Mission-heart lag

Kr3a

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

I wish that were true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh yeah, from where?”

(sigh) “Guyana.”

“Cool. Were you there for vacation?”

Wait for it….

“No, it was a mission trip.”

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re going to carry it…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God had my full attention.

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

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

This was a much needed lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Their idols were refreshing

Strange blog post title for a Christian to write. Allow me to explain…

While driving through the country of Guyana, it’s easy to see the differences between this country and America. For one, they drive on the opposite side of the road. Second, all traffic signs, etc. are merely suggestions. There are tons of small mom & pop shops – no Wal-Mart or Target to be found.  Dogs, donkeys, horses, cows, goats and chickens meander through the city and countryside at will, sometimes even in the road, with no fear.

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One huge visual that stood out was the architecture of the homes and buildings. There is both a Hindu and Muslim presence in Guyana. I didn’t see much of an overtly Muslim influence, but the Hindu influence was eye-catching.

After barraging our leader with a ton of questions (he was very patient with me), I learned some interesting things about Hindu homes. First, the small building in front of the home that looks like a security guard’s station is a prayer house. This is where the Hindu priest comes to pray with the family.

Second are the large statues of the gods those homes worship. Some are small and easy to miss. Others are very intimidating. Several of them made my eyes grow big and catch my breath. The time and craftsmanship put into these structures is enormous and detailed. These pavilions and idols are truly works of art.

One in particular, which I was unable to photograph due to poor weather, was massive. It was a huge pavilion at least two stories tall, and in it was an enormous statue of a terrifying-looking god. Completely black, with daunting white eyes and grimacing expression, it was an idol not to be missed. It stood far above the other houses and their gods.

I asked our leader if the size of the statue meant something, as in trying to please that god with its grand size. Or, was it just to impress neighbors.

He smiled and said, “It’s just to impress.”

Hmm…

In addition to the pavilions and statues (some homes had multiple statues in their front yards) were flags and poles. Again, I asked him what they meant and he said they also represented the gods that house worshiped.

Some homes had two flags, some had ten or more. Even businesses had them.,, 

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These statues were at least 6 feet tall and their pavilion dwarfed the home. At night, the spotlight illuminates the garments’ sequences and sparkling rhinestones. At first glance I thought they were real people standing there shining so brightly.

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I stared out the window (with camera in hand) on our many driving expeditions as we whizzed passed countless homes. At first, cold chills ran down my back when I saw these gods. They were daunting, larger than life, and not what I am used to seeing on a daily basis.

But, as the days went on, I had a different thought, “At least I know where these people are coming from. At least we have a starting point for discussion. ‘So you serve this god or those gods. Got it. Let’s start there.'”

Back in the States, Christians stare eyeball to eyeball and say without blinking, “I don’t have any gods. No idols here, I’m good.”

Really?

Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns. Jeremiah 2:28

Let’s talk about what’s parked in our driveways, our children, our jobs, sports, technology, vacations & entertainment, our relationships, accomplishments, achievements, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, our work, our play, the size of our bank accounts, our social media, our hobbies, friends, family, church, our worship, what we watch, what we listen to, our volunteering, people’s approval, our fears, toys, plans, our talents and strengths, our agendas…and even ourselves. Even our faith can become an idol. And, the bigger the better!

…Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.  Psalm 115:4-8

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. 2 Timothy 3:1-5

“Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
    guilty people, whose own strength is their god.” Habakkuk 1:11

I’m not throwing stones lest I be hit by them. Trust me, I’m right there in the thick of dealing with my own stuff.

Seeing these homes, without ever seeing a person who lives in them, I already know who, or what, they worship. In the U.S., we deny deny deny with a confident smile on our face.

We are so blind to the fact that our schedules, properties and lives are littered with idols of every shape and size.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. Psalm 135:15-18

We. Are. No. Different.

Because there is one Almighty God, any god/idol we have in our lives has the same craftsman of the one who inspires gods/idols of all other religions in the world. Just because our idols fit conveniently into our lives, seem practical or deserved or earned, doesn’t make them any less of a god.

Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Daniel 5:23

Call a spade a spade. Call an idol and idol.

For Hindu people, that’s what they do. Back home, gods are fashionable, trendy, popular and useful. They are time-savers, little (or big) indulgences, and passions gone wild…but we would never call them gods or idols because that would be wrong in the Christian faith.

I came home with a whole new respect for pastors in America. How frustrating and draining it must be to stand at the pulpit week after week, month after month, year after year, trying to break through the idols – when for some the very building, pew, service hour, friends or worship songs are giant idols glaring back at the pastor from the congregation – while the people who make up the congregation sit silently and smile and insist there isn’t a problem.

So, yeah, their idols were refreshing because I know where they stand and that is an excellent conversation starter. Believers need to take a serious inventory of our lives and call out the idols right in front of us.

Oh that God remembers His children are made of dust and casts a broad net of grace over our lives. But make no mistake, if we do not surrender our idols/gods, He will come looking for them. He shares the throne with no one and no thing. He is a jealous God and commands we put no other god before Him.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

“Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe.’

The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’” 

Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord. Joshua 7:10-15, 19-23  

It’s a lot easier, and less painful, to surrender idols ourselves, rather than God having to root them out of our lives, prying them from our hands. But, He will because He loves us that much.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6

Dear Almighty God, please give us eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to accept Your Truth, truth that sets us free. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.