Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chapter 9: Another Miracle

From Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

I experienced many miracles during those first few years as a homestay mama. One example was the time back in 1994, when I needed to buy groceries to feed my homestay students, but I only had $1.00 left to my name and pay day was still one week away.

It was hard not to worry, but God gave me verses such as Matthew 6:25-27 where Jesus specifically said, "Don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, or clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not!”

My mom had been a worrier—so I came by it naturally, even though I knew it was wrong—and futile.

Later on in that same chapter (Matthew 6:33-34) Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day IF you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” So, in other words if I put God first in my life, he promises to provide for my needs so I can pay my bills and put food on the table?

Yes, literally. And, here’s how it happened.

At that time one of my homestay students was Eiji from Japan.

He was majoring in tourism and hospitality at a college in Japan. That college had a cooperative program with our local community college and the students spent nine months here learning English along with their hospitality courses. At the end of the nine months, our local college would host a ‘graduation’ ceremony and banquet for all those students and their homestay parents.

So Eiji finished the program and his graduation was approaching. Unfortunately he had to return to Japan a few days before the ceremony. Even though he couldn't go, he really wanted me to attend his graduation so I promised him I would go.

However, when that evening arrived, I was so tired after a long day at work that I seriously considered staying home. I kicked off my shoes and settled down in a chair to read the mail. And then my conscience began sparring with me.

Eiji really wanted you to go to his graduation.

Yeah, but he won’t be there so how fun is that?

You told him you’d go.

Yeah, but I won’t know anyone there.

You gave him your promise.

Yeah, but I’m too tired.

But a promise is a promise and you must keep your word!

So I pulled myself out of the chair, took a shower, put on my good suit and got there just as the ceremony was starting.Eiji’s best friend met me at the door.
Eiji had asked him to be my escort for the evening and he had been waiting for me. How thoughtful of Eiji! He’d been a quiet and shy homestay student, but was very kind and respectful. It had been very important to him that I go to his graduation, even though he couldn't. I was glad my conscience had won out and I had gone!

I don’t remember much about the ceremony, but I’ll never forget the banquet afterwards! As we filed into the dining hall, each of the homestay parents were given a ticket for a drawing at the end. Actually they had numerous drawings during the banquet for things like dinner for two at a local restaurant, tickets to a movie or tickets to local tourist venues. Of course I didn’t win any of those prizes, but I hadn't really expected to.

By then we were finishing our dessert and the banquet was nearing the end. I started thinking how I could excuse myself a little early and leave before the rest of the crowd. I hated idling in a long line of cars trying to get out of the crowded parking lot and wanted to avoid it if possible.

But wait! The emcee was calling off new numbers for a final drawing! I followed along as he called out the numbers… on my ticket…ON MY TICKET! I’d won! I had actually won!

But what had I won? I had been planning my escape and had not been paying attention! I jumped out of my seat and quickly made my way up to the stage where the emcee handed me a $100 gift certificate to Nordstroms! I was elated!

Eiji's friend pointing to Sue's winning gift certificate

But, Nordstroms is a clothing store. What I needed were groceries. I thanked God for my gift certificate, but what I should do with it? Then an idea popped into my head—what if I went to Nordstroms and bought something small and not too expensive. Could I dare hope that they would give me the change in cash? “Oh, Lord,” I prayed.“You know how I need groceries, not clothes, so I’ll just trust you in this situation.”

The next day I made a trip to Nordstroms and walked up and down the aisles looking for something inexpensive that I could use. I was disappointed and walked out of Nordstroms and into the mall. “Oh, Lord,” I prayed. “What shall I do now?"

Then I noticed the small Nordstroms gift shop, right next to the main store. A wonderful aroma of dark chocolate and espresso wafted out the door as I walked in. I chose a small box of chocolates and offered the salesgirl my gift certificate. What would she do? Could I dare hope for cash in return or would she simply write out a new gift certificate for the difference? I held my breath.

She put the gift certificate under the drawer in her till, pulled out some bills and a few coins and counted it out to me. I felt like jumping for joy. I felt like clicking my heels together and letting out a whoop and a holler. Even though I managed to keep my exuberance in check, I walked out the door with the biggest of smiles across my face.

My heart sang. Now I could buy groceries to last until payday!

Thank you, Jesus!

One would think after miracles like this that I would have learned to trust God for all my needs. But I didn’t. And I paid the price for it, too. Not once, but twice!

To be continued.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chapter 8: A New Roof

From Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Sometimes bad things happen.  Sometimes God allows us to experience difficulties to test and strengthen our faith. One of those faith-strengthening experiences happened to me one Saturday afternoon in February, 1994.  I had just stretched out on the living room sofa to relax for a minute.  Looking up I discovered the tell-tale dirty ring on the ceiling--a ring  that could mean only one thing.  My roof had sprung a leak!  In rainy Seattle, that was not a problem to ignore!  

Roof repairs, car repairs, yard and garden maintenance—all those chores had been my ex-husband’s domain.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t bothered to learn about those things, preferring to leave them all to him.  But now I was a single mom and I could no longer ignore those 'manly' tasks.  Now everything--both inside and outside the house--was my sole responsibility.  And now I had a major problem that needed immediate attention.  

What should I do?  Climb up a ladder and crawl around my roof hunting for the leak? And if I managed to find it, then what?  Go buy some tar and smear it over the offending spot?  Maybe I could spread a plastic tarp over the general area.  But how could I secure it from the wind? Wouldn't a bunch of nail holes just make more leaks?  I am not fond of heights and my roof is two stories tall.  Just thinking about going up there makes me dizzy!  So it was easy to nix both of those less-than-desirable solutons.  "Maybe I could pray for endless sunshine," I wistfully mused.   "But in rainy Seattle?  Not a chance!"

However, I remembered how God had promised to be my 'Creator-Husband.'  My protector, my provider, my comforter and my problem solver.   So solving leaky roofs was His job.  Therefore I just needed to exercise faith and trust Him for the answer, and that's exactly what I did.

The next morning I decided to go to church early and attend the adult Sunday School class before the regular church service began.  There were about 30 people in class that morning and visitors were given the chance to introduce themselves.  I am shy by nature, so I just gave my name and said I had homestay students living with me.  

After class one of the men came over and introduced himself to me.  His name was George; his wife’s name was Karen. He owned an auto-repair shop.  Then he asked me a question that seemed so out of context that it gave me goose-bumps!   George’s exact question was: “So, how is the roof on your house?”  

Now if George had asked how my car was running, I wouldn't have been so surprised.  But how likely was it for him, or anyone else for that matter, to ask a first-time visitor about the roof on their house?  The odds of that happening must be at least one in a million and that’s why I got goose-bumps.  I knew immediately this was a ‘God thing!’  So, I answered truthfully.  “My roof is leaking!” 

“It is?  Well, then let me introduce you to our Sunday School teacher, Dee-Jay.  He owns his own construction business and has put roofs on many homes,” George stated.   Obviously God was orchestrating the solution to my problem.

Dee-Jay came over the next day and while walking around the roof, he found spongy spots--sure signs of rotting wood.  My roof definitely had issues.  I was going to need a new one.  But how could I afford it?  Within the week Dee-Jay brought his crew to tear off the old roof, replace the sections of plywood that were rotting, and put on a new, 20-year roof.  He donated his time, and charged me only for the materials at his cost.

There have been many more miracles like this in my amazing journey and through them all I've learned that when we belong to God and live in obedience to Him, we can trust Him through good times and bad.  The good man does not escape all troubles--he has them too! But the Lord helps him in each and every one.  Psalms 34:19 (Living Bible) 

Another miracle happened the time I needed to buy groceries so I could feed my homestay students, but I only had $1.00 left to my name and pay day was one week away!

To be continued.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chapter 7: Not Your ordinary Love Story, Part Two

From: Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

As the reality of singleness set in, I became acutely aware of how many things I was now responsible for. I needed to earn enough money to keep a roof over my head; I needed to keep that roof, and everything below it, clean, maintained and repaired; and, I needed to keep all the inhabitants under that roof well-fed and healthy. Wow! How could I ever manage all of these responsibilities as a single mom?! As a single homestay mom?! I needed superhuman strength--and wisdom, too.

One day I felt particularly overwhelmed by the enormity of my responsibility and my inability to get everything done. How could I keep up? I was sooo tired. All I could do was pray and wait for the answer. It came soon enough.

Have you ever read something that really resonated with you? That while you were reading, you just knew those words were meant for you? That while you were reading, the words were almost popping off the page at you?

Well, that’s what happened to me one morning as I sat reading my Bible. I had a strong sense that God was telling me to take particular notice of the words:
“Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. The shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood will be remembered no more, for your Creator will be your ‘husband. The LORD Almighty is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you back from your grief—a young wife abandoned by her husband.” (Living Bible)

Wow! The message couldn’t have been plainer!

In the past God had repeatedly told me not to worry about anything. Now as I read and re-read those verses in Isaiah, it slowly dawned on me that here was the reason why! It was because HE would fill the role of a ‘husband’ in my life. HE would be my protector, my provider and my comforter. HE would make sure there was help when I needed it. I would not be doing everything alone! Once this realization sank in, I was in awe of how freeing is God's love.

First of all, His love frees me to be the real me that He created me to be. I no longer have to ‘walk on eggshells.’ With God I can just relax and be myself. When I pray to Him, I don’t fear he will reject what I'm feeling and saying. He will be patient with me. If I'm wrong, he will gently correct me.

Secondly, His love frees me to be the new me that He is helping me to become. Less insecure, less self-centered, less worried, more loving, more accepting, more patient, more tactful and definitely a lot calmer. Don't get me wrong. I'm no saint, and never will be this side of Heaven. But, at least I'm heading in the right direction.

From that day until the present, as I have looked for answers through daily Bible reading and prayer, God has never gone back on the promise to be my Creator-'husband.' Numerous times, help came in at just the right time for house cleaning, repairs, painting, etc. When I've needed extra money to pay for unexpected expenses, it has always come in--sometimes from the most unexpected sources. In future chapters I will write in more detail about specific incidences.

God has never left me, nor has he ever given up on me. He has always exercised patience and kindness toward me. He has never quit loving me. What an awesome God! I know this is not your ordinary love story, but, I hope it gives you a glimpse into why I love God with all my heart, my soul and my mind!

Now, sometimes God does allow times of testing. But when bad things happen I know He is allowing it for a reason, although that reason might not be clear for awhile. For example, one Saturday afternoon in February 1994, I was relaxing on the sofa when my eyes suddenly focused on a telltale “brown” ring on the ceiling above me. My heart sank. The roof over my head had sprung a leak!

To be continued.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chapter 6: Not Your Ordinary Love Story, Part One

From: Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Before I contine writing about my experiences as a homestay mama, I want to backtrack to June 8, 1985. My marriage was teetering on the brink of collapse. Marriage counseling was not working. I didn’t know what else to do or where to turn. As I crawled into bed that evening in June, I felt helpless and hopeless. I couldn’t sleep and just laid there staring at the ceiling. My feelings were a jumbled mess. My mind refused to think--refused to deal with the problem any longer. I was at the end of my rope.

Then I saw Jesus. His arms were outstretched toward me, palms up--inviting me to come. It wasn't a distinct image, yet it was intense and powerful just the same. I knew it was Him. I could feel His presence in the room--a presence that emanated the most amazing love I have ever felt. Even though this experience was most unusual, I felt no fear. The love I felt from Him was so peaceful, so comforting, so compelling that I wanted to surrender. But, there was a barrier between us!

My sins.

They had to be dealt with once and for all!

Some sins are obvious, but the worst kind lurk just beneath the surface of one’s spiritual heart. One by one as God brought my arrogance, critical spirit, self-righteousness and a host of other sins to the surface, I saw how ugly they were in His eyes. Especially my pride! That seemed to be the major problem in everything He was bringing before me!

I had grown up in a Christian home. I had been a relatively obedient child. I believed in God. I went to church every Sunday. I didn’t do those obviously ‘bad sins,’ which other people did. I tried to live and work ethically, honestly and in harmony with those around me! I gave to the poor and tried to help the less fortunate. Surely all of that counted for something!

But in God’s eyes my goodness counted for nothing. In front of Him the playing field is level. I was no better than the worst of sinners! Seeing myself as God saw me, reduced me to broken humbleness. All pretense was stripped away. There was no place to go but down on my knees, and so I slipped out from under the covers and knelt down beside the bed.

As God brought first one sin after another to the surface, I asked Him to forgive me and remove it from my heart. I don't know how long I was there on my knees, but it seemed like a very long time. When He was finished, I felt like my heart must surely resemble a block of Swiss cheese—full of holes from all the sins He’d carved out! “Oh, Lord,” I prayed. “Don’t leave me like this! Please fill all those holes with your love!”

And He did!

Oh, what a difference! I felt clean inside! I felt peace and joy. But most of all, I felt love--pure love--for the first time in my life! And, I had renewed hope because I knew I now had God's love and his Spirit living inside me. I desired reading the Bible like I'd never desired it before and so I read, and read, and read some more. I felt like a parched desert after a drenching rain! It was wonderful!

Now fast-forward to 1992. Even though I had fervently prayed for God to heal my marriage, my husband left. At that point I could have become bitter, thrown in the towel and turned my back on God. But, I chose to hang on. And, I’m so glad I did!

Tomorrow: Not Your Ordinary Love Story, Part Two.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chapter 5: Two Valuable Lessons

From Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Not for one minute do I believe it was mere chance that brought those two ladies I didn't know to my door that Saturday afternoon. From the minute they asked if I'd be willing to host a Japanese student in my home, I knew it was a 'God thing.' But what puzzled me about that turn of events was this: If all along it had been God's plan for me to host international students, why hadn't He let my home be accepted by one of the university homestay programs where I'd applied? Why had He waited until I had all but given up on the idea of hosting and then brought strangers to my door to offer exactly that?

Looking back now I realize that God had been teaching me two valuable lessons.

Lesson One: It's not about me!
God didn't want me to rely on my own efforts and then pat myself on the back after every success. He wanted me to remember that He's in control; that everything I have--my house, my job, my health, even my homestay students--all are gifts from Him. Therefore, HE deserves the credit, HE deserves the praise, not me.

Lesson Two: Let go and let God!
Letting go means depending on God, not on myself. It means remaining calm about my circumstances, not panicking about my finances, not grasping for a solution, not running ahead of God's timetable. It means orderliness. It means learning to be patient while He works out the details. It means waiting for His timing.

I have trouble being patient. I don't like to wait. One of my dear friends knows this about me, but loves me anyway, and often reminds me of these Bible verses about God's plans and His timing:

“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.” Jeremiah 29:11-12 (Living Bible).

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!” Habakkuk 2:3 (Living Bible):

Just. Be. Patient. (Sigh)

I fail so often!

Two failures immediately come to mind, but before I write about them, I want to share a love story with you--although it's not your ordinary love story!

To be continued.

Chapter 4: Strangers At My Door

From Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Getting rejected by the homestay coordinators at all three universities in Seattle left me very disappointed. I tried not to fret, but in spite of my efforts to remain calm, I felt my anxiety level rising. I tried not to worry about my dwindling bank account.

A few weeks later, my sister’s son, who had recently moved to our area, came over for Saturday lunch. It was good to see him again and we lingered at the kitchen table, visiting well into the afternoon. The doorbell interrupted our conversation. Who could that be? I wasn’t expecting anyone.

Two women I had never seen before stood on the porch. “We’re not Avon ladies,” they assured me. “We are helping the homestay coordinator at the English Language Institute in Seattle and wondered if you would be interested in hosting a student from Japan.


I had all but given up on the idea of hosting international students, and now here were two strangers at my front door asking me to consider it! I’m sure my mouth hung open with surprise! Finally I found my voice and said, “Why yes. Yes, I am interested. But how did you know? How did you get my address?”

“We didn’t,” they replied. “We only know the family up at the end of the block who told us the families on this street are all very nice people. So we are going door-to-door in hopes of finding enough families to help us, because we have 25 Japanese students coming next week and we are desperate for families to house them!”

[note to reader: the neighbor they knew at the end of the block was not the same neighbor who had suggested I look into hosting!]

“Please come in,” I invited. I showed them my available room and they were ecstatic. I forced myself to remain calm. I didn’t want to get my hopes up yet. I figured they would have the same problem with the long bus commute as had the three university homestay coordinators, so I leveled with them.
“I applied to become a host family at all three universities in Seattle,” I said, “but they all rejected me because of the long bus commute.”

“Oh, but our school is a private language school and it’s conveniently located in downtown Seattle. We know there is an express commuter bus from here to downtown and the commute is only 45 minutes!”
Wow! I could be a host mother after all! I exhaled with relief. “Oh, God,” I prayed silently, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!”

My first student was Motoi, a high school English teacher. He knew English well, but wanted the opportunity to ‘speak with the natives,’ learn the culture and take pictures of America. He wanted to improve his teaching of English in his classroom in Japan.

Motoi was a delight! He was eager to talk, eager to experience our food, our culture, our city, and eager to share his country in return. The month passed all too quickly! Hosting was enjoyable! I was hooked! I was ready for more!

Motoi had never been this close to a racoon before.

Now, what do you think? Was it coincidence that brought those two strangers to my door? A mere chance? A stroke of good luck? The perfect alignment of the stars? A lucky fluke?

To be continued.

Chapter 3: On Being a Host Family

From Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace

Facing singleness after 25 years of marriage was scary. I had no idea where this strange, new adventure would lead me, but I knew God was with me and I clung to him for dear life!

Not long after my husband left, our son, Allen, came back home to live. We both had emotional wounds that needed to heal. It helped us to heal together.

The greater Seattle area is not noted for being a cheap place to live, and even though I was earning more at work and my son was contributing toward his expenses at home, it wasn’t quite enough.

One of my neighbors suggested becoming a host family for international students. I’d never heard of such a thing. “It’s not quite the same as exchange students,” he explained. “Homestay students pay to live with a host family while they attend school in the USA.” It sounded interesting. Allen liked the idea, too. I had an extra bedroom—why not give it a try?

I got busy and contacted the international student offices in Seattle’s three major universities. I was full of questions. Could a single mom qualify as a host family? What was the remuneration for hosting? How were students selected and matched to host families?

I learned that each school had a homestay coordinator who would visit my home, meet my son and me and learn more about each of us--did we do drugs? Or have a criminal record? We needed to “pass inspection” before becoming a host family. I wasn't worried.

I also learned that:
The student must have a private room with a window, bed, closet, chest of drawers, desk and a chair. They could share a bathroom with the family.


Food was to be provided for all 3 meals; the student could make his own breakfast and lunch, but the host family should make his dinner.


There should be a bus stop within a reasonable walking distance from the home.


The student could only make one transfer between buses.


The entire commute from home to school must be under an hour.


Back in 1992, the buses from outside Seattle's city limits weren’t that accommodating. The entire commute from my home to each of the universities was easily an hour or more. "I'm sorry," each homestay coordinator said. "You live too far away." And they rejected my application! There I was--up against the proverbial brick wall!

“Oh God,” I prayed, “I thought hosting students was a good idea, but I guess not. So, I’ll wait for a word from you, but please hurry, because I’m running low on money, and quite frankly, I don’t know what to do.”

Just a simple, straightforward prayer, but God heard and answered in a most unusual way!

To be continued.