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
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
“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,
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
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 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
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
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!