LOST CHAPTERS: PART I

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!

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Tears to Joy: LOST CHAPTERS: PART I

Sunday, August 11, 2013

LOST CHAPTERS: PART I

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!

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1 Comments:

At August 12, 2013 at 2:31 PM , Blogger Jen Smith said...

This time of year, I inevitably think of Michael. I think it was 1995, when he and I agreed to meet around midnight on the lawn of the law school to watch the Perseid meteor shower. We stretched out on towels perpendicular to each other, he rested his head on my chubby tummy (I brought a pillow but he forgot so we improvised), and we talked about Greek grammar, about how Paul used old testament prophets in his letters, and what we thought our lives would be like post college. I still miss my friend. Thank you for writing about him and sharing his story to encourage others to seek help.

 

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