This tomb, seen along the roadside in Israel, reminds me of another tomb where God testified regarding eternal blessing and renewal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We are tired. Oh wait, we started tired. We are really tired.

Last night I met a smartly attired Asian business man as I was exiting the restroom—the men’s restroom. “Aw,” he said, “I believe you made mistake!” Well, yes! Until I saw him, I didn’t see the urinals. By the way, just as a bit of news, the men’s restroom downstairs is fancier than any I have ever seen, actually—two rooms! (So okay, it wasn’t my first experience with a men’s restroom.) One room contained the “telling” urinals (why couldn’t they have been more obvious?); the other room was lined with stalls opposite lavatories. Do you call that a restroom suite? I would like to report that the women don’t have such a fancy floor plan, though.

The experience seemed more embarrassing than usual, since I had formed the opinion that the Aussies care more about bathroom privacy than the Europeans or even the Americans for that matter. They all have two doors—like a windbreak (okay, well, I won’t go there). But what is most interesting was the size of the windbreak—so small that the large outer door that swings inward almost hits the inner door, which for some reason swings outward. I had been trying to figure out its purpose since it seems that there was hardly room for such a contraption in the hotel’s floor plan and also because I was contemplating what I would do if I keep gaining weight from all this food they are feeding us (does one fit in the windbreak if one continues to grow?). I had guessed the purpose was to ensure that in a busy hotel one could not just “see into” the restroom—thus, for privacy’s sake. Well, forget that! Just walk in and have a look! Now that I have seen, I own a different possibility. Maybe it is so that the women won’t see that the men have a fancier floor plan!

But I digress…again. (Did I mention I am tired?)

The renewal is going well—very well. Another thing about the Aussies: they must own a better “work ethic” than any group we have served. They arrived (all but four) three hours early on Monday—the other four arrived well in time to begin. They arrive to sessions on time, they do their assignments, they stay on task and on schedule. (It’s really challenging us as a team.)

Jeanene’s opening message on God’s “steadfast love” was better than ever; Arlene did an outstanding job with her morning presentation yesterday—excellent material, insight, delivery. The session was wonderful! The reading groups have been going off without a hitch. I am looking forward to Brooke’s morning presentation today. Yesterday I prayed with a young woman who had been in the art room earlier. I mentioned Mariana’s name (Mariana directs our art sessions). The woman said with exuberance, “That woman! I went back to my room and told my roommate that the session was worthwhile if for no other reason than to be in the presence of that woman! She is amazing; she just carries a sense of peace and maturity that is so comforting!” Well, yes! The team agrees, but most participants don’t pick up on the fact so quickly! Did I say, we are blessed?

Today (It is 6 a.m. now) will be our final day of classes; tomorrow we hear their reflections and applications. We are excited. Exhausted but excited about all that being done here. Thanks to all who helped to make it possible!

Bless the Lord with us. That’s our focus this week as we study Psalm 103.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sanctified for Service

The renewal begins for me on Sunday morning.

The women have not arrived, but we have (even with jet lag, we seem to be present by Sunday. We reserve the day for spiritually centering our hearts and minds on our own relationships with God and our coming mission, sanctifying all of ourselves to God for the task ahead. My sweet friend Jeanene Reese always plans these services, and they are rich--filled with praise, self-examination, confession, affirming one another, scripture, song, and prayer. We commune with one another and the Lord. This time, as we prayed to close our time together, Jeanene suggested we circle up and hold hands--facing outward, a physical symbol of our stance in the week to come--joined, united, looking outward at this country, this place, these women, all those He might put in our paths.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Team Daze

Skipping a day of your life can be disorienting, especially when your clock is upside down and you can't sleep the next night either. But when your brain is so tired it isn't functioning anyway--it's not so bad.

Since you can't do any real work, the best you can do is keep moving and wait for yourself to pass out (and hopefully sleep long enough to begin recovering). Such was the case yesterday, May 23, when we scheduled a team outing to a wildlife preserve to attempt to begin our physical recovery as we to saw, petted, fed, and marveled over Australian wildlife.
Teammate Brooke Hollingsworth did the work to arrange the day, and it was lovely--despite the fact that it rained on and off the whole time. I don't think she planned that. But if she did, it wasn't bad thinking. Actually, wearing trash bags and having wet feet and clothes blessed us all immensely (we didn't fall asleep!).

Teammate Mariana Long, the artist behind this camera lens, blesses all of our lives with her gifts.

It is no
w Sunday here. I awoke at a much more reasonable hour today: 4:45 a.m. This is our sabbath day--today's goal will be to center ourselves spiritually for the task ahead. Team worship, which begins at 9:00 a.m. will be one highlight of the team's week, one of the sweetest three hours you could ever experience. I hope your day of worship will be blessed, as well.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Arrival in Australia

It wasn't easy.

The flight from LAX to Sydney was 14 hours; some of us didn't get our usual aisle seats; most of us didn't get as good of seat as we like (extra leg room, etc.). There was a storm on the way. Our plane missed most of it, but one team member's plane--a team member who was flying alone, using frequent flyer miles--had to land in Fiji to wait out the worst of it.

Then Australian customs....yikes. It took us two hours to get through it all. We had to clear the heat seeking camera, proving we did not have fever (no swine flu among us), then the long passport control line, then the long, long lines and searches for everything NOT Australian (very tough customs here). We missed our flight; then six of us caught the next flight and the other five of us missed that one, too. Finally, we were on the plane and arriving, getting together and going to the hotel to meet our lone traveler...who was not here. The unexpected layover in Fiji had us worried, but after three more hours, here she was, too. Finally--ALL together.

We had lost May 21 along the way. It did not exist. But we were in Australia, greeted by a very kind and accommodating hotel staff at the Hotel Watermark, Surfer's Paradise, Queensland (right on the Great Barrier Reef--which we won't see). All the suitcases: arrived.

We slept--some well, some not so well, but we are ready for our Saturday. Time to renew ourselves physically. Tomorrow we will have our team worship, a holy and honored time among us. Sunday will be a day of sabbath, spiritual preparation for the task ahead: 40 women from Fiji, New Zealand and Australia will arrive on Monday.

Keep us in your prayers.... We love you all!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Testimony

Bright lights didn’t flash from the sky nor did those around me testify that they heard thunder; still, the Lord and I shared a moment on Saturday. It was an uncommon moment whose like has been periodically chronicled in the Bible, often portrayed in movies, sometimes witnessed in relationships, and occasionally even grasped in life. For the record, it was Saturday, May 9, 2009—graduation day at Abilene Christian University.

Both Shane, our eldest, and Zach, our “baby,” received advanced degrees. Shane’s Doctor of Ministry documents 30 additional hours of study, research and writing beyond his MDiv and his now seven years of ministry. Zach’s Masters of Divinity marks the end of his seminary training—84 hours of graduate study in biblical language, text, ministry, theology and pertinent history.

Let it be duly noted that while both were eager to study and complete their study, neither of my guys wanted to walk that day. But the whole family was ready to celebrate (and I desired it) so they did. Shane was among five to receive the DMin, and Zach walked with maybe 25 or so others who received their masters. With the last name of Alexander, our sons collected their diploma boxes as numbers two (Shane) and six (Zach), then sat dutifully through the seemingly endless ceremony as hundreds of new college grads also walked the stage to collect bachelor’s degrees.

Like so many significant moments with the Lord, my moment with Lord last Saturday had opened many years before—19 to be exact, in July, 1990. Shane was 13 at the time, my “middlest” Brent was 10, and Zach was 8. I was on ACU’s campus, attending the Bible Teachers’ Workshop, and looking out the window of my temporary quarters on the second floor of Nelson Dormitory; I was crying, I was praying, and I was scared.

The early stages of a major depression had just begun to manifest themselves. They had emerged during a serious bout with post traumatic syndrome, the result of childhood abuse, and had jerked me from reality three weeks earlier. In all my life, I rarely remember a lower moment. I had yet to see a doctor, but my symptoms had become debilitating. I was in a constant state of panic; my heart raced, my body ached, and my thoughts had become dull. I was humiliated and confused.

On the morning in question, my companions had left for breakfast and classes, but I had remained behind for a few moments with the Lord. I sat on the bed, looking out the window that overlooked the campus to the north—a perfect view of the recently completed Bible building and Tower of Light. Like Hannah in the temple, I was praying for my children. Though Hannah wept and prayed to receive children, I wept and pleaded for those already born. How could I, broken as I was, rear children of faith?

Nothing humbles like depression. By its very nature, depression humiliates; it accuses, tries, and convicts. One thing was clear to me that day: I needed help—not only for myself, but moreover for those I loved more than life: my children. So I prayed: “Lord God, spare my children, and please, Lord, somehow grow them into men of great faith.”

As I sat there, continuing to look out at the campus, I pondered the blessings of a Christian education. Having grown up in a poor and highly dysfunctional family, an education at ACU had been beyond my reach. That morning, as I continued to look out across the campus, I prayed what seemed impossible. “Lord, I would love for my children to study here—all of them. I want for my children every good gift available in this place.” My eyes zoned in again to focus on the Tower of Light and the Bible building beyond: “And Lord, if it is possible, please let one—at least one—graduate from that building. Please, Lord, use these young men you have given me to your glory.”

The day I prayed that prayer, not one of my children had expressed intent to attend Abilene Christian and not one had declared an interest in ministry. The prayer was pure pie in the sky, but it rose from the depth of my soul. To be honest, the prayer had little to do with choosing for them an alma mater. Rather, it was a plea for God to recognize my lowly state and to come to my aid so that somehow a broken woman might retain and pass on faith. It was a forever prayer, prayed not only for the sake of my own children, but for generations of grand and great-grand children—children who might escape the life of generational abuse that had been part of my family for generations—the kind of life that came crashing in around you when you least expected it, leaving you broken and depressed, as I was at the time. It was a prayer about faith and a prayer for faith. I was a beggar at the gate of heaven, pleading for help and for hope.

I have thought of that morning many times in the past almost 20 years. I thought of it the day three years later when at age 16, Shane announced he would be a minister. I thought of it in the fall of 1995 when we left him, very near the Tower of Light, as a freshman Bible major, and then again on the day of his bachelor’s graduation…and his master’s. I remembered the prayer when both Brent and Zach enrolled at ACU in 1998 and 2000 and on the day they graduated with degrees in business and integrated study, respectively. The days of Zach’s study at the Graduate School of Theology have been particularly sweet; I have savored each one.

Of course, I remembered the prayer on Saturday, May 9, 2009, when once again I witnessed God’s unfailing desire to be known, to testify about himself, to hear our cries and respond, to create order from chaos, and to form things that are from that which is not. I didn’t see a flash of blinding light or hear the audible voice of God speaking from a cloud, though I did hear it: “You are my daughter and I am your God; in all of this I am well pleased.”

I am overwhelmed once more with joy, thanksgiving, and awe for my God.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Two weeks from NOW, Lord willing, I will be on my way to Paradise--Surfer's Paradise, Australia. It's one of those trips in which one day vanishes from life and another (on the return) lasts almost two--and still lands you back home a couple hours before you left! Amazing.

We depart on Wednesday, May 20, and arrive Brisbane on Friday, May 22, to begin the 17th Come before Winter Renewal on the May 25th. That renewal will end on Friday, May 29. Then on Saturday, May 30, eight of the 12 team members will go on to Madang, Papau New Guinea, to meet two other team members, and begin the 18th CbW renewal on Monday, June 1.

The notebooks and song books are finished, the name tags are being laminated, the gifts purchased and packed, the tote bags monogramed, and the luggage tags distributed. The two large print notebooks are finished, as well, and most of the costs at both hotels will soon be paid. The pretreat (the training retreat shared by both teams) remains but a fond memory from weeks ago. We are praying and fasting and waiting to witness the Lord's work in almost 80 women who live on the other side of the world.

Preparations have consumed the past two months and will extend forward through these last days before departure. There are still hundreds of details yet to be handled--cards to print--blessing cards, sharing cards, placecards--forms, name labels for materials, and many other more "trivial" supplies. Team members are seeing doctors for shot updates, investigating the best mosquito repellant and malaria meds, and going through our closets, searching for clothing appropriate for the more conservative mores of PNG. We are printing out our itineraries and contact information for loved ones, and some of us are writing cards and notes and making plans for last-minute trips to see the grandchildren. I am.

According to some who know, Surfer's Paradise is a party spot, not unlike Cancun, Mexico. That gives me pause as I prepare a program of spiritual disciplines for the 39 women from Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji who will attend. To be fair, it is winter in Surfer's Paradise (or almost); the beach will not be hopping, but still.... It does sound odd. I am trusting the recommendations of women in ministry "on the ground" on that side of the world. And to be honest, the hotel staff has been a complete dream with which to work. I am looking forward to seeing this world-reknown beach, even if wearing a sweater, and to meeting those who have become my email companions over the past year and a half.

Today, just because I could, and had time, and needed a diversion, I shopped for flippers, snorkel and mask--NOT for Surfer's Paradise, Australia, but for Madang, Papua New Guinea--on the off chance that I might squeeze in one swim in those waters, known by divers around the world as some of the prettiest anywhere (and its always summer on the equator).