The Photo Challenge

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

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. 

Amen.

Laser-focused

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: David Kim

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

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

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

Pastor Lee understands this about himself as well.

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

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

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

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

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

These midwives had a laser-focused calling.

I’m jealous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is good and He is enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

No sooner did I…

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.   Isaiah 43:18-19

In 2010, our lives were unexpectedly flipped upside down and inside out.  Unbeknownst to us, a series of events, divinely timed, methodically unfolded.  However, we were completely unaware of what God was up to.  What began as a normal Sunday at church turned into an eternal change in the direction of our family.  The words of guest speaker, David Stevens, uprooted my entire way of thinking of what faith looks like in a person’s life.  Challenging, penetrating words from a woman advocating for African orphans rocked my world one night as we watched them joyfully sing and dance and give their testimony to God’s faithfulness.  Then, through God’s providence, He brought Dr. David Platt’s book, Radical, into our lives.  Like birth pains, our lives were quickly becoming uncomfortable to say the least.  We were compelled to examine our lives and ask God if there was anything He’d like to change about them.  Do NOT ask that question if you’re not ready for the answer!

The next thing we know, we’re on a plane with our children 10-14 yrs old, headed to Africa on our first international mission trip (and our first trip out of the country).  The next summer, we found ourselves in Ukraine on a different mission trip.  This past summer, we were speechless as our passports were stamped in Asia on yet another different mission project.

Everything we knew normal to look like was so far in the rear view mirror we couldn’t even see it anymore.  In between those times, we continued with local work in our community.  I thought what God had planned to change in our lives had happened, and even though I certainly felt out of my comfort zone, I had no idea that was only the first phase of the transformation.

I really believed the “change” had happened.  And it did.  But, God never said anything to us about that being the only change.

Once again, I find myself being shaken. I am currently taking the Bible study, Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker.  What began as a desire to take this study from an alumni stance of, Oh I know what she is talking about!  Been there.  Done that! quickly became something different.

One day of homework shook me to my core.  I admitted to my small group that God had radically shown me a peek into phase 2 of the transformation and it deals directly with me.  I have a thing.  Everyone has a thing, and we are quick to judge others’ things because either they makes us feel better about our thing, or their thing is just plain weird in our own eyes.

My thing has to do with my hands.  It is a sensory issue mostly.  My hands must be clean.  I don’t wash them 18 times a day, but they must stay generally clean or the epicenter of my sanity is rocked off its axis and I cannot focus on anything until I wash them.  Okay, so that’s my thing.  I said it.

What does this have to do with the transformation of our family’s and my faith?  A lot.

This oddity about me with my hands has held me back from experiences in life.  I love nature, animals, and all of that.  Love it!  But, as much as I love to get up close and personal with insects, please do not ask me to touch them.  I will look at them, photograph them and appreciate their place in our ecosystem, but their legs and exoskeletons make my skin crawl to imagine them touching my hands.

I love sharks.  Okay, so I am a little obsessed with them!  Have been my whole life.  I’ve read books about them and watched nearly every documentary on them.  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to touch one.  I was allowed to stroke its back and dorsal fin.  A moment I had waited for my entire life!  As I reached into the salty water, I felt a swell of adrenaline and nausea roll over me.  As much as I wanted to enjoy the moment, the slick, leathery skin that I had waited forever to touch also made me weak in the knees.

The other day, I was trying to catch a large lizard that found its way into our home.  However, it wasn’t the lizard’s size, speed or agility that made me shriek like a little girl every time I missed, it was knowing it would be in my hands and I would feel every toenail, its chest heaving in distress (scared of me!) and its lose, cool skin.  I think lizards are so neat!  But handling them is something different.

When pumping gas, or in the salad bar line, I use my less dominant hand so the hand I use for everything else is still clean.  It’s a right-handed world, and that’s fine with me!  Shaking people’s hands with my right hand keeps my dominant left hand clean for everything else I need to do.  A couple of times for my children’s birthday parties, I made mystery boxes that everyone stuck their hands into and had to feel their way to the items on the list. I made the box.  I knew what was in it.  I knew it was only spaghetti noodles hiding things like pencils, plastic dinosaurs, and bouncy balls. But, for the life of me, I could not stick my own hand in the box!  Yeah, that’s me.

When we were in Africa, I really struggled.  For 2 weeks, I couldn’t practice the hand-washing methods, etc. that I do here in America.  However, I did embrace bucket showers and thought that if America could do this one change we’d have no more worries of clean water shortages. As much as I loved Kenya and its friendly, hospitable and warm people, being there was a huge mental obstacle for me because of my stupid hand thing.  I carried so much guilt and shame around with me as I wrestled to assure myself this wasn’t a case of me thinking too highly of myself.  Like, I would never touch something or someone less than me.  Oh my word no!  That’s not it at all.

It’s a sensory thing.  Like I have 10 little brains attached to my hands.  Weird, I know.

When I hold my husband or my children’s hands, I feel an emotional electricity connecting us through touch.  When I knead dough, there is a feeling of workmanship and family (it’s a very old family recipe) that affects me on a deeper level.  But, don’t even get me started on public door handles and bathrooms.  It isn’t pretty.

So in Africa, as well as the other two countries we served in, because of this secret, odd thing, I found my place comfortably behind the camera.  As a freelance photographer, I was more than happy to be the team historian for these trips.  I was also very happy to load and lug equipment; produce and carry-out VBS with the team; harvest corn; help with soccer clinics, help start-up community playgroups, etc.  I was very happy to serve in ways that made me comfortable.  I even told myself that according to 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, we all have different gifts and talents God uses as a collective body to serve in His name.  That is true, but hiding behind those talents is not the same as using them for His glory.

Enter the Interrupted study I am taking.

On this particular day of study, God showed me that what I have known my whole life as “good enough” service to Him was no longer good enough.  He wants to move me from from a place of comfort to a place where I will serve Him even if – and especially if – it is uncomfortable.  It’s about living in His strength and not my own.  It’s about overcoming our fears with power and victory believers have in Christ.

Sure, it’s okay to continue to use the stuff God hard-wired in me for His work, but He is now gently pushing me toward new work that requires more than I have to give.

He lovingly told me that I have been hiding behind my camera; hiding behind the title of organizer in different service projects both local and worldwide; and hiding behind my writing.  Why?  Because in all of those cases I get to appease my hand issue.  I don’t have to necessarily be hands-on in the uncomfortable work.

I remember watching my daughter, then just 12 years old, swing, hold and play with precious children on the African mountainside completely uninhibited.  I was envious of her.  She sat on the ground while they braided her hair and rested in her lap.  I stood on the sidelines watching through the lens of my camera – wishing I could be like her.  Watching my sons hold hands with children who had an enormous amount of mucus and drainage running out of their noses, wiping it with their hands, then again taking the hands of my sons again – never to be denied and always welcomed with a smile, tears filled my eyes as I hoped those same mucus-filled hands wouldn’t find mine.  If they did, I would certainly not turn them away, but it would push me right to the edge of my personal cliff.

In Asia, we worked with children who couldn’t care for themselves, and I repeatedly had to silently stop and breathe because again, as I adjusted my normal to meet theirs.  I guess it turned up the fact I have the same issue with my feet.  Removing my shoes, as is custom, meant I had to sometimes walk barefoot on strange floors that had many bare feet on them.  The crunch of unknown substances I stepped on, or someone else’s hair getting stuck to the bottoms of my feet made me want to run outside and rub my feet in the grass.  Oh the shame to feel such things on mission trips!  But, I would just as quickly feel them at home, too. My oddity shows no discrimination of people, place or circumstance.

This is real. Raw. Sobering.  Embarrassing.  So why write about it?  Why risk being judged by the big world we live in?  Why set myself up for possible critique or criticism?

God is doing a new work, and I guess I want to give a very clear “before” picture, so He can get the glory for the “after” picture I trust is coming.

In our study’s small group, I confessed these things with bated breath not knowing how I’d be received. To my pleasant surprise, my humbling words were met with beautiful grace.  Every single woman was so gracious!  It is their response that gave me the courage to write this on a public blog.  I left that morning with hope that God can change even the strangest things about people.  We are, in fact, a work in progress.

We openly discussed the topic of helping the homeless and the poor and all that surrounds these desperate circumstances. Yet, as I confessed my shortcoming of the hand thing, even the nurse and occupational therapist in our group were merciful to me – and never made me feel like I was less of a believer or a person due to this obstacle that they obviously don’t share given their lines of work.

I told the group, God revealed to me with fresh eyes that I have been hiding in ministry because of this.  With sincere motives, giving money, donating clothes, and serving in a food line is comfortable.  Joining my kids and their friends in nursing homes to sing Christmas carols, making and donating gift baskets for women’s shelters and organizing bake sales to benefit world relief efforts is comfortable.  Doing yard work and attending luncheons for widows is comfortable.  Soliciting contributions from businesses for the different charities we work with is comfortable.

God is clearly telling me that while those things are good, if I am doing them to partly hide behind what isn’t comfortable, then that needs to change.  I accepted His loving discipline and offered Him an open heart as best I could.

I left our small group to run a few errands at my familiar stomping ground.  No sooner did I pull up at the same old three-way stop, than I immediately saw a woman standing at the stop sign holding a sign asking for help.  At her feet sat two children.  It was chilly, windy and drizzling.

In one motion of heart and head, I instantly knew this was God placing me there to practice this new lesson of serving in the discomfort.  We keep gift bags in our car with bottled water, cans of soup and Scripture for such an occasion, but this mom and her kids needed more than that.

I cannot describe how 100% confidently sure I was that God called me to this intersection for such a time as this.  Normally, we would hand them the gift bag, ask their name and tell them we would pray for them all before the light turned green and off we’d go.  For years that has sufficed.  Not so this day.

It was a well-trafficked intersection, in the middle of the day, in a familiar part of town, and it was a mom and two young children.  I felt very safe (an important aspect). I drove right by her without a word, but pulled into the first open parking space at Wal-Mart.  God clearly told me to get them a gift card.  I found a pretty gift card with pink flowers on it, checked out and walked with haste back to the van.

Looking back to see if they were still there, I circled the van to the closest parking space to them.  I sat in the van and prayed.  Of all the times I’ve tried to help people standing on the street corner, I’ve never gotten out of my car to do it.

That instant, the bondage of fear left me and I knew I was walking in God’s strength and power – not mine.  I walked up to the mom and her kids and asked them if I could take them to lunch.  I offered that the kids could play on the play set while we could just relax and eat.  As soon as I offered, she broke down and cried and thanked me.  However, someone before me had already given them lunch.

Okay.  So what now? I prayed.

I remembered Jen Hatmaker’s words in the study, Ask them their name and their story, because they never get to tell their story.  

So I did.  And, with all glory to God, I held out my hand to shake each of theirs.  (Not a big deal to 99% of the population, but it’s a big deal to me.)

Suddenly, we were just two women smiling and talking with no regard to the many cars passing by.  Her daughter had a beautiful, captivating smile and her son was incredibly polite.  I offered her the gift card and she began to cry again.  I gave her the name of our church to see if they could help in any way.  Then I did something I’ve never done.  I gave her my cell phone number.

Physical touch and sharing personal information were on my list of no’s.  And, I would never blankly say it’s okay to do this in any situation, but it was okay in this one.  God had given me an indescribable a peace about it.

I listened to her story and offered to pray for her family.  She gladly accepted.  In our home, we always hold hands when we pray no matter where we are.  I reached out my hand and asked if she would hold mine for the prayer.  She held out her hand, and in the moment we touched I felt a 1,000 pounds of guilt and shame I have carried my whole life over this hand thing drop like a rock.

I was a new person before we said Amen.

This mom was so sweet.  Her children were precious.  I could have stayed with them all day. Before leaving, I shook both of her children’s hands and gave the mom my number. I didn’t have much to write on, so she offered me the back of her poster she was holding asking for help.

I mentioned earlier that physical touch is a big deal for me, and as we both held the large poster board, and my left hand drug across it as I wrote my number on it in ink, it changed me.  In a  way, I had become connected to her board – her situation – her.  It became very personal in that moment.  It’s difficult to put into words.  It wasn’t a typical drive-by/drop-off of goods and well wishes between strangers.  It was two women helping each other.  I hope I was a blessing to her.  For certain she was to me.

When she accepted the gift card, the first words she spoke were, My children have almost nothing to wear.  Now I can buy them some clothes. It pierced my heart that her first response was to take care of her children.

Driving away, it dawned on me that she never asked me for anything.  Strange!  I asked her name and her story; offered them lunch; gave her a gift card; gave them our church’s number and my cell phone number; and asked if there was anything else I could do.  She never asked for anything, but was so appreciative and teary.

However, truly I also received something I needed.  God broke the stronghold of the hand thing. His love superseded my hangup and His mercy and compassion won out.

I pray He continues to meet the needs of this family, as I look for them now every time I pass that intersection.  I know He will.  This experience was also a blessing to me because it showed me that God hasn’t given up on me and my hangups.  He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and will finish the work He started in us (Philippians 1:6) even if some of us take a little longer.

Because of this experience, God has given me a new hope and fresh excitement for what phase 2 may hold.  Before, I had some sticky reservations, but I am reminded that God can do the impossible – He can change us – creatures of habit that we are.

Serving where He has me, in the roles He has me in, is great.  But, now I look forward with curiosity at what in the world He may have in store.

He is good.  Patient.  Kind.  Perfect.  Forgiving.  We are made in His image.  Fragile.  Sinful.  Beautiful.  Only He can put Humpty Dumpty together to create a new work with the same broken chards of the past.  We are new.  Whole.  Lovely.  Even though it is the same ol’ us.

What is He nudging you toward today?  What comfort zone is He moving you away from?  As we live and breathe there is a plan for our lives. The Potter continues to sculpt us into the image of His Son for plans no eye has seen nor ear has heard (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Do I wish I could redo all of the times my shortcomings sabotaged a moment of ministry?  Absolutely.  But I will not stay in the guilt of the past because God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3;22-23).  If He can forgive and forget, so can I (Psalm 103:11-12; Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12).

However, I don’t want to completely forget so I will remember to let God keep pushing me out of my comfort zone and draw me toward wherever His heart is at work.  I don’t want to miss a moment.

The lunchbox

DSC_0002

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

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

Read with me John 6:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are so many unanswered questions like…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, Hello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened to you? he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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