Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19
In 2010, our lives were unexpectedly flipped upside down and inside out. Unbeknownst to us, a series of events, divinely timed, methodically unfolded. However, we were completely unaware of what God was up to. What began as a normal Sunday at church turned into an eternal change in the direction of our family. The words of guest speaker, David Stevens, uprooted my entire way of thinking of what faith looks like in a person’s life. Challenging, penetrating words from a woman advocating for African orphans rocked my world one night as we watched them joyfully sing and dance and give their testimony to God’s faithfulness. Then, through God’s providence, He brought Dr. David Platt’s book, Radical, into our lives. Like birth pains, our lives were quickly becoming uncomfortable to say the least. We were compelled to examine our lives and ask God if there was anything He’d like to change about them. Do NOT ask that question if you’re not ready for the answer!
The next thing we know, we’re on a plane with our children 10-14 yrs old, headed to Africa on our first international mission trip (and our first trip out of the country). The next summer, we found ourselves in Ukraine on a different mission trip. This past summer, we were speechless as our passports were stamped in Asia on yet another different mission project.
Everything we knew normal to look like was so far in the rear view mirror we couldn’t even see it anymore. In between those times, we continued with local work in our community. I thought what God had planned to change in our lives had happened, and even though I certainly felt out of my comfort zone, I had no idea that was only the first phase of the transformation.
I really believed the “change” had happened. And it did. But, God never said anything to us about that being the only change.
Once again, I find myself being shaken. I am currently taking the Bible study, Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker. What began as a desire to take this study from an alumni stance of, Oh I know what she is talking about! Been there. Done that! quickly became something different.
One day of homework shook me to my core. I admitted to my small group that God had radically shown me a peek into phase 2 of the transformation and it deals directly with me. I have a thing. Everyone has a thing, and we are quick to judge others’ things because either they makes us feel better about our thing, or their thing is just plain weird in our own eyes.
My thing has to do with my hands. It is a sensory issue mostly. My hands must be clean. I don’t wash them 18 times a day, but they must stay generally clean or the epicenter of my sanity is rocked off its axis and I cannot focus on anything until I wash them. Okay, so that’s my thing. I said it.
What does this have to do with the transformation of our family’s and my faith? A lot.
This oddity about me with my hands has held me back from experiences in life. I love nature, animals, and all of that. Love it! But, as much as I love to get up close and personal with insects, please do not ask me to touch them. I will look at them, photograph them and appreciate their place in our ecosystem, but their legs and exoskeletons make my skin crawl to imagine them touching my hands.
I love sharks. Okay, so I am a little obsessed with them! Have been my whole life. I’ve read books about them and watched nearly every documentary on them. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to touch one. I was allowed to stroke its back and dorsal fin. A moment I had waited for my entire life! As I reached into the salty water, I felt a swell of adrenaline and nausea roll over me. As much as I wanted to enjoy the moment, the slick, leathery skin that I had waited forever to touch also made me weak in the knees.
The other day, I was trying to catch a large lizard that found its way into our home. However, it wasn’t the lizard’s size, speed or agility that made me shriek like a little girl every time I missed, it was knowing it would be in my hands and I would feel every toenail, its chest heaving in distress (scared of me!) and its lose, cool skin. I think lizards are so neat! But handling them is something different.
When pumping gas, or in the salad bar line, I use my less dominant hand so the hand I use for everything else is still clean. It’s a right-handed world, and that’s fine with me! Shaking people’s hands with my right hand keeps my dominant left hand clean for everything else I need to do. A couple of times for my children’s birthday parties, I made mystery boxes that everyone stuck their hands into and had to feel their way to the items on the list. I made the box. I knew what was in it. I knew it was only spaghetti noodles hiding things like pencils, plastic dinosaurs, and bouncy balls. But, for the life of me, I could not stick my own hand in the box! Yeah, that’s me.
When we were in Africa, I really struggled. For 2 weeks, I couldn’t practice the hand-washing methods, etc. that I do here in America. However, I did embrace bucket showers and thought that if America could do this one change we’d have no more worries of clean water shortages. As much as I loved Kenya and its friendly, hospitable and warm people, being there was a huge mental obstacle for me because of my stupid hand thing. I carried so much guilt and shame around with me as I wrestled to assure myself this wasn’t a case of me thinking too highly of myself. Like, I would never touch something or someone less than me. Oh my word no! That’s not it at all.
It’s a sensory thing. Like I have 10 little brains attached to my hands. Weird, I know.
When I hold my husband or my children’s hands, I feel an emotional electricity connecting us through touch. When I knead dough, there is a feeling of workmanship and family (it’s a very old family recipe) that affects me on a deeper level. But, don’t even get me started on public door handles and bathrooms. It isn’t pretty.
So in Africa, as well as the other two countries we served in, because of this secret, odd thing, I found my place comfortably behind the camera. As a freelance photographer, I was more than happy to be the team historian for these trips. I was also very happy to load and lug equipment; produce and carry-out VBS with the team; harvest corn; help with soccer clinics, help start-up community playgroups, etc. I was very happy to serve in ways that made me comfortable. I even told myself that according to 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, we all have different gifts and talents God uses as a collective body to serve in His name. That is true, but hiding behind those talents is not the same as using them for His glory.
Enter the Interrupted study I am taking.
On this particular day of study, God showed me that what I have known my whole life as “good enough” service to Him was no longer good enough. He wants to move me from from a place of comfort to a place where I will serve Him even if – and especially if – it is uncomfortable. It’s about living in His strength and not my own. It’s about overcoming our fears with power and victory believers have in Christ.
Sure, it’s okay to continue to use the stuff God hard-wired in me for His work, but He is now gently pushing me toward new work that requires more than I have to give.
He lovingly told me that I have been hiding behind my camera; hiding behind the title of organizer in different service projects both local and worldwide; and hiding behind my writing. Why? Because in all of those cases I get to appease my hand issue. I don’t have to necessarily be hands-on in the uncomfortable work.
I remember watching my daughter, then just 12 years old, swing, hold and play with precious children on the African mountainside completely uninhibited. I was envious of her. She sat on the ground while they braided her hair and rested in her lap. I stood on the sidelines watching through the lens of my camera – wishing I could be like her. Watching my sons hold hands with children who had an enormous amount of mucus and drainage running out of their noses, wiping it with their hands, then again taking the hands of my sons again – never to be denied and always welcomed with a smile, tears filled my eyes as I hoped those same mucus-filled hands wouldn’t find mine. If they did, I would certainly not turn them away, but it would push me right to the edge of my personal cliff.
In Asia, we worked with children who couldn’t care for themselves, and I repeatedly had to silently stop and breathe because again, as I adjusted my normal to meet theirs. I guess it turned up the fact I have the same issue with my feet. Removing my shoes, as is custom, meant I had to sometimes walk barefoot on strange floors that had many bare feet on them. The crunch of unknown substances I stepped on, or someone else’s hair getting stuck to the bottoms of my feet made me want to run outside and rub my feet in the grass. Oh the shame to feel such things on mission trips! But, I would just as quickly feel them at home, too. My oddity shows no discrimination of people, place or circumstance.
This is real. Raw. Sobering. Embarrassing. So why write about it? Why risk being judged by the big world we live in? Why set myself up for possible critique or criticism?
God is doing a new work, and I guess I want to give a very clear “before” picture, so He can get the glory for the “after” picture I trust is coming.
In our study’s small group, I confessed these things with bated breath not knowing how I’d be received. To my pleasant surprise, my humbling words were met with beautiful grace. Every single woman was so gracious! It is their response that gave me the courage to write this on a public blog. I left that morning with hope that God can change even the strangest things about people. We are, in fact, a work in progress.
We openly discussed the topic of helping the homeless and the poor and all that surrounds these desperate circumstances. Yet, as I confessed my shortcoming of the hand thing, even the nurse and occupational therapist in our group were merciful to me – and never made me feel like I was less of a believer or a person due to this obstacle that they obviously don’t share given their lines of work.
I told the group, God revealed to me with fresh eyes that I have been hiding in ministry because of this. With sincere motives, giving money, donating clothes, and serving in a food line is comfortable. Joining my kids and their friends in nursing homes to sing Christmas carols, making and donating gift baskets for women’s shelters and organizing bake sales to benefit world relief efforts is comfortable. Doing yard work and attending luncheons for widows is comfortable. Soliciting contributions from businesses for the different charities we work with is comfortable.
God is clearly telling me that while those things are good, if I am doing them to partly hide behind what isn’t comfortable, then that needs to change. I accepted His loving discipline and offered Him an open heart as best I could.
I left our small group to run a few errands at my familiar stomping ground. No sooner did I pull up at the same old three-way stop, than I immediately saw a woman standing at the stop sign holding a sign asking for help. At her feet sat two children. It was chilly, windy and drizzling.
In one motion of heart and head, I instantly knew this was God placing me there to practice this new lesson of serving in the discomfort. We keep gift bags in our car with bottled water, cans of soup and Scripture for such an occasion, but this mom and her kids needed more than that.
I cannot describe how 100% confidently sure I was that God called me to this intersection for such a time as this. Normally, we would hand them the gift bag, ask their name and tell them we would pray for them all before the light turned green and off we’d go. For years that has sufficed. Not so this day.
It was a well-trafficked intersection, in the middle of the day, in a familiar part of town, and it was a mom and two young children. I felt very safe (an important aspect). I drove right by her without a word, but pulled into the first open parking space at Wal-Mart. God clearly told me to get them a gift card. I found a pretty gift card with pink flowers on it, checked out and walked with haste back to the van.
Looking back to see if they were still there, I circled the van to the closest parking space to them. I sat in the van and prayed. Of all the times I’ve tried to help people standing on the street corner, I’ve never gotten out of my car to do it.
That instant, the bondage of fear left me and I knew I was walking in God’s strength and power – not mine. I walked up to the mom and her kids and asked them if I could take them to lunch. I offered that the kids could play on the play set while we could just relax and eat. As soon as I offered, she broke down and cried and thanked me. However, someone before me had already given them lunch.
Okay. So what now? I prayed.
I remembered Jen Hatmaker’s words in the study, Ask them their name and their story, because they never get to tell their story.
So I did. And, with all glory to God, I held out my hand to shake each of theirs. (Not a big deal to 99% of the population, but it’s a big deal to me.)
Suddenly, we were just two women smiling and talking with no regard to the many cars passing by. Her daughter had a beautiful, captivating smile and her son was incredibly polite. I offered her the gift card and she began to cry again. I gave her the name of our church to see if they could help in any way. Then I did something I’ve never done. I gave her my cell phone number.
Physical touch and sharing personal information were on my list of no’s. And, I would never blankly say it’s okay to do this in any situation, but it was okay in this one. God had given me an indescribable a peace about it.
I listened to her story and offered to pray for her family. She gladly accepted. In our home, we always hold hands when we pray no matter where we are. I reached out my hand and asked if she would hold mine for the prayer. She held out her hand, and in the moment we touched I felt a 1,000 pounds of guilt and shame I have carried my whole life over this hand thing drop like a rock.
I was a new person before we said Amen.
This mom was so sweet. Her children were precious. I could have stayed with them all day. Before leaving, I shook both of her children’s hands and gave the mom my number. I didn’t have much to write on, so she offered me the back of her poster she was holding asking for help.
I mentioned earlier that physical touch is a big deal for me, and as we both held the large poster board, and my left hand drug across it as I wrote my number on it in ink, it changed me. In a way, I had become connected to her board – her situation – her. It became very personal in that moment. It’s difficult to put into words. It wasn’t a typical drive-by/drop-off of goods and well wishes between strangers. It was two women helping each other. I hope I was a blessing to her. For certain she was to me.
When she accepted the gift card, the first words she spoke were, My children have almost nothing to wear. Now I can buy them some clothes. It pierced my heart that her first response was to take care of her children.
Driving away, it dawned on me that she never asked me for anything. Strange! I asked her name and her story; offered them lunch; gave her a gift card; gave them our church’s number and my cell phone number; and asked if there was anything else I could do. She never asked for anything, but was so appreciative and teary.
However, truly I also received something I needed. God broke the stronghold of the hand thing. His love superseded my hangup and His mercy and compassion won out.
I pray He continues to meet the needs of this family, as I look for them now every time I pass that intersection. I know He will. This experience was also a blessing to me because it showed me that God hasn’t given up on me and my hangups. He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and will finish the work He started in us (Philippians 1:6) even if some of us take a little longer.
Because of this experience, God has given me a new hope and fresh excitement for what phase 2 may hold. Before, I had some sticky reservations, but I am reminded that God can do the impossible – He can change us – creatures of habit that we are.
Serving where He has me, in the roles He has me in, is great. But, now I look forward with curiosity at what in the world He may have in store.
He is good. Patient. Kind. Perfect. Forgiving. We are made in His image. Fragile. Sinful. Beautiful. Only He can put Humpty Dumpty together to create a new work with the same broken chards of the past. We are new. Whole. Lovely. Even though it is the same ol’ us.
What is He nudging you toward today? What comfort zone is He moving you away from? As we live and breathe there is a plan for our lives. The Potter continues to sculpt us into the image of His Son for plans no eye has seen nor ear has heard (1 Corinthians 2:9). Do I wish I could redo all of the times my shortcomings sabotaged a moment of ministry? Absolutely. But I will not stay in the guilt of the past because God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3;22-23). If He can forgive and forget, so can I (Psalm 103:11-12; Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12).
However, I don’t want to completely forget so I will remember to let God keep pushing me out of my comfort zone and draw me toward wherever His heart is at work. I don’t want to miss a moment.