A Day Of Rest!

A day finally just for myself, I take a deep breath, order my bagel and coffee and set myself up outside on the back patio. The sun is shining brightly down on my little café here in Auburn and the courthouse across the street stands out like an old friend, ready to greet me. It is a bright clear day here in the hills, looking more like springtime and less like winter. Eagerly, I sit and wait for the sun to reach down and plant a kiss upon my face. I prepare myself to just enter into a much-needed time of rest, while reflecting on my past week. It has been quite sometime since I have made it to my little sanctuary in the hills by myself.

Five years now since I accepted the challenge from a visiting pastor at my church, a challenge that has forever changed my life. I could tell by the passion in his voice that he had a desire for those sitting in the pews; it was to grasp the importance of pulling away and sitting before the Lord. In doing so, he assured us that we would then be prepared for the work set before us. I had become accustomed to serve until you had nothing left and then serve some more. At this particular time in my life, I had been serving almost fulltime and found myself pouring out in all areas of ministry. I was encouraged to serve but never encouraged to rest. I quickly learned back then that Sunday was not a day of rest for those serving in the church. I found I was going to have to be deliberate with his challenge as well as consistent in pulling away.

Therefore, here I am in my fifth year of consistently pulling away and deliberately finding time to just be still. With the sun on face and a breeze in the air, I go to a place inside my heart where I find peace in the moment and I start to really listen to the still quiet voice of God. I am overwhelmed with the gratitude I feel in my heart and overcome with emotions as I realize how much God is teaching me while I am in a place of stillness. The preparation for ministry has not come from doing but rather being, being still and knowing I am not God.

Today I am reflecting on my most resent journey, following in the footsteps of Jesus. Last week at this time, I was preparing to go into L.A. county jail to minister to the most beautiful broken women in California. I joined a team of passionate sisters in Christ who also have a calling to reach out to those in the gated community. The hardest part about serving in this capacity, about going behind the bars is saying goodbye and leaving. I know all to well what it is like to serve time, to be locked up with out any hope of being pardoned. Though my bars were invisible, they were there. I was broken, beat up and believing the lie. The lie that I was forever ruined because of what I had done and what had been done to me. It took others coming beside me, wearing Him well, which I called “Jesus with skin on “for me to really grasp how deep and how wide God really loved me. I cannot help but to give back what was so freely given to me.

As I finished my day of rest, in the quiet hills of Auburn, I decided to pop into a tiny little boutique at the end of the town. I felt like I had been transported back in time to my great grandmother’s living room. As I entered this shop, the sent of gardenias flooded my nose bringing me back to many early childhood memories. Her home always seemed to be like a museum, we were never aloud to touch, only look. I quickly came back to the present moment when I noticed an older gentlemen approaching me.

As we made eye contact, I immediately noticed the sadness in his eyes that seemed to speak of something broken deep inside his soul. He greeted me with a smile and asked what had brought me up this way. Apparently, I did not look like a local and being the storeowner, he probably knew everyone in this small town. I shared with him about my day of rest and the years I had spent coming up the hill, I had met his wife many times while walking through their shop but this was the first time I had ever met Don.

Don had deep lines in his face and creases in his hands, he had many years on me and I knew a story was behind that grin of his. The grin he gave me when I told him I was a minister. His reaction was one of surprise and almost disbelief. He followed me through the store continuing to just chatter away about his day when the bell on the door jingled, letting him know more customers had arrived. He excused himself and left me to my thoughts. I felt the Lord nudge my heart, preparing me to reach out to my new friend. How at this point, I was not sure and then he returned with the winning question. The question that opened the door to the answer I was looking for. I wanted to know about the sadness in his eyes but being a complete stranger I knew I had not earned the right to ask such a question.

The winning question was simple; he wanted to know how I ministered and what it looked like. He was so cute in the way he genuinely wanted to know. At once, I stopped what I was doing, looked him in the eyes and gave him all my attention, I knew there had to be more to his inquiring mind. I shared with him about my calling and how I had just returned from L.A. He appeared to be intrigued with what I was sharing, his eyes seemed to pop open and he perked up as I shared my love for those beautiful broken woman I get to minister to. I was silent after I shared; we broke eye contact and then I started to look around the shop once more. I felt the Lord calling me to pray over my new friend but I silently cried out to the Lord, for what? Once again, there was Don, with another question; he wanted to know what brought me into the prison ministry besides the call. This was the actual question that opened the door to the answer I was looking for to the sadness in his eyes and the for what, in regards to prayer. I shared my two-minute testimony of my background in addiction, how God had restored me through His son Jesus Christ and how now I have become the kind of person I use to make fun of.

He slowly walked away; he stepped behind the counter and was fiddling now with his cash register. He looked up at me after a period of silence and said I understand. He continued to share his story, the one that explained the sadness in his eyes. He had lost one daughter to addiction and was afraid he was about to loose another one to alcoholism. He had this faraway look in his eyes as if he was picturing his little girls now. It was at that moment I just placed my hands out to him he grabbed them and we stood there holding hands as I prayed for his broken heart and the lose of his children. His fragile hands in mine, a broken father’s heart and a powerful God who does not waste a hurt allowed me to represent Him that day. After I prayed, we exchanged information and I promised him I would keep him, his wife and daughter in prayer. He then placed something in my hand, a gift he wanted me to have, and a beautiful silver chain with a pendant. I just smiled, there were no words left to be said. We made eye contact for the last time; I nodded my head and walked out the door.

It was time for me to leave the sanctuary of this little town that I have come to love. My day of rest had ended and once again, I was in awe of God and His divine appointments. I am so thankful for the challenge that was placed before me five years ago; the preparation is truly in the stillness.

The unofficial report of the So. California Sweep!!!!

February 18- February 21, 2009 / 5 events in 4 days! Way to go team!

What can I say, except that the trip rocked and the people we met were just amazing, inside and outside, it truly is such a blessing to be able to serve in such an incredible way. Our first event was on Wed. night, we met with Jackie’s daughter’s small group, combined with a few gals from Jackie’s small group as well. We quickly went from a meeting about information to testimonies about redemption. There were prisoners among us and they did not even know it. The women seemed to be intrigued but what was more amazing was the silent gasps as what I believe where these young women feeling connected to those behind bars, and the tears that where shed as both myself and Deanna shared our own personal struggles which quickly bridged the gap between us and them. We had one gal immediately step up to volunteer from Amanda’s small group as well as a gal named Louse who I believe is also interested. Not to mention the prayer support the groups will provide. I think we had around 15 or so women on that night.

Thursday night we met with Shadow Mountain Church, once again, Jackie did a great job of connecting with those in charge and a beautiful dinner was served and a perfect set up for the presentation. We had local chaplains join us, others involved in the prison ministry and even a local television preacher who runs a couple of transitional living homes in Southern CA. Deanna and Jackie did an incredible job of sharing the ministry and Valerie Perez (my mom) came to support us as our prayer warrior for this sweep. The feeling among those in the room was relief as we spent time talking with individuals who are in desperate need of ministry partners. The looks on those in the room are priceless when we say we are here to serve you! There were around 50 people who joined us that night and I believe the success came from the fact that everyone there that night has servants hearts. DOD has away of not only bridging the gap between the intimates and church but also between different ministries as people realize that we can work together rather then against each other. It was a great night of serving.

Friday night was our night in Lynwood where a team of seven of us went into Orange County Jail. Two angels disguised as chaplains greeted us, I really believe this. These two ladies were amazing women who loved the women they served an it was apparent by the smiles on their faces and the gleam in their eyes as they shared about their ministry. As we all gathered around to prepare to go in the chaplain received a call that there was a lock down and that we were not going to be able to get in. Quickly prayers went out and quickly we received our clearance but not without a few more distractions but we did eventually make in to our destinations. We split the teams up into two that night and entered the units we were all chosen for. I was not only impressed with the chaplains but also the guards working on the units I were in, seemed to have a sternness about them with an underlining love for the ladies. Between the two teams we were able to minister to 250 ladies, 100 ladies came to except Christ as their savior. Praise God for our new family members. My favorite part of the night was when we closed service, Chaplain Maria led us all in Amazing Grace, powerful, it echoed in the unit. The inmates and chaplains are all excited to have DOD come back in for seminars.

Saturday morning we had to be back at the jail at 8:15 AM, now we were not planning on going in until 9AM but the Chaplains had a full continental breakfast ready for us. We were treated so well by these ladies, they blessed us in so many ways, with their kind words to their unselfish actions. So the team gathered in the chaplain’s office, enjoyed breakfast together as a team, and prayed before we started our morning. Iron sharpening iron at its best went on that morning. We broke into three teams on this morning, ready and excited from the night before, with our worship team in a box ready to go. Between the three services, we had 118 women present, 40 ladies except Christ for the first time and 30 rededicated their lives. So many tears where shed on Sat. morning, I was so thankful that we were able to leave them with Deanna’s book which is such a powerful tool. Another powerful time behind bars with some of God’s most precious daughters.

We got out of their around 12:00PM which gave Deanna, Jackie and I just enough time to get some lunch, go home and rest before we had to be at Saddleback for the presentation there. Again, Jackie did a great job of connecting with those we could partner with as well as reach out to. Valerie joined us for this event as our prayer warrior and we had a great turn out of Chaplains, volunteers and community servants who were interested in hearing more about DOD. The O.C. Juvenile Chaplain spoke before us, showed an incredible DVD, and if you did not know better you would have thought we had planned it all, his presentation went perfect with ours, what a match. The evening was again a success because relationships were built with others who have the heart to reach out to the incarcerated and the family of those as well. The DOD team did a wonderful job of representing the ministry. The most powerful part of the evening was watching the expression on the people in the seats change from feeling like they were in this by themselves to a look of relief to realize that they were not alone to serve in such an incredibly large vineyard..

Thank you all for commitment to praying for us as a team, for lifting up our families while we were gone and for your faithful service, we could not do what we do if it were not for all of you.

A Love Letter To My Husband!

Happy Valentine's Day

Dear Tony,
Thank you for treating everyday like Valentine's Day. Thank you for loving me through the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. You have taught me so much by the way you have stood back and allowed me to grow by letting me go. I thank you for the times when you could have said something but chose to say nothing. I thank you for the times you spoke up when I had lost my voice, and for stepping in and leading the way when I lost my step. Thank you for putting God first in your life and me second; you are an amazing man of God. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts, feelings and ideas and thank you for not trying to fix me, change me or belittle me. Thank you for teaching me to live in the moment and showing me how to slow down. Thank you for celebrating our marriage in all the little things you do. Thank you for the way you look at me when I am in bed at the end of a hard long day, the way you pause and then tell me how beautiful I am. Thank you for holding my hand in public and laughing out loud with me. Thank you for getting to know me better then I know myself. Thank you for teaching me to hear God's still quiet voice. And most of all, Thank you for never ever giving up on me even when I gave up on myself. You are a gift from God and I love being married to you. Happy Valentine's Day to the greatest husband on earth. I love you to the sky and back.

Your Best Friend

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
Matthew 23:25 (New International Version)

Blisters began to form around my heels, my hips began to ache and my knees started to throb. What could be causing me such discomfort and pain? I was running at the usual time, through the usual course, wearing the usual shoes, yet all of a sudden I found myself hurting physically and I couldn't’t figure out why. I looked down at my shoes to see if they might be the cause, maybe something in the way, maybe I tied them to tight or not tight enough but everything looked just fine and I finished my run. When I got home I sat on my porch, put my feet up on the chair and starred once again at my shoes.

I was actually rather impressed with the condition they were in, considering I had bought them last summer and have been running in them since. They didn't’t look to dirty, due to the fact that I would wipe them down now and then and also that I ran mostly on the street, not much dirt found there. Not thinking much about it, I took them off and placed them back in my closet. I was determined to figure out the cause of all the pain, since it didn't’t seem to come from the shoe, I thought maybe I was dealing with arthritis, a pulled muscle or just getting older. I started looking up information on the internet, asking questions from other runners and formulating my own diagnosis. I was becoming good at research and believed I found an answer to my pain.

Then one day, not to long after the pain had started and the self-diagnosis had been made and after I had just returned from another painful run, I found myself starring into the inside of my shoes. I could not believe what I was looking at, the answer to my pain was looking right back at me and it was not something I could see from the outside of my shoe. First of all, all the material behind my heel that was suppose to protect my skin was gone and there were these tiny plastic pieces sticking out, nothing major, pretty small, so small I couldn't’t really feel them when I ran but they did a number on both my heels. I continued to inspect the inside the shoe, I found that I had worn out my arch supports completely, I was down to the inner soul of the shoe which would explain the hip pain as well as other aches such as my knees throbbing. This seemed so simple, how did I let this get by and then it dawned on me. I was fooled into thinking that my shoes were in good shape based on the appearance from the outside. This experience felt all to familiar and brought with it a flood of memories to my mind.

As I looked into the inside of my shoes, the memories of my past came flooding to my thoughts. I never looked inside myself in the days of my dysfunction but rather outside to determine if I was in good shape. If I felt pain, discomfort, or out of sorts, I would search outside of myself to figure out what it might be? Kind of like what I was doing with the shoes. Because I kept my physical appearance in good condition I truly believed all was well within.

Until one day, the symptoms of my soul were just too much for me to deny any longer. I could not find relief, comfort or answers in my appearance or in anyone or anything outside of myself any longer. Like looking into my shoes and finding the worn out, tattered torn souls, it was the same experience the day I decided to look inside of myself and stop blaming what was on the outside for all the pain.

I came to realize that the only person I was truly angry with, the only person that I could change was me. The lack of forgiveness in my soul was what was causing me so much discomfort and pain; it wasn't’t what was on the outside but rather what I carried deep within that caused me to walk with a spiritual limp most of my life. How am I able to replace my worn out soul? How am I able to walk without that spiritual limp today?

Psalms 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

That is how I replace the worn out souls of my heart, by searching with in and asking God to show me so that I can seek forgiveness and step into a new set of shoes so that I can run the race set before me.