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.”

Splotches to Beauty

Recently I was watching one of those painting videos on Facebook. You know the ones I mean – they start with a tool that isn’t even a paintbrush and put a bunch of colorful splotches down. In a matter of minutes it goes from pretty splotches of bright color to a breathtaking painting of some gorgeous landscape full of detail and life. It looks easy, but we know it’s not.

As I was watching this particular one where the splotches turned into a maple grove in the fall I realized that one of the reasons I could never paint like that is because I can’t see it. From the beginning the artist has an idea in mind of what the final canvas will look like. I am not visionary that way. I’ve shared before that when Shawn has put the gardens in at our various houses I always start off a bit dubious but end up soaking in the beauty as it comes to fruition. So when the painter has these beautiful, bright, colors going on and then suddenly pulls out a brown and makes weird lines all over the color all I see is the beauty being destroyed. If I was in a class and someone told me to do that as the next step I would probably stop and watch others to see if I could trust the teacher enough to really lead us through what looks like a gross mistake into the finished product of unique and vibrant beauty.

An artist puts on layers, they know what they are looking for as the end result and they learn through the process how to get there. A little purple here, a streak of white here, use this sponge rather than a brush, make a stroke in this direction, etc. Many times I watch and think, “Oh no! They’ve messed up!” but then as it gets to the end everything is gorgeous, detailed, and exactly how it should be.

Often I feel that way in my life. I am making a painting and I have something in mind, but then I bump the table wrong, I accidentally use the incorrect color, or it’s too wet and it blends together and seems messy. I get frustrated and want to give up. I can’t see what it will look like, only what I thought it should look like and no longer will.

I believe that many times when these artists are painting they have this same experience. While it may seem to me like every stroke is intentional, the truth is they often roll with the punches. If something is a little too dark, they figure out how to lighten it or they change the end result in their mind and go with what they have in front of them. I’ve done that with writing. I start off talking about one thing, get on a tangent, and then decide the tangent is the actual important thing. The end result is almost always as good or better than my original intention.

This has been a rough week. There have been a lot of bumps in the road, hard conversations, and stresses – both personally and at work. I have repeatedly come to a place time and time again where I get frustrated with God – “now what?” I don’t like how that color went on. I wasn’t intending to use that particular brush. Other people have come by and commented on the way the painting looks and make me feel indignant, embarrassed, or defensive. I feel like there are layers and layers of colors and paint, yet I still can’t see the whole picture, and it’s frustrating because I don’t love what I see right now.

I’ve always thought of God as the artist and me the canvas. I know that this is true from the analogy of Him being the potter and me being the clay. But recently I have realized that many of these strokes and designs on this canvas are my own creation. Some are beautiful and good, but many are broken, angry, and dark. I have been the artist in the telling of my story on this canvas. However, he is the Master. He comes alongside me and doesn’t necessarily take the brush to fix it like I think he should. Instead, I have found that he often comes beside me and simply speaks to me about the beauty in the mess I’ve just created. He changes my view of it and redeems it into something beautiful. All of my messy, crazy life splashed on the canvas in front of me looks less dark and broken when I look at it through the Master’s eyes, and I can get a glimpse – be it ever so small – of the masterpiece that it will be at the end. It’s not what I was originally going for, but somehow that is ok because it is something that is deeper in meaning, more rich in content, and more valuable for his use. As I make the next stroke I learn from the last one and watch as splotches become beautiful pictures of real life redeemed.

The Cycle

Recently I started reading through the book of Judges. I have read it before, but it has been a long time. It’s not one of those books that you naturally pick up and start reading! I had been talking to a friend about Deborah and decided that I should refresh myself a little bit, so I started reading. The cycle and reaction of the Israelites in the story struck me as humorous for some reason. It’s a non-stop, “Again the Israelites turned away from God and worshipped their idols” to “But when they cried out to the Lord he raised up for them a deliverer.” It was almost comical to read those lines again and again. I literally thought, “Stupid, foolish Israelites. What was wrong with you?”

Then God stopped me dead in my tracks.

The Holy Spirit came upon me and my thoughts went to my own heart and mind. How many times have I praised him in one breath and cursed him in the next? How many idols have I worshipped when I was feeling abandoned, orphaned, and alone; when I couldn’t see the whole picture? I had to call myself a “stupid, foolish Israelite.”

As I repented and spent time calling upon him, I knew his love for me had always been there and was not conditional to my behavior. There is no condemnation for those who know Jesus! However, I did have to ask myself what was causing this cycle in my own life so often. What was happening?

Again I felt as though clarity hit as I heard, “Guard your heart and mind.” Ouch. I was so quick to judge the Israelites knowing full well my own journey from foolish, Baal-worshipping pagan to powerful, Spirit-filled daughter of the King happened a million times a day when I was not guarding my heart.

But what does that even mean? I’ve always thought about it being my actions – the way my life looks to others. And in some part that is true. The whole verse says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23). The things that happen in our hearts overflow into the way we react, the way we treat people around us, and the choices we make.

But these action are just secondary to the way my belief system is being formed in me because of what I allow in my heart. Can you see the cycle? I don’t guard my heart, I put in perverse, corrupt things or I fail to fill up on things on him, and this flows into my actions towards others. I feel shame (not from him) and conviction (from the Spirit) because I know my actions are not right, so I repent, fill my heart my things of him, allow my actions and thoughts to be shaped and formed into his. Then I get lazy and stop guarding it so aggressively. Slowly the world seeps back in and I go through the cycle again and again.

I know that it’s through the power of the Holy Spirit revealing things to me that I change. My own mind can’t seek out the things of God clearly. I need him clarify and ignite these in me. But when I refuse to listen – when my heart and mind are flooded with noisy, chaotic things that point the exact opposite direction of God and I can’t (or won’t) hear him – that is on me.

So I hear him calling…Grow up, restless child. You can’t stop training in your spiritual growth when it gets hard. You can’t allow excuses to become the rule of how deep you go. I have so much more for you than you can imagine. Wake up, sleeping church. Stop living in fear. Stop looking for any reason to not do the hard work of remaining fit enough to be victorious in battle. Look up, oh doubtful heart. You are not alone. Stop whining about where you have not seen his hand and start asking for a clear, passionate, intimate look into where he has worked and is working still. Ask him to show you the angels surrounding the camp.

I am thankful for God’s love and patience with this stupid, foolish child. And I am even more thankful that he does not see me in that lens but rather as his masterpiece – dearly loved and shaped by him.

God in the Ordinary

In South Sudan I experienced one of the hardest transitions of my life. I had heard that there would be a honeymoon period, and from my experience with interns and apprentices, that is usually the case. However, the moment our little tiny plane hit the dirt strip in Mundri, and my eyes caught sight of all the curious faces watching us get off the plane to start our new life, I started crying and didn’t stop. In that moment I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and humiliated. This was supposed to be the life I had dreamed about for three years of fund raising and we were finally there – I should have been victorious. Instead I found myself wilting in the humidity, exhausted from the extreme difference of this new culture, and not able to focus on a single thing our poor teammates on the ground were trying to say to us.

Mundri airstrip. (PC Reed family)

These guys were heroes. Two single guys who had been there on their own for a few months and were so happy to have on there with them, yet they also had to be a bit overwhelmed on how to help this new family adjust and adapt. To top that all off we were supposed to be the team leaders! What were we thinking?

We had traveled from Uganda that morning after spending the week fighting jet lag, shopping for groceries for three months (I had NO idea what I needed for three months!!), meeting new missionaries that would be our life line in the months to come, buying phones and sim cards, eating out at restaurants that we would not be seeing for a quite a while, and getting paperwork ready. In the end the 18 bins we brought from the States and the majority of groceries we bought in country couldn’t even come with us on our move to South Sudan because of weight issues on the tiny plane. Though it was coming in twice a week at that point there was no guarantee of how soon we would get our things, and though I tried to pick and choose the “important” things, I was just plain defeated by the time we landed and felt stripped of anything familiar.

The “toilet”

The first few weeks were spent understanding solar power, getting use to using outdoor pit toilets with cockroaches, figuring out how to say basic Arabic phrases so I could shop in the market even though I wasn’t even sure how to use some of the foods. I went to bed crying and woke up crying. In between I made bread, yogurt, homeschooled, cleaned, tried to find a language partner, and spent time getting to know our teammates before more came the following month. Later a friend told us, “Yeah, all the women cry when they move here. I don’t really understand why, but it’s true.” At least I was normal!

But we are amazing beings, us humans. We learn to adapt and change and (dare I say) even enjoy new things. One morning as I was praying that God would help me (a prayer that became as common as breathing to me at the time) I heard him tell me to start looking for him in the things and people around me. Find him in the ordinary. Invite him into the everyday and embrace it. Stop looking for the huge miracle of everything being “normal” and start believing that he was in even the most foreign thing and that made it extraordinary and beautiful. I had to look at my “new normal” as being something beautiful and life giving.

New teammates came and we learned to do communal meals – eating together becoming a normal thing where we could laugh and process. We had extra people to help with school so I could do something besides cook and teach, and life started to take on it’s own rhythms again. I found a language partner and spent many hours sitting at her stall in the marketplace learning words and phrases and laughing as she made me “sell” her wares to people coming by. I began what would be a beautiful friendship with the Bishop’s wife as we shelled nuts together, baked cookies, and sat with each other at the numerous church things I was supposed to attend as team leader’s wife. These friendships developed from doing the ordinary, everyday things together. I started to see Him in these ordinary things, and as I did, my heart started to accept and even like my life there.

Sometimes I want to see the big things – the miraculous. I think this is ok. God tells us that he is able to do more than we can ask or even imagine, so I believe he loves us to ask for these things. However that cannot become our only communication with him. When God told me to look for him in the everyday I started to know him better, deeper. I started to see his life in other people and even in the creation around me. I stopped feeling disappointed and scared and started seeing things with wonder and awe.

Not always – sometimes I couldn’t handle one more child pointing at me and yelling, “Hello white person” over and over (and over) again. Sometimes seeing him in my surroundings felt impossible when it was 115 and the solar power wasn’t working well enough to even run a fan. Sometimes I still cried as I went to bed wondering if we had ruined our children and committed ourselves to five years of insanity. But usually the next day, in the brief coolness of morning with a fresh cup of coffee I was able to see him again and be thankful.

Where do you need to start seeing him in your ordinary? I know for me, right now in Covid times, I have spent many days that seem to run one into another. I am in an opposite times of what I was in Mundri, as there seems to be nothing new and boredom seeps in. But I have been asking him to show me himself in these times as well. In playing a board game with my kids; in spending more time lingering over a meal together; in taking walks in the evening and greeting neighbors that I normally wouldn’t have a chance to know; in figuring out how to love others when I cannot be with them in person; in playing the keyboard and spending time writing.

Whatever the season, we need to be intentional in looking for him in the ordinary moments. When we do, we will know him in deeper, steadier ways than we have before.

PC Reed family

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.”

Staying

Today was the mass exodus.  After a fun friend and family filled week, both of my older kids and my in-laws went back to their normal lives today.  As Anna walked out the door I felt that familiar feeling of “something is missing” creep in, and after dropping John off I heard a song that inevitably reminds me of him and I cried.  Moms, you get me.

But I am also learning in this stage to be all-in while we have those times – and not just with my kids.  As we continue pushing into friendships here in church and this community I want to make sure that I don’t take those for granted.  We have chosen a life here in DC where we get to stay this time around for the long haul, but many others leave.  Around our Thanksgiving table this year were several young adults who will most likely not be in this part of the world next year for the holidays.  This is a new dynamic for us – being the “stayers” is much different than being the ones leaving.

But if ex-pat life taught me anything, it is to jump in feet first and go deep.  Don’t waste time on conversations and activities that keep things at the surface.  Instead pull out the games where you laugh together and get to accuse each other of silly things all the while figuring out personalities, reactions, and what makes a person feel most comfortable and loved.  Try activities that are new to you or everyone around you and document it with pictures so in the years to come you can share and reminisce about being brave together.  Learn to say someone’s given name in their heart language rather than their English version and watch their faces light up even when you completely mess it up.  Ask what you can be praying for – and then actually do it.  In other words, be a place of stability for those people who lives are transient and ever-changing.  We have had those people in our lives and now it’s our turn to give this back.

I am very content to be in this new role of staying.  I can’t wait to not be the newbie, but even as we wade through our first year here we learn how to love our new home and family well so that we can offer that to each person as they come (and sometimes go) in our lives.  Though the holes will always be present as people we love leave, there never seems to be more empty space than the space that is filled.  For that I am thankful.