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Chapter 53: When Life Gives you Lemons, …

Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to his son Saul, “Please take one of the servants with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.”

1 Samuel 9:3 NKJV

Have you ever started off on a journey expecting it to take you on one path and it leads you on a completely different one?  I bet Saul felt this way when he went looking for his father’s donkeys and ended up becoming King of a nation! The phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” comes to mind.  I guess that can be true about most things in life, like: “When life gives you another child, love him!”

So, in case you missed the subtlety of that last line I will repeat it in another way, THE GRAVES ARE EXPECTING ANOTHER BABY!  I know what you are thinking, ‘Really, another child?’  Sometimes no matter how much you plan, God changes those plans!  So we choose Love.  We believe the delivery date will be sometime early December.  We will be visiting a Doctor when we arrive back stateside, due to some Visa issues we are currently experiencing, and will confirm the dates then.

In the next 6 weeks our lives will completely change.  On May 31st, I will serve my last day as a barista/manager with Sweet Life.  The last two years have been an incredible journey of sacrifice and joy.  I am so thankful that God gave me this opportunity in life, and will always have a special place in my heart for Sweet Life.

During the month of June, we will use this time to connect with people here in Krakow, plan our first steps back Stateside, and prepare to transplant our lives from Poland, back to the West.  This is going to be very tricky!  Think about making a move in your home country; logistics, what to keep/save, prioritizing and setting a value on everything you own…always asking the question, “Do I need this?”  We get to add the question, “Will it fit on the plane?!”  Unless we receive additional financial support, we will be looking at taking 5, 50lb(23kg) bags back.  To add a second bag will cost 80Euro each, or around $425 total.  Oh man!

However, that does mean we had a HUGE prayer request answered!  Our flights have been taken care of, and we have a departure date, June 27th!  WOW!  Thank you God and those willing to help us!  So now that the hard part is over, we just have to find: a vehicle (6+ passengers), figure out a timetable for traveling to Vancouver from OKC, find a job, find a home, and find a school for the kids.  If we didn’t have the peace of God knowing that we are following His calling, I think I would be paralyzed with stress and anxiety.

Everything is dependent on something else.  We can’t enroll the kids in school until we know where we live.  We won’t know where we will live until we know where my work is and what our budget will be.  We won’t know how we will be traveling and to which city until God knows when (literally), because if we get a vehicle we can drive, but if we don’t then we will need to rent or fly.  But how do you buy a vehicle or plane tickets when you don’t have an income?  Hah!

I realize I can’t focus on our problems, but the problem solver.  After all, in Matthew 14 Peter is able to walk out on the water he was called to.  As long as he kept his focus on Jesus, he did just fine.  So, we shall do the same.

 

Will you join us in prayer?

For Poland

…as we close out our time with Sweet Life.  That we would have great fellowship with the staff and customers, and set up the business for our departure.

…as we connect with friends and family that we have made here.  That we would speak truth, encourage fellow missionaries, and build strong connections.

…as we pack, clean, and prepare for our departure.  For God’s blessing, strength, and wisdom.

…for the kids as they say good bye to their friends.

For the US and Canada

…as we transition out of one culture, live 2 months or so in another, and then resettle into a third.

…as we transplant our lives across the globe.

…as we seek out business and ministry partners in Vancouver.

…as we reconnect with family and friends in the US.

…as we search out transportation, travel plans, connections, etc.

..for financial provision for this crazy adventure!  For additional bags to the US from Poland, a vehicle for use Stateside, transportation, hotels, gas, doctor appointments, new clothes (for all of us!), and all other costs associated with moving into a new place (deposits, down payments, new accounts, etc).

 

We are incredibly humbled by the love and support that has been shown to us.  Every time we have had need in our lives (prayer, financial, or otherwise), you have been there for us.  God has blessed us with your partnership in our families journey.  For that, we are incredibly thankful for you!  Thank you all so much.

 

Chapter 52: Power, Love and a Sound Mind

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

How we respond to the trials of life show a lot about our character, our faith, and what spirit we allow to dwell in our hearts.  Our family has been tested greatly this past year and a half as we opened a business and added a new member of our family.  Challenged. Pulled. Stretched.  God never gives us more than we can handle.  With God anything is possible!  It is all about perspective in life.

Our adventure is far from over.  After the beginning of this year, we focused our prayers for God to guide us in our life here in Poland.  We began to realize that we needed to change our kids school as the school is forty minutes away, as well very far away from our flat and Sweet Life. Soon after, we notified the school. At similar timing we noticed water damage in our flat which led us to work an understanding with our landlords that we would have permission to move out of our flat before our rental agreement concluded.

Everyday a renewed prayer of surrender.  Every answer to be still and know that He is God; a call to trust.

About a month ago we heard God clearly tell us we will be leaving Poland.  Waves of emotion continue to crash in our lives as we have been informing our business partners, staff, local friends and family.  With so many to tell please forgive us if we missed telling any one of you face to face! And again as we inform you all, ya’ll who have been with us on this grand adventure.

Now, I am sure you are curious for more details.  So here is what we know so far, our current timeline:

-Transition cafe for our departure (now-June)

-Head back stateside (end of June-Mid July)

-Visit Family/Home Church (mid July-August)

-Colorado-Oklahoma-Portland (Seattle?)

-…

Yes, the dreaded “…”  We believe our next step is to the Pacific Northwest, more specifically Vancouver BC Canada.  I (Brad) will pursue connecting with the coffee community.  After all, my passions and desires have not changed.  I love coffee and people, so my work with coffee and ministering in/with/to/around this community will continue.

When we pray for this future, we hear God’s response of “Be still, have faith, and trust in me.”  He points to the task at hand of our departure and the transition taking place.  Just because we wont be in Poland does not mean Sweet Life will cease to function.  Sweet Life will continue to operate as usual as our business and ministry partners remain in Poland.  There is a lot to get done, conversations to take place, and people to love.

So what might our future hold?  Good question!  For the longest time I felt there was a great divide between Ministry and business.  Michelle and I have been learning a lot about how these two things are more connected than separate.  Business as Mission, Mission as Business.  This could mean Roasting Coffee, Trainer, Account Manager, or full ministry side as more of a Coffee Pastor.  This will probably lead more towards working with a Roaster with a cafe instead of a stand alone cafe, or possibly working with Green Coffee Sourcing.  OR …something completely different!

As you imagined we have a plethora of prayer requests:

Now:

  • Sweet Life and our Transition
    • Management and job transition
    • Our future presence in the cafe and its leadership
  • Connections
    • As we meet with people before our departure

Next:

  • Transition
    • As we switch cultures twice in the next 6 months
    • As we pack and move 9 timezones
    • For safety in our travels
  • Direction
    • Where and how to spend our time stateside
    • For our future destination, we believe to be in Vancouver BC Canada
    • Whether we find something established or fly more solo with business creation
    • Where in Vancouver?  (Downtown, Suberb, Surrounding towns)
  • Ministry
    • What church community to partner with -or- are we creating something new -or- both?
    • We can get plugged in correctly
  • Transport
    • Flights to the US and Canada
    • A van that can seat 6+.  Either for traveling up to Vancouver or after our arrival.  A family of 5 is difficult to transport around town!
  • Vocation
    • Which Coffee Company (Cafe/Roaster/Green Sourcing) to partner with
    • What direction to take on our own

In all of this, we seek His will.  God has a plan, He has the provisions, He will lead us.  We thank you for all of your support of our family.  Every package, letter, email, connection.  It has not gone unnoticed and has been so encouraging and uplifting on our family’s journey.  As we take our next steps, we invite you to continue on this grand adventure with us.

If you would like to partner with us on this journey, contact us directly and we can share how!

You all are amazing and we love you so much!

Love from,

 

Brad, Michelle, Loralie, Jack and Dottie!

 

 

 

Chapter 51: You are Mine

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.

 

Isaiah 43:1-5

When life seems to consume you, it is easy to lose track of your identity.  In this scripture, we are reminded to whom we belong, and the character He has.  We read about His presence in our lives, His desire to intercede, the abundance of His strength, His capacity for Love.  We read about a loving Father who has adopted us into His family.

We are His.

Michelle and I have been praying for God to give us wisdom, discernment, strength, and understanding about a great many things in our lives.  For the past 6 months, God’s response has been simply, “Trust me.”  This seemingly ambiguous phrase seems to be our family’s mantra. “Trust Him.”

Our family has sought out to live a healthier lifestyle.  We have been quick to turn to food during stressful(filled) times.  Working at a phenomenal bakery doesn’t help this problem, but enables my improper response to be deliciously satisfied.  My Uncle Tom would say, “all things in moderation,” but I have not followed this advice.  I have come to recognize that instead of taking smaller problems to God, I was replacing Him with food.  I was replacing precious time with our creator, for a creation that would satisfy an immediate gratification.

We took a 40-day break from sugar and the times we have had of worship have been much more satisfying.  Instead of splitting a bar of chocolate, we have shared prayer.  How much more rewarding this has been!  Of course, we did take a quick break from this sugar fast to properly celebrate Dotties’ first birthday!  Wow!  Time flies!  Dottie is now staggering (almost walking) around the house.  She is fiercely determined to catch up to life around her.  Jack and Loralie dote on their sister and joyfully interact with her.

Two years ago she wasn’t in our lives.  One year we didn’t know how to add her into our lives.  This year we don’t know what we would do without her in our lives.  Our hearts are full.

We talked about a door shutting for the kids school in our last newsletter.  We will finish out the semester (June) for the kids and then begin the process of Home school in the fall (unless God changes our plans!).  As this door has begun to shut ,we now have a door opening!  In the next few weeks we will be receiving a car!!

That’s right, RECEIVING not PURCHASING!  A friend of ours is out of the country and she has graciously offered her car until she returns next year.  This means that by next month we wont have to take the public transport to the kids school!  Woohooo!  I have never been more motivated to receive our International Drivers License.  The only expenses that will come with this car will be Insurance (200zl/month), gas (equivalent to roughly $5/gallon), and any other regular maintenance (oil change, tires, etc).

Our first response to this was, “how can we possibly add another expense to our airtight budget?!”  All our close friends kept reminding us of how God doesn’t provide blessings that will lead us into debt or down a destructive path.  When we prayed about what we should do, we received a simple response.

“Trust Me.”

I know some of you at this point are doubting our family’s decision.  “If you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be doing this.”  I know because that was my first response.  But that isn’t how God operates.

-When we didn’t have the income, we had some debt, and needed our plumbing fixed, God provided.

-When I had a plan to pay off our car, pay off our debt, pay off our student loans, pay off our house…and lost my job?  God provided (and in record time!).

-When I kept a part time job with Starbucks and Michelle worked at the YMCA and our income never exceeded our expenses.  God provided.

-When we needed $5,000 to complete our fundraising to come to Poland, we quit our jobs and moved to my parents house with no new leads?  God provided $6000 3 days after we got to Colorado. (6months from receiving the call to work with Sweet Surrender till the day we arrived)

-When we needed to raise more money to return to Poland for a second year, it took 3 months and God provided.

-When we were in a car accident that should have taken the life of Loralie, during a 3 month trip where we earned 3x our normal monthly income while on the road, God provided and protected.  (Also a rental car for 2 months).

-When we prayed for a car, not having the finances for it, God provided.

So after all this, I am going to say that God won’t provide the 500zl a month?!  I would be crazy not to see this!  We are so thankful for this huge blessing that will give us back 2-4 hours every school day.

With the understanding we will be (99% sure) homeschooling this fall, we turn to the problem of my 45 minute commute to work (one way) every day.  Aside from the kids school, our lives are focused around the city center, so our plan is to not renew our contract at our current flat.  We love the apartment, I MEAN LOVE IT.  But with a huge commute, it limits our ability to connect the kids with Sweet Life, the amount of time I am able to spend with family, and our interactions in the city center.

We are currently discussing what to do about our flat with our landlords.  There is a possibility that we will be released from our contract a few months early so they can renovate the flat and prepare it for the next tenants.  This would allow us to house sit for our friends while they are gone this summer to the States.  We are at the early stages of these talks, but it looks promising!

We have great expectation for this year.  God is stirring something in our hearts and we are eager to see what God has in store.  If I look back on these last 4 years, I know it’s going to be awesome!

In all of this we are humbled by God’s provision.  The presence of our family, friends, networked churches, and our home Church (Centerpoint) has been overwhelming. Your prayer and financial support has encouraged us every step of our journey these last 5 years.  We do want to be transparent with you.  Last year we saw our expenses rise and our funds take a dip.

Even though I am working full time for Sweet Life as a barista and Cafe manager, we are in the early years of the business so my pay is minimal (as any new business would need to operate with).  Our expenses are roughly the same as they would be in the United States, so our living expenses are not covered by my salary.  Your commitment to partner with our ministry and immediate family needs have been tremendous.

Would you consider partnering with us and committing to support the Graves family for 2017?  We will need to increase our budget by $500 a month to cover the increased costs of food, clothing, baby needs (forumula, diapers, etc), car needs(insurance and gas), and housing.  Please prayerfully consider joining us on our journey in reckless pursuit of God.

Please join us in prayer:

-Continue to pray for Sweet Life: God’s will, presence and movement would be clear and evident and that we would follow it.  We have some big decisions and opportunities coming up.

-Pray for our kids with regards to schooling.  Which home school or international school we should enroll them in.

-Pray for health as we brave 2017. We are continuing to make changes in our lifestyles in order to make our lives more focused on health both spiritually/soul deep and physically. We are God’s temple!

-The Women’s prayer group Michelle is involved in. Building women up, speaking prophetic encouragement and loving those involved through relationship with our Father God.

-For Brad as he is balancing work, home life, and ministry.  He would identify with his current role, continue to work on better managing time,  father and husband.

-With the damages to our apartment and the renovations that will take place, that we come to an agreement with our landlords about timing.

-That God would provide financial support through partners in our ministry.

Giving:

If you feel led to give we have several (tax-deductible) options:

1.  Go to https://app.easytithe.com/g3/
2.  Select First Time to create an account (recurring options) or quick give (one time)
3.  Change “my donation” to “Missions- Poland Missions”
4.  In the “Other Comments” you can say “Graves Family”
5.  Give as the Lord leads.
– OR –

Make checks (or cash) payable to: “Centerpoint Church”
In the notes say it is for: “Missions- Mission to Poland”
Send to:
Centerpoint Church
2750 Cornerstone Dr
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147

Chapter 50: New Year, New Challenge

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I had a customer come in the other day and was extremely rude to their “friend” on the phone.  I looked at my co-worker and said, “In the States we would say, ‘with friends like that, who needs enemies!'” I was stopped in my tracks immediately after this with the realization that God loves them as much as me.  God loves people who are horrible human beings, as much as He loves me (maybe slight judgment, my apologies!).  After this realization, I knew in my heart that God was asking me why didn’t I love them too.  Ouch!  I am sure some of you can relate to this feeling with all the political turmoil in the United States.  People on both sides of the political lines fighting with hate and not love.  For those of you, like me, who need to be reminded of what it means to Love, I have provided above a beautiful scripture for reference.

Family:

We are almost through the birthday run!  Michelle and Loralie had awesome birthdays full of fun, family, food, and friends. Loralie is now seven years old and is as determined and strong willed as ever.  She has grown up so much and we are so proud of who she is becoming.  Her birthday also coincides with Sweet Life’s birthday, which just turned O N E.  Last year we had to focus on the launching of our coffee shop and bakery so her birthday was majorly lacking.  We decided to give this day to her, devoting all our attention to her to remind her of the Love we have for her (mission accomplished!).

It is hard to believe that in just a few short weeks, February 11th, we will celebrate Dottie’s FIRST birthday!  WOW!  Has it already been one year since we were preparing for the hospital to welcome our third child into this world?  What a year it has been! The joy she has brought us, the mild temperament she has, and the joy and peace she brings is unbelievable.  Jack and Loralie absolutely adore her and are awesome big brother and sister to her.

Michelle and I had a simple celebration of our tenth Anniversary, the day of.  We have almost finalized our plans for April to go to England and Scotland for six days for a more extended and elaborate celebration.  Our friends here have all agreed to help watch the kiddos during this time so we can travel child-free to be able to more fully focused on each other.  Vacation with children is much different than without!  Thanks to all who made this possible!

Schooling:

We have decided to not continue with Loralie and Jack’s current school.  The cost is increasing by 10%, the school is splitting its campus (Jack stays at the current and Loralie would move over 1.7 km away), and the transportation is highly unfavorable (even moving wouldn’t help).  We believe the correct course of action is Homeschooling or seeking other English friendly education (we have to be able to communicate with a teacher or principal).  We are leaning very strongly towards Homeschooling, but are open to God’s leading.

Changing this would also free up Jack and Loralie to engage in more extra-curricular activities.  We are looking into some possible football (or any sport) clubs, cooking classes, skiing and other activities that we previously and are currently unable to to participate in.  Loralie really needs some avenue to release the energy that builds up from a long day at school. Waiting for a bus (2-30 minutes) to take us on a 30-45 minute journey home just doesn’t cut it!

Prayer

-Pray for Sweet Life: God’s will, presence and movement would be clear and evident and that we would follow it.

-Pray for our kids with regards to schooling (Current and Future), friends, and development.

-Pray for health as we brave 2017. We are continuing to make changes in our lifestyles in order to make our lives more focused on health both spiritually/soul deep and physically. We are God’s temple!

-The Women’s prayer group Michelle is involved in. Building women up, speaking prophetic encouragement and loving those involved through relationship with our Father God.

-For Brad as he is balancing work, home life, and ministry.  He would identify with his current role, continue to work on better managing time,  father and husband.

-The landlords and building administration are coming to look at the apartment.  There are some damages to the flat that have recently happened and they hope to discover the cause.  With the unknown cause of the damages, we don’t know if major or minor renovations will take place.  Please keep all those involved in your prayers!  Depending on the renovations needed, it could displace us temporarily (daytime only would be best case scenario).

IMG_7277 IMG_7262 100_0006 IMG_7180

 

By the way, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Chapter 49: Pieces

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2: 10

 

You ever feel like your life is in pieces?  Do you ever feel as if your life is shattered into so many parts it can’t be patched back together?  Do you ever feel broken?  I do.  There are times in my life when I feel that I have my life together, propped up, and ready to display for all to see.  But lately, I have felt broken.

It is so easy to feel this way when we neglect the time we need to spend with our Father.  I listened to some really great music preformed by Steffany Gretzinger.  In a song called Pieces, she sings of how God does not share His love in pieces.  I started to think about how much He loves me (us) and how I have not shown that same unrelenting love back.  How I share my love with God, and towards others, in pieces.

How incomplete.

How broken!

But God, who brings strength through our weakness still loves us.  My heart is filled.  My gaze turns to Him.  And I seek Him.  God uses us despite our brokenness, because of His grace.  I am relearning that many times this begins with forgiveness.  Whether for myself or others, forgiveness leads us towards another depth of Love (for ourselves and others).

I am on the rise and on the mend, and you can be too!  Always remember that you are not alone.  If you ever feel alone and need someone to talk to, Michelle and I are here…6-9 hours ahead of you.  Message us and let us plan a time to talk and pray.

We just enjoyed a time of thanksgiving.  We missed out on our first Thanksgiving celebration this year due to illness and work.  Man it’s been a busy season for us…and that’s an understatement.  Even with this craziness we are in the midst of our Birthday Run!  That is the season from November to February where our family celebrates my (Nov 10th), Jack (Nov 16th), Michelle (Dec 19th), Loralie (Jan 7th), and Dottie’s (Feb 11th) Birthdays…..not to mention Thanksgiving, Christmas, Our 10th Anniversary (Jan 6th…the day before Lolo’s Bday), and 4 other immediate family member birthdays!  Instead of focusing on stress, money, craziness, etc.  We turn to celebration and thanks!  Praise God that our lives are so full during this season.  God has really blessed our family with such an adventure!  He is so good.

We are in a season of Advent.  Christmas is right around the corner.  Can you believe it?!  As we are quickly swept up in Christmas Caroling and music, decorations, presents, and gifts, remember the true reason for the season.  The birth of a baby, our Lord and Savior.  Fully Man, Fully God, Full of Love.  Christ came to this world to pursue His creation in active relationships.  CRAZY AWESOME!

Change.  It is never easy, usually comes with pain, but tends to end with Joy.  In these last two months we have experienced a lot of change.  Loralie has made a really strong friendship with one of the girls in her class and we have started to connect with this family.  Life is so much easier when you have friends by your side!  Though she is still learning to express herself.  She is full of love and opens herself up to others quickly.  This can present some awesome moments of joy, and some of deep pain.

Dottie is now extremely mobile!  She has gone from backwards movement to full steam ahead.  She is pulling herself up and is starting to take those daring steps out from the safety of the nearest couch or table.  Her personality is starting to really develop, she is full of so much joy.  Her smile can melt a day from troublesome to peaceful.

Jack is extremely creative and imaginative.  He finds himself fully immersed in his own world, only to surface when the need arises.  He is having difficulties being in the middle.  It is not easy to find the right balance with three kids, and Jack seems to be getting the short end of the stick.  We are learning how to speak to his love language while still focusing on Loralie and Dottie.

I (Brad) am trying to work smarter not just more.  This year has been extremely long and hard, never short of difficulties.  Spending the right amount of time between work and family is a never ending challenge.  I am trying to figure out how to better prioritize my time at work with the never ending to-do lists and demands, the need to work as a Barista, and the desire to please everyone.  I forget the desire to please everyone means that I won’t please anyone (not all the time, but for the most part).

Michelle is spending large amounts of time with the kids.  It is a rewarding challenge that brings much joy.  I am so thankful for such a loving and caring wife to help raise our kids.  She provides a beautiful example as a strong parent, a faithful child of God, and a devoted spouse.  I see great examples of what Love is all about by watching her in action!

We know this year has been a trying season; no matter what country we live in, what language we speak, or what culture we are attempting to identify with.  Adjusting to a family of five is difficult.  Adjusting to owning and operating a new business (with 3 spoken languages, cultures, and nationalities represented) is not easy.  Putting these two together is even more so!  But we remember this:  “We are God’s Masterpiece.”

Please continue to keep us in your prayers:

-Pray for Sweet Life: God’s will, presence and movement would be clear and evident and that we would follow it.

-Pray for our kids with regards to schooling, friends, and development.

-Pray for health as we enter 2017. We are already making changes in our lifestyles in order to make our lives more focused on health both spiritually/soul deep and physically. We are God’s temple!

-The Women’s prayer group Michelle is involved in. Building women up, speaking prophetic encouragement and loving those involved through relationship with our Father God.

-For Brad as he is balancing work, home life, and ministry.  I would identify with my current role, better manage my time, and be a better father and husband.

-For Michelle and I’s 10th Anniversary (January 6th, though we probably will celebrate later).  We would love to do something nice.  I’m not talking about just spending lots of money, I am talking about the ability to have quality time with each other.  Having a three kids and constricted income isn’t the most conducive to quality time.  We attempt to make each other a priority and want to make this anniversary a special one.  That requires having people available to watch the kids and the ability to get out of town (or the house) to focus on each other.  Our dream has been to go to Ireland (Republic or North…or both), which would require some additional finances (albeit significantly less since we live in Europe!).

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