A Church that Made a Difference

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." The opening line from one of my favorite novels came to mind almost daily. In April of 2006, I was preparing for motherhood. Pregnancy brought a strange mix of emotions, moods, and hormones. I was thrilled to be a first-time mom, but my heart ached thinking of all the times I was missing with my mom and sister. All communication, even the big announcement that we were expecting, was done through phone calls, and those had to be short and sweet. I began to feel a little sorry for myself as I selected crib bedding online at an internet cafe downtown; it just wasn't the same as going shopping with mom. We were supposed to be doing this together. I was missing out.

The Lord's goodness to me during such a hard time soon became very real. I didn't deserve it; I was self-centered and weak. Countless women go through pregnancy without their mothers. I knew when we surrendered to go to the mission field that we would live very far from home. I should have handled it in stride. I should have been tougher. But my Heavenly Father patiently and lovingly reached out to me in my cloud of gloom in a very unexpected way.

Robbie and I stopped by the post office one afternoon to pick up our mail. I was surprised to see three large, mysterious boxes with our names on them. We had not been expecting anything, let alone such large packages. We excitedly loaded them into the truck, eager to get home and open them.

We set the packages in the living room floor and examined them. The return address read "Lighthouse Baptist Church." This church, located about an hour and a half from my hometown, had taken us on for support during deputation. One of the boxes was marked, "Open first," so Robbie carefully cut the packing tape and lifted the lid.

Sitting on a layer of tissue paper on top was a VHS tape. The spine read, "Robbie and Christine's baby shower." I looked at Robbie questioningly and popped the tape into the VCR.

The recording began in what appeared to be the fellowship hall of the Lighthouse Baptist Church, decorated with pastel balloons and tiny paper cutouts of baby clothes strung from a clothesline. A banner read, "Congratulations, Robbie and Christine!" Then, my heart lept as I saw my mom and sister appear on camera and sit in the front, in the seats of honor. They were wearing corsages and beaming proudly. A lady from the church welcomed everyone and explained that this was a "Ghost Baby Shower." Since Robbie and I could not be there, they had somehow gotten in contact with my mom and sister (whom they had never met) and invited them to come open presents on our behalf. Tears streamed down my face as they opened present after present, oohing and aahing over each item. I found the corresponding baby gifts, along with the banner and decorations in the carefully packed boxes. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness, ashamed of my self-pity, and encouraged in spirit.

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.... But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received...the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God." (Philippians 4:15-18)

The Lord had used some precious ladies to encourage a young, pregnant missionary wife. The baby gifts were much needed and appreciated. But even more importantly, they had found a way to connect me to my family and share a special moment with them. They had ministered to my soul.

To the Finish

"Daddy, did you play football when you were in high school?" Kathleen and I were watching a UNC game with my dad, peppering him with questions like most school-age children do.

"Well, I always wanted to, but I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"I only have one kidney, so it would have been a little risky."

"You have only one kidney?"

Suddenly, the football game seemed less entertaining. We had never heard this story before.

"In 1952, I had a severe infection; they had to do surgery to remove one of my kidneys. It was very painful; I was only three, but I can remember everything very clearly."

We were in awe. Only one kidney?

With Father's Day approaching, I've been thinking about dad and the football days he never had. I recently read an illustration by a college professor that compared parenting to a crucial game of football. There are parents who make it to the pre-teen years and decide to drop their kids off at the 50-yard line. "Well, here we are! Good luck!" Some stick with it longer and fight their way through to age 16: "Here's your car. You've got a job. You'll be just fine." More dedicated parents, however, continue to push through to high school graduation and drop them off just five yards from the goal line. "I guess you've got it from here!"

My dad did no such thing. He stuck with it, fighting alongside me those last five yards, those crucial college years when a mate and a life's work are decided upon, to be sure I made it to the end zone of adulthood. These last five yards are when the hardest blows occur. Every inch is precious as a child nears the goal, and the enemy will fight tooth and nail to keep him out. Dad was right there with me every minute, blocking the blows, making sure I stayed on my feet.

As Robbie and I walked toward our gate at the airport that cold January morning in 2005, I took one last look back. Dad and Mom stood arm in arm, waving and smiling proudly through the tears. We were a little bruised up and our hearts were aching. But we made it.

Dad, you may never have gotten to don a helmet and pads, but you're an all-star lineman in my book. Happy Father's Day.


Meatballs, Mayhem, and Mrs. Amato

It was one of those awful slow-motion moments where you helplessly freeze in place, bracing yourself for the impact. I had just stumbled up the bleachers at the after-church fundraiser, balancing two plates of meatball subs and leading Claire to be seated on the second row. As soon as we sat down, I saw it coming. The volleyball was careening toward us, and there was nothing I could do to shield it.

The ball hit me directly, knocking one of the plates into the air. At Claire's shriek, the other spectators looked in horror. Red, meaty sauce covered my blouse and hair. I looked like the victim in a B horror movie. A teenage boy ran to me, apologizing profusely. I gathered he had been the one to spike the ball in our direction, so I laughed and waved him off, "No, it's fine, no big deal!" Poor Claire was frantic; I felt terrible that I couldn't pick her up, being covered in sauce, until I heard her snub, "My food! What did you do to my food!"

I sighed and headed for the bathroom to try to clean up. We were in Florida on furlough; I didn't know many people, but thankfully, a teen girl lent me a shirt for the rest of the evening.

I stuffed my stained white blouse into a grocery bag and thought, Well, that will never come out! It was one of my favorite shirts, too!

As I sat back down to finish my food, a kind-looking lady approached, "Christine, could I take your shirt home and wash it for you?" Before I could stammer a reply, she continued, "My husband is from Italy, and I have a wonderful detergent we get from there--it's perfect for removing tomato sauce stains!"

The idea of attempting to wash my shirt in the hotel room sink really wasn't appealing, so I finally surrendered the bag. "Don't worry if it doesn't come out! It's really caked in there!" I warned Mrs. Amato.

The next day, Robbie preached chapel for the Christian school's annual revival, while I entertained Claire at the hotel. He came back with an unexpected surprise: a gallon-size Ziploc bag with my favorite shirt inside, neatly pressed and folded. It was perfectly white; not a trace of sauce remained. I couldn't believe it. Mrs. Amato had also included a sweet note. I was overwhelmed by her thoughfulness.

A few months later, I would learn exactly how sacrificing Mrs. Amato and her family were. A family in our church was in need. Jose and Ismenia Rodriguez wanted to send their son Christian, one of our youth group's finest young men, to a Christian school his senior year. Since he is bilingual, they began to explore the option of sending him to the United States, where he could get a quality Christian education. Pastor Matt put them in contact with West Florida Christian Academy in Milton, Florida. It would be a perfect fit, since Christian planned to attend Pensacola Christian College after graduation. There was just one problem--where would he live?

I was thrilled when Mr. and Mrs. Amato and their son Daniel offered their home to Christian. They would care for him as their own son, giving him his own room, cooking his meals, and including him in family activities. I was relieved that he would be with such a sweet family.

We went to visit Christian on his last night in Honduras. There were many tears amid the packing, and my heart hurt for Ismenia, who was having an especially hard time. Then I remembered my encounter with Mrs. Amato, "Ismenia, let me tell you about the lady who will be taking care of Christian..." I explained to her exactly how Mrs. Amato had searched me out and kindly offered to clean my shirt, even though we barely knew each other. "That's how she is. She's very...what's the word? Maternal. Christian will be in good hands."

Ismenia's relief was evident. "Thank you for telling me that, Cristina. I am so glad that he will be taken care of!"

Christian had a wonderful year in Florida with the Amatos. He came back last week, a high school graduate. We are thrilled to have him home and ecstatic about what the Lord is doing in his life. And it was all possible because of an exceptional lady named Mrs. Amato.

See pics of Christian and his adventures in Florida with the Amatos!

He Guideth my Steps

I thought I needed to make pancakes in a hurry this morning; the Lord knew I needed to let Claire break the eggs and stir the batter.

I thought I needed to have the beds made right away; the Lord knew I needed a little extra quiet time in prayer.

I thought I needed to finish my financial report by nine o’clock; the Lord knew I needed to stop frequently to dress and redress a tiny Cinderella doll.

I thought I needed to finish Sunday’s bulletin; the Lord knew I needed to console a church member who called to say her feelings had been hurt.

I thought I needed to cut out my craft for Sunday school; the Lord knew I needed to drop it when Robbie came in: “Chris, I need your help…”

I thought I needed to just “pop in and out” at the grocery store; the Lord knew an exceptional cashier deserved my praise to her boss.

I thought I needed to make five church visits this afternoon; the Lord knew the first lady would need me to stay the entire time.

I thought I needed to feed my family of three at dinner; the Lord knew unexpected (but hungry!) guests would show up at the gate just as we sat down.

I thought my kitchen should be spotless before I headed to bed; the Lord knew I should sit down and enjoy a basketball game with my husband.

I thought my day should be perfectly planned by a neat checklist; the Lord threw my checklist out the window and guided my steps.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways. –Isaiah 55:9
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