Follow that Ball

posted Mar 13, 2015, 8:46 PM by Jana Taylor

    Their small cleats plod along the beautifully green, grassy field as clumps of dirt and grass are sprayed beneath their footsteps.  They run as fast as they can, tripping over other feet, across dips in the field, and even over the ball.  Flashes of bright gold and dark purple run past us, all in a herd.  They are eagerly following that soccer ball.
    When their feet touch the ball, my daughters look over at us with their white teeth showing underneath their large smiles, and they check to make sure we have seen.  They are proud.  And when the ball moves in another direction, they quickly stop and turn to follow that ball.  Their dark brown curls fly into their face, but they are not deterred.  Their own teammates might get in their way, but they keep their eyes on the ball.  Even when they get exhausted after long spurts of running, they do not stop their chase.
    There is the occasional player who is easily distracted by other things.  They might yell "I love you's" to their parents in the middle of the game, or some might even slip in an out-of-place cartwheel.  (My sister will remain name-less).  But the majority of the players stay focused on their goal...following that ball. 
    Even though we would like them to, they don't worry about things so insignificant as positions or titles.  Who needs defense when you can score a goal?   Soccer for young players has often been called "Amoeba Ball."  Crowds of children cluster together because they are so passionate about their ultimate goal of following that ball.
    I envision the disciples being this dedicated about following our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  As Jesus passed them by, men who ranged from tax collectors to fisher men, He called out to them, "Follow me."  And each of them did.
    I can picture Andrew and Simon Peter sitting along the sandy shore, mending their nets.  Their hands and clothes constantly smelled of fish.  Matthew, the tax collector, sat at his booth despised by all who passed him by, except the One who mattered.  Jesus said to them all, "Follow me."  They left their occupations, either respected or deplored, and they followed Jesus.  They walked by His side and ministered to crowds of people who begged for His presence.  
    And it is through these examples of passionate following that I ask myself if I am as dedicated to following Christ.  Do I keep my eyes on Him when there are so many distractions around me?  Do I worry about those things such as positions or titles?  Or am I like my daughters on the soccer field who fervently follow that ball even through exhaustion?  It is my prayer that I will follow Christ the way that my kids follow that ball. 

Fleeting Moments, Eternal Love

posted Jan 20, 2015, 8:43 PM by Jana Taylor

While my husband drove us down the mountain on New Year’s Day, I sat in the passenger’s seat humming some of our favorite songs as our four children dozed in and out of sleep in the back seats.  We had taken many family trips before, and there was nothing new about this drive except maybe for the layers of white snow that we had piled on top of the car.

The further we drove, the further distance we put between us and the rugged mountains filled with fresh snow.  I heard the crackling sounds like small firecrackers on the 4th of July.  The snow was melting, flake by flake, turning to rain drops and cascading down the windows.

 The scenery changed from lush green trees painted with bright white snow piled on top of large mountains to groups of cacti layering the brown, dirt-filled land.  We had reached the desert, the place of our home city, and although it was chilly, it was not cold enough to keep the snow forever.  By the time we reached our home, the huge mound of snow had turned into a small layer clinging for life on top of the car.

 Just hours before, my kids had touched snow for the first time.  With beanies covering their ears and big jackets swallowing them whole, they jumped and stomped and rolled through the snow.  Their fingers turned numb and snow packed itself around their ankles, sticking to their jeans and making it difficult for them to walk.  It didn’t matter, though.  They were exhilarated.  The thrill on their faces poured onto our own, and my husband decided he was going to keep that joy alive for them.

 At the end of sledding and snow angels and snow ball fights, my husband just couldn’t quite let go.  While I packed the kids up, he pulled the car out of the parking lot and drove down the street to meet us by the sidewalk.  As I started buckling kids into their seats, my husband grabbed the big plastic containers, our very own makeshift sleds, and started to fill them with snow.  I only wondered for a moment what the snow was for until I saw him packing it on top of our small SUV.

 While the kids defrosted in the warm, heated car, he then placed snow on the hood, packing it tightly underneath the windshield wipers.  I remained quiet until he finished.  As we both opened the doors and crawled into our seats, I finally asked him the question.  “What exactly are you doing?”

 “We are taking the snow home with us.”

 And so we did.  What little snow that had survived the trip melted quickly away the next day.

 It was in this that I realized my life, my moments, were all fleeting.  Each day spent with my husband and four children seemed to disappear quicker as the years pushed forward.  The moments, so special and so real, were touchable and tangible just like the snow.  But just as the snow melted, they faded away and became only memories.  I try to grasp them, to hold on to my children and not let go, just as we clung to the snow.  But they continue to grow.  I strain to keep time standing still, but it continues on without my permission.  However, one thing that never fails, that never fades away is the eternal love God has given me.  It’s an eternal love that promises everlasting life with Him and with all those so dear to me who call on His name.

 2 Corinthians 5:1 tells us, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down, we will have a house in Heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.”  Our lives here on earth are as fleeting as the melting snow, but our place in Heaven is secured for eternity.  It is a promise that I hold on to for me and my family.

An Impossible Choice

posted Jan 20, 2015, 8:42 PM by Jana Taylor

The morning air was foggy, leaving remains of dirt and dust and pain wandering mindlessly through the streets.  It left a gritty feeling for all its inhabitants.  One family stepped out of their dwelling and gathered into their car hoping to escape the city before violence reached their family as it had so many others.
They drove as they had any other day.  Maybe they lucked out.  Maybe they had chosen the perfect time to leave.  The streets were bare, deserted, only left with the remnants of people who still had some reason to stay.  And then what they had watched happen to so many other families for weeks would finally happen to them.  ISIS barricaded that empty street, and with cloth covering their faces and their guns strapped firmly against them, they made the family evacuate the car.  The dad trembled in fear as the mom looked back at her children.  She couldn't bear to watch them die at the hands of these gruesome men, but she had little choice.  Tears flowed from the children's eyes.  They all knew what these men were capable of; all but the three-year-old girl in the backseat who looked to the rest of her family.
As each member exited the car, slowly, hesitantly, they stood next to one another while staring at the ground.  They waited for their sentence.  A sentence that would come as a result of nothing more than believing in Jesus Christ.
The youngest kids remained in the car.  The leader of the extremist group finally spoke.  And at the end of the speech, the parents were given an ultimatum that would break the very fabric of their family.  They had to make a choice: leave the three-year-old girl in the hands of the militants or watch as the entire family was executed.  It was an impossible, heart-wrenching, sickening choice.
And there was very little time given in which to make it.  The mother looked into her three-year-old daughter's brown eyes and watched as they shone with innocence.  The father glanced at his children and pondered the horrifying thought of watching them and his wife die in front of him.  When the ISIS militants pushed him to make a decision, he looked to the woman he had raised these children with and realized she could never make the decision.  
So he did.
As soon as his wife saw him walk to the back door and unbuckle her youngest child, she screamed out in pain.  How could she leave her daughter?
While unbuckling his daughter from the backseat, the father's tears began to flow.  Streams of pain crossed paths with his cheeks, and he started to waver in his decision.  The three-year-old looked up at her father while wrapped in his arms.  And as he walked her to his wife, the girl reached her arms out for her mother.  But their was no time left.
Some extremists pointed their weapons at the family members' heads while two others grabbed onto the little girl.  She was about to be taken from everything she'd even known and be given into the hands of the unknown.
Her tiny fingers passed through her mom's for the very last time as she remained in the hands of her captors.  She tried desperately to hold on, but her three-year-old body didn't have the strength she needed to stay connected.  As the rest of the family gathered to leave, she watched with fear and confusion.  The people she had spent every day with for the three years of her life were going to leave her.  Her mother's large tears mirrored her own, and the ground beneath them became flooded with the remembrance of this pain.  The tears layering the ground may eventually dry up, but this pain would not.
Stomachs churned.  All but those of the oppressors who laughed at the choice they had given this family.  And as their laughter faded in the distance, the mother's knees gave way beneath her.  The weight of her loss was too much for her body to carry.  Her family pulled her, dragged her by the arms back to the car before their sacrifice meant nothing and they all died.  She resisted.  Her knees scraped against the pavement, tearing the flesh away from her bones, reminding her of the scars that would never heal.  The blood dripped down her legs.
They piled in the car once more, one less than they started with at the beginning of the trip.  As they drove down the street and past the trucks filled with the ISIS soldiers, their daughter was nowhere to be seen.  She had already been placed in a truck, her smiling face gone from them forever.  And so they left.  They left with an empty space, a hole so deep, it could only ever be filled again with the love of Jesus Christ.
And it is with this in mind that I write.  As I watch my children play and fight, as I listen to them laugh and argue, I pray for the mothers and fathers who will not hear the laughter of their children or wipe away the tears that stream down their faces.  It is only through Christ's strength they can face another day.  And I pray they will receive that strength.
God can transform lives.  He uses us as His tools.  Will that little girl receive a shoe box someday, a gift that will remind her of the love of Jesus Christ?  Will believers wrap their arms around the family to comfort them and pray for them?  
Will it be us?  I pray that it will.

As They Climb

posted Jan 20, 2015, 8:00 PM by Jana Taylor   [ updated Jan 20, 2015, 8:21 PM ]

Feet are bloodied, battered, both small and large as they climb the mountain to escape the terror of death, of torture, of unthinkable acts.  Jutting rocks tear open the shoes of those who have been traveling for days, and mothers and fathers desperately cling to their tiny, hungry children.  They climb because they have to.  It is as simple as a choice: escape up the mountain or die at the hands of their oppressors.  
And as they rise, higher and higher, their stomachs yearn for food and their bodies cry out for water in a dry and desperate land.  Muscles exhaust and bones ache.  But they press on.
In cities and small towns across the land, other families sit or lie huddled next to each other with only their clothes on their backs left.  Two hours.  One hundred twenty minutes to leave their homes, their belongings, everything they've every known and travel to the unknown.  As they leave, mothers and fathers shield their children's eyes from the violence left behind, cover their ears to drown out the piercing sounds of gunfire.  Husbands grasp their wives tightly so they are not taken away.  And in this, they press on.
They press on with the knowledge that the God who created them will keep His promises.  As they lie on the uncomfortable ground of an old church, or sleep packed together, sweat and dirt-stained, with other refugees in a community center, they know God is with them.  Even as they've lost all communication with their families, He is by their side.  And so they press on.
In Acts chapter 8, "a great wave of persecution began" the day that Saul agreed to the stoning of Stephen, a martyr for Jesus Christ.  Great waves of persecution sweep through countries across the world today, leaving no Christian untouched in its wake.  Saul went everywhere to destroy the church.  "He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison."  Despite the families being torn apart, children being orphaned, the believers continued to preach and to pray.
And then the Saul who separated father from their children, husbands from their wives, became the Paul who spent the rest of his life as a soldier for Christ.  Because the believers pressed on.  They continue to do so.  As I sit and write, questioning what I can do, they press on through the treacherous mountains, through the violent streets, past those who mean them harm.  And I realize I must press on in prayer.  I must pray for the oppressed and the oppressors, for the Sauls, and the Pauls and all the believers.  So as they climb, as they flee from their homes, I bow, knees hitting the ground while my cries and prayers rise to Heaven.  As they climb...

Faith Like a Child

posted Jan 20, 2015, 7:52 PM by Jana Taylor

It was in the depths of a dark, oppressed community where I watched my young daughter shine brightest, like a star that peeks through the muggiest night to let everyone know she’s there.  And she was five.

            Every Saturday, we drove forty-five minutes outside of town to a community full of gangs, alcoholism, depression, abuse and oppression, and we hoped to bring the light of Jesus into the community.  Carde begged me and my husband, pleaded with us each week to let her come and be a part of the Bible stories and sports.  She wanted to mingle with the children who were desperate for hope and who clung to something different.  But as parents, we knew the danger far beyond what her young mind could comprehend.

            Her relentless diligence and her abounding faith wore us down until we prayed about letting her be a part of the ministry.  And as it so often is, the answer was far beyond what we could have expected.

            So she came. 

            As we arrived at the church and I started up the big, old bus to pick up kids, Carde plodded up the steps behind me.  I heard the click click click of the bus as I turned the keys in the ignition.  When we started the journey, Carde sat directly behind me, but as the bus started to fill with children, she switched her seats.

As we drove down the bumpy, pot-holed road, she sat in the back of the bus filled with kids who eagerly tapped their feet and chatted with one another incessantly.  At each stop, she raced to the front of the bus and stood in between me and the steps down the side.  “Can I go knock on the door?” she would ask, her braids hanging down over her shoulders and her loose bottom tooth wiggling underneath her smile.

            “Yes, stay with Pops,” I responded every time as she bolted down the steps and ran to the front doors of each house.  After rapping on the door, she waited for a response and would turn back to look at me, her wide smile plastering her face and her hand waving wildly in my direction.  The dogs, looking ravenous and wild at times, didn’t deter her.  Neither did the senseless graffiti painted in various colors along the houses, or the ash that was the only thing left of some homes, or the trash that lined the streets.

            At the end of each day, she would ask about the man who seemed strange, the one who had too much to drink but was determined to get a high-five out of her.  She would ask about the kids who said their fathers were in prison or their mothers had left.  She would even ask about the crosses lined in staggering rows across the dirt field behind the church.  And with each question, I could see that lingering desire she had to help those she came in contact with.   

I remember those days.  Carde, her five-year-old self, had more passion flowing through her tiny body than I could ever muster on my own.  It was the passion, the fervent desire to serve, that flowed through my veins when I was a child.  And somewhere along the way, as I grew older, that passion, that fearlessness to go wherever God had called me to go and to do whatever God had called me to do had dwindled.  The desire had never left, but the faith that I had as a child was gone.

Through watching my daughter serve others so fervently, her fear of the world non-existent and her faith in God so huge, I was reminded of the very words Jesus spoke.  “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  With my daughter’s faith, these words became real in my life.  Each step she took past the houses holding pain inside and each word she spoke into the lives of hurting children were examples of the child-like faith God has called each of us to- that indescribable faith of a child.  

Angels Unaware

posted Jan 20, 2015, 7:51 PM by Jana Taylor

While driving warily through the forest late one evening, darkness clung tightly to the air suffocating what little remained of the light from day.  Leaves leftover from the winter winds rustled around us in offbeat rhythms.  Our car rattled slightly, making tick-tick-tick noises as we drove over potholes and rocks that were splattered along the dirt road.  My dad and I had one mission in mind: to find an abandoned fifteen-year-old girl in the middle of the dense and ever-changing forest.

            My dad had received a call earlier in the evening from a man who lived outside of town.  He was a complete stranger, and we never found out how he got our number.  After hearing that a teenage girl was found wandering by herself in a place virtually uninhabited by anything other than wild animals, we both got into the car and made our way through town, past the last of the houses and onto a dirt road leading to the thick of the forest.  As we drove, the sun was starting to set, painting the sky with bright hues of pink and orange.  Once we hit the tree line, the sun disappeared completely leaving us strictly at the mercy of the wilderness.

            With each mile we drove, our stomachs started to sink, worrying about the possibility of danger, or even a trap.  We constantly glanced at each other, neither of us speaking the words we were both replaying in our minds.  Forty-five minutes into the forest, we spotted a small white truck parked beside some golden-leafed trees, its headlights gleaming ahead shining a spotlight on us.  As my dad slowed our car, a man stepped out from the truck followed by the young teenage girl.

            She was covered in dirt.  Stains splotched her jeans, and the shirt and light jacket she wore did little to shield her from the brisk night breeze.  Her hair was set in tangles, mangled cobwebs of strands that developed over days of wilderness.  I jumped into the backseat of our car, and as she took her seat in the front, I saw her hands sitting loosely in her lap, dried mud packed underneath her barely visible fingernails.   After she shut the car door, the smell of smoke emanated from her.  The type of smoke from a blazing campfire that seeps into your clothes and into the pores of your skin.

            As we drove out of the forest and back into town, she recounted a tale of traveling with friends and being left alone, scared, and unprepared to fend for herself in a place so unfamiliar.  So, we took her to our home.

            Just as we stepped over the threshold, the burning wood smell of the girl was completely overtaken by the aroma of fried chicken and mashed potatoes that wafted throughout the house.  Within the hour, she had showered, scrubbing away the accumulated grime, and she had hungrily devoured a meal.  While my parents bought a suitcase and clothes, she stayed at the house with me and my sister, painting her now pristine fingernails in bright shades of reds and pinks, a stark contrast to the dark brown mud once plastered there.

            Eventually, she called home.  And the next morning, my parents purchased a bus ticket for her to return there.       

            How do you develop tears for a stranger?  And then how do you shed them?  She and our family answered that through the salty tear-drops that traipsed down everyone’s cheeks as we said our good-byes to a girl we had never met before and would never see again.

Weeks went by without hearing from her, and my parents longed to make sure she was safe, so they fingered eagerly through their phone bill desperate to find the number she called.  It was not there.  We had heard the voice on the other end of the phone like the constant static from the radio, chatting away anxiously, yet there was no evidence of the conversation to be found.  She was here one moment, and gone the next.  The words found in Hebrews stirred through our thoughts and our conversations, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”  And so, we entertained a stranger.

Two Winds, One Direction

posted Jan 18, 2015, 7:12 PM by Jana Taylor   [ updated Jan 20, 2015, 7:50 PM ]

Proudly stepping behind the pastor, better known to me as my foster father, I head toward the river with my heart beating steadily like the rain pattering on top of the roof during a storm. In front of me people line the trail ready to watch the baptisms of the new Believers. I am one of them. As I walk under the trees, the wind blowing forcefully through the green leaves and the bending but sturdy branches, I remember the last time the wind blew this strongly. It was the last time I saw my brother.

The sun was glaring, almost angrily, down on us that day as we were led out of my grandparents’ house for the third time in two years. My brother, a year older than me, walked sorrowfully down the steps behind a tall gray-haired woman and then quickly disappeared into a small blue car. Desperate and hopeless, I followed closely behind a younger brown-haired woman who eagerly pointed me in the direction of the green car. With every step I took, the hot wind blew particles of dirt into my face leaving a dull, grimy taste in my mouth. As I grew closer to the car, the wind suddenly picked up its speed, and it viciously howled as it crossed paths with my face.

            I knew what the wind meant. I watched on television as dust storms and tornadoes and hurricanes ripped through towns and cities, destroying homes, separating families. This wind did the same to me. While sweat dripped steadily down my back, I sat in the car and watched my brother pull away as we turned in the opposite direction. Small rocks from the cement were picked up by the wind and swept into the side window knocking relentlessly to get in. All I wanted to do was get out. One salty tear, then two. They were all I allowed to fall down my hot cheeks before I told myself it was just another windy day.

While driving through the city, I mindlessly stared at the broken down houses with tattered curtains and the walls splattered with graffiti from rivaling gangs. On the beaten-down brick wall that lined the corner of my neighborhood, the words, “Jesus Save Us,” were painted neatly in bright crimson.  I had seen those painted letters sprawled freely across the wall all my life, the words no one in our neighborhood ever messed with, and I wondered what they meant.

Thirty minutes later, the case manager pulled into the driveway of the group home that was to be my new place of shelter. The house confidently stood two stories tall and seemed so well maintained in such a desolate, violence-ridden neighborhood. “You will love this place,” she excitedly whispered as we walked toward the front door. I knew better. I never loved any new place.

            But it’s been eight months now since I’ve seen my brother, the longest I’ve stayed anywhere, and my foster father takes my hand as we carefully step into the chilly, wind-rippled river.  Along the sandy shore, my new church family stands in reverence as me and several others take the first step in obedience to Christ.  Nervously, I wade further into the slow-flowing river and glance over to see the crowd grow larger and larger, eager anticipation painted across everyone’s faces.

            I am the first of many in line to be baptized today, and several other pastors stand alongside mine to baptize their own congregation.

            “You ready?” he asks me.

            “Yes,” I assert loudly.

             Tightly holding onto my shoulders, he dunks my body under water, and the cold chill invigorates me as I come up and reach the windy air.  My shirt clings to my skin, and I quickly rub my eyes so I can see clearly again.

            As I do, I glance in the direction of the shore and see someone familiar step cautiously into the water, his hands held out as if waiting for me.

     “It’s my brother,” I whisper anxiously at first.  “It’s my brother,” I stutter louder this second time.

     I feel a strong, warm hand placed on my shoulder and a familiar voice in my ear.  “You may have been separated from your brother, Son, but God had one direction for you both.” 

1-7 of 7