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En(courage)ment for hard times, God Speaking, Out of Doors, Stories of Answered Prayer, Travels

the road to everglades national park

The road to Everglades National Park, from where we live, about 4 hours north, is busy the weekend after New Year’s. I am internally humming, staring out the window while my husband drives, noting cars of German make (the closer we get to Miami) and palms and southern Florida’s lush green landscape and crops, as they fly by my window.

I have decided to take a few weeks off of social media in order to listen to His voice and to my heart about this new year. Our family has decided to go camping this weekend, to start the year out right. We have a cooler full of food in the back, our cartop carrier packed with camping gear, and a stack of CD’s up front. After an hour of those, I am ready for something different. Flipping through the radio stations, I settle on Spanish hip hop. I can only understand every fifth word or so, but the Latin beats inspire us to dance in our seats as we count down the miles to the southern tip of Florida.

2014 was such a good year. It was a year of patience, risk, redemption, friendship, change, inspiration. We bought back the house we lost to foreclosure 7 years ago, and it was a glorious redemption of old mistakes and pain. I lived next door to a dear friend for 6 months. She prayed for me and inspired me and accepted my eccentric introverted ways. I had the opportunity to be involved with the brainstorming team at our newfound home church in Tulsa. It was a great season of creativity and faith as my husband and I prayed and waited to close on the house.

I am full of dreams and plans for 2015 as we turn into the Everglades campground, which is located right on Florida Bay, the southernmost tip of the mainland before the plethora of islands begin. We begin to unload our stuff, and set up camp, and I am quiet in my pondering.

I am thinking back, taking inventory…Our lives completely changed a few years ago. The wild ride began in 2012, when we took off for a 35 day road trip which altered everything about our lives. The way we saw, heard, dreamed, planned. Who God was to us. After that trip, we started to tap into who we were really meant to be. We stopped trying to keep up with the Jones’, climb the corporate ladder, and play it safe. We heard God’s voice in a thrilling way. We found adventure. Then, in 2013 we went to Mazatlan, Mexico for 3 months and experienced daily life, learning and ministry as a family in another country. We gained some precious new friends. It was like a missionary sampler, and gave us a lot of direction about where and how we see our family following Jesus in the coming years. When I think about the last three years, I get excited about the future. It has been better each year.

After the tents are up and the gear is organized, I get the propane stove going and start to make some dinner. There is talk of a night hike and a campfire. I always forget how much I love camping until I am actually here, smelling the wood smoke and tilting my head back to see the stars.

Last month, in December, I got together with some old girlfriends and made them dinner and we exchanged Christmas cookies. I prayed for weeks about what to share with them, knowing that He was leading me to step out in a new way and begin to share with others, formally, the thrilling things He has been doing in my heart and my family’s life. I prayed and prayed, with several ideas in mind. None of them seemed right. Finally, I heard Him speak to me about the things we ask for. The dreams we pray for. The existence of our dreams. Share that. Share your story. Tell them to ask me for more. So I did. I wrote down some of my recent story and practically read it to my friends, being so terrified of anything remotely resembling public speaking (even to old friends – yes, I am that chicken about it). I asked them to ask Him for more. Shared that our incredible stories of redemption are all related to each other, and rightly so, and that we have not, often, because we don’t ask. I shared how I asked for a house. A special house, one that had been sadly lost. He gave it back to me. I’ve asked for many things these last three years. A home church. A job that my husband likes or even loves. The chance to serve the poor and needy in foreign countries. For provision. Safety for my children. A friend who accepts me just as I am.

Our camping weekend starts to unfold. I never sleep good the first night, which causes me to always sleep good the second. We spend the next few days hiking, listening to ranger talks, birding, playing with the campfire (my entire family are pyromaniacs), eating outdoors, swatting mosquitos, watching the sun come up and go down in a blaze of glory, fishing, wishing we had a canoe (next time!) and viewing the local wildlife. Alligators, crocodiles, all kinds of birds, manatees, fish, and air plants. I am in the national park bookstore one morning, waiting for the ranger to show up to do the bird talk, when I discover a book about tree snails. Being a total fringe-wildlife freak, I pore through the pages and find out that there are these tree snails, in over 50 different shell designs, that are native to southern Florida. They are kind of hard to find, and about as big as a child’s fist. The designs are incredible. Immediately, I ask Him: Can I see one? Up close, in its native habitat? And I cannot tell you how I know, but I do, that He’s going to show me one.

He has answered so many of my requests. In fact, all of the above mentioned in the paragraph before the last, have been answered. I’ve documented each of them, watching for supernatural hope to be manifest in my life and my heart. What started as a selfish little list of me me me has slowly morphed into a global heartcry. It took a couple of years though. Real change, in our hearts, takes honesty and patience. There is still plenty of me in my prayers, but they’re honest in a way they never were before 2012. I don’t stop to feel insecure about what I’m asking for anymore. I just ask. I figure, if it’s the wrong thing or motive, He’ll show me in His gentle way without my help. I’ve decided to stop condemning myself for everything and anything and just ask like a child. It’s a relief to let Him lead.

On the last night of our trip, I am walking around the campground at night, in the dark, listening to people with their guitars and kids and friends, looking at the stars and smelling the Bay, feeling the coastal breeze and hearing the near roar of the ocean, and I walk past a campsite where a small group of people is standing next to a huge dark cylinder, as big around as a large tree trunk, maybe 8 feet around, and about 10 feet high. It has little yellow and red blinking lights.

A telescope. I suck in my breath and go back to my campsite to get my extroverted husband. My family is sitting around the campfire, poking at it with sticks, lighting coconuts and paper plates on fire, and doing their usual pyro experiments. There is a telescope! A big one. A group of people. They’re looking at things through it….I wait. He stands up excitedly and marches over, he and the kids, and it is only a few minutes before two of my children run back over to me and tell me that Daddy is looking through that man’s telescope. My evil plan has worked. I walk over to join him and the astronomer responsible for gathering the small crowd of campers under the night sky is talking about star clusters.

As far as prayer, I still have many things I ask for. Some are personal. A few that I ask for constantly (and don’t mind sharing) are to write a great book – a book that is alive and fresh, to be involved in putting a stop to human trafficking, for my children to know Jesus truly and well for their whole lives, a new kindred spirit friend here in Florida who accepts me as I am, to inspire others toward who Jesus really is, for my neighbors to be encouraged and blessed, for my chickens and vegetable garden to be prolific and healthy, for friends who are in ministry, my financial goals, and future dreams.

Prayer works. I suppose this, that I am referring to, is the petitioning side of prayer. There are other kinds too. I have been learning about this kind.

I think if we all sat down at a big round table and the topic of answered prayer was brought up, almost everyone would have a story to share. Honestly, I wish we did do this more often. It does the heart good to know how God is answering prayers all over the place.

The astronomer is talking about Uranus. I am listening raptly, and then he pushes some buttons on the huge telescope and it starts to hum and the whole big circle of the lens swings down and around. He asks if I want to see it. With goosebumps and worship running all down my neck and lower back like liquid air, I climb the stepladder and put my eye to the lens. A tiny bluish, whitish dot sits at center stage. That. He announces to the group. Is Uranus. I have stopped breathing, which doesn’t seem to affect the assault the mosquitos have suddenly begun to launch against me in the darkness. I swat at a mosquito. And it is a billion miles away. 

The whole small group of people standing around, including my husband and oldest son, begin to laugh.

As if the mind can conceive an object a billion miles away. But still, somehow it is. Someone put it there.

My son looks through. My husband. The rest of the people. There is an atmosphere of awe beginning to descend on our motley camper group.

Something I’ve experienced personally is the magnetic quality of prayer. The more time I spend in prayer, the fresher I am, the better my perspective and clarity, the more drawn I am to His joy and peace, the more I seem to carry it with me like a good contagion, the more undisturbed I am by being misunderstood or judged, the less I need to be in control and exerting my will on others. It’s like a happy relaxant. A zone. A sweet spot. A good connection. It can be deserted as easily as it can be embraced. The magnetic part has to do with others. I find that certain people are drawn to me, and I to them, as a result of prayer. I find myself praying for certain people a lot, and sharing some things with them that He shows me, and they with me, and there is this spiritual strengthening that happens. More thought goes into my days. Sometimes I have things to share, and most of the time, though not always, they are uncannily encouraging to the recipients. That has been the fun part of it. And usually there is this ease of conversation and depth. It is the best kind of friendship to have friends that you pray for and with, and who prays for you. Even when you sometimes share silly things that probably have nothing to do with anything and are not clairvoyant or profound, but maybe just the result of something you ate. Even so.

Now the astronomer is talking about a star cluster in the Cassiopeia constellation, the constellation being visible to the naked eye, but the cluster needing the telescope to be seen in detail. He punches in the coordinates, if that’s what you call them, and we all wait, while the black cylinder hums and the lights blink and then it all goes quiet. My husband steps up to look this time. That. Is M-52. My husband says whoa, pulls back, looks again, then laughs in delight. It’s like Star Wars!

The astronomer laughs, agrees. It’s seven light years away. That’s seven trillion miles away. 

I have no idea what to do with this information, as I step up to look for myself. A black screen, thickly dotted with hundreds of fat pricks of light. He’s right. It does look like Star Wars. 

And that’s when I feel Him speak to me, swift and deep, right to my core.

I call them by name. I stand there with my eye to the lens, people waiting behind me to look at something seven trillion miles away, and my soul is instantly flooded. Call it an epiphany, or light, or sudden blinding clarity. Call it whatever you want. I only know this. I am standing there and I feel Him speaking to me, showing me His size, His vast unlimited ability, His power.

He just told me that He calls the stars by name like I call my dog.

He. Told. Me.

Personally.

I recently sat in a room full of people and they talked about the times in their life that they had heard God speak to them. Actually heard it in a way that was unavoidable. I said nothing during this conversation, just wanting to listen and absorb their stories and their wonder. He speaks to me like this often. It’s special and real, and again, I bet if we asked that question at our round table, everyone would have that kind of story too.

We need those stories, in this scared world. We need them audible and repetitious and brave.

On our last hike of the trip, after we’ve broken camp and bought our souvenirs, we are in the woods and my whole family has now adopted my personal mission: to see a tree snail in its native habitat. We walk purposefully through the forest, looking at about shoulder height and above, on all the trees with smooth bark. I cannot leave until I try this last hike. Somewhere in my heart, I know I’ll see one, but I’m also afraid I won’t. Sometimes that fear creeps in and whispers about Him not caring, not being good, not being involved in little details. My kids are searching with me and I hope it will happen, because I have told them that I asked for it.

And then, it’s there. About 6 feet high on a thin tree with smooth bark. A creamy white snail with pale orange stripes. Of course, I go wild and start shouting and pointing and my kids are all excited and I am telling them that I knew He’d show me. I just knew it. We decide to look for another. And find it at the very end of the trail, right before the parking lot. And then we stop at the last visitor’s center on the way out of the park, so the kids can get their Junior Ranger badges, and I find another one in a tree in the parking lot.

As if one wasn’t enough. Perhaps He thought He’d spoil me a little. Maybe He liked that I asked.

I have a friend who came to Florida on vacation. She sat on the beach and watched her family play in the waves and she asked to see a dolphin. And then, being full of faith, she started to look for it. Wait. Be patient. This thought came and she waited. Then it was there, out past the breakers, leaping silvery gray through the water, fin slicing the molecules like butter.

My dear friend’s mother had cancer. We asked, all of us, all of her people, for healing. And it happened. He healed her. The doctor was sheepish and baffled. We rejoiced and held the story at arm’s length and shook our heads with glee before embracing it close again and again, for what it was. A miracle.

I read this book once about a guy who walked into the woods for a hike and his first thought was to see a moose up close. He’d never seen one before. So he asked. And suddenly it was there and he was holding his breath and slightly scared because they are very dangerous, and simply summed up, he got what he asked for. And more.

There’s always more. We think we know what we ask for, but our prayers are the square root of His plans. Perhaps He plants desires in our hearts like seeds, knowing that they will open doors for us, into new countries. Maybe literally.

Even after that dinner party with my girlfriends, I am thinking about 2015 with vision and hope, and what I shared with them continues to resonate through my soul. I wanted to share it with you.

More. Ask for more. 

Let Him show you how big He is. How small He sees. How good. How responsive.

How long a light year is.

The good and noble adventures that are waiting in the occasion of our regular lives.

The tree snails.

And the miracles.

 

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