Tuesday, July 10, 2018

When boys are quiet...

I always go checking on them.

Tonight, I found Andrew reading the children's Bible to the boys.

Each time I checked in on them, the boys were in a different area of their bedroom still reading. Andrew read probably 15+ stories to them.

God bless them all!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Florida Fires Set Hearts On Fire

The year was 1997, and I had grown up in a small town in Pennsylvania. My seven siblings and I had a blast growing up in the hills of Pennsylvania supported by our loving parents. Life hadn’t been perfect, but my life had been filled with the things kids love: skating, running, biking, playing, camping, exploring, fishing, swimming, hiking, acting….

Now, I was “all grown up” and working as an interpreter for children who were deaf and hearing impaired. I loved my job, and I loved being surrounded by lots of elementary-aged children.

One day, my little world came crashing down. I received a phone call informing me that my dad had left my mom. In that moment, all the security I felt in people evaporated.

My mom asked me to move back home and help her move to Florida. The only thought I had over and over again was: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12a and Ephesians 6:2a).

So, I moved back home, quit my job, and sold my car. My mom and I began driving up and down the east coast looking for a new place for my mom to call “home”. We eventually found a house in Flagler County and moved to Florida on December 7, 1997.

When summer rolled around again, Florida was in a panic as wild fires consumed over 500,000 acres of land and hundreds of homes. On July 3, 1998 Flagler County fires hit their peak and the entire county of 42,000 residence was evacuated.

My mom and I, while contemplating traveling “home” to Pennsylvania since we hardly knew anyone in Florida, were trapped in traffic many hours trying to literally get out of the blazing inferno. Wearily reaching Jacksonville, we pulled over to rest for the night and the next day.

God provided a hotel room for us through relatives who had come to Jacksonville to attend a relative’s wedding. My mom and I decided to stay in Florida in case the fires consumed our house, thus, being available for insurance purposes.

July 4th was an especially lonely day. In the past, July 4th had always been such a grand day filled with excitement, family, friends, and Independence Day celebrations—from early morning until late at night. This year was vastly different. I was in the hotel room without my immediate family, without friends, and without any Independence Day celebrations or fireworks displays (due to the wild fires). I longed to have a friend with whom to share my aching heart.

On Sunday morning, July 5th, my mom and I decided to check into a Red Cross Disaster Relief Shelter with other evacuees. Before heading out to find the shelter, we chose to attend a nearby church. Since we arrived when the service was already over, we decided to attend the Sunday School class that followed the service.

After the class, a gentleman named Derek Bollinger approached to ask me to lunch. Since my mom and I had only one car and since we both needed to eat, together we went with Derek to lunch. We all enjoyed our time together, and my mom and I felt uplifted.

At the end of lunch, Derek wrote his phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to me—making me promise to call when I was safely back home. Knowing I was bound to keep my promise, I put his phone number in the glove compartment of my mom’s car to save until we returned home.

As we drove away, I repeated the words of Scripture over and over again in my head: “Honor your father and your mother.” Every time the Scripture came to mind, I was more in love with my mom and knew beyond any shadow of any doubt that I was exactly where I needed (and wanted) to be.

We walked into the Disaster Relief Shelter, registered, unloaded, and took a shower. When we came back to the crowded gymnasium, we found that the men—evacuees themselves—had found new filing cabinets and made us a little “room” within the gymnasium, using the filing cabinets as walls! In addition to the newly made “room”, the men had gotten us two cots and placed them side by side inside the little “room”. I was astonished!

There were families with young children, husbands and wives, and single people bedded down all over the gymnasium. But, for some unknown reason, the men had gotten together to make us a room for privacy! I couldn’t comprehend it! I felt like God was wrapping His secure arms around my mom and me, and making us feel—literally—wrapped in His love. I felt seen by Him. I felt that something strange and beautiful had occurred to cause these men to care about two complete strangers, perfectly capable of sleeping “out in the open” with everyone else.

I don’t know about my mom, but my heart that had been feeling raw, bleeding, insecure, and weary felt warm, secure, and embraced by love.

When the evacuation was lifted, my mom and I returned home to find our house was without damage—for which we were very thankful! However, so many in our small town came home to complete devastation:

My heart was crushed and broken for the people who suffered such loss. The insecurity of life was right in front of my eyes.

Days passed before I remembered my promise and that sheet of paper in the glove compartment containing a man’s phone number. I called Derek’s phone and his answering machine picked up. I simply told him our house had come through the forest fires unscathed and thanked him for having us to lunch. I figured I fulfilled my promise. As I was hanging up the phone, I heard my mom’s voice in my head saying: “It’s impolite not leave a phone number at the end of a message.” Out of obligation to manners, I left my phone number for this man who was a stranger.

(Derek still has the tape I left the voice mail on.)

I received a call back from Derek. He asked me to go on a date with him.
I said, “No.”
He persisted.
I said, “No.”
Figuring I wasn’t being completely polite, I hesitantly added: “If you want to hang out with my mom and me, you are welcome to visit me at our house.” I had no interest in dating a stranger!

To my surprise, he agreed to drive 60 miles each way to come visit us!


Over the next couple of months, Derek and I became very good friends and enjoyed spending time together with each other’s family.

During this time, I had committed myself to the LORD in a new way. I told Him that I was His Bride, and that I needed no other. I was content to be His Bride and to serve Him in any capacity He chose for me. Therefore, I was not going to look for a man or date anyone. I only wanted Him. If He wanted to give me a husband, He would have to do it. My heart was for Him alone.

Time passed and Derek and I spent Christmas Eve together—splitting time with his family and my family. As we were parting ways, Derek proposed to me. My response was simply: “No, Derek. We’re just friends.” He asked me about 5 times that night. Each time I gave him the same answer.

For 9 days straight, Derek proposed to me! Each time, I gave him the same response: “No, Derek; we’re just good friends.”

On Saturday, January 2nd, after yet another “no”, my mom talked privately to Derek. She told Derek that she knew he was “the one” for me, but that I didn’t know it. She suggested that Derek not ask me to marry him for a while and to simply pray about it. That night, my mom asked me if I ever prayed about the “no” answer I was continually giving Derek. I said, “No. I didn’t think I needed to. We’re just friends.” My mom simply stated: “He is the one who is to be your husband. You just don’t know it yet. Promise me that you’ll pray about it and see what God tells you.” I agreed.

That night and the next day I prayed. By Sunday evening, God had shown me His sovereign plan. He indeed intended Derek to be my husband. With the knowledge came feelings of affection for the first time! I actually wanted to hold Derek’s hand! How strange! I thought it would be wonderful if Derek hugged me! I was shocked!

That evening after a concert that his parents and we were attending, I decided it was time to tell Derek. While beginning to drive out of the parking lot to meet his parents at a restaurant, I asked Derek to put his car in “park” so we could talk. Derek put his vehicle in “park” in the parking lot, and I told him that God had given me to him.

Derek passed out in the car! He buckled over onto the gear shift in between the front bucket seats.

When he “came to”, he sat up crying.

Derek was in a daze!!!

We decided to share the news with his parents, so Derek began driving to the restaurant his parents were headed to.

At the first traffic signal, the light was red. Derek blew right through it!

The next traffic light was green. Derek stopped at it!

I told Derek we were going to get killed if he couldn’t concentrate. Somehow, we managed to get to the restaurant alive! 😉

At the restaurant, we announced the news to Derek’s parents. At that time, his dad told me that on the first day Derek ever saw me (July 5th), he knew instantly that he wanted to marry me. His mom told me that Derek had been going from jewelry store to jewelry store looking at rings and checking out their return policies!

On January 8th, Derek and I had our first official date. This time, he got down on his knees and, with a ring in hand, asked me to marry him. I said, “YES!”

We went from “friends” to “fiancés” without “dating”.

What a whirlwind!

Derek was on a special work project out of state, and since he was about to begin a part of the project that would not allow him to be absent (therefore, no vacations for a year and a half), his mom suggested our wedding date and arranged for us to be married in 3 months! Since we were going to have the wedding in Jacksonville, she planned every part of the wedding and even found my dress!

Derek and I went from “friends” to “married” in 3 months!
From strangers to married in 9 months! I was stunned!

Our engagement pictures
(though Derek is not a firefighter):
Derek often said,
“God spoke to Moses through a burning bush,
but God spoke to me through a burning county.”

We were married April 10, 1999.
Derek’s dad was his best man,
and my two sisters were my matrons of honor.

I love our story because it was one in which I can see God’s finger and direction over each and every detail of our journey. It was a journey I did not look for or plan, but it was one that was perfectly planned for me!

Little did I know that when I walked in obedience to God’s Word to honor my mom, in a short time I would be seeing my husband-to-be face to face. Little did I know He was blending our hearts together without us even trying.

Thank You, God, for sovereignly working to bring something beautiful out of something so difficult! YOU are a good and loving Father!

God is trustworthy.
Obey His Word,
Follow His Leading,
Trust His Plan.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father’s Day to an AMAZING dad!!! His children love and adore him; they squeal at the tops of their lungs when he returns home from anywhere! His arms never seem empty as he is constantly snuggling, wrestling, tickling, or holding one of his precious children. He is their HERO! Happy Father’s Day, Derek!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Cherish is growing up

No, she's not driving.

Yes, she has entered middle school.

Whoa! That was fast.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Happy Birthday, Derek!

Happiest of birthday wishes to the man who EXCELS as a husband and dad. Derek has surpassed all that I ever imagined in a husband and dad for our children. May God grant him many more blessed years ahead! "Happy Birthday, Love!"