Mission-heart lag

Kr3a

When people hear that we’re coming home from a mission trip to Guyana, their response is always the same, “So there’s no time change. That’s great! No jet lag!”

I wish that were true.

It would be far easier to feel the physical effects of jet lag versus the emotional, mental and spiritual effects of mission-heart lag.

This year in particular, I packed my bags with a quivering lip. My hands loaded luggage ready to go. My feet refused to move, longing to stay.

Three airplane rides home were heavy, weighted with quiet moments staring at the floor, out the window at the clouds, or lost in the darkness of my eye mask, trying to block out the world.

Logic says that it should get easier to go on mission trips. I’ve been blessed to be a part of several all over the world. But my heart disagrees. Sure, I’m much more able to handle the sights and smells from a traveler’s perspective, but the stories and circumstances behind those sights and smells haunt me long after the last load of laundry has been washed and put away.

The long-term effects of corrupt politics, poverty, a lack of resources and all forms of abuse grip my heart and won’t let go. Over the years and across continents, I’ve served the perpetrator and the victim; the ill and disabled; those voiceless and powerless; the hard-hearted; the tender and a kaleidoscope of backgrounds, ethnicities, colors, personalities and religions.  So why don’t I just tick the “do good” summer box and move on?

Because these are real people and our real God loves them. They are valuable and matter as much as anyone else in the world and it makes my heart ache to know that there is so much still to do in places where the world has turned a blind eye.  The hurt continues. Abuse continues. Poverty continues. Helpless and hopelessness continue long after luggage has been claimed and the pause button on our lives lifts as we re-enter what we know as normal.

Time change or not, there is definitely a mission-heart lag, as so there should be. If not, the trip was merely an adventure.

Coming home, there are things about here I can’t stand. But there are things about there I can’t stomach.  When I’m here, I want to be there. When I’m there, I know I need to here. With every mission, my heart splits farther in two.

Air-conditioning is wonderful. A hot shower is marvelous. My own pillow and puppy, they’re the best. But so is listening to exotic tree frogs serenade us in the evening on the porch of a home in the middle of a foreign country. Nothing compares to looking into the eyes of a soul who is amazed we went all the way there for them, and then to realize that this God we speak of did so much more by sending His Son for them.

Kr2Our home this evening is still as jazz plays faintly in the background. Everywhere I look there is travel clutter. The exhaustion from a twenty-two hour venture home has numbed the urgency to make all of the mess go away. So to forget it all I schlepped to the grocery store to fill an empty fridge. I found myself drawn to the aisle with some of the ethnic foods we just enjoyed there. I will look for guava in everything for a long time. I’ll make roti bread and cook-up rice with chicken to remember the flavors of mission. But it’s not the same as being there.

I think about those who denied accepting Christ when asked; precious babies sleeping on mamas’ shoulders; the reluctant, mischievous teens in the back row; the mothers (of a different religion) who looked on with both gratefulness that we came, and skepticism toward our motives; and those who were just passing by and stopped in to see what all the hullabaloo was about as we sang with the kids, washed their feet and gave them new shoes.

I can tell you countless awesome stories of those who asked Jesus to be their Savior; men and women, boys and girls who asked for prayer for their families and themselves; and those who traveled a long way just to be a part of the celebration. I thank God and rejoice over each one. But, for those whose story doesn’t include Christ, they are why I continue to go.

Leaving the grocery store this afternoon, the bagger began chatting with me. She asked how my day was going. I responded with a soft, “Fine, thanks,” hoping she’d leave it at that. Then she asked, “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” Her question was like a tiny hole punctured in a balloon as I felt the last bit of energy deflate. I mustered up a smile and response, “I don’t have any plans. We just got back in town and I’m really tired.”

(Could that be the end of conversation for now, please?)

“Oh yeah, from where?”

(sigh) “Guyana.”

“Cool. Were you there for vacation?”

Wait for it….

“No, it was a mission trip.”

Any other day I’d be ecstatic to talk about all things mission. Today, I just needed milk, dinner and tissues to wipe the tears from my eyes. My response was the Pandora’s box for a delightful, but draining conversation. She was so sweet. It was me who crawled to the car playing all the social cards in my hand.

There’s a lot to unpack and put away strewn about the house, but there is much more to unpack in my heart. The problem is I don’t know where to put it all. The demands of daily life and international mission life have little overlap in this season, sans the insane, and very thankful, amount of fundraising we have to do to afford going. A few pictures on the wall and some local, handmade trinkets on a shelf help to be something my heart can focus on as I move through the day. All of our personal effects still smell like Guyana, just like they smelled of burnt wood when we returned from Africa. The same is true for smells unique to the other countries which now have pieces of our hearts.

At the end of the day, this mission was just a shift, if you will. Helping and encouraging those working in the mission field full-time. We took a shift to go and be salt and light to them and those they serve.

I gave it my all, but feel like it fell far short of what is needed. Jet lag is something that can be slept off. Mission-heart lag can’t be shaken off, nor should it be. I hope and pray the pains of mission never go away, lest I forget the needs and fall into a pleasure coma of the society in which I live.

I am haunted and humbled by what I’ve experienced. Come quickly, Lord. Until then, I’ll keep going wherever You lead.

It was her!

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My friends and I gathered in a small room tucked away known as the Glitz & Glam room, what I affectionately call the Cinderella Room. We hugged and prayed over the night in a quiet moment away from the noise and bustling activities of Joy Prom.

Guests began to arrive not long after we prayed. They were awestruck at the sparkle, mirrors, and colors of the room. Here, a guest can have lip gloss applied and pick out earrings, a necklace, a bracelet, a dressy headband and a ring – all to keep.

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joy prom8The guests’ favorite item in the room? Blinky rings! 🙂

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After they browse the selection, my job is to greet them at the table closest to the exit lined with an army of glitter hairspray. The guests LOVE it!

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A few hours into the night, it felt like a pound of aerosol and glitter was sitting in the bottom of my lungs, and my brain was a little foggy (LOL) but I wouldn’t trade this night for anything.

The room was full as crowds of guests and hosts had a ball getting ready for the ball that awaited them.

I turned around to greet the next guest and there she was.

I knew her!

She is the bagger at my local grocery store. She often greets me in the store’s uniform of khakis and a polo shirt. I’ve seen her donning the store’s bright neon, pedestrian vest to collect carts as well as sweeping the aisles with a huge broom in hand.

Tonight, this was her night. She was Cinderella at the ball.

Her beautiful blonde hair professionally done. Soft pink nails, too. On her wrist was a gorgeous corsage and her dress was fancy and formal. She looked like a princess.

This was her first year attending Joy Prom.

I smiled a HUGE smile and said, “HI! I know you!! Do you know me? We see each other at the grocery store!” My excitement was a little dorky, but I was so incredibly happy to see her I could not contain the joy.

She stared wide-eyed around the room, a little overstimulated from the people, noise and busyness of everything. I asked if she would like glitter hairspray in her hair.

Without a word, she nodded yes.

I guided her to the chair and asked if she would have a seat. Next, I gently placed my hand on her forehead to shield her from the spray and asked her close her eyes real tight as I began spraying the glitter hairspray.

In an instant, her beautiful blonde hair now shimmered with golden highlights.

She looked in the mirror and smiled. She never spoke, but I could tell she was amazed at the night’s magical feel. This night was about her. She seemed so humbled as though she’s never had so much fanfare on her behalf.

For me, I loved seeing same guests that I’ve come to recognize over the years. It was also a hugely fantastic moment to share a short conversation in sign language (something I don’t get to use much on a daily basis) with a guest who is deaf. I loved soaking in the laughter, squeals of delight and even some strutting from our special guests who knew that looked that good.

Serving with my family and girlfriends is deeply rewarding and fun. Watching my teens serve warms this mama’s heart that we are raising them in the way they should go when they are on their own. Being the hands and feet of Christ to our community is life-changing.

But the best moment of the night was having the opportunity to serve the young woman at Joy Prom who so faithfully serves me at the grocery store every week. It was a personal moment for me to say Thank you, by way of simple glitter hairspray. I choked back a lump in my throat as I had not anticipated getting to serve someone who works hard for me bagging my groceries while making pleasant conversation. I cherished our role reversal.

I am so grateful God connected our paths at Joy Prom. I had the privilege of watching her be blessed back and honored as our special guest, as well as see her as who she truly, beautifully is – the beloved daughter of our Good Father.

Take away our uniforms, hats of responsibility we wear, job titles, community titles, how others see us and how we see ourselves, and when God looks at us I believe He sees in us the masterpiece He created us to be – uniquely made by the Creator for the display of His splendor. ❤

Isaiah 61:3, They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

 

 

 

 

The Photo Challenge

Years ago, I was asked by my friend, Robin, to be part of a challenge and post a photo of myself that I thought was beautiful. I literally cringed when I read the request and told her I hate having my photo taken. She said that’s WHY she wanted to include me in the challenge. She was curious as to my response.
 
Robin, I’ve never forgotten. It’s taken me these past years to decide how to respond. I’ve finally got my answer.
 
This is the photo I chose. I know. It misses the point of the challenge. I saw others’ photos and they were truly beautiful. I understand I was supposed to find a photo that I felt was flattering or that I simply feel represents me well. I may have missed the first goal, but the second hopefully one nails it.
 
* This photo is of my wrist. A wrist with a bone chip floating around in it from a fall 6 years ago that has had flare ups since the accident. It represents that I am broken.
 
* The sun damage represents I am scarred. My life hasn’t been easy, but it has never been forsaken by God and for that, the intangible scars I have are being used for His glory and my good.
 
* The bead bracelet is the one we made and wore in Guyana last year and I’ve never ever taken it off since. We wore them to communities, churches and prisons to share the Gospel story of Christ told in colors as we tied them on wrists to all we met. Black = our sin, life without Christ. Red = His blood shed for the atonement of my sins. White = my new life in Christ by accepting Him as my Savior. Yellow = the promise of heaven for all who have accepted Christ and Green = our growing relationship with Christ every day.
 
* My $10 watch because #1 – I don’t store up treasures on earth that we can’t take with us and #2 – time is short. This life is not my own. I surrendered it to Christ and it is for God’s glory however He wants to use it. Time is short and I don’t waste it.
 
* More than anything, I don’t need my face (or my body, oh please!) to be remembered. I want His features, the fruit of the Spirit, to be remembered in me.
 
I didn’t post a photo of “me” because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is also fleeting. As I age (which I will fight to the death) I want to become more beautiful in ways that time, age and experience cannot damage or destroy. I want to be a woman that, no matter what I look like, will be remembered for being beautiful because the light of Christ shone through me. And every time I blow it (embarrassingly often :O), let it be a beacon of hope to others that His grace and forgiveness is bigger and can cover any sin.
There ya go. A photo of broken & beautiful. Of scared and sacred. Of hope for today and for a time still to come and a passion to share this hope with others. ❤
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Making a local, global and eternal difference

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Twenty-five years ago, God told my husband, Bruce, and me His vision for our marriage in the most unexpected, nearly unbelievable, way. To skip to the spoiler, His message was that our marriage is to be an extension of His open hand.

Huh? Not sure what that meant.

In the last two and a half decades, we both graduated from college, celebrated weddings, retirements, births & baby dedications, buried loved ones, moved, changed jobs, honored anniversaries, graduated our firstborn from high school and sent him off to college (with two more teens right behind him), endured surgeries and illness, learned a lot of lessons and made a million memories along the way.

We did not understand what God meant all those years ago about being an extension of His open hand as we just did our best at living life.

We were cruising along to the rhythm of the American dream of the house with a picket fence, kids running barefoot on the lawn with the family dog, and saving for retirement while planning the next annual vacation.

Then, five summers ago God rocked our world through several very significant moments placing us at life-changing crossroads.

He was totally setting us up for a one-way ticket from a life and future we worked hard for to a life He had planned for us since before the beginning of time.

Cut to the chase again, and we found ourselves on our first mission trip (and first trip out of the country sans the Bahamas for our honeymoon) with our 10, 12, and 14 year old children in tow.

Are you kidding me? Bring our children? This mama bear was hyper-vigilant, anxiety-ridden, and fear-filled about doing this at all, much less as a family, much less to Africa. I felt utterly unequipped to handle being a chaperon with school to the local museum (stressful!) to taking my kids so far out of our comfort zone I can’t even describe the angst that churned inside me. Our trip leader stills says that he really didn’t think I’d actually get on the plane.

But I did! We did! And, our family has never been the same.

God blew our hearts away with a bursting love for this world in a way we could never conceive. He took us to four more countries around the world over the past four summers on mission, and we have never been so in love with a world He so loves.

This love continues to multiple in our hearts every single day as we laugh with, cry over and pray for those from every walk of life around the world who we now consider family.

Fast forward to this past December 29th. Bruce went in for simple shoulder surgery, which proved to be anything but.

After a full tear was reattached and repaired, he had some serious, and extremely painful, recovery waiting for him.

Four months into recovery, after not having been able to return to work due to the pain, he was unexpectedly laid off. We felt like we were kicked when we were down.

However, God reminded us of a conversation Bruce and I had a year ago. Bruce said to me, “I’ll be honest. I’m never going to have the courage to leave this job. It’s too stable.” To which I replied, “Since we’re being candid, I’ll never have the courage to tell you to jump. It’s too stable of a job. The most stable company you’ve ever worked for.”

Bruce then said, “If God ever wants us to make a change, He’s going to have to take this job from me.”

So when he came to me on a regular ol’ Tuesday morning, after almost nine years with the company, and sat down at our son’s desk and looked at me, I should not have been surprised when he said, “Well, God took it.”

We both knew exactly what he meant.

Ever since then, Bruce has looked for work.

Nothing.

He told me in the beginning of his job search there is nothing for him in this city.

Then came an interest in him, but it involved relocating. I’ll save that story for a blog post, but here we are. No relocating. No more job prospects.

All the while, he was meeting weekly with a dear friend in albeit a different kind of work situation, the end result was the same – unemployed.

They began meeting as encouragement to each other over coffee.

Like a good pot of coffee, their hearts began to percolate an idea that brought both of their long-term visions into one plan.

NEED POINT, Inc. was born.

Nothing quite like this exists in America, much less the world. As God has brought people across their path over the past few months, something beautiful began to take shape. Something neither of them could have ever imagined.

NEED POINT combines our team’s passions for both global and local missions in new and innovative ways that meets individual needs on a community level.

NEED POINT is a non-profit that connects people in need with people in local churches and faith-based businesses to help meet their needs. From needing lawns mowed, to helping with medical bills, to befriending the lonely and beyond, NEED POINT is the liaison to match the person in need with someone who can help meet it.

The vision is to expand this blueprint to local communities all over the world!

Curious as to how this all works? CLICK HERE to visit the website.

This grassroots movement is swelling as folks get excited about how they can be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Our team is stoked about this opportunity and trusting God for every step of the way.

Between global missions and NEED POINT, Bruce and I are beginning to understand what God meant by our marriage being an extension of His open hand. We only wish I didn’t take twenty years to get there. But, better late than never, right?! 🙂

We would LOVE to have you join us in the journey. Check out NeedPoint.org and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/needpoint. Let’s get going!

If you’re going to carry it…

 

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At the Lord’s command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry. ~ Numbers 4:49

Six weeks before leaving for Guyana, I reached into a closet and upon standing up my disc between the 4th and 5th vertebrae herniated and ruptured in an instant.

I have never felt that kind of painful sensation, nor ever been that scared of a physical issue. I was completely immobilized, frozen in debilitating pain.

Every breath. Every twitch. Every movement of my body shot agonizing pain through my lower back.

My very first thought…Oh no! Guyana!!!

My daughter and I had literally just returned from getting her four wisdom teeth extracted and she was on the couch unconscious and nonsensical. I could not pick up her pain meds at the pharmacy, change her gauze or even walk over to her.

It was one of the most helpless moments of my life.

Bounce around between a couple of urgent care visits and doctors and fast forward to the epidural spinal injection. That was new. Not a fan of the procedure, but it was well worth it.

All the while, time is counting down to our departure for Guyana. The plane ride, handling luggage, the long boat ride each way to the prison, countless hours squeezed into a van with over a dozen people, and stairs at the hotel all made me concerned I wouldn’t be able to physically handle this mission.

Each doctor gave me different pain meds, muscle relaxers and oral steroids. I was left with a bag full of prescriptions that I didn’t know what to do with, so I made a phone call.

Between the myriad of pills and reservations about physical limitations, I wanted to talk face-to-face with a spine doctor. I wanted his full attention.

I met with the doctor who gave me the spinal injection, carrying my bag full of prescriptions in tow. We went through each one and talked about plans A, B and C for using them in Guyana should the need arise.

We discussed physical scenarios and how to handle them. Then he said something that seared itself onto my heart. He was talking about my back, but as he was speaking, the Lord used those same words to talk to my heart.

Two voices were speaking to me at the same time, and as laser-focused as the steroid was injected into the tiny cavity around my disc, so God’s voice flooded my heart.

God had my full attention.

The doctor said, “If you’re going to carry something heavy, don’t hold it away from you like this. (He extended his arms straight out in front of him.) Carry it close to your heart, like this. (He brought his arms to his chest, hands pressing into his scrubs.)

I understood what the doctor was saying about the proper way to carry something heavy, like lifting with our legs and not our back. But, God used his words to teach me how to correctly carry the weight He has called me to carry- His burden for this world.

This was a much needed lesson.

I am a very guarded person – and not proud of it. What I’ve thought of as coping skills all these years is really a defense mechanism. The secret? Make the wall around my heart strong enough to withstand anything. Anything.

There is a cost to building this wall, I keep people at arm’s length. If I don’t let them get too close they can’t hurt me.

I’m all smiles on the outside, but inside I’ve got wall after wall locked down.

Don’t let anyone get close enough to hurt you, is what I’ve told myself for decades. It is a real struggle even with family and friends. When someone gets hurt enough as a child by caregivers and family they are supposed to be able to trust, it changes them. We don’t want it to, but it does.

However, God has given me His heart for missions. He took a broken, fearful, distrusting soul and poured His unconditional, insatiable love for all colors and creeds into this ol’ heart that I had lost hope would ever be whole.

Who knew that the glue God would use to put the pieces of this Humpty Dumpty back together would be His faithful, tender, merciful love.

His love for this world has become my love for it.

His passion to reach the unlovely, unwanted, and opposing has become my passion to share with them the Christ who came for all.

His energy and enthusiasm is the strength I rely on to complete the task.

His mercy makes me blind to baggage and regrets of those I serve.

Still, I wrestle with how close to let people in. My heart and soul are like a labyrinth that changes unpredictably depending on how emotionally safe I feel with someone.

But this time. Oh, but this time. God called me out when He called me to serve in Guyana. He exposed this raw nerve in my heart and called me to take a chance – not on those I would serve – but on Him.

Just let go. Open your hands. Open your heart. After all, you’re giving My love through you. It is I who has taken on the risk of being hurt and rejected. Not you, God seemed to say.

For the first time, His thought process made sense to me. It’s like I’ve known it in my head, but my heart couldn’t separate people’s rejection of God with their rejection of me.

My Father called me to obey and hold the burden of missions right up against my heart, not at arms length like I’ve always done.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:2

The result? I am a puddle. I melted in a way I’ve never allowed myself to be vulnerable with others before. It may not have always shown on the outside as we moved through our tasks of serving, but inside a new work was rapidly multiplying in my heart. I will never serve the same old way again. I am changed.

And as for family and friends, well, if we love others the way Christ loves the church, then it’s the same principle. If we are accepted, it is Christ in us that is accepted. If we are rejected, it is Christ in us who is rejected. I get it now.

Head knowledge only goes so far. God had to saturate my heart with His love for others to make me see what living in community really means. What giving of ourselves really looks like. What the cost of following Christ really feels like.

I am so grateful for a back injury that led to heart healing. For the rest of my life, I will never forget this lesson every time I carry something physically heavy, the right way.

Is His call to missions worth the risk? Absolutely. Is it overwhelmingly heavy? Absolutely.

I can’t get the faces of those sweet children, tired moms, skeptical teens and hungry prisoners out of my mind. I see them constantly. I can’t stop feeling the burden of their needs and the needs of the other countries we served.

Yes, the burden for missions is extremely heavy. But, when we carry it the proper way the load is lighter. When we pull the people’s needs close to our chest, we feel God’s heartbeat pulsing as His love sustains us in the task. It is the right, good way. It protects us and gives God the glory.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:29-30

My husband and I have surrendered to the call of missions, whatever that looks like, for the rest of our lives. It is a choice we’ve made to answer His call, pick up the heavy load and let it become part of our weight. Then again, what other choice is there really but to share Christ with others who are starving to death for Him standing right in front of us?

I am thankful God saw that I needed to learn how to carry the weight like David prayed in Psalm 86:11, Teach me your way, Lordthat I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. 

Amen.

Laser-focused

Last week, our family of five plus one stopped everything to go see The Drop Box.

Our oldest was still incredibly welted, red and itchy from his allergy testing. (Who knew he was soooooo allergic to dust mites! He scored a whopping 19 where the doc said a general allergic reaction would be around .5. Poor guy.) We bought popcorn for dinner (fun parents that we are 😉 ) and settled into our seats. I told my husband I’d have to eat it quickly, because it’d feel almost sacrilegious to chomp away during this kind of documentary.

The theater was sold out, so I’m glad we got there early.

For us, even though the movie takes place in South Korea, we were instantly transported back to all of the countries we’ve served. It’s the same, heartbreaking story over and over. The despair. Helplessness. Voicelessness. But…like with the ministries we served, Pastor Lee and his wife are not without hope.

Photo credit: David Kim

No matter the circumstance, every story has the same beginning…pain. However, what I love most about this ministry is that the moment a baby is received from the drop box, Pastor Lee immediately, I mean immediately, holds the baby tight and prays for him or her. I believe that this is the plot twist that changes the child’s story.

Plot twists don’t stop with prayer. They come in the form of medical help, counseling, food, water, clothing, shelter, an education, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to laugh with, and sometimes simply knowing someone in this world cares about them gives hope for another day.

As a woman, wife and mother, I have a strong sense to nurture. This is true for most women. We want to make things better. We will do it at cost to ourselves and not even think twice. However, this leads to physical, mental, spiritual and emotional fatigue if not kept in check.

Pastor Lee understands this about himself as well.

Leaving the theater, I felt both glorious in that this beautiful baby drop box ministry is happening in our world even at this second, and I felt heavy-burdened for the babies in the world who don’t have this option. My heart exploded with feeling overwhelmed at the millions and millions of children who cry themselves to sleep every night for as many reasons as their are children.

My heart wanted to burst as the nurturer in me raised up in the name of helping.

This week, our high school girls devotion group met like we do every week to study God’s Word. The topic in our continuing journey to discover what being a woman of noble character (Proverbs 31) looks like was staying focused.

Shiphrah and Puah were the women we studied. They were brave midwives who, as part of an underground network of Hebrew midwives, defied Pharoah’s edict to kill all Hebrew baby boys at birth. We talked about their tenacity to follow God even it meant risk to their own safety.

They feared God more than man. They obeyed God more than they obeyed man.

These midwives had a laser-focused calling.

I’m jealous.

Most days I feel like I’m on a small raft in the middle of a huge ocean of need and opportunity. Waves of emotion and passion to nurture in Jesus’ name toss my raft around like a rag doll. I feel like there is no wheel or sails to steer this one soul in a laser-focused direction.

Pastor Lee and his wife have their laser-focused calling. We can name many who do.

But, I am reminded that there is a place for everyone in ministry – even if the place’s destination continues to change.

It’s my most humble honor to serve on mission. Our family is a motley crew who has no idea what tomorrow looks like. We are broken people called to go to the broken.

Years ago, I sat in a sea of preschool moms listening to a testimony from the director of our preschool. She was in the middle of battling cancer. She specifically said, “Some may wonder why I am testifying to God’s goodness now. It seems appropriate to wait until I am past the cancer to give a praise report. But I am telling you now, in the middle of cancer, that God is good. Cancer doesn’t change that.”

Her words burrowed deep into my soul and I carry them with me daily.

God is good and He is enough.

Shiphrah and Puah knew it. Pastor Lee and his wife know it. Each of us who call Jesus our Savior know it. And knowing this truth is one way God qualifies the called.

It’s why the broken can go to the broken.

We don’t have to have a perfect life to reach others. We simply point them to the One who is perfect.

I often think about the prisoners we will meet. I wonder about who they are, but I don’t care an iota about what they’ve done. Who am I to pick up a stone and hurl it at them? I’ve got a rock garden with my name on it that reads guilty as charged.

But, I also know who sets the prisoner free. And as one who has been set free, even in the middle of brokenness, there is a testimony to share – God is good and Jesus is enough.

So whatever venue that looks like (though I’m quite certain it won’t be midwifery) we will continue to go where He leads, schlepping our broken, beautiful mess with us.

I’m learning that it’s Christ’s message that is laser-focused regardless of how, when, where, or to whom He calls us to share it.

 

2014 answered a lifelong question

*** This post may require a pot of coffee. 🙂 For those who make it all the way to the end, I hope it is a blessing. Happy New Year, Kristi ***

I told my friend the other day that I am itching to close 2014. I have a trigger finger on the calendar to turn the page to January 2015. I’m not one to want to hurry life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Typically I’m faulted with trying to squeeze too much out of a day.

This year, however, has taught me some lessons that have tested the core of my faith. It’s also revealed surprises that no one could have ever expected.

It’s known that we grow through conflict. In that spirit, here are ways in which I was given the opportunity to grow and have a lifelong question answered…Does God give us more than we can handle?

* 2014 began and ended in a medical facility.

This past January, I laid on a table, fully alert and awake while 27 incisions were made from my hip to my ankle to remove varicose veins. This was after previous vein clamping in both legs, which failed in one leg. Even with the best specialty doctor in the city performing the procedure, it was the most bar-barrack, brutal thing I’ve ever experienced. Thinking about it makes me cringe a year later. I will spare the details, but suffice it to say I went into a bit of shock during it. Afterwards, I even told the nurse the wrong city I was born in, and knew I was wrong, but couldn’t remember the right answer.

In my life, I’ve had all four wisdom teeth pulled (including four dry sockets as a result) fully awake and alert with nothing more than Novocain and headphones to drown out the drill. I’ve been through three long labors, the longest being 56 hours – 28 of them with contractions five minutes apart and 28 of them with contractions two minutes apart. My tonsils were removed when my firstborn was just eight weeks old and I was still postpartum. I’ve been rushed into surgery for an emergency appendectomy. I’ve been in two car accidents that totaled my cars: one head-on in which my car flew 20 feet in the air, and one t-boned on the driver’s side. I’ve felt the punch of the air bag as well as the crack of my head slamming into the window. I’ve had food poisoning so horrifically that it required a colonoscopy. I slipped off of a playground merry-go-round in motion and my leg got caught underneath and it drug me around until both the tibia and fibula bones snapped in my leg. I can’t count the sprains and twists in my ankles (I was quite the tomboy). I’ve had five surgeries in the past six years which has left over 38 scars on my body. The 39th being a squamous cancer dug out of me two months ago.

I know something about pain. I know physical trauma. And I can tell you this particular procedure was nothing like anything I just mentioned. The procedure itself is worth the results, but not being able to utilize a tranquilizer of any kind was a war that raged against the core of my sanity. And, this happened just two months after major abdominal surgery.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Move past that brutal winter and spring bloomed.

I was taking my dog for a walk on a sleepy Monday morning. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Suddenly, my ear picked up on something that set off an internal alarm. I didn’t know what it was, but something definitely wasn’t right. I stopped and listened. What were just people sounds (which I thought were either kids playing or workmen) turned into screams for help.

The next thing I know, I was rounding the corner of a neighbor’s home (whom I didn’t know) only to find the woman rushing toward me with her arm extended out toward me. She pleaded in a deep voice with desperation I have never heard, “Help me!

She was missing three fingers.

I didn’t know how it happened, but she needed immediate help. I have never been trained for emergency response (except infant CPR when I was pregnant) and my knee-jerk reaction was to call 911. It was just her and me. She was in shock. I was in shock. It was horrible. She couldn’t give me her name or age and I didn’t even know her street number. I needed help in a major way.

She told me that the lawnmower had cut them off. I’ve never, and never want to again, see anything like what I saw. Ever.

I looked up and saw an SUV driving towards us on our sleepy street. I literally jumped in front of it (what was I thinking!) and slammed my hands on the window. I demanded (in as pleasant of a tone as possible) for the man to stop. He stared at me wild-eyed as I told him the situation. He pulled over, thank you God. I was still on the phone with 911 as instructed. Shortly after, the woman’s boyfriend drove up. So here these two men, the woman and by now another neighbor were looking for her fingers in the yard, the gutter, in the mower, while I obeyed the 911 operator’s instructions to stay in the street to help flag down the EMS vehicles which were en route. I was still trying to get her name and age.

In the minutes before anyone else was on the scene, the weight and brevity of responsibility for this neighbor who couldn’t help herself, collapsed heavily on my shoulders. I knew what could happen if she didn’t receive the medical care she needed. I knew time was not on her side. I’ve never been in that position before.

Our family has endured multiple medical crises: a Home Depot incident that put my three year-old in an ambulance with stitches deep in his forehead; our oldest son was impaled by a broken hurdle on the track at school leaving a 1×1″ right angle scar on his chin; again our oldest suffered a severe concussion while playing soccer in Kenya when on mission for which he is still being treated almost four years later; a light saber snafu between brothers knocked out our youngest’s front teeth requiring emergency orthodontics; a playground accident at school in which our youngest got clothes-lined by a thick metal bar square in the head. I could go on with sports injuries, home accidents – we basically have every medical apparatus available to the general public including surgical boots, slings, braces, every size of crutches, etc. I can’t even make this stuff up.

However, I had never been in such a moment where I was alone to deal with it. Like standing in the eye of a hurricane, I could see the urgency and seriousness of the moment swirling around me, yet inside I was calm and stayed focused on the task of getting her the help she needed – all with my dog’s leash tangled around my legs.

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After the ambulance arrived, I asked the EMS worker if there was anything more I could do to help. Thinking I was just a curious onlooker, he encouraged me to move along. Next thing I know I am walking once again on our quiet street, as if nothing ever happened. I didn’t know what to think and questioned if the whole thing even happened. I turned around and gazed at the ambulance and knew indeed it was real.

Nightmares plagued me for days. Shock numbed my waking hours. An inner tremor reverberated through my body every moment making it difficult to even hold a pen. But, I knew the thing I needed to do most was to walk by her home again. I needed to do it to get past it. So I leashed up my dog and off we went. As I approached her home I began to shake uncontrollably. But I kept walking. The minute my feet passed by her driveway I turned and stared at the place where it all started. My mind’s eye saw her running toward me all over again and I began to cry. Tears streamed down my face and I wanted to turn around. I passed by the place where the lawnmower sat and people searched. I breathed deeply and kept walking. Finally, I had passed her home that had yellow ribbons tied around her trees out of love and care for her.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Summer came and our family embarked on a mission trip to Ecuador.

A beautiful country with even more beautiful people. We’d been going on mission for three years prior, but this time was different. The other times we went with our church. I felt safe and sound, snug in the middle of a circle of capable, loving people who were veterans on mission. I was comfortable. Very comfortable even in uncomfortable, and at times dangerous, situations.

This time, however, God led us to serve with an organization we didn’t know, with people we didn’t know. It’s one thing to go myself, but it’s another thing to take our children, even if they are teenagers. The week before we left I came down with a horrible upper respiratory infection. The team leader called us from out-of-state to check in and I could hear the surprise in her voice when she heard my lack of voice. I was so so sick. As I laid in bed I stared at the ceiling asking God why. I needed to get on a plane in a matter of days and have flown with a sinus infection before – no fun. I didn’t want to get my team or those we’d be serving sick.

I crawled to the doctor for any help she could give and she prescribed for me an inhaler. I’d never used one and was wary of its side effects as other family members use them so I am familiar with them. She promised me it would be okay. In the meantime, my primary doctor was trying to figure what was wrong with me because for months I couldn’t stay awake and was known to take 4 hour naps during the day. Add that to a list of symptoms and he suggested sleep apnea. No, not me. That’s what other people have. The sleep doctor tested me and sure enough!

A week before leaving for Ecuador, still sick, I received my c-pap machine.

Touching down in Quito, the minute I stepped off the plane it hit me. Ten thousand feet of altitude slapped me right in the lungs. I’ve never been at that altitude, but thankfully had researched altitude sickness before we left.

As quick as I could, I whipped out my new inhaler and puffed away. The c-pap machine was my lifeline during this mission. Without these two things I would not have been able to stay. By the time we left Quito at the end of the mission, I felt like I was having a heart attack. The headache, tightness of chest, brain fog – it felt like a giant was slowly squeezing the life out of me in his merciless hand. It was claustrophobic to mind and body. As our driver passed by several urgent cares and a hospital, I nearly asked him to stop at one.

Instead, I sat back, closed my eyes and breathed long, slow breaths. Even though the mission was over, we weren’t headed to the airport. Our family was headed to the rain forest.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* The end of summer drew near, and on a hot, typical day our day turned out to be anything but typical.

As Providence would have it, our family was involved in a tragedy no one saw coming. Someone we know committed suicide, and our family happened to be first on the scene to comfort the man’s daughter who had literally just found him. It was surreal. Bound to an obligation I had, I sent my kids to comfort her, not knowing this was the case. I thought it was a heart attack or stroke. I was in a situation that could not pull me away, so as a juggled this situation and my kids going to the need, my heart split in two. Watching my daughter literally hold up his daughter in grief while they pulled his body from the car physically made my heart hurt. Watching a slew of EMS vehicles come and go for hours sent me into a tailspin. Watching from afar my kids be so closely involved left me numb and nauseous.

However, at one point (still tied to my obligation) I asked our youngest to get our other two. They had seen enough after an hour of trying to help. He replied, “I can’t interrupt when they’re praying.” “How do you know they are praying?” I asked as I turned around. My eyes beheld one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Our two teens were sitting on the ground in a circle with the wife and daughter, arms locked shoulder to shoulder, praying. Later, our daughter told me it was our son’s idea to pray.

I had nightmares for weeks. Gasping for air in the middle of the night, I woke up crying in a cold sweat. What we saw. What we knew. The pain of that day is inexpressible. I am without words. It rocked my faith to the core. I’ve lived my entire life based on hope that is rooted in faith. It’s how I’ve survived my own personal tragedies.

On this day, hope lost. Like watching the hero die in a movie, I kept waiting for this person we know to get up. To be okay. He didn’t. He wasn’t going to be okay. Hope lost. I couldn’t wrap my head around it for months. I cried through every worship song at church and my prayers were short one-way chats with God at best.

It would have been so much easier to turn a blind eye that day, or close our eyes in fear and ignore what was literally in front of us. I wrestled the mama bear inside me who wanted to protect and shield my kids from the harsh realities of the world.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Fall came, and it brought a personal heartache like none I have ever experienced.

It is so deep. So raw. Bleeding. I was neither prepared for this then nor now. It put me in a position I never imagined. To make decisions I never thought I’d have to make. I was forced to live a reality that I wanted to run from and hide. It was a sadness and loss like I’ve never experienced. Anger and depression warred in my soul. I became non-functioning. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or perform any daily tasks required of me. I lost purpose for my life. I felt completely untethered to this world. Like being caught in the movie Inception, but without a toggle, I couldn’t tell what was real anymore because everything I knew to be so with this part of my life revealed an opposite truth – and I couldn’t process it.

Instead of being calm in the eye of the hurricane like before, this time I was swept away with the wind and rain and lightening and thunder as it threw my heart around and around and around in its bands. I’ve never been so emotionally bruised and wounded.

I wish I could say the storm has passed, but it hasn’t. It has changed, but it’s hasn’t passed. The bands of the hurricane spit me out, and now I sit in the pouring rain among the rubble of what I thought I once knew as normal life. The rain pounds, the wind whips. I sit with my head between my knees and wait for it to pass.

Tempted to once again ignore the situation and conjure up a false reality through vices which lead to dead ends, I stay in the storm.

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What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Recently, our teens’ high school received multiple death threats.

It was all the talk to see who would still attend school on the day targeted by the perpetrator. The general consensus among parents at large was to keep their kids home. Social media comments I read gave the attitude of, “Good parents keep their kids home.” But, our family didn’t see it that way. First of all, we left it up to our 18 year-old to attend or not, after all, he’s a legal adult. Second, we spent hours discussing the issue. I firmly believe Psalm 139 which tells us that every one of our days were written in God’s book before any of them ever happen. If it’s not our son’s time to go, then nothing and no one in all of the world can change that. If it is his last day, nothing can prevent that either unless God changes the plan.

Here’s an even more shocking statement – I believe it was an important day for Christians to be at school, so those who don’t have a hope and salvation in Christ can talk to someone who does. They also need to be front line to be hands and feet of Jesus. Does that mean we shove our kids into harm’s way? Not at all. The FBI, local police and school system were all over this thing.  The day before K-9 units and bomb squads scoured the property. Officers were stationed on sight throughout the night. There were 20 officers posted on campus during the school day. Doors were guarded. Halls were monitored. This school was probably safer than any in the county because everyone was on high alert includes teachers and students.

Our son was adamant about going. He wanted to defend his freedom and not let anyone else dictate his life through fear and intimidation, not for one day. That morning, I prayed over him and anointed his head with oil. We read Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24 en route to school. We chatted about light stuff. As I dropped him off, it was obvious he was one of a few there. In fact, the school had a 13% attendance that day. As I drove away, I once again gave my son to our Lord as a tear trickled down my cheek.

* This week, while waiting on my husband’s shoulder surgery to wrap up as I sat in the waiting room, I thought about this year.

I am desperate to turn the calendar and close 2014 forever. I prayed that God would make sense of it all, because heaven forbid these situations that confronted me this year would be for nothing except to grate on my last nerve and send me to the end of my sanity.

Here’s the question I’ve always wrestled with: Does God give us more than we can handle?

Looking back at any of these 2014 situations, I get tangled up with the notion that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Read Elijah’s words in 1 Kings 19:3-5,

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep…

Or Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8,

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.

David spoke often in Psalm about suffering. Psalm 88:2-4,

May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.

Job also had a voice in handling the hard stuff. Job 30:15-17,

Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud. And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.

And Job 6:8-16,

“Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life! Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. “What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?

But what about Isaiah 42:3,

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Or 2 Corinthians 4:7-9,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.

Then there is 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is OFTEN taken out of context (ug!). Can we agree to remove this Scripture from this discussion? It’s not applicable no matter how many times it’s misunderstood.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

So which is it? Does God give us beyond what we can bear or not?

The answer came slowly this year, experience by experience. I have always believed He does so that we only boast in his strength. Others believe He won’t. The experiences I’ve had in 2014 pushed me beyond my limit, beyond what I could bear, so far as I knew.

That’s the key. Bob Marley’s quote, “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice” is true, to a point. So is my belief that it is God’s strength in us that gets us through the tough stuff as in Philippians 4:13,

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (KJV)

In a believer’s life, these two work in tandem. It is Christ’s strength in us, and that strength is there because of a relationship with the One who gives it. There were times this year when I was pushed beyond my limit. I came to the end of myself. But, God’s strength was there. It’s not like His strength was some turbo boost that kicked in when I needed it. It was there all along.

How? Because the deeper I relation with Him, the more He becomes in me and the less I am. So in fact it is His strength in me that is working, though it is working through my words and actions.

Like a glass filled with water (me), oil (God) slowly poured in it eventually fills the cup. The water spills out. It’s not that we lose who we are and were created to be. We don’t lose our uniqueness, gifts, strengths and weaknesses, it is that God is glorified in them and through them.

Uniqueness: Psalm 139:13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 

 And 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 27,

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Gifts & Strengths: Romans 12:6-8,

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Weaknesses: 2 Corinthians 12:8-10,

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take (the thorn) away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I am able to see His strength working in each of the scenarios from 2014:

* With the varicose vein procedure –

Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

His strength produced a new mental stamina and perseverance in me that wasn’t there before. Wanting to jump off of the table and run, I remained still and let the procedure happen. God’s logic and common sense about what is best in the long run for the health of my legs, thus how much I can do with them for the rest of my life, overcame my irrational mindset.

* In the experience with my neighbor and her lawnmower tragedy –

Hebrews 13:20-21, Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

His calm made me calm. No matter how badly I wanted to run away from the situation, His love for a woman I didn’t know overpowered my selfishness that wanted to run. God equipped me for helping with this gruesome task in ways only He could have done with a love that overflowed from His heart into mine.

Driving by her home a couple of weeks ago, I saw her hanging evergreen wreaths on her windows for Christmas. It was beautiful and healing to watch her life move past the incident and see her accept change and a new normal. Having learned more about how God has worked in her life since then (even weaving this tragedy into something beautiful in her life), I can appreciate her willingness to accept change in on a much deeper level. She has been an encouragement to me to accept change in my life.  God’s hand was on her hand that day and in His own incredible way He healed us both.

* In Ecuador –

Deuteronomy 1:29-31, Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

As I laid in bed sick as a dog before we left, I felt like God had forgotten about me. Why in the world would He let me get sick a week before a mission trip we had planned for 6 months? I was angry. Looking back on it, if I had not gotten sick, I never would have been given an inhaler, which was vital to combating altitude sickness. I believe He also allowed my sleep apnea symptoms to get so severe I was forced to go to the doctor (something I had procrastinated about for months) so I would have the c-pap machine in time to travel.

There is no possible way I could have stayed on mission without these tools. The altitude crippled me – who knew?

So what I saw as two major inconveniences in my life at the time, the illness and sleep apnea diagnosis, were actually blessings in disguise. God was paving the path for me to get to Ecuador – and stay there. When we’re in the middle of a trial, it’s almost impossible for us to see any good that can come of it. We can’t, because we can’t see the future. But God, who invented time and is already in the future as much as He is in the present, sees the whole, big picture.

I learned through this to not spend my strength cursing the trial, but praising the One who I trust to bring me through it (one way or another) and can even use it for my good. How’s that for God’s crazy economy?

Second, He strengthened me for the task of serving others in my weakness so, like Paul, I can tell others who gets the glory – and it’s not me.

In addition to being able to accomplish the mission’s goals, when we drove past all of the medical help and deep toward the rain forest, God had awesome surprises in store for us. He showed off His majesty in plants prehistorically large and jaw-droppingly beautiful. He showed off His creativity in creatures we’ve never seen. The day we hiked on our own in the rain forest was liberating like no other experience I’ve had. It was mesmerizing. Peaceful. And we felt a little closer to heaven.

Serving with an unknown team, in an unknown land, and venturing into unknown territory cut the apron strings of fear that had me seeing the future with tunnel vision. Now I can look at the big wide world, and all of its possibilities, and give God open hands, willing feet and a heart ready to do whatever He asks.

* Regarding the suicide –

Isaiah 40:28-31, Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I watched our son dash away from me barefoot as he ran to help them that day. The same bare feet that used to run into the backyard to play. The same bare feet that curled up on the couch to watch Saturday morning cartoons. The same bare feet I used to wash in the sink and cuddle up into a towel. This also goes for our daughter. All the hugs we’ve given her over the years. The hugs she’s received from teachers, friends and family, she was extending to someone who needed to be held.

Our son left a child and came back a man. I saw that he was able to minister to others in their time of need. What he has learned his entire life was put into action that day. Our daughter did the very thing we’ve reared her to do – love others. For me as a mom, it wasn’t a moment of pride. It was a moment of great humility that God would allow me to see two childhoods come to fruition into two young adults who know how to, and are not afraid to, literally run to the need. I count myself immeasurably blessed to have been able to witness it.

However, I couldn’t reconcile hope losing. I understand hope loses every day in many ways. Marriages divorce. Diagnoses stamp death sentences. Job prospects fall through. Our best still isn’t good enough and we watch dreams fade into unrealized memories. This experience was a raw, unfiltered, tangible expression of hope losing. Permanent. Unchanging. Irreversible. It sucker-punched me.

I thought about my last brief chat with this man and wondered if there was anything different I could have said or done. But, without any warning signs visible, how would we know? Oh the guilt.

Trying to work through this was kryptonite to my soul until God scooped my heart up off the floor and held it in His hands. He let me grieve. He gave me time to heal. In doing so, He strengthened me from the inside out.

That strength turned into a fiery passion to helps others. To be more aware of people in my life whether family and friends or those standing in front of my in the grocery store. He strengthened me with an urgency to help in ways that show His love to a broken world. He brushed me off, tied my running shoes and said, “Run. Run to the need.” Just like my children did, without hesitation.

* Trusting God in perilous times –

Isaiah 41:10, Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

It was a normal Saturday when social media lit up like the 4th of July. The threats made against the school were flying all over the place. How does a mother allow her teenager to go to school under such conditions? Again, knowing the authorities had all hands on deck, my mind drifted to other parts of the world in those hours leading up to school.

Thoughts of Christians in northern Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and places that don’t make the nightly news. I’ve read so many stories of Christians living 24/7 under imminent threat. Their danger is at their doorstep, yet they are not swayed.

We were faced with a possible threat. The major players were “what if” scenarios that ran through our minds like a movie in fast-forward. Taking a step back, the fact is there is more of a chance of something happening to my children on the way to and from school every single day than this far out possibility.

Our pastor (now retired) once told me a profound truth about living in this kind of fear. He said, “People will always give up freedom for safety.” That thought terrifies me because it is a vicious circle that spirals down toward total loss of freedom in the end.

This situation our family was faced with made us confront our fears of pain and suffering, loss and trauma. But in reality, every day is a risk. It’s quite amazing we all make it to midnight, frankly.

This situation made us face our own mortality and what price we are willing to pay for our Lord. It was a heavy weekend.

My strength came from Ephesians 6:12 because these threats were pure evil –

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We used wisdom, logic, common sense and mostly prayer to come to a conclusion about our son going to school that day. Doing so, we could wholeheartedly support his decision knowing he had sought God’s will and wisdom.

This, coming from an overprotective mother who would do anything for her children, was surely walking in God’s strength, not my own. My human nature wanted to lock him in his bedroom, far away from any danger.

But, can we do that? Can we prevent all danger at all times from reaching our children? No. There is trust in the One who made them and has plans for them (Jeremiah 29:11).  Letting go is the hardest thing a mother can do. It goes against everything in us no matter what we are releasing them to. At some point, parents must relinquish control and let the One who made them, lead them.

* Fall’s avalanche –

Psalm 34;18, The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I could ask never-ending “why’s” about this. Everything in 2014 combined leading up to this didn’t compare to this. A landslide of the heart. A sinkhole of spirit. An avalanche of the mind. An abyss of the future.

Still, God keeps telling me, “Do it anyway. You aren’t allowed to give up. It’s bigger than you, but it doesn’t have to be stronger than you.” What does that look like in reality? How does one live every day like this? From where does one draw strength to walk this journey?

Indeed, it is this experience that has taught me the most about God giving us what we can or can’t handle. It feels like everything else were precursors preparing me for this.

And that’s the point. One experience in life leads us to the next. We will grow stronger or weaker through them, depending on whose strength we rely on. God gives us things in life that do seem too much to handle from our perspective. But to He who created us, doesn’t He know us better than ourselves? Can we trust Him to know how much we can take?

And can’t the amount of our strength change? Like in exercising when muscles get stronger and bigger, so life’s circumstances are opportunities to grow strength in us via faith in Christ who carried the weight of the world on His shoulders by way of the cross.

The tricky part is realizing whose strength it is in the moment. We are finite and so is our strength. I’ve often read Habakkuk 1:11, Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—guilty people, whose own strength is their god. It haunts me because I am often guilty of this, finding strength in my strength.

In John’s words in John 3:30, He must increase, but I must decrease.

As I decrease and God increases in my life, it is His strength which infuses and vitalizes me. When we feel handling life’s hardest trials are impossible, we are reminded they are not:

Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mark 10:27, Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Luke 18:27, Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 

So on our own, no, we can’t bear all things. But with God, there is nothing we can’t endure. Our history with Him are stepping stones on our faith journey, and as we look back and see He was faithful, we can look forward and know He will be faithful.

Isaiah 40:29, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

And in His power, can’t God even turn our weaknesses around and make them strengths?

Hebrews 11:32-34, And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames,and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (emphasis mine)

At the end of a tumultuous year, I answer the question with a question – Does God give us more than we can handle? How do we really know how much we can handle?

It is He who knows us best. It is He who knows the why’s behind the doubts and is the strength that overpowers our fears. He gives us His strength in infinite ways – wisdom, courage, love, compassion, mercy, tenacity, endurance, perseverance, hope, joy, peace, readiness, self-control, determination, gentleness, humor, and even physical strength to face today.

When we lose ourselves in His goodness and faithfulness, forfeiting our own selfishness and self-righteousness, we find the fabric of our strength in He who knitted us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

We are one. Inseparable. Forever intertwined together in a dance that lessens me and increases Him until I am transparent for His glory.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

1 John 4:9-10, This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It’s not about who I am or what I’ve done. It’s about who Christ is and what He did for me – and you. God is love, and this love is irresistible. It makes the journey worth it. Moreover, He is the reason for the journey. He is the journey.

From the first time He said, “Follow Me,” I did so as a baby crawls on the floor with no understanding of what I was really doing or where I was going or why. Now, three decades later of following Him, I understand a little more each day what that means. Requires. Costs. But, the journey we are on together is one I wouldn’t miss for all the world.

God may test my strength, faith and endurance, but He’s also there every moment to infuse me with more of Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. We may face trials, hardships and temptations from the enemy, and the sheer brokenness of this world, but we are never alone on the path when walking with the Lord.

One unexpected place He led me to this summer was a childhood dream of visiting the Grand Canyon. This summer, nine family members embarked on a whirlwind trip to visit American landmarks. The Grand Canyon was at the top of the list.

Our family was in the middle of a mule ride on the rim of the Canyon when I looked up and saw the most amazing sight. What do you see in this photograph I took?

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I see a heart shaped by clouds and clay. Right there, on the back of a mule in the middle of nowhere, God overwhelmed with His words in Psalm 139:7-8,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

And Romans 8:38-39,  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 23:6 assures us,

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back? Following the Savior described in Philippians 2:6-11, 

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For the rest of my life, I will continue to answer His call, “Follow Me” because He loved me first. We will do this thing together, with His strength as my own, as I wait patiently for the day I see God face-to-face and dwell in His house forever. Will you join me in the journey?