If you’re going to carry it…


Kristi Buttles Photography 7-15-2015 2-39-055

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. 


The pursuit of healing

With my 7th lifetime surgery now behind me, the 4th in the last 5 years, I turn my attention toward physical therapy in hopes to be back to normal – only better.  I love my physical therapists, but am annoyed at the inconvenience it is to stop everything multiple times a week and go.  I don’t say anything out loud, because I am grateful for healthcare and that I am on the other side of surgery, but inside I throw a fit at how laborious and irrelevant this process feels.

Today, I schlepped in as always, with a smile, and breathed a big “here we go again” breath.  I made a point not to complain to the therapists because I am certain they’ve heard it all before. Yet, perhaps it’s the gray skies or drizzly rain or unusually cool temps that set me up, and for the first time I did complain.  Lying on my back on the hard, pleather table, staring at into the awful, harsh fluorescent lights above, while working out the exercises I was instructed to do, I said, “I just want the pain to finally stop.  I mean, I’ve been living with this pain in my shoulder for years and finally did something about it.  However now that the surgery is over, this p/t is making it hurt worse than ever.  I just want the pain to finally be gone.”

The therapist smiled and agreed in a nice way, though I’m sure I’m not the first or last to voice my frustration.

Then I began to think about this whole process and found a gap.  I asked her, “Why is it that when I am at home, I am able to do almost everything I could before – only a week out of surgery – and feel very little pain, but when I come here and do the exercises you instruct it really hurts?  I mean, I’m doing laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, walking the dog, able to wash my own hair, etc.  I thought these were pretty good home therapy measures.  Don’t they count?”

Her answer was simple, but it explained a lot.  She said, “When you are doing your normal life at home, you stay in middle range of motion.”  She demonstrated some chores to show me that none of them require me to stretch my limits, literally.  They all stay within a pain-free zone, if you will.  “What we want is to push you to your limit.  That’s what’s going to give you full range of motion again.  What you are doing at home is fine, but you need these exercises to push you to your max to complete the healing.”

While I completed the circuit of exercises, I thought about what she said.  It made so much sense from a physical standpoint, but also from a spiritual one.

When something in our lives is injured, broken or hurting, either by someone else’s (un)intentional injury or our own emotionally degenerative heart, we approach the Master Healer for help.  What we are really asking for is a cure without any cost.  We want a broken heart mended, to have more patience, see our obvious purpose revealed, receive guidance and grow wiser – all without cost or discomfort to us. We think that as long as we admit there is a problem and want God’s help, poof!, it will be done and we get to move on with our lives.

Or, we don’t seek God’s help and try to go straight from hurting to healed in one fail swoop.  We think that what we are doing on our own is enough, when in reality we aren’t able to bring ourselves to where we need to be to be healed – because we simply can’t inflict pain on ourselves – even if it means it will make us better.  We stay stuck in the mid-range, comfortable zone.

Either scenario is not a prescription for ultimate healing.  If we allow God to work in our lives, we must be willing to count the cost of it being inconvenient; take longer than we’d like it to; pull us away from what we’d rather be doing in our flesh to where we need to be in our spirit; and be willing to be pushed to limits we didn’t know we had because we are so used to our mid-range comfort zone.

Trying to heal our hearts and lives on our own leaves scars, pain and unfinished business.  Trust me, after a very bad fall on our street in 2010, but seeking no medical help, my knee has an obvious scar and there is now (compliments of a recent xray – too little too late) a piece of my wrist bone floating in tissue that broke off in the fall that painfully catches my muscles and nerves.  I’ll always wonder what could’ve been a better outcome if I had just been humble enough to seek help.

I read today that a beautiful woman inside and out, full of potential, committed suicide in her quest to find love and attention.  I am so sad for her family and friends, and sad for her that she gave up trying to fix herself.  If only she could’ve sought healing through Jesus Christ who bore our afflictions, illnesses and failures for us on the cross.

He is right there, holding out His own scarred hand, offering us help.  He knows what we need and when we need it.  He is on our side.

Will I still grumble about having to make the next months of my life centered around p/t appointments?  Probably.  But, I will now go with a fresh perspective of a heart check, not just a shoulder check by asking myself these questions:

* Can I acknowledge there is something wrong?

* Am I willing to admit I need His help?

* Am I avoiding the work God wants to do in my life?

* Will I count the cost of my time, energy and emotions to allow God room to work?

* Will I not quit even if it is painful?

* Will I listen to God and follow His instructions?

* Can I accept the help He is trying to give me through prayer, His Word, or others?

The physical therapist is right on all counts.  I need her.  I need her to hold me accountable for showing up and putting forth the effort; to show me ways that I can work my shoulder back to its best; and accept her encouragement along the way.

The heart is much more involved.  The process is layered.  Sticky.  Complicated.  If we run away and hide, we hurt ourselves.  If we ignore the problem it will only get worse.  If we treat it halfway we will never know what our best could be.  If we let God in, daring Him with the deepest places of pain (like when the therapist stretches the joint that is healing in my shoulder), He will always work in our best interest.  His Word, the Bible, tells us so.  We can trust God because God is love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love…

1 John 4:16

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.   Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, be we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in out time of need.

Hebrews 4:12-16

Trust in the LORD with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path. 

Proverbs 3:5-6

This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way it, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 

~ Jesus, John 10:10

Happy New Year of Life

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. ~ Psalm 139:16

Last week, I began the week in so much pain from a recent back injury that I didn’t even realize my birthday was approaching.  After 4 doctors, 5 doctor appointments, a heating pad, a cold pack, pain medications and very little sleep sitting straight up in a chair for over a week, I wandered around in a dazed fog – unable to keep up with the days of the week – much less the date.  This is why I’ve been off the grid from posting.  I was just trying to get up and down out of chair. :O

However, I have an amazing family and awesome friends who would not let my birthday go unnoticed nor let the excruciating back pain spoil the fun.  I have a great, big God who went out of His way to show me He didn’t forget the day He began our love story decades ago.

My last post, Today, was the worst day of the pain.  Back pain so bad that my skin has broken out in hives all week where the injury occurred.  Doctors said it was my back’s way of relieving the stress from the pain.  I didn’t even know that was possible.  I jokingly said that I must be allergic to pain.  Not!  Three childbirths, 5 surgeries and 2 severe car accidents have proven otherwise.

Anyway, today I simply want to post a huge, sincere THANK YOU to everyone who made this year one of the most loving, special, memorable birthdays I have ever had in my life.

To my husband and children, thank you for making me smile and laugh (the back pain from laughing was totally worth it!) and taking the time to treat me like a queen.  Bruce, you work so hard for our family.  I know you wanted to be home with me, but what you do makes our family life possible.  Your card, flowers, balloons, gifts and mostly your calls and texts made me feel like you were right by my side all day.  I love you!

Kids – you guys rock.  You got up on your summer morning at 6:30am, voluntarily, to make me breakfast!  That was the best egg white omlette I’ve ever had; the little dude made out of toast and jam – complete with wings and feet – was delicious; the fruit salad – with its professional presentation – was perfect; and homemade chocolate milk, something I afford myself only on my birthday and Mother’s Day meant so much that you remembered.  What can I say about the hand-dipped chocolate covered strawberries?  For breakfast!  I am utterly spoiled, and they were scrumptious.  It was enough for all 5 of us!

On my way to the 5th doctor’s appointment, I received a text from one of my best friends telling me to go check my front door.  I did, and below is what I found!!!  What an incredibly nice surprise!!!!!!!!  Seeing as our country is in a helium shortage (weird, huh?), I can’t believe you guys found some.  Frances and Ann, your two families are family to us always and forever.  You know me well, and filled this basket with my favorite things – most touching was the cards signed be each and everyone of you.  Thank you guys so much!  Ya’ll are kind, generous and loving – and I want the world to know. 🙂

After the appointment, I was treated to lunch by not one, but two friends at a favorite Italian restaurant.  Their hugs, smiles and fun conversation was priceless time with women I think the world of.  Your gifts, cards and fellowship is more than I could ask for.  Pam and Renee, you are beautiful blessings to me.  Thank you for lunch and the tiaramisu.  It was delicious, but even better sharing it with you.

Renee, you surprised me with dinner the night before my birthday just to help out with my back, and completely surprised me with birthday cupcakes!  BUT, not just any cupcakes, made-from-scratch chocolate sunflower cupcakes!!! They were adorable!  Too cute to eat, but we managed. 😉  We enjoyed every last crumb.  You took so much time out of your day to do this special gift for me, and I am so thankful.  God had such a big surprise in store for me when He brought us together, and it feels like I’ve known you a lifetime.  Thank you, Friend.

Going out with my family last night  was such fun!  Bruce wanted to pull out all of the stops.  When we got home, we played family games and, one of the cutest surprises, was the musical arrangement the kids put on.  My daughter pulled popular songs from each decade of my life and we all danced (well, I swayed) to the music.  That was so creative!!

My Facebook, voicemail and email were absolutely flooded with birthday wishes from so many wonderful people from Kenya to Ukraine to the United States.  Oh my!  I never ever expected that.  I thought my heart would burst from feeling so loved and remembered.  I read and re-read each and every one.  I LOVE the way my sweet Ukrainian friend worded her message to me, Happy new year of your life.  Indeed, God makes all things new. 🙂  I just love that!  To me, a birthday message is priceless.  Someone I care about took the time to stop their day and think of me.  Wow.  Being remembered is a beautiful thing.

All day long, I loved hanging out with my kids, enjoying long face-to-face as well as phone conversations with friends, and anticipating celebrating with my man.  I’m not so much about gifts, though who doesn’t’ like to receive a present? 🙂 I deeply treasure time and things from the heart the most.  My cup was overflowing with both…and very thoughtful presents I might add!

All 3 children gave me precious cards – each special in their own way.  This is the card my sixteen year-old son made for me…

This is part of my youngest’s card.  It’s the signature picture he draws of us every year.  I love it!!!!

God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He meets us right where we are and in ways only He knows is in our best interest.  He is so good.  I have a story about one of the gifts God gave me for my birthday and would love to share it.

On Tuesday, as I mentioned above my worst pain day, a house guest came over.  I was hiding out in my pajamas upstairs.  Clear instructions were given by those downstairs not to touch my camera.  My nice, expensive one I use for ministry.  (I’m oblivious to all of this happening downstairs.)  I guess the temptation was too much and hands picked it up…and dropped it.  Dropped it so hard the filter cracked in half and lens busted.

When I found out the news hours later, I was deflated more than anything.  Just 3 months ago, different hands accidentally knocked my old camera off of a table onto concrete and killed it.  Now this one, my new replacement.  Are you kidding me?  I cannot be without my camera, and when traveling there isn’t always a place to pick up another lens if this broken lens doesn’t get fixed and stay fixed.

Warily, Wednesday afternoon I hobbled into a big box electronic store where I bought it and dreaded the whole waranttee process.  I know it well and it is long and laborious.

I explained the whole thing to the gentleman, shifting my weight to find a comfortable standing position, and he was unmoved to say the least.  Another employee stood silently on the sidelines.  He called up a third employee, and I explained the saga to her.  I had told my daughter when I parked the car I would need God’s self control to get through this because of the back pain and the fact that this was camera #2 that I was left to deal with.  An expensive problem.

Another employee, fixing someone’s hard drive nearby, chimed in and borderline lectured me on the warantee process and how I am not special and do not have a choice to repair or replace.  Yeah yeah yeah.  I got it.

I was now going to be without a camera for an indefinite amount of time for an upcoming trip and milestones like visiting family, the first day of school, etc.  The whole thing gave me a headache.

Suddenly, the woman who came over from a different department placed a box on the counter.  She opened it (while the other guy was lecturing me unsolicited)  and with four simple words then entire issue ended…Here’s your new camera.

What? I responded, completley baffled.

This is your new camera, enjoy it! 🙂

Seriously? I questioned.

Yes, she said as she packed up the box.

Just like that? I asked.

Just like that, she replied.

Really? I asked again.  I know the waranttee process and this isn’t typical by a long shot.

Yes, she simply replied.

I’m not one to cry in front of others, but it was hard to choke back the lump in my throat.

This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a long time.  You have no idea what a blessing this is, I said while the other employees stood by speechless.

This wasn’t your fault, and you shouldn’t have to bear the stress of it.  Photography is what you do, and you should be able to do it, she said.

I’ll be honest.  This is the first time using a large company to buy my camera, and I was wary about the follow-up customer service.

Maybe this will help, she smiled.

Yes, indeed it does! Do I need to do anything?  Sign anything? 

Nope.  Just enjoy it.

Just like that, I had a brand new camera, new lens and a new battery.  Life simply doesn’t resolve itself like that usually.  I was so discouraged one moment, and in an instant the problem vanished.  Done.

Tears streamed underneath my sunglasses as my daughter and I left the store.  I was mostly relieved to have a working camera in my hands so I can do what God calls me to do with it.  No wondering if the repaired lens will flake out on me overseas, or if the body was affected in a way that won’t show up for some time.  It was new.  A brand new camera.

As we walked to the car, God spoke to me and said, You see your life broken in many ways, much like your camera.  But, like this camera, I can fix anything.  I can fix you.  Your life.  I can.

I have to say, He unearthed doubt that had built up in my heart over some things.  I felt physically broken with my back, and emotionally, mentally and spiritually broken over some heart issues.

Driving home, I wondered why this whole thing happened with my camera.  It was so random and bizarre!  But, God showed me that He allowed this to happen to prove a point with me.  That nothing is irreparable with God.  All things are possible.  He can make a way where there is no way.  And sometimes, the process doesn’t have to be long and laborious.

He gave me hope.  Hope for my back and my heart.  He wrapped it in a camera and every time I pick this new one up, I see Him saying, I love you.  I see.  I know.  I hear.  I am at work for your best interest.  What a beautiful, generous birthday present.

I will never forget this birthday.  And, it’s not over yet.  I look forward to going out with one of my favorite friends, Lisa, soon.  And, we are partying on with more family very soon.  Everything we celebrate is only what God has done in my life – a sinner saved by grace.  His faithfulness, mercy, grace and love.  He is eternally good.  All years combined, the good, the bad and the ugly, I write today that God is sovereign.  He is beautiful.  He is worthy.  Here’s to as many more days on this earth that He allows – for His glory.

My heart is full.