Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wild

It has officially been one year and one month since I've written here, in public. My journal is literally ripping at the seams with the weight of the questions and the cursing. (ripping=literal | weight=not). But not here, where my thoughts should have endings.

I know God's not afraid of my questions.
Forgive my bluntness, everyone who's told me this, but.. obviously.
I can't even think of a reason why He might be.

I am afraid of my questions. They make me messy. They make me unpackaged.
So I've been quiet. Mostly.

But, today. Today, I choose to believe I'm not the only one who's confused and scared about what God is really like. And please tell me I'm not the only one who's tired of having Him explained to me.

God is OUT. OF. CONTROL. That's what makes Him God.

We want to understand God so that we can be over Him and complain when He's out of line.

But nature doesn't have soft edges.

He is wild.

“The greatest obstacle to realizing our dreams is the false self’s hatred of mystery. Mystery is essential to adventure. Mystery is at the heart of the universe and the God who made it.” (John Eldredge)


(Yes, even at Kohl's)



Monday, January 18, 2016

Together

She hitched the baby up on her back and curled her big toe under in the soft red dirt. She looked up at me and stared. There we were. Trying to figure each other out. More kids filled the background. 3 or 4 on a bike, with a passel of followers behind. All intrigued.

I leaned down and introduced myself. Shy grins. Knowing looks. They trusted each other. Me? Verdict was out.
I get it. I was different. Very different. Size. Shape. Color. Sound. Movement. But it was more than that list that made me feel like an outsider. They deeply loved each other. In this scene of mystique and bubbling questions, they naturally drew in towards each other. A little one touched her arm. Another leaned his dusty forehead on his brother's back.  Yet they were curious enough to allow me close to that circle.
I thought about what it would be like if somebody new and different came to visit my town. What looked like a doorway to culturally comparative imagination opened to a concrete wall.
No one would know.
No one would care if we had a visitor.



My eyebrows furrowed as I quickly glanced down - stowing away the uncomfortable thought for later investigation. I shook their hands, smiled my affection, and kept walking toward the compound.

"Peter! PETER! Do you have the water?"
The accused came tumbling towards the fire pit, slopping jerry can in hand.
3 goats, with their heads held high and back in passive disgust, trotted ahead of a twitching branch, held by an even twitchier young boy. Meanwhile, a scrawny little girl struggled to keep her drooping skirt up as she chased a targeted chicken.
A far off drum beat set the rhythm as life glided around the fresh flames, bustling towards the collective goal of dinner. It was amazing to watch. Everyone had a part. The babies had to be still. The toddlers had to gather. The kids had to haul. The adults had to create. The meal was a collection and reward of all the energy put into it.

"Is it true?"
I squinted and remembered the seared-in question from yesterday. On the bus.
"Is it true that Americans go from their cars to their houses and don't even have to walk outside?"

In verbally struggling through that moment with a fellow American, my coworker wisely summarized, "We care more about protecting what's inside our walls than what's actually inside them."

I blinked in the building smoke. An older man took his place in the only seat by the fire and began telling stories. The little ones released from their chores, scampered to his feet and settled in to be swept up in his tales. The men and women smiled at each other, not so much because something great had happened, but just because. Just peace. Peace on the other side of toil. You could see in their eyes that these people had been through it all - together. They had worked towards tenderness. Without the protection of walls, rooms, and doors, they had each other. In that vulnerable colony, the hard work of forgiving love was necessary for survival.

Flash forward to the Washington Dulles International Airport.
My backpack was heavy and I couldn't decide how I felt.
Still feeling ripped from the place where I came alive, but knowing I was halfway to home and the people that taught me what life is in the first place. I stepped off the jet bridge and caught my breath.
Is this really where I live?
Color was gone.
Everyone's eyes were down. Glazed. Shifting, but dead.
Staring into palmed light, desperately avoiding the feeling of loneliness.
My heart broke.
HERE. Here is poverty of spirit.

Back in that tall grass, I admit that I prepared myself to feel sorry for the villagers. Secluded, desolate, without.
But as I stood in the core of their movement, I was struck with pity for my own people. We have to earn community. We invite people to accept us. We make appointments to see each other. Trust takes a long time. Laughter comes later. Tears are received by a select few. We could skate through untouched if we chose. And in that freedom is the responsibility of choosing togetherness.

We ask why life feels hollow. Yet we keep widening the spaces around us.

Here, each life was stretched to the seams of several others. Full.




But community is not loneliness grabbing onto loneliness: "I'm so lonely, and you're so lonely." It's solitude grabbing onto solitude: "I am the beloved; you are the beloved; together we can build a home." -Henri J.M. Nouwen


Sunday, August 02, 2015

What Wealth

Sometimes when I'm in line at the grocery store I wonder why I haven't written this post yet.

Perhaps because it's a bigger deal. Or just that it's someone else's deal. Instead of representing my own deviating, rickety mind, I now must represent children. I don't want to mess it up. But to not say anything would be the real offense.

It took a while to get there.
3 months of fundraising.  8 hours inside airports. 12 hours inside an airplane. a 4 hour bus ride. I'll admit that I wondered whether it was worth it. My goal was to be different coming home, and with any grace, to leave some other people differently than how I found them. I wanted to remind myself of my childness and God's Fatherness, in the midst of a lot of naive questions I had about His goodness. Really, I wanted a solid answer when people asked, "How was it?".

I don't have it.

How can I?
How can I tell you how much it wrings my heart to know she may never run into my arms again? I don't even know her name. But I remember those eyes - full of light - and that little jean jumper - full of dust.

I don't have words for the fullness of The Spirit that stretched out every corner of that room when they broke into song: "I am a winner... in Christ my Lord. A winner I will be... if I am in the Lord. Like a solider in the army... I'm set for war. I am a winner in Christ my Lord."
Set for war.
Four-year olds.
And they were.
They were determined to survive. Their little fists were clenched against despair. Their smiles pierce me.
Most four-year-olds smile because they're getting - got - something - are excited because someone's coming home.
These four-year-olds smile like they've tasted death and now rejoice in each breath. Life isn't good, but you can see in their eyes they're excited for what's to come beyond this life.
Four-year-olds.

Life seeped out everywhere. Especially during our first two days in Mankayane. Those kids were kids. Through and through.
Sharks and minnows, anyone?


When you're lying run over in the grass giggling, you forget.
You forget until you watch one of them run over and pick up a bit of forgotten porridge out of the grass and eat it joyously. You forget until he flashes one of those full-scale grins, revealing a mouthful of black, rotting teeth. You forget until she's sitting on your lap and you stroke a leg wrecked with scabs.

Spiritual warfare has nowhere to hide when every comfort is stripped away. You can't even just watch. You're in it. We were in it. There was a stark difference between the two cities we visited.
In Mankayane, spirits were up, the kids were glowing, and the pastor hung out with us all day. Our Father's love lifted every chin.
However, when our bus rolled up to Gege on Wednesday, my chest physically tightened. Bethany's back injury flared up. Molly and Christina became visibly ill. We looked at each other in puzzled horror, but then chocked it up to mid-week drag, gritted our teeth, and departed the bus in resolve. We owed this new set of kids just as much energetic love. But something wasn't right. They weren't even kids. They were just little bodies roaming around. Their eyes were glazed over - those that would look at me, that is. I still shudder to this day, recalling what it felt like to step off that bus. We went through the motions - the songs, the finger-painting, the Bible skit, the parachute, the bubbles. Nothing.
I'll never forget that one little boy in the red sweater. He toddled over and collapsed in my lap. He was burning up. Every limb was limp. I stroked his face and tried to motion to ask if he felt hot - if I could take his sweater off. He was already asleep.
It's those moments that are close to normal that still stab me.

It's normal for toddlers to want to sit in my lap.
It's not normal for them to instantly fall asleep.

It's normal for kids to be excited about bubbles.
It's not normal for them to instinctively run to fill the bottle     back up with water after each puff to "make it last".

It's normal for kids to look forward to lunch.
It's not normal to see siblings slowly feeding each other off the same plate.

It's normal for girls to play clapping games.
It's not normal for the games to end in "beating the loser and throwing her out of the house."

And then there were the traits that weren't even close to normal. To see some of the girls avert their eyes and back away every time one of the guys in our group approached .. to see little ones fall and bleed without making a sound, because they're not used to anyone reacting.. those scenes break me.


But back at our cabin, oh, how the Lord showed up.
Bethany, Justina, Emily, and I all prayed. Out loud. One at a time. For an hour.
And for one of the first times in my life, my eyes were fixed on Our Father the whole time we were in conversation. I believed there was going to be a difference. I believed that Thursday was going to be different than it would have been had we not prayed Wednesday night. It also mattered in a different way because it wasn't about me. My sisters knew it too.
We'd learned from a staff member on our way out that witch craft was prevalent in that area and that the pastor had been cheating the church. Satan was dancing on sacred ground and we were sick of (and from) it.
The need was too desperate to detach from prayer.

In the morning, the kids were still vacant.. at first. But we marched in for battle, led by Our King.
We marched right around the perimeter of the church, dispelling all demons in the name of Jesus.
The suffocating sackcloth lifted.
Our team's physical conditions improved.
The little ones warmed up and there was a different spark in them.
All hail the power of Jesus' name.

The kids were back.














Then we got to meet their parents.
Each afternoon we'd split up into groups of four, load up our shoulders with bags of corn meal and follow a chosen child home.
He or she would skip ahead of us with delight, beating the grass out of our way with a stick. I thought the grass-clearing was cute until one little boy who spoke English revealed to me that the stick was actually to scare away the black mambas. Not cute.

The families and their homes were desperate. There's no pretty way of describing them. It was hard.
What I can tell you is that sitting there, in their lives, faith didn't make a lot of sense.
Where I live, it kinda does. It's what people do.
But there, why.. why would you believe? Unless you knew God. I mean, really knew Him.

Patiswa's grandmother sat in the dirt at our feet, batting at the gaunt chickens that were clamoring for the water she had offered us. We asked her through the translator what it's like to live in Gege. She looked up - but just past our eyes - towards someone she knew better. "I know God is our protector and provider. And so I wait."
She waits.
With her eyes up.
Every day she prays that they (she and the 9 grandchildren abandoned to her care) will have enough food.
"And today my prayer has been answered."
Tears rolled down her cheeks.

I "work hard" at dependence. Yet her genuine, unshaken dependence deflated every pride cell in me.
In what ways should/could I be praying for my daily bread for that?
If I truly recognized that God is keeping me alive every day, would I smile differently?
If I deep-down believed that He is intimately interested in my desires, would I pray differently?
Seeing her light up when she talked about Our Father reminded me of my own soul poverty. True to the nature Christ promises, she shimmered like refined gold.
That woman has a friendship - an absolutely vulnerable and rock solid friendship - with the Most High God.
What wealth.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

As If

Fail - ure.  Fail - ure.  Fail - ure.

The label pounded in my brain as my feet kept the rhythm.

I was walking.

      I was supposed to be running. My phone reminded me: "Workout paused." Translation: "What's wrong with you?"

My side was cramping

     I should have been fine.

Fail - ure.  Fail - ure.  Fail - ure.

Someone interrupted:

"Who's telling you that?"

A tear escaped as I pressed my lips together.

This dumb sheep is starting to recognize her Shepherd's voice.

I want my voice to remind other people of His. But let's be real.
Right now the deceiver is hijacking it. Following dreadful, self-attacking nightmares from my subconscious narrator, the same inner script accuses me from the moment my conscience wakes up.

A raven shrieked and I snapped back to attention.
The question.
Right.
Ok, Lord. Not You.   Good call.

May 15th. Wow. It's been... months. A long time. A lot of months. Over a year depending on when I start counting.
I should be better. sigh  Sounds familiar.
I should be running again. In life, you know?
It's pathetic that it still hurts too much to run.

"Who's telling you that?"

I physically shook my head from side to side.
Then I looked up.
The pines really were beautiful.
The snow-dressed mountains danced in the distance.
His voice came again:

"What makes this so bad?"

I thought about it. Why do I feel like a failure when I slow down? I guess because I know there's a next level, and I'm not there. I should always do my best. Right? I feel shame until I've reached the point I've set as my fullest capability.
Why?
Why do I do that?

step
step
step
step

To feel worth it.

another tear .. as it really comes to me

To feel worth dying for.

As if..
As if I'm contributing to my worth.
As if I have anything to do with it.
That knowledge should make me kick up my heels in freedom!
We are released from the ability to earn love!
But that's all I know how to do so far. earn love.
So grace will debilitate me until I learn to accept it freely.
It's awesome and awful that God doesn't expect better of me.
My pride wishes He did so I could prove myself.

Want to know one of my new favorite verses? 1 Kings 19:7.

"The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said,
'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.'"


He knows.
I'm not fooling anybody. Least of all Him. Not even the angels. It's a cool story if you have some time to read it. Basically Elijah was spent, admitted he was done, an angel provided food and water, and then God came down to Elijah in a gentle whisper of direction.
He's not disgusted with our humanness... with my inadequacy, like I so often picture Him.
He just loves us!

I don't know how to say it.   I'm mad that I'm still mad. I'm embarrassed that I'm not "over it".
It's time I admit this "journey is too much" for me. Secret's out. Not without His strong, strong love. And I won't receive His strength without first humbling myself to receive His grace.

 "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
Romans 6:14

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Drives with Jesus: Keep Driving

This time I knew where I was going.

Mostly.

I knew my volunteer shift started at 3:30pm, that the current time was 7:30am, and that it took 2 hours to get to Ft. Collins. I don't know how the phrase "wiggle room" came to be, but I certainly wiggled with anticipatory delight when I calculated all the room in my driving schedule.
As I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel, staring off into an imaginary oversized blank Google maps search bar, I sorted through my mental filing cabinet of beautiful places.
Estes Park.
I didn't think I'd ever been there and I've heard lots of people say it's beautiful.

I can't say I remember the ride up much.
I guess I was sad. Melancholy but determined at best.
Hopeful that the mountains would brighten the backdrop to what I couldn't control on stage.

 
It's a strange thing to expect to be blown away.
Because I was..
But then what emotion does that leave?
 
Content, I suppose.
I was happy that I could count on God's majesty being God's majesty.
That He can still astound me even when I expected to be astounded.
 
I drove towards what I saw.
And drove
     and drove
          and drove
John Piper talked and talked.
I waited for the content to last.
I wanted to believe that God's glory was worth everything.
All the hurt.
 
The melody flowed through my bones before I remembered the lyrics..
"O joy that seekest me through pain,
          I dare not close my heart to Thee."
 
2:12pm?! Must estimate location.
Down I came from the mountain.
Next stop: The Compassion Experience
 
It's literally my job to market this thing, so I'll try not to gush...
 

I sent 6 hours in the World Impact Room - the final room in the tour.
When visitors push back that last curtain, I know what they've seen. Not only because I've been through it, but because I can still see it all over their faces.
It's almost always their first personal-space encounter with poverty or their first time grasping how earth-shattering the power of the gospel is when applied to poverty. Sometimes both. That's a lot to think about. I get it.

It's the best.

The raw emotions, wonderings, and comments immediately following a close brush with extreme poverty and extreme miracles are why I can't stay away. I love their questions. I love that because of Jesus there are answers.

"He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 22:16)
Jesus re-introduces Himself every time.

A fresh group of changed faces arrives every 9 minutes. Sometimes that leaves time for me to be alone with the child packets. I like that part too. It's hard to look into the eyes of a little one and let the distinct probability that he or she feels unloved sink in. But its encouraging to remember how loved that child really is. Our Father adores every single one.

I was staring at Nataly's picture, praying that her time would come soon when suddenly, a chorus of voices and feet surrounded me.
"Look, Mom!! She's just like Julian! We have to help her!"
"Do you think he wants to be a doctor too?"
"Who's going to write to her? We have to tell her she's beautiful!"
"Can I give him my bed?"
But it was their mom's question back that struck me most:

"Do you want to pick a kid?"

It wasn't the first time I'd heard that question posed.
It's so demeaning.
And yet so life-changing.
To be picked is to be noticed.. to be believed in. Life's not the same once you know you're valuable.

How cool is it that we've all been picked? Hand-picked by the One who determines our value.

None of these kids earn being sponsored. For the most part, they don't even believe they're worth being picked.
God does not pick us because we are the best choice or because He needs help. He picks us because He says we're worth being picked.

Shift ended. 34 sponsored. So happy.
I started towards home, and was just about to get on the highway when I saw a billboard for Wyoming.
Well, now... There's a thought.
Haven't been to Wyoming.
Nothing on the calendar until 4pm tomorrow.
I found a girl on Airbnb with a house just around the corner, called her, and she said I could stay.
YES.

Kelsey was just a doll. Fittingly enough, she lived in a dollhouse.
She greeted me on the other side of her bright pastel door with a huge smile and a medium dog.
Such a lovely home. We shot the breeze over a cup of hot tea and a handful of animal crackers, and then I hit the hay, wanting to cross the state line by sunrise.

At 4am I shot up in bed.
Out of pure excitement.
I just get a kick and a half out of new places.
My heart was already a few ounces lighter.

It wasn't long out on the open road before the sun started to stretch its rays. Fortunately there were no observers to my driving choices as I pulled over every 4 minutes to catch the changing horizon. Every time I stopped I thought - now THIS is as beautiful as it will be...




 
“At sunrise everything is luminous but not clear.” 
Norman Maclean
 
So through the gleaming vapors, amidst the haze of my own battling thoughts, I crossed the state line.
 
Now what.
 
I'd heard rumors of Wyoming's prettiness, but I didn't have any "must-sees" in mind. Visitor center then. I arrived around 8:30am. The sun was surging in from the east, illuminating a sleek and barren lobby. It was a nice place, but there was an astonishing lack of brochures. After testing the perimeter a few times, I finally noticed that a whole wall was pulled across and locked. Ahh. Too early for brochures. Well it wasn't too early for some cold hard truth. I grabbed my Bible from the car and trotted back to find the sunniest corner.  
 
The sun and the truth were bright, but not necessarily warm. I was led to the Lord's response to Job in chapter 38. That's not a real cozy hug kind of chapter. But it's what I needed in my pit of prideful victim mentality. 
"Have you ever given orders to the morning,
       or shown the dawn its place...?"
 
With the splendor of the ordered dawn still rising on the back of my eyes, I turned my palms upward in penance and said no. No, I have not.
 
I heard a clank and the wall rolled back.
 
I looked over my shoulder, misty-eyed and curious. The kindest old man smiled back.
I rose from my corner, with my thumb still in the call-out.
 
Don was great. I told him I had 7 hours to see Wyoming. He grinned with the right side of his mouth, pulled out a crinkly paper map, and marked my route with a fat red marker. I left with a promising trail and a Styrofoam cup full of coffee.
 
Stepping out into the air of possibility, the harsh western wind promptly blew the top half of my coffee on to my promising trail and all over my pants. My cheeks and legs were burning as I stared down at my dripping shoes. I didn't even know that was a thing. Blowing coffee. Hmm.
Enter, silver linings. The bottom half of my coffee was now cooled to sipping perfection and my pants smelled freshly ground. I shook out my map, reached into my car and carefully placed the precious remaining 4 ounces, and then placed myself behind the wheel.
Onward.
 
Yes, it was beautiful...
 
Quite beautiful...


 I wish I had enjoyed it.
 
Enjoyed it to the extent it was shouting to be enjoyed.
 
But I was pretty mad.
Mad at God. Mad at sin. Mad at Satan. Mad at myself. Mad at men.
I tried to beauty and sermon my way out of the funk.
No cigar.
 
"Why are you downcast, O my soul?
      Why so disturbed within me?
            Put your hope in God,
                For I will yet praise him,
                    my Savior and my God?" (Ps. 42:11)
 
It was kind of like that.
Sometimes you have to sigh, grit your teeth, and choose to praise.
I don't have to pretend to be happy, or muster joy. Heavens, I tried that.
Sometimes when your heart is bruised and exhausted, your head has to carry the hope.
 
I am assured of my reason to press on.
Though I am still left to feel the grief.
 
So I keep driving.
 
 
"My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life." Ps. 119:50