College took us to different places but we saw each other sporadically.
She said it every time we talked.
Christmas, a brief visit in the summer, maybe Thanksgiving…
As we rushed through our highlights and heard the report of a year and all it’s happenings, my life-long friend Shelli would mention, seemingly offhand, “Now, do you know Kelly Jeffrey?”
Every single time I would shake my head, “No. I’ve never met Kelly. But you always ask…”
We would laugh and Shelli would say, “Somehow, I just feel like you should know her. How can we make that happen?”
We’d scatter on to other topics and part ways eventually to carry on with our lives.
On one of our last visits, just before I left for Uganda again and when I first heard her talk about a guy named Erik, Shelli spoke the familiar pondering one last time.
“Kelly Jeffrey Vaughn. She’s married to Randy Vaughn. They are joining a mission team to Benin. They have one baby daughter. Seriously, you have to know her. You are supposed to.”
I still didn’t know Kelly then and wondered why this name, this particular name continued to repeat sporadically into my life.
My beautiful, sanguine friend Shelli with a bazillion gorgeous people in her world felt nudged to mention this one. Over and over.
Precise and deliberate and mysterious.
The glorious Hand of God.
Years passed. Many of them.
Shelli became Mrs. Erik. Shelli, Kelly and I all became ‘Mom’ several times over.
Uganda became my home. And all the way across this giant continent the country of Benin became Kelly’s home.
Sometime in 2005, I ventured into another foreign and unknown world—the growing social sphere called blogging, a venue of communication that had me puzzled and unsure and delighted all within the measure of a few weeks.
All of a sudden from our isolated Western Ugandan world I had access to other moms, other homeschoolers, other Jesus followers, far-away friends.
It was scrumptious and fed my soul in good, good ways.
From my blogging world new relationships emerged, including a connection with Kelly Vaughn, a name I recognized because of Shelli, but a person I still had never met. Through comments and the faithful following of each other’s blogged journals we established a fun base of communication.
Our blog comments birthed some emails and over the course of time Kelly Vaughn became a gift from the internet to me. A dear friend walking familiar daily steps as she served in Benin and I served in Uganda.
If we had only known.
After some years of internet visits, we had the opportunity to meet in person. She and I would both be attending a conference in Kenya and we were ecstatic to learn that we would finally meet face to face.
A sister from the first hug.
It felt like we had known each other always.
The conference was large so we interacted with many, leaving scattered conversations together over the course of the three days.
I heard a random assortment of her stories and she heard a random assortment of mine.
Bits and pieces really.
We remained connected via email after that first face to face, providing prayer support for each other’s transitions and ministries and all of our people.
More time passed.
Kelly and I hadn’t communicated in a while when one specific day dawned difficult in the Cash home as a darkness we did not see coming rolled over our family in a painful and debilitating way.
Relationships we valued were being revealed in a new awareness and it stung and it ached and it broke us.
Jeff and I were wounded by the situations stirring around and I could not get up off the floor.
Praying, beseeching and mourning, we spent most of the day seeking the One we knew we could depend on and in that moment needed very much.
Eventually Jeff went to contact our nearest and dearest, to alert them to our need for prayer.
And I wondered how long I would feel collapsed on that cold tile.
In the silence of our bedroom, I heard my email notification beep on my laptop.
I almost didn’t even check it because of the pain drawn already from that venue.
But I glanced at the name and was surprised to see ‘Kelly Vaughn’ in the highlighted line.
On my knees, I opened the email to her simple and direct message,
“What is happening?!?! You are burning on my heart and I am thinking of you constantly. How can I pray for you? Are you okay?!?!”
She had no way of knowing. Not of her own awareness anyway.
But her words and her listening heart alerted me to the liberating truth that God never leaves us abandoned.
That random smattering of testimony that I heard from Kelly’s heart some years before?
Now, linking and associating and joining us in a broken and precious fellowship we could have never anticipated.
But God knew all along.
Because of what she shared with me, I knew she would understand all that was transpiring in my world. I typed my story in choppy sentences and sent the words over that elusive and invisible wave called internet while I ached on that bleak, silent floor.
And her reply bounced back with amazing speed.
“With you. WITH YOU!!! You are not alone. I am on my knees until you can stand from your own.”
Weeping, comforted and helped I met my sister at a Throne. Her words speaking on my behalf. Jesus heart speaking for us both.
Sometime that evening, I got up off the floor.
Drenched in the grace and the mercy of our all-knowing God.
Over the years that followed I stood and broke and healed and stood again, valiantly supported by several who loved me well during a difficult season. A season I would simply not have survived as profoundly without Kelly’s understanding and empathetic battle on behalf of my own heart.
By His Spirit, in miraculous ways, she has labored in prayer in some darkest days and in some darkest times.
In a way only she could do.
In a connection only God could ordain.
I am forever grateful.
This last week, Kelly and her Tori, graciously flew across an ocean to sit with us on our veranda and drink tea from our tea cups and stare at our mountains and pray together over people and places we love and they embrace.
They came to visit a ministry dear to us.
A ministry they are such a part of too.
We do not serve here alone. Not ever.
Most of the time, long before we even know we what we are going to need.
This last week I was blessed by Kelly and Shelli who each in their own way have always been a part of my story.
The three of us most lovingly known and weaved together.
As only He could do.
Their witness in my life reminds me actively that God sees. He acts. He purposes.
He never quits.
Wherever you are today. Isolated. Or lonely. Or feeling very ‘other’ in whatever way you may…
What He has already done, He is also currently doing. As we move about, He is providing for us ahead of our need working restoration and redemption well into our souls.
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity…”
With your whole heart.
He already knows The Plan.
Hope. A future.
He will be found.
And that will be all Grace and Glory to His name alone.
Praise the Lord!