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.

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.

This Body of Death

All month as I walked into my office I kept smelling this terrible odor. At first I thought it was the trash, but even after it was emptied the smell got worse. Then I was convinced, after checking all over the room, that there must be a dead animal in the wall. Not much I could do about that – I would have to let it run its course and rot. Yuck! I ran my diffuser each time I was in the office trying to cover up the smell.

Last week as I went in early for a training I decided to make some coffee. I hadn’t used my coffee press since switching offices, so I opened it up and immediately gagged from the smell. It looked like the entire pot was filled with mold. Oops – I must have forgotten to empty it last time and it was gross now. At least now I found the source of the smell!

I went to the bathroom, opened up the lid, and dumped it into the sink expecting to wash the mold down and clean out the pot. Instead I discovered that my “mold” had a tail and teeth! SO GROSS! A mouse had gotten into the press somehow and couldn’t get out. After he died he started decomposing – in my press! I knew I had to empty the sink, but his body was a liquidy mess and I couldn’t get a good grasp on it through the huge wad of paper towels I was using. It kept smooshing guts all over and I could barely think straight because I was gagging every time the squishy mouse remains squirted in the sink.

It must have been quite a funny sight to see me gagging and yelling and running around like a crazy person.

Finally I got most of the mouse outside. I took one look at the press and knew it had met it’s end as well. No way could I ever drink from that again! I tossed it in the garbage, sprayed lysol all over everything, and walked away from the whole dead, rotting, decomposing mess.

Even now I want to gag when I think about it.

In Romans 7 Paul writes, “Who can deliver me from this body of death?” I will never forget the illustration Shawn used in youth group when we were teaching this passage. One of the things the Roman government, who was particularly cruel, would do is strap the body of the the victim to the person who had committed the murder. Can you imagine? Being shackled to a decomposing human corpse, the stench overwhelming you and seeping into your very being for the remains of your days? Eventually the corpse would be filled with disease which would go into your own body, killing you slowly and horribly.

Our daughter had a huge rag doll – one that was the size of an adult. Shawn made one of the kids in youth group walk around all evening with that doll strapped to his body. Everywhere he went and everything he did he had to figure out how to do with this big extra body attached to him. This didn’t totally work as far as the illustration of a dead body, because the doll was pink and smiley and didn’t wreak of rotting flesh and disease, but it was cumbersome and gave a good picture in their minds.

I thought about this “body of death” as I calmed down after gagging from the mouse. I couldn’t handle that little smell – I cannot imagine the rotting, consuming stench from a person’s dead body, sitting in the heat, being exposed to all the elements for days in and days out. No escape, no reprieve. My little mouse smell didn’t even compare.

Of course, it would seem the obvious way to avoid this is to not kill someone, right? Don’t murder, and you never have to carry a dead body around. So why, then, does Paul say this? He used this metaphor because he knew that the weight of human sinfulness and the destruction of following our flesh was the same as carrying a rotting dead body around. He also knew that there was nothing in himself that could rescue him from this. Apart from Christ we are nothing. He gives us everything we need for life. The death that came in this form of punishment lasted for days or weeks, slowly tormenting the person it was strapped to and causing them to literally rot away while still alive. Our sin does the same. Sometimes it seems small and harmless, we don’t understand the effect it has on us – we might even get use to it, though others around us can tell something is wrong. As we continue in our sin it becomes worse, it seeps in and slowly takes over everything in us and kills us mind, body, and soul. Spiritually, without being rescued by God, we are dead people walking – we are dying inside and there is no way to stop it. The work of Jesus on the cross is the only thing that can rescue us from this body of death. He took all of that upon himself when he was crucified in our place.

I know after my experience of feeling nauseous from the smell of this tiny rodent for a couple weeks and reaching the point of gagging while trying to clean up that I am so thankful I do not have to carry the stench of my own sin and dead self around with me. I am free from that body of death! Instead I am whole, healthy, spiritually alive, and clean because of the work of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit living inside of me. And I do not carry around the stench of death, but rather the beautiful aroma of peace, love, and life.

As Paul said then, I say now, “Thanks be to God, who delivered me through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

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.

 

 

The blog From a a Year Ago

I was going through my blog in the “drafts” section to see what things I had started and then never finished to try to clean it up.  I came upon this blog that I had started a year ago – the night before Anna was coming back from Kenya unexpectedly early and we were getting ready to go on what we thought would be a singular lock-down just to make sure she wasn’t sick.  By the time I reached the store the news of Europe closing it’s borders was hitting and people were starting to panic, so I walked into a jam-packed store (that was pre-mask and social distance order) and this is what played out:

“It’s real…That knot in your chest.  The lump that you try really hard to swallow.  The short, fast breaths that make you tell yourself to breathe deep and count slowly.

In this time of uncertainty I feel it pressing in constantly.  Last night I was in the store and it was as though I was walking through a movie scene for a dystopian movie.  The lines were all the way to the back.  People’s carts were full of whatever they could put in.  The store had no milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper, flour…the shelves were empty.  I had only gone in to get a few key things, but as I sat and watched others I started to panic and anxiety crept in.  Maybe I should stand in line for the next couple of hours and buy all the cheese, pasta, and peanut butter I could find. Or maybe I really do need all the gatorade I can fit in my cart.  Or maybe I should buy all the medicine I could find because we are bound to get this virus and have fevers and might run out of gatorade but Tylenol would take the fevers down, but RJ can’t swallow a lot of pills so I should buy a bunch of kinds so that I could be sure of having something he could take, but then what if he still can’t and then he’s really sick and we have no food and people have gone crazy…kind of like my mind in that moment.

Last night in the store I came across a few people that reminded me of something important – this life is not all about me.  I stood as I was waiting (patiently, I promise!) for a store employee to move his cart that he was stocking shelves with and I looked around me.  There was a young man about my oldest son’s age.  He looked a little shell shocked, honestly.  He had some pasta, some granola bars, and a box of milk in his hands.  He was looking at Tuna but seemed a bit like he had no clue what he should be doing.  I wanted to tell him to walk alongside me and let me help him figure this out, that he wasn’t alone. I wanted to give him some sort of assurance that he was doing the right thing in buying a little extra, but that he should not give into the fear that was pulsing through the store.  I wanted to – but I didn’t.  Because in the moment I was scared and panicky.  I was thinking of my own son and wondering if someone would help him in this situation, because how does a 22 year old young man on his own for the first time know how to react and prepare when it seems like the world has gone mad?

I also saw an older woman trying to get a few things.  I helped get something off a shelf for her as people rushed by ignoring her because by this point I was starting to get my senses back.  As I prayed against the fear I felt my own panic subsiding.

I think we are going to be facing some new, uncharted things here in the next couple of months.  We are not a country that really knows how to do crisis well. We’ve lived in places where we had to evacuate from war and go on lock down due to election instability, and I never saw the chaos that I saw last night in the grocery store.  May God show us clearly what he wants us to learn from this. “

Did you catch your breath as you read? I know that now, on this side of things, I can see how scared we were as a country. We have seen half a million deaths in the US during this pandemic that were related to the virus. Probably no one reading this was spared knowing someone personally who suffered greatly in some way because of it. Jobs have been lost, houses lost, marriages and families that were already taxed disintegrated during quarantine, and some people who lived on their own spent months never seeing another person or having any sort of human touch.

Yet here we are at what seems to be the end of it. What did we learn? Or better yet, what are we learning?

This weekend I saw my newborn nephew. I had been considering and reconsidering going, worried about if I would bring something to him unknowingly. But my sister really wanted me there, and as I sat and cuddled him and I stroked his fuzzy, perfect little head and breathed in newborn baby, I felt hope again. My niece who had come as well fell in love with him and said he was a powerful baby. I had to agree – there was something almost intoxicating about this new little, extremely miraculous life that we were holding. He reminded me that God was not absent from the events surrounding us this last year, but that even in those he showed himself powerful, merciful, and redemptive.

See, my sister and her husband had tried for over a decade to have kids. Hope sprung up a time or two only to be dashed violently in the pain of miscarriage. Then Lincoln happened. In the middle of trauma and chaos and pandemic and pain, a new life was formed. He was not the “Covid” baby – ones that were birthed from the extra time at home that we are seeing happen all around us (not that those are any less miraculous or full of hope!) But here was a living, breathing, beautiful, seven-and-a-half-pound bundle of life that we had prayed for over and over again for years. God chose to answer that prayer in the middle of one of the darkest times our world has seen in recently.

It makes me think of another baby born into chaos, darkness, and hopelessness. One who came and brought joy, healing, and True Life with His birth. So what have I learned this year? I have learned (and forgotten and relearned many times) that no matter how dark it seems my God has not forsaken me. He leans in and listens. He catches my tears. He hems me in, behind and before. And when it seems darkest, he brings redemption and life that starts to seep into the cracks of the walls I have built up around me and he reminds me of the true victory that is mine through him. I am so thankful for that.