I spent the last three days in Vienna, Austria, speaking at a Hearts at Home conference. And you know what? God met me there in many amazing ways. What I love about the Lord is how personal He is, how He knows us intimately and surprises us with snapshots of His grace wherever we go. Here are a few highlights:
I started reading an excellent book on the plane: The Grace of Catastrophe by my friend Jan Winebrenner. She writes, “Every believer who has chosen to accept the truth of God’s goodness in the midst of catastrophe can testify to this: His goodness is an almost intangible presence in the face of pain and loss” (p. 81). Reading her words made me miss her friendship, yes, but they also pointed me to Jesus who daily bears my burdens and understands suffering. Thank you, Jan!
The conference went well. Over 160 women came from all over Europe to attend. The Lord ministered to many women there, touching mommy hearts in need of refreshment. For me, one woman stood out. She attended both my talks–one on simplicity and organizing, the other about parenting. In the second session, I had a drawing for one of my books. She prayed, “Lord, I never win anything, but I want to win that book.” I remembered her because she was the first gal to deposit her slip of paper. I spoke about my parenting journey, and as I spoke, I could see the Lord was touching several of the women there, including this woman.
When I finished, I drew her name from my bag and presented her with the book. She came to me in tears afterwards and told me how she prayed that prayer and she knew she would NOT win. But the Lord chose to answer that prayer, and when He did, something in her broke. She shared her heart with me and we prayed together.
The next day, I saw her at the church we attended. She grabbed me and said, “I am different.” A weight that had settled on her had lifted and she felt free. Isn’t God so good? What a privilege to be able to see Him move.
The night after the conference, the Hearts staff went into Vienna. We stepped into a large Catholic church in the middle of downtown and were greeted by Mass spoken in English. Just as I entered, the words of Psalm 23 echoed through the beautiful cathedral. The Lord IS my shepherd. I shall not want. How did the Lord know I needed those words? I needed to know He was my gentle, sweet shepherd, leading me beside quiet rest and still waters.
But then the reading turned to another passage that the Lord had been speaking to me for a week or so. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:12-16).
I stood there behind iron bars, peeking through to the priest so far away, wondering and marveling at the God who sees me. Who knows my heart. Who loves me beyond reason. Who offers me unending and overflowing grace.
The next reading was from John 10–all about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. About His kind Shepherd voice. About we His sheep hearing and knowing this voice. Still looking through the iron bars, His voice washed over me, like a warm shower on a cold day. He is my Shepherd. He waits for me. He is patient with me. He speaks words of intimate life to me.
The holy moment passed as we left the cathedral, but the touch of wonder stayed with me.
It lingered at church the next day, where I connected again with a church-planter’s wife. She gave me a teaching tape of hers that related to some of my current struggles.
The church was bilingual–German and English–and I loved how connected I felt to the Lord and how beautiful it was to see people of all nationalities worshipping together. Austrians, Americans, Australians, Romanians . . . all gathered to praise Jesus. In the sermon, the pastor spoke again from John 10 (I think the Lord wants me to remember that He is my shepherd!). But I was even more encouraged because our team here in France has struggled through how to do church in France and have settled into a bilingual service. What an encouragement it was for me to see a crowded, vibrant church worshipping bilingually. It felt like a blessed confirmation of our direction here.
I flew home Sunday night, still reading The Grace of Catastrophe, when the man next to me asked, “Is that an interesting book?” I said yes, and then showed him the card inside which had Jan’s face on it.
“She’s my friend,” I said.
Thus started a long conversation with Curt who just happened to be a missionary with Trans World Radio, living in Monaco. Of all the people on the plane, the Lord saw fit to plunk me down next to this wonderful man who had a heart to flood the airwaves with the message of Jesus. After landing, Curt met my family and we met his wife and decided to get together soon. I love how God does things, don’t you?
Then, this morning (Monday), we opened a package from Paula Moldenhauer, her family, and a homeschooling group they belong to in Thornton, Colorado. We were showered with letters, gifts and love. I was amazed afresh at the amazing love of God who would prompt Paula, a friend through email, to bless us this way.
Then, if that wasn’t enough (and it was, thank you Lord!), Aidan said this to me today. “Mom, when are we going to do an offering at our church?”
I told him we were waiting for our recognition status with the French government before we could have a church bank account. “Why?” I asked.
“Oh, I just want to give some of my money to the church,” he said. My dear, sweet boy! His generosity reminds me of the Gentle Shepherd:
Who prompted Jan to write the book I read
Who whispered words of confirmation and life to me in a tall, stately cathedral
Who touched the life of a woman at the conference
Who showed me that bilingual churches thrive
Who put me in contact with a church-planter’s wife who understood me
Who sat me next to another pilgrim
Who prompted another pilgrim to send a care package
Who touched my son’s heart to give
All I can say is halleluiah!
Amen and amen.