The lunchbox

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The account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is renown.  From preschool to the pulpit, this historical event has been told and retold for the glory of God.  However, there is someone in this true story that remains a mystery. Someone who has always captivated my curiosity.  Since God has chosen this season for our family to travel on global mission to Kenya, Ukraine and now this year’s mission, the mystery of the unnamed person takes on a new light to me.

I don’t want to take away one ounce of awe and wonder at what Jesus did that day in this post.  In fact, the goal is to continue to make much of Him – albeit differently than I’ve heard before about this passage of Scripture.

Read with me John 6:1-13

6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias),and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

We read of several people involved in this awesome account – except one.  The person who made the little boy’s lunch – presumably his mother, but even if it were his father or grandparent or sibling, the message is still the same.

Someone took the time to do two things for this little boy.  One, they made time to let him go hear Jesus.  We don’t know his age, but perhaps there were chores he could have been doing or he simply could’ve played with his friends. Someone let him go hear Jesus teach.

Two, they were forward-thinking and packed him a lunch so he would be equipped to stay for as long as Jesus was teaching.

There are so many unanswered questions like…

* When Andrew brought the boy and his lunch into the solution, was his mother standing right there, too, so close to Jesus and the disciples?  Probably not.  The 5,000 headcount refers to men.  Women and children not withstanding.  I would guess they sat on the fringe of where the men sat.

* Who prepared the fish for him?  That seems like a task an adult would have done.

* Who taught him to share?  Notice the boy didn’t put a fight about turning over his lunch.  I have two boys, and let me tell you when they are hungry – they are hungry and looking for food to consume.  So, if everyone else was already hungry, wasn’t he, too?

* Was he alone, or did he have siblings or friends with him?  If he had siblings with him, would not they have had a lunch, too?

Hmm.  My mind wanders to endless curiosities (it drives my family crazy sometimes. :))  Back to the point.

Someone, let’s assume it was his mother by what we know of family dynamics back in that time period, prepared that little boy for the long haul.  She packed him a lunch and gave him permission to go.

Traveling on mission with our children, I can relate a lot to this mom.

* Jesus is irresistible.  If He were coming to town, you’d better believe I’d have my kids there quicker than any music concert or midnight movie premier.  But, these days He works differently.  He isn’t seen on a grassy mountainside, but He is very much still teaching and performing miracles.  I don’t want my kids to miss a single moment they were destined to be a part of.

* Our children’s “lunchboxes” are crafted from the times we’ve poured Christ into their lives via prayer, conversation, Bible study, attending church, serving for Him, buying them devotionals, dedicating them as babies, and encouraging their faith in both subtle and direct ways in their 24/7/365.  We try hard not to take any minute for granted, and do what we can to spur them on in their faith – even when that means we show our weaknesses and frailties.

* We let them go.  For now, they go on mission with us (and sometimes without us, though well chaperoned). We allow experiences that are uncomfortable – even undesirable – if it means they meet Jesus in that moment. Our culture is dangerously soft in all ways.  We are consumed with the idolatry of comfort.  We want to play, eat and do whatever we want to.  Hard work is nearly obsolete in the generation behind us.  Example, (and this isn’t even for hard work – just plain work) I was in the grocery store recently when I walked up to the checkout clerk an asked him to page my husband since we didn’t have our phones with us and I needed his help.  There wasn’t a soul around and this teenage guy had nothing to do but stand there and wait for someone to check out.  He looked at me, without blinking, and said, “I could, but I just don’t want to.  If you could go up to customer service that’d be great.”  Infuriating, right?

One of the biggest disservices parents of my generation are doing is trying to get their kids to believe life is easy, they should be rewarded for nothing, and they should have their way every time.  When the real world slaps them silly whether it be in college, at their first job interview, or when they are evicted for not paying rent because they don’t have a job, they will feel not only defeated, but betrayed – by their parents.  Why didn’t you tell me.  Teach me.  Warn me.  Show me, are thoughts rolling around in their heads as our teens are setting new records of stress, drug addition, suicide, drinking, nervous breakdowns, burnout and prescription drug dependency.  I dread becoming old and depending on this generation to take care of me by way of voting on sketchy laws, working in nursing homes and other places I may need their help, and respecting the elderly in general.

No, I am not afraid to let my children have appropriately uncomfortable experiences like when our youngest couldn’t sleep on the long flight to Kenya.  It was hard to watch him not be able to settle down, but he survived.  Or when we were served food in Kenya that we had no idea what it was, and I looked at our daughter across the table with my mother’s eyes staring and silently said, “Smile.  Eat it.  Be thankful.”  We Americans have no idea how rude it would have been to say to the people who sacrificed their own food and poverty-level earnings to cook for us, Oh, my child won’t eat this, or doesn’t like this.  Do you have something else?  Not only does that give Christ a black eye as His ambassador, but it deeply harms cultural relations as Americans are viewed in a selfish, rude light.  I teach my children to be thankful for what they are given, because I know how it feels to work hard on a meal to which a young guest casually replies, I don’t eat that.  

I wanted to shout Amen! when our pastor said he doesn’t understand why parents are afraid to ask their 13 year-old to take out the garbage.  On mission, our kids must carry their weight even more than when we’re home.  Why?  It’s not because we are mean parents, it’s because we’re all asked to carry our own weight, and it’s hard work.  We’re all tired.  We’re all hungry.  We do help them out, but that is different from saving them every time they’re asked to do a job they don’t want to do or are tired of doing.  Teamwork – yes!  Enabling – no.

Why go through all of this anyway?  Bruce and I have a few thoughts on this for our children:

(1) More than anything, we want our children to follow God wherever He leads.  Toughening them now helps equip them for the future God has for them.  It also helps them erase limits and believe the impossible with God.  If anyone had told me even 3 years ago we’d being going  on global missions, I would have laughed!  I never want our kids to live within self-imposed boundaries that have held me captive my entire life.

(2) We want them to position themselves for God’s work.  That little boy with the 2 fish and 5 barley loaves made his way through the crowd directly to the inner circle of Jesus and the disciples.  We want our children to have a front-row seat to what Jesus is doing.

(3) We want them to be a part of whatever Jesus is doing – more than an onlooker, we want them to be in the middle of it.  Taking them on mission now equips them for mission trips they may take when they are grown or any ministry He has for them.  We want them to be comfortable jumping in with both feet.

(4) We want them to recognize the needs of others and want to be a part of the solution.  The little boy knew everyone was hungry because mostly likely he was hungry, too.  He surrendered his lunch for the good of the cause.  We want our kids, in the same way, to surrender their time, energy and resources to the cause of Christ without hesitation or reservation.

(5)  The days are evil and will become more so as the clock of history winds down.  Take a look at the snapshot Paul gives Timothy of what humanity will look like in the last days:

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited,lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (NIV)

(The Message) Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

(King James Version) This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

No matter how we slice and dice the translation, did your eyes glaze over this list like mine did simply because it doesn’t phase us?  This is our normal.  This is what we know.  Imagine how shocking it must have been for Timothy to read it.  How his eyes must have widened and a gasp heard under his breath while a cold chill ran down the back of neck as he read these “terrible” things.  Yet, I read it and say with a sarcastic tone, “…And…so what?” because I am desensitized by its commonness.

No one knows when the sun will rise for the last time, but we want our children to be fully aware of the times, making the most of every opportunity. (Ephesians 5:15 – 16, Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.)

Jesus said it best in Matthew 10:16, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Missions certainly gives a lot of practice with this!

(6) We want to teach our children to look for Christ in the crowd, to follow where He leads, to be part of the solution, and believe His miracles as all of this helps strengthen their foundation of faith.

When on mission, God’s presence is real in a very different way than in our normal grind.  He’s still there in the every day, but too often either we forget to look for Him because we are busy spinning on our hamster wheels, or we fail to see Him because we are positioned toward the back of the fighting line.  Yes, God gives our kids opportunities in their every day to take a stand for Him, serve Him and seek Him (they have AMAZING witnessing stories they share with us at school and other places of how God sets divine appointments), but ask anyone on mission and they will say the same…spiritual battles are very in your face on mission.  The more we teach our children while they are growing about what spiritual battles look like, and how to fight them in Jesus’ Name, the more they will be ready to fight them as an adult when they have left the nest.

There is a whole lot to learn packed in this one account of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  Today, we looked at one of the people whose name is omitted.  The anonymous lunch packer working for the benefit of their child.

This reminds me of God’s promise to David regarding Solomon in 1 Chronicles 17:11,

When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.

He was referring to all that Solomon would do after David.

Relating this to our children, we seek not that they build their own kingdom, but that they are part of building the Kingdom of God by way of going into all nations as commissioners for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).  If you ask Bruce, his mantra is this – I want our kids to do more for Christ than we’ll ever do in our lifetime!  

Our lives were half over before we caught the vision of global missions.  Our kids already have such a huge head start on us!  Yeah!  When we asked them to pen their thoughts on what missions means to them, something our youngest wrote sums this point up best…

“Now that I have both experiences in more rural countries and more westernized countries, I feel better equipped to be able to evangelize in most cultures.”

He is merely a tween.  I get teary every time I think about how God is equipping them both for today and for their futures.  It’s so exciting to be a part of it!

I am grateful for the person who packed that boy’s lunch and let him go, and in doing so has greatly encourage me to do the same.  To meet this Man, Jesus Christ, that is crazy in love with the world – even those who have never heard His name…yet.

We will continue to pack their lunchboxes and let them go meet Jesus for as long as God allows.  This may be across the street, across town, or across the globe.

I want to do everything I can as a parent to position them for miracles that still happen today.  I want them to see Jesus up close and personal – within arm’s reach.  To hear His voice, know His smell, and catch His passion for helping others.  I want our kids to be so close to Jesus that they see His smile as He watches onlookers be amazed at His power.  I want them to be so close to Him that they hear Him laugh under His breath as people see Jesus with fresh eyes that He loves them, cares for them, and wants to help them.

Any of us would agree that if we had been the parent on duty that day, we would have wanted our child exactly where this little guy was – not at home or with friends or in the back of the crowd.  We have to believe this moment changed this little boy’s life.  It’s still changing lives today.  He carried this moment for the rest of his life saying, It was my lunch.  Mine.  Jesus used my lunch to feed 5,000 people!  Changed indeed.

Changed is what Bruce and I desire for our kids.  We want them to shoot far beyond the American dream, overcome their obstacles, and seek God with a passion that keeps them pursuing Him for the long haul. Through taking them on mission, we provide the lunchbox and let them go.  God packs the miracles.  What an honor it is to watch it unfold.

When reading our son’s words again above, I think I share the same smile as the mom who packed the boy’s lunch that day.  As a mom, she was busy.  She could’ve played this out a hundred different ways, but she chose to pack a lunch and send him to go to Jesus where He was – on a mountainside.

God’s given each of us parents a lunchbox to pack for our children. How will we use it?

Goodbye, Hello

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people… Galatians 6:9-10

This week has been filled with an array of emotions.  Some have been great like when something really cool happened to one of our children at school.  Some have been really low as we mourn the loss of a dear friend.

This friend was one of a kind.  He lived an exceptional life of service to the Lord and was an inspiration to many. Although he was elderly, he seemed timeless to me.  He was a staple at church and in his faith.  The world has lost a godly man.

The night before his celebration of life service, I sat in a room by myself and cried wept.  My heart spilled tears down my cheeks over the thought of never praying with, or enjoying the conversation of, this man again this side of heaven.  He was like a grandfather to me.

On the day of his service, I squandered my time, procrastinating the inevitable shower I needed.  I delayed his service as long as possible, which nearly made me miss it.  I just couldn’t bring myself to get ready and go. Going means goodbye – and I didn’t want to say goodbye to him.

I really dreaded going.  I’ve buried many people I love, and I loved this man.  Everyone did. He was family to my family.  My heart is broken.

I expected the service to run its course, then my oldest child and I would leave and muster the energy to return to our normal grind – though normal is the last thing that the day felt like.  However, one story the pastor shared about our friend will always stick with me…

He and our friend have gone to the Caribbean with a team of men from our church for the last 20 years to build all kinds of structures for churches there. I admire their tenacity in their golden years to continue such physically laborious work.  He said that one year many years ago, our friend (in his 60′s at the time) spent the days of the mission trip going house-to-house, all alone, evangelizing to everyone he met.  When he returned to their base camp, our pastor noticed his pants were torn and knees scraped and bloody.

What happened to you? he asked.

Oh, well I was knocking on doors up that mountain and fell down it.  I rolled all the way down the mountain, he replied.  They had lunch, then he went right back out to the streets and continued knocking.  He was unstoppable for Christ.

As much as I want to be surprised at this story, I’m not.  This was who he was.  Faithful to the task at hand for the Gospel whether in the States, in the Caribbean, or in the other parts of the world that he traveled.

Hearing about these men’s mission trips made me think about this upcoming one for our family.  When the service was over, this year’s mission trip was heavy on my mind – as well as thoughts of my dear friend.

A special friend from our Kenya trip came over to me and offered a smile.  I was so glad to see her.  She and her husband are mission mentors to me.  They are shining examples of what we hope Bruce’s and my retirement years will look like (Lord willing) – going anywhere God leads them to for the cause of Christ.

She speaks with her heart, so I told her what was on my mind – looking for a word of comfort or encouragement.

I said to her, How am I going to go to this place and help these fragile orphans for 13 days?  How does one go for just 13 days?  It’s like, Hi – nice to meet you…then Bye – have a nice life!  How do I do that?  These babies and children in their medical crises have NO ONE coming for them!!!  They don’t get to go home and receive love and care from a mom and dad.  They don’t have sisters and brothers to support them and help them.  They are alone.  How does my nurturing mother’s heart do this for just 13 short days?  God hasn’t put it on our hearts to adopt any children at this point, so isn’t it cruel to make connections with these precious children then leave? How am I going to ever go?

She smiled her comforting smile and said, When our friend that we mourn today was in the Caribbean on one of their trips, he led a man to Christ.  Remember, the pastor in his eulogy told us that this man was originally from India and eventually traveled back to his homeland.  There in India, he began to spread the Gospel.  We know that at least 5,000 people have accepted Christ, and 20 Christian libraries have begun.  We’ll never know the ripple effect of how many people’s lives have been changed because our friend shared the Gospel with just one person on one trip.  Sometimes, we are only called for 13 days.  God takes it from there.  Like our friend, while you are on mission, give it everything.  Give yourself completely to the task – even if it is to just one.  This is all the time God is giving you to be there.  Use it wisely.

As her tender eyes pierced mine, she spoke words that came straight from the throne room.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.  I needed to hear there is purpose in the lifetime missionaries that call a foreign land home, but there is also purpose in just 13 days.

This short conversation made a huge impact on me because it reminded me that it really is about God’s plan – not mine.  The nurturer in me wants to fix the needs of the orphans.  The Savior-complex in me wants to give them their happily ever efter.  The realist in me knows I can’t no matter how long I stay there or the resources I could spend.  The hard fact is that the problem is bigger than me.  The Truth, however, is that their problems are not too big for God.  So where I want to scoop these little ones up in my arms and hold them until everything is better – no matter how long it takes – God has only given us 13 days to hold them.  But, these precious children are never out of His grasp.  He knows them deeper more intimately than I ever will.  He knows their pain, their needs, their dreams and their hearts inside and out.  Their pain is His pain.  Their lives are His passion.  His love overflows.

I need to remember my place in missions.  It isn’t for me to go and be the hero who swoops in and saves the day.  It is to introduce them to the one, true Savior through being the hands and feet in whatever manner He calls me to.  It is hard to think we can make any difference in 2 weeks.  However, our friend is still changing India, even after his death, from just one conversation.

It is all for God’s glory and fame.  Missions is all about God and what Christ did to reconcile us to God the Father as well as meeting very real and basic needs of those we are sent to.  But, I love that He is the God of details in that He doesn’t forget about the goer and how missions impacts them.  I’m not kidding when I’ve told people this trip may break my heart in two. I watch tears well up in friends’ eyes when I tell them about what we are walking into with this trip – my heart feels the same. But, God in His faithfulness will be with us to put Humpty Dumpty back together again for the 1,000th time if need be.

Clearly the focus of missions is who we are going to.  However, the enemy tries to come in the back door and discourage me to the point of not going.  What difference can one person really make?  What help do you really think you’ll be there?  Come on, you know you’re not equipped for this job – who are you kidding?  Admit it, you’re not strong enough for this assignment.  You know you won’t be able to handle the fact that you can’t make everything better.  It’s just 13 lousy days.  What can radically change in that short time? You’re only going to get kids attached to you, and then you will leave them just like everyone else.  How is that helping?

To that I answer with Scripture – And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. ~ John 14:16-18

Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. ~ Matthew 28:20

So where we may be able to hold and rock and love on these children, we are finite and our help is finite.  But, the Trinity is eternal and will always be with those who call Jesus Lord.  More than a band-aid or a hug or a smile, we long to introduce them to the Healer.

Because of the inspirational life of our dear friend, and the encouraging words of my fellow mission traveler, I am pumped now more than ever to get there and get started.  God has shown me I am released from guilt over what I can’t control, but I have total freedom in Christ to do His work as He provides the opportunities.  The fact is, none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so He calls us to make the most of every day whether it’s one hour, 13 days, or decades in service for Him.

The lie that 13 days can’t make a difference has been forever re-written in my heart because of one conversation in the Caribbean that is still changing India and beyond.  The thought of even one child grasping the love of Jesus and the faithfulness of God to make a difference right in their own community excites me like never before!

I like how our pastor often says in his sermons regarding evangelizing, discipling, and sharing God’s love – Go get ‘em.  That’s exactly what we intend to do on this mission as we work to do it here at home.

May my mission friend’s words be a charge to us all – Give everything we have to the task for the time we are granted. Spend our time wisely today.  After all, while bearing the sobering reality of the loss of our friend, I am reminded that today is, indeed, all we have.

What do you do with a dream once you’ve caught it?

We all have dreams.  Some dreams emerge over time, taking shape like an image coming slowly into view as it moves closer to us – or we move closer to it.  Other dreams are like seeds planted in our hearts from birth. Innate desires and passions that in their stubborn nature cannot be squelched or quenched regardless of circumstance.

Bruce and I have dreams.  Some overlap.  Some do not.  It’s what makes our marriage interesting.

Those that overlap have been with us since childhood – to be married and have children.

God granted those dreams and turned them into reality for us, and we are grateful.  However, something happened when we got married.  Something we didn’t expect.

We’ve given witness to this account before, but there is specific purpose in sharing it today.  If you’ve heard it before, read until the end. :)

We were newlyweds (he was 23 and I was 19) working our way through college.  Bruce worked full-time and went to school part-time.  I did the opposite.  We found a very small foreclosed home and were able to move out of our one bedroom apartment and purchase this sweet dollhouse with all of its issues.  Fannie Mae fixed the things that made it livable – the rest was up to us.  We loved working on that house.  It was our hobby when not working or studying.

About a year and a half into our marriage, we were exhausted.  School, work, school, work.  Bruce worked all shifts.  I worked days.  We seldom saw each other and could only afford occasional lunch dates and took advantage of every free thing there was to do: walks, picnics, bike rides, the beach, sitting at the airport watching planes come and go, etc.  It was a beautiful, simple life.  Still, we were tired.  Very tired.

One Friday night, we made plans to fall off the grid for a little while.  A needed respite.  We packed up our cooler, kite, blankets, etc. and picked up our favorite dinner on the way – Subway sandwiches, chips and Sprite.

We drove to our favorite spot on our favorite beach (in FL) and walked what seemed like forever to get to our favorite spot.

There wasn’t a soul for miles – and we could for see miles in every direction.

The sun was about to set (FL folks know exactly how to time the sunset just right :) ) and we scurried to set up everything just so.  It was perfect.  A warm breeze blew, the sun boasted colors of pink, red and orange. Bruce staked the kite down as it gently floated.  The picnic was perfectly arranged on the blankets, and the best part was – no one else was around.

We are extroverts, but this night there was something different working in our hearts.  I’ll speak for myself…mind you my mom brought me up properly.  She taught me well, but everyone has a sinful nature…I was feeling very selfish.  It went something like this, Finally.  I have arrived   After a horrible childhood filled with drama, tragedy and loss I finally get my happily ever after.  I finally get my wish come true.  I want the world to just go away.  This is my time with my husband at our picnic and I don’t want to think about, talk to or acknowledge that anyone else in the world exists.

Pause – there is a time for rest and rejuvenation for sure.  There is nothing wrong with falling off the grid. However, my heart was cold and selfish toward anything else except what I wanted.  There lies the problem, and Bruce’s heart felt the same.

We had literally just finished setting out everything perfectly, timing it to the spectacular sunset melting into the Gulf Coast, when we breathed a big exhale of relief.

Suddenly, a man and a woman were standing there…not just anywhere…on our blanket!  What?!?!?

Where did they come from?  We could see for miles, and we knew for a fact there was no one as far as the eye could see.  Yet, here they were – on our blanket and in our space.

Bruce and I were so taken back we were completely speechless.

I can still see them in my mind’s eye.  Both with brown hair.  Both all in white.  She wore a long, white dress and was barefoot.  He wore a white pair of pants and a white button-down shirt (like you see in the movies) and was barefoot.

Stunned, we didn’t know what to say.  The man said hello.  The woman never said a word and stood slightly behind him.  They never even told us their names.

Oddly, we never felt unsafe or scared – and I am a VERY skeptical person.

The man called Bruce’s attention to the kite.  He began to talk to Bruce very causally, yet confidentially, about the physics of how a kite flies.  He spoke with ease and authority.  I’ve never heard anyone, ever, speak like he did.  The physics he spoke about was the EXACT same thing Bruce had just learned in his physics class all week.  Exactly the same.  Bruce said it was like the guy was in his class.  Bruce couldn’t find a word to say.  He just stood there listening in amazement.

The woman and I stood silent.  I had no words.  Odd for me, I know.  Typically I love talking to new people.  This time, I had one train of thought in my head, Leave.

Ouch.  That’s cold.  But, it’s how I felt.  After a long semester and tough week with work, I wanted to be left alone.  I wanted my man, my night, my dinner, my sunset, my beach trip, my life to be mine.  I was angry they were there.  I wanted them to go away because they were about to ruin our sunset moment.  So did Bruce for the same reasons, though both of us had been raised better than that.  This was not our shining moment.

After the man finished talking kite physics, he turned to us and looked down at our modest picnic all ready to eat.  He smiled and said, That’s looks good.

I thought, Okay, really???  Now he wants our food?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Why won’t they just leave! I’m not sharing.  Nope.  Not gonna do it.  No way.  No how.

I dug my stubborn, bare feet heels in the sand.  I felt the pull of my upbringing to always share, but my selfishness would have none of it.

The four of us stood there, on a small blanket rather squished together, looking down at the subs that the man called attention to. All of us stood in awkward silence.

I thought to myself, Well, I can stand here all night if that’s what it takes.  I’m not sharing.

After a very uncomfortable, long pause the man smiled and said, Well, we should be going.

Oh!  Leaving so soon? the bratty little girl inside me thought to herself.  I am so embarrassed to be confessing this.

Bruce and I pathetically mumbled, Well, okay then.  If you have to…

We still had no idea who they were, what they wanted, or how they appeared out of nowhere and were standing on our blanket.

Feeling guilty, we turned away from they as they began to walk away.  Bruce and I looked at each other said at the same time, We shouldn’t have done that.  We should have offered them dinner.

In the five seconds it took to say that, with changed hearts we turned back around to invite them back…and they were gone!

Gone! Gone! Gone!  Vanished!  Disappeared!

For all intense purposes, they should have been a few feet away from us in the seconds it took for us to change our minds.  Let’s get crazy and say they bolted as fast as they could and ran – so they would still have been just several feet from us – well within view.  Remember, we could see all the down the beach in all directions, and it was quite a hike for us to reach the edge of low tide.

Gone.  Bruce and I quickly looked at each other bug-eyed and breathless as I said to him in shock, You don’t think they were…

Angels, he replied.  Who else could they have been?

My heart sank in guilt. I asked God silently, What was that?!?!?

He answered with six words, And don’t let it happen again.

I knew exactly what He meant.  He saw our selfishness.  He tested us.  We failed.

He spoke to my heart, Your marriage is to be an extension of my open hand – always.

I knew.  I understood His point.  He blessed me with a happy ending from a horrific beginning of life, and I took that blessing and ran with it clutched tightly in my grasp.  I turned His blessing into my possession.  I wasn’t willing to share – not my food, not my man, not myself, not my time, not my energy, not my attention.  Nothing.

It’s ironic, all I wanted this man and woman to do was to leave.  Now all I wanted was for them to come back so I could have a re-do, a second chance.

After all, just think for a second about the missed opportunity!  These were angels!  Think of the questions we could have asked over sharing a Sprite.  Just think about it!  No.  Those questions would never have had the chance because before God ever put us to the test – He knew what our answer would be.

I’ve told Bruce several times over the years that I was so GLAD he was there to substantiate this account.  He has said the same about me.  In a time where there is so much falsehood, lies and twisting, no one knows who to believe.  We know exactly what happened on that Florida beach in 1992 and we’ve never been the same.

After that, we knew our marriage was blessed to be an extension of God’s hand, but didn’t know how.

Childhood dreams began percolating in our hearts to begin a family.  Three children later, we wanted a home to provide for our family.  This meant steady work for Bruce to help realize another dream we shared which was for me to stay home while our children are in our nest.

With a marriage, children, work and a larger home in play, we settled into a great church and neighborhood and the calendar began to fill up.  Having no idea how to raise children, we did what everyone else did – rec league sports, dance, gymnastics, and home parties selling Tupperware and Pampered Chef.  My days were busting at the seams as a volunteer at school and church, organizing play groups and working as both a cake decorator from home and as a freelance editor into the wee hours of the night.

We went to Disney World, Sea World, many beaches along the East Coast, camped, rafted, hiked, helped with homework, held garage sales, hosted Superbowl parties, bunco and Christmas shindigs.  I was a secret admirer for Valentine’s Day to my family, created leprechaun scavenger hunts for the kids on St. Patrick’s Day, oh I could go on and on and on.

We had the perfect life, right?  Wrong.

With all of these good things, came another side to it all.  It’s the side no one likes to talk about.  With all of this big life came big bills and big responsibilities of maintaining it all.

We had never had so much – either of us – in all our lives.  I don’t mean just tangible stuff, but so many places to be, people to see, things to do, commitments to keep, events to organize – it was too much.

We got our dream…in spades.  That season reminds me of when the Israelites were wandering lost in the dessert for 40 years and they craved meat.  They threw a hissy fit, so God gave them meat – until it was so much that it literally came out of their noses.  Gross!

He didn’t do this to us, rather we did it to ourselves.  It reminds me of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:23, ”Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial.  ”Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive.

We were into good things, but we had lost sight of balance and direction.  We had ourselves so over-committed that there was nothing left of us to give to God’s open hand.

Without realizing it, we had been consumed with the American ideal.  We had morphed into people we didn’t even recognize – all in the pursuit of the American dream.

That dream landed us in more debt, heavier weight, more exhaustion, and less peace than we’d ever experienced.  It also cost me my health by contracting mono.  That was the turning point for me.

I thank God He allowed me to get mono because it made me not just slow down, but stop.  I could barely lift my head off the pillow for weeks.  In that time, God taught me that there is such a thing as too much fun, too much work, just simply too much.

Dr. David Platt’s book, Radical, was part of the learning process.  I should’ve known by the tag line of the book “Taking back your faith from the American Dream.”  Naively, I continued to read it.

This book opened my eyes for the first time that the American dream has nothing to do with Christian living.  My toes felt stepped on.  I felt duped.  It was as though scales had fallen from my eyes when approached with the fact that the American dream was created by man, not by God.  God’s dreams and purposes for His people are so much bigger than 2.2 kids, a house, a job, a car and a great vacation with a retirement nest egg growing every year.

Being an American all my life, and living in America all my life, it’s like the doctrine of where I live got tangled up with God’s holy doctrine of what His grand design is for each of our lives.

Literally, I never gave a second thought to how, or if, these two are related.  They’re not.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to provide a decent life for our families.  Work is biblical.  Doing good works is biblical.  Providing is biblical.  But what are we pursuing?

What is our heart pursuing?  Is it God’s passions or ours?  That’s what my heart wrestled with.

Bruce and I had many deep conversations about life and goals and passions and dreams during this time.  We agreed that we had become swept up more in the pursuing of the American dream than in pursuing God’s purposes for our lives.  We never meant to.  It was like a slow I.V. drip of disillusionment that kept us in a hazy, sleepy stupor all in the name of family…but not necessarily in the name of God.

More than wanting to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, we needed our world to be rocked.  It wasn’t a perfect life by any stretch.  We faced unemployment, family deaths, difficult seasons of our children’s lives, and personal struggles.  Drama begets drama and we didn’t need more of that.  We needed something to wake us up…to save us from ourselves.

Enter missions.

When the prospect to go to Kenya came, our world was flipped upside down and turned inside out.  Suddenly, everything we saw, touched, tasted and heard was different.  God replaced our Americana viewpoint with lenses that reflect His passions, His hurts, His love and His dream.

Since Kenya and Ukraine, and now as we prepare for this year’s mission, we feel no ownership of anything that passes through our hands – and those things have no ownership over us.

I remember the day when Salvation Army came to pick up our dining set.  An expensive, nice set complete with seating for 12, a sideboard buffet, mirror and huge hutch with glass shelving and recessed lighting   All in excellent condition.  The reality was that we didn’t need it, and we got excited about the prospect of it being a blessing to someone else.  I remember the deliver guy looking at it and saying to me, Wow, this is nice stuff you are donating.  I smiled and thought to myself, Yep, and someone will really enjoy it.

We’ve had so much fun getting rid of stuff!  With every bag came the thought that someone else has really been needing or wanting this.  That gives us way more joy than hanging onto it.

We finally got what Jeff understood in Radical, “For the first time, Jeff realized that God has a purpose for his life that was greater than the pursuit of the next bigger thing.  So Jeff decided to walk away from the American dream.” (Radical, pg 81).

We are in the middle of some major kitchen repairs, and neighbors who see the trucks coming and going are kind and curious to ask how everything is going.  I am happy to talk about it, but I’d much rather talk about this year’s mission and what God is up to there.  Or Kenya, and what God is doing there.  Or Ukraine, and how God is moving there.  Or here in the States and the ways He is touching lives here.  THAT is what excites me!

We need the kitchen repairs and gutting for maintenance & property value purposes.  However, at the end of the day I am grateful for the blessing of doing it, but can now keep it in its proper place in our lives.  I don’t get up in the morning to simply run out and stand in the kitchen.  But I do wake up every morning with places on my mind and the people whom we’ve never met but have already taken hold of my heart.  I get excited about the cooking camps we will be hosting as fundraisers to get us to our destination, and how much better the layout and flow will be for the girls and boys cooking in our home.  I think about baking for the bake sale that benefits Samaritan’s Purse in this kitchen.  I think about the deep conversations we will have with our children at the table about life, love and dreams.  I think about the dinners Bruce and I will share – just the two of us – and am reminded that missions begins at home.

This new way of life, pursuing God’s dreams and not the American dream, has helped me loosen my unhealthy grip on my children – and accept that fact they have always been God’s first.  Doing that has led me to deal with heart issues and baggage that have weighed me down far too long.

See how beautiful the tapestry of God’s grand design is?  He works for the good of His children – both those who call Him by name and those who have yet too…but will.  It is for these that missions exists, but God in His faithfulness heals both them and those sent to them.  He is so good.

I believe that 21 years later, we have come full circle to that evening on the beach.  I am just now beginning to understand what His open hand means to our family.  I’ve learned a lot in the last 21 years and will chew on these lessons the rest of my life.  Praise God He is in the business of redemption and restoration.  He restores the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).

God used missions to minister to us so we might minister to others.  Missions, to me, is like the toggle in the movie Inception.  In a world that is becoming more of a mirage every day, distorting and confusing us, the Great Commission given by Christ in Matthew 28:18-20 is my toggle that I look for to keep this world separated from the new world that is yet to come.  It keeps me focused on the bigger picture, God’s passions and what kind of life pleases Him.  It takes my eyes off of myself and places them on people and places that have God’s fingerprints all over them.  Missions allows me to become less so that He may become more.

I love being an American, but I’ve walked away from the American dream.  I have chosen to follow God’s purposes which will outlast everything else.  If I cling to the American dream, then I would never be open to what God may ask us to do.  After all, the Americana lifestyle is one of tangible success and comfort.  Jesus came for neither of these.  He came to serve, not be served.

If Jesus followed me around for a day, would He be excited about the work I do in my 24/7?  Guess what?  He does follow us around because He is always with us.

I had to release my life from my own grip so that God’s open hand could be extended. I don’t ever want to miss His divine appointment again because I couldn’t see past myself.

We haven’t had anymore angelic encounters on the beach, but we do have many opportunities to be His hands and feet.  May it never take an angel to call us back to a place we never should have left – right in the middle of God’s heart.

I prayed the wrong prayer

I’ve had missions on my mind heart and mind so much lately as sign-up deadlines approach.  In the post, An honest look at missions, I divulged some of the fears I’ve felt this year about returning to the global mission field.  In, The day I touched fear, I explored more deeply what those fears look like from the inside out.

Today, it’s a totally different story.  Just when I thought things were beginning to settle down in my mind, God had something unexpected prepared for last Thursday.

It began on Wednesday night.  We were at church for dinner before nightly activities began.  Serving the salad bar was a man I highly respect and admire (though I am not sure he knows it).  His and his wife have dedicated their retirement years to taking their grandchildren, one by one, on mission.  It is their gift to them.  I had never heard of this, but now, Lord willing, Bruce and I would love to do the same thing one day.  So my dear friend, Kermit, said Hello – always with a smile – when he saw me approach.  Hi Kermit!  I replied cheerfully, always happy to see him.

When I see him I think of one thing…Kenya.  He and his wife were part of our team in 2011 that went on mission to Kenya.  Let me just tell you that this man was incredible throughout the entire journey.  He never uttered a complaint, never said No, never looked tired, nothing!  He trucked on every day with whatever the agenda was.  Our team leaders, Don and Pat, also grandparents, as well as Kermit’s wife, Kay, were exactly the same way.  They have no idea how much I watched them work through every unexpected trial and celebrate every great moment.  Kenya was my first global mission trip as well as the first time I had ever left the States.  I was wide-eyed at the whole thing and loved every surreal moment.

Kermit was a mentor to me on that trip whether he realized it or not.  Whether it was sawing wood at an orphanage, washing feet at a children’s school on the side of the mountain, digging trenches for a foundation, or harvesting corn for an orphanage, his attitude was always an enthusiastic Yes.  At any given time you could find him quietly working – never for accolades, never bringing attention to himself.  He simply did what he came to do – serve.  And serve with a joyful heart he did.

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 194

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 195

He and his wife brought one of their grandsons with them who was graduating high school and wants to go into medicine.  He was able to observe surgeries at the only hospital in the entire area servicing 850,000 people.  So in addition to tireless efforts of physical work and long van rides across unbelievable bumpy roads, Kermit and Kay spent quality time with their grandson in the evenings encouraging him in his passion for medicine.

You can see why I am so taken back with them.  Role models.  Inspirational.

A few Sundays ago, when I was really struggling with feelings of fear of going on global mission, I stood with the congregation at church while everyone sang – but me.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I could not utter a word.  I was overwhlemed with emotion because in the choir stood men (including Kermit) and women who have been on mission all over the world, and yet they were able to stand and smile while singing Chris Tomlin’s song Whom Shall I Fear…

You hear me when I call, You are my morning song, Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light…

Whom shall I fear?

You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet, You are my Sword and Shield, Though trouble lingers still…

Whom shall I fear?

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side.  The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

My strength is in Your name, For You alone can save, You will deliver me, Yours is the victory

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side.  The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

Whom shall I fear?  Whom shall I fear?

And nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in your hands, I’m holding onto Your promises, You are faithful, You are faithful, You are faithful

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, The God of angel armies, Is always on my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine, The God of angel armies, Is always by my side…

The God of angel armies is always by my side.

(Read more: CHRIS TOMLIN – WHOM SHALL I FEAR (GOD OF ANGEL ARMIES) LYRICS)

 It has been people I know who have inspired me the most to take our family on mission.  Celebrities make headlines and win humanitarian awards, but far and away it is people who quietly go about the Lord’s business, sacrificing their hard-earned money and vacation time, who I look at and think, Maybe I can do it, too.

With that thought, an unexpected conversation came up between my husband and me.  I was sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot with the bright morning sun beaming into the van last Thursday.  I called him to briefly chat about missions.  We’ve been so upside down and inside out about it that we seem to talk in circles.  Frustrating.

I told him that I felt a new passion to go back to Ukraine.  As for Kenya, that is still undecided.  I heard myself say to him with confidence and certainty, I’m going to Ukraine.  He basically said, Okay, but I’m not sure what I’m doing.

After the phone call, I sat silent in the van.  Something didn’t seem right.  Why wasn’t I excited that half of my decision for this year’s missions had been finally – at long last – decided?  I should’ve felt relieved, joyful and sure.  Instead, I felt very anti-climatic about the whole thing.

God spoke to me in the van and said, Why is this only about you?  Are you not half of a whole?

Immediately, my heart understood.

To know me is to know I’ve struggled my entire adult life trying to live a life of biblical submission to my husband.  It’s not how I was raised, as my biological father and step father both left my life at early ages.  I grew to be a headstrong, independent and self-reliant woman.  Partially out of mistrust of men, and partially because I never wanted to be hurt again and believed people will only let you down – especially those who are supposed to have your back.

I have such a stubborn, independent streak in me it is nearly impossible to ever ask for help of any kind from anyone.  It’s not a control thing.  It’s an I’m going to end up having to do it anyway so why go through the grueling process of involving others because they are only going to let me down thing.

So, without me even realizing it, missions had become yet another area where I took the ball and ran.  Rather than looking at these opportunities with my heart toward my husband, I was peering through the glasses of practicality and reasonability.

I had been praying the wrong prayer of God, where do You want to send me?  Instead of, God where do you want to send us?

I didn’t even realize I had morphed my independent nature into missions!  Bruce and I are different people with different passions.  But, we are two halves of a whole.  When we made a covenant oath at the altar almost 23 years ago, we were joined into one flesh.

Leaving consideration for him out of my prayer was selfish.  And it was the feeling of, I got my way, that I felt in the van that left me celebrating alone.

Despite my good intentions of doing God’s kingdom work here on earth, my carnal nature creeped into my thoughts.  Here’s why…the first two mission trips were very scary for me.  I am not a seasoned world traveler.  I am not bilingual.  I am not proficient in cultural differences around the world compared to my own – other than the obvious ones.

It was all of these I’m nots that kept me from feeling qualified or invited to go on mission for my entire life until now.  Fast forward – jumped those hurdles, but it still took more courage than I could muster up to commit, particularly because these mission trips involved taking our children which I take very seriously.  I needed Bruce to make the final call.  As the leader of our home, I needed him to say yes or no.  So for both trips, I passed the baton to him to decide.

This year, however, it felt very different for me.  I’ve been to both places, so there aren’t near as many unknowns.  I also understand more what is expected from me from the team.  I simply feel more prepared than before – as much as it is possible to feel.

Enter my stubborn independence.

I was ready to possibly take an entirely different mission trip from my husband, without ever hearing his final point-of-view…and God let me feel every last ounce of that loneliness.

There is a time and season for everything, and I am sure there will come a time when we do participate in different mission trips, but neither one of believe that time has come yet.  It was out of sheer self-reliance that I went ahead and told him what I was going to do.  Hmm.  Then God brought to mind our crazy life.  Between work, kids, and all of our commitments, we have to scratch and claw for anytime together.  It could always be worse, but it’s not ideal.  We know this is a season of life, and all too soon our house will be deafeningly quiet and I will mourn for the wonderful chaos that greets me in the morning and tucks me in at night.

Given that, why would I not bat an eye at the possibility of spending weeks apart?  I believed my own lie of being too independent.  God brought to mind my biological father and his wife.  You’ve never seen a closer couple.  They were best friends.  Inseparable.  Loving.  Considerate.  Two halves that made a beautiful whole.

I want that.

Watching her care for him in his last days, the intimacy they shared – the eye contact, touch, whispers, – was the result of many years of building a marriage that was committed.  Resolute.  I used to think it was a little over the top that they always had to sit together, go places together, etc.  Now that he is gone, I see that they were intentional about making the most of their time together.  There were their own persons, yes, but they never forgot they were two halves of a whole.

After pondering all of this, still sitting in the parking lot, I texted Bruce.  This is what I wrote, Hi Honey, I wanted to tell you that after giving it a lot of thought, I would rather go with you on mission to wherever than without you on mission to wherever.  I often think about Ray and Gail and their relationship.  They were inseparable.  They were best friends and did everything together.  I would like to see that for us in missions, so I concede to wherever it is you want to go just as long as we can be together or unless God says differently.  We are one flesh, one team, and I don’t want to break up the team.  Think about it and let me know.  I love you.

That text was surprisingly freeing for me!  I felt like my heart was finally in a place of peace.  Funny, the first two years I needed him to make the decision as to where to go. This year, I asked him to.  I may have felt my inner wild horse buck and kick, but my heart knew that missions isn’t one more thing I want to lead us on different paths.

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine (who went to Ukraine with us last year) asked me if we were going to sign-up for it this year.  With a calm, peaceful smile I was able to genuinely reply, I’m waiting on Bruce to make that call…and if so, I’m leaving it up to him to sign up us.

That, friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit because the independent woman writing this would normally take matters into her own hands.

She smiled at me and said, Oh, you’re working on the “s” word, huh?  I laughed because I knew what word she meant – submission.   Indeed I am.  Waiting for Bruce to write our names down is very important to me for whatever reason.  I suppose it shows his iniative after much prayer and discussion, though I haven’t told him this is my wish.

Last night, before we left to watch the Superbowl with some friends, Bruce casually told me as we gathered coats and a chocolate cake,  Oh by the way, earlier today I put our names down for Ukraine.

His words stopped me in my tracks in the middle of the kitchen.  Later, I circled back with him and inquired.  He agreed that this is the only option for our family to go on mission all together.  He feels a peace about it and we are all excited.  God knew my secret wish for Bruce to write our names down on any of the trips we take this year, and He directed Bruce to do so out of loving consideration for me.  God is the good God and knows our secret thoughts.  Incredible.

So, one decision down and one to go – Kenya.  God has given us much peace that this decision will come in His timing, not ours.  So be it.  For now, I look forward to going back to people we fell in love with in Eastern Europe; to work with a team we greatly admire; we get to take all of our kids; and…most of all…Bruce and I have the blessing of going on mission together.

God is good.  Actually, He is amazing!  Every year, the decisions we have made about missions have been completely unique to the trip.  This year is no different.  God’s ways are not our ways, and His timing certainly doesn’t hold itself to our society’s demand for instant information, but His ways are best.  Had He given us the answer early on, I would have missed a teachable moment to see that in this process, Bruce and I walked dangerously close to the line of separating our longitude and latitude, once again, for the good of the cause.  We do enough of that in our daily lives.

When the time comes to travel separately for missions, God will give us a peace about that and we will perfectly okay with it.  For now, I write to testify that Philippians 4:6-7 really works in and through all things – even with a strong-willed, autonomous person like myself. 😉

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Today, and on mission, I won’t forget I am half of a whole.  Colossians 3:15 reminds us – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Thankful, indeed.

The day I touched fear

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 193It was a hot, sunny day on the west coast of Florida.  I was with my husband and his family visiting his younger brother in college.  Beach-dwellers that we are, we embarked on a day of sun, sand and water.

I stood at the tide line and gazed out at the watery horizon.  We were planning to snorkel, not something I’m crazy about doing.  There just seems something really unnatural about breathing through a tube underwater.  I usually wind up semi-hyperventilating because I am unable to regulate my breathing.  I imagine all kinds of what-if scenarios:  a drop of water spilling into the snorkel causing my airway to close, a wave engulfing my snorkel with the same result, etc.  Let’s just say it, I don’t like to snorkel, but was willing to be a good sport and go along with the family plan.

A long, thick, dark line rippled in the water.  Squinting, I saw it was a large band of seaweed that stretched across the water in both directions as far as I could see.  To make matters worse, the seaweed began The Deep.  You know, where the tidal shelf drops into oblivion and  creatures of the sea play in their playground.

I love, love, love the sea and all that is in it.  From sharks to angler fish to sea urchins, I will never stop getting a kick out of God’s creativity, imagination and ingenuity that is so proudly displayed in the creatures of the sea.  But, I also know humans weren’t meant to live in it, and thus we enter their territory. I fully respect that it is their home and not mine.

Splashing around in shallow water is one thing.  Venturing into the deep, dark unknown is another.  I swallowed hard and felt my stomach turn.  I reasoned that as long as I didn’t touch the seaweed, I would be in the safer, shallow water.

Got it.  The seaweed is my marker.  It was the beginning of The Deep.  I will tolerate snorkeling as long as I don’t touch a thread of the nasty stuff.

Bruce, his brother and I waded out into waist-high water, fighting against the crashing waves and stubborn under toe.  They both dipped headfirst into the water with only the tips of their snorkels spouting up in the air and an occasional flipper kicking behind them.

My turn.

I took a deep breath then practiced a few normal breaths through the snorkel.  My chest was already heaving.

Just go already, I said to myself, not wanting to fall behind.

I leaned forward and fell face-first into the murky water.  Phase 1 complete.

I began to kick my flippers, swimming parallel to the beach as the current tried to pull me toward the shore.

Don’t touch the seaweed, Kristi.  Whatever you do, don’t touch the seaweed! I reminded myself over and over.  I didn’t want to be anywhere near the abyss that housed mysterious creatures lurking who knows how closely by.  Florida, after all, is home to some of the largest shark populations in the world.  Love them!!!!  But, I don’t need a close encounter with them unless its through a cage.

I tried to follow the shadowy figures of my husband and brother-in-law.  It was really hard to see in the water thick as pea soup.

All of a sudden, you guessed it, I felt the seaweed.  It brushed up against my left arm, then my left leg.  It tickled my stomach, and longer strands grazed my hair.

Before I knew it, I was completely tangled up in the mess of it!  It was all over me as if I were a small fly caught in an enormous spider web.  The more I struggled to break free, the worse it got.

Couple this moment with the fact that I’m definitely hyperventilating through the dumb snorkel and I can only imagine the show I must have given the sun worshipers on the sandy beach.  I probably looked like I was wrestling an alligator (which have been known to make an appearance!).

My body was flailing horizontally on the water’s surface as I struggled to remain clam.  Nope.  I was too far gone for that.  My lungs grew hot as I held my breath, not wanting any water to fill my snorkel, and my arms and legs were utterly caught in the disgusting seaweed.  I could no longer see my husband or brother-in-law and knew I had been separated from them.  I was in big trouble.  I had been pulled into the seaweed by the current and was in The Deep – alone.

Just don’t try to stand up, Kristi.  Then you’ll know how really deep you are and that will make matters worse, I counciled myself.

No such luck.  The will of self-preservation kicked in and I shot out of the water like a rocket, breathing a huge, obnoxious gulp of air with eyes bulging and body shaking.

To my surprise, and embarrassment, I nearly tackled my poor brother-in-law!  He was only about a foot in front of me, and I landed right in his face.  He had turned toward me in the same moment I sailed through the air like a swordfish with a sheer look of horror on my face.

When I landed, my feet plunged into the sand much sooner than I expected to in The Deep.

Well, that is because I wasn’t actually in The Deep.  I stood up and realized the water was barely to my waist.  There I stood, with seaweed draped on me like a swamp monster, heaving, snorkel floating nearby in the water, trembling with mouth agape at the whole escapade.

He looked with shock and bewilderment at the scene I had created.

I quickly gathered my composure (on the outside), gave a sheepish smile and apologized for my weird behavior and told him I was fine.

He gave me an Okay, but I don’t really believe you, you crazy woman glance, then turned around and continued snorkeling.

I, however, could only stand there and process what had happened.  I looked again at the band of seaweed, and from where I was standing in the water, it wasn’t drifting as far out to sea as it looked like from the shore.  Nor could I judge how deep the water was with sand in between my toes.

We were, in fact, a safe distance from The Deep.  Everything changed when I saw it from a different longitude and latitude.  Boy did I feel ridiculous!

That experience has never left me – nor the lesson it taught me.

I learned that fear is powerful.  Very powerful.  It can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically.  Fear of the unknown allows much room for us to fill in the blanks with worst-case scenarios.

What began as a fun day at the beach with my extended family turned into, in my mind, a life-or-death situation where I was being pulled out to sea and straight into the mouth of something much larger and stronger than me.

There were multiple layers of fear that day.  Fear of being separated from my family.  Fear of being alone.  Fear of not being able to control the situation.  Fear of what may have its eye on me.  Fear of just how deep the trouble I was in – way over my head.  Fear of not being able to breathe.  Fear of being helpless and being beyond help.  And fear that this horrible moment will never, ever end!

Were any of those fears real?  Well, some – to a point.

If I had been separated from my family, I guess I believed I would have been lost forever.  This stems from abandonment issues – 20 years later I am still working on courtesy of childhood scars.  The truth is, my family wouldn’t have left the beach without me.  They would have, at some point, noticed I was gone, and felt like I was worthy enough to come find me.

I don’t know many people who like being alone lonely.  Let me clarify that.  I love being alone, but have a very hard time handling loneliness   I had that in spades growing up, and if I never feel lonely again it would be too soon.  I thoroughly enjoy time by myself, but that’s not the same as being lonely.  Being lost in the ocean would have been the bad kind of being alone, but again, I didn’t believe at the time that I was worth searching for.  Enter lonely and afraid.

Fear of a lack of control.  Please raise your hand if you struggle with this, too!  Don’t we all want to be the captain of our ship in some way?  It’s our carnal nature to turn our compass in the direction we want to go.  And, if we could control the weather, the water, the sun and the moon so as to plan our trip, well, that would be even better.  In the moment of sheer panic in the ocean that day, trusting God for my safety was the last thing on my mind.  Was He not watching?  Seeing?  Still sovereign on His throne? (Psalm 121)  Does He not care for us all of the time? (Matthew 6:25-34)

And yes, anytime we venture into a world where we are the minority, the foreigner, there is risk.  Listen to survivors tell their stories of being lost in the Amazon, on the African plains, in ice caverns, etc.  When we are in these places – we play by the rules of nature there.  Sure, there could have been something in the water, but again, I had total amnesia as to God’s hand of protection or His plans for my life.  Even if I had been attacked by a shark, could God still not find a way to use it for my good and His glory?  He can…with our cooperation.

Sometimes we get into trouble over our head either by choice or by default.  I had lost sight of God as Rescuer either by the hand of a loved one or stranger, or any other creative means He may choose to save me.  I believed the situation was bigger than me and God.  That is wrong.  Lots of things are bigger than me, but nothing is bigger than God.  I never asked Him to save me.  That makes me sad.  He is my Good Father and I forgot to call on Him when I needed help.

Life feels suffocating sometimes.  We feel helpless.  This is a recipe for panic and anxiety.  God is God of peace and order.  He controls all, all the time.  Nothing happens to us that hasn’t passed through His hands first.  He can never be surprised, shocked or unprepared for what life may bring. We can be blindsided.  He never closes His eyes.  When we are at our worst, weakest and most helpless, He is our superhero, our Savior.

Ah.  The last fear – that the moment will never end.  That was a low blow from the enemy.  Nothing on this earth will last forever.  No, I take that back.  There are two things – God’s Word and our decision as to where to spend eternity.  Everything else will fade away (Matthew 24:35).  Everything.  When we are caught in a moment that feels like a downward spiral pulling us further from the oxygen we need so badly to get through a tough situation, it is easy to merely see the darkness enveloping around us.  But, broaden our lens and we see that even darkness is as light to God.  Nothing is hidden from Him (Psalm 139:12).

I’ve been thinking about this experience lately in regards to missions.  I’ve let fear take me hostage on a runaway train of imagination and exaggeration and have felt every fear that I did at the beach that day.  There are risks to missions, but there is risk walking to our mailbox, driving to work, and anything we do.  Anything.  When deciding what to do about missions this year, it would behoove us to deliberately, intentionally, boot fear to the curb.  It has no place in God’s calling.

What are you fearful about?  Have any big decisions weighing on you?

I think God understands we feel fear because He remembers we are made of dust (Psalm 103:13-14).  We aren’t superhuman like He is.  But, when we choose to see things from His longitude and latitude (a heavenly perspective, I might add), we are reminded of just how much He loves us and never takes His eyes off of us (Psalm 17:8).  And, the more we turn from our natural instinct to fear and choose to think like Him, the more we can see His divine plan at work in our lives.

Do not conform any longer 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. ~ Romans 12:2

Whether heading out for a fun day at the beach, or stepping out in faith on mission, there is one Truth that remains – and it is enough for all who call on Christ as Savior…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9

Dear Lord, lead on.  Amen.

An honest look at missions

I’m wrestling against an enemy I cannot see.  Right now, our family is making some difficult decisions regarding missions for this year.  As I sat at the dinner table last night, a raw thought spilled out of my mouth.

This used to be fun, I said resting my fork on the table and blankly staring out the window.

You know, the mission decision.  It was exciting.  Adventurous.  A radical move of following God where He leads.  Now, I am so twisted up in knots I can’t think straight.

My children looked at me in bewilderment.  This wasn’t their fearless mother who encourages, instructs and motivates her children to say YES! to God before we know the question.

I hesitate to write any further in the event I come off sounding like a whiny, spoiled American.  The fact is, I have nothing to complain about on a global spectrum of needs.  I feel guilty for even writing this post because I have no room to complain compared to the billions of other people who share this planet.

But, I am also human.  Finite.  Flawed.  I have weaknesses I cannot deny, and it’s those weaknesses that want to keep me from leaving my nest.  I have feelings.  I have emotions.  Sometimes when thinking about missions I wonder how much my heart can take when I see the most basic of needs or witness the power-hungry, cruelty of humanity.

I am a woman who has been on 2 different mission trips to very different parts of the world – Africa and eastern Europe.  On each trip, I’ve never felt so alive.  So…New Testament, if you will.  I’ve never in my life cast everything aside to follow God and trust Him for every step.  It was blind faith like I’ve never had before.  It was perfect peace that is ridiculous to the world’s ears.  So, why aren’t I dragging out our bags and grabbing our passports this year?

I will be completely honest and tell you it is fear.

You see, when I went on those trips, I had no idea what to expect.  The trips were going to be what they were, and I was perfectly fine with that because I didn’t know any differently.  I lived moment-to-moment in each continent and abandoned all of my plans, agenda, requirements, everything.  I fully immersed myself in the culture and in God’s leadership.

However, when we returned from Kenya two summers ago, a tsunami-sized wave of what if scenarios hit me hard and brought me to my knees.

My eyes were no longer blind to what could happen on a mission trip, or simply traveling overseas by myself or with our children.  I know it was the enemy that tried hard to steal my joy of all that God did on that mission trip, and I felt powerless to stop him because what could I say?  God never promised safe passage, only that we’d never be alone in it.

There were times when we were completely relying on God to help us – like when we arrived in Nairobi and customs took far longer than we thought.  The driver who was to pick us up at the airport, when the clock finally struck midnight and the airport was closing, wasn’t there.

I thought, That’s okay.  Our leaders have this under control.  I’ll just wait with the kids and our luggage until something works out.

On a warm summer afternoon, as we drove back from visiting a school totally off the grid, rain began to fall.  The water mixed with the powdery dust and made the roads as slippery as ice.  Our van slid and skid and we hung on tight as I looked out the window to see deep trenches on either side of our van.  I simply hung on, smiling, knowing everything would be alright.

When our oldest son fell at an orphanage and suffered a severe, and I mean severe, concussion, we did all we could for him without the availability of any proper means for exam or treatment.  In fact, the next day we had to travel hours to another school, which proved to be the worst roads I’ve ever been on.  We were literally thrown out of our seats for the hours-long ride.  Not at all what a concussion patient needs to rest and mend.  However, choices were limited and we trusted God with our son’s health – in addition to pain relievers and waking him up every two hours and doing all we cold to keep him comfortable.

Even on the safari we had the privilege to take after our mission work was done proved to make the hair stand up on my neck.  At one point, our Land Rover got lodged on a large boulder on an incline up a mountain.  If that wasn’t nerve-racking enough, there happened to be two Cape Buffalo on either side of our vehicle, so close we cold touch them.  Our driver was out of cell phone reach and we were stuck.  That was one moment when I truly felt like I was going to have a panic attack as our vehicle had no windows or roof.  We wound up having to back off the boulder, going straight down the mountain backwards.  Oh my soul.

Upon our arrival back in the States, something in the water the ONE TIME my husband and I consumed it via ice on the plane made us so sick we wanted to die.  We broke our family’s 8-year streak of not throwing up.  Friends had to come take our kids to their homes so Bruce and I could just lie there and not talk or move or anything for days.  It was wicked.

I could go on and tell of the times that I felt vulnerable and completely out of my element…but it was awesome.  When I was at my weakest, God was at His strongest. Never have I needed to rely on Him more.

I could tell you how much I learned from the loving Kenyan people that contentment is a state of mind, not a tangible luxury.  They blew me away with how happy they were in the midst of suffering, gentle in the face of hardship, at peace in the midst of crisis.

I could tell you about a little girl, 5 or 6 years old, who lost her leg in a fire and dragged her little body on her stomach every week from her house to church – by herself.  The church, using scrap lumber from a donation to build a small, plywood structure, constructed a crutch for her, and how team members with us made some phone calls and lo and behold a pediatric prosthetic surgeon was going to be making her first-ever visit to this region and with donations from our church this precious little girl now has a prosthetic leg and runs and plays with the rest of her friends for the first time.  Her mom, a former prostitute, was so overwhelmed by the love of the church that she gave her life to Christ and has begun an honorable career to provide for them both.

I could tell you about the wonderful man who runs a dearly loved orphanage with children that we fell in love with so much our hearts nearly burst.  He has dedicated his life to providing for these children, when he himself lost his oldest son in a piki piki (motorcycle) accident last summer.  Yet, he continues to serve these precious little ones who are so full of promise if only they would be given a chance.

I met a boy at this orphanage who is so brilliantly smart, will he ever have an opportunity to change the world?

Our daughter fell head over heals in love with a little girl at this orphanage and the two became inseparable.  A photo of the two of them hangs on the wall of her bedroom still today.

The worship, the joy and the trust these Kenyans have in God is breathtaking.

In Ukraine this past summer, we met some of the most inspiring young people I’ve ever seen.  They are a new generation whose hope is in God of the possible.  They welcomed us as family from the first greeting, and clung to us in sorrowful tears when we left.  They are unlike any group of teens I know.  They have committed themselves to the leadership of their church.

Working with them was such an honor!  They don’t know the word impossible, and have a pure faith in Jesus that is hard to find in the States.  A few boys and girls befriended me and I carry them in my heart still today.

One young boys’ dream is to come to the States so he can be healed of his crippling disease and deaf ears.  His heart is so tender and smile so big, he captivated me with his gentle spirit and quiet determination to be involved in what everyone was doing with us.

However, the remnants of Soviet control are everywhere – and it was daunting.  The search light towers, barbed wire, and antiquated barracks of military and political oppression were merely feet from us and proved to be an ominous presence for a woman like myself who has never been more grateful for her freedom in the United States.

I also had one of the worst sinus infections I’ve ever experienced the day we were to return home.  Flying with a 101.5 fever and climbing, a head so stopped up I could hardly hear and definitely couldn’t breathe well, it took everything in me to step on the plane. The first leg of the flight was 10 hours, then an overnight stay and connecting flight.  I tried to count the hours until I could get to a doctor, as well as muster the courage to get on the second flight.

But for the time being, I had to succumb to the fact that I would be airborne for 10 hours with this horribly severe sinus infection. I wanted to just let the luggage fall off my shoulders and let my body fall into a heap in the middle of the airport.  I wanted to cry. But, I had to keep moving.

On both missions, the good outweighed the bad for sure.  But here I sit with some big decisions to make with my husband.  Dynamics are different this year.  We are confused. I can’t hear clearly because of the what-ifs taunting me.

It would be so easy, so comfortable, to just say no this year.  We have a full life right here, and most days we feel we are hanging on by our fingernails.  We wonder if it’s too much to ask of our children again.  Perhaps some will stay home?  Perhaps not.  Bruce’s work is a demanding job, and he enjoys it very much.  But, it consumes a lot of his time and as a wife I worry about balance in his life.  Can he handle missions this summer, or will it be too taxing on him mentally, physically or emotionally?  I get concerned about my own health, as since traveling overseas I’ve realized my ankles blow up like balloons and am not sure how bad or not this is for me.  I wear compression hose, but still…  Also, our typhoid shots expire soon and we may need new ones.  Will this be the time one of us has a reaction to the vaccine?  Will the fundraising come in as I honor my husband’s (and children’s) requests (which is also my heart’s desire) to stay home for this season of life as wife and mother and we live on one income?  Will international travel go okay this go round?  Will more injuries occur?  Will more illness break out?

So many questions burden my heart.

The first time around, we were giddy knowing that God simply said Go.  Ignorance truly was bliss.

Now, we’re not so naive, and the knowledge I’ve gleaned about serving on short-term mission trips scares me.  There is so much that could go wrong that I never ever imagined. Now my eyes are open and I kind of wish they weren’t.

I have a whole new appreciation for Christ’s words to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.

To go or not to go isn’t about leaving my comfort zone, although I shocked myself with how uncomfortable I was feeling dirty the entire time in Africa.  I hid these feelings and they turned into shame and guilt – which discouraged my desire for missions.

I was overwhelmed the entire time we were in Ukraine regarding the language barrier.  I remember riding in a bus on the highway trying to make any sense of the billboards.  It was almost a panicky feeling that swept over me in an enormous need to simply read or hear English in the community.  Again, I was so ashamed of these negative feelings I hid them.  Stuffed them.  And the enemy is using them against me.

Perhaps some of it is a loss of control of my life on mission.  I am a team member and follow the leaders.  Here in my daily life, although Bruce is surely the head of our house, I am the site manager who oversees the house, kids, volunteering, everything that is in the scope of my job while he is as his job.

Empty hands feel odd.

I’m so okay with following an agenda bigger than myself, the loss of sleep, the different foods, etc. so what’s my problem?

I don’t like flying at all.  I must leave some creature comforts at home – and with my back that’s easier said than done.  And I’m afraid of the known and unknown.  Okay.  I said it.

I hate admitting fear because it’s admitting a lack of trust in God, and I want to trust God with everything in me.  Mark 9:22-24 sums up my heart the best.  In the words of a worried and scared father over his possessed child…

“…But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.

If you can? said Jesus.  Everything is possible for him who believes.

Immediately the boys’ father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Yes, God, I do believe…help me overcome my unbelief.

I’ve been yearning for direction and confirmation about what to do for missions this year. We feel the squeeze of time to make decisions.  I’m so tangled up in this I can’t think straight.

Oh how I wish I could just say, Yes, now what’s the question?

However, yesterday we received a letter from our Compassion daughter in Africa.  She has had such a hard life – losing her mom and dad – yet she has accomplished a nursing degree and is now working and supporting herself and her little brother.  We are so proud of her.  She’s come a long way since she became a part of our family when she was only 7 years old, living with her grandmother and brother.

In her recent letter, she told us her grandmother died and she is working in a different town than where she grew up.  She has had family and location changes.  Totally out-of-the-blue, in her letter to us she wrote, I encourage you don’t worry, for God is with you everywhere you are and He has good plans.

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I have been struggling inside over what to do about missions.  I have been beside myself and lay awake at night and mull it over and over in my head. I continue to ask God, but my thoughts drown out His voice. Our Compassion daughter’s words jumped off the page and into my heart.  Of all the letters over the last 14 years from her, it was this letter and her words at this time.  It is no coincidence.

Our Compassion daughter, who we’ve supported by paying for her food, clothing, education, etc. throughout the years in hopes that she will come to have a fulfilling life, saved by grace, provided me the wisdom I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it.  All these years I’ve been trying to bless her, and, as a fully grown woman she blessed me with Truth that I know, but cannot hear above the fear.

I was her mission ground, and her words all the way from Africa penetrated my heart and helped me believe again.

It’s with a broken heart, having seen the needs of this world God so dearly loves, and a mind submitted to God’s sovereignty, that I cannot resist Him anymore.  His love is contagious. His mercy divine.  His call undisputed.  His promise to never leave me is enough.

I will go.  Where?  I don’t know.  But I do know that my answer is Yes.

So Lord, she asks with a trusting heart and trembling hands, what is the question?

Film released!

Today I am giving a shout out to an awesome documentary that you have to see to believe.  I mentioned it several months ago in a blog post when we saw the premiere in June, but the film wasn’t released until October.

I highly recommend this film, Father of Lights.  It is the 3rd in a trilogy, but each film stands on its own.  Click here for the link.

It is less expensive to buy it via Wanderlust Production’s site (founded by Darren Wilson) versus Amazon, surprisingly enough!

This film is family-friendly for middle schoolers and up (in my opinion).  View trailer here.

If you want to see with your own eyes the power of God move in people’s lives – all over the world – and witness what only He can do, check out this film!  There are 2 versions – a 90 minute for $20 and a deluxe edition for $45 which includes over 11 hrs of outtakes.  There are also options for digital downloads that are discounted as well as buying the music for the film.

My only reason for promoting this film is because it was extremely encouraging so see God moving mightily in this world despite all of the news of world problems.  I walked away with a revived hope and fresh faith that no matter what the headlines may say, and who thinks they are in charge of what, God is most definitely still on the throne and He is sovereign above all, and I want the same encouragement for you!

Father of Lights is a great way to begin the new year.  A word of caution…you will never be the same again after seeing this film.  Are you in?

photo courtesy via Robby Dawkins