Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Keep writing"

Words matter. They can so deeply effect. I have my favorites. Words that reach into my most sacred, treasured spaces and bless.
The words, ‘keep writing’ are ones I remember. Each beautiful soul that speaks affirmation into this, my dream, becomes a part of the experience of laying words on a page. My heart is full today as I grieve the passing of one of my dear encouragers. The weaving of his family into my story is a beautiful memory. Worthy of honor and retelling. It has been sweet to recall…

My heart pulled to foreign missionary service from my childhood. Key conversations and stories of God’s work in Thailand from the beautiful hearts of Art and Judy Lynch opened the door for me. From elementary school on, the high points of my growing up years were the mission trips and ministry training.

With eyes keenly trained on news from Thailand, I set my heart to quietly glean the experience of mission life.

My experience as a youth minister’s daughter, afforded me short-term mission opportunities every summer for most of my life.

I was the pip-squeak, tag-along helper but I embraced every opportunity to learn about service and teaching, draining those experiences of every ounce of knowledge.

I served koolaid, stocked supplies, joined in with classes and chased the more difficult children when the teenagers needed help.

I set up puppet stages and followed my Dad around paying close attention to how ministry worked.

Sheridan, Wyoming. Enid, Texas. Taos, New Mexico.

Churches that welcomed my Dad’s youth groups to lead Vacation Bible Schools and go door knocking.

I have dear memories from each of these places, but it is Taos that would influence me the most.

It was in the tiny foyer of the Taos church of Christ building that I first met Harold & Sally Paden.

I learned quickly that Harold and Sally had been missionaries in Italy. So I found the quiet corners near them and listened.

I loved Sally. She had a warm smile and eyes that really paid attention when you talked. I can’t remember what I said to her, but I know she took a shine to me and I hovered in her presence as often as I could.

Sally loved people, genuinely. And I learned from her.

At the end of my first week in Taos, Sally pulled me aside, wrapped me in a tight hug and said, “Cheryl, you are special to me.  I am drawn to our conversations and to your heart. I see Jesus in you. Fan that flame, girl. Fan that flame! He has big plans for you.”

It was a long, long time ago (I was in the 6th grade) and I might not remember the words with accuracy, but my goodness, I remember that feeling.

Sally spoke affirmation to my deepest hearts desire. I told her that I wanted to be a missionary some day and that I had no idea how to make that happen.

She told me that I was making that happen every day by loving Jesus and seeking his face.

Sally taught me. She quickly became one of my heroes.

I was blessed by time with Harold and Sally. I learned that life is bumpy and can be uncomfortable and that mission work is hard.

But Jesus is worth it. Worth it all.

I didn’t know it then, but Sally and I would always be linked. In beautiful ways.

Sally’s dear friend from college was named Phyllis Small. Sally and Phyllis had many conversations about foreign missions and found a strong bond in their mutual dreams of serving God in that venue.

Sally, who Phyllis describes as a ‘very bright star’, would serve in missions—foreign and domestic for most of her adult life. Phyllis, too, would live her life in service. She married and together with her husband Glenn invested years of work and influence into Christian Education and the growth of the church in their beloved Northwest.

Phyllis and Glenn would also have four children, one of whom would become my husband, Jeff. 

Sally and Phyllis’ dreams for missions linked further than they imagined. They would both deeply influence two kids, who would ultimately meet and serve together in Uganda for many years.

Funny how God weaves us all together.

Sally and I lost contact for a long while after my Taos years. We would meet again some time later in Tyler, Texas.

Sally’s parents were named Edwin and Kathleen. They lived and served in Tyler, as did Sally’s brother John and his wife Jerri. 

Edwin was an elder at Glenwood church of Christ and the dearest of men. He and Kathleen and John and Jerri were like family to my own family.

My uncle and aunt, who worked at the Glenwood congregation, told many loving (and funny!) stories of the Rasco family, so I knew them to be dear and strong.

It would be some time before I connected Sally to the Tyler Rascos but when I did it fit perfectly.

I loved them all.

In 2002, God joined the Cash family with the Glenwood congregation. They became our overseeing church.

Edwin’s respected voice was instrumental in our acceptance at Glenwood all those years ago. He spoke affirmation and assurance into our life and calling. Affirmation I had heard many years before in the voice of his daughter. Edwin and Kathleen wrapped us up in love and warmth. They supported us in our broken places and reminded us that God’s plans prevail.

Edwin and Kathleen were physically frail in the years I knew them, but their hearts were so strong in Christ. I loved being with them.

Sally came to visit her family during our initial stay in Tyler. We were thrilled to reconnect. She smiled knowingly into my eyes, realizing with me that God had given me the desires of my heart.

And that it was all harder than I had imagined it would be. She squeezed my hand and spoke in love and reminded me to Whom I belonged.

In the foyer of Glenwood, Sally pulled me aside to tearfully tell me of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

We both cried. But she quickly brushed away my tears.

“Cheryl, this diagnosis is forcing me to say all the important things. While I can still remember them. And to you, I say ‘I love you!’ You are special and God’s plans for you are glorious to see and witness. I believe in you and I know you can endure and serve with grace and beauty. Eyes fixed on Jesus, girl. Eyes fixed on Jesus.”

Sally’s voice and those precious words stay with me still. Her memory would fade in the following years as her sickness progressed and she along with her parents would, one by one, move on to be with Jesus. Healed and free.

Just where they always wanted to be.

Thankfully, my Rasco connections would continue.

In our years of partnership with the Glenwood congregation, John and Jerri Rasco became some of my favorite people to have around.

They were quiet. But present.

And their voice of support meant the absolute world to me.

Jerri was my Aunt Pat’s dearest friend, which made her tops in my book too. Jerri’s gentle presence comforted (comforts) me. Always makes me feel like family is near.

And John.

John Rasco.

He and I spoke of his family often. People we both loved so dearly. He had witnessed my tearful exchange with Sally that day at Glenwood and loved me as she did. I don’t know how I came to deserve that.

Every single furlough. Every single Tyler visit. In the crowds and the reporting and all the busy-ness that surrounds our Tyler time…John would pull me aside for one reason only.

“Your blog, Cheryl. Your writing. I must tell you. I am compelled to exhort you: Keep writing. You must keep writing.”

He would cry when he said it. And he would hug me tight.

He said this every time we spoke. He said this in crucial moments, that he could not have even been aware of. Moments when I needed to be reminded of purpose and value.

How in the world those Rascos would be called to say exactly what I needed to hear; words that would echo and inspire me in obedience and joy.

That mercy is Christ. Him, our First Love, at work among us. It is real. And whole.

It is unique.

A fellowship I depend on for many lonely months on the field.

This week, John reunited with his parents and his sister, Sally.

Such emotion to think of them all sitting with Jesus, sharing face to face.

John went suddenly, unexpectedly to a glorious home. I know he found his room ready.

My heart breaks for all who will miss him here.

I am one of those.

I don’t know why God joins our story with certain people. But I just know that He does.

Thank you, John, for believing in me. And for saying it.

For listening to Jesus and acting as He led you.

With your confidence and encouragement multiplying strength in me, I will keep writing. You have become a part of all of my stories.

Blessing does that. It holds and influences.

In Christ, blessing expands.

We’ll see you soon, dear Rascos.

Until then we’ll strive to pay your blessings forward.

You’ve left a beautiful heritage in every one of us you have loved.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

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