712 more miles traveled today. This morning we were up and at ’em at 6am. After getting ready, we packed, cleaned, ate breakfast, then loaded up aand hit the road at 7:30am. We drove 5 hours to the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky. It is a full scale replica of Noah’s ark. It was incredible! Talk about the Scriptures coming to life! The thing was so massive! We spent 2 hours walking around the ark before departing. During rhe ride afterward we had some great discussion about Noah, the ark, and our theme for the day: Faithful Obedience. We stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel, the first time 6 of our 15 people have eaten there. During our drive after dinner Peter spoke to our team. We arrived at Covenant Community Church in Asheville, NC at 11:40pm. Got settled in, made lunches for tomorrow, and now heading to bed. Early start again tomorrow.
This morning we talked about what it means to be a servant leader and did some team building. At noon took the train up to Hunts Point in the Bronx to serve with Real Life Church. We were met by Clay, the youth pastor from the church and we spent over an hour on the plaza, handing out invitations to the church and praying with people who were passing by. We then stopped by the Point community center to see were Real Life meets, then we went to their storage unit which we emptied, organized, and repacked. We got back to Brooklyn about 5:30pm and had dinner. At 8pm we made up 60 bags with water bottles, the sandwiches we made Sunday night, and a bag of chips and headed to Manhattan where we gave them to homeless people all around the Penn Station area. It was awesome and the students did a great job! We then walked up to Times Square, hung out, and got some ice cream before heading back to Brooklyn. We arrived back at the church at 11:15pm.
Back in the spring of 2015 I was just your average 11th grade student. Touring college campuses and trying to find my best fit. I remember making a check list of everything I wanted in a college, but the only two important ones worth mentioning where: Big and Far from home. Turns out my parents thought other criteria might be more important, and they took me to a place that was the complete opposite. They decided to take me about an hour from our house to a college called Nyack. I was not happy the entire ride up. The school did not meet my criteria, and no one, not even my high school, knew that this place existed.
Well, to make a long story short, after only 5 minutes on campus, I loved it. The diversity, the views, the welcoming faculty. All exterior things, mainly.
Fast forward to late June of this year. I was at my graduation party greeting all my guests. Many of them are church-going people, and they are all congratulating me on my success and telling me that God is really going to do great things for me at Nyack. It was still a couple months away so I wasn’t thinking about it all that much. But two days later my parents sat me down to talk about my future. It’s probably the third scariest talk you can have after the sex talk and the about-to-go-into-high-school talk. I sat there at the end of their bed and after a couple of minutes I in was in tears. They broke the news to me that the financial package the school was offering was just way too high, and they did not want me leaving college buried under the all-too-familiar pile of student loans that many students graduate with. They told me it would be smart for me to transfer to Nyack after completing two years locally.
I had already met my roommate, paid my fees, and gotten my schedule. Now I had to put all that aside and think about my 22 year old self getting out of college. Although it was hard, I knew that what they were saying made sense, and I decided to listen. That night I started finding other colleges to apply to. I shook it off as best I could, put all the emotional aspects aside, and tried to stay focused on making a good future for myself.
About a month later, after about 12 times being put on hold by two local colleges I applied to, I was getting a bit fed up. A month till most colleges started, and I still didn’t know what I was doing, or if it would be too late to apply. Then, two weeks ago, I was on my way home from work and checked my missed calls. I saw that Nyack had tried to reach me. I didn’t think much of it because they didn’t leave a message. My mom joined me on the train, and when I told her about the missed call, I got choked up. My future had been set. I was ready to go to Nyack. And now I was sitting here not knowing what I was doing while all of my friends were gearing up to leave in just a few weeks.
My mom then proceeded to tell me a story I had heard before but really had little to no impact on my life. This time, however, it hit home for me. She told me about a similar incident that had happened to her in college. It was too pricy for her to return to school, but God had made a way and provided for her to go back, and eventually she graduated. She encouraged me to go home and pray and seek God for the answers I needed, and told me that He would give me peace. When she said that I shot everyone a text on my recently texted list and said, “pray for me.” I even sent it to some people I’d be going to Nyack with that I had met online.
When I got home my dad told me that the director of admissions had contacted him in regards to my status, and asked whether or not it was official that I was dropping Nyack as an option for next year. My dad told him the issue and explained that they didn’t want me graduating with such a huge amount of debt. He gave him an amount that he thought would be more reasonable and manageable to pay off, and said if they could get down to that number we would be able to consider it. The director completely understood and said he was going to do everything he could to see if he could find me more money. After hearing that I had to remind myself to be neutral about the situation at hand and remember that things might or might not work out the way I wanted them to. When I got home I went straight to my room and began praying and reading my Bible. I lost a lot of sleep over the next two nights. I attended a prayer meeting where people encouraged me and prayed for me.
A couple days later we sat down as a family and my dad shared the results with me. I was playing out all possible circumstances in my mind, waiting for him to say, “Sometimes God shuts a door, but that’s okay. ” He informed me that he had spoken to the director, and that the director told him he requested and was able to secure enough financial aid to make it feasible for me to go to Nyack. He was within a thousand dollars of the number my dad had given him! I broke down in tears. God had done a miracle, and I had just lived it for myself! I was so amazed at how good He was to me in that moment.
Now, the night before finding all this out, I had been reading the story of how Abraham was tested and was asked by God to sacrifice his son, but was then stopped by a voice from heaven. Then I saw this verse: “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”)” (Genesis 22:14). That was a huge sign from God for me that gave me peace when I didn’t have any answers. God took me to the top of the mountain, out of my comfort zone, and He provided.
I am so thankful for the opportunity given to me by God. He has deepened my faith and trust in Him. When I first visited Nyack, it was exterior things that caught my attention. During the last few weeks, however, it has been their interior that has impressed me. I have seen the heart of Nyack during this tough time. They are the kind of school I want to be a part of. They didn’t simply shut the door on my face and pity me. They believed that if God wanted me at Nyack He would make a way. Thank you, Nyack admissions staff! Thank you for your giving spirit and the love that you have shown me. I am so blessed to have people who see my potential and want to invest in me. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me these next four years. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me during this season of life! God works in great ways. Trust in him and He will do amazing things.
From 4/6/16: Kerri Ann is a resident at West Haven home for the developmentally disabled in Jamaica. She just exides Jesus! Mission Discovery knows her well from their years of visits. She told us she wanted a Bible, and yesterday Hannah told her she would give her her Bible! Today she delivered it and you should have seen the smile on her face. She has also been asking to be baptized for quite some time. Unfortunately her church would not baptize her because of their insistence that it must be by immersion, which is impossible for this young lady. Jen and Scott approached the director and asked if we might be able to baptize her today, and he agreed! We asked her if she wanted to be baptized today, and she lit up. When we gave her the news that she could, she had no words and simply covered her mouth and cried tears of joy. Nathan from MD drove up, and we all gathered under the shade of a tree where she professed her love for Jesus, and Jen, Nathan, and I had the tremendous joy of pouring a bottle of water over her head to baptize her. It was one of the most sacred thigs I have ever witnessed or been a part of!
“I used to have a good sense of direction. I could find my way around places. If I got lost, I could figure out how to get back on the right road. But now, without a GPS, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag.” These were the words of my friend as we were driving in another state recently. We were mindlessly following the directions of the GPS, and it was doing things like leading us off of main roads into neighborhoods only to put us right back on the main road again, going in the same direction we had been traveling; sending us down dead-end streets; and telling us we had arrived at our destination only to find ourselves staring at an empty field where it insisted we would find a restaurant. Perhaps you have had similar experiences with your GPS.
GPSs are great tools. They can help us get to our destination, give us real-time traffic alerts, help us find our way when we are lost, and they come with an option to speak to us in a British accent, which makes us feel classy. But what if your phone battery dies while you are driving? What if it can’t get service? What if the GPS’s latest update does not show that a road is closed? The danger of relying on technology so heavily is that you may never learn, or may forget, the skills needed to find your way around.
As I was thinking about what my friend said, I thought about how sometimes we can become so dependent on other people, or programs, or events to connect us to God that we never learn how to connect, or forget how to connect, with God ourselves. While it is great to have other people that can help you grow in God, like your parents, pastors, small group leaders, and friends; what would your walk with God look like if those people were not around? The writer of Hebrews said, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s Word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5:12-14).
Babies are are dependent on others for everything. Adults are responsible for taking care of themselves. When you are a new Christian, you need someone to give you the milk of God’s Word. But eventually you need to grow up and feed yourself the meat of the Bible. God has given you His Holy Spirit (YOU! Not just your parents, not just your pastors, not just your small group leaders … YOU!) to teach you what God’s Word means and to give you the strength to live according to what He shows you.
Just like there is nothing wrong with a GPS, there is nothing wrong with having people in your life to help you grow. In fact, they are necessary! BUT, those people aren’t meant to just give you all of the answers, their job is to help you learn how to think biblically and how to listen to the Holy Spirit within YOU! Their job isn’t to study the Bible and hear from God for you, their job is to help you hear from God yourself. Ask yourself:
In what ways am I being too dependent on others for my spiritual growth?
How does God want me to start feeding myself spiritually? What are some steps I need to take?
Two young girls, 15 and 11 years old from suburbia.
On their way to New York City.
If you were one of the girls, how would you be feeling? What would you be thinking? Hopefully you hadn’t watched the movie Home Alone 2 recently.
Looking at this scene as a parent, what would you be thinking? What would you be worried about? What would you think of these girls’ parents?
What if I told you that this was the parents’ idea? What if I told you that this true is story? What if I told you this is exactly what happened two-and-a-half years ago? What if I told you these two girls were Claudia and Natalia, and these parents were Adriana and me?
What if I told you it was one of the greatest parenting moves we ever made?
Before you start freaking out, let me tell you how it all came about.
It was December 20, 2013. It was a Friday. Adriana and I were both off from work. We had tickets to go see the play A Christmas Story in Manhattan. When I woke up that morning I had one of those ideas in which every detail just came together in rapid succession in my mind. But just as quickly as I got excited about it, I started to feel bummed out. There was no way my wife would go for it. I knew it was the kind of thing loaded with the kind of adventure I crave; but Adriana is not as adventurous as I am. Still, the idea was nagging at me because it was loaded with opportunity. While I knew her initial reaction was going to be to reject it, I also thought perhaps there was a slight chance she would go for it if I could get her to hear the whole thing out, and my reasons for wanting to do it. A parenting principle I live by is:
Protection is important.
Nurture is more important.
Equipping is the most important!
To that end, I made Adriana the best cup of coffee imaginable (I may or may not have sweetened the environment with some flowers), and I worked up the courage to share the idea with her, knowing full well that the delicious coffee she was drinking might end up all over me if she reacted with one of those ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!! kind of responses. I was about to make a big ask. I was about to ask her to consider doing something that would stretch our whole family. Here’s what I asked her:
What if we create a challenge for our girls to exercise their maturity? What if we head into the city together, and leave Claudia and Natalia to make their way into the city on their own to meet us?
(Insert ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!! about here.)
“Wait, wait,” I told her. “Hear me out.”
“We will leave them detailed instructions and resources. I will write out everything they need to do, exactly as they need to do it. I will secure someone to come and pick them up at the house and drive them to the train station. I will leave them money and tell them how to buy train tickets. We will tell them where to meet us. If you stop and think about it, we’re only asking them to listen and follow instructions, and really the only thing they are doing is going from our house to the train station, riding the train directly to Penn Station (which is the last stop, so there is no chance they will miss their stop), and walking up the stairs to find us at the Starbucks in Penn Station. It’s really very straight forward and simple, but for them it will seem like a big adventure, a daunting undertaking, and it will instill in them some very important life principles and confidence. So, what do you think?”
“Who will pick them up? But what if …?” she asked.
I assured her we would get someone they knew to pick them up. Someone safe. And I answered her other questions sufficiently enough that Adriana finally, nervously, a bit hesitantly, said Yes. Like I said, this exercise was going to stretch all of us, not just the girls. And with that, I got to work.
Here is the actual letter I left them:
Welcome to …
The Sisterhood Teamwork Challenge!
- It should be about 3:20pm
- Rule #1: No Whining or complaining!
- Rule #2: No Fighting!
- Rule #3: No Phone calls unless it’s a real emergency!
- Rule #4: No Fear!
- Rule #5: Work together!
- Rule #6: Be confident!
- Rule #7: Stay together at all times!
- Rule #8: Stay together at all times!
- We Believe in you!
- After you finish reading this, get ready. Dress warmly. Warm pants, good walking shoes, coat, hat, gloves, maybe a scarf.
- Make sure to take the envelop on the table.
- Don’t forget your phones.
- A safe car is coming to pick you up at 3:45pm. It will take you to the Manhasset train station.
- Use the cash provided. Go to the Ticket Machine that accepts cash. (Some only take credit cards.)
- Select Round Trip – Off Peak from Manhasset to Penn Station. 1 child and 1 adult. Select None. Pay with Cash.
- Get tickets, and your change.
- Get on the train when it arrives. The train is scheduled to leave at 4:13pm. Make sure you get on the train to Penn Station.
- Send a text to us simply saying, “We are on the train.”
- During the ride use the sheet provided to interview one another.
- When you arrive at Penn Station, walk upstairs and find Starbucks.
- Remember, always look confident, not scared!
- When you arrive at Starbucks you will be greeted by your parents and something special that you will love.
- Smile & celebrate when you arrive! You did it!
Adriana and I were sitting in Starbucks that afternoon, anxiously checking the time and carefully watching the Starbucks entrance. Finally, we saw them. Two young ladies walking toward Starbucks, wide-eyed, hoping and praying that they would see their parents. They had done it. After the old Why did you do that? We can’t believe you left without us! rant they smiled, realizing they had done it; that it wasn’t as insane or as dangerous as they had imagined it would be, and we laughed and debriefed the experience together over dinner before going to the play. It was awesome!
Our girls are now 17 and (almost) 14. Now Claudia asks us if she can go to the city without us all the time. Natalia isn’t yet asking to go to the city without us, but she does ask if she can venture locally with her friends. I thought of this story last weekend. Both of them came to us asking if they could go to Hillsongs Church in NYC with a few of their friends. There was no unhealthy fear in their voices. They were confident. Because of our little “experiment” a couple of years ago, Adriana and I knew this was not too big a thing for them to do. They knew how to buy train tickets, read the signs in Penn Station, and get around, so we said they could go. When they got home they told us how they ran into one of their friends and her mom in line for church. The mom, who is a good friend of ours, was in amazement that they were there without us.
When we were together the other night after one of our youth events I recounted the above story for this mom, and explained that it was because of little challenges like that through the years that we were able to have confidence in our girls to do bigger things now. He who is faithful with little can be trusted with much.
Remember, parents, give your kids some controlled challenges while they are young. Safety is important. Providing for your kids is more important. But putting them in challenging (not dangerous, but not completely risk-free) situations that will stretch them and help them be able to face the challenges of their lives ahead with knowledge, wisdom, and confidence is the most important thing. Don’t let unhealthy fear set the agenda for your parenting. Be courageous. Your kids will thank you for it one day.