of us have gone on to Glory, so we remembered them as well.  There were a lot of tears shed, both happy and sad, in those three days.

But one thing that really ‘grabbed’ me was the song book someone had thoughtfully put together.  We sang with the gusto of the young fresh youth that we once were.  Our chests pushed past the arthritis and belted out the words……The songs were the ‘old’ songs that were popular back in the day.  Songs like “People to People” and “Here is my life” as well as “If I had a Hammer” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

But the most poignant by far was a song I’d completely forgotten.  It’s called “All of My Tomorrows”.  Unfortunately, I can only find the Frank Sinatra and Colt Ford versions on google, and those songs are a bit cynical, but the Christian one is good, maybe some of you remember it, here are lyrics of the refrain.

All of my tomorrows, I bring to You today

All of my tomorrows, I gladly give away

Giving of self and giving of love as You have given me

All of my tomorrows, I bring them all to Thee

How fervently we believed this when we all went out…….little knowing that some of our ‘tomorrows’ would be adventures and griefs that in our 20’s we were incapable of imagining.

And now…… Tony and I are facing what we might call ‘the Biggest Tomorrow” that being….. the rest of our lives.

We are happy to report that after a week here in Bangkok being poked and prodded in our favorite hospital,  we have BOTH been declared to be in robust health, although we heard the “fat” word more than once.    For those of you who have followed my dramas since last May, I’m sure you’re relieved to know the debilitating virus I contracted is long gone along with most of the damage.  That’s the verdict we most hoped for!  Now I need to have a lot of “grandparent therapy” to work out the rest of the kinks.

“All of my Tomorrows”…..  Who knows what that may be?  Today I thought about this journey as Tony read from Oswald Chambers.  He says that sometimes we think we get the rewards by trusting God, but actually it’s only walking by faith that we can see His Character.   Only God knows our ’tomorrows’, He who holds our hands and leads us in green pastures.

We’ll check in from time to time, so stay tuned!


Still There

When Tony’s Dad died in Texas year before last, we had the sad job of gathering up all the memories he and Mom had accumulated over the years, sorting them carefully and the either (1) shipping them to our home in Australia, (2) giving them to friends and family here in the States, or (3) throwing them away.

It was a joy to wrap up so many things that had been “them” and handing them over to those who treasure them for years to come. I have to say, I was especially happy to part with Dad’s elephant foot! I hear it’s been consigned to a glass case  at a church where a group of boys and girls had sat through hours of his tales of life in Africa. We really had no choice, since Australia would not allow it in, and in fact we might have been looking at criminal charges had we tried! No matter that when Mom and Dad had served in Rhodesia, there was no such stringent laws on animal parts and ivory back then.

Tony was a little sadder to say goodbye to Dad’s 18-foot python skin, but as Australia customs put it, “You can’t bring it in, and if it looks like you tried to hide it, you’re looking at jail time.” Oh well, I think Cousin Kim is going to make a saddle out of it.

Yesterday, we had a chance to visit their house at Holly Lake, Texas. What a flood of memories, to visit the place where so much love and joy had abounded! The house had been bought by a friend, who had completely remodeled it with the intention of selling it for a profit. When I say, “remodeled”, I’m not exaggerating! Driving up to the place, I though at first we’d gotten lost and come to the wrong address. It was a different color, different shape, and bigger! The friend took us through the house (it’s still for sale), and I was astounded. The living room had expanded into an adjoining bedroom. The kitchen had pushed out into the hallway, which had in turn stretched into the carport. Dad’s office had become a garage, and part of the back yard was now an extension, allowing for another bedroom.

“It’s not here anymore,” I exclaimed. “Dad’s place is gone!”

“Not entirely,” Tony said, heading for the new pantry door. Opening it up and moving some cleaning supplies aside, he pointed triumphantly to the breaker box, still where it had always been. “They couldn’t move that without a lot of building code revisions. And if I’m not mistaken,” he said, moving across what was left of the hallway, “the water heater pretty much has to be here.” And sure enough, it was still in the same place, happily heating water for any and all.

That started me thinking, and I went back to the bedroom. It had been completely revamped, but opening the closet, I saw the old dark wood paneling Mom and Dad had been so proud of. It had covered the whole house, but now could be found only in this one place.

It’s a beautiful home. It was beautiful before, but in a different way. I can’t help but think of a verse in Samuel where the Lord says to him, “……man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Here’s to looking beautiful inside and out.  Have a great week!

On another note, I’ll probably be unable to blog for a week or two, don’t worry, I’ll be back in a while.  We’re stepping into the funnel of our departure (to Australia and retirement) and the whirlpool may get pretty strong.

Into the Wind

This last week I actually found some time to be bored. Tony’s working almost 24/7 on his doctorate in preparation for the next big seminar, so that leaves me to entertain myself.

I was sitting outside on this beautiful clear day. There was a slight breeze blowing…..all was well. That is until along came a spider.

She landed on a leaf near me, carried by a gossamer hang glider made of spider web. I immediately went into a ‘little Miss Muppet dance” until I realized that she had no intention of involving me whatsoever. She was on a mission and I was merely an observer. Still, I kept a careful eye on her, reminding myself that I could dispatch her at any time with a flick of a shoe or send her on her way with a good whack on the branch she sat on. Instead I chose (since I was bored anyway) to watch her.

The first thing I noticed were several strands of web that must have come with her.  Or maybe she came with them. I batted them away from my face and kept watching.

I never could figure out exactly what she was doing with such great determination, but she continued running up and down the leaf, working feverishly.

Suddenly, she and I both noticed a shift into the wind. She turned into it while I kept watching.

Then, without as much as a nod of goodbye, she seemed to ‘cast’ some silk into the wind, and the next thing I knew she was being drawn up and away, finally gliding out of sight.

….leaving me in wonder. As I sat there, a couple of things occurred to me

She came, she worked, and she went.  I could almost be certain that she didn’t spend a lot of time being confused, scared or catatonic with introspection. Whatever she was doing, it seemed to have an intentional purpose and she succeeded in her next ‘leap’ with all the grace and style that left me confident that she had no qualms whatsoever.

I had fun imagining that maybe, thanks to spider instinct, she (1) knew who she was and what God given gifts she had, and (2) trusted in God, along with His wind to take her on her next juncture.

As you may know, Southern Baptist missionaries have very recently been given a “challenge” from our Mission Board.

Due to continuing financial shortfalls, the Board is asking that at least 800 of the older and wiser will consider taking this opportunity to ‘retire’.  And to make the “offer” clear, they have until sometime in early November to decide before the parachute incentive packages dissipate into the wind.

If you’ve ever prayed for we missionaries, please do so now.

Before you worry about us, be assured that we are just fine. After all, we’re 65 and 67 and have been planning this step for some time now. The Board has been very good to us over our almost 40 years of service and we’re looking forward with great anticipation to the next chapter in our lives.

No, we’re praying for our fellow missionaries in their 50’s and early 60’s, most who have the language and culture and many of whom are finally starting to see some fruit from their labors.

We rest assured that God is not in the business of letting people down. He knows what’s happening and is in control.  We all know that.

And today I want us to pray that like that spider throwing her silk into the wind, these folks are going to be able to know who they are, know their gifts and have the encouragement and faith to let go and let God take them where He will.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3)

Have a wonderful week,

Always, Marsha

Too Much Help

Have you ever driven anywhere with a cat in the car?  If so, then maybe you can relate to our journey these last couple of days across the endless miles from Maine to Michigan.

You see, we had the unlisted help of four ‘ladies’ in the car. We’ve named our various GPS systems “Nelda”, (the original Tom Tom model we bought when we landed in America), “Stephanie” (the onboard one installed in the rental car,) and two unnamed iPhone apps. I think they would be great, except that they don’t work just anywhere since they no longer have a phone service connected. That means we have to stop somewhere and hook up to the internet before they’ll talk to us.

Stephanie set us out on what she considered a 14-hour route to get us to Michigan before Tony was due at an online seminar (for his doctorate) and then will be preaching as you’re reading this (in Japanese). Two easy 7-hour driving days. No problem.

We left the parking lot bolstered with courage, but there were already issues between the girls.  One wanted us to go left, the other wanted us to go…….you guessed it, right.  Of course most of these devices are very lady-like in that they won’t show you all their secrets until you stop, find an internet, promise them something and then find out what they intended to reveal about their ultimate plans, assumably later.

Eventually we found ourselves on an ever-narrowing dirt road somewhere in Vermont. I will admit that the scenery was breathtaking, but we needed to stay on task.  We retraced our steps to the pavement and found a diner with a kindly waitress.  “Oh, GPS’s don’t work here, too many trees”, she said as she used an archaic tool (her hand) to point the way.  Off we went, full of blueberry pancakes and hope…….again.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but we gradually developed a routine: Drive about 2 hours, look at all the beautiful scenery, stop and find a place with internet and then have a consultation.

Attending the battle/travel planning meeting were our three “GPS Girls” while built-in Stephanie remained stuck in the car, pouting and plotting.  We would of course ask her opinion when we came back to the car, but she claimed to have a “safety feature” that refused any discussion as long as the car was moving.  So she said.

So off we’d go for another 2+ hours, craning our necks out the windows in search of moose or anything else of note. We did see a lot of trees and lakes……

Finally we came upon an Alfred Hitchcockian motel, complete with a set of “nere-do-wells” lounging in the dark along the railings.  I went straight for our room, slammed and locked the door behind us After checking the shower while whistling the theme from “Psycho”, I collapsed on the bed. We’d been on the road for 13 hours and weren’t half way there.

Bright and early the next morning we dashed down to the office to check out the “free continental breakfast”. The “nere-do-wells” (who it turned out were some very nice middle-aged bikers trying to rediscover their youth) were already lined up, but we managed to grab a roll and a cup of coffee before hitting the road again. The sleep had renewed our resolve to ‘get this done’, and since Lake Erie was lapping to our left side, I didn’t think the GPS girls could squabble any today.

Wrong.  Nelda insisted we were 7 hours from the goal, Stephanie? 14.  The iPhone cheerleaders backed up Nelda, so we followed her lead.

Before the day was out, we had gathered BOTH our laptops, both phones and Nelda into the rest stop for a final summit meeting. Canada has lovely rest stops called ‘Enroute’.  They’re clean, predictable, decked out with fast food and tourist information, and a real comfort when you’re going nuts.

All the girls agreed, except of course for Stephanie, who kept insisting that we needed to circumnavigate Lake Erie, adding about 700 miles!  We’ve came to the conclusion that she’s all looks and no brain and we’ll be glad to send her back with the car when the rental is finished.

After just under nine hours, we arrived in Detroit, found the motel we’d booked online, and Tony managed to log into his seminar on time. While he was pontificating, I called our Japanese friend and found out that he was still in Kentucky, having missed his plane home from a business trip! Hopefully we’ll see him and his wife tomorrow, at least at church if not before.

So it seems getting from “point A” to “point B” is not always a simple matter. It often comes down to where you put your faith. For this trip, we were “loaded for bear” with a total of two GPS units, two iPhone map apps and two laptop computers. As I think about it, I believe we would have had better success if we’d found more friendly waitresses along the way to ply us with pancakes and point us in the right direction.

When the writer of Proverbs tells us, “By wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Pro. 24:6), I don’t think he had GPS devices in mind. There are those whose counsel is good and helpful, and those who if given the chance will take you down a dead end dirt road. We need to know whom we can trust, and who will lead us in the right direction.

Jesus said it well: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). If we’ll follow His lead, and the lead of those He provides, we can’t go wrong. Let’s keep our eyes on Him, read His Word and listen to His counsel.

And speaking of the journey, some Aussie friends are going to sell us their old car for $2000! I’m hoping at that price it doesn’t have a built in GPS!

Happy Travels, Marsha