But God

Often in my life I find myself caught up in the cycle of anxiety and worry. I am constantly asking, “What if…?” What if this doesn’t work, or what if so-and-so thought this, or what if it’s not enough, etc. Recently as I have been navigating a particularly hard emotional issue I have found myself saying these words to my husband. He surprised my by saying two different words – “But God…”

I know those words are part of a popular worship song that constantly plays on Christian radio. Honestly, I tune it out most of the time when I get sick of the same songs over and over again. But when Shawn said those words to me a few different times recently, I realized how much the words we choose to tell ourselves shapes how we think, how we act, and how we respond to the world around us.

Yes, maybe something seems impossible if we are looking at it through the eyes of this world. But we are not citizens of this world if we have a relationship with Jesus. Our destiny is different, but so is our daily living here on Earth – we do not have to wait until Heaven. We are not bound by the laws of physics or the intentions of man – instead we are given access to a storehouse of heavenly resources and we are given the inheritance of those who are children of God. We are not limited by a broken creation because we have been chosen by the Holy Creator, who is making all things new again.

I need to stop wondering if or how or even why and start saying, “But God…” But God is in this. But God promised me. But God is for me so who can be against me? But God sent his son to die for me. But God inclines his ear to me. But God is the author of all of this. But God is good. But God IS enough.

Where are the areas of your life where you need to remember this truth today? Because we may see a limited, murky, confusing scene in front of us, but God is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can’t…but God.

God is not an Avocado

We had an avocado tree in our yard in Nairobi. It produced small little fruits because it had not been well cared for before we came, but the harvest was still plentiful and happened twice a year due to the perfect weather there. (Sigh…I do miss the weather!) You could also buy them year round from roadside markets called Dukas for about twenty cents each. Yes, you read that correctly. I know – you practically have to sell your organs to buy them here.

The thing I have noticed about avocados is that you spend so much time waiting on them to become the perfect ripeness. There’s really no choice – it’s not one of those fruits that is yummy when it is not ready. I would gather the ones that fell in the yard and bring them in. Most of the time they still had to ripen a bit, and they would sit on the kitchen windowsill. Each morning I would check them, hoping for that perfect give that in them meant I could put it on my toast with some tomato and an egg – the perfect breakfast if you ask me.

Then suddenly one day I would rejoice because after all the waiting and checking it was finally over – my avocado was ready! I would enjoy it that day! However, by the next morning the rest that had fallen and been brought inside were rotten. I hate when you cut through only to see the black rot around the pit – so disappointing. If I happened to be in a hurry and missed the good morning, I might miss out on the whole batch. All that waiting for nothing. Avocados wait for no man.

Humans do not tend to be very good at waiting. I know that I am so impatient. It is even harder when we are not waiting FOR something but rather we are waiting IN something. I have had times in my life where I have clearly sensed God telling to me to wait in the moment – don’t wish it by or fast-track things. When we are in the middle of grief or pain or uncertainty we do not want to hear him tell us to wait. We worry as we wait that the solution or the perfect thing will come and we will not be watching so we will miss out. What if I am sitting in my grief and allowing the my heart to really feel what is happening around me – will I miss the chance to heal?

I know that the Bible talks about the idea that in all things we are to give thanks. In my past this has meant “getting through” things as quickly as possible so I can get on with the business of gratefulness. More recently I have re-thought this concept. In her book, No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece says, “We are so quick to get to the beauty that we skip over the brokenness or have a hard time seeing beauty arise amidst the brokenness. This has led to some dangerous and unbiblical theology. And if we are going to recover a healthy, biblical understanding of how God meets us in our pain we need to recover the lost prayer of lament in our churches. Authentic praise flows from honest prayer, unrestrained lament, and trusting dependence. And this is when brokenness becomes beautiful.” (Emphasis is mine.)

This has been a year. There has been a lot of hard, a lot of bad. I have had to give myself permission to sit in some lament and grief over many things. I’ve been aware that there are things that I can learn only in this time of waiting. I can be in that time as long as I need and I am not going to miss what God has for me. In fact, waiting with no clear answers may be exactly what he has for me.

Recently I preached on what it looks like to live in a broken heart versus a whole and healed heart. The hardest part about “guest speaking” is you have half an hour to tell everything your heart has been ruminating on. While I know that God desires to see us healed and whole, I think part of that healing comes in the sitting and the waiting. I believe that sitting in the not-quite-yet healed completely heart while waiting on God to finish the healing is a good place to be. It’s not being stuck in the brokenness. It’t not missing out or being left behind. God’s healing sometimes feels like waiting for an avocado to ripen – like it’s never going to happen or somehow it will pass you by and you will miss it. But God is not an avocado! Sometimes his healing means sitting and waiting; listening and anticipating; waiting in the murky in-between where it doesn’t always feel so good, but where the broken becomes the beautiful.

I believe God is the redeemer of trauma and brokenness and the beauty-maker from ashes. As we offer our sacrifice of praise in the waiting, we will see these truths.

Hope Silences the Dark

“The gospel gives me hope, and hope is not a language the dark voices understand.”
― Andrew Peterson

Have you felt it? Have you been in that place where the dark voices win temporarily and hopelessness prevails? I have. It is not a fun place, nor is it a place of truth. It is, however, a place that has as much power as we offer up to it.

Not long ago I was not feeling well, there were several hard things on my heart and mind, and I made the mistake of getting on the scale to see how my (lack of) calorie counting was going. All of these things combined turned into a despondent time of crying, yelling, and pouting at God and my husband until I stuck in my headphones and tuned everything out to watch the newest episode of one of my favorite TV shows. That was a bad idea, since everyone is writing Covid stories right now, and it only fed into my anxiety, sadness, and fear.

What a mess I am.

Or rather, what I mess I was in that moment. That is NOT me. A moment of despair does not define who I am or how I live. His mercies are new every morning and today I remember I am a new person. Today I fill my mind with truth and my ears with worship rather than soapy stories and fretful news. I can still see the reality of things around me, but I also see hope. I see pathways. I eat healthier and exercise to take care of my body and I guard my heart more passionately. But most of all I just acknowledge that so much of this comes from self and I repent of trying so hard in my own strength. When I turn to the gospel and I read truth, the Spirit opens my eyes and I see through the fog of heaviness and am able to rebuke the lies and fear. My heart become courageous – not because of anything of myself but because of He who lives within me. Slowly hope seeps back in and drowns out the dark voices of despair that cannot understand it and run from something so powerful.

May the God of Hope meet you today.

Did God Really Say?

Security: an idol we bow to and work for and dream of.
Security: an illusion we imagine and discuss and plan for.
Security: a gift we find here and now and in memories and in hopes.
O God of ever-present love, help us to embrace true security, fleeing from idols and exposing illusions. All things are passing, God never changes.
Amen.
Let it be so.
(Lina Toth, in Celtic Daily Prayer Book II)

Immediately these words above gripped my heart. I read this passage recently and was struck by how many times I have chased after false security because the true Security didn’t seem logical, or was too hard, or felt obscure. This false security is something that has become an idol to me in recent years. I know that there have been times before when it has overtaken my thoughts – particularly when it comes to finances. But we have made choices in our marriage about how we desired our family culture to look and that has meant we had to trust God rather than our own plans. Sometimes (oftentimes) people didn’t understand, and even those who meant well and loved us fully couldn’t comprehend or agree with the decisions made. Through it all God has been more than faithful and we have had an abundant life.

But when we were making the decision to move back from East Africa a couple of years ago my heart was going one direction only – stability. We needed it. We craved it. We longed for a place to go that would be home forever, where we could dive in and make friendships and know our place and who we are. No more foreign cultures that we loved in so many ways yet made us question every action and motive every day. No more friends that we were just starting to feel comfortable with leaving because their term was up. No more relying on people to give financially so we could do ministry and live. No more terrorist attacks in our city or stressful, dangerous elections where we need to be on lockdown. No more insecurity.

My desire was security and the idol I was relying on to make that happen was America. Ouch. As a former missionary I hate even admitting that!

All of us have seen that idol fail this year. So many of those things that I listed above are still true of our life here. We live in one of the most transient places in the US, and people leave regularly. Because of that those who are the stayers are more hesitant to open up. I get that – we were the stayers for a while. The very thing I love about DC – the international flavor and the ability to see the world in a glance – is the same thing that makes it exhausting as we try to know people and understand their reactions and our relationship with them. Diving in and making friendships has been close to impossible in some ways this year thanks to the Pandemic. And I don’t need to tell you about stressful elections! Yet we know we are suppose to be here – this is home.

Over a year ago I sat on my porch praying to God about my calling here in DC. I have always loved being in ministry with Shawn. I loved being a pastor’s wife – I still do. I feel like it is in my DNA to care for people this way. However, over the last couple of years I have found myself being drawn to be more official in that role. I wanted to see how God used me – Heather. Not Shawn’s wife (or the “preacher’s wife” as someone affectionately called me before.) What did it mean to be called as a woman, as Heather, as a daughter of the Most High? How could my life, my story, my gifts, my passions, and my weaknesses be used for Him?

This was not the first time I had prayed about that (and would definitely NOT be the last time!) But in that moment I knew – in that deep in your soul, no shadow of a doubt, truth in the core of your being way of knowing – that God told me to step into that and he would take care of the rest.

“But God, my family.” “But God, I won’t get paid. I really should find a paying job here.” “But God, I’m not educated enough.” “But God -security!!” But God, but God, but God. Still, I knew.

So I jumped into it. Well, let’s be honest – I trudged into it kicking and screaming at times. I am not a great student, and I knew it meant school, classes, papers, and interviews. But I started – I am doing the classes, doing the training, getting the licenses, and doing what He asks. And you know what? He has been faithful the whole way. He provides financially in ways we couldn’t imagine. He brings friendship and support from people in the unlikeliest of places and ways. He enfolds my children into his arms and helps me trust him with their care rather than thinking it is all me. There have been times of discouragement and what-was-I-thinking-this-makes-no-sense. Those times I hear a whisper of doing something that seems more logical or practical that speaks, “Did God really say…?” These happen when I have grabbed back the control of my life and plans from His grasp instead of letting Him lead. They happen when I demand security on my own terms rather than his.

Many times in scripture we see people falling out of the blessings of God and into a dangerous world of sin and self-reliance when the enemy whispers in their ear, “Did God really say…?” Adam and Eve are the first and most well known examples, but definitely not the last. And while I continue to push on, I am sure that I will hear those words again. Sometimes they come from frustration with people, sometimes from my complete lack of understanding of how to do a task in front of me. This week they came, over and over again, like rolling storm clouds shouting at me that I had no control over anything. In the middle of that storm I saw my orphan-ness come out and I felt myself wanting to fall back into destructive habits – ones that always reared their ugly heads when I was feeling out of control.

Thankfully this time my heart had expected this attack. I was prepared with the armor and battled back. By the end of the week I was weary and limping a bit, but victorious. Because when Satan slithered up and asked, “Did God really say…” I yelled back, “YES!” Not in my strength – we all know that. But by the power of the One living in me.

I want to encourage you, brother and sister. This is a hard time. There are so many voices out there, so many questions, so many things causing fear, instability, and chaos in our hearts. Are you taking time to listen? Are you standing in the presence of the God of ever-present love, asking him to help us embrace the true security that is Him?

The Walk of Lament

“He means to make his subjects merciful and wise; sorrow and struggle bringeth both. We will, he tells me, grow by grieving, live by dying, love by losing. The heart itself is the field of battle and the garden green.”
― Andrew Peterson, The Monster in the Hollows

Our family loves the Wingfeather Saga books by Andrew Peterson. They follow Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli as they grow from innocent little children into young people who are refined and shaped by much tragedy in their lives but just as much love. We have read them together out loud several times, and recently the kids have enjoyed hearing the author himself read them over FB during Covid.

Though the story is fiction and filled with imaginative and colorful characters and scenery, the truth of these words is very real. I’ve been reading a book by Esther Fleece called “No More Faking Fine.” (I don’t love the name, but I am no good at titles either!) It is a book that centers around the idea that to have true joy and become real worshippers and who we were meant to be, we must first learn to become fluent in the prayers of lament. God is not one who offers us the easy fix. Death to self is painful. Sanctification can be hard spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Remember – it is not our work, but us surrendering to him and allowing him to work in us. We often choose to go the other route – we short cut through the hard stuff as fast as possible and bypass any uncomfortable grieving time or unanswerable questions. We do whatever we can do on our own to “fix it.” I am definitely guilty of this. But I am starting to learn that if I want to truly heal, truly grow as a person, then I need to take time to put words to my own grief and wounds and then offer them up to him to redeem no matter how painful that process is. Not just the ones in the past that I prefer to forget, but the ones that come up daily. I’ve found they usually hinge on one another – past wounds continue to fester until true lament happens.

As I do this, it becomes good for everyone I do life with. Eugene Peterson says in his book, “The Contemplative Pastor,” that God’s plans and purposes are not about ourselves only. What is truly best for us will always be best for the people around us. If we suffer, this can help us grow into people of compassion who can empathize well. Our experiences, when properly healed, can make us living examples of God to the world around us. But if we ignore the wounds and don’t take the time to grieve them, then we become self-focused, unable to love well, and wounded. When we don’t practice self-care, we cannot care for others. Taking time to heal is not being self-absorbed, it is being a person who becomes vulnerable in our weakest state so that we can be strong and whole through his Spirit.

As we have walked through this crazy year, we have all had things to grieve. Maybe things in our past have caught up with us as we have had to change some of the activities that may have distracted us before. Hear me – I am not talking about staying in the lament. No, just the opposite – we don’t wallow. We do sit, wait, listen. We don’t rush. But when we have actively and intentionally walked through the grief we come to the other side of it ready to trade in that sorrow for a real hope, joy, and peace that comes from believing in the one true God who keeps his promises. What a good thing to remember in this season of Advent.

For Those Who Can’t Speak

I can’t stop crying.

There’s so much grief in this world right now.  I am praying for friends who have lost fathers and mothers and siblings during this time and cannot even be there with them in their last moments or attend a funeral to honor their lives.  My heart breaks for a family I don’t even know who has two teenage sons in the hospital with COVID.  All I can picture each time I pray is my own two boys.  How does a mom deal with that much uncertainty and sorrow at once? But one of the biggest things my heart has been hurting over is the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery.  Jogging, unarmed and unthreatening, but taken from this world simply because of the color of his skin.  I was agonizing at how far we still have to go when it comes to seeing everyone as an equal.  Then came Breonna Walker – shot eight times in her own house when police officers entered the wrong house.   And now another victim, George Floyd, has lost his life and we are mourning again the brokenness of a world where people can simply ignore a man saying, “I can’t breath.”

I hesitate to write this because I am a white woman – how can I speak to this?  I KNOW I have so much to learn.  I am thankful for my friends who have experienced this kind of racism first hand and are willing to listen to my ignorant questions and answer me in truthful ways.  I will never understand it by experience, but I can learn and empathize,  and speak the truth of it.  It is my responsibility to educate myself and learn these things – it is not the job of the black community to do this for me.

I will say this –  I didn’t understand white privilege was real until I moved to a place where I was the minority. Even then I experienced a tiny little glimpse of being singled out for my skin color, but often it opened doors and gave opportunities that the people I loved and served alongside didn’t have. I remember one situation in Malawi where a local family we worked with was in the public hospital.  My friend had gone in to have a baby.  The pregnancy had been complicated, but the baby was full term.  While she was in surgery because she was bleeding the baby was left in the nursery in care of the nurses.  He died because he choked on his own spit up.  He was healthy and doing well – but the lack of attention caused him to die before his mama even got to know him. The nurses denied it many times and then finally admitted to it but still said it wasn’t their fault because the mom should be watching the baby – even though she was in surgery.  Childless with no hope for a future child is a bleak place to be in that culture.   She went into severe depression.  Still the hospital refused to discharge her and kept charging money.  They wouldn’t get her the records so she could have them.  In despair her husband called and asked us to help.  I marched into the room, packed her things, went to the finance office to pay the bill but demanded the records first.  With a wad of cash in sight and an angry white American in front of them they handed the records over. I took her out of there and home where I tucked her into bed and wept with her.  She had missed the funeral of her son because they wouldn’t let her leave.  She didn’t even have a picture.

I did so many things that day I swore I would never do.  I played the “white card” to the full extent I knew how because I knew that my skin color and the money I carried meant power.  Though I “paid the bill” we all knew it was a bribe, so much more than the actual bill and especially under the circumstances.  Paying bribes was something I was fundamentally against, but I didn’t think twice about it in that situation.  I verbally ripped apart the people in charge and railed against the system in ways no missionary is supposed to do.  I demanded, yelled, threatened, and got my way. And I knew I would – I had the confidence to do it because I had the right skin color to get away with it.

Honestly, in that situation, I would do it again.

The truth is sometimes my skin color played against me in Africa, especially when it came to police corruption.  But in the current climate here I realize that even that was minimal.  I might have had to pay more for a bogus fine, but I was not worried about being physically harmed by the police.  Overall I started to really understand what the term “white privilege” meant.  I can’t tell you how many times I watched Kenyan friends get patted down and have to empty their bags while going through security at a mall, but I could give them a quick glance as I flashed open my bag and get a wave through. These things seem like little things – but it’s the compilation of these “little things” that chips away at a person’s dignity and honor.

As a woman I have experienced the feeling of being looked down upon – especially within the church around the world.  I’ve been told that the gifts and passions God has instilled in me should be toned down or somehow worked out through my husband. Isn’t is good enough to be the Pastor’s wife?  There have also been times in this world I felt powerless or threatened because of my gender.  When a catcall crosses lines or a man thinks he can comment on or touch your body without permission.  Every woman alive knows what it feels like to be made into an object somehow.   Again – very real and very wrong.  However, even this idea is changing in most developed countries.  Especially in America and in church, the thought has drastically changed from the idea that being a woman makes my life less valuable.  But what of the life of Breonna?  Does being a black woman mean you still need to fear for your safety no matter where you are or what time we are in?  Even in your own home?  How can we be so evolved in one sense, yet we still can’t see past color.

I’ve talked with a close friend about what it means to raise a young black male in this day and age, and I was so appalled to learn the things she understood she needed to teach her son – things I would not think twice about.  She lovingly yet firmly rebuked my initial, “That can’t be true” remark, and as I remembered she was a person who always spoke hard truth, I apologized and tried to reset my thought process.   As we talked more I asked, “How can I teach my children when it comes to this issue of race?  How can I raise them to be a part of the solution rather than feed into it more?”  The biggest answers were awareness, education, acknowledgment, and action.  Aware that their skin color brings them a privilege that others do not have.  Being educated in the things happening around them and speaking into that rather than putting their head in the sand because they don’t fully understand it or are nervous to speak to it. Acknowledgement that it is not fair, but that it is real.  Action to use their own voices and resources to stand with their friends who cannot do this without fear of retribution.  I’m proud of the kids I have raised as I watch them navigate this in a way of passion and boldness I never even understood needed to be there when I was their age.  I hear them stand up for friends and speak against the comments and actions of people that are suppose to be “harmless” because they understand that words are powerful and actions sometimes speak louder than words when it comes to shaping the way a person thinks and acts.

But we all still have a long, long way to go.

Church – what are we doing?  We should be leading the forefront of this battle – we have had the ultimate reconciliation with God! We should be truth-bearers of reconciliation with each other! But I fear that out of ignorance, unbelief, or our own selfish hearts that lean towards racism we are just fueling the flame.  I don’t have the answers.  But we need to start pleading for wisdom to the One who does.  We cannot bury our heads and ignore it because it “didn’t happen here” or “what can I do” or “who would listen to me?”  We can’t be afraid of finding those friends who HAVE experienced this and who are willing to let us ask them the hard questions.   We cannot shy away from the rebuke we may need as we start to have our eyes opened to the realities for so many.  As a church, and as brothers and sisters who love Jesus, we should be a safe place for all people – race, gender, age, sex, culture, economic status, immigration status.  We need to understand that when we see #blacklivesmatter it doesn’t go without saying and we downplay this message by adding anything else to that hashtag.  If we really think all lives matter, we should ask ourselves why the phrase “black lives matter” is such a trigger for us.  Pro-life is just as important after a person is born.

I don’t know the answers.  I am sure that even in these few paragraphs I have gotten something wrong.  I’ll be honest – I started this blog right after the news of Ahmaud broke, but then let it sit.  After a couple weeks I kept thinking, “I will say the wrong thing, there’s no point in bringing it up again.”  Then Breonna was killed.  Then George.  I can’t keep silent for fear of of saying it wrong or backlash. Well, I COULD – that’s my privilege within the skin I was born, as unfair as that is.  It is also a big part of the problem.  You’ve probably seen the quote by Benjamin Franklin that says, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are just as outraged as those who are.”   Though I’ve been sad, angry, even appalled, I’ve stayed quiet.  But I will not any longer, because my heart, my conscience, my soul will not allow it. Because I love many people who do not look like me.  Because it is my calling as a follower of Jesus.  It’s time.

“A scared world needs a fearless church.”  AW Tozer.  It’s time to be fearless.

 

 

Chosen

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.” Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

All of us have an innate desire to know that we are chosen, loved, wanted. We think of it often in the sense of a romantic relationship, and that certainly is an important one. But we only feel real fulfillment in any of our relationships if we don’t feel like we are a burden or we were forced upon someone, but that they chose us and want to be in our presence. My birth father never made me feel this way. I don’t ever remember having that type of relationship with him. There were times where he was filled with guilt and apologized, but it was very apparent quickly that it had more to do with easing his conscience than actually having relationship with me. My mom met my stepdad when I was in 1st grade. He and my future step brothers moved next door. By the time I was 8 they were married, and I really don’t remember my life without this man being in it.

As with most step-families, ours was complicated. I often refer to our family as the dysfunctional Brady Bunch since my mom had three girls and my dad had 2 boys, then together they had my sister. But one thing I always knew – though I was not his by birth, I was his by choice. I was never just a tag along or an addition because he loved my mom. As I sat on his lap around the time of their wedding I clearly remember the conversation about how he was my dad and I was his daughter. He was adamant about the fact that one day he would be the one to walk me down the aisle and give me away. I don’t know why that was so important to him – certainly an 8 year old wasn’t thinking in those terms. But the conversation stuck with me, and I equated it to meaning I was his to give away. Maybe an “old fashioned” notion by today’s standards, but one I was happy to live in. And he did give me away – all the while joking as we walked down the aisle that, “It’s not too late to turn around, kid!”

It wasn’t just Dad. His family welcomed us in with open hearts and arms. They are a large family with their own chaos and craziness. But there was never once a feeling of being on the outside. His nieces and nephews became my cousins and my best friends – the kind where every time you are together you plot to stay over night and be together as long as possible. I spent countless nights with all my new Aunts and Uncles, and never questioned their love for me.

I was chosen. Invited in.

I wasn’t just acknowledged, begrudgingly accepted or tolerated. I was wanted, loved, and immersed. My family tree suddenly had new roots grafted in deep and permanent.

It was healing to the soul of a little girl who didn’t feel wanted and loved by her birth father. But here’s the thing…If I had not chosen to allow myself to be loved and choose to love back, it would not have been a relationship. If I did not believe that their love for me was real, I could not have grown up with my huge group of family members and love and laughter and friendship. I had to choose back.

Despite the fact that my step father was far from perfect, and my new family and I all made mistakes, their choosing of me opened the pathway for me to think about the love of my heavenly father more. He also chose me. Before I was formed in the womb, before I existed. I was his. My name is graven on his hands. The Spirit lives inside of me. I am his masterpiece – wholly and dearly loved. He gives me good things, he knows what I need before I even ask (or I even know!). He took me out of slavery and fear and bought me with the price of his son’s life so that I could be his daughter, a co-heir with Jesus. I am adopted, wanted, desired, pursued, and loved.

My mother went to be with Jesus 12 years ago. My stepfather just died last week. Tomorrow we will celebrate his life and I will be with the family that took me in and loved me well. I am aware that in a physical sense of the word, I am an orphan. But I have family that loves me, and – even more so – a heavenly father who promises that he does not leave us orphans, but that he comes to us and makes us his. He has chosen us – we just need to choose back.

On Things Above

This morning I was cleaning and organizing around my house, burning off nervous energy. I was waiting to hear about a situation that was causing me stress, and so I was praying and taking control of the only thing I really have any control over – the closets. This has always been my go-to when I feel out of control. You would think I have the cleanest, most organized closets in the world. However, I also have 6 people living here, so that is just not true.

As I was cleaning and praying, I was fretting to God and suddenly I very clearly heard him tell me, “The only thing that changes when you take on this anxiety and allow it to rule you is the atmosphere of your home.”

Ouch.

While I know practically that it is true my worried attitude does nothing to help things, it always seemed like it was my “right” to have in the midst of struggles.

Many years ago as I was just getting to know my husband I spent some precious time with his aunt. We went through Colossians 3 and she had me memorize it. At the time I was doing it more to impress her and get in good with the family, if I’m being honest. But now, 28 years later, I find myself often repeating this chapter as I sort through how I’m feeling about things.

“Since then you were raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…you used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.”

Later it goes on to say, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

No where in that (or any other place in the Bible) do I see where God says, “It’s ok. Go ahead – it is your right to be angry, hurt, worried, etc.” Even if it is the natural response, my “rights” are gone as a child of God. They were put to death on the cross. My life is in Christ. And while he did freely express his desires and feelings to God – to the point where “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground,” he circled back around to the peace that came from being in tune and in harmony with his Father. And “for the joy set before him,” he endured the cross.”

Friends, you know I’m not talking about “fake it ’til you make it.” We can earnestly and genuinely come to the Father with our fears, concerns, tears, anxieties, and everything else we experience. However, what I was doing – falling into the pattern of allowing that initial response to govern everything I did and felt for the rest of the day- that falls in to the category of idolatry. I was putting my trust in myself, in my response, in my emotions, and allowing them to rule me rather than in the one who created all of those things. Even more so, I was believing the worst about God in the middle of it. My default was to disparage the very God I professed to worship and serve. That overflowed into my actions and my attitude, and changed the whole atmosphere of my home.

So as I confess this to my Father I am so thankful that he, in return, reminds me of his great and abundant love for me. I started to speak my thanks aloud, and recounted the numerous ways over the years he has provided – sometimes above and beyond and sometimes just enough in just the nick of time, but always completely. And I continue to set my heart and mind and things above.

What’s Your Search Engine?

Anna and I faithfully watch our favorite show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, each week.  I love sitting down with her on the day after it comes out with a cup of coffee and bringing it up on Hulu.  Yesterday I woke up with the song “Mad World” in my head because I had been listening to the playlist from the show the night before.  I was humming it all day and kind of laughed at the irony of the name of the song in this time.  Then  I realized that, like many songs from my growing up years, I didn’t know most of the lyrics.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have found out that I was singing made up lyrics because despite the best efforts by my teenage self doing the whole “play-pause-rewind-play-again -and-write-things-as-I-went” process, I still couldn’t quite catch what they said. I will always remember laughing at my sister because she thought that the words “You make me feel like a natural woman” were “You make me feel like a mature woman.”  Often when I google the real lyrics now and it comes up instantly I think, “Well, that makes much more sense.”   Kids today – they don’t know how good they have it!

I guess in some ways that’s true about so many things.  The internet is a powerful tool.  Recently I heard someone didn’t own a Bible.  No worries – open up Bible Gateway or any number of other apps.  Not only do you have instant access to almost any version of the Bible you want, you have commentaries and concordances galore to make your reading more in depth if you desire. This is true of any books – unlimited libraries instantly.

I love smart phones.  I never have to wonder too long about anything, really.  My personality loves that.  Want to know what that flower is?  Google lens, snap! Do you want to know what actress played on a certain sitcom?  Ask Siri.  What’s the weather supposed to be like Sunday?  “Alexa, tell me the weather for Sunday.”  And my favorite invention  – Google Maps!  My husband hates it because he thinks it makes people not think.  But for those who get lost going two blocks away (ME!) it is the invention of the century.  FREEDOM!

But here we sit in pandemic still.  Believe me, I am still very thankful for the internet.  We were on lockdown in places before where the internet shut down when things like this happened, or power was so sketchy you could never be assured of even keeping your phone charged.  Forget streaming Netflix when you can barely pull up your emails.  But having been in this 1 year now (1 year,  people!!) we are feeling so weary.  It feels like I have watched all of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.  I have walked so many miles around my neighborhood that I could do it with my eyes closed.  The novelty of being able to bake my own bread and food from scratch in case of a real apocalypse has definitely worn off.  I miss my family and friends – many of whom I have not seen in real life in over a year!  I miss parties and gatherings without social distancing.  I miss hugs and high fives.  I miss walking around without a mask.  And I miss worshipping together on Sundays and feeling the power of so many people lifting praise at the same time.  All I want is an answer to, “Alexa, when will this be over?????”

Sometimes I try to use God like a search engine.  “Hey, God, tell me the plan.” I want an instant answer that is clear and filled with concrete data – no grey areas of faith. My mind has been trained to type or talk instantly and receive the answer just as fast.  Sometimes I am even guilty of accepting the first thing that comes up without researching a little more.  I just want something that sounds like it could be the real answer quickly so I can move on to the next thing. I don’t like waiting.

I know the end of this particular crisis seems to be coming soon, and I am so thankful for that. But there will be another thing that happens – another crisis, another trauma, another time of waiting in the unknown.  I am asking God to help me be ok with not knowing the answer, but rather knowing the One who does knows the answers.  Because I know that is the real meaning of life anyway – to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

God is not a search engine, but he does have all the answers.  I just need to trust that he will reveal in his time for my good and his glory.

Lessons from the Bathroom

“I’ve peed in a lot of weird places.” This was my statement as I came out from behind the tree on to the trail we were hiking. The bathrooms at the foot of the trail were closed due to Covid, and so I had no choice but to find my own privy. It got me thinking about all the places where I have “done my business,” so to speak. In a hole in the ground in Malawi, freshly dug specifically for the Mzungu but with only 3 walls that went as high as my chest and kids standing all around watching. (Talk about performance anxiety!) Underneath an Acacia tree while a silent giraffe snuck up on me and scared me half to death. In front of the Land Cruiser in the middle of the dirt road we were driving on because all around me there were “Caution- Land Mine” signs. On the side of the highway with a couple of interns standing around me keeping curious baboons away while we all laughed nonstop from the awkwardness of it all. One time in South Sudan I was using a stall (again with no door) in the dark. As I was squatting, trying to hold my skirt up and not touch anything (because GROSS) while still getting the job done I saw a man coming towards me quickly. He didn’t hear me speak and kept coming, and I was alone and nervous, so I stood up mid-stream, shined my phone flashlight at him, and yelled loudly. He was startled, I was a wet mess, and we both walked away embarrassed. When you are out and about in other countries you don’t always have public toilets -at least not ones you really want to use! But using the toilet is not something you can avoid for very long in your life, so you quickly learn to adapt to your surroundings.

Ask any missionary and they will tell you they talk about adapting – a lot. (And probably about their toilet trials as well, but I will end that subject now.) We learn that the majority of things around you in a new culture are not necessarily wrong, they are simply different. Learning to pivot, to adapt, to change our original plan (or the second plan, or the fifth plan…) is a way of life when you live in a culture that is not the one you grew up in. You ask a lot of questions, you pray, you train your mind and heart to see it differently and to make it work. It’s a really good trait, but not one that comes naturally to me and can be really hard work.

I grew up in the US but like many of you, I feel like I have been in a foreign culture this last year. We came back from Kenya different than when we left. Our wounds from the previous 5 years were closed and scabbed, but not all completely healed. We had a whirlwind time when we first got back with doctors appointments, job interviews, college graduations, moving, and trying to settle into a city that was brand new to all of us. Just when we started to feel like we were getting our feet under us, the whole world stopped. Transition takes a full two years to go through the cycle of uprooting, moving, starting to feel like you might have a clue, roots beginning to go down, then being firmly planted. Two years of celebrations, traditions, local customs being watched and enjoyed, relationships being formed and tried on. That is what it takes to be familiar and at home. But we were only barely out of the pulling up stage when pandemic hit.

Suddenly we were forced to adapt again. I felt like I was taken out of my nice clean, private house with 2.5 bathrooms and set in the middle of the land mine road again with baboons around and people staring as I tried to do my business. This wasn’t part of the plan.

I had it in my naive head that we might have a reprieve from that type of adapting when we came back “home” despite all the reading I did that told me otherwise. I felt like our first 6 months here were good and we were on track. Then suddenly we were figuring out how to continue to connect with people we didn’t yet know that well, we were navigating counseling sessions with people who were hurting but we didn’t have a “before” baseline for, and we were personally mourning the loss of the avenues that we had been just starting to use to form real friendships. Youth group was cancelled, in-person service was cancelled, no one wanted to chance getting near anyone else because we didn’t yet have any understanding of how this mystery virus worked so there were no big meals and game nights with other people.

Like all the other times I had to adapt, when I finally sat back and allowed the Spirit to work and reveal things to me, I could see some of the good. I could see that God was not caught off guard by this, and while I may still think his timing stinks, I know that the truth is he knows better than I do and his ways really are good. We have gotten to know our neighbors well from sitting out on the porch and talking over the fence because we were all home; we have spent time together as a family – all of us in one house; we’ve cooked together, done puzzles, hiked, gamed, watched tv, celebrated holidays, and laughed a lot. We have also cried a lot. As we slowed down we realized for all of us that we had some grieving to do over the loss of our very full lives in Kenya and South Sudan. We missed friendships, church, the weather, and the teammates. We had not had the time or margin to grieve these things, but all things must be named and acknowledged before they can be healed.

We will continue to adapt as we keep navigating not only this pandemic, but life after it. How do we learn to really listen and love well? How do we help others heal? How do we step away from our own fears and step into the hard stuff with our brothers and sisters? We pray, trust, and adapt our view as needed.

And we do a lot of laughing as we try to avoid the monkeys while peeing.

Being Robbed

Have you ever had anyone steal anything from you? When we lived in Malawi, we were constantly having things just disappear. We had been warned to keep our bags close to our bodies at all times, to be cautious in handling cash, etc. But honestly I never had any time when a stranger stole something from me. We did, however, have several instances when people that we invited into our lives and home took things from us in deceitful ways. We had a housekeeper that I had to fire twice for stealing from us. We started seeing clothing, electronics, and toys that were obviously ours in the marketplace where she sold her wares and had to confront her. She gave me a huge sob story and I gave in a rehired her, only to have the same exact thing happen a week later! That time I wasn’t so compassionate.

Another time we had one of our pastors that we were working with who came in and regularly spent time with out family. He asked to see my phone one day and I assumed he was looking up a number, but when I got it back there was a notification on my phone saying I had transferred several dollars worth of airtime to him. (The phones all work like track phones there.) When I confronted him, he vehemently denied the whole thing. Transferring airtime is a three step process that requires a password and confirmation. He had not only given himself all my airtime, but had changed my password, and now was denying everything despite the concrete proof.

When you are robbed, especially by a person you have taken into your confidence and trust, you feel violated. Ultimately losing a few shirts and some airtime wasn’t a big deal, but losing the feeling of safety security I had desired to have in my own home was.

If you have ever been robbed of something bigger – a betrayal of innocence, broken vows, or a violent act done to you – you know that these wounds can change the way you look at the world permanently in a matter of seconds. The wounds turn to scars and often those scars are ripped open again and again from memories or continued situations and never heal properly. They fester and puss as infection grows and you become unhealthy in mind, body, and soul.

I feel like the Spirit has healed my heart of many wounds that have happened in my life physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am so thankful for that. But recently I have become aware of another the way enemy regularly robs me. I have walked through the last couple of weeks with a heavy burden of grief and wariness on my heart. I have felt exhausted and frustrated, and have taken that out on people that don’t deserve my sharp words. The enemy, I realized, had stolen my joy.

When we first moved here I went through a period of several months where every morning I would wake up in awe and wonder that we were here and that God had provided in so many ways. Even more so I found myself in this zen-like state of peace of contentment. I attributed it to the fact that for the first time in many years we were not looking at what was next and how it would happen with a question mark. We are here for the long haul, and we were ready to settle in to this community.

That may have been a part of it, but more than that I realized that this contentment that my heart so was unfamiliar with was a gift of God to me through the Holy Spirit. I can’t explain how my heart was able to look at the unknowns that come from starting over in a new place in our lives with a firm and steadfast peace and trust that God was for me. There were no questions marks that seemed full of anxiety and fear, only trust in the one who brought us to this place – full stop.

There is joy in not being anxious. When you have peace and confidence that God is who he says he is and I am who he says I am, you can live in freedom. But I forgot that this week. And as the enemy attacked from every direction I lost the battle. My joy was gone and the burden was heavy and exhausting. I sat in that for several days, doing everything in my own strength to feel better. Food is my biggest idol, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t turn to some Dove chocolate to make myself feel better. The problem with giving ourselves over to idols and relying on anything other than the Spirit to make us feel better and be whole again is that it leads to shame, self-loathing, anger, and darkness. I don’t know why it always takes so long for me to remember this.

Then this morning as I talked with a friend, prayed in the car, and spent some time listening to music that reminded me of who I should be worshipping, the light broke through. I could feel the joy seeping back in. I could sense the peace was right there within my reach. It came unexpectedly and swiftly – no result of anything I had done other than my constant prayer of surrender to him because I knew I couldn’t carry it anymore. I realized that peace, like a balm to the soul, was starting to flow over me. I also understood that, despite the fact I hated going through this time, nothing is wasted with God. He redeems even these dark times and shows us his beauty in them in his perfect timing.

Don’t let yourself be a victim of robbery by the enemy. Whether it be your joy, peace, contentment, confidence, or strength – it is yours from God himself and Satan has no right to it. Rebuke that in the name of Jesus and stand firm in the gospel of Christ. If you cannot do this in the moment and need some help, call your people – your friends and family who understand spiritual battle. I’ve told you before that we were not made to do this alone. Let them pray for and with you. If things don’t change immediately, don’t give up. Hold yourself in that place of constant surrender, repentance, and expectation for him to meet you at exactly the right time. Then hold on to the belief, no matter how small it feels in the moment, that God is for you. Even if your feelings don’t change immediately he is doing a continual, good work in your life. Joy and peace that comes from the Spirit are not about feelings and circumstances, but about a core part of who you are with the Spirit inside you that cannot be truly taken from you – we just live as though it was sometimes.

Guard your heart and stand firm. Take back what is rightfully yours. “For we know whom we have believed, and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which we’ve have committed unto Him against that Day.”