TESTIMONY of God’s faithfulness in my life……Michelle Ibbotson
I was born in southern California and lived there until at the age of 9 we moved up to Seattle, Washington. I grew up in a Christian home; was raised and encouraged to love the Lord with all my heart and know that He would always be there for us. I have two older sisters, no brothers. At the age of 9 I personally gave my life to the Lord (been a believer for 21 years now).
Growing up I did several mission trips, traveling to 3 different countries in efforts to spread the Gospel. Church and the youth group (throughout my teenage years) played a huge role in my life growing up. Outside of the obligation of having to go to public school (which for me was not a good experience) being somewhat of an outsider, church was really where I thrived. The Lord has always called us to be different right? And set apart for His glory. (Well in this case for me in Public school I was, I didn’t fit the mold there). In the church and with the body of believers I really felt like I was who the Lord wanted to me to be (I was Michelle)!!
Growing up my parents were always involved in ministry in some aspect. My dad was always the worship leader (and still is) often times with my mom singing right by his side and my mom also served in the nursery as well with the babies and toddlers. Ministry was always a part of my family life even before I was personally involved in it.
Throughout my teenage years I made stupid mistakes, mistakes that I even knew at the time were mistakes but I did them anyway. My heart knew what I was doing was wrong but my mind at the time didn’t care. This time in my life created lasting effects on my future that not even I at that moment understood. But by the grace of God I was spared from making any real huge, life-altering mistakes throughout my younger years. But what I did do was bring garbage and hurt into my marriage when I had to honestly tell my husband everything I had done before being with him. That is a PAINFUL thing to have to drag into a marriage, avoid it at all cost!! The hard part is I ripped myself off, I (shot myself in the foot) so to speak by making these stupid mistakes that I as a believer I knew would not fulfill, would only lead to pain and hurt (and for not only me but my future husband as well).
After graduating high school I didn’t really have any clear direction or ambition to pursue further schooling. (Probably a huge deciding factor in that might have been that my parents didn’t have the finances to send us girls to college or university. And of course as a young high school graduate, I really didn’t have much money to my own name working an ordinary job either). So all that to say there weren’t too many options other than to just go straight into the work force.
That summer after graduating I made the decision to go to Bible College in southern California at Calvary Chapel Bible College. My grandparents lived in the area as well as a few aunts and uncles and cousins so the idea of living again in that area was not so scary for me. Unfortunately the driving force to move down there and go to Bible collage was not for the right reasons. Once again letting my stubborn mind direct my ways rather than letting my heart (the Lord, and what I knew to be right). I was turning a deaf ear to God, not allowing him to open me up to what He would potentially have for me.
(Proverbs 5:21 “For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths.”) (A reality I think we sometimes forget, “Oh yeah, God can see everything).
Looking back now I see more clearly than ever before how sad it is for those who even know what the right thing to do is, (what the right decision would be) and nevertheless, in pure defiance follow after their own lusts and desires. In those times I wish I would have asked myself, “where is this decision going to lead me and what affects is it going to have on me and my life?”
So as it turns out I was only down in California at Bible collage for one semester (4 months to be exact), then for different reasons (mainly being financial reasons) moved back home up to Washington. Upon my return I quickly got involved again in my home church there, serving as a youth leader (along side Ivan) in the youth group. Also doing worship with Ivan in the college age Bible study group that met mid-week as well. Having known Ivan for already 4 years the Lord suddenly allowed my eyes to look upon him differently. I began to have feelings for him in more than just a friendship way. It wasn’t long before we started dating, were soon after that engaged and were soon after that married. The Lord is so good to His children; never would have imagined that Ivan was whom the Lord had for me. The Lord’s ways are SOOO much better than our own!!!!
Ivan and I after marrying were both in the work force (saving our money for our first home). After our first year of being married we were able to buy our first home and as I saw it, this meant we were settling in more and more to the place we would call home. We were married 3.5 years before the Lord decided to bless us with our first child Nollie Marae. And as those with children know, once the ball is rolling, the ball is rolling!! Then came the next baby, and the next one and so on.
It was after 4 years of marriage that the Lord gave Ivan the call to move to Austria to start a church. Before moving across the globe we knew that we wanted to try and have another baby (in which to be close in age to our Nollie). Thankfully the Lord knew our hearts and blessed us with our little Ella Jane just 2 months before moving here.
SIDE NOTE: (Ella before she was even born already had a plane ticket. So in faith we stopped on the way home from the hospital after she was born and took her passport picture, just praying that we would receive Ella’s passport in time before we were supposed to fly out just a few weeks later).
At the time we were about to embark on this adventure for the Lord, I think I didn’t fully realize what this move would mean, or how it would challenge and change me personally, or how it would challenge and change my relationship with the Lord and also my marriage; me as a mom, my relationship with my extended family etc.
In the beginning my perspective on this “BIG” move, (to say the least) was, “well I guess this will be an adventure for a little while.” Emphasis on, “LITTLE WHILE!!!”
I was very torn on the whole thing altogether. I knew in my heart that the Lord was directing and calling my husband but I didn’t share in that excitement with him. There was a lot of anxiety I was experiencing!! Being his wife and knowing that him and I are one (also means that the Lord is calling me as well). Because as his wife I needed to be supportive and submissive to how the Lord is leading my husband (and therefore our family).
And I knew that Ivan would not be moving our already established family across the world had he not CLEARLY heard from the Lord to do so!! In preparation we quit our jobs; sold our house, our cars, gave away our belongings, gave away our dogs to my sister and not being prepared really in any way whatsoever for what this move meant for Ivan and I, our kids, our future etc. we moved here to Salzburg.
I think NOTHING or NO-ONE could have prepared us for what the Lord had planned for us. (In a sense it’s like having a baby for the first time, no matter how much you read about it, how much you talk to “experienced mothers” who have gone before you, nothing can prepare you for motherhood and all that that entails). But you see that’s where FAITH comes in!!! Never before have I really, truly had such a deep understanding and really experienced practically what it meant to walk by faith!!!
(2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”) Let me just say, this is easier said, easier sung, than done!!
SIDE NOTE: I absolutely LOVE worship time, I have always had a heart for worship and thoroughly enjoy the times I am able to be a part of it. But often I am convicted by what I am singing. My prayer is that my heart would be truly convicted to mean what I sing when the rubber meets the road).
Reference book: “Kisses from Katie” Katie Davis is currently a missionary in Uganda, founder of Amazima ministries and is a mother of 13 orphan girls she adopted in Uganda. She was at the ripe young age of 18 when she first visited Uganda on a mission trip in 2006. She fell in love with the people and the culture right away and in 2007 she committed to go back to Uganda for a year to teach kindergarten in an orphanage there. Little did she know the Lord had other plans and that year turned into a lifetime commitment. She now has adopted 13 girls of her own in Uganda and runs an orphanage serving many others in the surrounding community. Through reading her book I was very moved and inspired by her tireless faith and trust in the Lord and how she is really allowing the Lord to strengthen and lead her in what He has called her to do. TRULY AN INSPIRATION!!! (So I will be quoting a few things from her book that have really impacted my life and have inspired and challenged me in my faith).
So with uncertainty flooding my heart I began just trying to live each day for what it was. Simply take care of my kids and be there for my husband etc. It took a couple of months to finally find a place to live and slowly start integrating ourselves into society here. After 10 months we were mobile with our own set of wheels (a wonderful blessing from the Lord with an infant and toddler let me tell you). Everything was so new that there were times it was exciting experiencing a new, wonderful adventure and then there were times when simply the stress and uncertainty overwhelmed me.
Pg. 1 “As I look back, I can see that God spent my whole life preparing me for the life He had planned for me…”
This new experience was not what I had planned, (my life still to this day is NOT WHAT I HAD PLANNED FOR MYSELF)!!!
Quote: “Kisses from Katie” (“Thankfully, God’s plans do not seem to be affected much by my own.”) and (“Thankfully, God’s plans also happen to be much better than my own.”)
I always knew growing up that I wanted to be involved in ministry in one aspect or another but I didn’t yet know how or understand what that would look like or the sacrifice it would involve.
As Luke 9:23 states, “If anyone desires to follow after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
Not sure many people can fully comprehend what that entails (to take up his cross and follow after the Lord)!! I know I sure didn’t at the time. Ivan and I were in no way qualified for what the Lord was calling us to do but we were available.
And you know what the Lord says to that? “I’ll take it,” “And I will do something grand.” (Like, only He can)!!
The Lord just wants those who are willing!!!
So in July of 2008 we arrived in Salzburg and that September the first Bible study started which by the end of that year turned into a Sunday service. Shortly after that our family moved into a different living space. (In total we have lived in 4 different homes since being here in Salzburg).
Unfortunately as my story goes, I was not your perfect picture of what a servant would look like (I was stumbling with picking up my cross and sometimes not carrying it at all). I was not always so “willing.”
Within the first couple of years living here I began to grow a calloused heart to what the Lord was doing here in Salzburg. Denying in my heart what I had clearly seen with my eyes (which was the Lord move and work and provide for not only my family and I, but also for Calvary Chapel Salzburg as well). The Lord was “IN THIS” but I was not allowing him to use me “IN THIS” at all. Out of obligation I did what I needed to do, feeling the pressure to put on a front (a smile) so to speak. And sprinkled amongst a few happy days here and there, were many, many sad days that just simply drained the life right out of me; robbed me of my joy.
My heart was not sold out for Christ and what he wanted to accomplish in and through me here on the mission field. My longing for home, my family and what was familiar to me for too long robbed me of a greater blessing the Lord had prepared to show me here on the mission field. And there was no one to blame but myself.
Unfortunately eventually this negativity and sadness that I was torturing myself with began to creep into my marriage and how I was performing as a mom as well. I would find myself snapping at the girls, getting upset with them for no good reason at all. Acting out simply because I was unhappy, discontent and had a negative outlook on living here. Let me tell you as I’m sure all of us know this kind of attitude gets you no-where, (except on everyone’s bad side). I used to cry after I would hear myself yell at the girls or get upset at Ivan and discourage him for NO GOOD REASON AT ALL!!!!!!
My discontentment and fight against the Lord only fueled the enemy and allowed him to ruin my life and rob me of the blessing the Lord had originally planned for me. This feeling did not go away for a long time and what happened is I began to get really good at putting on a smile when I needed to, but inside I was suffocating and dying in my misery that I had inflicted upon myself.
(Right now I want to pause here for a minute and make one thing very clear. And that is: That I put this upon myself. We are in control of ourselves and you know what I could have chosen to change my attitude, my perspective at any point in time. The Lord’s love, grace and forgiveness would have changed my heart but it’s my stubbornness and lack of faith that kept me in this miserable state for too long). (As I can attest to, “IT IS NOT WORTH IT!!!).
Life lived in this manner is not only not healthy, but it also cannot go on in this manner forever. I was driving myself crazy by feeling sorry for myself, longing to be back home, longing to be where I thought I was meant to be.
GOING ON OUR THIRD YEAR HERE:
So as foreigner’s living here in Austria we have to at the end of each year reapply for a visa to live here another year. It was nearing the end of our 2nd year and we were going into the visa office to apply for the next year’s visa (which would be going on our third year). We applied trusting everything would be fine and shortly thereafter we were given some pretty shocking news. We were not granted our visa for the next year due to finances. We were in disbelief thinking to ourselves, “what does the Lord want to do with this scenario now.” And we had 3 months to leave the country after our current visas were expired.
So shortly thereafter we moved back stateside and lived with my parents. This time for us was a time of testing and waiting upon the Lord. Knowing that Calvary Chapel Salzburg is not dependent on Ivan (the Pastor) being a crucial part of its survival. The church will survive if it’s God’s will regardless of who is a part of it or not.
My heart was torn. On one hand I had gotten what I wanted right? We were moving back home (back to family, close friends, familiarity, the English language), back to where everything was comforting and not challenging or stretching spiritually. Being on the mission field has not been comfortable, it has stretched and challenged my faith in more ways than I thought possible and in more ways than I was prepared for and it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t easy!! On the other hand I knew that God had a plan in even this and deep inside my heart I knew that plan involved submission, surrender, sacrifice and strength and ultimately involved moving back to Salzburg (where I knew deep inside my heart “without a doubt” the Lord had called us) not just Ivan but “US” (OUR FAMILY)!!!!
It’s clear now why the Lord had used this time to take us, “out of the picture” (so to speak). It required us to really submit Calvary Chapel Salzburg to the Lord and to His care knowing that it belongs to Him anyway!!
During our time stateside we were blessed to be able to share about the good work the Lord had started in Salzburg. Also it was a blessing to pray with others about our visa situation and what the Lord’s plan would be for us now. Thankfully Ivan was able to travel back here to Salzburg for a period of time for insurance reasons but also to in faith look into what it would take for us to be able to possibly come back to Salzburg and get another visa. It was during his visit here (in Salzburg) that the Lord confirmed to him that this was where He still wanted us to be.
Upon Ivan’s return stateside the Lord presented us with the opportunity to share with the college group that met at the Pastor’s house of our home church there in Seattle. When this opportunity presented itself I was a little reluctant to agree to share anything. “What would I have to share with everyone?” Is what I was thinking to myself; because since our time being back in the states I was in the flesh trying to make every effort to look for work for Ivan and trying so hard to somehow fit ourselves back into life there.
It was a constant battle in my heart that was just robbing me of my happiness. But the funny thing is, something about being back in our old environment caused me to see how completely different I was becoming (we were becoming). Things that once mattered didn’t matter so much anymore. This new revelation for me was somewhat uncomfortable because I was back on my old stomping grounds, back where I wasn’t dependent on Ivan. I could communicate with ease, get tasks done on my own without needing help etc.
And in all my efforts to try and make our family fit back into society there, we just didn’t!! It was an odd feeling to experience.
And you know what? Rightly so!! We weren’t supposed to be there!! The Lord merely wanted to use this time away to reveal that so clearly to us, (to me).
So when the time came to share at the college group I was dreading this day completely. And you know what? It literally wasn’t until we even were already in route driving to this Bible study at the Pastor’s house that I allowed the Lord to finally break me.
In the car that evening I gave up my fight against the Lord and what I knew to be His will for our family (something Ivan himself already knew whole-heartedly) but I fought against with everything inside of me. FINALLY, I GAVE UP!!!! (WAVED MY WHITE FLAG AND SURRENDERED)!!!!!
During the rest of the car ride there I apologized to Ivan for how I had hindered him and discouraged him and not supported him in the ministry. I confessed to the Lord that I was wrong to think that I knew what was better for my life and try to organize it so. So the decision was confirmed to both of us during that 45-minute drive to the Bible study that evening; that we were meant to go back to Salzburg. After Ivan was finished sharing and it came time for me to share I clearly remember thinking to myself (you know what, I am going to be real here); be honest about how hard the last couple years had been there.
During my time sharing the Lord just calmed my heart and really blessed me with (the verse, Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and minds in Christ Jesus.”) which all of the sudden became so abundantly clear to me. I had told the Lord, “God if you want us to move back out of the country, you are going to have to give me an abundant amount of peace about it.” And you know what? He was faithful to do so!! The Lord knew my heart, He knew what I needed and that’s exactly what I experienced. So with that peace it required that I now, “Trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways acknowledge Him that He will make my path straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
(Since I completely surrendered myself, my family, future to the Lord my life has not been the same, 100%!!! I CANNOT EXPLAIN THE PEACE I HAVE, I JUST HAVE IT and AM SO THANKFUL FOR IT!!)
So with that decision being made and the clear vision that this was the will of God for our family we booked our one-way tickets back to Salzburg!! I was armed with this new sense of who God is and who I was as His servant!! Not saying that now all of the sudden I immediately felt completely prepared and ready to take on anything the mission field would throw my way, but it meant simply that I was not going to fight against it and I was going to work with the Lord and not against Him!!
All the Lord is asking for is a willing heart (as I said once before)!!
As Frederick Beuchner writes, “The place God calls us to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet.”
Being in the will of the Father is where we are supposed to be (whatever that may look like for each one of us) and you know what? That’s where you are going to be the happiest and most content as well).
I thrilled to finally be able to say that I am finally at peace with where the Lord has called my family and I for now. The Lord isn’t finished using us here at Calvary Chapel Salzburg in serving His people here. And now I am simply trying to do what God has called me to do as woman who follows Him, as a wife, as a mother, as a friend etc. I finally am carrying my cross and following after him with joy and a little bit of a deeper understanding of what that sacrifice (yet privilege) it is to be HIS disciple.
(QUOTE: from “Kisses from Katie” / “God was teaching me the same lessons He desires to teach every single one of His children, He just chose to bring me to Uganda (in my case Salzburg) to do what others can learn right where they are. My life looked different than most because I’d made different choices than most. But making different choices didn’t make me superhuman. In fact, every day was filled with reminders, sometimes painful reminders, of my human emotions, human desires, and human limitations.”
So with no assurance that we would even be granted our visas we flew back to Salzburg in with faith, trust and confidence that the Lord had gone before us to prepare the way!!
We knew at least that we had 3 months to live in the country and try for our visas before we had to leave (if we were not granted them).
Within just a few weeks of being back in Salzburg we found out that we would be granted our visas once again for a year. CRAZY, how the Lord works!!! It really proves to me so vividly how the Lord is really in complete control; more than we even think sometimes (REALLY)!!!
So now here we are going on our 6th year here in Salzburg by His grace. Each year is still a challenge for me (in that I miss my family every day). It’s not America that I miss per say, it’s my family and friends!! But I see the bigger picture now and it’s so much better!!!
So in closing we would appreciate your prayers because this month we are starting the process in applying for our permanent visas (not residency but permanent visas). We trust the Lord in this as well, as we have no reason not to!!
Quote from Katie Davis (“Kisses from Katie”) “Do not forget in the darkness what you have been promised in the light.”
READ pg. 226 from book “Kisses from Katie” “I shudder to think what I could have missed in life because of my disobedience. I am so thankful that God in His grace does not allow me to win. Because usually, the fight is not really about what He is asking me to do. It is about me, trying to figure out just how much control I have over my little life. At this point, not much.”
In Jesus’ day, He expected everything of His disciples. Do I believe He requires the same today?
ABSOLUTELY!! And I want to live like I believe it!!
Jesus isn’t surprised by anything is he? He never goes, “Oh, oops I didn’t mean for that to happen; just one minute let me try and fix that. Oh, oops I meant for you to go here not there.”
NOT AT ALL!!! (Jesus is asking for crazy trust, and crazy obedience)!!!
QUOTE: “Jesus is actually smiling and saying, “Surprise, I am right here. Surprise, it is just as I said it would be. Surprise, I am exactly enough, EVERYTHING YOU NEED, all over again!!”
QUOTE: “And as I rest in Him and draw near I am learning much and I am remembering that I am one of His children. And even in the middle a storm, even when I can’t see the good yet, He can. And He is looking at me with that twinkle in His eye, just waiting to surprise.”
Now I would just like to close by sharing this verse from (Romans 12:11-13) “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor serving me, your Father. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Continue to offer my hospitality to people in need and let me take care of the rest.”