Tears to Joy

Tears to Joy: August 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sticky Friends

"One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Proverbs 18:24
I don't think I've ever heard this verse quoted about anyone other than Jesus. While it is true that Jesus sticks closer than a brother, the fact that this was written in a passage that is not describing the Messiah, I wonder if Solomon was warning us about the friends we choose. He was a man of great wealth; I've known a lot of people with wealth that struggled to know who their true friends were and who were their friends only for personal gain.
While I'm not a person of great wealth, I have felt the sting of friendships gone bad -- leaving you bruised and wounded emotionally. True friends stand by you in the good and the bad. They are not afraid to tell you the truth and they love you for who you are, not for what you do.
When I was in high school, I became really close to a small group of gals. We did everything together. When we graduated, I assumed we would all lose touch, but amazingly the opposite happened. We have continued to stay in touch, and our friendships have deepened. We've celebrated births; we've rejoiced in victories, and we've laughed until we cried. We've also grieved the loss of infants, spouses, and friends. We've experienced a plethora of emotions with each other -- in other words, we've been REAL.
No matter what has happened in life, we have stuck together. I praise God for these Proverbs 18 friendships in my life. I just wanted to take a minute and say thank you to these special ladies in my life. They make me want to be a better person, and I thank God for them.
This was taken at our class reunion.


Saturday, August 24, 2013


Why -- a three letter question that leaves the asker wanting more...Why? We've all asked it at some point in our lives. What is it with our obsession with answers? We tend to think that if we could understand, then we would somehow feel better, that somehow our circumstances might be more bearable.

Sadly, many times we don't know the answer to the why's in life. I serve as a facilitator for a suport group for people who have lost loved ones to suicide (SOS group), and without fail, someone always asks, "Why?" When it comes to suicide, there are so many questions left unanswered, but ultimately, we want to understand why the person took their own life.

I wish I could give you

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lost Chapters Part IV: The Early Days After Michael’s Death

            The past twenty-four hours were all a blur. Not only had I gotten the worst news I could ever receive, but I also had to face the grim reality of life without Michael. In just a few short hours after hearing of Michael’s death, my home became a hub of activity. Friends and family came in droves to offer their condolences and support. I’ll never forget my friends coming as soon as they heard and taking Jorjanne to spend the day with them. My day was filled with making arrangements at the funeral home and if that wasn’t hard enough, I had to meet with an investigator at the Sheriff’s office. It was there that I learned the horrifying details of Michael’s death, and I also learned that Michael had been found with his journal and his Bible. He had spent his last day on earth reading God’s Word and writing to me in his journal. I both longed and dreaded reading that journal. Was I ready to read it now or should I wait? The investigator solved the dilemma for me when she told me that his journal was evidence and that she would have to keep it for a couple of weeks.

            As I sat on the edge of my bed thinking about my hellish day, I leaned over to get my journal to try so that I could put my racing thoughts on paper to see if that would help me sort through the chaos in my mind. I opened to the page where I left off and to my astonishment I found these words penned in Michael’s handwriting from the day before.

                                                                                    January 26, 2006
            I’m sorry I’ve brought so much grief and heartache into your life. My heart breaks but I know the tears will stop. And you and Jorjanne’s life will go on. You’ll find someone who can take care of you and who is more mentally stable than I am. I’m so confused and so LOST.  May the Lord who brought this disease welcome me into His kingdom where I’ll receive a new body and hopefully, a new mind.
I’m sorry I’m not strong enough but one day you’ll be thankful I freed you from this living nightmare. Tell Jorjanne I love her and I pray that she won’t have this illness. I Love You!

I poured out my anguish to the Lord as I wrote in my journal that night.

                                                                                                January 28, 2006
            O my God!  What do I even say?  My heart is broken. Lord help me!  Be my strength!  Be my comfort. I hurt so bad. I need You in ways I   don’t even know. I’m terrified of what lies ahead.  Lord, thank you for leading me to my journal today. I treasure and yet I am tormented by Michael’s letter. I know he loved me. I loved him so very much. I still do.  That’s why it hurts so bad. I’ve lost my best friend.
            I don’t know how I’ll make it through today. You have to hold me in the palm of Your hand. I need you like never before. Give me Your Word to cling to. Thank you for 2 Corinthians 1:2-3. I hold these words dear to my heart. Calm my fears and my anxiety. Help me to live in the moment. Don’t let me be overwhelmed.   Thank you for my precious Jorjanne. What a blessing she is! I need her. She is a jewel in the midst of this nightmare.  Deliver me from the depths of woe. Set my feet on Your Rock. Be my salvation from this pain.  God you are a good God and I will praise You!

            Life takes us down paths we never intend to go. Some bring great joy and others great sorrow. My life has been one of many unexpected turns but each one has led me closer to the cross. Losing Michael was in a lot of ways like losing myself. In trying to make sense of it all I penned the following words to Michael.

                                                                                    February 4, 2006
Baby!  I miss you so much.  I try to be strong and make wise choices but inside I’m crumbling. You were a part of me and I’ve lost who I am. Yes, my identity is in Christ but so much of me was in you. I love you so much and that’s why it hurts so very much. I need you and you’re gone. I know you did what you thought best, but I need you.  I LOVE YOU!!!  It’s only been a week but it seems like a lifetime.
            I’m so grateful for the memories. They make me smile. My heart is broken to know we’ll never make any more memories together. I pray Jorjanne will remember you. I can’t imagine her growing up without her daddy. WE NEED YOU and you left us!
Jesus, You must now be my Best Friend. I’ve lost mine and I can never replace him.  Help me to confide in You and trust You. I know you have a plan. Thank you for my precious Jorjanne. Even as I write, she offers me a hug. Thank you for the gift she is. Help me to be a good mommy for her.
The funeral and visitation seem like months ago, yet last week this time I was greeting the 2000+ people who came to the funeral home for visitation. Michael, your funeral was a blessing. You lived a life that glorified God    and pointed others to Christ and I pray that your death will do the same.  More than one thousand people came to the funeral. You touched so many lives in so many ways. I’ll never forget our first lunch together at Mercer, our trip to Texas, our engagement, wedding and all the days in between. Knowing you has brought me the greatest joy I could know apart from my relationship with Christ and losing you I feel the greatest pain I’ve ever known. If I had to do it over, I’d marry you again. I love you Michael Flake and I always will!
God, I know Your grace will sustain me and I praise You in the midst of the storm.  


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lost Chapter Part III: A Manic Move

Photo by Stuart Pilbrow
After a short stay in Kentucky, we decided to move back to Georgia where Michael would resume his work with Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries. The summer staff would be arriving soon, and we needed a place to live until we could make other arrangements. Our best friends, Jim and Angie, offered for us to live with them in their new home. The night we moved in was a night to remember! Michael’s depression had subsided as he was excited about moving back to Georgia. Sadly, his excitement turned manic. We got off to a late start leaving Kentucky because Michael was restless and extremely busy, although I could not tell with what. He drove the U-Haul and I followed him in our car, pulling a trailer with our truck.

It was late as we crossed the Georgia line, and we stopped to discuss the best route to take. Following the Richard Russell Highway was the shortest route, but it was also the curviest. I was leery of driving a U-Haul across the mountain at night, but Michael felt confident that we could do it. As we were coasting downhill, the brakes on the U-Haul began slipping. Michael called me as we got closer to Helen asking me to pray because he was afraid the brakes were going to go out. I prayed and prayed and never before was I so happy to see our friends’ house. As we turned into their driveway, the brakes failed and Michael drove up their embankment, crushing the tomato plants Angie had planted earlier that day.  Michael jumped out of the truck and shouted, “We’re here!” I wanted to crawl under something and hide.

That was the beginning of our tumultuous stay. It didn’t take long for Jim and Angie to realize that something was amiss. Michael’s mania was rampant, and he was getting out of control. Jim tried to talk to Michael, but Michael didn’t think anything was wrong.  I felt trapped in the middle of my husband who I felt I was losing and my best friends who he was driving away. I wrote in my journal:                                 
                                                                                                June 1, 2001

Lord, I am so afraid of losing Michael – not afraid of losing our marriage but afraid of his becoming someone else like last summer.  I don’t understand why he feels he must become what he is not around certain people.  Lord, make him a godly leader. Teach him to trust You and to lean on Your strength and not his own. He is already trying to be superman and it’s only the first week of summer. Lord, you know I need my husband. Our baby needs a father. If Michael doesn’t learn to relax and pace himself, I’m afraid I won’t have him around very long. His blood pressure is already dangerously high. Lord, you know how much I love this man. Teach me to show him my support but at the same time to help him learn balance.

I can’t fix things, nor can I tell Michael how I feel because he becomes so defensive.  Lord, please show him and teach him.  I only have You. I am trusting our future to You.  There are more unknowns in my life now more than ever before and it terrifies me. Forgive my lack of faith. Increase my faith and trust. Help me not to fear the unknown. Help me keep my sanity. Strengthen our marriage. Lord, I miss the Michael who taught me Your Word and prayed with me. Teach him to be the spiritual leader You want him to be. Help him to focus.  Stop the colliding thoughts in his mind. Give him clarity in both thought and speech. My heart aches for Michael; it’s been such a difficult year and I’m exhausted. I cannot continue in my own strength.  Give me wings like eagles so that I can soar. 

A few weeks later, we moved into the house with the summer missionaries. I wish I could say that this was a turning point and that it was a great summer, but it wasn’t. I was very pregnant and moody; Michael was very manic and controlling. Not only were we bickering at each other, but it carried over into our relationships with the staff.  It was the hardest summer of our lives.

We decided to take a much needed vacation with Jim and Angie. The four of us went to Gulf Shores, Alabama for some R & R. On the drive down, Michael talked non-stop. He was very opinionated and argumentative. By the time we got to the place where we were staying, we were all irritable. The next morning we went shopping and I was thrilled to find a pair of Tommy Hilfiger tennis shoes on sale for $10. I was so excited. When we got back to the house, Michael told me that I needed to spray them so that they would be water resistant. I told him that because they were white, I didn’t want to spray them.

Michael snatched my shoes away from me and began spraying them with Scotch Guard inside the house. Angie came into the room and asked, “What is that horrible smell?” We tried to persuade Michael to take the shoes outside but he refused. He continued until he had sprayed half a can of the Scotch Guard on the shoes. I picked them up off the floor and my new white shoes had turned yellow. By now, both Angie and I were gagging from the fumes, and we went outside to get away from the horrid smell.

I couldn’t stand it any longer; I started to vent. I was so frustrated with Michael!  He wouldn’t listen to anyone; he talked all the time and never listened. He was spending all of our money on junk (just that morning he had gone to Wal-mart and spent $200 on stuff we didn’t need). I was so tired of my life and I was at my wits end!  I didn’t know what to do!

Apparently my outburst, wrong as it was, got to Michael. That night, Michael journaled:  

                                                                                                 April 8, 2004

I’ve thought for a long time that I was doing really well emotionally and mentally, only to be confronted with my wife’s tears again…My heart was breaking. I thought all was good but it was really, really bad.Oh God, what a crazy roller coaster ride we’ve been on, not just me but Natalie, Jorjanne and well, everyone else who is close to my heart. I’m so sorry that my emotions are a basket case. Oh well, this must be the thorn in my flesh.

I now have a new song, “Here is Love, Vast as the Ocean” by Matt Redman. I wonder if Natalie would listen to this song with me? Of course, I would like to hope that if we saw a lifeguard chair that she would climb back up into the chair with me but now I think I’ve hurt her so deeply           through all of my inconsistencies that her heart walls are so thick that she would never dream deep thoughts with me again. I think most recently she is just trying to survive in our marriage. I want her to thrive in our marriage. Please Lord teach me to walk at a pace that she can follow but not so slowly that she has to pull me up every time I get depressed and anxious. Lord, help me to be consistent. I want to be the husband you want me to be and the father that I need to be and the son that I long to be.

That night, Michael played the song, “Here is Love” for me and we both cried.

            Here is love, vast as the ocean

            Lovingkindness as the flood

            When the Prince of Life, our Ransom

            Shed for us, His precious blood

            Who His love will not remember?

            Who can cease to sing His praise?

            He can never be forgotten

            Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days

            On the mount of crucifixion

            Fountains opened deep and wide

            Through the floodgates of God’s mercy

            Flowed a vast, a gracious tide

            Grace and love, like mighty rivers

            Poured incessant from above

            And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice

            Kissed a guilty world in love


            No love is higher, no love is wider

            No love is deeper, no love is truer

            No love is higher, no love is wider

            No love is like Your love, O Lord”

                                                 (“Here is Love,” by Matt Redman).

I wish I could say that this was a turning point and that the vacation was great from this point on, but the mania remained. Jim and Angie looked for opportunities to run to the store just to get away from it all. I felt trapped and alone. I knew that never again would we go on vacation with our best friends. I only hoped they would continue to be our friends after this dreadful trip.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lost Chapter Part II: Our Mar's Hill Experience

           As a missionary for the North American Mission Board, we were required twice a year to participate in a World Missions Conference. In September 1998, we journey to Colorado to share with the Continental Divide Association what God was doing in Helen, Georgia. When we arrived, the director of missions gave us our assignments and he gave me a Ford F-150 to drive for the week and Michael was given a Ford Escort. While we were there, we visited a tiny town called Crestone. We learned that Crestone was a hub of world religions. We were told that Shirley Maclaine had been there, and had met with people from the United Nations. Their goal, supposedly, was to bring leaders from all the organized world religions together to try and form one religion for the world. 
           I wrote in my journal on September 28, 1998:                                              

         Michael and I decided to explore Crestone today and we went to visit the Hindu temple. We drove up there and there was nowhere to park.          We stopped the truck and got out to take a picture and a guy named Frap, wearing a long broom skirt, a t-shirt sandals and sporting a black line and red dot on his forehead, asked us to move the truck. Apparently today was the last day of a twenty-one day festival and they were celebrating with a feast.  People were everywhere.  All religions except Christianity seemed    to be represented.

Frap asked if we would park at the bottom of the hill and walk back up. We got into the truck to move it and it would not start. The ignition was locked and so was the steering wheel. All these people were ready to leave and we were blocking the only entrance/exit. We immediately began to call out to the Lord. Several men came over to try and help start the truck but no one could. They finally pushed the truck out of the way so others could get out.  The people were not very friendly to us. After we were out of the way of the exit, all of our help went back to the feast.

I tried to turn the ignition while Michael tried to hotwire it with two screwdrivers under the hood.  A short little man came to the driver’s window and said to me, “Say your mantras.” I began to pray even harder to Jesus. No start. We finally decided to call a mechanic (Engine Eddie) after about thirty minutes had passed. As we entered the kitchen, we were asked to remove our shoes as was their religious custom. We refused, and entered enough only to use the phone.

            We called the owner of the truck, and asked her to send someone to come and get us.  As we headed back to the truck I noticed all of the children who were being brainwashed. All of these people were singing to Mother and to the Indians. I felt very uncomfortable. As we walked back, Michael reached into his pocket and found a set of keys. No, it couldn’t be.  Dear Jesus, please let it be.

            Michael pulled the key out of the ignition and put in the newfound     key.  Rrrrrr---it cranked! Praise be to our God and Father through our Lord Jesus Christ! I ran back in to call the pastor’s wife again and after I hung up, Michael told me that he had an announcement to make.  He then whistled and got everyone’s attention. The music stopped and all eyes were on Michael. I slowly walked away praying for the Lord to use Michael and to guard his tongue.

Michael then proclaimed, “We are the people who almost ruined your party by breaking down in the drive.  Well, I learned it helps if you use the right key.” Everyone laughed. Michael continued, “It’s a lot like heaven. There’s only one key to get into heaven. You’re here to celebrate diversity but only the right key gets you into heaven and that’s Jesus Christ. Scripture says in John 14:6, ‘I am the way, the Truth and the life and no man comes unto the Father but through me.’ Thank you. God bless you and may you know His salvation.

      Trembling, we turned and got into the truck and drove away.  All glory and honor to God!  I’m reminded of Mars Hill.  I felt like Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Thank you Jesus for your deliverance! Hallelujah Abba!
Michael had such a way with people. He was very bold in proclaiming the gospel and yet people listened to him when he spoke. God was continually giving us unique opportunities to share His truth.


Sunday, August 11, 2013


Recently, I was rereading my first draft of my book, Tears to Joy, and I realized that there were several chapters that were omitted in the final draft. I decided to share them on my website. It's a little weird to post this first one about the early days with Michael, since I am now in the first few months of marriage to Jeff. I will say that I feel so incredibly blessed that God granted me an amazingly supportive husband, who not only understands my past, but encourages me to use my hurts to help others. So, it is with Jeff's blessing that I post these next few posts which I will call "The Lost Chapters." Jeff, I want to publicly say that you are truly a blessing and I thank God for you. Love you with all my heart!

After the Engagement

We visited the seminary and began to look for a place to live and for employment.  After several weeks had  passed, we still had no leads. We both decided to commit the matter to prayer. Michael drove up to North Georgia to where he met up with his friend, Chad. The two then drove up to North Carolina to seek the Lord in the prayer garden at Ridgecrest Retreat Center.

            Later that night, Michael called and was so excited that he could hardly contain it.  “Natalie,” he began. “I think I know what God wants us to do next year.”

“What is it?” I inquired. 

“Its too big for us to talk about on the phone.  I need to see you in person.”

 We agreed to meet in Macon the next day so that he could share with me the “exciting” news.  I hung up the phone and called out to my mom.  “Mama,” I said.  “Michael says he thinks he knows what we’re doing next year.  He said it’s too big to tell me on the phone.  He didn’t say it, but I think we’re going to Africa!”

What I didn’t know was that after calling out to the Lord for several hours, Michael and Chad had driven back to Helen, and visited the church they attended when they were students at Truett McConnell College. They were greeted with a warm welcome that Sunday night, and after the service, Michael sat down with the pastor, Kyle Woodfin. 

            Pastor Kyle asked Michael what his plans were for next year. Michael told him that he had spent the day in prayer about that very topic. Pastor Kyle was not only the pastor of the church, but he was also the Director of Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries. He explained that he was looking for a missionary to help him expand the resort ministry. Michael immediately responded, “I’m no good.  I’m getting married.” (Why he thought that disqualified him, I’ll never understand.)  Pastor Kyle said, “That’s perfect. We’ve been praying for a young couple to come work with us. We want help with the resort ministry and youth ministry. Do you think your fiancé would be interested in youth ministry?”

            I’d never been to Helen, Georgia so we made plans the next weekend to drive up to Helen to visit with Pastor Kyle and his wife, Alanna. Our visit went well and I felt at home from the start. The ministry in Helen sounded like a perfect fit, but I didn’t want to go just because it sounded good. I wanted to be obedient to the Lord. Was this really where God was calling us?

            Michael was convinced that we were to go to Helen, but he agreed to wait for the Lord to confirm it to me. Pastor Kyle had advised us that God would not call one of us to a specific location without confirming it to the other. We agreed to bathe this in prayer.  Michael wrote in his journal on September 23, 1996:

             Oh my Lord, beside still waters is where I sit right now. The seasons are still changing and the leaves are falling. Lord where will this current take me? Where are you leading us, O God, and why do questions flood my soul? I know that we desire to serve you.  Will you take us and form from our little lumps of clay something beautiful or are we still so stubborn as to not even be moldable by your mighty hand...no…never!   God, I long for an answer to your call on my life. Where Lord? When? O Savior, I want my hands to work for You. I pray for direction.  I want to be a leader and serve you, O Lord my God. Will you take this life I live and make it your own, O Lord? Helen is a beautiful little city here in these mountains.  God I pray for the resort ministry here in Helen. Lord I want Natalie and me to feel at home here as we seek to do your work here, if this is where you want us. Where is our peace?  Have we misplaced it looking for some other way?  Lord, discernment and direction is my prayer.

Five days later, Michael visited me in my hometown. He went to church with me, and we had a guest speaker that night. Before the service I introduced myself to the speaker.           

            The minister began preaching about missions and I felt a stirring in my spirit. What was God trying to tell me? The pastor then began to talk about home missions. The feelings intensified within me. “Lord, what are you trying to tell me?” I wondered. Not only did the pastor speak of home missions (missions in your home country), but he began talking about the need for missionaries in Georgia. I remember thinking, “God, you have got to give me more than that. Are you calling me and Michael to Helen?”

As soon as that prayer was whispered from my lips, the pastor pointed at me, and exclaimed, “For example, Natalie, if God called you to be a missionary in Georgia, you would say ‘yes’ wouldn’t you?” 

Michael and I looked at each other. Had he really just said that? This man knew nothing of the opportunity in Helen, and he knew even less about me. The words he had just spoken were not his own; they were the voice of God speaking His desire for Michael and me in a way that I could not deny. Soon we all stood for the invitation and we sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” I reached down and grabbed a bulletin and jotted Michael a simple note: 

            Michael, we are going to Helen.

            The months leading up to the wedding seemed to drag on forever. I continued to work with the youth at Carver Baptist Church and Michael would come up and visit whenever possible. We felt a peace knowing that God had called us to Helen, but now the fun part began --- the application process with the North American Mission Board. We both filled out our book (they call it an application) and waited. And waited. And waited. At long last we were invited to interview weekend where we went through exhaustive personality testing and questioning. We were sent home and told that we would be hearing from the board.

            The weeks and months continued to pass with no word from the board. Michael was getting stressed because it was only weeks away until our big day and we had no jobs and no place to live. When others would question him about this he’d tell them of our confidence that the Lord would send us to Helen. Then they would ask, “What is your plan B if God doesn’t?”  He would respond, “Well then, I guess we’ll just have to live on love.”

         As the wedding date approached, we began to seriously consider what to do. We prayed and prayed, asking God for wisdom. We truly believed that God wanted us in Helen but we also felt it would be foolish to move there without a guaranteed job. To our surprise, Michael’s aunt and uncle had decided to go and visit their daughter and her family in Oklahoma for Christmas. They were to be gone for almost a month and they wanted to know if we would be willing to house sit for them after our honeymoon. Yes! We agreed to house sit, and the week before our wedding we received notification that the board had met and decided to send us to work with Georgia Mountain Resort Ministry in Helen.  To say we were thrilled is an extreme understatement. We were plum giddy over the news.  We were to start in January!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

God, Are You Sure?

There are times in our lives when God asks us to do things that makes no sense to us at all. Remember Naaman in the Bible. He was a very wealthy man, but had been struck with leprosy. He went to Jesus for help and Jesus told him to go dunk himself in the river three times. This was ludicrous to him, and angered him. His servants asked him, “What have you got to lose? Give it a try” (my translation). So Naaman did as Jesus commanded and he was healed.

Recently, I was asked to speak at a couples’ conference in North Georgia. I assumed (first mistake) that this was a marriage conference. As I was preparing my talk, I received an email with the conference schedule. As I looked over it, I was baffled. This wasn’t a marriage conference at all – it was a business conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What in the world did they want me to share?

I wrestled over what to say, and my husband, Jeff kept encouraging me to just share my story. “You never know, but maybe God has one person there that needs to hear it,” he urged.
The night before I was physically sick over this – what in the world did I have to say to this group? Surely they don’t want to talk about mental illness, suicide, and suffering at an 8:00 AM session the last day of the conference.

Alas, I surrendered my hesitations and inadequacies, and I went and shared with the group. I was astonished by the outcome. Several people stayed afterwards to share with me about their own trials. One man even said, “I wondered all weekend why in the world my wife and I were here. Now I know. We were here to listen to you share.” If that wasn’t enough, I sold out of books at the conference. Boy was I humbled!

What made no earthly sense to me, made perfect sense to the Father. Jeff was right; God had placed specific individuals at that conference “for such a time as this.” You’d think by now that I would have learned to obey without question (what every parent desires of their kids), but unfortunately, I am still stubborn and question God when I shouldn’t.

How about you? Has God ever asked you to do something that made no sense at the time, but later it all became clear?  If so, please share with us.