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2021 Begins!!

The Winter season is wrapping up! So far 2021 has been an interesting year. Old challenges remain and new ones are emerging, but we have felt the presence of God in a way that is beautifully fresh.

The highlights so far:

1. Well, we all got Covid-19! Not a huge surprise and maybe not a "highlight" but it was real! I (Raymond) got it somewhere and brought it home. Our best efforts to trace a source came up empty so who knows! Mary Blake got sick too, and we assume the kids as well. Thankfully, both Mary Blake and I had minor symptoms and the kids were asymptomatic (if they were even infected). We had a wonderful group of people supporting us which made the whole experience fine. It was a very odd feeling to know that I had in my body this big "thing" that has affected so many lives. Praise God He is bigger than it all!

2. The street ministry continues, of course! As always, it is the little connections that make a big difference. Just showing up at the dead-end can be the breakthrough in a relationship.

A big guiding principle of the outreach chaplaincy is to be "intentionally available." That can mean all sorts of things. Something as simple as some extra help can lead to something really cool. Someone needs a jump... and, by the way, a lunch... Lunch leads to a conversation, sitting on a curb in a parking lot sharing life together. A string of questions... reciprocal honesty. God really works through these little simple things, like hanging out at a well, or walking together on a dirty road.

3. In January, I got to celebrate with my friend Gary at his baptism. What a miracle on display. I won't share his whole story, but it he sums it up like this: "Faith + Obedience = God's Way!" Ross Cooper baptized Gary in his backyard and we all got to share big, wet hugs afterwards.

"It was revealed to the Prophets of old that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which are now announced to you through those who preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit from heaven - things into which angels long to look!" - 2 Peter 1.12

Think of that! We get to act out a divine drama that angels themselves want to get a good look at! What a performance to be invited to join!!

4. Another huge joy this year has been joining the outings Ross and Sandy have organized up to Forest Falls. They take a group up the mountain to do volunteer work, and about once a month our family has gotten to join them. It is really wonderfully being able to have the kids come out and meet people, give hugs, see God's work, and be a part of people's lives. When little children are around I get to see a side of people that can sometimes be buried pretty deep. There is a lot of beautiful spiritual work that children can do in our lives. It brings a softness and a kindness that is really like nothing else.

On our last trip up the mountain, we got the beautiful chance to say goodbye to my friend Marty. Marty passed away about four months ago after a battle with cancer. It was beautiful being with him through the final years of his life, and even more beautiful to think that we have many more years ahead when we are reunited by Christ.

5. Mary Blake and I were able to buy a friend this van. I want to say more about this in a future update, but the short story is that our friend can now live in the van and it has vastly improved her situation.

I had been looking for a minivan for a few weeks, and was constantly frustrated by the usual methods. People wouldn't answer calls. I got stood up at appointments. I'd see sketchy paperwork, missing plates, or terrible maintenance. Then, a few weeks ago, I was driving through Redlands praying that God would provide the van we needed. I saw this older Honda Odyssey on the side of the road and said, "See God, just like that one!" Sure enough, it had a For Sale sign in the window. The owner was home, it was beautiful, and a few hours later it was bought and paid for. The previous owners are believers and we got to all pray together that God would continue to use the vehicle for his glory.

6. We got to take a short trip back to the Carolinas to visit Mary Blake's family. She got to be with her sister and mom for their birthdays, which made it extra special. The kids had a blast with their cousins!

7. Finally and honestly, the Winter season has had some pretty tough times for our family. God has been so abundantly good to us, and yet we have experienced some major lows. It seems that a lot of life works like this. Through this, Mary Blake and I have both felt like giving up, even when we don't even know what "giving up" would look like. We spent a lot of time talking and praying and crying and raging, but at rock bottom we know that God has called our family to be planted in Redlands. When we got back from the East Coast we decided it was high time to plant a tree in our front yard that we had been talking about for while. We won't get to enjoy its shade for many years, yet we knew that we needed to perform a liturgy, of sorts, that we weren't going to give up on long, hard roads. Please pray for our family, the ministry, and (God willing!) the years ahead!

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