Friday, September 25, 2009

Naked and Unashamed

We have recently had the joy of celebrating and sharing our 20th Wedding Anniversary.  Because of many different ministry commitments, we’ve been limited to celebrating off and on without the ability to stop and focus on this milestone.  We felt this is a significant enough event and our marriage is too important to let this pass as a side note wedged in and overshadowed by other activities.  We considered getting away (unfortunately, we were so consumed by our language school schedule in Switzerland that we couldn’t take time out to celebrate while we were there) but finances and circumstances prevented that.  So we made it a point to schedule a special 4 day weekend alone at home.  We made arrangements for Cole to stay with friends then we locked our front gate, gave our guardian the weekend off, and most importantly, shut off our telephones and computers. This allowed us to go into complete hiding for 4 days.  We enjoyed the time leading up to this with lots of reflections and memories of our wedding day and other special moments.  We had been really looking forward to this weekend, expecting time focused on romance and intimacy together.  What we found was that God had something much deeper planned.

Many people assume we live a Brady Bunch family life and our marriage is healthy, perfect, and without struggles and sin because we are missionaries involved in full-time Christian ministry. Truth be told, our marriage has been suffering for years.  Although we’ve been seeking God on this issue, we now realize we had been listening to a lot of voices which weren’t His.  We have also been reluctant to let Him truly intervene.  Several months ago, we were in a really deep valley and cried out in desperation to Him.  He responded by leading us to an amazing set of articles on the Internet called The Overcoming Marriage by Focus on the Family.  In God’s perfect timing, our study finished this weekend and with it we received some amazing revelations.

In the past, we found we have been focusing on specific issues including anger, bitterness, hopelessness, blame, shame, and manipulation.  We have spent years pointing fingers at each other trying to correct these flaws and hurts.  What we have recently discovered is that these things are not the cause but rather the result of past sins.

Throughout the study, we discovered that what we have been dealing with over the years can be traced back before our marriage to unhealthy and sinful lifestyles we had been living.  This polluted our marriage from the very beginning.  We began to understand for the first time many of the lies we’ve been living under and the false foundations that our marriage has been built on that have led to many recurring problems and conflicts.

Although we’ve talked about these things in the past and have long considered them as being behind us, we came to realize that we had simply swept things under the rug and never really dealt with these sins in the proper way.  And Satan has been using these sins against us for a long, long time, wrapping them in lies of hopelessness and masking them in many different ways.  Throughout our study, we have been undergoing a big process of exposing these lies and bringing them out of the darkness into the light where we can see them and understand what they are for the first time.  This led to a lot of confessions accompanied by forgiveness (from God and each other) and a whole new understanding of God’s grace.

Our marriage has been tainted by past sins that were committed both before and after our wedding day.  Our relationship was wrought out of a lifestyle of promiscuous behaviors and sexual sins that led to us living together before we were married.  This carried on into a very painful season early in our marriage.  The amount of baggage that has been loading us down for the past 20 years has been nothing short of overwhelming.  But through lots of prayer, tears, outpouring, repentance, and cleansing these burdens have finally been lifted and left at the foot of the cross which has led to genuine transformation.

Our original honeymoon (which was literally planned around a bowling tournament in Las Vegas) was the first indication of the missteps in our relationship.  What was supposed to be a joyful beginning of our marriage became instead a painful week filled with confusion, heartache and conflict.

The anniversary weekend we just shared was literally transformed into the honeymoon we never experienced.  Now that God has been placed into the rightful center of our marriage, we have discovered great freedom.  We are now able to share in new levels of trust, love, and truth.  For the first time, we have been able to experience the intimacy of a genuine union that we have been seeking since the beginning of our relationship.  We have now found sanctuary in each other rather than a battleground of adversity.  We are in awe and wonder of how God has preserved our marriage and continued to hold us together in His grace despite our human weaknesses and failings.  Today we are truly celebrating what God has done with our marriage.  His power of restoration has blessed us with new levels of romance and intimacy that we could have never found on our own.

The Bible study that has been such a powerful tool in reclaiming our marriage concluded with God’s original intent for us to stand together naked and unashamed…free from the bonds of guilt that have been strangling our relationship since the beginning.  Miraculously a new couple’s devotional study we’ve just started opens up with the identical phrase of living a life together “naked and unashamed”.

We have traveled a very long and important journey the past few months but realize the process is far from over.  We have already experienced new trials and attacks from Satan.  But we are now much better equipped to expose his lies and remain rooted in the truth of God’s Word.  We are not fireproof nor exempt from Satan’s barrage of deception and accusations.  This is a reminder of how much we need your prayers and support as we are stand in the midst of a huge battle.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Snail Mail – Part 2

Bethal Baptist Church - Bamako This past Sunday our YWAM Bamako team visited a Baptist church in our neighborhood and shared in their worship service.  Our team presented a couple of worship songs and Issouf (our team leader) was the guest preacher for the morning.  It is always an enjoyable experience to visit a new church and encourage a group of fellow Christians.

On Sunday night, John preached the message at the English Fellowship Service in downtown Bamako.  It was a challenging message about our call to serve and not be served.

Before church on Sunday morning, one of our collegues gave us a small package they had picked up from the post office a few days ago.  This one had a post mark of January 24th.  Judging from the routing stamps, it looked like it paid a visit to a couple of other African countries along the way.  As an added bonus, it had been opened and resealed.  It still isn’t the birthday package John has been expecting, but once again it gave us renewed hope that it’s still on its way.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Snail Mail

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog entry from Switzerland talking about the amazingly fast and efficient postal system and how we received an order placed on the Internet less than 15 hours after we placed it.  Now let’s contrast that to Mali.  Yesterday, we received notice of a package waiting at the post office.  We haven’t been expecting anything, so we weren’t sure what this “surprise” package would be.  It turned out to be an online order for a Christmas gift we purchased for Cole last year!  We had long since written it off as lost and haven’t thought much about it.  The package was shipped from the UK and was postmarked November 24, 2008 – 9-1/2 months ago.  It’s faster to receive a baby than a package sometimes.  ;-)  Since Christmas isn’t that far away, we’ve decided to save it and give it to him this year.

Not everything takes this long to reach us.  Most of our mail and packages arrive within 2 – 4 weeks.  But sometimes things get lost in the post office or make special “side trips” throughout Africa.  John is still waiting for a birthday package that was supposed to arrive in March.  This gives us renewed hope that it’s still out there somewhere and maybe it will arrive someday.

Monday, September 07, 2009

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Fallen Wall We are deep in the midst of rainy season in Mali…something we know would be REALLY helpful for the fires in California right now.  We have had some pretty good storms since we’ve arrived back.  There is a small river that runs through our neighborhood.  A few months ago, we were amazed to see work crews moving the river about 20 feet to make room for a new building project.  In the process, the landscape around the river was changed dramatically and built up to make a more suitable plot of land to build on.  Several walls were also put up to cordon off the area.

Low and behold, a few days ago we had a really big storm and the water runoff tried to regain its path to the old river site.  Unfortunately, the landscape and road had been raised by a couple of feet and several walls had been built which blocked the runoff from reaching the new river.  The water continued to build and the area was soon under several feet of water and many people were trapped on their rooftops.  The water persisted and eventually won.  Several of the new walls were destroyed, including the walls of a nearby cemetery.  It also destroyed several houses in the area.  There is evidence the runoff tried to follow the old path of the river and washed away a lot of the newly built up area as it worked to regain its original route.

A healthy rainy season is vital to the farm based economy of Mali.  But too much at one time can bring catastrophic results.  Much of West Africa is currently suffering from flooding conditions.  That hasn’t reached Mali yet, but what we’ve seen the past week in our neighborhood points to that possibility.  Please join us in praying for an abundant, but not overwhelming rainy season.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Love Boat

Wedding Photo - John and Julie Clark Today we celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary!  We were married 20 years ago in Long Beach Harbor aboard the sailing ship Spirit.  It’s wonderful to reflect back on that day and everything that’s happened since.  It feels like we’ve lived 3 complete lifetimes since then.  20 years ago we could never have imagined that we’d be living in West Africa as missionaries.  But we are overjoyed and in awe of where the Lord has been bringing us.  We know this is still the beginning and we’re looking forward to finding out what still lies ahead.

John gave Julie a special gift this year of a 20th anniversary DVD edition of our wedding video.  He has spent the last year working on it from 3 different continents.  A giant thank you goes out to everyone who had a hand in helping bring this project together.  What a beautiful way to look back on one of the highlights of our life…from the time we boarded the boat to our helicopter getaway.  Besides our wedding video, there are several special features on the DVD including slideshows of all of our wedding photos and people’s snapshots of the day.  One of these slideshows is our currently featured video this week.  Please click here to view it.

If you were at our wedding and shared this special day with us, please leave us a message by clicking on comment link below this blog post.  We’d LOVE to hear your thoughts too…from sunburns and windblown hair to groovin’ to the wedding march as it was being played on steel drums.  What are some of your special memories?