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.

Amazing!


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.

Check.

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.

Check.

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

Check.

The student could only make one transfer between buses.

Check.

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

Uh-Oh!

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.

Chapter 2: Who'd Have Thought?


From Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace

My boss was very kind—he was like a father to me. He was well-known and well-liked by everyone. He had retired from teaching about seven years earlier, but at the request of the board of directors of a small, private foundation, he had become their executive director. Three years later, he hired me to be his administrative assistant and I felt privileged to be working for him. We were both part time employees and each of us worked 20 hours a week.

                                              Frank, my wonderful boss,

I had purposefully not said anything to him about the upheaval in my life. I had not told him I was looking for a full time position. So that morning in 1992, when I was sure I’d have to give up the job I loved, my boss laid down his pen, leaned back in his chair, turned to me and said, “You know, I’m supposed to be retired. My wife would really like me to be home more. Would you consider taking 10 of my hours at my rate of pay and work 30 hours per week so that I can cut back to 10 hours?”

What an incredible offer! As soon my boss asked, I knew immediately this was God’s answer to my prayer! My eyes filled with tears. They were tears of joy! I could keep the job I loved, still work part time and yet earn as much as the other full time job would have paid. I choked up and couldn’t talk. My boss looked at me in confusion. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Did I say something wrong?”

Getting my voice back, the words tumbled out as I explained how my husband had left me, how I hadn’t wanted to but, had been looking for a full time job, and how his offer was the answer to my prayer. A look of amazement spread over his face. “I am so sorry,” he said referring to my failed marriage. “I had no idea!”

Isn’t God amazing? Who’d have thought of a solution like that? Only God! He loves to make “all things work together for good to them that love Him, to them who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). He loves to pour out his grace on us at the least expected times in the least expected ways. He also loves to answer the desires of our heart. But He waits until we are ready to give up our own will and in humble faith, fully submit to His will. It is our faith in Him and our submission to His will that allows Him to bless us as he longs to do. What an awesome God!

But there’s more. This was only the beginning of my journey. God had even more plans up his sleeve, as I would soon find out!

To be continued.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chapter 1: In the Beginning

















From Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace

I never intended my marriage to end like it did. But in 1992, there I was, single—whether I liked it or not. It was a title I did not enjoy. I avoided bringing attention to my status, quietly checking the box marked “Ms” only when I had to. I choked on the ‘D’ word. It sounded too much like ‘failure.’

I had always thought our marriage would last like our parents’ marriages. Both had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversaries just a few years earlier. Ours barely made it past 25. I would like to say it was my husband’s fault, but that wouldn’t be fair. After all, “it takes two to tango,” or not.

My first night alone in our bed was the worst. I felt so alone. I buried my head in my pillow and let it all out—my sorrow, my disappointment, my heartache—let it all out with gut-wrenching sobs. I finally fell asleep from emotional exhaustion.

The next morning I awoke feeling small and vulnerable. “Oh God,” I prayed, “It’s just you and me now, and I need your help very much.”

I began to worry. How would I pay for a double-mortgaged home? I only had a part time job. Obviously, I would need to work full time. But how could I give up a job I really loved? How could I give up working for the best boss I’d ever had? That prospect filled my soul with sadness. It brought fresh tears to my puffy eyes.

When our self-sufficiency is shaky at best, it is much easier to turn to God. I started every morning with prayer and a chapter from the Bible. In His tenderness and grace, God directed me to the Bible verses that held His answers to my prayers. It soon became food for my soul and I found great comfort in His spiritual nourishment. For example, when I started worrying too much, God gave me these verses:
Philippians 4:6, 7
"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."


Learning to let go, to relax, to take my burdens to the Lord and leave them there, was not easy. It was literally a ‘two-steps-forward, one-step backward’ kind of faith.

Then the idea came to me. Maybe I could work two part time jobs. Yes, that must be the solution! So, I started looking at job postings in the classified ads. Nothing. Nothing with flexible hours. Nothing within close proximity to the job I loved.

In spite of all the verses of encouragement, discouragement set in. The facts were plain and simple. I needed a full time job and I soon found a position that looked promising. I made an appointment for that Thursday. But on Wednesday morning, sadness settled in. I prayed a simple, straight-from-my-heart prayer. “Oh, God, I really don’t want to give up my part-time job that I love so much, but if this full time position is your will, then I will do it.” And I meant it.

I had not said anything to my boss about my failed marriage. He was like a father to me and I didn’t want him to worry. I also didn’t want him to know about my pending job interview. Not yet! So that Wednesday morning, I put a smile on my face and went about my work as usual.

About mid-morning, my boss quietly laid down his pen, leaned back in his chair, turned to me and made a statement that left me in tears.

To be continued.

Introduction: Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace



















Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Not in my wildest imaginations did I ever expect to become a host mother to international college students. I was married, mother to a grown son, college educated and working a part time job that I loved. My husband had a good job. We owned our own home. I loved my in-laws. But in 1992, it all imploded like a light bulb that burned out. What happened?How did I get to where I am today? It’s been a long journey, full of bumps and bruises; but, also full of joy, and fulfillment. Along the way I learned a thing or two about myself—the good, the bad and the ugly. I also learned about the big, wide world out there—right in the comfort of my own home—and got paid while I was learning. Amazing!The things that have happened these past sixteen years did not happen by coincidence. Only God could have orchestrated this amazing journey. Some of you have lived this journey with me. Some have heard me share bits and pieces. But now I am ready to share the complete journey with the hope that it will encourage you.

Tomorrow I will post chapter 1 of Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace.

Love,

Homestay Mama