Thursday, November 6, 2008

Portland...the details of a direction...

Now I’d like to share a bit about our time in Portland, Oregon, and the events leading up to our decision to visit. Jade and I were surprised by how clearly we saw the hand of God orchestrate so many events during, and before, our time there…

To back up a little, I’d like to say that neither Jade nor I were completely certain about why we were going to Portland in the first place. I haven’t told many people this, because it always seemed like a hokey thing to tell people, but a few years ago I began to dream about Portland, Oregon. I dreamt about it, literally, and also, I would catch myself daydreaming about this place I had never even been. Now I feel like I can tell more people than just Jade about these “dreams” because some big confirmations on the significance of this city in our lives, we believe, have taken their course in our lives over the past several months. Dreams can be so intangible and uncertain, I am well aware. And Jade gives me flack sometimes (with GOOD reason!) for having “dreams” about things and then taking seriously that these night and day dreams actually mean something. I know now that most things I dream/daydream about are probably the result of a lifetime of reading fiction books and connecting with the characters and their adventures, an active imagination, and the struggle I seem to have with keeping my feet in reality and living in the contented moment. But I also know that this is who God has made me to be, and there are certain “dreams” that you just know in your “knower” (something Pastor Curt Dodd always says that I can really relate to!) are legitimate. Sometimes a person, in their “knower” can really know something is right for them…but are left to waiting on God for the next step towards a decision…and months, or years, of praying for God to make it extremely clear and to give us peace. And Jade and I have talked a lot recently about how God speaks distinctly different to each person, according to how they would hear His voice most clearly. For example, I do not usually hear God through logical reasoning. I usually feel something is right to the core and dream dreams or see signs (sometimes street signs...which is how I ended up at Honey Rock Camp, but another story...) But neither is “right” or “wrong” because C.S. Lewis would have never come to Christ without the logic and the head knowledge of understanding the Trinity. So God speaks to us uniquely…and I am so glad! (AS LONG AS HIS “SPEAKING” IS IN LINE WITH THE WORD OF GOD; the most important factor, and the source of God officially speaking that we have access to, his “special revelation” and then the “general revelation” of nature and the things he has created which cause morality and the desire to know God in the heart of every man… but on with my story….)

I also dreamt of going to L’Abri my Junior year of college…which was finally made complete six years later! And now, with my husband, I am sure that L’Abri, the lessons we have learned and the community that has beckoned us back for another term, will always be a part of who we are as individuals and as a couple. But I needed to wait for that dream (L’Abri) to become reality…and the waiting made it so sweet when the perfect time in our life came.

I have always loved the outdoors (this was confirmed in my heart the summer I spent at Honey Rock in the Northwoods of Wisconsin). Hiking, canoeing, the fresh air and solitude of the wilderness. Discovering and seeing things with my eyes for the first time. So, I thought, when I started dreaming of Portland, “is this the reason my heart is drawn to this place?” Then my friend Kim told me she’d be moving back to Oregon after grad school in North Carolina, and Jade’s friends Joe and Allison were also there. We are both extremely fond of our college experiences, and eternally thankful for the spiritual strength in community and friendships we grew in there…so I thought: “are these people the reason my heart is drawn to Portland?” A year ago, or so, I was reading a Donald Miller book (the author of “Blue Like Jazz”) called “To Own a Dragon,” which is my favorite book of his, and it contains the reflections of his life without a father. A GREAT book! Anyways, in the book he talks mostly about the family that took him into their home as a son in Oregon. The man who mentored him and offered him shelter was a professional nature photographer, and also taught classes at a Portland Seminary called Western Seminary. Donald told in his book that this guy was the best Bible teacher he had ever known, and went on and on about how great this man was. So when I started looking into going back to school to get my master’s degree in counseling a few years ago, I looked it up. The counseling program looked awesome, with a combination of Counseling and Bible and Theology classes (a seminary is the only place I can both get a state certification to be a licensed counselor, but also Biblical training to integrate the two). They also have classes about cross-cultural issues like children and women who have been traumatized, etc…They require five semester of internships, which is way more than any other school I have seen, which means that you’re not just in class all the time! You get a lot of actual experience…in a lot of different settings to find out where you fit best. The school also offers free classes (to audit) to the spouse of a full-time student…which is great because Jade also desires to get some formal Bible and Theology education. I also looked up Imago Dei, the church Donald Miller frequently talks about in his books, and it looked like a great body of believers. So I began thinking: “is this seminary and the fact that on of my favorite authors loves this city the reason my heart is drawn to Portland?”

But honestly, these reasons alone were not, and still aren’t, enough for me or Jade to want to move there. They are very good reasons, but not enough to haul our stuff half way across the country. And away from our families. I already tried the moving far away thing to Georgia (in 2004) and that only lasted 7 months, ending with my mom flying down to Atlanta to drive with me and my car load of things back home. HOME is what Omaha (Homaha : ) has been to us, and coming back again with my tail tucked between my legs, I guess, is still kind-of a fear I have.

SO, it’s true that the past year we have felt a need to change our lifestyle, and to get out into the world for awhile. A time to really super glue our marriage together and to become fully dependent on God as a couple. To REALLY trust Him more than anything. To commit our travels to him as an offering of trust and dependence on His good mercy.

About half-way thorough this summer we began to meet all kinds of people who were either from Portland or who had family connections there. Jade loves the fact that I get “feelings: about things of course, but he hadn’t really taken to heart any of my comments about how I was hearing about Portland and praying that if it was God’s will, it would become obvious to both of us equally. And I don’t blame him, either, because there are a lot of other places that are great to live, and, after awhile, a place is just a place anyways. (Unless it is a place God has specifically called you…but both Jade and I were skeptical that that could happen to us.) But about halfway through the summer, neither one of us could deny that Portland was becoming a common thread in the travelers we were meeting and the conversation we were having all across Europe.

One weekend at L’Abri, my friend Kim and her sister Lynzy came to visit us in Holland while staying with their third sister Jen in Germany. While they were here, another couple in their sixties, Hans and Lois Blom, also dropped by L’Abri for a few days. Hans is a Dutchman, growing up in Holland his whole life. Lois traveled here as a twenty-something by ship, learning the language in a book on her journey across the Atlantic! She says Hans was the “souvenir” she brought home, as they were married a while later and moved to….guess where…Portland, Oregon. Through the years they had both been connected to L’Abri (and host a bi-annually L’Abri conference there), and while coming back to visit Hans’ sister in Holland, they stopped by for a couple of nights. I got to know Lois very quickly and was sad to see them go a few days later…but we exchanged information, and she said that if we were ever in Portland, we should give them a call and we could stay with them.

To fast forward to our time in Germany in July, Jade and I were starting to wonder what we would do the month of August. We knew we wanted to go home to see family for a few weeks, but we also thought that we should just take the plunge and go out to Portland to dip our toes in the water before we did anything drastic like jumping in the water…or moving out there! At this point we began to feel like Abraham and his family may have felt…knowing that, because we were avidly seeking God in prayer, He was speaking to us…but we weren’t sure exactly where he was calling us to go, and each step sort-of seemed like a blind step. Portland seemed like the right choice in our “knowers,” but we still had fear and couldn’t really explain to any one else why we were going except that we felt God “calling us to go.” I suppose Abraham must have had a hard time explaining to everyone why they were moving around, living in tents, without being sure of their final destination. (This summer, by the way, has made me ever more aware of the reality that this earth and our homes here are really just a tent…and we won’t ever, and aren’t supposed to be, completely settled until we are in our eternal promised land.)

But anyways, I had lost Hans and Lois’s email address, and so I figured, if we went at all, we would just try and stay with Kim and Joe & Allison. That VERY DAY I checked my email and there was an email from Lois Blom. She asked if I remembered her from L’Abri, and she said she had felt that morning that she needed to write me and let us know that the offer for us to stay with them if we ever wanted to visit still stood. Remember that we only met them for two days, and for most meetings in that amount of time, those people are just a blip on the radar…you rarely think of seeing them again. But this very morning that I was thinking about this couple, she had already emailed me! I think I may have laughed out loud in astonishment…I know I ran to get Jade!

So Jade and I took that as a sign to move forward on going to Portland the last few weeks of August. Our friends were also excited to have us, and Hans and Lois offered to pick us up at the airport.

After two Wonderful weeks with our family and close friends in Omaha, we headed the opposite direction of L’Abri to the Pacific Northwest.

When we arrived, Hans and Lois (the couple we met at L’Abri) picked us up from the airport. We stayed in their home and enjoyed fresh berries and freshly caught fish at every meal, watching the Olympics, fishing with Hans on the Columbia River, and the blessing to borrow their vehicle to make our way out to the coast and around Portland. At mealtimes we talked about what God had done in their family over the years, and their prayers for a son who had been estranged from their family for years. We shared our hopes and dreams of things we would like to do in our future and of starting a family. Hans gave us snippets of his Old Testament studies, which he had compiled himself and had been teaching in a church setting for years and years. We made a real connection with their family (including their dog Scandel) and it was wonderful!

From there our friends Joe and Allison picked us up and we spent the next few days with them in their downtown apartment. We picked berries on Sauvie Island, ate pizza during a movie in the park viewing of “The Princess Bride,” and took a small road trip to Mount Hood. (What they don’t tell you, is that you can only see Mt. Hood about 10% of the time because it is often very cloudy and overcast in that area.)

Up until this point we thought Portland was beautiful, but we didn’t think we would move here. We had been praying all year for God to show us a very specific answer to our “Where should we be?” question. And we hadn’t received any answer but “Wait…”

We met our friend Kim downtown and went out to her parent’s home in Beaverton to stay for our final week. We met her family and played ultimate Frisbee with her friends, and got in their hot tub to ease our sore muscles after Frisbee. We celebrated our third anniversary kayaking on the Willamette River and licking our fingers at Pit Stop BBQ.

The next morning (Thursday), we got up and we drove to the Western Seminary campus. This day was the beginning to our “answer” from God. When we arrived, we were welcomed by Laurie Bloomquist, the counseling admissions person who took us out for a great lunch. The talk I had with her over pizza got me excited about her feelings for the seminary, and the things she was learning. We both spoke about our passion for victimized women and children and for our desire to work with people from all parts of the world in some capacity. Then we went to campus for a tour, and I loved the simplicity and quaint hominess of the campus. I was greeted about every 10 feet by another friendly face, and it seemed like every person I talked to was either familiar with L’Abri or my friend Kim’s family or Omaha! I met a counseling professor, Norm Thiesen, who had helped to start the Grace counseling program in Omaha and who had been Cindy Johnson’s supervisor (a godly woman and counselor in Omaha) while she was attending Grace. Within three minutes of talking, he had given me his card with his home phone number inviting us to his house on Sunday evening for a get together of some students. I also met with two other professors, and it seemed like everything they said resonated somewhere deep in my heart. These were men I could be excited about taking classes from!

By the end of our visit, we went back to the office and were greeted (again!) by everyone there. I signed up to come in and take my admissions tests a few mornings later, and we began to inquire about housing in the area (pricing, location, etc.) The secretary told us about an international living community and training center for international students and for students who want to live in a cross-cultural learning environment. Called the “World View Center,” it was five blocks from campus and only two blocks from the entrance to Mount Tabor Park (one of the largest “green” areas in Portland!) Because we were coming from L’Abri, she gave me the center’s contact information.

From campus, which is right on the edge of Portland’s legendary Hawthorne District (a place for hippies and other eclectic people), we decided to walk the main strip and get some bubble tea. Sitting down for tea, we talked about Western and our impressions of the campus and the people. Both of us were genuinely impressed, and it was at that point that the seriousness of our thought to move there seemed “right.” Then we met a man who was born in Sioux City Iowa and had lived in Omaha for years. His mom still lived in Omaha and he hadn’t seen her in years. I told him he should go to see her. I get chills because I was also born in Sioux City. It was one of those “weird” meetings you’re not sure what to think about…but I am already convinced that there are not many coincidences in our lives.

It was an exciting day, for sure, but for the next few days, thoughts of what Jade would do here for work set in. On Friday, Jade went to hang out with his friend Joe, and I went with Kim to meet one of her uncles who has his law office downtown. Her uncle, his wife (and secretary!) and his law partner were super kind, and after no time were brainstorming their connections to see what type of help they could offer Jade in his job search. After some talking, they thought of a man named Dave Click who was the type of Christian businessman who had connections with almost everyone in the area. He was a member of Kim’s family’s church (also Pastored by another of Kim’s uncles!), and on Sunday, we planned, Kim would introduce us to him.

So, Sunday morning rolled around and Kim introduced us to one of the friendliest, down-to-earth men that I have ever met. He and his wife, Kay, are probably in their 60’s, and he is “retired” (but not really, because they are still involved with so many things!) One of the first things he told us was that he found it God’s calling on his life to help young men (such as Jade) find work in the business world, more specifically, the food industry! WOW! THEN (as if it couldn’t get any more “coincidental”) he mentioned that the man who had led his to the Lord many years before was a Bible teacher in the area, and a Dutchman….and at that moment, I blurted out “is his name Hans Blom?” And he was a bit surprised that I knew Hans, but we explained that we had met both Hans and his wife Lois at L’Abri, and had stayed with them during our first week in Portland! Dave and Click expressed how much of an influence Hans and Lois had had on their lives and I think my eyes must have oogled out of my face at that point out of shock, and amazement and just absolute thankfulness to God for making this connection. There have only been a few times in my life when the stars have lined up in such a way that it is almost as if I am feeling the gentle hand of God on the small of my back, nudging me in a specific direction. This moment in time was one of them, and even more amazingly, BOTH of us felt it at the same time…which is miraculous in itself when you have two people with different opinions, hang-ups, selective listening, etc.

That night, we went to Norm Thiesen’s house (the professor from Western who had lived in Omaha for years) and met his wife and their kids, and also some students from Western and their spouses. We watched their sheeps get sheered and ate root beer floats around their campfire. Norm even showed us his basement being finished for the future use of a seminary student and the old kyaks they wanted to “get rid of” (which Jade and I said we would gladly accept if they still had them when we got there!) After that we went and met a cousin of Jade’s mom, his wife, and two of their granddaughters. They were a Christian family and shared about their years of involvement with Youth with a Mission and their travels all over the world. If we moved there, they told us, we would have to come by often for dinner and they would be our family in Portland! What a great thing to hear! Again, we were so thankful!

We had been praying specifically for God to make a direction clear to both of us. And now, with the seminary, a start on Jade finding a job, new friends and connections made with young people, older people and a professor and his family from Omaha, we both felt like Portland already had the makings of a “home” written there.

Our trip ended there on September 4 when Kim drove us to the airport and we boarded the plane for the Netherlands and for three and a half months at L’Abri. (See our blog on “The Trip from Hell” : )

Since being here in Holland, it often feels like we are so far removed from the rest of the world. The name L’Abri means the shelter, and it truly lives up to its name. The phones here are often broken, the internet connection is painfully slow, and so contact with friends and family is minimal. The people at L’Abri, both the workers and their families, and the other long-term students have already surpassed feeling like family. I believe that we are experiencing the promise of Mark 10:17-31 in our lives here…

Peter began to say to [Jesus], “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, house and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands….

We have received far more than we have given up by coming to L’Abri. He truly does supply a spiritual family in the absence of biological family when we leave everything for the sake of the gospel. For us, this time has been a time for the gospel to take root in our own heart and in our lives in relation to other people and to God. To believe the truth about who God is, who we are in his sight, and what our lives even mean. To experience a holistic gospel in our own lives; not just a gospel of words devoid of deeds, or a gospel of good works devoid of a changed heart.
(the gospel being: The good news of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, coming…being tempted in every way that we are yet choosing not to sin….then choosing to suffer and die because our sin requires a sacrifice of blood to shed that the law proved we could never fulfill…and raising from the dead to reign over all the world, including our own hearts)

We have also forgotten the many answers to prayer God gave this summer and during our time in Portland. We are like the Israelites…God parts the Red Sea and saves their lives, promising them that they will enter the Promised Land. But then as soon as they have time “in between” to dwell on their own anxieties, it is all forgetfulness of what God has accomplished, and grumbling that they wish they were still in Egypt with their hearty meals and structured work schedules. Our Egypt is the condition our hearts were in the first few years of our marriage, Our Red Sea is L’Abri, and, for now, our Promised Land is Portland, Oregon (I’m sure this analogy breaks down sooner or later, as all analogies do : ).

We are, as the psalmist says, “resting in safe pasture” at the moment, but at times, get very anxious about moving in January. L’Abri was a short term commitment, and now Portland is longer. But even this fall we have experienced an overwhelming reassurance that Portland is the place for us to go.

There are a few people who have been students here who are moving to Portland and we are all, individually, praying about whether God would have us start some sort of “community” living situation there. We have been contacting the World View Center for the first semester (at least) of housing while we are in Portland. There is not a room available for us, but the Secretary contacted a church who is affiliated with the ministry and a couple there has offered us to live with them until we can be placed at the World View Center! Jade has been conversing with Dave Klick via email and Dave is happy to help Jade in his job search. There is even the biggest gathering of Food Manufacturers and suppliers in Portland from January 18-21, and Dave has offered to pay Jade’s way and has invited him to get involved if he hasn’t yet found a satisfactory job. There are people coming and going from L’Abri all the time who either live in Portland or have connections there, which just makes us chuckle at this point, because every time the city comes up, it is like God is whispering in our ears again. One girl, who is working as a nanny (au pair) here in Holland for a year, came to L’Abri for a weekend and I had a long conversation with her about a non-profit organization and ministry she and some friends just started for prostitues in Portland called the Scarlet Thread. This is something I would so love to be involved with!

It feels good to have all of these details written down about things that have happened in the past several months. I have become convinced that God is interested in the small details of our lives. I also know that reading and hearing other people’s stories can do two things to me: 1. it can get me excited to see that God can also answer my prayers and has special tasks for me in my life and 2. I can get jealous that it seems as though “other people” hear from God more than I do. I pray that, if you have read this, you will not be impressed or jealous by the fact that we are feeling clear direction in our lives, but that you would be prompted to look back over your own life to be thankful for the ways He has worked in yours. And that you might be encouraged anew by the words of Matthew 6:31-34…
Don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to. So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.

and to remember his promise to all believers in Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest.

Put God to the test by praying for the small things and trusting Him with your future… When wedo this, and then record the answers He gives us, we can properly worship and praise Him for meeting our needs rather than believing that we did it all ourselves. I am so glad to know that God is in control. What have we to fear?! Let’s praise Him together for what He is doing in all of our lives!

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