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.

 

 

Listen and Receive

I want to be the person God created me to be, not just a shell of that person.  Before I surrendered my life to Jesus and asked the Holy Spirit to live within me I was but a shadow of the person that God created me to be.  I know that I am still being sanctified, and the finished work of that will not come to fruition until I standing face to face with Him one day in Heaven – how glorious that will be!  But I believe that He has a good plan and purpose for me here on this earth, too, and often I am just “doing life” without remembering this.

My Bible is old, beat up, underlined, and highlighted.  I have had it for many years, so there are prayer requests and answers to those prayers written beside verses and on the inside of the cover.  While I love this because it is a good reminder of the way He truly does answer prayer, sometimes it makes it hard to read things with fresh, new eyes.  My mind almost thinks that if it is not already highlighted there must not be anything there that applies to me.  This week I opened my Bible up to read the Psalms and was on chapter 81. I started skimming through it since it was not highlight already, but my heart caught when I read the last few verses.  “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me.  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.  If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!  Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever.  But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”  (Verses 11-16)

I read and re-read this part of the passage again trying to figure out why my heart was catching each time.  What did the Spirit want me to get from this?  The Israelites were in outright rebellion- worshipping foreign gods and refusing to listen.  I am not in that place.  I have been in my life before, but in this time there is a lot of peace in my heart.

Like the hug of a parent reassuring a child that she is not in trouble, I felt the presence of God.  I knew this was not a rebuke so much as a reminder and encouragement that He knew something about me that I had forgotten – I am His and He is mine.  In that he desires to give me good things.  Often I miss out because I am simply not listening.

One of the things I had to do with my kids when they were younger (and still sometimes) is to cup my hand under their chin and make them look me in the eye and repeat to me what I just said.  We humans don’t tend to be good listeners.  We are looking at other things, thinking about a response, getting distracted by things of this world.  Sometimes we just plain rebel and say, “No!” and stick out fingers in our ears to prove that we are not listening.

My issue wasn’t outright rebellion this time, but I realized that my heart and mind are often distracted and looking for answers and peace in places other than Him.  The beginning of this lockdown phase was a welcome relief for me in some ways.  I love hosting people for dinner and having people stay in our home.  I am an extrovert, and I am really missing my people right now.  But the slower pace of the first week, and having our daughter back in country made me take a deep breath, sleep more, bake some delicious, homemade food, and have more conversations as a family. It also allowed for my heart to be still for longer periods of time (as much as possible with this ADHA brain) and dig into His word.  My prayer times were meaningful and my heart was full.

Then life started happening again.  Like all of you, I started adapting to my “new normal.”  Suddenly, as I was immersed in trying to make it all come together – work from home, school, family, church, learning new technology, etc, – I found my heart crazy and panicked.  When I had free time all I could think about was doing something that didn’t require learning something new or thinking too hard.  So Netflix became my new god, sitting in my room with headphones to block out the world became my new temple, and snacking on easy, sugar filled things became my new sacrifice.  With this practice the peace I had known was eventually used up and gone and I was doing nothing to refill it in a way that truly life-giving.  I was listening to too much noise all around around me and not able to filter out the still, small voice that was the true answer.

That the first week or two of quarantine was a gift, but it is not what real life can look like forever.  However, the peace that I had those days is also real, and a glimpse of what is to be mine forever.  When I wake up each morning and surrender my heart to him; when I get done with a stressful zoom meeting and take just a moment to surrender that stress to him; when I am frazzled because everyone needs my attention at the same time but I pause to take a breath and say, “Father, help!” – these are holy moments.  They are the times that take my ear back to listening for His voice.  When I stop and surrender my anxieties and stress to Him, He carries the load and suddenly I am lighter and able to keep doing whatever it is He has called me to do in the moment.  Everything doesn’t become perfect or sorted out, but my ability to do look at it in peace, calmness, and   (yes!) even joy becomes a reality as the Spirit flows in and through me.  Then, and only then – when my ear is poised to hear Him and my heart is ready to respond- that is when I am satisfied with the “finest of wheat and honey from the rock.”

So I ask you today – what altar have you been worshipping on?  Many of these things are not bad- I can enjoy my favorite TV show and have a chocolate chip cookie once in a while.  But when when they become my go-to and I stop listening for Him then I can’t see the amazing and miraculous things He has prepared for me.  Brothers and sisters, He wants to give you so much more than you can even imagine.  We just need to make space to hear Him and receive.

 

The Other Side

download (1)As I sit here writing this blog I am looking across the room at my daughter who is on her computer catching up with friends.  She’s not supposed to be here – she’s supposed to be in the bush in Kenya on a homestay with a Maasai family practicing her Swahili, eating lots of ugali and drinking Chai, and visiting each night with other members of the community around a campfire.  But she’s not.

Like the rest of us her life has come to an almost screeching halt in the the past week.  I was talking with a friend last night who said that she was grieving and wondering if life will ever look like it did just a week ago. I really related to what she was saying.  I don’t think I am allowing myself to live in a lot of fear from this pandemic, though there are definitely times when I lose myself to panic for a few moments – particularly about my children.  But I am grieving – for my daughter, whose experience was cut short, for all the seniors whose years are coming to an abrupt and unmarked end, for the small business owners whose hard work is spiraling down quickly, and for a future that I know will be changed from what I had envisioned.  I don’t think there are many of us that will come to the other end of this unmarked.

I was having another conversation with a friend about the idea of God redeeming all things.  While we are in the middle of a situation we can admit that it is hard to see how God is going to make beauty from things that, in the moment, feel like destruction.  And let’s just be honest – sometimes it’s not that things just feel hard or destructive, but it’s that they are.  Sometimes we have situations happen where even when we are days, months, or years away from them we still cannot see the good.  We have trouble believing that he really does work all things out for the good good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose, or that he will redeem.  Notice I didn’t say we struggle to believe he can redeem, but rather will he?

I want to believe that redemption means the pain is gone.  I want to believe that it means the situation fixes itself, or something bigger, better, more beautiful comes along in place of what was lost.  I don’t want to believe and live in the truth of being a Christian – that we are called to walk with him in his sufferings.  Sometimes it seems too much to ask us to believe that scars that can be so terribly ugly can be breathtakingly beautiful at the same time.

As I worked through some very real issues in my own past that turned from bleeding wounds into thick scars on my heart I have understood a little better what it means to have God work things out.  I can see a purpose in spite of the pain for most things.  It doesn’t mean that I would choose it again – I am not sadistic.  But I can see his fingerprints on the healing nonetheless.  He doesn’t have to show me anything – any peek into what he is doing is a gift of grace.  So in those places where I still can’t see even a glimmer of beauty I sit and wait.  I may never see it on this earth – I understand this now, even if it does frustrate me.  Redemption will only be whole and perfect in heaven, but sometimes he allows us glimpses of it here.  There will come a day when he makes all things beautiful and right again.  His way, his time.

And that has to be enough. Because it really is more than enough.

So I grieve now, being older and experienced enough to know that no, I will never be the same after this.  The world will not be the same.  We will all carry scars of grief and loss – some much more so than others.  When I came back to the States after our evacuation from South Sudan I didn’t fit anywhere.  I couldn’t fall back into patterns of who I was before I left.  I had to grieve the loss of the comfortable old me and start to be ok with the new scars and bruises that I might never have an answer for.  I wrote then about this concept then, quoting a passage from The Hobbit.  Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he should go on this incredible adventure. Bilbo, being the cautious hobbit that he is says, ” Can you promise I will come back?”  Gandalf responds in his usual honest way by saying, “No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.”

We will not be the same after this – but somehow there is beauty and hope in that.  I still believe that he will take these wounds and heal them, but even if we cannot see it, we can stand in the truth that we have been shaped to be more like him.  Crucifixion hurts.  The fire burns as it shapes the iron.  Dying to oneself is never uneventful or painless.  However, he will shape us to be able to better show him to this world because we have walked in his sufferings with him and know him even more intimately than before.  Our scars from this time or any other area in our lives where we have known pain are real and permanent while we are in these bodies.  But it is about his glory more than our comfort, and  I think he is calling us to remember that again.   When we reach the other side we will be able to say that we have sat with him in a depth of darkness that we had not yet experienced, and we are better for it. Because of that I do not mourn like those who have no hope.

So I leave us with this, because truth is truth no matter how we feel, and praise and thanksgiving are powerful weapons.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7) (emphasis added by me.)

 

My Pizza Oven

(Photo credit Scott and Jennifer Myhre)

Today I spent the day doing school with the boys, baking a bunch of cookies for upcoming events, decorating the porch with the boys after school, and raking leaves because they have finally all fallen off the trees.  As I was raking I was daydreaming about what the garden will look like in the spring, since we have not yet experienced that here.  I made plans in my mind about how Shawn could add so much beauty to a yard that needed a little TLC, but still had it’s own beauty.

Suddenly that sneaky little feeling of anxiety crept in.  “This isn’t really your house.  you have a two year lease is all.  Don’t invest too much – you never know when you will need to leave.”

If you read my previous blog you know what a gift this house is to us.  I love everything about it.  But while it is our home right now, it belongs to someone else who will eventually call it home again.  Though we would love to be in DC until we retire, this house will probably not be our home that whole time.  And suddenly that feeling of anxiety about not having a place to claim as mine started to overtake.

I never wanted to buy a house.  I never felt the need.  I liked the idea of being able to pick up and go whenever I needed or wanted to.  We have learned in our crazy life how to make a home pretty quickly.  But I’ll be honest, all of that has changed in me since coming back to the States.  I want roots and home and a place that my kids will know is always there for them even as they all enter into adulthood and make their own homes.

Most of the time I am content with giving that to God and letting him take care of it for me.  But today I felt the stress that happens when I am not consciously doing that, and I started to feel panicky for no real reason.

Suddenly I heard the Spirit say, “Heather, build your pizza oven.”

No, I am not going to literally build a pizza oven – I am not even sure I could legally do that here! But this statement brought me back to solid ground and a trust in God’s plan for us.  A few years back I wrote a blog about how friends of ours and missionaries extraordinaire who had lived around East Africa in some hard places for the last few decades chose to mark their places as home.  No matter where they lived, even if they knew it was not long term, they chose to put roots down and make a life.  One way they did that was to build an outside pizza oven of stone and brick.  They’ve done this at places on the equator as well as in their home in the States.  There are many people who have benefited from this tangible way of saying, “We are home.  This is home.  The Lord has provided.”  Though I knew that an outdoor pizza oven would not be my marker, I also knew I had to figure out what was.  What are those things we do as a family, those things we put in place, no matter where we go?

As God brought things to mind about how we are making this place home for us and our kids (what a blessing to hear Anna say this was like coming home when she was here from college for Thanksgiving break), I knew that no matter what house we live in we will make it home.  We will open it up to friends, family, and strangers  – who usually become friends!  We will always have food and drink for people along with a place on the couch to talk and pray.  We will put up some of the same decorations and do some of the same things at the same time each year.  We will pray together at night on our bed as a family before everyone goes to sleep.  We will try to remember to speak thankfulness at dinner times together in the evenings.

In other words, we have our own pizza ovens.  I am so grateful for these friends who spoke this into our lives.

What are some of your “Pizza ovens?”

The Ram in the Thicket

I admit, I have always hated the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain.  I know that it’s always taught that Abraham believed God would provide, and we know the truth is that he did!  There was a ram in thicket.

But let’s just be honest here.  I am a mom.  I have watched my kids go through some pretty hard things and wondered if I had scarred them for life.  My first thought every time I read about Isaac asking where the lamb was and Abraham saying,”The Lord will provide” is the therapy bill that would be in the future for that child!  Abraham actually binds Isaac up before God intervenes and stops him.  The whole story has always felt so manipulative to me, and most of the time I teach it or read it as fast as I can and move on so I din’t have to think about what I would call the “practical” implications of it.  Does Isaac fight back?  Is there ever a moment of doubt for Abraham?  What is the conversation like going back down the mountain?

I am doing the Ann Voskamp advent devotional “The Greatest Gift,” and when I opened for today this story was there.  My first instinct was to skip the Bible reading part – I know this story.  I don’t like it.  (And isn’t that how we are supposed to read the Bible – only the parts we like? *Note the sarcasm.)

So I started reading only the part that Ann wrote about the story.  And my heart just broke.  She writes, “It is a thing to call a place ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ It is a thing to name where you live as provision, to name the place you call home ‘The Lord Will Provide.'”

My heart.

This house, since the day we first saw it, has been God’s gift to me.  I don’t know if you ever heard my “wish list” when we were first talking about moving back to the States.  As we sat with the boys and talked about what we wanted in whatever our new home would be we made a list.  At first it was practical – enough bedrooms to host people, a dining room big enough for a table to seat many.  Then I felt the Spirit prompting us to name “extras.”  As a family we named things that we really wanted, even if they seemed silly and definitely weren’t necessities.  A front porch, a back yard, a gas stove, lots of windows, off street parking, bright colors, within walking distance of the church, an extra room where I could do art and create without having to always pick everything up midway.

This house checked every single box.  Every. Single. One.  In a place where we should never be able to have a house like this.

I almost cried when they showed it to us.  Everyone was nervous and reiterating that we could change the paint or do what we needed to make it our own home – but it felt like “me” the moment I walked in.  (I later met our landlord, a dear sister from the church, and instantly found a kindred spirit – just an extra blessing!)

I know this house is not ours – we are merely renting and using it while we can.  When the time comes that we need to move, God will provide the next right place for that time of life.  But in the moment, the now, this is HOME and I am so overwhelmed with thankfulness for it.

When I read those words that Ann wrote, I knew I had to go back and read the story of Abraham and Isaac again.  And my gratefulness started to deepen from the physical aspect of providing a home, which is temporary no matter how long we live here, to the spiritual aspect of knowing I have a home in my God, who’s name is Jehova Jireh.

The Lord Will Provide.

He is my provision.  In this advent season he is the hope, the peace. He gave himself as the ram in the thicket, and continues to be my provision as he gives me access to everything in the heavenly storehouses.  I am free because of him.  He gave this prisoner of anxiety and anger the gift of breaking those bonds and letting my heart know freedom and peace.

As I thought through these things and tears freely flowed, I was sitting and looking at my Christmas tree all lit up.  My eyes fell on the ornament with RJ’s name and the year he was born and my heart broke again for my baby.  Born with two holes in his heart, yet is strong and whole today.  I saw my “ugly Santa” ornament from Uganda and remembered the way God provided times of laughter and relief from the hardships of life in South Sudan with teammates that I loved completely.  The beautiful bulb of beads made in Bosnia that represented one of the many church families that have prayed us through the last 10 years of missions prep and work.  One after another I saw physical reminders of God’s provisions – and those were just some of the obvious ones!

This advent I encourage you to take time to notice.  Ann writes, “Worry is belief gone wrong because you don’t believe that God will get it right.  Peace is belief that exhales.  Because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere – like air.”  God always has a ram in the thicket, friends.

Now I’m off to paint a new sign for my home, as I have decided it needs to be announced that this place has a name – “The Lord Will Provide.”

Stepping out of Darkness

I have been doing the bible study by Pricilla Shirer called The Armor of God, and I have to tell you – it is really convicting me!  This month we are reading through and studying the chapter on the Breastplate of Righteousness.  As I have asked the Spirit to convict and move in me while I read through things, I have been so surprised at some of the ugliness that has surfaced.  (When will I stop being surprised at how ugly my flesh is?)

I have been a Christian longer than not.  I am a pastor’s wife.  I have been a missionary.  I have been discipling and teaching for many years.  I also like to think that I understand a fair amount about spiritual warfare and what it means to step into freedom.  But in the middle of this lesson I have realized that there is something I have fallen into the habit of doing that is not only rebellious, but just plain dangerous.

I did not grow in up a legalistic household, but I have many friends who did.  As I watched them sort through some of those things, I saw many of them swing far in the opposite direction.  We all like to do that, right?  Even when I am talking to people who do not claim any religion I hear about how no one wants to repeat their parent’s mistakes when it comes to raising their own children. It takes having adult children of your own to make you realize that no matter how you raise your kids, they will need to process through and allow God to redeem the mistakes that their parents made and speak truth to the way they reacted to them.  We are broken people raising more broken people, after all.

In trying not to be legalistic, however, we sometimes forget that we can only stand before a holy and perfect God because of the work of Jesus.  Or, at the very least, we forget that the work of Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice.  Not just because of the physical pain and the suffering on the cross, but more so because of the fact that Jesus had his Father turn away from him.  We never have to experience the void that comes from the loss of the presence of God because of that.

However, if you are like me then you forget the seriousness of that.  We love the idea of grace and forgiveness, and we live in the knowledge that once we put our faith in him we are forgiven – the old is gone, the new is here.  While living in the knowledge of this can bring freedom, I sometimes abuse that freedom and do exactly as Paul says in Romans six.  “What then, shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  We know that the answer to that should be NO!  (“By no means!  We are those who have died to sin, how can we continue living in it?”)   However, somewhere along the way I stopped taking this to heart.  Sometimes I have done exactly that – kept on sinning.  I have literally heard the voice of the Spirit, looked him in the eye, and turned around so I could keep doing what I wanted – with the full knowledge that I could repent later.  

So ugly.

Even though by the time I got around to repenting I would feel terrible, confess, and would be very remorseful about my attitude and the purposeful rebellion that played out in my actions, I knew it would happen again.  And it did – it does.  Because somehow the act of using grace for my own selfishness and gratifying of my flesh still seemed less “sinful” (or at least less harmful) than having a bunch of rules that made me feel guilty and condemned.

It can be a vicious cycle.

I know that both legalism and license are extreme, and that neither of them show a true understanding of his great love for me and the true freedom that I can be living in as a new creation.

But what I did was not as simple as acting like a child who selfishly rebelled against her parent.  When I allow myself to live by rules and regulations that I know I cannot live up to (holiness, perfection!) and I redefine those to make something that is attainable in my own strength, OR when I just keep doing what I want in the moment because I know there is forgiveness ahead, either way I am inviting the enemy in.

I may not be intentionally saying, “Here I am.”  But when I allow darkness into my life, the one who loves the darkness is drawn to it.  Whether I am relying on my own actions or ignoring the fact the work that Jesus did for me was a true sacrifice, I am telling Satan, “this part can be yours.”   Pricilla writes, “I didn’t need to personally invite them into my house.  All I had to do was create an environment conducive for them.  The environment I created WAS the invitation.” (Page 70)

I don’t want that.  When Jesus did his work, he purchased ALL of me – my thoughts, my actions, my heart.  He deserves all of me, not just the parts that are easy to give.  I want to be a woman who puts on the full armor and is ready to go into battle with the knowledge and truth that every part of my being is new in him – nothing held back or remaining in the darkness.

I realized this week that I have not always taken this seriously.  In my attempt to remember that it is NOT about my effort, I have sometimes refused to take on the responsibility and discipline it takes to be a strong soldier.   When Proverbs says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” we can see how important it is to actively and intentionally live in a way that is pleasing to God to the very best of our ability.

So now I go into a new battle, a new part of surrender to him and allow him to make his truth  – that I am new, the old is dead, I am redeemed,  I am a masterpiece, I am a co-heir with Christ, but I was bought with a price become the truth that sinks deep into my soul and transforms from the inside out.  From that I will live my life in a way that is pleasing to him NOT because of rules  but because I am so, so thankful and secure in his love for me and I trust that what he has and says is right and good.  I will guard my heart with the truth of my righteousness being found only in his.

 

 

Being Shaped

Several years ago as the we were spending some time in Savannah, GA we went to the beach most evenings.  Our family has discovered that summer sunsets on the beach are when we love to go the most.  Most of the crowds of people have gone to have dinner and do other evening activities, plus many times parking is free after a certain hour.  The weather is still beautiful and the water is nice. 

This time we were walking and looking for shells, and Anna found a whole clam.  It was washed up on shore and a pretty large size, and it was still intact.  The mouth was slightly open, and it obviously wasn’t alive anymore, so she added it to the pile of shells we found and we took it back to dry out.  Later, when we pried the top shell open, we found a surprise – a black pearl!  It was embedded in sand inside and attached to the shell,  We didn’t dare try to get it out for fear of damaging it, so we left it inside.  A few years later for Anna’s birthday we asked Shawn’s parents to take it to the jeweler (they had all our stuff in storage at their house) and see about getting it made into a ring. 

The jeweler was shocked and said they wouldn’t have believed we had actually found it that way if they hadn’t brought in the whole clam!  It is a very rare thing find one like that – especially the dark color.  The pearl was not a perfect shape – it is more oblong than round.  But it makes a very pretty ring and a special reminder of a fun treasure. 

This week as we have beach combed we found some fun shells.  The boys joked about finding a pearl, and we told them how rare it was that we ever found one at all.  As I was walking along the beach spending some time in prayer I thanked God for that gift so long ago that was still reminding me of his goodness. 

The ocean is a place where I find rest and restoration.  It puts my soul at ease.  Yet in the same vein I feel the power and vastness of it as the waves crash in and the tides change the way the beach looks any given moment.  If you’ve ever been caught in an undercurrent, you have probably felt the panic that comes from not knowing which was is up and having to surrender to trusting the water to push you back up as fast as it took you down. 

The ocean took sand and pushed it into the mouth of a very specific clam to make this shiny black pearl over time.  It has to be a certain type of clam to make a pearl, and even more specific to make a black one.  It takes time and the clam uses a defense mechanism to try to get rid of the pearl that gives it the shine.  There is nothing simple or random about any of it, yet over time a rare and beautiful thing (albeit imperfect when we found it) was formed. 

The last several years have been good in many ways, but they have also been some of the hardest as far as growing and changing me.  Many times I felt caught in that undercurrent and wondered if I would ever feel upright again let alone rooted and steadfast.  

However, as I was walking on the beach this week I was marveling at this profound sense of peace and contentment I have right now. I feel so thankful to be this place, but I have not known peace like this before, and I admit that it feels foreign to me.  It is strange, but it is changing my view of and reaction to so many things.  Instead of anxiety and chaos being the filter that I see through, I feel like I am often looking through a filter of peace and hope.  Sometimes I am not sure how to respond to this steadfastness that I feel deep in my soul right now.   I realize that I am being shaped and molded into something beautiful by the maker of the ocean  – both now in peace and before in the time of chaos.  The one who made the waters to churn and shape and move and (and some cases) destroy is the one who has made me and continues to make me more like him.  Sometimes it feels like chaos and is hard – like I can’t catch my breath and I might never breech the surface again, or like sand scratching the edges of a pearl and turning into something valuable.  Other times it is done in slow, steadfast ways where my feet feel firm on solid ground and my roots feel deep.  Both are purposeful and necessary to bring me to a likeness of him, and I am grateful for his great love for me. 

The Power of Praise

It’s November!  I LOVE the Fall!  In East Africa we really didn’t have any Halloween fun and the leaves didn’t change colors – though the Jacarandas did come to bloom, and I absolutely adore them!  We always had Thanksgiving with our teammates and other ex-pats.  The last time we celebrated we had a bunch of friends from church come celebrate American Thanksgiving with us and had a blast as we added in some dancing, a variety of Indian food, and henna!  These were all fun things, and I enjoyed them in the moment, but I always had a twinge of homesickness during this time of year.  One thing I started doing even before I went to Africa was using the month of November for being purposeful in finding things I am thankful for.

Over the last decade I have been aware of how thankfulness and gratefulness are a part of spiritual warfare.  I recently read about a battle in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 where the enemies of Jehoshaphat came against God’s people.  Instead of calling on the warriors, the Spirit came upon one of the son’s of Zechariah, Jahaziel, who told them that this battle was not theirs to fight.  Can you imagine?  You are looking at hoards of enemies coming against you and you are told that God said not to fight? They were told the battle was not theirs, but God’s, that they were to stand firm and see the work of the Lord on their behalf.

But here’s the thing. While standing there, Jehoshaphat “bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshipping the Lord.  And the Levites, and the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.”  (Vs. 19)

As they rose early and went out, they did so in worship and thankgiving.  Verses 21-22 actually says, “And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’  And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against [their enemies].”  The Lord made their enemies to actually destroy each other while the Israelites sang praises to him.

It’s a bit gruesome in some aspects, I suppose.  But we do not have to worry about being on the wrong side – we are also the children of God!  One way that all of us can fight spiritually is with our own praise and thanksgiving.  Because I believe when we choose to bring praise rather than grumbling and complaints, rather than taking things into our own hands, rather than revenge or hatred – something powerful happens in us and in our very beings.  It’s not just a reset of an attitude, it’s the transforming of our heart and mind. All the promises of being a new creature come into play and we see a glimpse of what God sees when he looks at us through the blood of his son.

So friends, would you join me this month?  I would love to hear what you are thankful for.  Be aware that this means extra battle on some days to push through, because Satan doesn’t want you to be powerful in Christ.  He hates us.  He is out to devour us and watch us destroy each other.  So when we make a commitment to thanksgiving each day, it means there will be days when we can’t see it easily and clearly, and we just want to wallow in self pity and the circumstances surrounding me.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it.  As we stand together praising him, imagine the power that can be loosed in this world.

That Time God Called Me Dude

2017

Not long ago RJ got in the car after  school and asked if I had bought chocolate.  (He is so my child!)  I told him no, and he immediately sighed and said, “We haven’t had chocolate in a long time.”  I literally stopped what I was doing and looked at him in the rear view mirror before responding, “Really, Dude?  You had two buck eyes*  in your lunch box.  You ate a cupcake at the church lunch yesterday, and Saturday we had dessert because we had friends over.”  To his credit he looked at me with a sheepish little smirk, his dimple adding to his innocence, and laughed.   “Yeah, but not a candy bar.”  (He REALLY is my child!)

That was the end of that exchange and I didn’t give it a second thought until later that week.  I sat at down in my room and started  complaining to God.  Immediately I heard my words to RJ – “Really, Dude?”  Yes, God called me dude.  He’s cool that way.

I stopped in my tracks and I’m positive I gave God that same sheepish smile I received  from RJ – dimple and all.  I confessed that I was being grumpy and even a bit spoiled.  Then I started naming the many, many things that He has given me.  But again I felt like he stopped me mid-sentence.  He wanted me to be more specific.  He wanted me to go back to my complaint and find the thanks in that.  The gratefulness for the absolute, miraculous provisions that he has shown us in the last few months as well as gratefulness for the struggle.  

Stop right there.

I can thank him easily enough for the provisions.  I may forget sometimes, but when I’m purposefully looking I can see and be reminded of all the ways he really has provided.   But can I thank him for the times he has seemed silent?  What about for the things that I continue to bring to him and have yet to see the answer to?   Or the times I had to let go of my ideas of what I wanted or (cough, cough) “deserved?”  Could I be thankful in the middle of the struggle?  Could I be thankful at the end of the struggle, when I haven’t received the answer I wanted?  Like RJ in his candy bar heart struggle, could I be ok if I didn’t get it?

God is constantly teaching me through my kids.  When I looked at RJ that day I was teasing him – not angry or shaming.   But I wanted him to see the truth.  How much more does my heavenly father love me in a perfect, holy, fierce love?  I  didn’t feel shame that night – only a bit like a cheeky child being lovingly chastised by her parent.  I pictured him with a twinkle in his eye as he pointed out truth.

He is so amazing.

I am thankful for his love for me.

*For those never fortunate enough to live in Ohio, Buck eyes are probably called peanut butter balls to you. null

null(How can you resist his smile?)

The One Where I Watched NCIS

Feb. 2016

As we are coming upon a year (!) in Kenya this month, I have been thinking a lot about the last couple of years.  I wrote a blog a few years ago about the true desires of my heart for my kids and I have thought about this blog several times in the last two years.  It was easy to say as I wrote it in the comfort of my comfortable, safe little home at the time.  My kids had seen some sorrow with the death of their grandmother and a drowning of a friend from church.  But for the most part when I wrote that blog, they had not seen a lot of the real world.  Though I knew it was coming, I didn’t really know what was coming.  I didn’t know that when I ripped teenagers away from their familiar world with technology and friends and family and clean drinking water from the tap and fast food and A/C how much anger would come from that.  I didn’t understand that living in a remote, war-torn place could cause such a deep wound on the hearts and the psyche of all of us, and that it would mean that, of course I couldn’t take care of the 6 of us – I couldn’t take care of myself.  It was a daily lesson in survival for emotional and spiritual health.  I knew that war was there – but what did that really mean to me?  I had not lived through gunfire, burnings, and assassination attempts on people I knew before.  I wasn’t prepared for those people to have a real face, a name, a family.  To cry with me about it – or worse yet, to talk about it with a stone-faced look because it has become all too normal.  I had gone through simulations in training on what to do in different crisis situations, but I had never lived with a go-bag packed before so we could take off with a change of clothes, malaria meds, and our important documents in minutes if we needed too.  Growing up in PA I had certainly shot a gun and seen hunters use them – but on animals or tin can targets – not on people. And I had never seen tracer fire or heard AK-47s.  I was not in the military, after all.

When I wrote that blog, I must have been naive, right?

When we left South Sudan and were in a safe place to process the huge amounts of grief and fear we had felt over the past year and I started to see the affects on my kids, I thought yes, I must have been naive.  I was so angry at the woman – the mom – who wrote that stupid blog.  What did she know? I was embarrassed because I knew so many people had read the blog and yet I wasn’t even sure any of it was true anymore.  I was mad that I couldn’t be that woman – that I didn’t even want to be.

It had felt good and empowering (and pretty darn prideful, if I am willing to be honest) to write that the first time and “know” that I must have something in me that many people don’t.  Us missionaries – we can be pretty arrogant in the name of sacrifice and service.

So while we took the last year to heal in many ways and start to really embrace life here I ignored that blog and all it’s implications.  But then tonight I was watching an episode of NCIS  (Isn’t this how all the good spiritual revelations start?)  They were in South Sudan rescuing some military doctors who volunteered their time while off duty.  And from the get-go, I realized it was not just a tv show for me.  Though annoyed at the mispronunciation of “Juba” (really people – it’s four letters long!) I found myself in tears at the first sighting of the makeshift hospital tent where the people were gunned down.  I felt panicked at seeing the gunships come in.  I felt a homesickness for the people and the accents and the Juba Arabic and the landscape.  Because yes, it had been HARD.  But it was also GOOD.  I experienced over and over again the hospitality and love of a people that just wanted to be left alone to live in peace.  I heard stories of loss and survival that ripped my heart in two and put a burning desire to see justice come to light.  I learned anew what hope looked like, even when it made no sense to me.

And my kids experienced all of these things right along with us.  Their hearts and eyes were opened to things that may seem harsh and over the top, but are realities of the majority of people of this world. I have talked with my kids about these things.  Anna said she remembers clearly the day after lockdown when she realized that the Sudanese people have no other choices.  We talked about evacuation and safety and looked at what seemed like limited options – but they were still options.  We had an out, but they didn’t.   She also realized that the Sudanese cared about us enough that they wanted us to have that out and to use it.  It wasn’t fair and it opened her heart up to justice and love and empathy and compassion.  John has talked about how the last year shaped him and that even though it was rough and he was angry most of the time, God has since shown him some things about himself and about this world that he has realized he would never really understand without having South Sudan in his life.  Andrew and RJ have really only good memories of Mundri (other than the latrine)  because yes, we had an amazing team and some really awesome times there.  They are both shaped by the input of a team that poured into them and loved them.  And what young boy doesn’t love the adventure of wide open spaces and bows and arrows?

Would I have liked to have spared them some of the things they have seen and known.  From a certain standpoint, of course!  No mother enjoys watching her children ache and cry and grieve while not knowing how to help them.  Yet I really like who my kids are today.  I love seeing their hearts open to new things and people.  I love seeing the compassion they have and the passions He has put in their hearts.  It has been our prayer for as long as I can remember that our kids would be justice seekers and risk takers in this world and they wouldn’t be content with status quo.

I forgot that for a while.  I got caught up and forgot that God is sovereign. I saw only the “in the moment” and not the molding and shaping that was happening for His good.

My kids are healthy.  They are happy.  And more importantly, they are in love with Jesus.  That looks different for each of them, but it happened in deeper, more profound ways because of this last year.  Grief can draw a sense of purpose out of you in ways that times of ease cannot.

So tonight I stand back alongside that naive woman who wrote the blog a few years ago and the quote from the book I was reading ( and need to reread, apparently) called ‘Parenting Beyond Your Capacity’ that says “The mission of your family is not to ultimately protect your kids but to mobilize them to demonstrate God’s love to a broken world.”  Of course I will continue praying protection over my kids.  But I will also pray for boldness, for compassion, for broken hearts that seek him, for things that bring them repeatedly to the place where they remember he is all they need, and for being justice seekers and grace bringers into this very broken world.

And I will pray for my own heart to be steadfast in this.