Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When is prayer enough?

My husband came home this morning from a meeting and told our boys to come give him hugs. He started cuddling and hugging them, so I thought he had a horrible meeting or something. (I should just mention that he cuddles them often, it was just a lot all at once.) I asked him how everything was and he told me about a story he heard on NPR.  A reporter was in a hospital in Syria after a school was bombed. My husband said you could hear the children screaming in the background. Then a mom came up hysterical. She said she couldn't even recognize her son's face. The reporter talked to her and in the background, you heard gun shots getting closer and closer. They stopped at one point to listen to see if they needed to leave, but then went on. As they were talking someone came up to the reporter and told her she needed to leave. They said it was all our fault - "our" as in Westerners. I know nothing about politics or the details of what's going on in Syria. But I do know that policy helps to take sons from their mamas. The dollar and the bottom line help to bomb schools. I'm listening to my husband tell this story and I have no place for it in my mind. I can do nothing except cry. And then I think of something one of my friends posted on a Facebook feed. This was her reply when asked what we are to do when we cannot respond to all the poverty and brokenness we see because our time and resources are limited:
We can ALWAYS stop and pray. Always. We have to see that as ENOUGH. As something that matters. We have to take it seriously. You're so right. You know we surely can't afford to help hardly anyone some months. But I can always, always, always, always, always pray. And lifting them to the Father matters. It counts. We have to know that it counts.

So, I cannot go to Syria or the Philippians or Haiti and I sometimes have no time for weeks to even go visit the man down the street who is sick and alone because I have these three boys of mine to teach and feed and clean up after and help provide for. I hate the hurt and usually have no words for it. But I can pray. I can get on my knees and beg to my Father to help that mama whose son is laying in a morgue. I can pray that she is comforted and that through this horrendous act of war, God will be glorified. I can pray for unity between these people and these countries and this world. And I can weep for the thousands who are without a home or a farm or a way to provide for their family or even a family. I can beg my Father for His redeeming grace to sweep those islands and those souls. I can lift up the missionaries there and pray that they are equipped supernaturally to undertake the heartache they are facing. I can pray for my friends in Haiti walking their 4 miles for water and eating their maybe one meal a day. I can weep through prayers of thanksgiving that our sponsor boy gets a chance at secondary school and pray through the fear that grips me that our sponsor girl might have a hard road - too hard - and God, just let her stay innocent to the hurt and loss that is all around her! And I can pray for my neighbor who is frail and fading. Every single time I drive by his house rushing to the store or to our homeschool group, I can pray for God's angels to surround that house and love on him when I can't. And I can pray for my friends who I talk to daily who face their own demons of sick children and marital division and parental inadequacies and anxiety and broken bodies. I can pray, but I pray that I don't stop there.

See, I never want to be desensitized to the brokenness. I worry that I will be - soon. Sometimes, the tears don't flow as long and sometimes I can stop for ten minutes to visit with my neighbor but don't and sometimes I forget to pray. It happens in those moments when I believe that I deserve some alone time or that it is important for my house to be spotless just once this month or that if I have to listen to noise for one more second I will lose my mind and I start drifting away from Christ who is weeping for the brokenness of this world. Because it is in those moments that the lies of this world are penetrating me. The lie that say that I deserve (fill in the blank) or that (fill in the blank) is more important or that I can do all things through myself who strengthens me or the very sneaky lies that says that I am good if I just love whoever is in front of me or that I need to take care of myself before I help others that desensitize me from the hurt and pain that is everywhere I turn. And, if I'm honest, I sometimes don't want to see it. Sometimes I want to take my privileged kids on our errands and not share our snack with the homeless person holding a sign. Sometimes I want to walk around the downtown shops and spoil my kids with an ice cream cone without feeling a pang of guilt when we pass someone rummaging through the garbage can. But the truth is, my eyes are open and I no longer have the luxury of being blind to the pain. I know that when I buy a cute, cheap outfit from Target, it was most likely made by someone who is making far too little of the profit and working way too many hours and seeing way too little of their children and being exploited. And I know that when I have chocolate cravings and just grab something from the check out line, those cocoa beans were probably picked by a slave who is beat and underfed and overworked. I know there are layers of reasons why that guy is holding the sign on South Florida and that it is only by grace that it is not me.

So, what do I do with that? No, I cannot go save the world. Yes, I need to love the people in front of me. But that is not enough. Not for me. I have my children and my friends and some babies and some big kids in front of me and my world is small. Of course I want to love them all well. But this world is big and is full of hurt. On that same Facebook feed I mentioned earlier another friend wrote:
The question to me is does your life here with your family have true purpose? Do you spend time with your kids teaching them about serving and sacrificing? Do you model for the women around you a heart that makes little of you and a lot about God? What portion of what you do have is given away? How do I die to myself everyday?
While prayer is certainly enough and sufficient for dealing with the hurts, it is not to be used as a pass. (Please know that I am mostly speaking to myself but am assuming that I'm not alone in my struggles to honor God). See, there is a big difference between being in a place when all you can do is pray and choosing to only pray when God is calling you to do more. Now, I'm not saying that prayer should be a last resort. It should be the first thing we do (my lie that I can do all things through myself who strengthens me is exactly what I'm addressing here). The only reason we can accomplish anything is because God is gracious enough to use us. It is only through His blessings of ability or health or money or time or timing that we are able to be a part of what He is doing. This is not a legalistic call to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and turn into a super human who raises your kids well while traveling to Asia and Africa and Haiti and freeing some slaves along the way and being home in time to have dinner on the table for your husband. This is not even a call to go volunteer once a week somewhere. See, in this season I am in, I know that sometimes God wants you to sit tight and be a prayer warrior. I know that because there have been moments when that is literally all I could do. But, He also always calls us to die to ourselves. When I pass by my neighbor's home and ignore that pull at my heart to stop for just 10 min because I know that my husband will be home with the kids in 30 min and I really want that cup of coffee while I sit quietly and read, then I am not dying to myself. And since I've been wrestling with this for a while I will share that my argument at this point is that I cannot give if I have nothing to give, so I need that time. And now, I am going to win this argument with myself and say that the only boundary that I ever saw Christ set in scripture was making sure He spent time with His Father. Sure, I can lie and say that's why I'm rushing past his house, but I know it has nothing to do with being filled by Christ and everything to do with being filled by caffeine delivered in a big warm mug while sitting in my chair looking out my window at my big tree and the fall leaves. It has to do with my comforts and my selfishness. So, while I cannot be a globe trotter and save the world or change foreign policy or end world hunger, I can hold myself accountable to what I know. I can be intentional with my time. I can be intentional with how I love those in front of me - in ways that share what I've learned about God's heart and desire for our lives. I can make it a priority to arm myself with God's word and to shield myself from the lies of this world by abiding in my savior daily. I can pray. And when God decides to use me in the day to day moments with friends and children and babies and big kids or in the amazing life altering moments in Haiti or with at risk youth or maybe with an orphan who we get to parent (please, Lord) then I can listen and obey. I am certainly not saying that sitting with a big cup of coffee in a special chair is wrong. But I am saying that Christians are called to put God first, to not make unto thee any graven image (like a mug in my case), and to be refined by His fire.

And what does this mean for you? I don't know exactly. But I strongly encourage you to ask yourself daily if you have set time aside to be with Christ, to intentionally think about whether you are making decisions out of habit or selfishness or selflessness, and to pray without ceasing. And who knows, maybe God will enlist you to be the one who frees some slaves or changes US foreign policy or parents one of the millions of orphans in this world or plants a seed that will give eternal life to your neighbor or husband or children.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

This week it was a hatchet.

This week it was a hatchet. When my now 5 year old was about 2 it was knives. I would wake up after nursing the baby and come out to find my then 2 year old chasing my then 8 year old around the house with a sharp knife way too often. Recently, the baby (now 3) has developed a fascination with scissors. Not the kid scissors, but the very sharp adult ones. We have holes in sheets and a few of the tabs in my 12 year old's notebook are snipped off. I don't even know what important documents have been cut up to bits. The 5 year old even got in on that fun and snipped off the erasers of about twenty pencils. Their plastic swords spend a lot of time on the top shelf of a closet as a result of their pirate play getting a bit too, well piratey. And their time wrestling always ends in yelling, yet they beg me to let them wrestle. I have 3 boys and this is my life. 

On most days I feel like I'm going to have a stroke soon. But every now and then I have a moment to sit back and watch my boys be boys, and I love it. Like the day that they found a hatchet that was left in the yard (thank you 12 year old).  I was hanging clothes while my two little ones were out by the back fence digging and exploring. I looked up and saw the youngest hitting something, as if he was cutting up firewood with an ax. I had no idea what he was hitting or what he was using, so I squinted until I made out the shiny head of the hatchet. No, I did not throw my laundry down and bolt to him. This is the third boy after all. Instead I hollered "Stop playing with that hatchet!" And of course the reply was not obedience, but "Why?" So I replied "Bring me that hatchet or I'm going to spank you!" So my chubby little 3 year old comes running to me with a hatchet. I told him to walk and when he handed me the hatchet he still had no idea why he could not play with this fun toy. I explained that it was sharp and hard and heavy and that he would have to wait a few years to use tools like that. He said ok and ran off to go dig and explore some more. As I continued to hang laundry and watch them, I thought about how uninhibited they are. I watched them dig and find bugs and build with twigs and pictured them as farmers or builders or scientists or just men who work hard. I know this exploring and chopping things and getting dirty will help them become strong men one day. 

Our wall art
But this was not the case with my oldest. He was an only child for 6 years. I was right by his side. He would not have been by our back fence playing with I don't know what and he certainly would not have found a hatchet and started swinging it around a bit before I realized what he was doing. The result? I have a 12 year old who micromanages his brothers (he learned from the best), does not like picnics because the flies land on his food and they eat poop (that one came from my sister but was heavily reinforced by me), and cringes at the idea of camping because it's hot and there are bugs. Don't get me wrong, he can be tough. He is amazing on the soccer field. He does drills and work outs almost every day at home without me prompting him. And maybe he just naturally is not my outdoors-man. But my hovering over him armed with wet wipes and band aids probably did not help. And I'm fairly certain I stifled his creativity years ago. He's not ruined or anything. He creates some superb drawings. But I'll never know if he could have been a painter or a sculpture. He certainly would not have been able to reach the scissors, or any other art supplies for that matter. Before we had our youngest two, we never had the alphabet scrawled across our dining room nor did any of my eldest's drawings stay on the wall for years - I don't mean hung on the wall but literally drawn on the wall. I kept a tight reign on anything that could be messy. The play dough, paint, and even markers were up out of his reach. 
ABC's written in pencil on our wall. :) 

As I grow as a parent I'm learning to be controlled less by fear and "what
ifs" and an irrational need to have everything be a certain way. I'm learning there aren't as many absolutes in parenting as i thought there were. My sanity, my personality, my kids' varying personalities, their unique ways of exploring and taking in the world all contribute to how I raise them. When I had just one child, I became obsessed with everything - should I co-sleep or let him cry himself to sleep? Should I wear my baby or let him get used to spending time in the pack n play or excersaucer? Should I spank or do time out? Those are all important questions, but instead of relaxing and listening to my own intuition while seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance, I sought "experts" and kept flip flopping my parenting style. Of course all kids need love, nurturing, and discipline. But the varying ways to do that seem, in my experience, to deal more with the individuals involved (usually mom, dad, and kids) and less with some scientific study. Yes, there are some things that science and history teaches us and sure, some people have found the magic recipe to get their child to sleep through the night at 3 months old while my 5 year old still comes to our bed (sigh). But as I raise these three wild boys of mine I become more and more convinced that there aren't as many absolutes. (Just a quick admission - I too feel like I'm right in the way I parent and everyone who does it differently is wrong. This is why I'm making these statements public - for accountability!) And the more I talk with other parents and hear their stories of extreme joy and gut wrenching disappointment and uncontainable love and unexplainable frustration, I become more and more convinced that we need to hold a lot of our personal convictions a lot looser (and realize that some of them are just that - personal) and listen and encourage each other a lot more. See, during this time of my boys growing to hopefully one day become strong, caring men, I am growing into a mom, wife, and woman who is learning to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance and lean on faith more and fear less. And, sometimes, it is hard! So, instead of judging me for letting my son run with a hatchet or judging me for taking it away, maybe just stop and laugh with me? Because, Lord knows, I need a good laugh during this season of growing pains, cut up sheets, and a 12 year old! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013


     This season has been a confusing one. See for years I have been waiting. Waiting for my husband, waiting for my kids to get old enough, waiting for my sanity, waiting to have enough time. Waiting to do what? To fulfill my purpose. I know that there is great purpose in being a good wife and in raising my kids well. And as much as I was waiting to fulfill some other purpose during those years of changing diapers non stop, holding my crying baby while cuddling my toddler while teaching my big kid writing, getting 2 hour chunks of sleep at a time, and camping out in survival mode, I clung to those moments that I knew would be over way too soon. And I still cling to the sweet moments now - the soccer games, teaching my middle how to read, playing board games, bracing myself to teach Latin and the occasional cuddles. But in the midst of all this fullness, I have felt that there is another purpose for my life besides supporting my husband and raising my kids. I won't say a bigger purpose. All of this is plenty. It's just that there is this stirring that I can't quite describe. I used to fantasize about joining the Peace Corp when I was in high school. And I always pictured my family being made up of biological and adopted kids. Living in a third world country never felt foreign to me and the idea of "doing unto the least of these" brings me tremendous joy. But the doors have not opened to move my family across the world or to adopt or even to dive into ministry. So I've waited. 
     Well, for the past year and a half, I've seen some doors start to crack open. It started with my husband reading Radical by David Platt, then both of us going on separate trips to Haiti, and then taking domestic adoption classes. But, as we were finishing our adoption class, chaos began with my husband's job. It started with his pay being unpredictable and ended with a drastic pay cut. We had to put adoption on hold, but I kept praying that God would open the doors for us to adopt. 
     After a few months of uncertainty, I started feeling like God began to speak to me. I distinctively felt God say Cambodia. Then later, I distinctively felt God say January of 2013. I started Googling Cambodia and reading about the brokenness in their country's past, their staggering number of orphans, the disgusting statistics about sex slavery among children in their country, and their high poverty rate. And then I came across article after article about Cambodia being closed to US adoptions until January of 2013. I just knew that God had some solution to our financial chaos and that by the end of January we would be sending in our application to adopt. But January came and Cambodia was still not open to US adoptions and my husband was still making the same reduced pay at the same job. So, by the end of January, instead of sending in our application to adopt, we were sending in our first payment to our lawyer to go bankrupt. I didn't get it. I thought I distinctively felt God tell me that we would start adopting from Cambodia in January of this year.
     My first instinct was to problem solve. We would just start fundraising and plow forward. Surely God would see how diligent we were and honor that. But as I brought plan after plan to my husband, he felt more and more weighed down. He had been dealing with the day to day stress of figuring out how to provide for our family and, in the meantime, our lives were getting busier and busier. We had some friends move in with us, I was busy trying to sell necklaces for Haiti, and I kept talking to my husband about praying about whether or not we should plug into ministry after ministry. My focus was not on him or his stress or the ripple effects all of this was having on our kids; it was on finding my purpose. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was acting like Sarai, Abram's wife, who took matters into her own hands and ended up despising the situation she had created. But I ignored that truth and plowed on. . . until Jon put the brakes on it all. 
     Yep, we had a come to Jesus conversation where we were a little too honest and voices were raised and tears were shed and the law was laid down. I have to admit, at first I was angry. I wanted a plan for us to adopt. I wanted to be taking care of the least of these. How could he say that we needed to focus on our family instead of reaching out? We had so much more than the rest of the world! We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ! We are called to take care of the orphans and widows! But when I stepped back, I realized I had become impatient, frustrated and bitter, Jon had become overwhelmed and withdrawn, and my kids were just little balls of anger. We were not producing fruit. How could we? We had not remained in the vine.  How could we adopt and bring a child, who had already suffered so much loss, into our home if our family is not in a healthy place? Plus, even Jesus set aside time to just be with His Father. At the beginning of Mark, we see that "while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." He does this right after driving out evil spirits and healing people and right before teaching and healing more people. He shows us our need to stop and go to the Father in the midst of serving. So, we decided to set aside one day a week as a family day. We also began reading family devotionals every night and are trying to be more intentional about having set prayer time and time alone with God. (Well, honestly, we still have a long way to go with these things, but it's all about those baby steps.) But more importantly, I agreed to wait. This does not mean that I am hunkering down in my house with my bible and waiting to serve until I'm Godly enough or something. God does call all Christians to serve, love our neighbor, and to take care of the helpless, hungry, naked, lonely, widows, and orphans. But He also calls us to sit at his feet and listen, to abide in Him, to drink from the well that will never run dry. These things have to be intertwined. There is no "becoming Godly enough to serve" without following the bible and going and serving. But I also have to remember that if I "give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:3). 
     I don't quite know what God was trying to tell me when He put Cambodia on my heart or if I even heard Him right to begin with. I don't know why I've learned about so many injustices in the world only to be able to do nothing about them. I don't know why doors were cracked open only to be shut again. But I do know that God is the one who has given me my heart that aches for the helpless. And I also know that pursuing God and His purposes are all that matter in this life. I  know that prayer can move mountains and that nothing I do matters if it's not done through Christ. And I know that I have a hard time resting in God's truths, even when I know them to be true. So, I may have to wait 20 years for God to reveal His purpose in my life like Sarai. Or He may have already revealed it. But, I will learn from Sarai's mistakes and (try to) contently wait. I will serve when I can and mother my boys and support my husband and love every person who comes into my life, but I will only be able to do these things if I first go to the Father. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A New Easter Tradition

Hi friends. I haven't blogged in a while. It's good to be back and get at least some of these thoughts that are swirling around out. This has been a season of uncertainty and confusion. I think God's telling me one thing, but then circumstances change and I feel uncertain. (More about that later though.)

Well, one lesson that I am certain that God is teaching me is to scale back. I feel called to scale back my busy schedule and to scale back my spending and to scale back my list of things I need to do to be a good mom and make good memories for my kids. I need less of this world and more of God's. And God's world is a world where the last are first and the rich are poor and people drop their dreams and ambitions and their entire livelihood to follow Jesus.

The living out of this lesson has manifested itself in different ways. For one, I try not to overbook myself for the week anymore. Sure there are the occasional busy weeks, but generally speaking, we do not do more than 2 field trips in a month or more than 3 outings in a week. I get stressed trying to fit everything into our schedule and my stress comes out on my kids, so it's just not worth it. Another thing I've done is to stop buying new stuff. Yep, if I can't find it second hand or if I can't make it, I have to seriously reconsider whether or not I "need" the item. And the third thing I've done is to try to be more intentional about how I express my faith and what traditions our family associates with the holidays (Holy days!) we celebrate.

This last thing is what I wanted to expound on tonight in light of the Holiest of days that we will be celebrating tomorrow. I have to admit that I didn't put too much thought into Easter this year. We have been fairly inconsistent about going through our 2 week Easter Devotional. I don't think we even read through Christ's crucifixion! (Please don't judge.) Part of the reason is because we've been blessed with a sweet newborn in our home. One of my closest friends, her toddler, and her husband (well, he's here on the weekends) has been with us for a few months while their family is transitioning to another town - right at the end of her pregnancy! Their little girl was born a week and a half ago, so we've been soaking in having a newborn in our home. I have to say that I am going to be one unhappy camper when they finally get settled into their new home.

Anyway, as Easter was getting closer and closer, my husband and I began to question the whole Easter bunnies, eggs, and over commercialized Easter that we see all around us. We started talking about what we didn't want to do, but had no idea what we did want to do. Luckily, some amazing friends of ours jump-started our road to building more meaningful Easter traditions by having a Passover meal at their home. This was a precious time of meeting new people, learning more about rich biblical history and traditions, and some fun fellowship. We couldn't walk away from that night and then do our normal Easter baskets filled with too much candy and too many toys followed by an Easter egg hunt. That just did not compare to the richness that we just experienced. But, I wanted my family to rejoice and celebrate Jesus' resurrection. So, the brainstorming began and we finally landed on something. It still doesn't feel as rich, but we hope that it will be fun and filled with meaning. And now, what you've all been waiting for, our magical Easter celebration will be  . . . a scavenger hunt. I know, it doesn't sound so grand. But there is meaning behind it and it should be fun. Below is the list of items and their meaning.

Water - Jesus showed how to be a servant leader by washing His disciples' feet
Sugar Cookie - Jesus' body, which was broken for us
Grape Juice - Jesus' blood, which was shed for us
A Flower - Jesus fervently prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup to be taken from Him
String - Jesus was whipped and beaten before being crucified
Thorn or stick - A crown of thorns was placed on Jesus' head to mock Him
Nail - Jesus' hands and feet were nailed to the cross
Cross - Jesus was crucified on a cross to atone for our sins
Jellybeans - Jesus was placed in a tomb and a big stone was rolled in front of the grave
Empty container - After three days, Jesus' tomb was empty
Balloons - Jesus rose from the grave! He conquered death! Time to celebrate!

Our dinner will not be a big to do - fish, rice, veggies, and salad. We will have a yummy dessert and a day spent with people we love, but overall, we will reflect on how Christ has redeemed us. The true change in our tradition is simply that we will reflect more on Christ's love for us than on the things our culture says is important. I'm not sure if this scavenger hunt idea will stick. Maybe it will grow and develop over the years or maybe it will flop. I just want my children to know that we are celebrating Christ's resurrection, not new life or baby animals or spring.

My prayer is that these holy days will be a time for Christians to reflect on Christ's life, example, death and resurrection. When we make holidays about the toys or food or clothes we miss the message that Christ came to spread. We end up not honoring Christ at all, but instead put our focus on the things of this world that He warned us about. This scavenger hunt is just one idea of how you can celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Really, pulling out a board game or having a party or doing anything else that you would do to celebrate would honor God. I just want to encourage you to not get caught up on the dress and the ham and the presents, but to make memories and traditions that will truly honor God. Happy Easter!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lessons Learned in Haiti

So I came back from my 3rd trip to Haiti about three weeks ago. It was a short trip with a small group of us. And, like the other two times, it was eye opening. There were only 5 of us who went from the states and we were only in the village for 3 1/2 days. I went into the trip a little nervous. I knew that Hurricane Sandy had come through and wiped out crops. I knew that people in Chauffard were affected. I didn't know what they were going to need or whether or not it would feel like we were incapable of helping. But I got there and was amazed (as usual) at the strength and resilience of the people there. What we heard was true - crops were washed out, land was ruined, and food was lost. A people already in the midst of a famine who already eat only once a day had even more hardships thrust upon them. But you wouldn't know it by being with them. They welcomed us with open arms ready to serve and worship. They spent every night praising God. Sure, we were able to cook and feed them meals, but they stayed well past mealtime. My bead-making girls came during the weekend and brought me a ton of necklaces - an average of 40 each! The teachers spent their weekend meeting with us to discuss the progress of the students. And the ladies who cook for us were constantly fetching water, cooking, and cleaning. So, when my friend Jennie and I were called up on the second night of worship to share in the service, we looked at each other dumbfounded. What could we possibly share with these people who grasp living for eternity much more than we do? During my other two trips, we were called up to say hi on the first day and then called up again to say bye on the last day. We had already said hi, so what more was there to say? We are not the pastors. However, during my other two trips, there were male American pastors who would also share. I suppose Jennie and I were called up again because we were the only Blancs (white people) on this trip. There were no male pastors to share the gospel. So, we walked up with our bibles. While Jennie talked I just kept thinking about Matthew 25. That chapter has been penetrating my heart and my life over the past couple of months, specifically verses 31-46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

I felt God saying that the least of these are His sheep too. We do not feed, quench thirst, invite people in, clothe people, look after the sick, or visit people only for them to stay in a cycle of destitution. We do for the least of these to draw them to Christ and to teach them the truth about His love. And His love does not stop with salvation. It transforms us. It gives us new, everlasting life. We are blessed and we receive His inheritance when we allow Him into our hearts and lives and allow Him to transform us. How could I not speak this truth to these hard working amazing brothers and sister? Aren't I, one of God's sheep, called to lead others to the great Sheppard so that they can have the privilege of leading even more sheep to Him? The good news is not only that Christ died for us but also that He transforms us and gives us a life of meaning filled with sacrifice and partnering with Him in His mission. We have the privilege of dying to self so that we can be released from the chains of our sin and our selfishness and live a life of freedom in Christ. How could I go and help the least of these only to let them become goats rather than sheep following the good Sheppard? So, I shared this passage and I spoke about how we do not come to them simply to bless them, but to share Christ and His truth. I shared that His word says that anyone who knows Him is to go out and share and give. That dying to self is a calling to all Christians and that when we die to self, then we experience life in its fullest glory and are able to take our inheritance. I got some blank stares and a big grin from Jonathan, my pastor friend who was translating for me, so I think it was good.

The next night we were called up again. (Talk about feeling inadequate!) So, once again, I prayed that God would give me something to share and once again He brought me to Matthew 25. This time I read verses 14-30:

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

I shared how I saw most of the village take what God had given them and multiply it. I saw mothers and fathers loving their children well and raising them up in the Lord. I saw teachers giving of their whole lives to the children and the community. I saw children taking care of each other and helping their families while trying to study and learn so that they can finish school. I saw women coming up the mountain with barrels of water at the crack of dawn and cooking food well past 10 o'clock. But, I know that we are human and sinners and that the temptation to care only for self and live a life of fear that leads to hoarding is great. I shared that in America we are fearful of losing anything - our lives, our loved ones, and even our status and our belongings. We are this way because as we acquire more we hold it tight at the expense of our spiritual well being. And then I shared that my prayer is that they will take whatever it is that God has given them and use it to multiply His kingdom. I pray that they will not become a people that acquires more stuff in order to live an easy life that ends up Godless, but instead will be a people who are blessed so that they will bless others. I pray that they will give and love unconditionally and that they will be a light to their community and their country. I know that this was not the typical lesson that is shared to a people who already goes without. But it is the God's truth. We can never acquire anything more precious than God's love - a generous, compassionate, steadfast love.

When I came home from my trip and got thrust into Thanksgiving busyness and the Christmas season, I became antsy to share on here what I shared in Haiti. I scan through facebook posts and listen to people talk and watch commercials and listen to my Christian radio station and talk to family members and I hear a constant theme. I hear people who are turning into goats. I hear people who are so preoccupied with getting presents or holding tight to their comfort or their traditions that they are not even considering the hungry or the thirsty or the naked or the sick or the lonely. I see people who fearfully cling to whatever they have because they can't stand the thought of not giving that perfect gift or their kids being picked on for not having some new toy that they do not dare risk loss in order to multiply God's love. And then I see people who are hungry and thirsty and naked and sick and lonely and are chained to that. They are not released to know the fuller love of Christ that says take whatever you have and multiply it - even if it's just one little penny or 5 minutes of your time or a smile to a stranger or some cookies to your neighbor. See, the fullness of the gospel - that through our salvation and love for Christ, we die to ourselves so that Christ can transform us into His likeness - is a little easier to learn when we are not so preoccupied with so many meaningless things. So, how can I look at my facebook friends or my family who seeks the perfect gift for my kids rather than the richness of Christ or my brothers and sisters who know about God's saving grace, but not His transforming grace and not share these truths?

Maybe you relate and need to change your holiday traditions? Maybe you need to stop buying those perfect gifts and start giving to the least of these? If so, check out this video and consider contributing to this or to another local charity that pulls on your heart string. It's ok to start small, but start somewhere. Our spiritual health is at risk.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Swimming in His Treasures

This particular coffee is very good,
is fair trade, and helps support my
friend's adoption. Buy some here!
I finished my food fast almost a month ago - and it taught me a lot! But before I get into what I learned, I should first confess a few things. A couple of days after writing my first post about my fast, I started drinking coffee again. Yep, I only did my full fast for about 2 weeks. But, in my defense, I suddenly became a temporary single parent (who homeschools and was working a part time job). Our lives took a quick shift due to an immediate need for new employment for my husband, so I decided to not kill myself with my food restrictions. I shifted my fast to giving up sweets (well, really about anything w/ sugar or any other sweetener in it), dairy, and gluten. I know how easy it is for me to use carbs to comfort myself, and I did not want that to happen during this trying time of job change and schedule change and support change. But I also did not want to drive myself crazy fixing 2 different meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I quickly realized that the amount of sleep I was getting was going to diminish and that taking naps were going to be out of the question, so I compromised. I also allowed myself to drink coffee (yes, with cream and sugar - those were my sugar and dairy exceptions).

Check out this organization to
see how you can make your
Christmas more meaningful
So, back to what I learned. I learned that even though I shifted my fast to make life more manageable, God was still teaching me. It didn't matter what I gave up, just that I gave up something so that I could decrease and He could increase. It mattered that I did not go to food or anything else for comfort, but that I went to my heavenly father for comfort and guidance. God is about the relationship, not the rules. I also learned that my culture drives me much more than I would like it to. When I had to refuse food in front of others, I would gloss over the reason why with "I'm on a diet." And then I quickly found myself battling that mentality. See, after about a week of no sugar or other junk, I started dropping pounds. And honestly, that made my fast a little easier. When I would be hungry and without a food item I could eat, I soon started willing myself to not give in because it was nice to fit into some old jeans again. (Yep, I was fully missing the point during those moments.) See the whole point is that we need Christ. We need Him to fill us, to feed us, to nourish us, or we are filled with junk. But so many times, we fill ourselves with meaningless things. We use jobs, status, our homes, our clothes, our cars, our comforts, and even good things like our friends and family to give us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But those are all things that do not fully quench. We need the living water to satisfy our hearts and give our lives meaning.

But it is so hard to even see that because our culture - especially our American Christian culture that exists in our churches and communities - tells us a different story. We are told that we need safety and security. We need to do something good and prestigious. We need the house and the cars (yes plural) and the new Easter outfits. We need to look out for #1 and make sure we have a nice retirement plan, 4 months worth of income in savings, and a college fund for each child. Our kids need to do music lessons and sports and dancing and scouts. We can't miss out on all this life has to offer. And our kids especially cannot miss out. After all, what kind of parents would we be if we didn't give them the world? But the problem with this way of thinking and living is it is not biblical. Luke 12:22-34 says:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Did you notice that Christ told us that God will feed us and cloth us better than He does the birds and the flowers and that we will be given His kingdom?! So, we will be well fed, well clothed, well taken care of, and then we will inherit God's kingdom! And why? Just because it pleases our heavenly Dad! And then, did you notice what the kingdom looks like? When we are in God's kingdom - the one where we are infinitely provided for; the one that is owned by our Father who owns this whole world and everything in it - we have the privilege of selling our possessions and giving to the poor! We are given the privilege of sifting through our junk and keeping the treasure! I can picture walking into God's kingdom (the one that I, his adopted daughter did nothing to deserve or build or contribute to. It's just there in all its grandeur and God just invited me in) clinching my sack of stuff that I felt that I had to bring with me because it felt safe and familiar, and my new, perfect Dad saying "Go through it all. It's yours. Take what you'd like." I walk through the rooms and go through the closets and get to keep everything and anything that's of value. And then I look at my bag of stuff and see that I've been holding tight to junk, so I get to toss it. And what am I left with? The most glamorous, eternal gifts! I am left with children who I was able to give my heart to and friends I was able to love and support and mouths I was able to feed and hope I was able to be a part of passing on and lives I was able to save and hearts I was able to speak into and truths I was able to speak over the destitute. When God is blessing us, He is helping us to see our junk for what it is, and is showing us that there is this eternal treasure that we get to swim in! And the saddest thing to me is that so many of us miss this! We are told that God will provide for us plus give us infinitely more than we could ever hope or imagine and we, in our pride and ignorance, say, "Oh, but I've got my treasure here. I'm good. Thanks though, God." And it is a pile of junk. It is an old decrepit house and a rusty car and some career that we think is our purpose in life. And they all looked so new and sparkly and treasure-like when we got them, but it was fools gold because over time, they just needed to be replaced with more junk and more junk until we've accumulated a life lived in a junk yard. And why do we hang on to this pile of junk and miss out on living a rich, luxurious life? Fear. Katie Davis tells the perfect story to illustrate the American Dream (or the American Fear):

  Once there was a people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: "How can we be sure that we will have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food, materials, and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs." So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that the other peoples protested and said, "You have so much more than you need, while we don't have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!" But the fearful hoarders said, "No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened." But the others said, "We are dying now, please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can't wait . . . we need it now!" Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another, "Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us." They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether their enemies were outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other, "Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put bombs at the top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us." But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison of their own bombs, wondering if they might harm themselves more than their enemy. And gradually they realized their fear of death had brought them closer to it.

She got it. At 18 or 19, Katie Davis got that the junk that we think we need is just a distraction from being able to live a full meaningful life. We believe the lie that we can plan well enough and work hard enough to prevent going through hard times. But while we accumulate this false security, we not only build a wall that enslaves us, we take away from the rest of the world. So, we have to ask ourselves, "Do I want to provide purses for myself that will not wear out and treasures in heaven that will never fail or do I want to spend this one life accumulating junk, enslaving myself into this prison of false security, and ultimately bringing myself closer to eternal death?" The truth is that you can leave your junk yard! You can acquire an exciting, meaningful life filled w/ the richness of Christ!

If this stirs you and if you want to walk out these changes with a community of like-minded people, there are 50 something people starting the 12 x 12 project in less than a week. (This is so exciting!) The 12 x 12 project is a one year endeavor to bring twelve different social justice issues to light through monthly meetings, fundraising campaigns, and by wearing the same outfit from that organization all month long. Come on board now, or whenever you are ready. You can do parts of the project or jump in head first. Remember, it only matters that we decrease so that God might increase. Let God meet you where you are. Check out our facebook page or read my friend Ida's blog to learn more. God is moving! I hope that you choose to enjoy the blessings of being a part of God's mission!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


So, I recently finished a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. It was very eye opening. Basically, this lady (Jen Hatmaker) decides to fast 7 different things for a month each. You may be wondering why she decided to do this. One of the main reasons was "to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble. . . [it is] an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center. A fast is not necessarily something we offer God, but it assists us in offering ourselves." I read this and immediately wanted to fast myself.

The first month, she fasts food. Not all food. She only allows herself 7 items to eat throughout the whole month. She went through caffeine withdrawal, had to figure out how to eat while traveling, and experienced lots of moments of intense temptation. So, on August 1st I started my food fast. (It just sounded too fun to pass up!). I changed mine up a bit. We get weekly produce bins, so I decided to allow myself anything from my produce bin + chicken, eggs, and millet bread. I am only using salt and pepper for seasoning and can use olive oil to cook with. Yep, no coffee, no butter, no pastries, no well, no a lot of things. I thought about doing this a different month because this month is my birthday month, but then I realized it would be easier to do something like this right after getting back from Haiti.  And I think that considering my friends on the mountain with no Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, no Yogurt Mountain, no ovens for their grandmas to bake cookies in, no Subway or Chick-fil-A or a cazillion other restaurants to choose from has helped me cope with my food cravings some. They just have their little outside kitchens with a wood pile to cook on. They cook whatever meat or produce they got from their farms or from the nearest market. They butcher their chicken or goats, they cook their dried beans for hours, they harvest and chop and prepare their food all by hand.

Well, by the end of the first couple of days, I decided that I hate this fast. It is not the least bit fun. I have realized a few things about myself. 1. I use food for comfort, especially coffee. 2. When I don't have my comfort food, I am cranky. 3. I get jealous about what other people eat and secretly plot against them when they have the comfort foods I am craving - even if it's my own children. I've gotta say, millet bread with no butter is rather dry and I'm tired of my chicken tenderloins for lunch and dinner every day. I am so incredibly grateful for all the potatoes I have left over from a previous produce bin, or I doubt I'd ever feel full. And my lack of coffee started out great because I so intentionally weaned myself, but after only getting 5 hours of sleep one night, I started hating life. I actually took a nap in the middle of the day that day (I never take naps).

I get tempted to wallow in my self pity, but then, I think of my friends in Haiti who usually only eat one meal a day, and it is usually rice and beans. And then I think of the people in Darfur who sweep up the left overs off the market floor to form mud pies. They are eating just enough to not die of starvation, but they have probably never known what it's like to feel full. And forget about coffee or even clean drinking water. Their water is brown. It doesn't even look clear. It is just filled with all kinds of bacteria and parasites.
So, even though I'm hating my food fast and whining way too much, I am learning a few things about myself and God and this world. I am realizing how much I truly have. Even now while my husbands is in between jobs and we are always uncertain about when we will get money next and how much it will be, we are blessed just by living in this country and having the family and friends that we have. I am realizing how much I lean on my comforts and my desires and my routines rather than on God. I have prayed more and read my bible more these couple of weeks because I am not first curling up with my coffee and a pastry and a book. I was desperately needing to change some of my habits. And finally, I am realizing how important it is for us to obey God's word. We wonder why God allows people to suffer, to starve to death, or to die of curable diseases. Instead, we should wonder why we squander away what God has given us on ourselves and our wants. Matthew 25:41-46  says: Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

As I feel unsatisfied and lust after the Dunkin' Donuts my husband brings home or the banana bread my grandma made, or the cookies my children get at Publix, I will remember that I still have so much more than most of the world. And even though I do not have temporary access to my big mug of coffee, I do have access to my heavenly Father. Purging my junk may not be fun, but it is most definitely necessary if I want to allow God to move more in my life.

Check out this video about the people in Darfur: