Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If We Just Ask

      Jordan and I have been very specific with our prayers as of late. Our prayers haven't been vague and cloudy, but crystal clear and polished with faith. His love letter says it need only be the size of a mustard seed. (Matthew 17) But this mustard seed He planted in the heart of our little family has grown into a forest of mustard trees.
      With this leap of faith to Nashville, we've run into many questions for God, the biggest one being "how?" But God's answer to our "how" is simply, "Watch this." After the sign concerning Jordan's new job, our faith was watered with steroids. I am by no means on top of the faith game. I'm human, pitifully flawed, and still scared to death, but I'm reminded of Peter on the water with Jesus when the devil's slithery tail starts to whip at my ankles. "Don't look down, Brandi," says Jesus. "Keep those made-up eyes on mine and we'll stay on top of the water. I'm right here. Don't look down. . ." I'm trusting Him and I'm keeping whole face upward, my weak and frail hands in His perfectly scarred hands. . .the hands that made my heart. . .why am I afraid? What have I to fear?
       CHS works with financial assistance programs for families who can't completely afford tuition; this is common for Christian schools. It is based on need throughout the school, on a first come, first served basis, and awarded accordingly. God has provided in the past through this assistance and we were more than blessed to have qualified for it. We recently qualified again this year for financial aid. However, tuition isn't covered 100% through the aid. Therefore, we were left with a portion that was to be our responsibility. Upon receiving our award letter, we also signed saying that we accepted our award and agreed to pay our portion in full. This contract locked us in. The agreement means the awarded family agrees to pay even if they pull their child from the school. One of my prayer requests was this: "Lord, we're in a financial aid agreement with CHS. We need for you to take care of this because we can't pay tuition at two schools, but I don't want to 'jip' CHS."
      I'd been meaning to call the school for the past few days to tell them our news, get information concerning Lilli's transfer, and to ask about the agreement, when I got a phone call from our dear CHS financial lady, Terri Ward.
      "What's this rumor I'm hearing about ya'll moving?!" she asked me. I could tell she was shocked and confused. In a matter of minutes I'd shared our story and the breath-taking miracles God had been working. She congratulated me, praised the Lord, and asked if there was anything she could do for us.
      "I think we're good, but I'm wondering how we work out this financial aid agreement. . ."
      "What financial aid agreement?" she asked me.
      "Well, we signed the paper saying we'd accept Lilli's award and we'd pay our portion," I replied. Then Terri said to me,
      "Well, you're moving more than 50 miles away. You have no financial aid agreement with us. You're free and clear and you owe us nothing."
      I could hear the smile in her voice and I started to cry. My heart was pounding and I felt God smiling as if He were saying, "I told you. . . Just keep watching, kid. It's only gonna get better, " with a wink and a flip of His sleeve.
      Terri asked me if I was okay and I began to tell her about my specific prayer for Lilli's tuition. She was in awe at the great God we serve who never ceases in surprising His babies. Then she told me she didn't want to be "gruesome" but she needed to know what to do about Lilli  because the need for financial assistance is so great this year. She told me that she had a specific family in mind, that through our obedience and step of faith another child would be able to attend CHS and receive Lilli's award. Praise God for His blessings in disguise that fall on all of His children! I don't know who the family is that is going to be awarded what was our's, but my prayer is that they will be as richly blessed by becoming a part of the CHS family as we have. Our cups have been running over for 5 beautiful and magnificent years, and we couldn't be more grateful to CHS and God for the service they have put into our family and our child. We are better people for having been a part of Christian Heritage School.
      While our hearts are breaking to leave our CHS family, we know that we will be continually supported and encouraged through prayer. And we hope they know that they can count on us for prayer and any other favor in the future!
      We have several more specific requests that we have been daily laying at the Father's feet. My question for you is this: what do you need? He wants so much to bless you, friends. Just ask Him. It's so simple. He reminds us to ask and if it's in His will, He'll give it to us! (Matthew 7) It's not a Christmas list and it's certainly not about testing God. It's simply opening up the most hidden pieces of you to your Creator. God knew us before He made us and when He fashioned us in the secret place. (Psalm 139)  He knows the numbers of hairs on our heads.(Luke 12)  He already knows our hearts (Acts 15; Matthew 6), but He wants more than that. He wants to hear our heart through the voices He fine-tuned to praise Him, to see our empty hands held out to Him (Psalm 63) in raw faith that isn't boxed in (Hebrews 11), but wild and free, knowing no borders or boundaries, relying only on Him. In the process, your life and the blessings God has for you will bless those around you, further His kingdom, and glorify the Father. It doesn't take Hamlet to figure out where the rub is: you'll be blessed simply by watching others, your brothers and sisters in Christ, be blessed. And your walk with Him will become richer than you ever imagined as the bond between the two of you thickens, as you decrease and He increases (John 3). Our mission in Him is to go into all the world and preach the gospel. What better start to do it than to just ask Him for extra tools to do it. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Where He Leads, We Will Follow

    There have been quite a few occurrences in the past year that have shaken me to the core of my very being. In the past few months in particular, I've wondered if there is even a glimmer of recovery in my future. But in the midst of my search for peace and even the smallest shred of understanding, God yanks my arm and reminds me of His lofty logic that His children may not always understand, and in some cases,  may not even want to understand.
      As some of you may remember, Jordan lost his job two years ago. On my 30th birthday, to be exact. I vividly remember sitting at Outback Steakhouse with Jordan and Lilli for my mini-celebration. The three of us were eerily quiet as the fate of our financial future loomed over our heads, the smells of shrimp and dollar bill tips wafting in the warm air of the restaurant around us. Waiters and waitresses bustled by; their jobs were intact. Business people came and went as their dinner marked the end of their own secured workday. But my husband? He had no job. He had no income for which to support his family. And his pride was all but blown to smithereens. What were we going to do? We were panic-stricken, but we knew God somehow had this in the proverbial doggy bag.
      Within a few weeks Jordan was receiving unemployment benefits, and we were, surprisingly, financially comfortable. This was not only due to your gracious tax dollars, but thankfully due to Jordan's responsible nature concerning money and the spending of it. (I'll give tips for that in a later post.) As a result, we were completely debt-free and had a savings cushion for an emergency such as this one.
     After Jo lost his job and we discovered that God did have a bigger plan, we laid back and immersed ourselves in it, allowing His graciousness and peace to wash over our supposed plight. In the time after this all began, Jordan, Lilli, and I fell in love with each other and God all over again. Since Jordan was home every day we were able to spend more time together as a family, and more time with God. Gradually, our music started to unfold, and Jordan's realization of God's call on his life and music came to fruition as he surrendered to it unconditionally.
      That spring, our "adopted son" Tyler Jones introduced us to a young man named Eric "Rico" Acosta. By summer's end, Rico was also adopted into the Griffin family. The two boys spent almost every single day at our house, at Grandma's pool, and sometimes they even spent the night, too tired to drive home. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning playing guitars and making music, as they both led worship with us for our then youth group. They embraced Lilli as their own and we had an amazing summer . . .the best ever, in fact. Our music was growing; our relationships with God's people were growing; we were growing in Him. And God was opening our eyes to the never failing newness and freshness of His love letter to us.
      By December 28, exactly one year later, Jordan was hired with Whitfield County DFCS in the food stamp division. While it certainly wasn't his dream job, it would put him back in the workforce and provide insurance for us, which is kind of imperative to the "disabled" family.
      Jordan is a spiritually challenging man at times. I always said when I was younger, "I will know the man I'm gonna marry because he will make me want to be a better person." Jordan certainly fills that role well as he leads me in this marriage. I am a trusting human and I trust Jordan and my God completely. My understanding of my Creator's unchanging hand is far beyond what it should be at my still infantile state, humanly and spiritually. I have seen Him move the mountains for me before. Why wouldn't He now?
       Several events have happened since the start of 2013 that provoked earth-shattering tremors in my soul. They caused my mind to wander off into the barren woods occupied only by the terror that planted them and the deceit that fertilizes them. With every step, our legs have been snagged and clawed at by the weeds and thorns that thrive on the excrement left behind by the malicious, forged from the enmity on which they dine.We most recently went through a trying and traumatizing experience that neither one of us will soon be forgetting. In the midst of this hurricane, I watched Jordan fall on his face daily at his Master's feet begging for guidance. God always provided. Every morning he would wake up, overcome with emotion for God's people and the will He has for us all, His church, the Body. I'd look to him for comfort during my part in this and he was always willing to guide me, taking my hand and insuring the safety of our family. Spiritually attacked on all sides, we felt the weight of evil's hand compressing us, as the air from our lungs was violently blown from our chests day after day with new horrifying discoveries. Night seemed endless as we both tossed and turned, our bodies and minds never ceasing to find anything but restlessness, instead receiving the blackness and nightmares that were clamoring after us. We could only lay together and pray for the safety of our child and our loved ones as the battle raged. We'd never been a part of such devastating and tormenting spiritual warfare. We felt like God had turned His back on us. . . but we knew better, so we praised Him anyway. And when He gave the signal for us to move on from the situation, we followed His careful instructions: GO....and don't look back.
      Silence.
      The battle stopped and the eerie calm after the storm filled our ears. The silence was so loud, we found ourselves begging for noise. . .anything to know that we were alive. . .anything to know that God hadn't left us. For months we've sat staring into space, finding no comfort in anything but one another. For months we've drifted in and out of spiritual sleep and the benumbing comfort of darkness, not having the energy to deal with the scars left by the previous fencing match of the soul.
      Suddenly, God's beautiful voice broke through the fog and His light pierced the darkness over the waters.
      Jordan was sponsored to go on an Emaus Walk by our friends Kris and Jeanna Rogers. This "trip to the Woods" in Cleveland, Tennessee would be a weekend branded on Jordan's soul for eternity. While there, Jordan found himself in the heart of our Savior again, as he spent four days drenched in the Word, prayer, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Upon his return, I noticed an immediate and evident change in my husband. That first night home, we sat on our bed and reached a new level of communication with each other and more importantly with our Father, interceding for each other and this ministry of a marriage in prayer like we never have before. The chains that were weighing down my fragile heart were lifted as the encouragement of my husband ushered me to the forgiveness of others and the release of my overbearing burden into my Savior's hands.
      As we prayed, we realized even more clearly what steps we were to take next. Jordan and I had been praying for over a year about moving forward on our faith in God, as in, moving ahead on nothing but faith, friends. Think Indian Jones and The Last Crusade type faith. Or hey, let's try some Biblical faith: Abraham, Jonah, Joshua, Moses, Esther, Hannah, Hezzekiah, Samuel, Paul, the 12 Disciples, and then there's that guy, what's His name? Oh, yeah. Jesus.
      Our instructions from God were clear. We were to "drop our nets and follow Him." Really, just how different are we all from the disciples? Aren't we a modern-day version of them?
      Jordan called me the day he'd made up his mind to drop his net, count it all as loss, and follow the Master whole-heartedly. He'd written his resignation email to his supervisor as this was how they communicated since she works in Atlanta, and he'd been staring at it for 30 minutes when he called me.
      "I'm ready to send this," he told me. "Just tell me I'm doing the right thing, Brandi."
      "Only God can tell you that, baby, but I don't believe He'd give you such a burden for ministry and following His will if it weren't the right thing to do."
      He waited another 30 minutes and I sent a text saying, "Send it. Let's do this."
      So he turned in his notice to DFCS, knowing that nothing was waiting for him but God's hand.
      The next 24 hours were insane. We were elated and terrified. It was a spiritual and a bipolar-type experience. But we continued to pray and trust in God, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
      Two days later, Jordan received a phone call from Claris Networks out of Knoxville, Tennessee. A few weeks before, a teacher of mine sent me a job posting for Jordan. The two of us had told him of Jordan's need and desire for a new job, and I had spoken with (Mr. Reece) several times about our passion for Jesus and music/worship ministry. The moment my email buzzed with Mr. Reece's email, Jordan and I read it and he applied for the job. There were three options for relocation concerning the position: Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville. Jordan simply said, "Choose Nashville. Why not. What have we got to lose." It wasn't a question.
      Claris interviewed Jordan the day they called him via telephone. Two days later he met with his interviewer, Dustin, in Chattanooga. A week later, he was on the road to Knoxville to meet the president of the company.
      And we waited. This process took almost a month from beginning to end. While he was waiting on Claris, Jordan interviewed for a job with Oakwood Cafe here in Dalton. They wanted to hire him immediately, but we held out for Claris. Oakwood held out for us. Finally, Claris called and offered Jordan the position, but the pay was too small for us to risk moving to Nashville for so little. We knew God wanted exceedingly and abundantly more for us. After more prayer, Jordan counter-offered the company. He would work in Chattanooga for $5k more than their original offer, or he would work in Nashville for $10k more than the original. He wouldn't settle for less due to insurance and the rise in living expenses in the city that we would have to pay. Dustin, his interviewer, told Jo that it probably wouldn't work, but the company would keep him in mind for future positions. He would run it by the president and be back in touch the following day. So we prayed again and we were specific: "God, if this isn't meant to be, they won't meet these exact numbers You've given us."
      While sitting in my Victorian Literature class the very next day, discussing the sacrifice of Jesus in Rossetti's "Goblin Market," my phone buzzed with a text from Jo: "You need to call me NOW. I think God wants us in Nashville." I was blown away.
      Claris accepted the counter-offer. They agreed to give him the first salary while he trains in Chattanooga for the next three months; upon relocating to Nashville, they will raise it and meet his second salary. God went above and beyond. Don't ya just love it when He goes out of His way for His babies? Wow. . .what an awesome God!
      Today, Jordan received his new offer letter and called his new boss, Dustin, to accept the position.
      Throughout this process we have considered many different changes that will have to take place. For one, Lilli and I have to go to school. I am proud to say that as of two weeks ago, I was accepted into Lipscomb University in Nashville. I am beside myself with God's surprises. LU also has a private Christian school that we are working on for Lilli. It's on the same campus as the university and is modeled almost exactly like CHS.
      While we still have much we are praying about, God has made it more than evident the path He wills for us to journey on our steps to making Him famous. We know this is going to lead us to the right place and time for our music ministry. Today, Jordan spoke with Dustin and finally told him of our leap of faith. Dustin, who is also a Christian and worship leader told Jo that he needed that nugget of encouragement today. Then he said when he went to the president with the counter-offer, he just knew she wasn't going to take it. But instead, she looked at Dustin and asked, "Do you like him? Do you want to build a team around him in Nashville?" Dustin answered yes, and the president said to give Jordan what he wants.
      Friends, this isn't about the money, the job or position, the raise, or really even the move. It's simply about faith in what God can do if we just ask and accept the gift. He tells us in Jeremiah that He knows the plans He has for us that are to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future. Later on, He beckons us to call to Him and He'll show us great and unsearchable things we don't already know. All we have to do is ask, folks, then move out of His way and let Him shine.
      Jordan has kept reminding me of how God made the sun stand still for 24 hours for Joshua; of how He made the shadows on the steps move back ten times for Hezekiah. If he can do that, which involves a little more manipulating than green paper with a dead guy's face plastered to it, surely He can provide a way in other areas of life. After all, He not only created the ways, He created the life. We firmly believe that God's hand is all over this situation; we firmly believe that He's making our sun stand still so we can follow Him wherever He leads.
      Please join us in prayer as we transition over the next few months. We still have certain requests that we don't doubt God will meet: we need a place to live, I need financial aid for school, we have to find a place for our sweet Lilli and we also need peace and comfort for her little spirit and heart. This is going to be difficult because she loves her school and friends so much. We also need for this to be as smooth a transition as possible for my health since we'll be moving a couple of weeks before school starts. Pray for our family to be able to find a church family quickly; we've visited one church so far and it's looking promising, but we want to be exactly where God wants us and where He can use us. Please pray for our parents as this will also be tough for them, but we are reminding them that Nashville is only 2.5 hours up the road, PRAISE THE LORD! We are scared. Nervous. Anxious. Excited. Elated. Overwhelmed. But most of all, we're grateful. And we cannot wait to see what God has up His sleeve next.