Private thoughts of a short-term missionary

Monday morning greets me with mixed emotions. I woke up today feeling very frustrated. I have been consistently diligent in putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) and working with all the logic that’s in my crazy brain to get things ready for an upcoming mission trip. On paper everything looks good. But, read in between the lines and there are struggles and doubts and frustrations that eat away at my thoughts.

I am grateful for the Proverbs 31 Ministry’s devotions that appear in my inbox every day. Today, it’s like Lysa Terkeurst read my heart. Her words speak more clearly than mine as I sit here tired and sick. Here is an excerpt from her devotion, “When God’s Assignments Feel Almost Impossible”

* * * * * * * * * *

I pulled into my driveway and stared at this gathering place my people call “home.” And my heart whispered …

Lord, am I doing all of this right?

This life You’ve entrusted to me, these people You’ve entrusted to me, this calling You’ve entrusted to me … I desperately want to get it right. To live without painful regret gnawing deep within. To know that I gave it my very best. To please You. Love them. Smile more than frowning. Laugh more than I complain. See the beauty tucked within all these sacred moments of just being together and remember to whisper, Thank You.

Thank You for all of it. The whole package deal of good and bad and highs and lows. For all that mixed together sets about a process of making me. The me that needs the tough stuff to mature me. The sad moments to soften me. The thrilling moments to invigorate me. The poignant moments to endear me. The complicated moments to challenge me. The quiet moments to unrush me.

I need it all.

But sometimes, in the midst of all the moments that are making me into the woman You created me to be, I get awfully tired and discouraged.

And I find myself sitting in my driveway wondering. Staring at the culmination of thousands of decisions I’ve made that have brought me here. To this home. This family. This life. I made my decisions and then my decisions made me.

I’m thankful, yes. So very thankful. But I need You to whisper reassurance into my heart that You’re with me. That You see me. And that You are pleased with me. I just need to know, Lord, am I doing this right?

Jesus instructed us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16:15). That seems an impossible task for someone who sits in her driveway and feels fragile and wonders all the things I sometimes wonder.

* * * * * * * * * *

Fragile indeed. I told Bruce the other day that I wrestle with opposite dichotomies warring within:

* Continue to pursue short-term global and local missions as long as God allows and I am physically able.

* Sell it all and move to a distant land to serve full-time.

* Move to a tropical island and forget everything (just kidding, sort of!).

I feel like a nomad. When I am home doing the suburban housewife and mom thing, my heart is restless even though serving my family sometimes takes everything in me! When I am serving abroad, I reach a tipping point where I need normalcy and a sense of home. When I serve locally, I feel I am not doing enough. It makes my heart spin.

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of my favorite people. She is the mother-in-law of one of my dearest friends and she turns 80 this month. I just love talking with her! Her mind is sharp as a tack and conversations with her are thought-provoking and always entertaining.

She’s been through some major unexpected illnesses lately that have left her fragile, frail and in spinal therapy. Her already tiny frame of less than 5 feet is now curled over and even thinner than she was before. She asked me all kinds of questions about our mission trip as she has always had a keen interest in them. Once we talked through the logistics of the trip, she turned the conversation to why we go.

She asked questions that she really wanted sincere answers to. Questions like – You feel this is right for your family? And you enjoy this? Do the kids enjoy it? What do they get out of if? How long do you think you will continue to do these mission trips?

I answered each question with a thoughtful answer: For now, this is what God has called our family to. Everyone has a purpose, and we believe this is ours. Yes, we enjoy it very much. It’s the hardest, most demanding thing we’ve ever done (besides parenting) and it’s worth every drop of blood, sweat and tear. The kids love it! Mission trips are great to strip away the entitlement and materialism that our society imposes and encourages. Although our children don’t have overt problems with these anyway, still if we live in a society long enough its way of thinking creeps into our thoughts as being normal. These missions remind them that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that’s a good and necessary truth to know. More importantly, it’s training them to share the Gospel whenever, wherever God leads. We will go as long as the Lord allows and we are physically able.

To every answer she smiled, nodded her head and replied, Okay. Alright. However, she paused at my last answer about being physically able. As we stood in the kitchen, she asked if I wanted a piece of cake and I said yes. She carefully, slowly, struggled to cut and serve it to me, but I knew I needed to let her do it. It was a beautiful moment. I felt God whisper, She needs to do this. Let her. As she worked on the slice of cake, she said, You know, one day you have your health and then the next day you don’t. It’s taken away without warning. I never thought I would go through what I’ve been through, and getting back to where I was is a great struggle. Do what you can while you can do it. Enjoy life. Go on these mission trips. Do it all before you no longer can. Wise words which brought a tear to my eye as I bent over to hear her talk above the white noise in the crowded room of her grandson’s graduation party.

I’ve told Bruce this before. We were walking through Wal-Mart one day and I said, You know, it would only take one car accident. One illness. One life change that could keep one of us from ever being able to go on mission again. Life is fragile. Health is fragile although no one wants to admit it out loud. It’s partially this thought that makes me second guess if I really am doing what God purposed for me in Psalm 139:16 –

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

This is where Lysa Terkeurst and I share the same wonderings and ponderings. Are we getting it right?

Do I feel restless here because we are supposed to be there? Do I miss home there because we are supposed to be here? It’s maddening, really.

Life is so so short. As proactive and intentional as I have been about preserving my body specifically for ministry with all of the surgeries, procedures and physical therapy I’ve had since 2008, I can’t figure out how to stop time. It marches on and takes no prisoners. At the end of my life, whether that be in a year or 40+, I yearn for no regrets – not that I checked off everything on my bucket list, but that I checked off everything on God’s bucket for me. I desperately want to please Him even when human nature screams otherwise. I am starving for Isaiah 30:21 to be read over my life –

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.

My job is to reject my idols and images and run with passion in the direction He leads (v 22). This is much easier said than done. But, when I think about my dear friend who is struggling just to once again stand erect after her physical struggles, I hear a clock ticking in my head and heart. So I write openly on a blog what I’ve been praying in my heart, in a thousand different ways for a long time, that which Psalm 139:23-24 sums up best –

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Lead on, God. I will follow You all the way home no matter where the journey takes me to get there.

 

It’s like riding a bike…

There are times when everything seems to harmoniously fit together and every piece, every part, is functioning the way it should. It’s beautiful. Then there are times when I look at life as if it were an unassembled bike with foreign instructions and extra parts left over after hours of attempting to make it look like a bike.

That’s me.

I sit and look at life, with all of its unnamed parts and half-understood instructions and wonder where I went wrong. Did I go wrong? Do I have it right? Are there simply extra parts? I thought I followed every step as directed. I sit on the floor discouraged. Unsuccessful. With a mechanical thing that in no way resembles a bike.

It’s just been that way lately. Unrelenting. Exhausting. For every effort, there is a difficulty. Two steps back. An inhale of optimism is sucker-punched from stronger forces and a nauseated exhale releases in defeat.

Trying.

Trying.

Trying.

Trying to do what I believe with my whole heart God wants me to do.

But the more I try, the less anything makes sense.

Seriously. Just as we broach the next step with faith and hope, we are blindsided and are left speechless and stunned. Numb. Our compass spinning in circles.

We trust the plan God has for our lives. From parenting to global missions to other ministries, we are pedaling pedaling pedaling on a half-made bike. We are tired.

We are working so very hard to stay on the course lit by the reflection of God’s glory shining, showing us the way. Remembering to suit up in the armor of God. Remembering to love. Be gracious. Be merciful. At the same time I feel so incredibly vulnerable. Raw.

The more I rely on God to help me in the ministries I am involved in, the more I feel alone. I know I’m not, but it’s a feeling nonetheless.

To keep on truckin’ in easier said by one who has the wind on their back and strong momentum on their bike. It feels lately as though I am riding my bike, half-assembled, straight up a mountain into the wind, with no relief for endless miles. Gears slipping and grinding the harder I try.

So how does one respond when mile after mile is gained merely inch by inch? When every thrust of the pedal is nearly impossible? When, try as I might, there is no visible evidence that anything I am doing is gaining any ground. What then?

I want to get off the bike. I want to throw the bike over the mountain and start walking…downhill. I want to give up. But, this isn’t about what I want. As a Christ follower, I am compelled to surrender my preferences and lean into He who gave me the bike.

I am learning like never before that ministry is tough. Really tough. It is a battlefield and the enemy takes no prisoners. Alone as it feels, just keep pedaling. What I know is that nothing can separate me from God’s love. Not the mountain. The wind. Exhaustion. Discouragement. Or the bike.

Once I rode my bike in our hilly neighborhood uphill, and nearly having a heart attack, I refused to get off of it out of sheer pride for those possibly peering through their windows at me.

Today, it is ANYTHING but pride keeping me on this bike – this season of difficult ministry. What holds my feet to the pedals is an insatiable burden God gave me for those I serve. An obligation to finish what He asked me to start. Driving love and passion for what drives His love and passion. And ironically, humility keeps me pushing against logic that says quit. Knowing I can’t do this on my own, I find rest in His refuge. Contentment to endure because of His faithfulness – not mine. Strength in the name of Jesus.

I don’t know how long it will take to ride this bike all the way up the mountain, but I place my hope in faith that the view from the top will be breathtakingly spectacular…and every bit worth it.

Strength in weakness

* This post has been reblogged from our family mission blog.*

We need a place to work out the very real emotions and thoughts of a regular family trying to be obedient to God in global missions. We are fearful. Selfish. Weak.

The hope is that by fleshing out the “us” in us, we will be empty vessels that can authentically be the hands and feet of Christ to whomever He puts in our path and wherever that path leads us. We deeply desire to shed the sin that so easily trips us up.

Hebrews 12:1-2, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

It takes work to surrender – at least for me. I am stubborn. Opinionated. Obstinate. I don’t always learn things the first time and learn most lessons the hard way. I can easily become consumed by fear and worry, and am 100% guilty of going directly to the worst-case-scenario in my thoughts. My weaknesses can yell louder than my strengths, and I have been known to become paralyzed with fear. I have preferences, idiosyncrasies, and annoyances. I am ADD and OCD – each to different extents. I know exactly what pushes my buttons, as well as what pushes my sanity right off the cliff. I know what makes me cringe, nauseates me, and incites private anxiety. God knows these things about me, too.

The thought that He’d want to use me anyway is astounding!

Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it 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.

When we acknowledge our weaknesses, the enemy cannot hang them over our heads, threatening to tell our secrets. Beth Moore said it best, “I tell on myself before the enemy has a chance to.”

Truth is, none of us are worthy in our own right to bear the name of Christ. Our lips are wicked. Isaiah knew this well…

Isaiah 6:1-5, In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Anyone who knows they have been saved by Jesus’ sacrifice knows we are not worthy to do His bidding. Still, He calls us to go and makes disciples of all nations. Wow.

Once I got it, really got it, that God first loved me (before I even knew His name), pursued me in the name of love, and Jesus saved me from my sins by counting the cost for me, my only response can be to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

What does that look like?

Loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength can be summed up in one sentence: To worship Him in every way all the time. Something I fall dreadfully short in. Never has this been a more sobering, humbling process than once our family surrendered to His call to global missions.

Romans 12:1, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

Is anything less than my everything acceptable? No. Christ gave everything to save me. I want to give Him everything in return. It’s just this annoying thing called: carnal nature, sinful nature, walking in the flesh, human nature, or whatever you want to name it that gets in the way.

There’s an old saying – The only problem with a living sacrifice, is that a living sacrifice can crawl off of the altar and run away.

So true!

I am left with one option. Deliberately. Knowingly. Sacrificially, give my time, talents and treasures over and over and over and over to Him again and again and again. My selfish hands keep stealing these back, but my heart, in love with the One who loves me, willingly surrenders them because being close to God is worth far more than anything this life could offer.

Jesus said in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. We often think about the idea of giving our lives for people, or Jesus giving His life for us, but I am drawn to this verse that speaks of giving my life for my friend, Jesus (James 2:23). Paul said it this way in 2 Timothy…

2 Timothy 4:6, For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.

There is way more about the Old Testament that I don’t understand than what I do understand, but I love how Paul’s word picture of being poured out like a drink offering parallels the memorial and peace offerings (burnt, fellowship and grain offerings) that drink offerings typically accompanied in the Old Testament. A memorial offering was a reminder of our sin.  A peace offering was a reminder that because of this offering we are able to have close communion with God, and that we can have peace with God (possible today through the blood Jesus shed for our sins as the final drink offering required for redemption – Luke 22:20John 19:32-34).

So on this altar we call life, we lay ourselves down as living sacrifices being poured out in memory of our sins and comforted with divine peace that they are forgiven.  We do this out of our love for Him, yes, but moreover because of His love for us.

1 John 4:19, We love because he first loved us.

Turning our focus away from our own weaknesses and preferences and toward God who so loves this world, we are raptured in His love and suddenly the costs we are asked to count for Christ seem indescribably insignificant.

Luke 9:23-24, And (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

His love for each of us makes it possible to pick up our cross daily and follow Him – even when the world stands and stares and shakes their head in nonsensical bewilderment.

Philippians 3:12-14, Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We all have weaknesses. What a beautiful reminder that we press on toward the prize of Jesus… despite ourselves.

When we take our eyes off of ourselves, whatever the distractions may be, and gaze upward at the love, grace and mercy God has for us, this becomes the only thing we see. Everything that holds us to this life disappears and we find God’s strength in our weakness.

Hum the melody with me (or better yet, sing it old school with the piano – click here) to the classic hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. It is especially interesting to note that Helen Howarth Lemmel, who composed the music for these lyrics in 1922, was blind.  To God be the glory.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conqu’rors we are!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

His Word shall not fail you, He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well;
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

New Shoes

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. ~ Philippians 4:6-7

This morning was a milestone for my recovery…I got to take a shower without having my foot being wrapped up and kept dry.  Yeah!  That may seem like a trivial thing, but I’ve waited 2 weeks for water to flow over, and soap to clean, my surgical foot.

However, afterwards I noticed something alarming.  It appears part of my stitches came open.  I won’t gross anyone out with more medical talk, but suffice it to say it led to texting my doctor for instructions.

Talk about deflating!  I went from riding a high one minute, to being consumed with worry the next.  Am I at risk for infection?  Sepsis?  Something I don’t know about?

I’ll admit that fear gripped my mind and soul, partly because I want to be thoroughly healed up, and partly because I’ve only allocated a certain amount of time for this surgical hiccup to interrupt our lives (like I have total control over it).

As I began my prayer time today, I said, God, I’m worried.  I’m worried about my foot.  This is all I’ve got to bring You today.

I continued by praying on the armor of God like I do every day (Ephesians 6:10-18).  When I reached the part of my prayer…I fit my feet with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace to go where, when and for how long You say…God interrupted me.

What did you just tell me, Kristi?

I told you I’m bringing you worry.

What did you just pray?

To fit my feet with my feet with peace.

That was my ah-ha moment!  How beautifully and creatively God works in our lives.  The same part of my body that I feel bound to with fear and worry, is the same part of the armor of God that is fitted for peace.

I understand that the peace Paul talked about was in regards to following God’s will, commands, and voice in life so closely that above our doubt, fears and our own agendas we can trust Him no matter where He leads us.

However, it was amazingly intertwined with how I am feeling, particularly about my foot, today.

In my prayer, I asked God to continue to heal my foot from the inside out.  It wasn’t until today I got a close look at the ramifications of surgery.  It’s taken a beating and I’ll leave it at that.

When I spoke of healing from the inside out, I know the benefit to waiting weeks and weeks for a solid, lasting recovery.  If everything looked great on the outside, but wasn’t healed properly on the inside, there would be future problems for sure.  Problems I can’t see from the outside, but would certainly feel on the inside.  The recovery process would be lengthened indefinitely.

God reminded me that this is the same with our hearts and lives.  He heals from the inside out.  Just as I sat down with my pc today, before any programs were even opened, my mother-in-law popped up on Ovoo.  Wow!  I didn’t expect that.  Neither did she.  She said her pc did the same thing.  We laughed that it was meant for us to chat.

She said, You look wonderful!

Thanks.  A shower always helps.

On the outside I am clean, dressed and accessorized.  On the inside, I am churning with worry about my foot.  This moment was a great reminder to me that God indeed heals from the inside out, and no matter how hard we try to put our best foot forward to the world, God sees what’s going on inside, and that is where He begins His work.

Is His work completed overnight?  Rarely.  So we wait.  We try to live the P word – patience.  Ug.  I have to keep coming back to a place where I am pliable in the Potter’s hands.  I have to remind myself to stop fighting against His healing hand.

My doctor says that some of his patients come in after the same foot surgery and their toe is frozen stiff because they didn’t  do their exercises at home.  I am determined to not be one of those patients, because I’ve learned from past experience that physical therapy hurts that much more when we don’t obey our instructions.

There is a time for us to surrender our souls and let God operate.  There is also a time that we are to sit still and simply recover.  There is still a time for us to do our exercises, so scar tissue won’t build up in our hearts – rendering them stiff, hardened and unmovable.

As believers, we have free will.  It is our choice to believe that God is working for our good (Romans 8:28), even in the tough times.  We have the choice to be patient and wait out the work He is completing in us from the inside out.  Waiting through the moments when no change is visible from the outside, rather small, subtle, lasting changes are weaving our broken hearts together again to make a new, stronger person both inside and out.

Oh, and about the timeline, I don’t know if you’ve ever given God a time frame in which to work, but I have.  Truly, this is preposterous because we simply cannot see the bigger picture of life.  When God looks at our lives, time constraints are of no matter from His side of heaven.  He sees it all – beginning to end – all at once and knows how the story ends.

We see merely snapshots of time.  Moments and blips on the radar.  I thought by now I had this one down pat.  That it is all about His timing, not mine, until I remind myself and God of plans we’ve made as a family once I am recovered – with little to no margin for extra time to recover.

Even my doctor cannot exactly tell me the day and time my foot will be 100% well.  God is the only one who knows all, and for that He has all my trust.

If you are like me, working on some inner and outer healing, take heart that God sees.  He knows.  He cares.  You and I are important to Him.  We matter.  Psalm 121 is a beautiful reminder that He is always present and working in our lives.

Psalm 121 – A song of ascents

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Our job is to let Him work.  Sometimes that means surrendering the issue to Him.  Sometimes that means waiting in what feels like nothingness when He is working deep in our souls.  Sometimes it means doing our part of the healing, our home exercises if you will, including forgiving others and ourselves, trusting God in a new way, picking up our cross to follow Him, praying for the issue at hand, releasing the issue, moving as the Spirit prompts us to go, stop, wait, run, walk, make that phone call, write that letter, pack up or settle down.

Healing is miraculous in the long run, but can feel unbearable in the process.  Our faith is that we, as believers, never live a minute of it alone.  Jesus bore all of our illnesses and injuries on the cross.  It’s by His stripes we are healed (perhaps in ways we didn’t expect), and it is in Him that we have joy in the meantime.

Today, I am trading in my shoes of worry and angst, and fitting my feet with new shoes of peace.  One thing I know for sure, these shoes of peace are a lot more comfortable to wear.

<<Check out the companion song to this post on my Tunes page! >>

Why I love the body of Christ – forgiving friendship

Yesterday, I wrote about a friend of mine who has an amazing testimony of redemption and transformation.  Today, I’d like to tell you a story…

Once upon a time there were two friends.  For years, they shared life together.  One day, massive heartbreak occurred.  The friendship dissolved.  Time passed, but not without the lacing of an occasional, short hello or semi-genuine smile when we saw one another. It never grew less awkward.

Boundary lines were drawn and mutual friends were lost.  My name was dishonored, and at times I felt extremely alone.  Betrayed.  Unloved.  Forgotten.

During this time, I sought God as my refuge.  He and I dealt with my heartache.  He taught me how to be okay, even if life around me wasn’t fully okay.  He became known to me as my God of sanity.  Still, there was a sense of awkwardness stirring.  Things were unsettled between my friend and me.  I had done what I could to seek amicable relations, yet I felt powerless to do anything more as I no longer had a dog in the fight.

I let my friend go – partially because I will never force anyone be with me who doesn’t want to, and partially because I could not control any of this, including her feelings toward me.

Years passed.

Recently, to my surprise, I received a phone call from her.  Just to hear her voice on my voicemail caught me off guard.  I had no earthly idea why she called because our lives have not overlapped for a long time.  Before I was able to return her call, I ran into her at church.  I began with an immediate apology for not returning her call yet due to life barraging me with wave after wave of relentless issues to deal with all at once.

She simply took my hand, and with tearful eyes, began to apologize to me.  I was taken back at her sincerity, genuineness and humility.  She was visibly, transparently broken. She told me that God used a recent sermon to convict her so heavily regarding me that she could not carry this weight one more step.  The words she used were extremely powerful to me…

Although I have always loved you, I have not loved you well.  I am sorry.

When she said that, it was like cool water to a thirsty soul.  Over time, I had worked things through with God to overcome my grief, anger and sheer shock of events, but I had no idea how much good it would do for my heart to hear her words.

Her husband stood with us as she offered her apology several times.  I told her with amazement, Your countenance is different.  You have a softness about you that I haven’t seen in years.  She replied through tears, Thank you.  I needed to hear that. 

It was a beautiful moment between two people.  God had surely done a huge work in her heart.  It was visible in many ways.

Her apology is one I never thought would happen. You know how it goes – hurts happen, time passes, life goes on, the subject gets dropped, feelings get stuffed and we smile as if nothing ever happened while a sting pierces our heart – but we hide it well.

This is not how God intended it to be with people, particularly within the body of Christ. He has set forth rules for handling life’s sticky situations, and Christians are, therefore, held to a higher standard.  I totally get that, but what I think the world doesn’t understand is that we are human, very human.  Christ lives in us, but we have free will to choose our behavior.  We want to please God, but we wrestle incessantly with our human nature that is selfish on all counts.

Paul wrote about this in Romans 7:14-25.  It takes everything in us, but it is only with God’s help, we live the way He wants us to live.  Our spirit knows the Truth, but our flesh craves a human response.

Delightfully, because God had worked with me to forgive her a long time ago, I was freely able to extend that forgiveness to her with no strings attached.  That’s what felt so incredible!  She and I came at this from two different vantage points, but because God was the common thread, He wove us together in His mercy and grace.

I can say with a sincere heart that all is well.  It was a biblical moment that superseded our humanness.

Just last week, I read the headlines of a national magazine that so-and-so will never forgive so-and-so and that she has written her off forever.  I thought to myself how sad that was.  Forever is a long time.  And, for Christ-followers, we will share forever together so we’d better learn how to get along now!

Are either of us, my friend or me, perfect people?  No.  Do we have perfect lives?  No.  Do we serve a perfect God, who took the time while ruling the universe, to reach down and mend a relationship among the 6+ billion people who walk this planet?  Yes.

It was a miraculous moment.  Honestly, I had given up hope that anything like that would ever occur.  Her heartfelt actions and words refreshed my hope that the seemingly impossible is possible with God.  Everything is possible with God (Mark 10:27).

Had we not been believers, trying to live according to God’s ways, our story would end with the same headline of being written off forever.  Not so with God.  Who would have thought?

Being a part of the body of Christ means we are intertwined in each others’ lives.  We are – family.  We have a Heavenly Father to whom we are accountable for our actions.  The world says to be our own god and make our own rules and answer to no one.  The only place that gets us is alone, because it’s all about us, right?

Christians may not always get it right.  We live under a microscope of cynicism from the world who waits for us to get tripped up in our faith journey.  Yep.  It’s going to happen. We are sinners saved by grace.  But, the difference is that with God, we get a chance to start again.

His forgiveness is the only kind that lasts.   If we forgive on a human level, we are bound by conditional love – which is hyper-temperamental and unreliable.  We forgive out of our finite capacity based on our personalities and life experience.  However, God’s forgiveness is based on what has been given to us – divine forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  And that is an unconditional, endless supply to offer others.

Do we wrestle with emotions?  You bet.  In the course of my life, it has just about killed me to offer forgiveness in certain circumstances, and I will not write that I have perfected the area of offering divine forgiveness.  But, through this experience with my friend, God has poured streams of living hope into my soul – an unexplainable optimism – that where we give up and come to the end of ourselves, God says, Finally!  Now let me carry it the rest of the way.

I love being part of the body of Christ.  Why?  It works.  God’s way works.  Not according to world’s standard because good guys finish last, right?  But, according to God’s standard, we can have unshakable peace, audacious faith, and irrational joy – and we get to share these hidden treasures with other believers who have also discovered them along their faith journey.

God’s way is hard.  Really hard.  But, it’s the right way.  The world’s way of dealing with broken relationships is broken itself.  Grudges drain energy.  Unforgiveness poisons the soul.  Ongoing anger turns bitter.  Relationships end, but the hurt never stops.  I’ll take the hard, but beneficial, way any day.  Christians still have feelings to work through, we’re not robots, but laying them at the feet of the One who carried the cross of my shame, I am free to trust His system of perfect love.  After all, at any moment, I may be the one asking for forgiveness.

Even though I am imperfect, I can love with God’s perfect love.  Where what I have within myself ends, He begins and carries the baton of righteousness and godliness for me – holding my hand as we run the race.  Helping.  Cheering.  Instructing.  I am never alone. Neither is anyone who calls on His name.  I have my friend back again and we have both been changed in the process – hopefully to more resemble the One who created us.  God is our Redeemer, Restorer and Reconciler.  We are thankful.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. ~ Psalm 130:3-4

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Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. ~ Ephesians 4:2-3

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Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. ~ Matthew 5:22-23

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Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. ~ Ephesians 4:32

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Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” ~ Matthew 18:21-22

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Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. ~ Colossians 3:12-13

 

Why I love the body of Christ – miraculous transformation!

Before I begin, I want to explain my recent silence.  There are so many things going on in the world right now, serious issues, that I’ve felt like anything I write is trivial in comparison.  Nothing parallels life and death, and thus I almost started believing that anything other than those issues were not as important.

Well, that is true – to a point.  Many of us do not live in life or death situations every day of our lives.  But, we do live with peaks and valleys, good times and suffering, gain and loss, sickness and health, and all of the array of emotions that accompany such times of life.  There are seasons and purposes to everything under heaven (Ecclesiastes) and this blog’s purpose is to walk through these seasons, hopefully offering encouragement to others who paths may look different, but share some of the same feelings about our journeys.  So with that, I have found a revived excitement about writing.  One person cannot solve the world’s problems, but if this blog brings a smile, offers a perspective, or lightens the load of our fellow sojourners, then God will continue to work His message through this one, simple blog that has traversed 25+ countries across the world.

What better way to prove this than with my friend.  Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed with a new found love for my church.  I’m not talking about only where my membership resides, but Christ’s church that spans from the book of Acts to all over the world today.  We will camp on this for a few days.  Why?  Because the church has taken many hits over time.  It’s not perfect by any stretch, but God has ignited in my heart a renewing of the joy of being part of His church.  With that, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.

I met this friend a while ago.  For a long time, I didn’t know his story of how he became a Christian or found our church.  I only knew I was glad this man’s life intersected ours.  He makes good points in discussion.  He is tender, humble and very funny.  He has a huge, bright smile and likes to laugh.  He is considerate, helpful and smart.  He never misses a Sunday (unless work schedules conflict) and worships with his whole being.  He loves God with all his heart; loves his church; and loves people.  I recall a recent Sunday when he stood at the door, greeting people as they came in the building.  He smiled and said kind words to me.  He ushered the offering plate on our row with a servant’s heart.  Sounds like a great guy, huh?

Did I also mention that he used to be (until he asked Christ into his heart) a drug dealer?  He had every dealer’s name in the city on his speed dial, and used to use “physical intimidation” to get money due him.  He wasn’t a nice guy.

Ya know what?  I can’t see it.  What I see when I look at him (as does everyone at our church who knows his story), is a transformed man.  Extreme Makeover has nothing on this guy.  This man is teachable, gentle and kind.  I liken him to a teddy bear.

My husband and I talked fondly about him just yesterday, and we just sit in amazement over the new life this friend has in Christ.  The bondage of old sin is broken, and he is new.

Is his life perfect?  Nope.  Is anyone’s?

Does his old lifestyle still have consequences?  Sure.  Anyone’s does.

If accepting Christ as Savior meant a free ride with a perfect life, being Christian would be a lot more popular!  One thing it does mean is that we are free to live the abundant life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10.

There are many people in the Bible who underwent the same transformation on their own personal level.  Take Paul.  He was Saul, a perfect Pharisee.  He relentlessly persecuted the church without discrimination against men, women, old and young.  He was present, and approved, Stephen’s stoning – which was the first martyrdom for Christ (Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1).

But, then he encountered Christ.  He was changed.  Transformed.  New. (Acts 9:319)

Were Christians wary of Paul?  Oh yes!  When he came to Damascus, they knew he was coming for them.  After all, he made that message very clear (Acts 9:1-2).  But along the way, the love of Christ broke through some very tough skin and a hardened heart.  Paul went on to become the most impactful missionary in history for the cause of Christ.  If God could reach Saul, now Paul, how capable is He of giving any of us a new start?

Regardless of our past, God offers a new future.  He replaces shame with dignity; heals scars; replaces despair with hope; and sets our feet on a new path made exclusively for us.  No one is beyond saving.  Christ died for one and all.  He is the only God who sacrificed Himself for people so we, who accept Him, don’t ever have to experience the eternal penalty for our sins.

My friend experienced God’s love in such an irresistible way that he forsook his entire lifestyle and livelihood to follow Christ.  He asked for forgiveness and turned from his ways.  He surrendered his finances to God and asked Him to give him a job he can be proud of.  He seeks God.  Becoming a Christian didn’t satisfy his appetite.  He wants more.  He wants to know more about God and draw closer to Him.  That is change!

If I weren’t a part of the body of Christ, I never would have met this man that I look forward to seeing on Sundays.  His story never would have challenged my heart to embrace miraculous change for anyone who earnestly wants it.

If I weren’t part of the body of Christ, I never would have realized how similar my friend and I are.  I may not have his story as my own, but we both share a need for God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.  We both rest in the peace that only Christ can bring.  We both want to run our races strong for Christ – no matter the cost.  We are both sinners who found a life of hope and joy in God who is trustworthy and faithful.

We are equally loved by God who created us.  My friend’s story reaffirms a favorite quote by Dr. Bruce Frank, You can run from God, but you can’t outrun God.  

Whether I see my friend at church, or look in the mirror, I am reminded of Lamentations 3:22-23, Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I am thankful to be a part of the body of Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Corinthians 5:17

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But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect…

1 Corinthians 15:10

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Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

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To Him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—the glory and dominion are His forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:5

Sand and Water #3 Perspective

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Sitting on the beach, I was quite content to people watch for a while.  My youngest son and I had finished playing a fun game of frisbee and other beach games, so he set off to try to make a home made kite from a plastic bag, 2 boogie boards and red plastic string.

A family nearby had also enjoyed a full day playing in the sun – mom, dad, toddler and grandparents.  Nearing late afternoon, the mom, grandmother and daughter ventured into the surf together – hand in hand.  I watched them with curiosity.  Then, it happened.

My heart sank, and I instantly knew why I felt like my heart weighed a 1,000 pounds.  There were 3 generations enjoying the beach together.  Something I will never have with my mom and children.  Once again, reality has a way of sneaking its way into a dreamy moment.  One moment, the grandmother and mother were swinging the toddler above the waves with me blissfully watching on the sidelines, then, in the next breath the stark reality of what I will never feel, hear, see or experience hit me like a roaring wave of sadness.

However, what happened next totally caught me by surprise.  As fast as my heart sank, it was as though a life preserver had been thrown my way.  With fresh eyes, ones given to me by believing God in all things and living by faith, what I watched through a grieving filter of a hollow past was now something I could look forward to enjoying in the future.

I may not be able to have this kind of beach moment with my mom and daughter, but hopefully I can have it with my daughter, or daughter-in-laws, and grandchildren.

Ah ha!  Everything looked different.

It is our choice to walk backwards on the path of life on which God has allowed us to journey.  It is also our choice to walk forward.  I was caught up in a moment of walking backwards over things that have already taken place, and in doing so I temporarily forfeited the opportunity to get excited about what I hope is to come.

Is there a guarantee that I will ever get that moment?  No.  But, without hopes and dreams, the reality of life can mercilessly pound us like relentless, crashing waves.  For today, I look forward to the many moments God will prayerfully give me with my family – but I will also treasure the ones He’s given me right now.

Yesterday, we had an awesome day together.  In the sand, sun and water, we made the most of the day and went to bed delightfully exhausted and a little sunburned.

I snapped a photo (above) of the family, our sandy neighbors, whom I had the pleasure of watching. Instead of bringing despair, they offered me hope.   Instead of walking backwards, I will walk forward to whatever awaits on my path.  And, I will soak in every laugh, every hug, every tender moment with my family that God gives me right now.  They are balm to my heart and water to my soul.  I have a smile on my face this morning, over precious memories made thus far on this trip and with hope for more special moments to come.