UK Trip Summary, Part Two

Hopefully, you've had the chance to read yesterday's post about my trip to the UK.  Today, I'd like to pick up where I left off--at the halfway point of the trip.

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Wednesday, May 16th - This was the first official day of the retreat, so early in the morning, we waved goodbye to our converted police station in Matlock and made our way toward the Hayes Conference Center in Swanwick, England.  We arrived early to make preparations and set up the conference room where the retreat would be held.  By lunchtime, most of the ladies had arrived, and a time of sweet fellowship (and many introductions) began.  After lunch, we had a meet-and-greet, at which point all who were willing dressed up in pirate costumes (except for one crazy lady who dressed up as a giant parrot).  It was too much fun to describe and such a blessing to see everyone put aside their burdens for a little while and have some good, clean fun.  After the meet-and-greet, most of us changed into our "normal" clothes, and we had dinner.  Our evening meeting began at 7:30 and included songs, skits, some heartwarming stories of those who were standing fast for their beliefs and the Bible study, taught by yours truly.  With the theme of "Stand Fast, Me Hearties," I planned my lessons to revolve around the story of Paul's shipwreck in Acts.  Over the course of the retreat, I discussed how to stand fast when the storms of life were raging, and my points were arranged as "Sailing the Seven C's." (I'll share more of this with you in another post.) I was informed that there was no time limit for my lesson during the evening services, but because it was already late and everyone was tired, I had planned to keep it to thirty minutes.  I thought I had done well until Tennille let me know that I had actually spoken for fifty-seven minutes.  Oops!  I'm worse than most preachers!  However, most of the women said they had no idea I had spoken that long either, so I guess I wasn't boring them.  After the meeting, some of the women came up to share their burdens with me, and it was after 11:00 by the time I returned to my room.

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Thursday, May 17th - Breakfast was served at 8:30 in the morning, followed by a morning session, which again included songs, stories and a lesson.  I did much better on time and actually finished ahead of schedule.  After this session, we broke for morning tea and returned for another session mid-morning, which was very similar to the morning service, continuing with our theme of "Stand Fast, Me Hearties" and "Sailing the Seven C's."  After lunch, we had free time to fellowship with one another until dinner at 6:30, so some of the ladies decided they really wanted me to see the town of Bakewell.  So, five of us loaded up and made our way down the road a bit to a charming little town.  While there was much to see, the main goal of our trip was to visit the many "charity shops," which is what they call thrift stores.  Being a thrift store lover myself, I was only too happy to visit shop after shop, browsing through their many goods.  One of the precious ladies even slipped away from the pack and bought me a Bakewell tart, which I later discovered was delicious, and I am still craving another one at this point in time.  Thanks, Sue!  Before long, we had to make our way back to the conference center to prepare for dinner and the evening meeting.  Once again, the time together was precious, and a sweet spirit filled the room.  There was laughter and a few tears, but it was all glorifying to God.  I'm not really sure how long I spoke that night, but I do know it was VERY late by the time I got in bed.  Jason had driven up to join me that night as we planned to leave immediatly following the meeting on Friday.  Strangely enough, when he arrived, he discovered a friend whom he had gone to church with when he lived in Florida over twenty years ago.  Yup, two friends from Florida met up nearly twenty-five years later in England.  What are the odds?  Anyway, we stood chatting in the hallway of the conference center for a couple of hours and finally made it to bed after midnight.  

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Friday, May 18th - Once again, breakfast was served at 8:30, and from there, we made our way to the conference room for our final meeting.  To be honest, it was a bit sad, and there were many tears and quite a few hugs (yes, Mary, I'm talking about you!).  We ended our retreat with testimonies of how each lady had been blessed and how refreshed and renewed we felt.  Though many were still bearing burdens, there was a peace and joy that had been missing earlier in the week.  It was difficult to say "goodbye" to so many precious ladies, but thanks to social media, I'm able to keep in touch with many of them.  As soon as we had said our farewells, Jason and I packed up and headed out to do some sightseeing.  Our first stop was Nottingham Castle, which disappointingly has been turned into a giant museum.  It was interesting but not really all that we had hoped it would be.  Still, we were able to learn a few things, take some cool pictures and "hang out" with Robin Hood.  After that, we visited Ashby de la Zouch Castle, which was probably one of my favorite outings.  It is a ruined castle, but there was still enough intact that we could explore the tunnels and even climb the towers.  And yes, I did climb the highest tower, all 98 steps of it.  The best part is that there wasn't anyone else visiting at that time, so we had the entire place to ourselves.  We had a blast!  We left there and made our way to The White House at One Another Ministries, who had willingly and freely offered us a beautiful place to stay for the remainder of our trip.  Upon arriving, we met up with Marie, the administrator of the ladies' retreat, and her husband, Hutch, who took us out to dinner and then on a quick tour around the area.  From there, it was back to the White House for some much-needed rest.

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Saturday, May 19th - We allowed ourselves to sleep in a little, and it was the first night since arriving in the UK that I had slept more than six hours.  My body was really starting to feel the fatigue, but there was still so much to do, so we hurried along, and headed out toward Wales immediately following breakfast (which Marie had provided).  The drive to Wales was incredible and breathtaking!  We made our way to the southern part of Snowdonia National Park and took part in an attraction called King Arthur's Labyrinth.  The journey is completely underground (and cold!!!!).  We began in a boat, floating through the dark caverns and listening to the stories of King Arthur.  A few minutes in, the boat landed, and we made our way on foot, snaking through the caverns to different displays where the stories continued to unfold.  There were giants, dragons and great battles.  It was too exciting for words, especially for this lover of Arthurian legend and all things medieval.  After that, we grabbed a bite to eat and then did another attraction called The Lost Legends of the Stone Circle.  This was a maze full of various displays, each of which told you a legend.  The goal was to find each of the displays within the maze, listen to the stories, and answer questions based on each story on the quiz sheet given at the beginning of the attraction.  Once complete, we turned in our quiz sheet and discovered we had gotten all the answers correct.  We each won a gold medal.  I know it sounds a bit corny, but it really was a lot of fun.  After that, we did some souvenir shopping in the village and then called the Downey's to invite them to dinner.  We wanted one more opportunity to see them before we left.  Dinner was very enjoyable, and we, once again, had a great time of fellowship.

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Sunday, May 20th - Remember the friend from Florida Jason reunited with on Thursday night?  Well, it turns out that she and her husband are missionaries in northern Wales, and they were going through a tough spell.  So, we decided to try to be an encouragement to them and drive three hours Sunday morning to attend their church service.  It was well worth it!  Once again, there were very few in attendance, but the spirit and fellowship were sweet.  We left there and made our way over to two more castles in the area, Conwy and Caernarfon.  Each of these was unique in its own way, but both of them were amazing.  Because everything closes very early in Wales (5:00), we weren't able to spend a lot of time at either castle, but we made the most of our time--even skipping lunch--to be able to see and do as much as possible.  We explored every tower and tunnel we had time for, and I can't tell you how many stairs we climbed in those few hours, but I do know my legs were feeling it by the time we were done.  After grabbing a meal of fish and chips, we headed back toward the White House and packed up our stuff, knowing we had to leave early the next morning to make our way to Manchester Airport.

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Monday, May 21st - I won't bore you with too many details, but we arrived at the rental car agency around 8:30, turned in the car, then hopped the bus over to the airport.  Shortly after 11:30, the boarding began.  Though the flight was nine hours long (and seemed much longer), it was probably one of the smoothest flights I'd ever been on.  When we arrived in Atlanta, we had to go through customs and then security.  This took FOREVER, but fortunately, we had a long layover, so we didn't have to worry about missing our flight to Greenville.  We finally arrived in Greenville around 8:30, pleased to see my Mom and our pastor awaiting our arrival.  By the time we picked up our luggage and got home, it was probably close to 10.  Our reunion with Barnabas was precious.  He whimpered and cried because he couldn't get enough of us and couldn't decide who he wanted to see more.  We spent a while loving on him, then went to bed with his 85-pound body snuggled between us.

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And now, several days later, I'm still struggling to get caught up on my sleep and get my time orientation back on track.  I've also been trying to get everything unpacked and put away while striving to get back into the groove of "normal" life.  I cannot describe what a blessing the trip was and how much it impacted my life.  I learned so much and met so many wonderful people. It's so hard to move on, but I know God has a work for me to do here, and I'm ready and willing to pick up where I left off.

UK Trip Summary, Part One

I'm back, and I admit, it's bittersweet.  I'm so thankful to be home and sleeping in my own bed, but there is an ache in my heart at the beauty and fellowship we've left behind.  This trip has definitely impacted my life, and I pray I never forget all that I learned.  I thought I'd take the next couple of days to give you a brief summary of what took place during my absence from you.

Thursday, May 10th - We arrived at the airport somewhere around 12:30 and waited around the airport for two hours to board our plane to Atlanta.  Once aboard, we were told that they were having to reboot the airplane computer (not a comforting thought) and our flight would be slightly delayed.  Several minutes later, the captain announced that the weather in Atlanta was quite bad and we would not be able to take off until they received word that it was safe.  We sat on the stationary plane for nearly an hour.  From there, the flight to Atlanta was relatively smooth and we were able to transfer to our flight to Manchester, which was also delayed, adding to our already VERY long flight of eight hours.

Friday, May 11th - We arrived in Manchester at 8:30 in the morning (their time, which is five hours ahead of my time here in South Carolina).  Tired and achy, we exited the plane and made our way through customs and then baggage claim.  We hopped a bus over to pick up the rental car, and finally, by around 10:30 or 11, we were on our way.  Being so fatigued, the day wasn't the most positive.  Driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car on narrow, narrow roads was a challenge, as was trying to navigate the MANY roundabouts. (Did I mention navigation is not my thing?)  We attempted to do some sightseeing but got lost enough times that we decided to simply make our way to Wales, where we would be staying with some missionary friends.  We arrived that evening around 5:00 or so, just in time for dinner with our friends and some other friends they had invited to join us.  It was after 10:00 by the time we finally made our way to bed, and let me tell you, my body was feeling it!

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Saturday, May 12th - Today began in a positive way.  We had breakfast and jumped in the car with our missionary friends to visit the city of Cardiff, which is about two hours south of where we were.  On the way, I received the news from the boarders that Barnabas had run away and could not be found.  Not the news I wanted to hear.  I did my best to give the matter over to God and enjoy the time at Cardiff though I admit to checking my messages several times in hopes of receiving word that he was safe and sound.  Amazingly, even with the weight of that on my shoulders, I was able to enjoy the many sights and sounds of Saint Fagans, a quaint Welsh village that had been torn down and reconstructed piece by piece.  After a long day and a good meal, we headed back to the Downey's home and went to bed (again, much later than what was good for us).

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Sunday, May 13th - Hallelujah, we received word that Barnabas had been found and that other arrangements were being made for his care and well-being while we were away.  Though I was still apprehensive about the situation, I was relieved to know that he was safe. We had the privilege of attending morning service at a little chapel just down the road from the Downey's home.  The service was lovely though there were fewer than twenty people in attendance (which, from what I understand, is the norm).  In the afternoon, we were treated to a tour of some of the beautiful dams along the countryside of mid-Wales, and we arrived home just in time to get ready for the evening service at Bethania Baptist Chapel.  The service was their biggest one of the year and made up almost entirely of hymn singing.  I was the "special" singer of the evening and was able to perform four songs for the congregation.  Though I sing often at church, this was a very different experience in that there was no microphone or amplification of any kind.  And, I had to accompany myself on the piano.  It was difficult to sing that loud while sitting down at the piano, but evidently, I did okay.  There was a very sweet spirit in the church, and I had the opportunity to meet and speak with many different people.

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Monday, May 14th - Early in the morning, Tennille and I left and made our way toward the city of Matlock, England, where the pre-retreat was to be held.  We picked up a friend and fellow worker, Sam, on the way, and the communion on the long car ride was sweet and enjoyable.  When we arrived at Matlock and found the converted police station where we would be staying, we were dismayed to find that the only parking was at the bottom of the hill and across the street.  This was not good news for three women with a lot of luggage!  Still, we worked it out and got all of our belongings in.  At that point, I had the opportunity to meet the rest of the pre-retreat team, and I immediately realized I was going to love these women.  For the sake of time and space, I won't give you all the details about getting settled into the house, figuring out who got which bed, and taking care of some of the meeting "stuff," but I will give you an idea of how the day went and share with you a couple of hilarious details.  I'll start by saying I haven't laughed so hard in a long time, and it felt wonderful.  These ladies made me feel so comfortable, and that's unusual for me when surrounded by a group of people I don't know.  They even insisted that I take the nicest and biggest of the rooms, which really wasn't necessary, but I appreciated the gesture.  Anyway, much of the day was spent in laughter and merriment though we did manage to get a little bit of work done.  As for the funny bit, the house we were renting was supposedly fully equipped, but it didn't take us long to realize there were a couple of small problems.  There were eight of us, and there was only one shower.  Worse yet, there was only one roll of toilet paper in the entire house!  I guess you can figure out what one of our first stops was, right?

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Tuesday, May 15th - After some breakfast and a bit more humor, we split up into groups to venture out for different activities in the area.  I, along with three other ladies, had the opportunity to visit Chatsworth House.  Words cannot describe the beauty and splendor of this place.  It was enormous and grand, and we had a wonderful time exploring all the nooks and crannies.  Oddly enough, we had just as much fun touring the grounds where there are fountains, waterfalls, farming areas and a hedge maze.  (It turns out I'm not the only one with a bad sense of direction, and we had to ask for help in getting to the center of the maze.  Fortunately, we found our way out easily enough.)  After spending over five hours in this amazing place, we headed back toward Matlock hoping for an early dinner since we had been so preoccupied that we missed lunch.  After dinner, we talked and did more planning for the retreat, finally getting to bed in the late, late hours of the evening. . .again.

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That takes you up to the mid-point of our trip, so I'll pick up there tomorrow.  As you can see, nearly every minute of every day was filled with activity, and the hours of sleep were few and far between, but we were having a great time and ministering to others, and that's all that matters.

Please Stop That Incessant Dripping!

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Drip!  Drip!  Drip!  That’s the sound of my shower.  All the time.  Every day. . .and night.  In an attempt to put off running the air conditioner as long as possible, Jason and I have been opening the windows at night to let in the fresh cooler air.  In our bedroom, however, the only windows are at the head of our bed and are covered by heavy drapes which block out the light from the nearby streetlight.  So, instead of trying to work around the drape issue, we open the window in the attached bathroom and leave the bathroom door ajar.  This would work great if not for the incessant dripping of the shower head.  We’ve tried everything to get the crazy thing to stop dripping, but so far, we’ve had no success.  Thus, we have two options:  be stuffy or be annoyed.  I don’t know which is worse!

The Bible talks about incessant dripping, but I’m afraid it’s not referring to leaky faucets.  No, instead, it’s about our tendency to complain.  Check it out: 

A foolish son is the calamity of his father: and the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.
— Proverbs 19:13
A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.
— Proverbs 27:15

Now, I realize both of these verses are specifically talking about a woman, and I will readily admit that I know more complaining females than males.  However, men, I don’t think it would do harm to the Scripture to say that contention, strife and complaints from anyone—male or female—is like a constant dripping.  Is that fair?

As we’ve already established, incessant dripping is annoying, right?  When was the last time you tried to escape a conversation because the person with whom you were speaking was voicing one complaint after another?  The negativity grates on our nerves.  What we often fail to realize is that we cause others to feel the same way when we throw our little pity parties.

Not only is the dripping (and complaining) annoying, but it wears us down.  Interestingly enough, it’s wearing on both the one doing the complaining and the one hearing it.  Did you know that a constant dripping of water can wear away soil and even stone?  Yes, water can literally bore a hole in the earth.  Complaining can wear away at us too.  It can damage hearts and relationships.  The constant negativity weighs us down and wears away at our faith, contentment and overall happiness.  All of that from a bad attitude!

Life is not always easy, and for some reason, it’s easy for us to complain or cause strife when things aren’t going our way.  But I urge you to take these verses to heart and think about the damage you are causing through your poor attitude and actions.  You don’t want to be annoying or to wear others out with your constant negativity.  Instead, shift your focus to God and find something for which to praise Him.  Exchange those drips of complaints for showers of blessing!

Stroke of Faith

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I would like to share with you a story that really touched me. It is a good reminder to all of us that all things are possible if we'll just have faith. I hope you enjoy this story and that it will bless you as much as it did me.

My family spent one summer vacation enjoying the beaches of beautiful Gulfshores, Alabama. My oldest daughter was about 6 years old and the youngest was 3. We bought a two-man inflatable boat thinking this would make for a really fun day at the beach for the two girls. And so it did, they played all day the two of them in that boat. But the little one got tired and was beginning to look pretty pink with too much sun. So, I took her to our spot on the sand and placed an umbrella over her as my older girl continued to play in the boat. I probably became a little too involved with my younger daughter and spent a little too much time not noticing what was going on the small distance to the water. But as I looked I became concerned as I saw the little boat with my oldest daughter in it had moved far out from the shore and was moving even further. I called to her to come in closer to shore, and she seemed to be frightened and doing all she could to accomplish just that. But the thing we hadn’t thought to buy for the boat were any oars. Her little arms were too short to reach across the boat and into the water. All she could do was paddle hard to one side and was just making small circles. About this time, others on the beach are noticing this little girl so far out but no one seems to be doing anything but watching. I’m standing as far out in the water as I can - shouting instructions to her with no success. There’s a sailboat of teenagers not far from her, who start her way and then flip their boat. I stood watching her go farther out - then looked to Heaven and confessed to God “Lord I don’t believe you gave me this beautiful child for me to watch her float out to sea. Lord, you know I am a pitiful swimmer but somehow Lord I’m trusting You to get me out there”. And so went my prayer. The first stroke of my arm seemed to be in slow motion, I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I swam until I no longer knew or could feel that I had legs. But I just kept praying and keeping my eyes on her. I saw my arm somehow operating on its own hook over the edge of that small boat and began making my way back pulling her and calming her, when everything inside me was screaming. We made it back to shore and even got some applause but my life was forever changed by that experience. I learned we don’t always have to operate on our own strength. But, if we can trust enough and take that first stroke we have all the strength we need. I must say it changed my daughter’s life too. She hates boats! But I hope she has gained more than that in the retelling of the story. She’s 22 years old now and graduates from college this May. I see her horizons as limitless and I know with her faith she can go wherever God leads. 
— Nita, Real-Life Story Forum

Stepping Out in Faith

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As we already established in our study on confidence, God can be trusted.  His promises are true, and He never goes back on His Word.  We see evidence of this throughout the Bible, but today, I want to look at a couple of particular verses that bear witness to God’s faithfulness to do what He says.

For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
— Luke 21:15
And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
— Acts 6:10

In Luke 21, God makes a promise to His disciples that He will give them the words of wisdom to speak and no one will be able to resist or contradict them.  They may try, but their disputes will have no grounds.  Then, in Acts 6, we see that promise fulfilled in the story of Stephen.  Now, whether Stephen was there in Luke 21 when God made His proclamation, I have no idea.  But, it seems to me that God’s promise wasn’t only for the twelve disciples but for all who proclaim His Word and seek to glorify Him.  Yes, the world may try to resist our testimonies and witness, but their arguments have no validity and, most of the time, don’t even make sense.  Since they can’t justify their beliefs, they lash out in anger, just as they did with Stephen.  That is why Christians are hated throughout the world.  But that’s a point for another day.

What I want to stress today is the fact that God is true to His Word.  Nearly one year ago, I had to make a decision.  When asked to speak at a ladies’ retreat nearly 4,000 miles away, I hesitated.  Where would I get that kind of money?  Would my health allow me even to make such a trip?  Am I willing to step THAT FAR out of my comfort zone?  I agreed to pray about it, but in the back of my mind, I was already planning to say, “Nope, I don’t think so.”

Funny how God can change my mind. . .and my plans.  I felt so convicted about the trip that I had no choice but to agree, still having no idea how things would work out.  But here’s the thing—God made me a promise.  He said if I stepped out in faith, He would provide everything we needed to make the trip.  So, I did my part, and then I waited.

For several months, very little happened, and I began to doubt my decision.  Did I hear God correctly?  Did I make the right call?  Should I try to back out and hope they can find someone else?  But time and time again, God reminded me to trust Him, so I did (most of the time).  We are scheduled to leave one week from today, and only in the past few days was our financial goal met and other factors (like finding someone to care for Barnabas) taken care of.  From an earthly standpoint, it seems God waited until the last minute, but when I think about it, He met the need right on time.  Any sooner, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to continue practicing my faith.  Any later, and worry would have set in.  God came through right on time!

And as if that weren’t enough, He provided above and beyond.  We received more money than our goal.  We discovered that our lodging was going to be much more beautiful yet much less expensive than we were planning.  And not only did we find someone to keep Barnabas, but the Lord directed us to a Christian couple who fell in love with our anxiety-prone pup, ensuring that we can be confident he’s being cared for in the best possible way.  Oh, and did I mention that a caring, generous friend offered to pay for his boarding cost?  See what I mean?  Not only did God do what He said He would do, but He went above and beyond. . . just because He could.  That’s how much God loves us!

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
— Ephesians 3:20-21

Stepping out in faith is seldom easy, but I can guarantee you it’s always worth it.  And what better way to see the faithfulness of God in action?  Whatever decision you’re facing today, if you know it’s God’s will but fear is holding you back, I urge you to take that first step.  Yes, it’s scary.  Yes, there are a million questions, doubts, and fears.  But take it from someone who has experienced this first-hand.  God is good and faithful.  Where He guides, He always provides.  If He’s made you a promise, you can trust Him to keep it.  It’s impossible for Him to do anything less.  Take that step, and watch God work a miracle in your life!