i believe in miracles

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Bump Be Gone!

Guest blog by Bill Anderson
Last spring (2013), my wife, Nora, noticed a pain and small node in her left wrist. We watched over the course of about a month while it became more painful and enlarged to the extent of interfering with the motion of her hand. The node became blue like a bruise and was about 3/8 of an inch high and about 3/4 inch in diameter.
She went to our family physician, and he had no idea what to do. It was too close to the nerves of the hand, and he was afraid she might lose control of her hand of he tried to cut it out, so he referred her to a hand surgery specialist.
I took a picture of the purple bump on her wrist so I could send it to another doctor who had operated on her eye, to see if he had a referral of a specialist who might give a cash discount on the operation. We called to make an appointment with the specialist, but he was on a two-week vacation, so we decided to wait until he returned.
Now we were getting into late fall, and she had been suffering with this problem spot for close to six months. The problem weighed heavily on me since we have no insurance and would probably have to sell a car or get a home equity loan to pay for an operation such as we were facing.
One day, as was her custom, she knelt down beside her bed to pray for our family and friends, but this time added a fervent prayer for God to take this bump away. When she finished, she looked at her wrist and, lo and behold, the purple bump, and the pain when she moved her wrist, were gone. She came unglued, jumping and yelling and praising God. When I came in for lunch about an hour later, only a reddish area remained. After I calmed her down, and shed a few thankful tears myself, I grabbed my phone and took another picture of her wrist. The redness went away within a few days, and has never returned.
Jesus healed in Galilee, and “He’s Just the Same Today”.
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Thank God for the Lesser of Two Evils

Politics notwithstanding, I think we really can give God praise for the lesser of two evils sometimes. Like when we were robbed recently in Peru. No, I’m not thankful that the one person who was being tested and tried the most was the target, and that she happened to be carrying the only camera and that we lost all of our pictures. And if I could have dictated how that went down, I might have even chose to be the one robbed to spare her more angst on an already very anguishing trip. But I do give thanks that if it was going to happen, that the lesser of two evils prevailed.

We lost a camera; but if the ladrones had swiped my purse/backpack, we would have lost the financial equivalent to the camera in cash, my passport one the night before we were to leave the country, cell phone and four credit cards. Yep, savvy traveller that I am, I had all that in my attractive leather purse, on my back, as I trailed behind everyone else at 10pm in the middle of a quiet street of Iquitos. What was I thinking?

That’s right; I wasn’t thinking. I was just barely moving, as a matter of fact. That day had started at 5:45 am with a bird-watching hike and had included another hike, coming out of the jungle, back to Iquitos, running around to pick up supplies for a befuddled 2-hour presentation in Spanish in a church as hot as an oven! At this point, I was hobbling the seven blocks back to the hotel with great effort. And then it happened.

Somehow, some divine way, I stepped on a half-inch nail. The length is significant, because the soles of my Havaianas are 3/8th of an inch thick, which means I could feel just the tiniest bit of nail in my foot as I stepped down – not enough to penetrate my foot, but enough that I couldn’t bear to walk more than three steps before I veered off to the side of the road, holding on to a parked car to lift my foot to see what was in my shoe. It was at that very moment, while my foot was in the air that I heard a yelp – my friend was being robbed by three guys in a motortaxi that had just come up behind us.

I can only speculate, but I believe I would have been too easy a target – a hobbling, middle-aged woman in a skirt and flip flops, lagging behind everyone else, with a leather backpack/purse dangling behind. But my dear angels went ahead of me and placed a 1/2-inch nail in the road, right where I would step and in such a way that it would go straight through the shoe, taking me out of harms way just seconds before harm came driving down the street.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. Psm 91:11

I praise God for one more thing too: the camera battery was almost dead and it costs $75 to replace. (bahahaha!)

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Another Taxing Situation

This is an old miracle that I recalled today as I was updating the post about Evil Circumstances in which the IRS wanted us to justify with receipts the fees we paid to adopt Chaise four years after we paid the fees to an agency that had since gone out of business, with a credit card account I no longer had open, while we were in South America with all our things packed away in storage. Chea!

Christmas 2010 we were in Brazil, set to travel to Bolivia for 40 days. We needed money! So we decided to go for broke and cash in an IRA that I had from an old job. I put all the paperwork together and sent it to my mother and told her very plainly to send it on Dec 29 and not a day sooner. We wanted the money to be available as soon as possible but NOT to hit in the 2010 tax year because we were going to have less income in 2011 and the tax consequences would be less if the IRA were cashed in then.

God bless my dear mother… She sent the paperwork out as soon as she got it in hand, which was well before Dec 29. And amazingly, the IRA company expediently processed it so that a check was cut on Dec 29 and the income posted in the 2010 tax year! I was notably distressed but decided to reserve major freaking out for tax time.

Fast forward to tax time 2011: As it turned out, the IRA income did not bump us into a higher bracket and we did not have to pay any tax on it at all because of our quitting our jobs in (John) July and (me) September. Praise God, but not as much as I would praise him in tax time 2012.

Our income for 2011 was really low because we were both underemployed for the majority of the year. And in some way that I don’t understand or necessarily approve (as a citizen), we got over $8500 back in taxes in April 2012. Had we added that IRA income, we would have been in a higher tax bracket and our refund would have been about $3000. So my mom’s mistake, which I believe to be God’s perfect timing, actually netted us about $5000.

Every good gift and every perfect is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights. James 1:17


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I Will Not Be Overcome by Evil Circumstances

The title of this blog is a personalization of a verse from Psalms 112, Living Bible, which says, “…all goes well for the generous man who conducts his business fairly. Such a man will not be overthrown by evil circumstances.” Psalms 112 is a favorite of mine and I used this portion of scripture as a mantra during a recent opportunity for God to show “His constant care for me” (Psalm 112:7, LB).

Just about the time we started wondering when our $1395 tax refund might show up in our bank account, we got a letter from the IRS saying that they had some concerns about our tax return, would do some checking into things and get back with us within 45 days. Hmm, OK. About three weeks later, we got another letter from the IRS requesting documentation of the adoption expenses we had paid back in 2007.

They wanted a receipt from 2007, and we had 30 days to produce it. Or what? If we couldn’t prove we paid adoption expenses, not only would we NOT be getting a refund this year, we would also owe the IRS about $12,000 back for adoption credits we had claimed in the past three tax years. (Quick primer for those not in the know: the government gives a tax credit of about $13,500 when you had that much or more in adoption expenses. You can take the credit over a four-year period, reducing your tax owed, but it doesn’t increase your refund if you didn’t own any tax.) So, the small piece of paper we needed to produce was worth $13,500 for our family.

What makes these evil circumstances? Well, for starters, why did the IRS wait until the last of four years to ask us for this piece of paper? Maybe they thought there would be a better chance that we couldn’t produce it if they waited so long? (They were right.) And of all the things to question in our tax return – adoption expenses? The IRS already requires a copy of the final court order of the adoption, so they know we actually adopted.  But, you know those people who adopt – they just can’t be trusted! Some of the most devious and crafty element of society, those adoptive families!

Then there was that complication of my being out of the country during the entire 30-day period that the IRS gave us. My husband was home, but he was the only thing in our house. All of our belongings were stored away because of our extended trip. We had left to go to South America for nine months and we put our house on the market, so in anticipation of selling the house, we boxed and stored everything. But before we put things in boxes, we did that thing people will do when they move: we threw stuff away. And I am pretty sure one of the things I threw away was the adoption folder, with that valuable little piece of paper in it. In almost four years of our son’s life, we hadn’t needed anything from that folder, so I tossed it!

OK, not such a problem, we could just contact the adoption agency – good folk that they are – and surely they have a file on us with something we can use to prove to the IRS that a private adoption costs more than $13,500 (as if that weren’t common knowledge). Oh, but bad luck, we adopted from a swindler! Turns out he was taking people’s money and not delivering the babies as promised. Business went belly-up; he lost his license to practice law, got a divorce and left the state.

Providentially, we paid the adoption fees with a credit card, and the IRS indicated that a credit card statement showing the agency’s name would be acceptable. I used my Citibank card – an account I’ve had since college and right up until I closed it about two years ago. I wasn’t even in their system. But they did give me a fax number to send a written request which they might or might not answer in some undetermined time frame.

“I will not be overcome by evil circumstances. I will not be overcome by evil circumstances. I will not be…” You get the idea. A whole lot of that going on for most of the 30-day period.

A few days before our IRS deadline, we got something in the mail from Citibank: a copy of our March 2007 statement. Praise God. And there it was – an expense well over $13,500 to Adoption Advantage in Little Rock, Ark. My husband whisked it off in the mail to the IRS and now we are back where we were two months ago – wondering when our refund check is going to hit our bank account.

Take that, Uncle Sam.  All goes well for the generous person who conducts her business fairly. I will not be overcome by evil circumstances.

Update on Aug. 31, 2012: Thought I would just follow up to say that we did eventually get the full refund.

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Living the Dream!

It’s been so long since I updated my blog that I feel it really is a discredit to the glory of God, because the fact is that He has been working in my family’s lives – a lot – and I simply have not taken time to sit down and praise His work in my blog. So, this is going to be a too-little, too-late testimony, with sketchy details because some of His marvelous blessings have already slipped through the sieve of my memory.

I am writing from the comfort of spacious environs in Joaçaba, Brazil. Just a couple of months ago, I was in rural Arkansas, stressing about meeting magazine deadlines, and daring to let my mind wander to what it might be like to live in Brazil. Though it was no secret that we were going to take a nine-month sabbatical from American life, I didn’t flagrantly count down the days on Facebook or anything because I respect too much this truth: “In her heart, a woman plans her course, but the Lord determines her steps” (Prov. 16:9). And so I also did plenty of this: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do,” so that my plans would succeed (Prov. 16:3).

An American family choosing to spend six months in Joaçaba is somewhat like an Italian family deciding to come to the United States for six months and make their home base Russellville, Ark. It begs the question, “Why?” Indeed, we could have gone anywhere for this sabbatical, with certain political exceptions. From the very beginning, I began to pray for God to open and close doors according to His will and make the decision for us. I had some basic criteria, but somewhere along the way, (I admit, not in proper order) I surrendered that too, and just said, “We’ll go where you want us to go, God, OR, we’ll stay home if you want that too.” 

I knocked on a lot of doors, I won’t go into detail (even the ones I can remember), but nothing opened. If the opportunity was right, one member of the family was resistant to the choice of country. Even when we unanimously agreed on Brazil, there didn’t seem to be any volunteer endeavor we could participate in without paying way more than it actually costs to live in Brazil; knowing the language upon arrival; or committing to a two-year stay. The main lure to Brazil was to live near and be a support and encouragement to a young couple in ministry in the small town of Joaçaba, Eliezer and Cristiane Zamora.

The friendship between my family and theirs has now involved four generations, beginning between Eli’s father and my grandmother, and most recently developing between his daughter, Vanessa, and my son Chaise, both three years old.  I wonder at how the destinies of the South American Zamora family and North American Anderson-Schillinger families have intertwined over more than 25 years and at what the next 25 might bring for us. Our stay in Brazil has certainly added a new dimension to the relationship – the closest, not only geographically (we live two blocks apart), but also in camaraderie. Chaise and Vanessa are bestest buddies, for sure!

Besides introducing another generation of our families to each other, what other purpose do we have in Brazil? I dunno! Another of my favorite proverbs is: “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” (Prov. 20:24). Probably only with the benefit of several decades of hindsight will we begin to understand what our purpose is here. Nonetheless, I can’t help but speculate, and so I’ve started a list of 100 Possible Reasons Why God May Have Brought Us to Brazil. Many of them include situations and people I am praying for now – people and things I never would have been aware of had I not come to live here.

Whereas I have no substantive clue how God is using us here, I can see pretty clearly His handiwork in our circumstances. Just like when we first moved to Clarksville, our path here has been made straight. Let me just list 10 ways (off the top of my head, in no particular order) that we’ve seen God’s hand of constant care in our circumstance here:

  1. We found a wonderful place to live on the first day of searching – within our budget and just two blocks from church and the Zamoras.
  2. Despite not being able to “legally” sign up for utilities and Internet service because we don’t have the all-powerful Brazilian identification card that’s needed to take a squat here, we have electricity, water and wireless Internet.
  3. Between two church families, we were loaned a Razor cell phone and a SIM card on a prepaid phone – so we have a cell phone, in addition to our Skype line, which rings into our computer. We are able to be touch, locally and internationally, by phone – at very little cost to us.
  4. Gwen enrolled in ballet at a studio owned by a Presbyterian woman (only about 10% of people here are Protestant); and there are two girls in her class that speak some English, so she’s made friends and been able to understand how to improve her pirouettes, pliés and pas de chat.
  5. Despite only being in dance for about a month, Gwen got to dance two consecutive Saturdays in the annual recital, as a willy in a piece from Giselle – she was a giddy willy (hee hee).
  6. We met with the principle of the Lutheran school here and she agreed to let Gwen enroll when school starts again in February. So Gwen will get to experience being an “exchange” student for two and a half months, and it’s a given that she will leave here with better Portuguese than the rest of her family combined!
  7. Pastor Eli offers free guitar lessons on Tuesday nights and Gwen and I have both joined. I have wanted to learn to play the guitar for almost 30 years!
  8. We left a backpack full of groceries and our cell phone at the bus stop one day. We didn’t realize it for almost an hour, and yet, everything was returned to us.
  9. Chaise has Vanessa, Natalia and several other fun friends at church. He is very comfortable and happy here.
  10. Gwen has made friends in the church youth and now on Sunday afternoons, the youth (and me too!) play volleyball – my all-time favorite sport and something Gwen has wanted to learn to play.

Truly everything is coming up roses for the Schillingers. That’s not to say that there are no thorns. But honestly, most of them are not related to living in Brazil, but to years of distraction, neglect and lack of discipline that were part of our American lifestyles – things I very much looked forward to being able to address in the intentionally slowed pace of our sabbatical.

For a lot more about our sabbatical experience, please visit our Family Brazil Blog – lots of pictures and posts from the whole family.

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Magic Carpet

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Matthew 6:32

In preparation to sell our house, we recently redecorated my daughter’s bathroom – taking it from preteen flowers and butterflies to a more sophisticated powder-room effect, in shades of brown and teal. The project was accomplished in short order, with one holdout – bathroom rugs. The whole project cost more than it was supposed to (gasp!) and I was now determined not to pay any more for rugs than was absolutely necessary. Thus began a fruitless search through garage sales, resale shops, eBay and Amazon, etc., for the right rugs at the right price. I finally sprung for one to put in front of the shower, as I was getting tired of seeing a towel on the floor. Now we just needed one for in front of the toilet, but the search was starting to become absurdly elongated.  

One evening we were at TJ Max, shopping for camp clothes for Gwen. While she was trying things on, I wandered through house wares. When she joined me, I said, “Let’s just take a quick look to see if there’s a rug for in front of your toilet.” There was about a 10-foot section of shelf devoted to bath rugs. We stood back and looked for the right color – dark chocolate. Found it, but it came only in a set of two rugs which cost more than I wanted to pay. So I stuffed it back in the shelf, stood back again, surveyed once more for the right color and found nothing.

“Oh well, the search continues,” I said, as I headed down the isle and rounded the corner.

Just as Gwen was about to round the corner behind me, something hit the floor. She looked back and said, “Mom, look at this.” I came back around the corner to see her holding the perfect dark chocolate brown rug, perfect size, with a design that coordinates perfectly with the rest of the bathroom. She said, “This just fell on the floor.”

Where had it come from? If a rug had been precariously dangling just seconds away from hitting the floor, wouldn’t we have seen it as we stood back a second time, looking for just that color? And what about the racket it made as it hit the floor? It had to have fallen from one of the upper shelves. We looked at the shelves and all the rugs were neatly folded and stacked.  It was as if our guardian angel pulled the rug out from its hiding place and plopped it on the floor, as if to say, “Here! I found what you’re looking for.”

The price? $7.99 – very much to my liking.

Gwen and I rejoiced as we wondered about the perfect rug miraculously plopping to the floor in just the precise moment we would have noticed it.

As I reflected on this unique provision, two things happened: First, I felt very safe. If God cares enough to use His divine intervention to provide the perfect rug to go in front of a toilet in the smallest bathroom in our house, He surely cares about whether the house sells. God is in the details and that day showed His unbounded love toward us in the form of a carpet.

The second thing that happened was that my mind began to explore alternate explanations. I dismissed coincidence as a possibility, as I could clearly remember standing back and surveying the shelf for another dark brown rug. I feel certain I would have seen that rug – just seconds away from falling off the shelf. Instead, another interesting theory emerged: maybe it was a magic carpet. Maybe there’s something special about the rug itself.

I’m happy to report that this was a fleeting thought and I found it not only ridiculous, but ridiculously funny. And yet, it occurred to me! Isn’t this temptation to glorify the creation over the Creator what God is addressing in the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything…”? That commandment is one we often dismiss as being mindlessly easy to obey. In this age of Christian enlightenment, we’re way past worshipping golden calves, right? It’s just plain silly these days to think that inanimate objects, like fortune cookies, Magic 8 balls, lottery tickets, lucky underwear or heads-up pennies, have any power. (Ehem!)

The magic in that carpet is that it had the privilege of being used by the Creator of the Universe to show His love toward me and my daughter. I hope we remember that each time it warms our feet as we sit on the potty.

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The Trouble with Thirteen

My daughter just turned 14 and I couldn’t be happier. Not just because it’s so gratifying and intriguing to see my child becoming a woman, but also because I was so dang tired of her being 13.

The day Gwen turned 13, she was a little girl, the day she turned 14, she was a young woman. And so in the 365 days between the two, she was in the sometimes painful process of metamorphosis. She had to slough off childhood and emerge into adulthood, and there were some awkward moments stuck between the two stages.

One particular “moment” during this year required some disciplinary action. Gwen was to lose her phone. Not for a month, like she had the last time, but for good. In the 20 months she had owned her phone, it went from being a toy of sorts—good for sharing ring tones and taking pictures of random things—to being a tool for flirting, often with more than one guy at a time, and often with guys with whom she shouldn’t be talking to for various reasons, age being primary among them.

The day I had to take the phone away, I started on my knees, asking God to give Gwen understanding,  help her to submit to her parents’ authority, and squelch the spirit of rebellion. That weekend had been a rocky one and now that I had made up my mind what needed to be done, I dreaded the backlash. She had been so angry—more so than I had ever seen her. It’s scary to see your child express unprecedented anger. And it’s worrisome—how much worse could this get? I believed I was about to find out.

Good-bye phone. What? No yelling at me? No, “Mom, you’re being ridiculous?” No. Nothing.

Ok, well, it’s probably coming a little later. Keep your guard up.

Later… Hmm. Still nothing. What’s up with that?

It’s been three months since Gwen lost her phone and there never was a backlash. On some level, she almost seems relieved by it. Maybe keeping up a flirt in a dozen different directions was actually pretty stressful—too much so for an emerging butterfly. Maybe my prayer was answered.