God’s relentless Love for us…His heart…Our answer
Last week, I felt the Lord prompt me to write our Story. Not so much how Dave and I fell in love, but more how we fell in love with our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the story of a beautiful, relentless love…a passionate pursuit of our lives and hearts–of all that we are. This is also the story of two very broken, needy people who have been in awe of the power and joy of learning to surrender one thing after another, for the GREATEST JOY we have ever known.
I LOVE AFRICA?!?
When I was just 19, my sister decided to drop out of college and go to Africa! Within that same year, my parents had an awesome opportunity to visit my uncle who was working in South Africa. I can’t remember a time in my life that I felt more envy. It surprised me and I loved it. My dream of going to Africa was soon enlarged after two mission trips in college. I traveled to Tijuana, Mexico and also to Jamaica. These two ‘other’ worlds drastically changed my worldview, my thinking, my passions, and my heart. I felt a call to missions then and God combined that with a sudden and unexpected love for the continent of Africa. Wherever I went, I would find people who had been born in some country in Africa. I instantly felt drawn to them and loved them. People began to ask me what happened and why Africa? I told them there was no way to explain it other than that Jesus put this love and unrelenting desire in my heart. Of course I was in the middle of college and knew as much as my Africa passion– that I so deeply desired to be a wife and a mom. SO, I waited and prayed.
ENTER….DAVE AYER (Soon to be, M.D.)
Dave Ayer, a handsome young junior entered my life. We dated for awhile, then I felt certain that God was saying no. I had learned at this point to really listen and obey the, “NO.” So, we ceased dating for about a year God kept us close to HIS heart. We both grew in tremendous ways and soon I began praying about him again. After 6 weeks of praying, God gave me the freedom to talk with Dave about our relationship again. After this–well, pretty much happily ever after!!
ON THE SIDE OF THE FREEWAY…
One evening, Dave and I were driving somewhere together (these were usually long drives to and from college) We had begun talking and praying about marriage. I suddenly felt an urgency to make sure I did not disobey the Lord with my first calling. I shared with Dave that I knew that I was called to missions. I didn’t know how or what or when, but the calling was clear in my heart. He quickly pulled the car over to the shoulder of the freeway and we continued this discussion. Dave had not received his ‘call’ yet. He dreamed of becoming a doctor, having a family, doing ministry with Young Life and living on the water. All very wonderful things that I agreed with (except the living on the water part) So, we discussed our OWN ideas at that time of how God might just weave our dreams and hopes together. I prayed and asked God to guide me every step of the way and to never forget my call. I asked HIM to unite Dave’s and my heart so that our marriage, our lives, our ministry would be ONE for HIS GLORY. And God gave me peace. Total, whole-hearted peace.
By the Spring of our Senior year in college Dave and I were engaged!! We sat beside a beautiful stream in Bellingham, Washington and were sharing our hearts. Dave very seriously laid out some important ideas for me. He would be deferring medical school for a year so that we could live near each other during my year of student teaching. And then the biggie…What did I think about the ARMY?!?! I knew nothing about the Army, nor did I really want to. It sounded scary to me…it sounded like it would own us, control our lives, take God’s sovereignty away…I immediately thought of war…what if a war started? what if Dave would someday have to deploy? (We decided we could not fear the future…God held our steps…) Dave shared that he was seriously considering joining the Army as a means to get through medical school…so that when we had completed this, we would not be burdened by an astronomical debt. This peaked my interest. My dad taught me very well that debt is a bad word! We began praying and asking the Lord if the Army was where He would lead. God, how does Africa stay in our hearts? Keep us faithful…help me to not become too comfortable…too ‘in love’ with our country, culture, and way of life…keep me burdened.
HE KEPT ME BURDENED…AND MORE
I learned something quickly in all this…I may not know or see the reason or the timing of the steps of my life, but I did know to TRUST HIS VOICE. I did know that when HE PROMISED, HE WAS ALWAYS FAITHFUL. I knew that my time frame and my way was NOT going to be the best or what God would allow…and I learned to (mostly) surrender to that fairly early on in my adventure with Dave!!
After we were married in July of 2000, we drove across the country to our new home (the much dreaded, Chicago, IL.) I was fresh out of student teaching, newly married, moving to a CITY, and away from everything and everyone I knew and loved. Dave was living the dream!! HE was married!! HE was going to Medical School…He was happy!! We had a difficult few months of adjusting. God began breaking me and redirecting me. For awhile I worked at a Christian School and then I quit. I’m not really a quitter, so that gives you an idea of where I was at. We asked God in a HUGE way to direct us.
ANOTHER CALLING MOMENT…
One day, Dave and I took a long walk from our apartment downtown and ended up at the Moody Bible Institute…It was a spiritually RICH and wonderful place…as I was walking through, I was thinking old thoughts, “Why would anyone go to MORE school after you’ve been in school your whole life?” and “I will never go to Grad School.” We began walking through the beautiful brick buildings. I felt the Spirit of God in that place. Suddenly, I heard God speak to my heart, “YOU will be here.” I almost laughed out loud, it seemed that audible. (I should have learned at this point to never say, ‘never.’)
Later on, I shared this with Dave and we decided we would pray that God would make a way. He did. And I had one of the most incredible 2 years of my life! The funny part was, I didn’t want a degree. I wanted to KNOW GOD. I wanted to KNOW HIS WORD. I wanted to be taught and give a season of my life to pouring into the most important thing to me–my relationship with Jesus. I suddenly wondered if I had ever asked God if HE wanted me to go to undergrad to be a teacher, or if that just seemed logical!!?? I was THRILLED and so humbled that I had this amazing opportunity–something I NEVER DREAMED of. Don’t you love how God knows our deepest dreams, even before we do?!? He is so awesome.
THE ODD BALLS.
Dave and I look back on our time at Moody and laugh at God’s sweet care of us. We did not know what we were doing–in life, in marriage, in regards to missions. BUT, God brought us together with 3 of the most incredible couples who we hold as some of our closest friends and most inspirational followers of Christ to this day. We had a small group Bible Study for 2 years with these passionate lovers of Jesus. Two of the husbands were at Moody with me, working towards their Masters’ of Divinity. One wanted to go to the Mission Field as he and his wife had both grown up as missionary kids…the other wanted to be a pastor and Lord-willing, plant a church. The third couple were also both Missionary kids…the wife had grown up on the beaches of the Philippines and her husband’s family also served there in the Philippines with 13 kids!! Just their introductions intimidated us!! BUT WE LOVED THEM DEEPLY. We felt like such dorks. But, at the same time, we were HUNGRY for this community and we wanted to GROW. And grow we did. Our Small Group time was filled with in-depth discussion about God’s Word, sharing our lives…and then 3 out of the 4 of us began our families!! We all had little girls within 6 months of each other!! So, of course, we are bound for life!! These sweet friends loved us, encouraged us, challenged us and taught us so much…they also instilled something vital in our hearts…a love and a desire for overseas missions. The seeds were planted.
SRI LANKA, A LONG RIDE, AND THE CALL!!!
In 2002, between Dave’s 2nd and 3rd year of Medical School, we had an amazing opportunity!! One of my best friends from childhood had married a missionary kid!! They were now taking a big trip to visit his uncle in Sri Lanka, his parents in the UAE and they would also be traveling through Thailand. They invited US! Can you believe it?!?! It would be a 6 week trip and we would get to SEE first hand what missionaries in other parts of the world were doing! WE WERE THRILLED!! This was something Dave and I had never been exposed to! The whole trip was life-altering, of course, but the most significant PLACE for us was Sri Lanka. It was an island filled with sights and smells we had never experienced before, but above anything else, were the people and what God did in our hearts. As we drove around this island God showed us the poorest of the poor…he showed us HIS children held captive by gods that had no power….he showed us places where there was no hope. No hope except for Jesus. People were dying, people were warring against each other…people looked lost, worn and broken. I saw only hopeless, where I knew God wanted to bring Hope. My burden deepened in a new way.
On a long road through the beautiful mountains of Sri Lanka and then through the middle of the island, “a dry and weary land” where the people were literally dying….God met us. Dave was sitting in the passenger seat of the van, I sat in the very back. We didn’t talk for the entire day…just let our eyes see and our hearts break. Little did I know that God was having a life-changing conversation with Dave. That evening, when we arrived at our destination, Dave was quiet and I could tell he needed to share. When we were in our room, he said, “Well, God told me some pretty big things today.” He proceeded to tell me that God had released him to trust him with starting our family!! (Up until this point, Dave assured me we were on “The 5 Year Plan” for having kids.) He said, and I quote, “Well, if I say I believe God, I should probably start acting like it!” Next, he shared the depth of his heart that God had called him to surrender all of his plans, his dreams, his goals and GO. He was called. HE is faithful. I felt like every prayer of my heart had just been answered!
(more to come…)