Monday, September 5, 2016

A Mountain, The Cross & Our Love Story

            God uses our brokenness as the quiet place where He creates a new love story. Although we were about 2,200 miles apart and had never met, Linda and I shared a deep longing to be married to someone who loved Christ above all else. God brought us together; first to walk with Him in faith and then to walk with each other hand in hand. The story you're about to read is the proof of God using His Cross as a mountain signpost to create our love story.
            Witnessing the extremes of brokenness is a regular part of being the Director of an inner-city ministry called Youth With A Purpose. I've felt the final heartbeat of a 14 yr. old gunshot victim as I prayed with my hand on his chest. Buffalo, New York is full of broken families. Violence and poverty have become normalized as an acceptable lifestyle. In our Youth Center we played basketball and talked about Jesus. In the summer we helped young people experience the peace of God's love by taking them camping and hiking in the Adirondack Mountains.
            Linda lived in Phoenix, Arizona - just a short 2,197.7 miles away! She has healing hands. As a cosmetologist, Linda's hands would color and cut hair, but her heart listened with compassion. People left with less hair and more peace! She was also a prophetic prayer warrior at Without Walls Church in Chandler, AZ. People would seek her out to hear what God might plant in her heart as a word for them. In 1996, God gave Linda a word of knowledge that said she would fall in love with a guy who worked with youth and played basketball. Linda waited many years for that guy.
            With a group of young people from the inner-city, I stood on top of Armstrong Mountain. The trail on any mountain is filled with learning opportunities. Stopping along the way, we open the Bible and share wisdom that will help anyone climb the mountains of life. My partner Daryl Boss snapped a picture of my back as I stood on the edge of the mountain facing the sunbeams pouring out of the sky. Printed on the back of my shirt was the Cross. I wore that shirt for every mountain hike with the young people as a way of trying to help them think about what Jesus did for us on the Cross.
            The picture that Daryl took ended up on the cover of a magazine called Climbing For Christ. Linda received an email version of the magazine and the words under the picture caught her attention. The article described the reasons about why I was going to orphanages in Africa and hiking on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Climbing For Christ (C4C) "takes the Gospel to mountainous areas of the world where other missionaries cannot or will not go." In the article I spoke about Holy Spirit collaborations and quoted Romans 8:28 "All things work together for good.” Linda felt the love of Christ coming through the words in the article. She saw the back of a man on a mountain, with a cross on his back who was telling young people about Jesus.
          Coincidentally, Linda had reached the top of Kilimanjaro three years earlier. Linda joined C4C after learning about them while she was hiking in Nepal. I was one of the earliest members, but Linda and I never knew each other. Although I was stopped short of reaching Africa's tallest mountain by altitude sickness, little did I know that I was trekking my way toward a greater personal high-point.  
            Receiving a $25 donation for my trip to Africa 2011 was a beautiful thing. All donations are, only this one had eternal implications. Linda sent the money through C4C and I sent the obligatory thank you. That began our communication through emails, Facebook and phone calls. I had surrendered to God my desire for a soul-mate marriage that honored Him, but now I was feeling some kind of a romantic awakening. I have to admit that I fought that feeling aggressively. How the heck could I allow myself to get romantically involved with a lady who lived almost 2,200 miles away?
            Slowly, over the course of many months, God worked on our hearts. In April of 2012 Linda visited Israel. I sent her a Facebook message while she hiked in Bethany. Our phone calls increased when Linda returned to America.  In those days our talk time was limited because of the difference in time zones. Phone minutes were free after 9 PM. Arizona uses Mountain Standard Time which meant that it was midnight for me when I would call. We usually talked and prayed for several hours. If you really want to get to know the true heart of a person, pray with them. I believe that through our prayers, God was reducing the time and distance between us.
            The aggressive fighting to keep my heart insulated from any more brokenness was slowly ebbing away. God was wearing my resistance down the way a mountain waterfall shapes the stone underneath the falling of many waters. In September of 2012, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said: "Linda is My gift to you." I have to admit the first thought I had was denial. Have you ever felt like telling God that He must be smoking something? I said to God: "Come on God, what kind of gift is this? She lives 2,200 miles away!" Slowly, like an almost dried up stream in the dead of summer, the truth of His gift seeped into my heart and I believed it. I shared the news with Linda and we began making plans to close the 2,200 miles separating us.
            "Should I make reservations for us at a campground near the Grand Canyon?" Those were Linda's words as we began discussing our first get-together. We had agreed to meet and do some hiking to get to know each other. Linda had hiked the Grand Canyon almost 30 times and would be an expert guide for a newbie like me. There was another canyon that needed to be crossed before I could make plans to cross the country. Youth ministry is not a lucrative endeavor from a worldly stand point. Money is a faith currency - you pray for what you need and God signs your paycheck. I didn't have any money to fly to Arizona and spend two weeks with God's gift.  My answer to Linda's question was: "You do what you believe you should do. If it was me, I would make the reservation and trust God for the money to cover our obligations. My faith tells me that He brought us together." Linda made the reservations.
            The money came in mysterious ways. A couple at Linda's church told her that they felt God was urging them to contribute to our story. They prayed separately to seek what God would have them give. When they came back together after prayer, their answers were the same and they gave $100. The money came in different ways from people who donated to bring me to Arizona. Soon the plane ticket was purchased and our plans were finalized.
            Nervousness was all over me as my daughter Michele dropped me off at the Buffalo Airport. I trusted God, but as a previously broken man, I still harbored some aggressive self-protection habits. I read my Bible and prayed, for 2,200 miles!
            After getting my luggage, it was time to meet God's gift. I walked along a corridor with my eyes focused on the carpet that depicted airplanes in a deep blue sky. I still remember the sweeping motion of my head as I lifted my eyes to see Linda in person for the first time. We both smiled as I took the final few steps and then we hugged. It was a hug for the ages. We hugged a long time. I had God's gift in my arms.
            My first night in Arizona was spent at the home of Linda's friends, Rick and Jane. They had graciously opened their home to us. More than their home, they opened their hearts. The next day, Linda and I would attend church at Without Walls and then meet Pastor's Ken and Deanna Dutton. They all wanted to meet Bob from Buffalo who was taking their Linda to the Grand Canyon. I passed their scrutiny and they gave their blessing upon our grand plans.
             God spoke to me again on our first day in the Grand Canyon. He simply said: "You can trust her." All of my aggressive resistance and heart-protections melted away. We set up separate tents and then went for a hike in the Grand Canyon. A friend of mine had told me about his "first kiss" with the lady who became his wife. He said he had no control and it just seemed to happen as if orchestrated by God. Linda and I had our first kiss at the mile and a half mark of the Grand Canyon on October 8, 2012 at about 4 PM. We just sort of gravitated into each other's arms and kissed.
            When I tell that story to an audience, I add the rest of the details of that first kiss. It was slightly overcast under an Arizona blue sky with a temperature of about 72 degrees. There was sandy gravel under our feet and the canyon wall behind us was clay mixed with reddish rock. Some folks would call that complete description of our first kiss as "TMI" or too much information. We use that part of the story to urge people to wait for special moments to occur. God's grace will orchestrate special moments for those who wait in faith.
             After our short time together, we knew God had brought us together for life. We'd been getting to know each other through prayer and transparent communication for almost two years. We agreed to get married. I wanted to propose to Linda in person, but that meant another unbudgeted trip to Arizona. In November I had to fly to Florida for my son's wedding. While waiting for my flight, they asked if anyone would take a later flight for a free airline ticket. My faith became works as I jumped at the opportunity. I had my ticket.
            Before I had left Rick and Jane's house on my first trip, they offered their home to me as a place to stay and surprise Linda. I took them up on their offer and they helped me make plans for a surprise proposal. On the day of my secret proposal, I knelt and waited for Linda wearing a duck hat (ducks mate for life!) I held a sign that said: "Excuse me, will you marry me?" Small rubber ducks were strewn on the floor the way someone might make a trail of rose petals. My gift from God said yes.
             After my surprise trip to Arizona, my phone started acting strangely and the number 86 kept popping up when I tried to send text messages. I went to the Bible and read Psalm 86 and Song of Solomon 8:6. Then I wondered what 86 days from that day was - it turned out to be my birthday, February 9th. Linda and I agreed to get married on that day in 2013.
            We made plans for a ceremony ordained by God. Everything for our wedding seemed to materialize as needed. Even my wedding ring came from Linda's friends Miguel and Maria who found it while they were out walking. Unable to find the owner, they gave the ring to Linda, it fits me perfectly.
            God has made the way of our marriage through grace based on faith. We've told our story to students in schools and community centers. Our story has given encouragement to single, widowed and divorced folks of all ages.  We take the truth of the Cross and help people find love on the mountains of life. 
           Linda and I would be happy to share our story with you. We would also be happy to pray with you. If you would like us to come and share our love story with your group, please let us know. We love to share and give God the glory because after all; God is love! 716-830-8240
          Please feel free to check out our Ministry called Youth With A Purpose. We develop relationships with inner-city young people who have been affected by poverty, violence, drugs and gangs. We help them put down their guns and pick up the Bible. Our goal is to help them know how much God loves them and has a plan for their lives.
Thanks for your time. Go do something nice for somebody.
Jesus loves you and so do we.
Bob & Linda Kuebler

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