Sunday, September 26, 2010

My heart is heavy today. Late last night, one of my heroes went to be with Jesus. And although I'm definitely not a writer, I feel compelled to attempt to describe Gary Varner. This man walked with God in a real and passionate way. His relationship with Christ was evident in everything that he did. As I've thought, prayed, and even been able to visit with Gary and his dear wife, Carol, I've been reminded of all of the ways that they have challenged and encouraged me. I realized that, other than my parents, there are probably no two people who have been more influential in my walk with Christ in my teenage years.

When I was 15 years old, I remember sitting in the Crestview Middle school Gym on a Sunday night. (Our church met there because we didn't yet have a building.) I don't have a very good memory when it comes to these kinds of things, so it's interesting that this moment sits so vividly in my mind. I was sitting with some friends on the stage of the gym when Gary Varner walked up and asked if I had thought about going on the mission trip to Kiev, Ukraine the following spring. I don't remember if I had or not...I probably had because God had already stirred in my heart a love of missions. But I do remember that when he took the time to ask a little squirrelly 15 year old girl if she wanted to go on a mission trip, that meant a lot to me. So that spring break (and week following) I went to Kiev. I then went to Kiev the next year, and the next, and then went to Kursk, Russia with Gary and Carol the summer following my freshman year of college.

It was from these trips and the training that we had in preparation for going, that I learned to share my faith. I saw the world outside of the safe little neighborhood that I knew. I grew to understand and love a culture and people that was so foreign to me. Gary and Carol taught us to be ready to always give an account of the Hope that is in us- whether it be to one person or thrown up on stage in front of hundreds with a translator! They taught me to use the testimony that God has given me to proclaim the Truth of the Gospel. They taught me the importance of respect for other cultures and people, regardless of how different they may be. It's been thirteen years since I've been on a trip with the Varners, but the truth that they diligently ingrained in us still is so fresh in my heart and mind.

Gary was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall. The diagnosis was not good and the effects of the cancer and treatment quickly took Gary to a very painful and restless place. I went to visit him and Carol last spring with my dear friend, Kelli. She beautifully wrote about our time with Gary on her blog. She put into words much better than I ever could the truth and wisdom that Gary shared with us that day. And what she graciously left out of her post is that I bawled my eyes out through a good bit of our conversation. And I'm not a crier. I usually prefer to process emotions when I'm all by myself. But I couldn't help it that day. The tears just kept flowing. I was overwhelmed by several things that day: 1. My dear friend and mentor was going through something awful and unless God saw fit to miraculously heal him, he would be in heaven soon. 2. Floods of memories with the Varners: Going to Russia. Sitting in their basement learning the Four Spiritual Laws until I could say them backwards in my sleep. Taking care of their daughter, Jessica while they were on another trip to Russia. Sitting in their living room as they lovingly yet directly confronted me when I was not making wise choices my junior year of high school. Gary challenging Fred and I at the end of our wedding and praying over us right before we left the church. ...The memories go on and on. 3. Sitting at the feet of a great saint who had spent a lifetime loving Jesus who had the perspective of one who would likely meet Him soon.

Hearing Gary's heart that day was life-changing. He was trusting God in the midst of great suffering. I left their house that day and didn't get over the urgency to pray for Gary and Carol. I've learned through this that although there are a lot of things I can't do to serve people in this stage of life, I CAN pray. And God loves it when His people pray. I can't tell you how many times I've begged God to heal Gary. I can't tell you how many times I've been burdened in the middle of the night or throughout the day to stop and pray for him and Carol. I'm not saying this to toot my own horn or say I'm some kind of prayer warrior...I'm actually pretty unfaithful when it comes to interceding for others. The Lord has worked in my heart to pray faithfully for others through all of this.

I went back to St. Louis a week ago to visit with Gary and Carol again. My sweet daddy flew into Atlanta and the kids and I met him up there. He then drove us back to MO. ...I'm not brave (or foolish!) enough to make the 11-12 hour drive with 3 children all by myself. Gary ended up having a really difficult week and I almost didn't get to see them. Then his precious, selfless wife texted the evening before I left to say that he was up for a visit, if I could come by. I was able to spend over 2 hours again sitting with them and soaking up their wisdom and perspective.

Although I know that Gary felt awful that night, it did not keep him from teaching me what it means to love Jesus. One thing that he said that really stuck out was the importance of loving people. How programs, plans, schedules don't mean much of anything- what really matters is showing people the love of Christ. I was convicted. How many times do I care more about my list of errands or vacuuming the floor than sharing the love of Jesus?!? And here I sat, with a couple that had loved me and so many others so fervently and selflessly over the years. I know that it probably wasn't always convenient or fun to invest in me as a teenager. I'm pretty sure that I was annoying and irresponsible at times!...Yet Gary and Carol cared about me and my relationship with Christ enough to always be there for me. I am more than just a "part of the ministry job" to them. And I'm sure that there were plenty of times that they poured into me without me even thanking them. (However, I'm sure my parents thanked them often!) I want to love people like Gary Varner did. My mom said to Carol the other day, "Can you even imagine how heavy Gary's crown is going to be?!?" I can't imagine.

It makes my heart so happy to think of Gary in the presence of Jesus today. As the kids have said several times today: Mr. Gary is no longer sick. He gets to be with Jesus. He is made new. And for that, I so rejoice today. But when I think about my dear, precious friend Carol Varner, tears automatically well up. They were a team like no other. They loved each other so honestly, faithfully, and deeply. As my mom said, it's not like most couples where the husband goes off to work and the wife does her own thing. In every ministry endeavor, they worked together. And in the last year, Carol was the world's best nurse. (although she would never say that!) Please pray for my friend, Carol. Pray that God would be so near. Pray that she will know His loving arms. Pray for people to surround her and speak Truth in a loving way. And please pray for her kids too: Clayton, his wife Courtney, and Jessica. I pray that they will know what an amazing impact their daddy's faithful service has for the Glory and Kingdom of God.

Thank You, Jesus for working in the heart of Gary Varner. Thank You for using him to impact so many people. Thank You for using him to so mightily display Your glory!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

5 Today...

Five years ago today, our sweet Joshua Baker was born. Joshua, you are such a joy to your Mama. I love to watch you figure things out. You are such a great question-asker: whether it's "Why did God make fire ants?" or "How do water towers work?"... you keep me on my toes:) I love that your heart is so tender to what you do not need to hear/say/watch. You are very quick to want to turn off a video if it is the least bit scary and do not like it if you hear anyone saying something that is unkind. We need to work on your respect with adults on this one...but I am thankful for your boldness to stand up for what's right:) You have become exceptionally good at telling jokes lately. My favorite part is after you tell the joke, and you repeat the punch line and crack yourself up. I am realizing more and more that I have no idea how to raise a boy. On days that we haven't been able to go outside, I think of as many constructive ways as possible for you to get some energy out. And yet, you still seem to have an intense need to body slam and wrestle. I love this about you, but I also really love it that you're still okay with sitting in my lap and reading a book or watching pbs. I love the great conversations that we have about God, missionaries, people that we are praying for, or any other random thing before you go to bed. Daddy and I have realized that this is a sweet and precious time with you. Joshua, I can't believe that you are five. You are no longer a toddler at are a little boy. And I LOVE YOU!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Psalm 70:4

"May all who seek You
rejoice and be glad in You!
May those who love Your salvation
say evermore, 'God is great!'"
Wow, I love this verse! I just read it this morning and was so challenged and encouraged...especially since David wrote it in the midst of awful circumstances: while he was seeking rescue from his enemies. My desire is to be a follower of Christ who rejoices and is glad IN HIM...who is a lover of His salvation and says evermore "GOD IS GREAT!"