Thursday, April 5, 2018

Cultivating your Seeing

Have you ever seen something that impacted your life from that moment on? Most of us have, in some way or another. Maybe it was the person who'd become your spouse. Maybe it was a job that peaked your interest enough to get a degree in that field. Maybe it was an issue that needed someone to raise awareness about. Whatever it is, there are countless ways that we can see and be impacted by things.

When I read the story of the Good Samaritan, I'm struck by the repeated phrase: "when he saw him." Three men, all participants in the same situation, all saw and assessed the situation, but the outcomes are vastly different. What makes the last man different? Why did what he saw impact his life? Such a thought to be pondered upon...

In modern day America (could be any country or time period- just writing about what I am surrounded by presently) there's a lot of seeing and action that happens around me. Shopping malls are filled with people spending money. TV commercials flash such tantalizing objects round the clock. Online shops are a whole 'nother level! But each requires one to see and respond. Many choose: "Yes, I need more comfort, more things, more, more more to be happy!" Oh how hard it can be to walk away (or live with not walking away)- I speak from much experience here.

Should we even delve into the realm of online dating, social media, over eating, Netflix, or any other painful areas? Perhaps not, but the point is that we are all surrounded by people who can see and have their hearts impacted enough to act and make a life choice. Indeed, we are one!

So, when someone sees racial inequality, poverty, war killing innocent people, or a whole slew of other things that are on our very doorstep, why is there no action, not even an acknowledgement or any type of response? What is it that makes the action part of our hearts numb or even broken in this area? I think the answer is found back in our story: "and when he saw him, he had compassion."

Such an interesting word, this compassion is. We don't hear it too much in day-to-day conversation anymore. A concern for the suffering of others- how could we not want a culture centered around that? How can we not be alarmed that it is severely lacking?

Have you ever been in some sort of suffering and someone looked the other way, walked away, or even added to your despair? Words can't even depict the emotions felt in that moment, huh? Feeling that pain in this moment, can you transport yourself to the roadside of Jericho? How would it feel to be crumpled up, battered and bruised, emptied, and left for dead? Now, how would it feel to see someone pass by because they were too busy, too important, too poor, too ____ to help? You'd let me die for any one of those reasons? Are you kidding me?!

That exercise you just did, that's compassion! That's placing yourself in someone else's shoes and responding with action. Maybe you don't know how, you don't fully understand, maybe you'll make a fool of yourself, maybe, maybe, maybe... But how would you feel if your country was torn to pieces overnight and you had nowhere to go- would you really care who helped, who loved, who entered in and saved you from dying? Sure they may come across as insensitive or crazy at times, but who cares- they just saved you from dying, from being thirsty or naked, or being all alone. How would you feel if someone defended you when you were prejudge based off the color of your skin and your neighborhood?

I could list countless ways we can daily show compassion in numerous ways around our schools, neighborhoods, cities, country, and world! But we first have to cultivate our hearts to see well enough for it to produce compassion. Don't look away or walk on by- He's calling us to be brave enough to enter in. Will you today?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Go and Do Likewise

I know it comes as no shock to anyone out there that the war in Syria has been on my mind a lot these past days. Prayers, thoughts of how I can help, prayers, wishing I could be there (but also knowing as a foreign woman I can't right now), prayers, shame over how the West is handling this, wondering where God is in all of this and what He will do, and oh yeah, praying.

Tonight, after watching a documentary on the war, I started thinking about responses I've received from people through the years whenever I've mentioned uncomfortable things, like this film was. I've spent a lot of time researching trafficking, street kids, war, orphans, poverty culture, etc. And it typically happens whenever I open my heart to share deeply about these things... there's one person who says something to the affect: "I don't know how you do that! I could never go/see/do those things..." This is usually followed by a shutting down and conversation change, but what I really want to do is stand on a chair and yell: "How in the world can you turn away and close your eyes? How can you call yourself a follower of Jesus and walk away from the lost, hurting, and powerless? How in the world can you not go, see, or do?!"

I get it... we live in the West where comfort is idolized above nearly everything else. Death is rarely a part of our lives, until we are really old. Sicknesses are treatable. We mostly all have driver's licenses and access to a car. We are educated so we can sit on our bottoms and hire out all manual labor. We can isolate ourselves from pain, discomfort, and ugly things... most of the time. But we sure are not going to go pursuing those things, if we don't have to!

Tonight after thinking about how sharing things often feels like yelling into the wind, I thought about Jesus. How He felt as He walked on this earth and 'shouted' a lot of things that seemed to fade into the wind. But then I remembered the story of the Good Samaritan, you know, the one where the 'good people' do nothing, and the 'enemy' rescues the man lying nearly dead on the side of the road?

I think the story would go something like this nowadays: "A man was going down from London to Paris, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A pastor happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a priest, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But an imam, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on peroxide and alcohol. Then he put the man in his own car, brought him to a hotel and took care of him. The next day he took out two hundred Euros and gave them to the manager, ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

What's Your "But"?

Stories are an interesting thing. They draw us in, stir our empathy, challenge our priorities, and draw us out of the bubble we often find ourselves residing within. Stopping and listening to someone else's story can prove to be life-altering for anyone. However, many fail to do this and find themselves repeating the history and patterns of those who've lived a life of tragic mistakes. Hearing another's life story has a powerful way of reading our own heart, which can be painful and raw at times. We like to live in ignorant bliss and the perceived safety of our little comforts. Stories have a way of crashing through that, which is precisely why the Bible is full of them (and also why reading it is avoided by many).

There's an interesting rhythm found in the history of Israel: God raises a person into power, they chose to follow Him or not, and then consequences are reaped for the choices they made. But the irony is that, even when the judges or kings decided to walk in God's ways, there is often a "but" following after all the victorious conquests and mighty, often miraculous, happenings. It's normally listed at the end of their recorded story, almost like a side-note: "But _____ didn't remove the high places," "but during ______'s reign, Israel continued to sacrifice to the golden calves," "but _____ was lead astray by his foreign wives." In my younger years I remember thinking that these people must be complete idiots! How in the world could you see the Lord do something as mighty and powerful as they had and still not wholeheartedly follow and trust Him?! I just needed to live a little bit more, find a new definition for idolatry, and have my blinded eyes opened. Now I indeed know I have had many "buts" in my story, which is also full of miracles and mighty happenings.

This morning as I was reading through yet another account of a sidetracked king, I began to wonder what my/your/our culture's stories would be. If you will: what would our "buts" be at the end of our lives? Maybe they'd go a bit like this:
"but he never was more than 1 foot away from his cell phone."
"but she numbed her mind every night with Netflix, movies, and Tv shows."
"but food became his safe haven instead of the Lord."
"but being comfortable and feeling safe was more important than all else."
"but owning the newest of everything sidelined him from contributing to God's kingdom."
"but finding the perfect man rendered her powerless to do anything else."
"but making sure his body was chiseled took up all his time."
"but always appearing put together made her forget the eternal things."
"but sleep and laziness made him blind to the adventures God invited him into."
"but making sure statuses and posted pictures were polished consumed her time."
"but fear paralyzed him..."

I could go on and on, sadly. Many of these have been past struggles or are even things I'm wrestling through right now. How easy it is for me to follow God in some areas! I'm really great at certain things, and truth be told, I like to focus on those and have others see those. But there's always a "but" that most of the time I want to turn a blind eye to. However, I don't want to get to the end of my life and look back and see those unimportant things as what consumed my heart. I want to see all these things for what they are: idols that rob my heart of joy and fullness, an empty cistern that doesn't satisfy!

Throughout the Old Testament God uses one man as the standard of whether they wholeheartedly followed Him: King David (and truth be told, we can all see he had his fair share of "buts" in his story). One man out of all the kings! It's hard, and honestly can't be done without God's help. But let us bombard the throne of God today to beg for that grace and mercy to help us walk in the ways of David, of Jesus. Maybe then our "buts" will shrink as our legacy of love and joy increases!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Desires of My Heart

Many of you have followed my years of wrestling through being single (as exampled 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2016, 2016, 2016, and 2016). One of the major verses that, though I know it's a pretty cliche one, was that of: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4) I've heard so many people misuse that passage throughout the years, so I'm even hesitant mentioning it, but it has been such an integral part of my journey that I must speak of it's role.

When I was a little girl, life was pretty difficult, and I found myself living in survival mode most of the time. When one enters this place of simply making it through to the next day, the part of the heart that forms dreams and hopes somewhat dies. So, the fairytale daydreams that most little girls develop never captured my heart. However, a dark idol came to roost instead. Falling in love and getting married weren't dreams of mine, they somehow along the way became a picture of a savior to me. It wasn't "Prince Charming and Christina lived happily ever after," but rather more of a "if only I could be married, then..." Marriage and this elusive perfect man would right all wrongs and solve all problems! He would come and rescue me in every way I could imagine, and while outwardly I seemed content to be single and very independent, there was this unquenchable hunger to be found by him.

In case you didn't just read that and think: "that's a formula for a disaster," let me inform you: that's a formula for a huge disaster! And praise my Almighty Lord God that He didn't allow any such man to come along! There were snippets of wisdom that God used in massive ways to protect my foolish heart. There were men and women who spoke Truth into my life as I veered along life's path in a crazy pattern. And there were Scriptures that I clung to when I couldn't see or understand my Jesus' ways. Psalm 37:4 was one such passage.

The first time I recall meditating on these beautiful words was in high school. I couldn't figure out what it meant to be delighted in God. Step by step, I begged Him to teach my silly heart to find Him as my Treasure and to show me how to be fully satisfied and enraptured in Him alone. Later I began to examine what it meant to have "desires of your heart." Oh, I could see many people around me wanting temporal things that they would implore the Lord for, but watching as they quickly turned to dust in their hearts when they received them. There had to be something different meant by those words! Slowly over time, I began to understand that being delighted in Him means that He defines what those desires in my heart are, and that He is a GOOD Father! To be delighted in God means to be content in His presence. To find rest and joy in Him, not what He gives.

As you can imagine, this journey had dramatic influence upon my searching for "the man who would come rescue me." God became that Man to me in every sense: my Savior, my Rescuer, my Friend, my Beloved, and the One my heart found its fullest delight in. I don't know how to fully describe that feeling for you, but I'll just say this last two years of being homeless, moving every few weeks, volunteering in refugee camps, and being unemployed has been some of the richest times I've ever felt because He became more than just enough for me. He became my sole delight.

Please don't read the next section of what I'm writing as a sequel following that lesson of contentment, as if what I learned from God unlocked some formula to bring a man into my life! That isn't how God works, and that isn't at all what I mean...

 God crossed my path with Matt on May 22, 2011 :) He came to my city in Kosovo, and we went out for coffee to debrief about some things. This blue-eyed South African guy became a good friend of mine in the months (and later years) that followed. We connected over loving the Lord, reading biographies, laughing together, exploring the outdoors, talking about monkeys, and other such things. But, because my heart was searching for a fictional super-rescuer-type-dude, Matt only ever was seen as my friend. I know that our sins don't thwart the plans of our Big God, and I can see all the ways that Matt and I needed to grow up over the next six years, but it is a bit funny how aimlessly my restless heart was searching for something that was indeed right in front of me! It wasn't until God helped me to be fully delighted in Him that I was able to see that Matt was exactly the man I was needing- loving, gentle, patient, forgiving, and an extremely humble leader.

I would never have seen Matt as more than a friend if God hadn't first shattered my silly idol, if He hadn't taught my heart to be fully delighted in Him. I am thirty-three years old. Most people categorize that as old to be getting married, but God knows best, and I couldn't be more thankful for my single years and more excited about the adventure that lays ahead. Praise God that He continuously pursues my heart even now to be delighted solely in Him and that He continues to reveal to me the beautiful desires He's placed within me (and how He fulfills them all). Here's to the next season of life and the beauty found therein!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Treated like a Zoo

Most of the people who randomly read my blog will never step foot in a refugee camp. Your understanding is limited to what you've read or perhaps pictures seen. I think the general consensus is that most are inhumane and the conditions are in desperate need of being improved... While both of those thoughts are accurate, neither fully capture what it means to be the one living in the camp.

Have you ever visited a zoo and walked away with a heavy heart? There's just something about seeing a massive elephant confined to a small habitat that makes me feel sad. Or little monkeys swinging from plastic branches and roped up tires. Or tigers reduced to pacing back and forth in front of a door for their next meal. Essentially what they've been designed to be and do has been stripped away due to the selfishness of others around them. I'm just as much to blame- I love getting to see the majestic creatures that I'd likely never behold in my lifetime in their natural habitat. And the truth is, I wouldn't even come near most if I encountered them in the wild (they scare me!).

The refugee camps take on a bit of a zoo-type feeling. You have these amazing, full of life, talented people who have truly the most heroic characteristics from the horrific events they've been exposed to  all packed into a small space. Some are carpenters, doctors, students, artists, or teachers. Some have suffered horrors at the hands of a people they've now been commanded to share a tent with (which many do so without fighting). They have undertaken a journey marked by unmentionable bravery and fortitude to simply reach this place and remain for months or years. Most of them literally have to say just a few sentences before I am humbled and feel unworthy to call them friend.

And yet, here they all are, trapped in a place that essentially strips them of all that being a resilient person (or merely a human being) means. "You can't work. You can't cook for yourself. You can't chose your own clothing or even wash them. You must eat these things. We don't have drinking water for you. You must live in the unknown and wait until I tell you that you can move forward (or backward). No one wants you here, why don't you just go home? Because your country is at war, you've now become a statistic, lost in the midst of a sea of other refugees... unknown, unvalued, unwanted, and uncared for!" Literally every day screams those messages loud and clear to their hearts.

When fear controls our hearts and decisions, we buy into the lie that people who are different than us, that people fleeing areas of war, that people who come from certain places in this world aren't worthy of a chance, of an education, of a future, of love... Oh, but when fear is removed and compassion takes root, then, and only then, are people able to be the majestic creatures God designed us all to be!

Friday, June 9, 2017

God in the Barrenness

I've had a lot of friends who've struggled with infertility or miscarriages, so it's a topic close to my heart. My own mother had 3 miscarriages when I was a young girl, so I know intimately the pain felt at such losses. Though it has never been my own personal experience (apart from being single and desiring children, but that's a different sort of wrestle!), it appears that this struggle and desire to be a mother is one of the most difficult and painful a woman can walk through. Scripture has much to say on this subject as well, and I've been so encouraged through the years as I encountered various narratives of women found there. However, it wasn't until yesterday that I pieced them all together. I want to take you through my thought process a bit, but first let me paint a small picture for you by mentioning all the women Scripture said were barren (I may miss some, but these are the ones I can recall off the top of my head):

Sarah was barren before Isaac (Genesis 15:2)
Rebekah was barren before Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:21)
Rachel was barren before Joseph (Genesis 30:1)
Manoah's wife was barren before Samson (Judges 13:2)
Hannah was barren before Samuel (1Samuel 1:5)
Elizabeth was barren before John (Luke 1:7)

Read through that list of men there again- what strikes you with each of them? All were influential in the pages of Scripture in mighty ways! Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were key instruments in the beginning of the nation of Israel. Samson was a powerful judge that brought peace from the Philistines. Samuel was an incredible leader of God's people for his entire lifetime. And John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus' ministry. God had a plan for each of their lives that powerfully affected His plan for His children. There wasn't ever a doubt in His mind that they would be born- to Him being outside of time, their mothers weren't barren at all! So, it would seem that God was after something much more than just these women having children... I mean, isn't that the "natural and normal" order of how things work: get married and have children? So, to have put a "pause" on them rushing forward into living a "normal life" seems a bit interesting.

Something that also strikes me as interesting is there are a few of the stories where it mentions that God was the One who closed her womb. Take Hannah, for instance, it says "the Lord had closed her womb" twice in back-to-back verses (repeating it emphasizes it even more!). What in the world?! Why would God be the One to cause such pain in her life?

The answer appears to be simple to me (and yet not simple at all...): God was after something so much more than giving these women a "normal life". He was after their hearts. You see, there is something about suffering that develops a depth of character that no one living a "normal life" will ever be able to find. By allowing these ladies to walk through sorrow, He laid the foundation for them to parent these young men who would one day lead His people. These men bear the marks of their mother's intimacy with the Lord that likely originated in their barrenness and crying out to God.

Please don't hear me say that if you're struggling to get pregnant, you can cry out to God and know that He'll give you a child (or if you're single, you can believe God will bring a husband), because that's not at all what these verses teach! The beauty found here is that God is intimate, sometimes in the pruning, sometimes in the pausing of desires, sometimes in the withholding, and sometimes in the giving. But the wonderful thing that can be counted on in each is that He's after your heart and the hearts of those around you, whether that one day gets to be your children, your husband, or simply deep friendships. Don't waste your suffering by missing the opportunity to meet Him in the pain and to give Him your heart and tears!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Humility of Prayer

This morning I woke up early (6-something), after going to sleep late (close to 2am) and felt irritated to not still be sleeping. As I lay on my bed, tossing and turning in protest at being awake, I felt the gentle prompt of the Holy Spirit to pray for family/friends back home, friends in the camp, and the massive political and religious issues unfurling worldwide that are affecting millions of people daily. "Okay, Jesus, I'll just lay here and casually pray, with the hopes that once I'm done, You will help me to fall back to sleep!" (I'm a very selfish person... sorry if you weren't aware of that fact!) It's now close to 8am, and I'm still awake and my heart is still heavy.

There is a sentence that has been playing in my head as I read Scripture and attempted to sort-of pray: "If My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land..." I've heard this passage quoted so many times that I am able to type it from memory! But I think one part of it has been overlooked often when it's taught on: humility! Prayer requires humble-ness, doesn't it? It's a coming to the end of yourself. It's a cry for help. It's a petition for intervention in a place where you know you have no power or ability to impact.

Prayer isn't popular. I probably can count on my fingers the men and women in my life that I know have a vibrant prayer life- you know, the kind that puts you to shame when they tell you they pray for you every morning or interceded for 20 years for someone to be free from their bondage? It's rare! Another thing that is rare is humility! It's not natural to anyone, even the people that seem to be naturally humble.

I'm currently spending my days in a refugee camp- it's one of the darkest places you can go: people fleeing from war and bearing the marks from this, eyes once lit with hope are now darkened by defeat from months of just sitting in utter boredom, sins and wickedness that have been allowed to enter into the lives of a few now engulf and affect everyone surrounding, and I could keep going on. If anyone ever had a reason to pray, it is me! I "do well" on most days, starting it with prayer, ending it with prayer, and throwing up prayers in between as situations arise. But, if I'm completely honest, there isn't always that humility that this passage speaks of. The realization that unless God moves, unless He works, unless it's His power nothing will be broken or be rescued. This passage isn't talking about casual prayer, it is talking about deep dependence prayer, and I'm convinced most of us know nothing about this sort of thing.

I once read a story of a man who would spend every night praying God would use him to save one person the next day- he would pray until he felt God had heard and answered yes (we are talking hours here). Eventually he began to wonder why he was just praying for one person, so he slowly began to pray for more, until he got up to 5 people a day that were coming to know God through him. It also reminds me of the story of Elijah praying for it to rain after there had been a drought for three years (1 Kings 18:41-46) He prayed and sent his servant to look seven times before God answered his prayers. I wonder if I would've stopped long before seven... But I long to keep striving to have this dependency and humility before the Lord- may God continue to bring this about in my heart and life!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Crying Their Tears

Well, I've been back in Eastern Europe for the past few weeks, working in a refugee camp at the border of Serbia and Croatia. All three times I've come in the past year and a half to various camps have looked and felt differently. This time is a lot more involved in the day to day life in a camp and involves contact with primarily men, as the women normally stay in their rooms or busy themselves with washing and tending to the children. Most of these men (many of them are young boys, but have earned the title 'men' in my book for all they've been through!) are tough and distant at first. As I hand them a cup of tea or sweep around their feet in our little 'cafe', they usually look up in surprise that this crazy Western lady just addressed them with a friendly greeting. Sometimes all I'll get in response is a grunt, sometimes a shy smile with downcast eyes, or occasionally it's a greeting back. But slowly they warm up, and often I'll find myself chatting away with someone as I serve tea to the masses. In the short time I've been here, I've begun to build friendships with a  few of the young guys, and I've had the privilege of hearing the stories of a few dozen others. Though vastly different, their stories all are similar. Trauma, pain, loss, hopelessness, and uncertainty. With a few of them, I can see the emotion in their eyes as they share about their families or difficult journey, but mostly it's more a relaying of the facts. Any emotion I express is typically met with a shrug of the shoulders and perhaps a change of the subject. Emotions aren't comfortable for men, but this goes a lot deeper than that. These men come from war-torn countries, they've been taught to be tough and strong, and I found last year in the camps in Greece, so had the women. Not all of that is a bad thing. It is indeed necessary for survival. On a lesser degree, I can understand this mentality from all the craziness I experienced as a child. But what happens when that strength fails you or begins to break after a year stuck in a refugee camp? Many of the men bear marks on their arms from cutting, some have even attempted suicide, and fighting is a daily occurrence in the tents.

This morning I spent some time crying the unfallen tears of these men. Weeping for the pain and unmet longings of their hearts. I don't know what else to do with their stories, but lay them at the foot of Jesus who loves and cares about all of this! My goal isn't to get them to cry, but last night I was so excited when the man I was talking with did. You see, self-harm and suicide have become his coping strategies as the pain locked inside has become too great. Talking through the past year of crushing hurt and trauma opened his heart a sliver for me to tell him how much God loves him, how much He values his life, and how He has a beautiful plan for his future.  Tears formed in his eyes as he tried to believe these things about himself. Today I cried the rest of those tears as I begged God to help this man truly grasp these things about Him, to see beauty again, and to experience the freedom that only He can bring.

In my camp here alone there are about 1,200 refugees. This is one of hundreds of camps stretched across Europe, and thousands throughout the world at the moment. My heart staggers at that thought... I just have no mental capacity to fathom this. So, in my overwhelmed-ness, I will continue to meet my God there and ask Him to continue to give me the strength to cry their tears for them until they are able to heal and find Hope!

Monday, December 26, 2016

All Alone!

Holland 2008

"All alone! Whether you like it or not, 
alone is something you'll be quite a lot!" 
-Dr. Suess

Loneliness is hard. It feels ugly, because we are created to be in relationship with others. Sin affects that a lot! We hurt other people, they hurt us, we grow up in broken homes, fear keeps us from stepping out, we lose someone we love, others wall us out, and so many other scenarios. I've spent a lot of my life being alone, and even when I'm not physically alone I often still feel alone inside. (Fun how that works, huh?) I wouldn't say I'm any sort of expert on loneliness, but I do have some thoughts...

Though the media paints alone-ness as one of the worst things that can happen to a person, being alone isn't all bad. Some of my most inspired thoughts came out of periods of being alone with the Lord. I've learned to treasure friendships and family all the more, because I know what it's like to not have them in my life. God has a special place in His heart for lonely people (Psalm 68:6- "God sets the lonely in families..." and oodles of verses on the widow and orphan), so being alone provides a beautiful backdrop to see God moving and providing in our lives.

But the truth be told, I hate the word, and I feel so sad for people who must go through life solo. This last season of life has involved a lot of isolation and instability in the relational department as I've moved around a lot. So, Netflix has become a good friend, as has the Internet, and seeking pseudo friendships through social media. But the reality is that all those make you feel worse, if we're being honest... And at the end of the day, we go to bed hating that no one wrote us an message back, that the movie seemed boring because no one was there to laugh or cry with, or that you can't recall any of the things you watched on Youtube. It's a pursuit of emptiness, a chasing after the wind, and I'm tired of being really bad at this whole loneliness thing!

This world is full of adventures, of knowledge and skills to be gained, of people to bless, of a God to fall in love with, and oodles of other things. I don't have a husband I have to spend time with, or children to feed, or a dog to walk, or a house to clean... I'm free to pursue lots of crazy things, if I can only convince my heart to no longer chase after empty cisterns that don't satisfy. So, here's to taking steps toward valuing and treasuring our loneliness!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I Wish I Was in Aleppo

The world watches as the fight between the Syrian Army (and Russia) and the rebel forces for Aleppo nears an end. The news is filled with stories that have been leaked out through various sources onsite (BBC, CNN, FOX, etc.), but it's hard to know what exactly is happening. Quotes like this one give glimpses: "the UN children's agency cited a doctor as saying a building housing as many as 100 unaccompanied children was under heavy attack." (from the BBC article) Bodies fill the streets, soldiers are going door to door and massacring everyone, and places where the weak and vulnerable congregate (like hospitals) are being targeted. Apart from scenes I've viewed in films, I can't picture this... 

The stench of death filling the air, along with gun powder and charred rubble. Weeping and wailing until that too is silenced. Laughter as hardened soldiers, tired of fighting and brainwashed by war, seek to annihilate their victims and claim victory. Women being raped openly in the streets as a sign of public humiliation and domination. Children dangling from ropes wrapped around their necks, as a warning that there will be no next generation for their enemies. I've seen enough pictures and heard enough firsthand stories to fill in the gaps of what isn't being said in the news. 

This morning I woke up after sleeping in a warm bed, in cozy room, in a safe house. I ate fresh food for breakfast as I sat in a quiet kitchen. I checked my email and social media with my fast internet access... And I felt sick in my heart! I didn't want to read anything more about Aleppo or Syria or the refugee crisis. I don't want to know, because I feel powerless sitting here in America where life is easy, comfortable, and free. I'd so much rather be in a refugee camp, sitting in that house with the 100 unaccompanied children, or doing something! I want to enter in, I want to sit with people, I want to share in their suffering, I want to offer them Love, Life, and Hope! But here feels like nothing...

And that's the lie I'm believing. Here is something. Here is a prayer to the Almighty God of the universe who is there, who is 'El Roi'- the God who sees, who is entering in, who is powerful, who is love, and who cares. Here is building awareness by sharing the emotions I have as I thrash about trying to make sense of this world. Here is celebrating Immanuel, the example we all have to enter the fray. Here is rest, being filled up again, and gaining skills and perspective to be better equipped. Here is right where God has me for this season.

"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! 
Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! 
Lift your hands to Him for the lives of your children, 
who faint for hunger at the head of every street." 
Lamentations 2:19

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jehovah Jireh

One of my all time favorite men from days past is George Mueller. What incredible faith he had! Through his incredible petitions of God, he fully funded five orphanages and countless other ministries in the countryside of England. His vow to the Lord was to never ask a man to meet his need, but rather pray and wait for the Him to provide. Absurd things happened, such as having no food in the house for breakfast for the orphans, but sitting down to pray anyway, and then the milk truck would break down outside or the bread man would have too many loaves. Mr. Mueller kept a detailed journal of all the money the Lord brought in throughout the years, and it is crazy the ways how God delighted in providing for His servant.

I was in college when I first read his biography, and my first response was that George was superhuman and experienced a level of faith that I'd never be able to tap in to. God brought him back into my life every few months through random ways, but each time something was chipped away a bit in my thoughts regarding Mr. Mueller. The more I studied him, the more I saw how big our God is that we serve! And the more I saw God in this light, the more I realized that God wants to be seen for who He truly is by how we live our lives.

In 2008 I moved overseas and experienced my first encounter with really, truly needing God. You see, I come from America. When I was sick, I went to the doctor. When I needed to talk, I called up a friend. When I needed money, I found a job. Many of those things weren't perfect or even easy, but I had the means to take care of myself. In Kosovo, I had nothing but God. When I was sick, I prayed. When I needed to talk, I prayed. When I needed money, I prayed. Everything needed to be met with prayer, because I was powerless to help myself! But my flesh hated, hated, hated this. I wanted to take care of myself, so I fought against dependency on the Lord.

A lot of life has happened since then, and God has continued to chip away at my independent nature. When I quit my job a year ago, I felt God speaking to my heart that it was time to live like Mueller. You can imagine my skepticism and reluctancy there, but I plunged forward in faith. I've been utterly humbled at how God has swooped me up on His wings of care and provided intimately for every step of the way. I want to share a bit of that with y'all, not because my faith is strong, but because it is so weak, and God still works through my feeble prayers.

Every year my church selects organizations and individuals to bless with a monetary donation at Christmas time- last year I surprisingly received enough money to help pay for a flight to Serbia. A friend offered to help pay for a plane ticket to Dubai if I went and visited our mutual friend. A few other plane tickets were paid for by money coming in to help refugee ministry. Friends sent money through Paypal so I could help some Syrian friends that were struggling in the camps. Another friend sent a few hundred dollars to help with travel expenses. God brought three families to my doorstep that needed a nanny, which supplied just enough to pay the rest of my tickets. Another friend felt led to send some money, which has helped cover medical expenses. Last week alone I received close to $800 through some work that God provided and friends whose hearts were stirred to give. Yesterday someone noticed my windshield wiper was breaking, so they handed me $20 to fix it. And today I was out walking and spotted $20 laying in the rain-covered grass. 

I want to emphasize that all these things did not come to being because I said a word to anyone in hope of them meeting my need or raised support in any way. I prayed, and God heard from heaven and answered. I am not living in luxury, but every single one of my needs has been met in His timing and in His way. These are just a few of the countless ways I've been now in tune with God's hand working these days. The God we serve is so big, and He so much longs for us to be dependent on Him. Not finding ways to not need Him or anyone else, like American culture teaches us, but delighting in His love and care. It's a bit scary at times, and I'm often freaking out... But He need not take me too far back to see how He unquestionably is providing and carrying me, His precious daughter He delights in.

Do you believe these verses?
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I Know God Loves Me, Because I'm Single

I can't say that I've heard anyone say the words I titled this blog... ever! The truth of the matter is that it goes countercultural to most every society I've witnessed, perhaps even contrary to human nature? The more likely scenario is: "I know God loves me, because He brought me this amazing spouse and kids!" Now that is what I see, hear, and experience on a daily basis.

I think in most hearts and minds there is an innate desire to be married- to be known intimately and loved. So, singleness seems like a disease that someone would never choose unless they'd been hurt and wanted to hide away. To be honest, most ounces of my being hate singleness, for myself and for others. It's lonely. It's unstable. It's awkward. It's fearful. And the list can go on! But countless millions of people find themselves in those shoes. Did we get forgotten when God gave out His gifts of love and goodness to people? Have I been left behind or robbed of something? My mind would've told you 'no' to both of those questions, but the reality I've spent my life living is that my heart believes 'yes' to both of them. Oh, I can conjure up the benefits of singleness like anyone can, but on the lonely, tearful days that come often, those words bring no consolation to my railings against the Lord. Why am I single?

You know, I don't fully know the answer to that question, but what I do know is that my heart is shifting as I try to respond to answering it. What do I know about the Lord? He is good- ALWAYS, He loves me, He promises to never abandon, forsake, or forget me, He has a beautiful plan and purpose for my life, and I am His beloved daughter. What do I know about me? I am His image bearer, I've been bought with a great price, Jesus lives inside me, I've been redeemed to be in the business of reconciliation, and there are unique ways that God has wired me to enter into the fray. For the past 32 years and the foreseeable future singleness corresponds to each and every one of those things! It does NOT negate them. I'm not leftover goods, I'm not to spend my life waiting for someone to come help me achieve my purpose, I'm not forgotten or discarded!

Singleness isn't a disease that needs to be cured. It's is a beautiful thing that is to be rejoiced in! It saddens me that the Church doesn't teach this. That God, in His infinite wisdom and sovereignty, looked down on my life and developed a PERFECT plan: "She will be single, and it is good."

My life is flooded with opportunities that married people cannot easily act upon: I can stay overnight to watch kids when someone is hospitalized, I can pack up and travel the world at a moment's notice, I can use the desires I have to help others with their realities: planting gardens, cleaning their house, watching their babies, painting rooms, cooking meals, etc. I'm free to enter into the chaos of others because I don't have the obligations many have. And in doing so, I get to model Jesus as He entered in, loved, and gave of Himself.

There's always been a thought at the back of my mind since I was in high school babysitting and cleaning house for people around me: "When I reach this place in life, I sure hope God brings a 'me' to minister to my needs in the craziness of life!" For the last 15 years that thought has circled in my brain as I've done various acts of service, until today when I put a stop to it. I get to be that person over and over and over, not just waiting for it to be my turn to reap the harvest of what I invested, but because He allows me to be a tangible representation of His love over and over and over. There's never a place where we 'arrive' and get to stop blessing others and wait for them to bless you.

If you're single and reading this: stop waiting, stop believing you've been gypped, stop thinking the grass is greener! You have a beautiful life that God perfectly ordained for you down the most minute details. He planned your singleness for His glory and your good- are you living out and believing that truth?

If you're married reading this: don't assume something is wrong with your friends because they are single, rejoice with them in the wonderful things they have and can be (just like how they came to your wedding/baby shower and rejoiced with you), and give them a big hug! God created His Body to be multi-facitated. When we work together in community, loving and serving one another where we're at, God is honored and represented in a powerful way to this world!

So, here's to being single and
all the joys that come with it!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Election Backlash

I am proud to be an American. There have been many times in my life when I would have struggled to say that, but today is not one of them. That being said, I will not minimize the fact that returning home this week has been unbelievably hard. I won't go on a rant against anything that those who know me best have likely already heard a dozen times. Being in America is very hard for me on various levels! But I will say this: I'm in shock over what people are saying and doing at the moment. Yes, this election was rough, and God alone knows what the future of our nation will be! But have you seen Aleppo lately? Have you beheld the poverty and wars that currently fill the globe? Can you comprehend what life would be like if you had been born in the north of Korea?

Today I just can't keep from crying as I hear stories of people burning our flag and doing worse things. I am not so patriotic, people, but I can't help but weep as I encounter these stories of people who cluelessly take their freedom for granted. In nearly every other country one would be in prison for the things that are being said and done PUBLICLY!

I have spent the majority of this year with people who no longer have a country to call home. That are sitting in forgotten places, being told from the actions (even words) of others that it was better that they'd never come or even been alive- can you imagine this? Can you imagine having no freedom WHATSOEVER?! We have a home, we have our families and friends, we have jobs, we have relative safety... and we are burning our flag! Even in the midst of war, pain, and great loss, the people I met weren't burning their flag, but rather drawing it and holding it close as a treasure. I know there very well may be some very dark days that lay ahead, days when we no longer have those things, but the day is not today. And we usher those things in by acting like we are right now.

I guess I'm just in shock right now- it feels too much to come from a refugee camp to this place of wealth and freedom and witness what I am. I know my blog is a small thing, but to whoever may read this, I would like to challenge you with the words of the great King David when he was up against the horrors of Saul trying to kill him after David had already been anointed by the Lord:

"Abishai said to David, 'Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.' But David said to Abishai, 'Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?  As surely as the Lord lives,' he said, 'the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.'" 
1 Samuel 26

 Let us pray, let us wait, and let us never give up hope!

Friday, November 4, 2016

PTSD Thoughts

I studied psychology many moons ago when I was in university. During that time I learned about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Throughout the years I encountered it in various forms, mostly often through reading stories- people struggling with it from returning home from war, leaving an abusive relationship, or children being raised in horrific conditions. But this last year I've come face to face with it in massive proportions as I've been building friendships with so many people fleeing from war-torn areas. The stories they can tell, the things they've seen, the pain they've experienced, the suffering they are still enduring are mind blowing! I have lived through and witnessed some pretty dark stuff in my lifetime, but I often found myself completely speechless as I sat with my friends. I am not a trained counselor, and all that my friends that are would tell me is that it was best to not bring up the pain-filled memories until they were in a safe place. I know that is the textbook answer, but I couldn't do that as I would sit in their tents being shown pictures of horrors that words can't describe. So, I sought to enter in. I listened to stories, I looked at pictures, I asked questions, and I got messy with them. It seemed to me that that is what Love does.

A few days ago in the Istanbul airport I broke down in tears when I heard some people walk by speaking in Arabic. I was flashed back to my friends who are still sitting alone in the camps, waiting on some ridiculous process to decide their fate. This morning, as I sat in church, the pastor preached about second chances, and for some strange reason had a person drowning as his background picture to his presentation. Tears started rolling down my cheeks and it became hard to breathe. Do you know how many pictures I've seen of people who've drowned, nameless and uncared for, this year? How many stories my friends have shared of loved ones who didn't make it? Thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children have been gifted an unknown, watery grave this year alone! I focused on my breathing as an entire army of emotions threatened to overflow in a panic attack as I sat there.

I don't know much about PTSD, but I think I'm struggling with it to some extent. However, I am not worried about myself, I know I am about to go home where I am surrounded by family, friends who love me, a church that cares for me, warm beds to sleep in, and all that a person could ever need. But it shakes me to the core that what I am experiencing is but 1/1000 of what my friends have been through- mine is all second hand from their own lives. And the thing that makes me nauseous is that they are still living it! They are harassed inside and outside the camps, they are neglected and unwanted by countries, they are seen as evil while the evil done to them is 'okay-ed', and I could go on and on. I don't know what to do with my thoughts and feelings as I think about all these things. I feel powerless to help, and I know my words seem shallow as I respond back to their messages.

I don't know what this next season of life holds for me or for them. I hope our paths connect again soon! But in the meantime, I hope and pray God brings healing, wholeness, hope, restoration, life, joy, peace, and favor for these people in desperate need of such things!

(photos taken by one of my Syrian friends)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Leaving Eastern Europe

When I started out this year, I never dreamed that most of it would be spent on a different continent than I was currently residing. Once you've called another place home, it's hard to not miss it whenever you leave there. Eastern Europe was my home for three years in what had felt like a previous lifetime as I spent the past four years back in my hometown. A distant memory in so many ways. So many skills learned that had no merit upon my life in the US. A language spoken that could only be used in a minuscule pocket of the world. Friends from all over the planet that I thought I'd never see again this side of heaven. And then, all the sudden, here I was, back in this place in a way that felt incredibly surreal.

Suddenly part of me that had felt dead rose up inside of me again. I was home! I grinned whenever little men on tractors crawled past me on busy roads. Tears sprung to my eyes as I walked among the foothills of the rugged mountains. My heart felt warmed by the sight of communist block style housing and unfinished buildings dotting the landscape. I even (sort of) welcomed being stared at everywhere I went, because it meant I was back in these closed countries.

People think I'm absurd, traveling around to these places that most people never want to step foot into. Things are so backwards, so corrupt, so difficult, and so crazy on so many levels here. But to me, all I can respond with is that I love each country, because I've fallen in love with so many people in each location. Yes, I know that Greece doesn't like Macedonia, and that Macedonia doesn't like Kosovo, and that Kosovo doesn't like Serbia, and that Serbia doesn't like Bosnia, and that Montenegro doesn't like Albania... But I deeply love people from each of these places, and to me, that makes each of them special, worth visiting, and definitely a beautiful part of my heart.

In three days I'm leaving here. I don't know what the immediate future holds for me. I just know that I'm headed back to the US soon. Will I be back here anytime soon? Can I see my friends again? Is part of me going to die again as I leave this time? I don't know, and I have no answers. It's hard to leave these places and people I dearly love! I know I get to see my family and friends soon, and that is worth a lot. But it's hard that being with them now always means painful goodbyes.

I guess I'm just longing for heaven tonight. No more tears, no more goodbyes, Light causing all darkness to be banished, and hopefully some little men riding by on tractors in the shadow of gorgeous mountains!