A Tribute To Zeke

Zeke

December 25, 2003 – November 8, 2014

zeke 1Zeke, you’ve inspired so many stories, you deserve one more.  If feels so odd to not have you at my feet.  But you aren’t here anymore.  In fact, there is a fresh mound of dirt I can see out my window, you are there now.  What an awful day this has been, truly one of my worst.  I did not find you gone, I had to make a decision that even now, I wish I could undo.  But that is selfish on my part.  You are now at peace, I am the one suffering.  All the pain you have endured now seems to be in my heart.  Crazy, I know.  But isn’t that what love truly is, suffering the pain for another?

I love you Zeke.  From the first time I saw you.  You were eight weeks old, the runt of the litter.  We were getting a puppy for Carson and Chase, and for me.   I had experienced a year of loss; a baby born without life, a grandfather’s sad passing, an aunt who left this earth too soon.  I was tired of pain, of loss, and I wanted a new life to love.  And what better to love, to bring joy to a family then a cute little puppy.

We didn’t pick you first, we had your brother all picked out.  Then I looked over, and I saw your eyes and you tugged at my heart and I was yours.  Ten minutes later, you were in the car with us, lying between the boys, excited for your new adventure.

And since the boys were too little, 5 and 6, I was the one who took care of you.  And even though I wanted you to sleep with them, each night, I found you with me, curled up at the foot of my bed.  And I loved it.  I loved you.

zeke 2

You learned pretty quickly that the house wasn’t your toilet and down the steps you would trot, so very cute.   I think because you were so little, I tried extra hard to make you grow, and grow you did!    You ended up at 120 pounds, a far cry from the little 8 pound runt we brought home that day.

And oh how you loved to play ball.  You were born to fetch.  You would play as long as I threw the ball.  Again and again and again, I just could not wear you out, as much as I tried.  Because you were such a handful, my goodness Zeke!

You not only loved balls, but you loved shoes.  Nice leather shoes! I don’t know how many pairs you went through.  Too many before I learned to never leave my closet door open, nor leave a shoe in the living room.  And how many times I tried to hide the shoe of Bobby’s that you chewed, because I knew he would be angry with you.  I remember one time I had to go to Bible Study wearing two different shoes.  Thank you for chewing up one left one, and one right one, so I still had a pair.  Boy did the girls laugh that night.  And so did I.  Cause no matter how many shoes you destroyed, you were my boy, and I loved you.  And I always forgave you.

And you loved me.  So much!  You were so faithful to me.  You would follow me everywhere I went.  You never left my side, if I was at home.  And if I shut a door, without you with me, you would sit and bark at me until I let you in.  You loved me so much; you never wanted to share me with anyone.  If the phone rang, you would bark and bark and bark until I went outside and threw balls for you while I talked.  I never had a normal phone conversation in eleven years Zeke; they always occurred while I was sitting on the stairs, throwing balls for you.

And you would always fetch them and bring them back to me.  Always.

I remember when you were ten months old and you started getting very sick.  Nothing stayed in and you lost weight and when I took you to the vet, they discovered that you had eaten something that stuck in your intestines and was blocking you up.  And I spent $2500 getting it out of you.  And I didn’t care, I wanted you well.  And you came home and you didn’t even have your stitches out and you ran out the front door one day when Chase opened it.   And you loved running so much, you ran straight into the road and right before my eyes, a big truck hit you, square in the head.  And you did flip flops and then you jumped up and ran to the house.  And the guy in the truck cursed me out for letting you run free.  He didn’t know you had a mind of your own.  And I thought you were dead, but you weren’t.  It was late and I knew either you would live or not, so I sat with you all night, praying for God to save you, and He did.  And in the morning, I took you to the vet, he pumped you full of medicine and two days later, you were playing fetch with me.  Nothing could not keep you down.

Dogs are not to eat chocolate, it is dangerous, but you didn’t know that.  You ate so many of my chocolate cakes.  I lost count.  You loved chocolate as much as I did!  And it never fazed you.  Nothing stopped you.  You ate so many sandwiches, loaves of bread, cookies.  All I had to do was look out the window, and I would see the wrapper or the container in the yard where you would take your booty to enjoy!  Ah Zeke, I just couldn’t ever get upset, not truly upset with you.  No matter what food you would eat.  I just learned to not leave things out.  But just last week you found that stick of butter, and it was yours!

I don’t know how many times we would come home and the trash can would be all over the kitchen.  So we would put it on the counter, but then you figured out a way to get it down from there.  So then Bobby began the battle of the trash can with you.  And boy, was that something.  He tried everything, and you would always get to that can.  Carpet nails on the lid, strong spring action lid, Tobasco on the wood, nothing deterred you.  You were like Houdini, but instead of breaking out, you always broke in.  And trash would end up all over the floor.

But I never hit you, I never got angry.  Oh, I would yell at you.  And you were always sorry.  You always had that look on your face when you knew you did wrong.  You always knew, yet you continued … sounds like me Zeke.  Sounds like a lot of people I know.  We know we should stop, we are sorry when we get caught, but let me just do it one more time.  Your one more time was always innocent; unfortunately, sometimes our one more time ends in a lot worse scenario then trash on the kitchen floor.

We spent a lot of time at the vet, you and I.  I remember the time the boys were practicing casting their fishing lines in the driveway, and then Carson took them into Bobby’s shop to untangle them.  And I thought it would be a great family bonding time, so I brought you down too and in about a minute you had that fish hook caught in your tongue.  And then what a mess!   Me lying on top of you, holding your mouth open while Carson tried to pull it out.   And you trying not to bite me, and blood everywhere and Chase crying, oh what a disaster Bobby came home to that day.  And he couldn’t retrieve it either and off to the vet you went, once again.

And then it was time for you to be neutered and the first night home you chewed up all your stitches and what a mess I woke up to that morning.  Oh man and back to the vet we went and you had to wear that silly lampshade for a week until you healed.

Ahhhhh Zeke … you just constantly got into trouble.  Yet, your heart was so pure. So full of love.  We are so much alike, you and I.

I remember one night we came home and you were nowhere to be found, someone had left the gate opened and you wandered off.  I still remember the panic in my heart of looking for you, and the boys praying for your safe return and then when you were found, Carson saying, ‘See Mommy, God knew where Zeke was.’  Oh the lessons Zeke.

chase and zeke

And you loved to go on walks, and at first you would drag me to the canal and back, but eventually you learned how to stay with me and you loved those nightly walks.  How many nights … oh my, who will walk with me now?

And the night the pit bull came running out of that house at us, and me so scared you would get hurt protecting me.  Thank you Zeke for wanting to protect me.

And you learned to listen and obey so well, yes you did, that I didn’t need a leash any longer, you would walk with me.  I loved that you listened to me, that you obeyed me.  Just one word from me and you would come right back, never wandering off the sidewalk, always with me.  I know that is how God feels when I listen to Him.  When I obey, the first time.

I remember the night you started having seizures.  It was one of Carson’s Epic Birthday Parties, when he and his friends would play their version of hide and seek, in the dark, Manhunt.  And one of the boys kicked you in the head accidentally, and the next thing we knew, you were down and shaking and we thought you were dying and we didn’t know what to do.  And Bobby gave you CPR and I sat by you and cried and prayed for God to help you.  And He did.  And then the seizures came more frequently and it would take twenty, thirty, sometimes sixty minutes until, you were okay.

And I tried to give you medicine, but you didn’t like it and it made you sleepy and so we just asked God to heal you.  He didn’t take away the seizures completely, but you always got through them and they were further and further apart.  God answers our prayers in so many different ways, doesn’t he?  We always want instant healing, but Zeke, you were happy for the moment.  As soon as that seizure would pass, your tail would wag and up you’d go and back at it

And every single night, you would greet me at the door, so happy that I was home. And you would bark and bark and bark until we played.  Oh how you loved to play.

And no one could track a ball in the dark like you.  After all, you are a lab and labs retrieve.  And I would be in awe of watching you find a ball in the dark.  You would run a pattern until you found that ball. You would never give up. Sometimes it took you awhile; I’d even give up and go in the house.  But not you, you never came in until you found that ball.  What a lesson in perseverance.  You just didn’t give up.

And you didn’t give up on life … even with a skin infection that caused you so much pain; you would bite your legs until they were blood. You would scratch yourself raw, over and over.  And I would try this ointment and I would try that shampoo, and I would google and I would research and we would go to the vet, and nothing would help.  Or it would help for a bit, but then the infection would be back again. You were on antibiotics a very long time, hoping that maybe just maybe this batch would be it.  And as miserable as I know you were, you just didn’t complain.  You loved life, you loved food, and you loved Jack Jack.  And you loved me.

Zeke would still be here, fighting through the infection that would even run out his eyes, but his hips went on him.  A few weeks ago, he woke me up, barking.  When I went to find him, he was at the foot of the stairs, nothing was stopping him from coming up, but he couldn’t do it.  And I knew he was hurting.  If that big ole stinky dog couldn’t come up the steps to be with me, something was drastically wrong.

So, I made him a bed and brought him water, but he wasn’t happy.  And he would try and try and try and some days he made it up and some days he didn’t.  And Bobby tried to help him, but he was just too heavy.  And I knew, I had a decision to make.  Zeke had been miserable for a long time.  I would hear him night after night, long after everyone was asleep, biting and chewing and getting up and getting down and going in and going out.  He was trying to find peace.

Today, he found it.

I really don’t know if dogs go to heaven.  I was asking God that today, because I really want Zeke to be happy.  He deserves it.  Zeke and God have taught me so many lessons about love.  About unconditional love.  How to receive it.  How to give it.
Thank you Zeke for the lessons … thank you for the love.

zeke

The Day Before

bold faithTomorrow I will head to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic with a mission team from The Tree.  Six of us will fly out from Miami.  But it won’t just be us ministering next week, this is actually an International Mission Team, as we have a team of six ladies meeting us from Costa Rica and one from Honduras.  All joined together by One Spirit, to be a witness for Jesus – to share His amazing love!

I always love the anticipation of what is ahead, because I know God has already gone ahead of us, preparing the way!  The fact that there are women from three countries headed to a fourth makes me shake my head in awe at what God has prepared.

I really don’t know the details of our schedule, except that we will be ministering in churches each night, and outreach programs; orphanages, jails, nursing homes, hospitals, during the day.  On Friday night and Saturday, we will host a 2 day conference for the women, an opportunity to give some teaching on the love of Jesus and how to walk in what He died to give us.

There will be tears and laughter, joy and sadness, friendships renewed and new ones forged.  There will be late nights and early mornings, little sleep and lots of coffee, and chocolate.  There will be hearts turned to God and lives changed by Him.

Our theme is BOLD FAITH, we are stepping out and allowing God to do with and through us as He wills, His way.

Our scripture is:   Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your pathsstraight. (Proverbs 3:5,6)

We are trusting, we are acknowledging and we will walk through a path that He has straightened.

In Jesus Name!

Day 7 – Costa Rica Journal – Heading Home

Day 7 - 1Monday morning was time to pack up and head home, always a bittersweet moment. Of course we want to go home to our families, but we have found a new family here and we are sad to say good-bye.

day 7 - 2Selene and Serene came to see us off and we spent some time in prayer with her. Such a special friend with such a heart for the Lord and such great love for us!

day 7 - 4Michelle and Sarah were two of our translators and they would be greatly missed by us. Michelle lives in Puntarenas, Sarah in Honduras. Separate worlds from us, yet we know we will be with them again, and that our hearts are connected forever!

day 7 - 3Hannia and Maria were our cooks for the week. They took such good care of us, cooking us such wonderful meals. Always there by the crack of dawn and staying till all were fed at night. I had a lot of trouble with my stomach, and Hannia brought special herbs and made me a tea that kept me going when I wasn’t feeling so well.

day 7 - 5Good-byes are never easy. We had really connected with our new friends and with each other and it was difficult to say good-bye. A lot of love had been shared this week and love always connects hearts. And when hearts are separated, it hurts.

day 7 - 7We all piled into the bus and headed to the airport. A lot of reflection was going on as we pulled away from Casa San Francisco, our home away from home the past week. Everyone was lost in their own thoughts. I can’t profess to know the thoughts of the other team members, but my mind was reliving the week I had just experienced and thanking God for allowing me to be a part of such an awesome adventure. To be able to bring His extreme love to the people of Puntarenas and Miramar, Costa Rica had most certainly been an awesome privilege!

day 7 - 9More good-byes at the airport. The beginning of the trip with all the welcomes and greetings and connections, the ending of the trip with hugs and tears. Interesting … but the nature of the journey. It hurts to leave people you love.

day 7 - 10Navigating through the airport at San Jose was no issue. We paid our exit fees, checked our luggage, passed through customs and found our gate with no hiccups. We watched a man roll cigars in the airport and another painting a beautiful picture.

day 7 13We landed in Miami and made our way through customs. As we entered the airport, we came across this sign that shared our focus for the week, All You Need Is Love.

Thank You JESUS!

Day Six – Costa Rica Journal – Babies and Birthdays

Day 6 - 1On Sunday morning, we had breakfast and then headed off to Pastor Octavia’s church for Sunday service. We were going to be guests this morning and everyone was ready for a little break, I believe. Serving the Lord on these mission trips is awesome, but it is not for the weak at heart or body.

Day 6 - 2Selene and Serene met us at the church, it was Serene’s dedication day and we were all excited to be a part of such a special event. The kids at the church were also putting on a special dance presentation for us and we were eager to spend the morning with our special friends. It will never cease to amaze me, the special connection of love we felt with our friends here. We loved them and they loved us. Even though we could not communicate through words with most of them, God’s language of love is universal.

day 6-4We so enjoyed the spirit of the kids during the dance time. They did two numbers for us and none of us had a dry eye when they finished. The depth of God’s love they were able to express during their worship was overwhelming to us. So very special and such a blessing to each one of us.

After church, we headed off to purchase souvenirs. We didn’t have the opportunity to do any shopping during the week, and we enjoyed seeing the local crafts. T-shirts and handcrafted jewelry are always a hit when we head home!

Deanna found a really neat hat and was happy to model it for us. She looked so cute!

day 6 - 6

day 6 - 7We then headed to Pastor Martin and Pastora Sonia’s home for lunch. It was Pastor Martin’s birthday and we were eager to join in the celebration. We headed up the mountain, once more to Miramar. What a special place this tiny mountain village had become to us!

day 6 - 9Pastor Martin and Pastora Sonia had a beautiful home, on the side of the mountain, and we were all enjoyed their hospitality. We loved our time serving the people of Costa Rica, we enjoyed every minute of it, but I have to confess, it was so enjoyable to sit on their deck and just enjoy the food and the company.
We were served ceviche and tostones and homemade pizza and we were honored to be enjoying the day with our special friends.

Day 6 -10After lunch, the keyboard came out and Pastor Wilmer and Ruth began blessing us with worship. It was such an amazing time of ministry. All week we had been ministering to others, now the Holy Spirit was ministering with us. Each one of us had our own personal time with the Spirit and it was so very special. Sometimes we think we have to be in a church to experience God, but that afternoon on the mountain showed each one of us that when we seek him, we will find him, no matter where we are.

day 6 -11Pastor Martin really touched my heart on this special day. He shared with our team that he didn’t really have a good impressions of Americans, most of the ones he had met were not really people that he wanted to associate with. But he saw something different in our team, he saw love being lived out and our group gave him a different perspective of how Americans could be. I was so thankful for God that we were able to live out life, His way and be a living testament of His love! Thank you Jesus!!

Day Five – Costa Rica Journal – Believe and Recieve

day 5 - 1Saturday was Day Two of the Women’s Conference. We had such a great turnout and response the night before; everyone was excited to see what this day would bring! We were at the church by 9:00 am and the worship was in full swing. It was amazing how quickly of the presence of the Lord was felt. Very early in the worship they stopped for a time of prayer ministry and it was special to start the morning praying for hearts to be touched by His Spirit!

It was a wonderful morning, connecting with our new friends and allowing the spirit to move and touch. Such a special time. Starting the morning with such a strong move of the spirit was truly awesome. We all were enjoying our time, ministering, dancing and allowing The Lord to flow in us and through us!

day 5-3There was a time for testimonies and many women from the conference shared the touch of the Lord in their lives. Shirley and Deanna each shared a blessing and it was a very special time for all! I was so enjoying all my new friends!

day 5 - 5Gaby and I shared a Word that morning, Believe and Receive. John 10:10 tells us, “The enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy, but I, Jesus came to bring you life, in abundance to the full!” We are promised an abundant life, not only for eternity, but in the here and now, but many believers don’t actually live the life that Jesus died for them to experience. My message shared thoughts on how to live that life today. The main point was that we had to make a commitment, to four areas to achieve this; Commitment to Change, Commitment to Concede, Commitment to Community and Commitment to Christ. We shared stories from the Word and from my life to confirm this concept and the women seemed to believe and receive. It was truly a special time!

day 5 - 6We took a break about halfway through and the dance team from the church gave an amazing performance of “Oh How He Loves Us”. We were all in tears! The worship of these dancers was truly breathtaking. Each move ushering in the move of The Spirit.

We really enjoyed giving this Word, it was a message that everyone could understand and relate to. A hands on approach to walk out this journey with Jesus; action steps to bring about positive change.

day 5-7We had an interesting moment during this time, I had been bombarded with bugs all week and was beginning to become a bit paranoid. During the word, I thought I saw Gaby looking at one, at the same time, as I moved my head, my hair brushed my face and I totally freaked out. We laughed and laughed, it was a nice break in between a serious moment and showed the group that everyone has issues, big or small, God cares about them all. I rebuked the bugs, in the name of JESUS and we went on with our time of ministry. At the end of the ministry time, after all the praying was finished, Pastora Sonia’s sister, Vera, called all the women forward and we encircled them with prayer. What a powerful time with the spirit. I think everyone in that place was in tears; all so touched by His Spirit.

day 5-10After this, there was a special time of love; gifts and kind words were shared, extreme love shown to us by our hosts.
We were then treated to a wonderful lunch and we all enjoyed our time of relaxation and fellowship. It was a wonderful feeling, knowing we had finished this part of our mission and God had used each one of us to touch many hearts. We came to this place to share His Extreme Love and everyone gave all they had, plus!

We headed home and took a break before heading back out that evening. I think we all needed a little rest. Doing The Lord’s work is very rewarding, but we always appreciated the hour or two of break time to recharge.

We were going back to Pastor Octavia’s church and I was excited to see Daniel. Daniel was one of our translators from my previous visit and I had not had the opportunity to see him yet, but he was coming to church that night and I was so glad that we would get to connect.

It was so good to see him, but I cannot believe I did not get a picture. What is wrong with me? I thought I would see him again, but as it turned out, this was our only opportunity. I guess the lesson here is, don’t put off till tomorrow, what you can do today.

day 5-13The spirit in the church was moving and everyone was festive and enjoying themselves. It’s amazing how quickly we got revived; the previous weariness of the day gone and a fresh battery with each new venue.

day 5-14Gaby and I gave another Word, this time from Psalm 1:1-3, Do You Want To Prosper? Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

day 5-15It was special to give this word of encouragement to our new friends. This was our second visit to this church and already we felt at home; we were home. After the message and ministry time, we prayed an blessing over the pastor and his wife and then they blessed me with gifts and a special priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
day 5 heather

Day Four – Costa Rica Journal – Making A Difference

hospital cr blanketsOn Friday morning, we headed off to the hospital, to pray for the sick. Our first stop was the Administration office, where we spent some time with the women in charge of Patient Administration. The hospital was in total disarray, due to a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on September 8, 2012. Ten stories of the hospital, in one area, were damaged, and they were still trying to pull themselves out of this tragedy and move forward, but as a result, patients were being treated in many outsourced areas and it was quite difficult for the staff during this time.

She shared her testimony of the day of the earthquake, while watching beams falling and believing that she would die in the chaos. Her testimony touched us all and we spent some time praying for her, asking God to give her strength for the task before her and blessed her with many fleece blankets that we had brought with us.

hospital cr 2We then moved to a men’s ward and we broke into groups, to pray for these men and share the love of Jesus with them. They were very receptive of our prayers and it was good to know that we were bringing a light of hope in their otherwise dark day. There were no private rooms, it was six to eight men in a room, with all sorts of ailments, but God knew what each needed and we moved from man to man, room to room, sharing His healing touch!

We then moved to the children’s ward for an opportunity to pray for the kids, to touch their little lives. There is something about a sick child that touches a mama’s heart and I have to say, this part of the mission is always the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. With great challenges come great opportunity, and we were about to have opportunity to bless parents and children alike.

One of the girls did face painting for some of the kids who were less serious, anything to take their minds off of their circumstances the kids who were less serious, anything to take their minds off of their circumstances. We had beanie babies for the kids, something that they could play with, love on, while they were sick; having a friend to love always makes things better!

hospital cr 4One little boy really touched my heart. He had gotten into some sort of poison and was in an induced coma while they were working to remove the poison from his system. What a special little angel. I am believing that God healed Josue that day, that His healing hand touched that little boy and made him well!

After the hospital, we headed back to the house for lunch. Again, our hearts were touched by what God has allowed us to see. We really don’t know the result of our prayers, but we believed that God heard our requests and physical bodies were healed, in the name of JESUS!

poor section 3After lunch, we headed out to another outreach, to a less fortunate section of town to bless the children in this community. We had lots of toys, candy and gifts and everyone was eager to once again, share God’s Extreme Love. It’s amazing, that when you are willing the opportunities arise. We had brought four suitcases full of gifts for the men, women and children of this community, everything donated with love. Being able to bless so many was a blessing in itself!

Everyone piled into the little church building and a good time was had by all! There must have been about 75 kids, all under the age of seven. This scripture surely did fit this event, The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Unconditional love, pure and simple!

pool 1This little church was so hot inside that everyone was wringing wet by the time we left, so immediately upon return to the house, many team members jumped into the pool to cool off. It was so special the bond the team was forming, there is something extraordinary about sharing Extreme Love on another level, a connection that is unbreakable, and this team experienced that, so very special!

The Women’s Conference was Friday evening and everyone was excited to see yet what God had in store for us all. It seemed like the blessings just never stopped and they didn’t. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. God is so amazing … so very amazing!

pastor Martin and Pastora SoniaThe Conference was held at Lily of the Valley Church, in Miramar, Costa Rica with Pastor Martin and Pastora Sonia. Such a beautiful church, such a wonderful presence of the Spirit here. We could not have asked for a better place to minister His Word! As we entered the church, the music was in full swing and the seats were filled with hearts searching for a touch from The Lord! The air of anticipation of what was to come was strong, we could all feel the presence of The Lord in this place!

The theme song for the week was, Como Dijiste, and once we found out the meaning of the words, we realized that God truly was pouring out his spirit upon us! The chorus says, “So won’t you come, come like you promised. Pour out your spirit. Pour out your spirit.” A simple prayer, a mighty response! His Spirit was touching hearts all over the place that night. There was probably between 800 – 1000 women there that evening, and I was overwhelmed and humbled by the move of The Lord in all the hearts. Truly amazing – truly awesome! Such an amazing time in His presence!

So thankful for this Godly couple whose hearts are so pure and who allow the Spirit to move freely in their midst. I had been at this church on my visit to Costa Rica two years ago, but they were out of town that weekend, and I had not met them. I truly loved their hearts, their family, and their church. If I were to ever find myself residing in Costa Rica, this church would be my home!

conference 3The dancing at the church was breathtaking, and tonight we watched in awe as the women gave honor to Their King. I know this type of dance isn’t that common in the US, and for that I am sorry. It is so worshipful to watch, to be a part of. The faces of the dancers were that of pure love, just so very special!

women's conference CR - 3Gaby and I gave a message that night on how much Jesus loves us, that nothing can ever separate us from His great love. I shared my testimony, how I had spent 40 years of my life running from God, but he never gave up on me. And that the plans he had for me were for good and not for evil, to give me hope and a future. Without him, I felt pretty hopeless, I was an empty shell, but after I let Jesus into my life, everything changed; the bad was turned to His good! And that is the plan He has for you as well! He wants to turn your bad into HIS GOOD!

praying at conference 3The ministry after the message was such a sweet time, it was evident that the Spirit was touching hearts. There is nothing better than to see God working on hearts and having the opportunity to pray for healing and hope. All the girls were ministering in prayer and it was truly something special. There was fruit being produced from all the work that had gone into this night, and that had been my prayer for the past six months, for hearts to be touched by Him! Thank you Jesus!

joyce and gaby conference fridayWe were so thankful that the work that God began in us was used for His Glory!

women's conference - costa rica

Day Three – Costa Rica Journal – Go Into All The World, Even the Uncomfortable Places

Day Three started out with a visit from our friend, Selene and her new daughter, Serene! Selene was one of our translators on my first visit to Costa Rica, two years prior, and we had stayed in touch and were so excited to connect again. We all enjoyed the visit, the giving of gifts and the sharing of love. It is always so special reconnecting with friends; family of the heart. That was what was so special about my first visit to Costa Rica, the connection of the heart. Even those who I could not communicate with verbally, were connected through the spirit; just amazing to me but yet, so God!

Day 3 - 1

Our trips mission statement was from the scripture: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)

Our desire was to share HIS EXTREME LOVE with everyone we encountered, and with each other. We spent a couple of hours that morning loving on Selene and her baby, such a special time! Everyone wanted to hold the baby, to spend time with this precious angel and her mama!

day 3 - 2

It is fun to do the easy things of life, playing with babies is one of the easiest, and we so enjoyed this, but sometimes God calls us to step out of our comfort box, to do the things that are not so easy, and that is where the rubber meets the road; how willing are you to do His Will? That was the question I encountered that afternoon.

We were to visit the Men’s Prison that afternoon, we had asked Pastor Wilmer to set us up with a prison visit, but we didn’t realize that the only prison in Puntarenas was a men’s facility. We were a group of 12 women; women and children seemed to be our focus and now, here we are scheduled to minister at a men’s prison. And all of a sudden, my heart did not feel so willing. Fear seemed to grip me. I really don’t know what I was afraid of, fear isn’t a normal part of my emotional make-up, but the idea of walking into a men’s prison in Costa Rica and giving them a Word just shook me to my core. I was really struggling and I wasn’t sure how to move forward.

I went up to my room to pray and while I was there, God gave Gaby a word of encouragement for me. She reminded me that every other Wednesday night, I give a message to thirty to forty men at The Tree. They are a part of a men’s program that St. Matthew’s House developed, and they spend each Wednesday night with us at church, during our Wednesday Worship and Word time.

These men receive the messages I give them, I have a good report with them and I enjoy these nights very much. The men that we will minister to in the prison in Costa Rica will be just like these fellows that I love so much. I do not have to fear them. I will see my Wednesday night friends in the faces of the men at the prison. And that word of encouragement brought peace into my heart. Thank you Jesus for reminding me of this!

We all put on our DTNRT (Do The Next Right Thing) T-Shirts and headed to the prison. DTNRT is a ministry from one of our Naples friends. His mission statement, his reminder of what the next step forward should be. And because his wife, Deanna, was with us on this trip, I thought it appropriate that she give a brief testimony to the guys as well.
It was a little intimidating going through the entrance process of the prison, and walking past the men in the courtyard, their stares seem to penetrate my mind and for just a brief period, the fear returned, but again, there was Gaby encouraging me, this is just like another Wednesday night.

We all piled into one small room, twelve prisoners, twelve women and Pastor Wilmer and a couple from Puntarenas who sponsored this ministry. As Pastor Wilmer led worship, I felt the Spirit of the Lord in that place. Amazing … just amazing. If I closed my eyes, I was in His presence, not in a dingy prison holding room.

Deanna gave a powerful testimony of God’s grace in her life, His gift to her and I could see the men were touched. Then Gaby and I gave the Word that God had for them, Don’t Let You Past Destroy Your Future, from the story of Abraham’s father, Terah, in Genesis 11: 26-32.

In verse 31, is says that Terah took Abraham, his wife, and his nephew and headed towards Canaan, which we know is The Promised Land. But along the way, he got sidetracked. He stopped in a town, that had the same name as one of his sons, who had passed away. And for whatever reason, he, Terah, couldn’t go any further. He never made it to The Promised Land.

Many times, we let the pain of our past waylay us. We get so entangled in it, we can never move past it and it destroys us.

Have you ever wondered why a car’s review mirror is about 1/100th the size of the front window? We use the rear view mirror to check occasionally, to make sure nothing is close to us that might cause us harm, but our focus is always looking to the front when we are driving. If we drove looking in that rear view mirror, we would crash very quickly.
But I have found, that is how we go through life sometimes. Focusing on what is behind us, instead of what is ahead. And we CRASH. BOOM!

I shared with the men my past, how I spent 20 years of my life, focused on all the bad things of my past, instead of looking ahead to the promises that God had for me. And I crashed. Down I went into a spiral of negative emotions; shame, guilt and despair. And those emotions almost destroyed me.

But one day, I turned my focus around. Instead of the past, I looked forward, towards Jesus. And His great love changed everything. I saw myself the way He saw me and everything changed. I no longer listened to the lies of the enemy, but believed the voice of truth. And I encouraged them to do the same.

And as I gave this message to these men, I didn’t see hardened criminals, but men who had made mistakes, but were there to move forward, to not let their past destroy them.

One fellow actually gave his life to the Lord during the ministry time at the end and when they filed out and headed back to their reality, I felt so encouraged, that I was able to make a difference in their day, bring them a message of hope, through JESUS!

day 3 - 3We headed back to the house, everyone thinking about what we had just experienced; thoughtful and contemplative, thankful for another opportunity to share His Extreme Love and to encourage these men to do the next right thing!

day 3- 4We then spent some time playing on the beach. I hadn’t had the opportunity to check it out before, but we had a couple of ours break before our next service, so this was a great time to do a bit of frolicky in the sand and surf.

The beach is Costa Rica was on the Pacific Ocean and quite a bit different that the beach we are used to in Naples. But the beach is the beach and we were happy to be there, thankful for such a beautiful place to stay, for such favor poured upon us!

day 3 - 5Gaby was enjoying the surf. It was fun to put the cares of the prison behind us and allow the peace of the Lord to flow through us in this special place. There is always something special for me when I am at the beach. As I listen to the waves pound the sand, my heart always finds comfort and peace in this place, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, it does not matter. God controls all the oceans and for me, He uses them to bring me a sense of renewal and refreshing.

day 3 - 6Nothing better than to just get your feet dirty in the sand and allow the surf to soak your pants! Nothing better!

Thursday evening we headed out to a very special church in Puntarenas, El Roble, with Pastor Octavio. This is the church that Selene and our friend, Michelle, our cook Ana, and several others attended. I had met Pastor Octavio and his wife on my earlier visit to Puntarenas, and was excited to see them again.

Pastor Octavio has a heart for Israel and you can see it throughout the church, that the focus is JESUS THE MESSIAH for the Jews and the Gentiles alike. I love that!

dancing at Pastor Octavios churchWe so enjoyed the dancing, there is something so special about watching these young people flow in His Spirit. It truly does connect us on another level. There were a couple of little girls in the midst, it was so special watching them, watch the older ones to make sure their moves were correct. I know our hearts were touched and I am sure Jesus was well pleased. It was truly a beautiful presentation to Him!

shirley offeringShirley did a wonderful job of praying for the offering, it truly was a night of blessings!

Everyone was enjoying the evening, young and old. Old friends and new ones, everyone was receiving the blessing of the evening.

gaby and I pastor octavioGaby and I shared a message, Better Days Are Ahead, looking at the faithfulness of God, even when things are not looking so bright on the outside. I Peter 5:10 gives us this encouragement, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. “
There will be trials and struggles and we will suffer, but after a little while, GOD himself will restore us. I don’t know about you, but that promise brings me such hope!

After the message, there was a special time of ministry and then everyone wanted pictures with all our new friends. I so love this part of the mission, making new friends. God connecting hearts where there may be location and physical barriers, but His Extreme Love covers all. The promise of Ephesians is saturated in my heart and what encourages me to keep moving forward on this mission of love that He has set before us!

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3: 16-19 NLT)

That is what we hoped to bring to this city, His Extreme Love. That was our desire, that they would see His love through us, and that through us, they would encounter Him, on another level. That hearts would be healed and lives changed by Jesus.

When that is your focus, it is easy to do whatever God asks. We don’t have to spend a lot of time wondering if we are doing the next right thing. When our eyes are on Him, when He is our focus, everything falls into place. From the welcome we received at El Roble that evening, we knew we were doing the next right thing!
day 3 -7

Day Two – Costa Rica Journal – EXTREME LOVE

day 2 - 1We began Day Two of our mission with breakfast and devotions. Ana and Maria took such good care of us. They were at the house by seven, making coffee and cooking up all sorts of wonderful things for us to enjoy and to keep us healthy and strong for the task that God had for us.

We all then piled into the living room and spent time worshipping the Lord and reading His Word. There was a special feeling in the air that morning, the Spirit was flowing.

We had a full day ahead, we were going to the orphanage, then the nursing home and then to the church on the mountain for a meeting with the leaders there. This church was hosting the Women’s Conference and we were going to spend some time there that evening in prayer and petition for what was to come.

We decided to wear our EXTREME LOVE T-Shirts so that all would know why we were there! We gathered up all the gifts and games for the orphanage and headed out in the bus.

day 2-2Our hostess at our home, Kat came with us. She was dressed as a clown and looked adorable. She painted Pastor Wilmer’s face on the way there and we were all smiles as we headed out of the bus, to meet the children.

We really wanted to bless these kids. We had face painting and fingernail painting, bubbles and coloring books and a pin the tail on the donkey game. And lots and lots of gifts for them. A friend of mine had made 40 goodie bags, filled with toys and one of the girls had brought beanie babies and another sandals for the kids. It was Christmas in May!

I know day 2-3we went there to bless these kids, but we were the ones who ended up with the blessing. Each one of us, touched in our own special way by these children who didn’t have homes or families, these children who needed someone to bring them some love and ended up giving us the same!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So I am going to give you some pictures of our time at the orphanage, you will know the words that are attached to them, but hear me clearly here, “The greatest of these is love … “ Love flowed in this place
deanna nailsDeanna painting nails, loving sharing God’s love!
maritza - donkeyMaritza pinning the tail on the donkey.
heather babyHeather in her glory!
grandma shirleyGrandma Shirley! joyce and butterflyThis little girl and I so connected.

There was a quietness amongst the team when we left the orphanage, I believe each one of us was thinking of those special children that so impacted us, so quickly. Wondering how we could pack them up in our suitcases and bring them home with us and love them forever! That is the sad reality of being on a mission trip and visiting the children who have no families. We want to make a difference, more than just a few hours of fun, we want to help them have new lives and unfortunately, we cannot. But we believe the seed of love that we planted will be watered and fed by others and God will bring forth a harvest with these young lives!

We went back to the house for lunch, then headed out to Miramar, to the Senior Center. We went from babies to the elderly and both touched our hearts in such a profund manner.

At the Senior Center, we met Pastora Sonia and her team from her church at Miramar. This was the church that was seniors 2hosting the Women’s Conference and several of our translators were a part of this team of Godly women. It is so special to travel to another country and although their may be a language barrier, the message of Love and His Spirit is the same.

Pastor Wilmer led music, we sang and danced and loved on the residents, giving them gifts, smiles and love from our heart.

seniors 1Again, age knows no boundaries with nationalities, these elderly Costa Rican hearts were the same hearts we love to bless in Naples.

Sharing God’s Extreme Love!

After the Senior’s Home, we piled into cars and headed to the church on the mountain, Lirio de los valles , Lily of the Valley, Miramar. We were going to have a bite of food and prayer and meet with the leaders of the church, and the intercessors who had been fasting and praying for the Women’s Conference. A time to connect our spirits and pray for what was to come; the fruit from the labor.

mountain 1The view from the church was amazing, you could see the ocean off in the distance, and we all were in awe of the beauty of this place, so grateful for God bringing us here to share His great Love!

mountain 2We piled around tables and were served some amazing food, we ate till we couldn’t eat anymore! We were served tortilla con picadillos and tostones with black bean sauce. Everything was wonderful and we were all smiling from ear to ear; suffering for Jesus has its benefits.

After lunch, we were given a tour of the grounds, what an amazing place this church is. There heart is same as ours at The Tree, to win the lost at any cost; to set the captives free. I love that we serve One God, One Lord and the connection in our spirit with this team of people so confirmed that we are ONE IN HIM!

After our tour of the grounds, we ended up in the main sanctuary, and found ourselves in a circle, in a time of worship and prayer. The spirit was moving and touching and everyone felt His presence. It was so special, letting Him move through us, giving us just what we needed, right when we needed it.

mountain 4Worship and prayer went on for a very long time, not really sure how long, but a few hours. It was amazing how time flies when we are focused on the One who made time. Our prayers were for God to do what He would for this Women’s Conference, for hearts to be healed; lives changed by Him.

mountain 5After the prayer time, Gaby and I gave a Word of encouragement to the leaders, based on the story of John the Baptist; The Most Encouraging Word You’ve Never Heard. When John was in prison, he sent his followers to Jesus to find out what was going on, when was Jesus coming to his rescue. Was He really the Messiah? And Jesus sent back a word that yes, He was. That all that was to be was being. And then Jesus went on to tell the people there that day, how special John really was. But John never got the message, he was beheaded by King Herod, killed for his part in spreading the message of Jesus!

Sometimes when we are in leadership or serving in our areas of ministry, we wonder if this is really it? Does anyone really appreciate us? And sometimes it seems like the answer is truly, no. But what we don’t hear, what we miss, is that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and He telling our Daddy how special we are, how valuable to His Kingdom. We may never hear these words until the end when we are face to face and hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” but don’t give up the good fight of faith, for there is a prize for us, waiting at the finish line.

mountain 3

Day One – Costa Rica Journal – On Our Way

3:30 am came early, but I was so excited to be on my way. I jumped into the shower, and was almost finished when I felt something on my leg. I looked down and there was a Palmetto bug crawling up my leg. I screamed and jumped out of the shower and called for Bobby to come rescue me. He was not happy to oblige, but he did. As I finished my shower, I thought, ‘Wow, I am starting off as a missionary right here, right now”. I wasn’t happy about the bug, but grateful for the day ahead.

Dagmar and Dave picked me up at 4:45 am and off we headed to the church to meet the other ladies. As we pulled into the gas station, Dagmar seemed upset and then I noticed the smoke coming out from under the hood of the van. “Ummm … not a good thing to see when you are about to drive to Miami. “

A little investigation showed a leak or broken hose and after a bit of conversation, Heather’s husband, Raul, came to our rescue. He picked up Dagmar and I and took us on to the church and then onto Miami.

The rest of the drive to the airport was calm and uneventful and we all were excited as we arrived at our gate, with time to spare! Luggage was checked, and we even had time for a few pictures.

There was such an air of expectation as we boarded our plane, not knowing what was ahead, but knowing that the One who knew, could be trusted and that His plans were for our good and to bless and share His love!

CR Picture 1The flight was about 2 and 1/2 hours and as we headed into Costa Rica, we could see the mountains around us. It was so beautiful.

We landed and headed through customs. There wasn’t too long of a line and we went through the first part without any hitches. As we picked up our luggage and headed through the next section, Shirley got singled out and some confusion in the language caused the guard to believe she was smuggling salami into the country. It was quite amusing to watch her try to figure out what the man wanted and how to accommodate him, and not go to jail for an imaginary offense! We were all laughing thinking about poor Shirley being wheeled off to a Costa Rican jail for salami smuggling!

As we walked out of the airport, there was Gaby and Pastor Wilmer and all the other translators to meet us. Even the President of the Pastor’s Association of Costa Rica came to the Airport to greet us. It was such a special time. We were finally here!!

The luggage was lifted onto the bus, we all piled in and off we headed. I was excited to be with Gaby again, such a special friend.

I met Gaby while we were in Honduras, she was my translator and we had such a strong connection. When I got home, I began Skyping with her each evening, doing our daily Bible Devotions and those nightly sessions turned into a friendship and a love that could only be attributed to God. Gaby had never had the opportunity to be one on one in a Bible Study, where she could ask questions, and I quickly discovered she was hungry to learn about God. There is nothing more encouraging to a teacher than someone eager to learn. And I found in the midst of my teaching her, I learned so much more.

Isn’t that always the way God works? We believe we are being the blessing and He turns around and blesses us!

We enjoyed catching up on the ride down the mountain, into Puntarenas. There was an air of excitement from everyone, what was ahead, only God knew, but we knew His plans for us were for good.

We made a stop at a local discount warehouse, to stock up on food and water for the week and it was fun to see the local produce, to wander around the store and look at life from a different viewpoint, another part of the world, yet the same.

When we arrived at Casa San Francisco, our home for the next six days, we were met by our cooks, Ana and Maria. Ana had been a cook for us before, and I was so excited to see her again. We hugged and loved and they served us a wonderful lunch. Everyone was hungry from traveling and we enjoyed the meal immensely. Good food, good friends, good God. On a mission for him, what could be better? It was so exciting to be at our destination finally, with all our friends! We all found our rooms, unpacked our bags and began to prepare for our first meeting that evening.

gaby and Joyce 1st day CR

The meeting was going to be at a church, somewhere on the mountain, not the same church that would host our Women’s Conference, but another one who was promoting the event and had been fasting and praying for God’s hand to move during this week. They had actually been in revival, the were on Day 15 of nightly meetings, and whenwalked into the church that evening, the presence of His Spirit was strong. It was so amazing that although we did not understand the words to their worship, we were immediately taken into His presence, just another reminder that the Spirit is universal, His language is Love and all speak it the same!

It was an amazing time of worship and hearts were being touched all over the building; the greatest was our team. We were humbled and overwhelmed to be in this place that we had been preparing for so long, to be allowing His Spirit to comfort and heal and to be able to give back some of the love that He had poured into us, preparing us for this time!
Gaby and I shared a message of hope from Exodus 23:20–33, God’s Angel Going Before Us. God was speaking to Moses, after the crossing of the Red Sea, letting him know that He was with him, that He was sending out His angel ahead of him to prepare the way, to fight his enemies for him. In fact, all Moses would see would be the back of their heads, (v. 27), but that Moses’s part was to destroy their idols, to not allow sin into their homes. To not bow down to their gods. And if he kept these commands, then little by little, as the strength of the people increased, God would increase their presence in The Promised Land. (v. 30).

This promise is so encouraging to me. God is going before us, He is fighting our battles for us, He is destroying our enemies and His promises will be ours, little by little, as we increase in our faith! But we have to be set apart, we cannot allow the sin of the world into our lives! We do our part and God does His!

The message was well received and the people streamed forward for prayer afterwards. As I stood praying with someone, my heart was leaping in my chest. I felt like I was home, doing what I was called to do; right smack dab in the middle of God’s will for my life! What an amazing place to be!

We had an amazing time of prayer and ministry, the entire congregation seemed to be receiving the blessing of the Lord. The team embraced the prayer time and everyone was being blessed by the presence of His Spirit. What a sweet beginning to a week of service to Him!

Pastor Wilmer continued to lead us in worship and it seemed like it lasted for a very long time afterwards. I love the ability of these people to not worry about time, but rather allow the presence of the Spirit to do His will, in His time.

I think sometimes at home, we get so caught up in staying on our schedules that we forget that God’s timing is not ours. I know there is a balance to life, I understand, but it is so freeing to be in a place where the move of the Spirit has no time contraints, that it is okay to simply let God move, however He desires.

I know the move of the Spirit can be such a debatable issue, I understand, but I would encourage you to not negate anything that comes from God, test it and see for yourself.

CR Picture 2One young boy was praising the Lord with his Shofar and it was such a treat to listen to him bellow out a message that only he and God knew the content. Seeing such young hearts in earnest worship was such a special blessing!
The Word says, Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

This young man was being started off on the right path, that is for sure. What a blessing! I know his gift of praise was well received!

The worship in the house of the Lord that evening was contagious! What a wonderful first day of our journey with Jesus in Costa Rica!