Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dear God, I Guess It's Over,

Dear God,

Tonight, they gave up. I'll be honest, that's hard for me to swallow.

I had started to have hope. I had started to believe that at least he was going to make those hard decisions. But she was like that deceitful woman in Proverbs that You told us about... and he was no match.

So, it's over now. And I don't know how I feel about that.

Part of me is relieved. That means no more late night phone calls. No more long hours of counseling and mentoring. No more money being spent. No more back and forth, up and down.

Part of me is angry. We spent a lot of money, time, energy, and missed a lot of sleep and time as a family, sacrificing this so that they could hopefully see You. And they threw it all away.

Part of me is heart broken. I'm heart broken for what could have been. I'm heart broken that they couldn't see it and they didn't think it was worth it to follow You. I'm heart broken that they threw it all away.

And part of me is confused. I know we did all that You said we should do. We didn't hold back. We loved unconditionally. We sacrificed willingly [ok, maybe it wasn't always willingly....] We literally poured ourselves out.

And tonight they break our trust and do what they promised not to do and then have the nerve to call and tell us that they don't ever want to talk to us again and we don't need to bother coming by in the morning. Tonight they will sleep the last night in the hotel room that we paid for. They will eat the food that we paid for. Tomorrow he will put on the shoes that Richard gave him and they will use the bags that we gave them to pack up their things and go out on the streets because they literally have nowhere else to go.

And I just cling to Your promise that You gave in Isaiah 55.11 "so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

I don't really know what that means. I don't know what Your purpose is for this. I don't know what You will have for them or why You brought them into our lives. I just don't know.

But I do know that You are good. And You are true to Your Word.

I also know that I'm a different person now than I was two weeks ago. And if that's all You were trying to accomplish, well, thank You. Thank You for being sovereign. Thank You for knowing us better than we know ourselves. Thank You for loving us enough to teach us.

1 Peter 1.6-7 says, "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

If all of this results in glory for Your name, then it was worth it all.

So, I guess it's over on our end. But I know You're still up to something. Because You're just good like that.

May Your Name Be Glorified,

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dear God, You Saw That, Right?

Dear God,

"It's not fair that you're going to help him and not me."

That's the text message I got from the girl I have poured my life into for the past two weeks after she walked away and said by her actions that she didn't need us anymore.

I guess You saw that, right?

Today, I want to give up. I want to give up on this young couple that You put in our lives. And, if I'm being honest, this isn't the first time I've felt this way about them.

It want to give up and say, "I know I'm supposed to love you unconditionally. I know I'm supposed to forgive unconditionally. I know I'm supposed to love you like Christ does. I know! But I can't!"

I want to say that at 3am when they are calling again. I want to say that as our gas tank approaches empty again. I want to say that when we are trying to to enjoy time as a family and they call again. I want to say that when I get text messages about how we are wrong and we haven't done enough.

But I can't say that. Because when I try to say that, Your Spirit softly whispers Philippians 4:13 where You promise that we can do all things through Christ.

And that makes me angry because I don't want to hear that. I want to hear that it's ok to give up because I'm not God. I can't do all the things I'm supposed to do. I can't love like I'm supposed to. I don't have the will power. After all, that's what people keep telling me. Christians, even.

And I am selfish. I am so very selfish that I disgust myself. When You whisper to me, I want to block You out, but that's just it. You don't give up. You don't walk away when I push You out.

I tell You I want to be poured out for You. I want to sacrifice to show my love for You. I want to put myself last. So You are faithful and give me the opportunity to do just that and I complain because it's uncomfortable. It's frustrating and it's exhausting. And You listen to me as I tell You all the reasons why I want to give up--all my selfish reasons.

And once again You prove You are faithful.

And I say, "But we have no more resources. But I already don't get to see Richard much and now we have to be apart more as we pour our lives into this couple. But they have spit in our faces too many times!"

And You say, "But I have all the resources, and you have Me. But I created You for this, to demostrate my love. But You have spit in my face. Yet, I don't give up on You. I forgive You every time."

I look back over the last two weeks and I see what You've taught me. You've opened my eyes to the reality of so many things that I never understood before. Things about me. Things about ministry. Things about You.

And as I sit here on the couch alone because Richard is once again meeting with the young man, trying to pour his life out for Your glory, I want to give up.

But I won't. I won't because You haven't.

And on top of that, I thank You. I thank You for this couple that You have entrusted to us for Your name's glory. Please help me to be all that You require of me.

Feeling a Bit Like Jonah,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dear God, That Was an Expensive Gallon of Milk,

Dear God,

Remember the Satuday before last when I went up to the gas station to get a gallon of milk? It was about 8:30 at night and we were getting home late and Elliott was ready for bed but, alas, no milk. I decided to just drive up to the gas station and pick up a gallon. And that's when you introduced me to this couple with so many needs my mind begins to swim when I think of it.

Well, I just want to say that that was the most expensive gallon of milk I've ever purchased.

You see, that short little trip for leche was the start of an adventure that has been very stretching, growing, and even painful at times. In the last week we've spent a lot of ourselves and our resources and our lives on them..... and we are just now seeing a little glimmer of light at the end of this long tunnel.

I'll just be honest with You. On more than one occasion I've looked back and thought to myself, "If I could've just bought milk earlier or if I could have just waited until the morning...."
The human side of me wants this lesson You're teaching us to be over. I don't want to spend hours driving around and making phone calls and listening and counseling and mentoring. I don't want Richard to be taking him to interviews all afternoon and I don't want to have to leave my son with the grandparents a little longer to resolve one more issue.

I want to focus on me and my family. I want to spend time with my husband who will be gone for two straight weeks soon. I want to spend time with my little boy as he discovers new things. Besides, we're trying to get our house sold and get our stuff sold and downsize everything so it will be easier one day when we move to the....... mission field.

That's when Your spirit takes over and suddenly I'm choked on my own words. When we move to the mission field? There is no such thing. Sure, You've called us to Brazil. You've called us to another land and another culture to be Your hands and feet.

But I'm on the mission field right now. And I only had to go a half mile down the road for You to require me to pour out my life for someone else.

And who do I think I am that I will suddenly be ready to do all that You will require of us in the Jungle one day if I can't even do it in the comfort of my own city? Do I think that the lack of communication, the lack of daily conveniences, the heat, the language barrier, the exhaustion, the illness, the bugs, and the demands of ministry will somehow be easier than this?

No, this is all just a big display of Your mercy, not only in their lives as they slowly begin to learn what it is to live a life that honors You. This is a display of Your mercy in our lives as we learn what it truly means to be poured out for You... before we get to the Jungle and things are much more difficult.

Today, I won't see Richard until later this evening because he's driving them to the grocery store to use their food stamps, but I'll fall asleep next to him tonight. Today, the air conditioning went out in one of our cars and the heat is oppressive, but we take the other car. Today, I will pour out my heart to her and Richard will continue to break down walls with him and we'll take another step. Today, we will listen to their stories and hear their fears and encourage them with Your truth. Today, Your grace is sufficient.

And one day, Richard will fly into a village and I may not see him for days. One day, we will be working to keep an infant alive who has been given bad water. One day, we will have malaria and we won't have an escape from the heat. One day, we will be homesick and won't have a computer to Skype back home. One day, it will be much harder. And on that day, Your grace will be sufficient.

So, I want You to know that this was an expensive gallon of milk and it looks like we'll be paying on it for a while. But I know that You have called us to be Your Son to this couple. You have commanded us to pour out ourselves and die to ourselves daily so that Your name can be famous. And in Your grace You have given us this small dose of what it means to sacrifice so that one day we can truly be ready for the sacrifices You will require of us in the Jungle.

And I thank You for that.

Your Stubborn Learner,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dear God, I Don't Think I Get It,

Dear God,

Sometimes in life we have beautiful stories to tell. Stories of redemption and faith and renewed hearts. Stories of eyes opened and wounds healed.

Today is not one of those days for us. A week ago last night, you brought a young couple into our lives that we had high hopes for. We knew You had brought them into our lives for a purpose and prayed without ceasing that we would be faithful to complete the calling You gave us to show them Your love.

We gave without hesitation of our time, money, and energy. We mentored them one on one for hours. We drove them for miles. We gave them food. We gave them a place to sleep. We talked to them on the phone for hours until late into the night as they asked for help. We shared of Your love and redeeming power and told them that it was because of those things that we love them with an unselfish love.

And a week later, to the day, they told us we had ruined their lives. Told us that we were "supposed to do more". Blamed us for their situation and cussed at us for not solving their problems.

They said they didn't need us and that they could do it on their own, overlooking the fact that the food they ate and the shelter they had were from us. Overlooking the fact that the potential job opportunities were because of our phone calls. Overlooking the fact that they literally have no one else in the world that cares about them.

And everything in me wanted to shout, "Fine! Do it yourselves! Be ungrateful and selfish and try to figure it all out on your own. We've poured out our lives for the past week, and for what? Nothing! So good luck and don't call us when you hit rock bottom!"

But Your spirit sustained me. And we told them we love them and we are here anytime they change their minds.

So after just one short week, I come to You and say, "I don't get it."

I don't get Your unfailing love. I don't understand how Your mercies are new every morning and You are faithful to answer when we call. I don't know how You can give us chance after chance as we tell You, "No, we've got this one."

Don't You want to say, "Fine! Do it yourself! Be ungrateful and selfish and try to figure it all out on your own. I've poured out my Son's blood for you and for what? Nothing! So good luck and don't call Me when you hit rock bottom!"?

Isn't that what we deserve? Isn't that what is right and just?

But You are faithful and Your love is so pure that You will let us try it all on our own if that is what we choose. But when we fail and come to our end, You are always there with new mercy to pick us back up and love us just the same as the day You created us. You see us as clean through the blood of Your Son.

And I just don't get it.

I don't get it, but I thank You for it. I thank You that it's Your Spirit that works in and through me, because I don't have the strength or the desire on my own to show such mercy and grace. It is only You in me.

Thank You for this experience and thank You that even when I don't get it, I can trust that Your ways are now my ways and that You are indeed up to something much bigger than what my eyes can see.

Trusting Your Hand,

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thankful Thursday: Dear God, Thank You

Dear God,

Today, all I can say is thank You. And I'm so glad that I can cling to Romans 8.26.

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."

Humbled at Your Holiness,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I guess I Didn't Consider That

I guess I didn't consider the weirdest aspect of selling everything: that obnoxious in between phase. That part where we are still living here, but it's no longer our home.

I looking around our house and it looks so.... empty.

I'll be honest. I've stopped taking decor down once or twice and thought, "Well, we can just wait. I mean it's not like we're moving tomorrow...."

But I know that's just putting it off to a time that we will be busier (though that's hard to even imagine at the moment). I know the best thing is to sell it all now, before we are traveling almost every week. Before Richard begins helicopter training. Before we get our house on the market. Before it gets really crazy around here.

It's still weird though.

Dear God, I Think I get it

Dear God,

It's me again.

Today, Richard was cussed out by the blessing [in disguise?] that you have put in our lives.

We have sacrificed our time and resources to help them. We have given above and beyond what we thought we could give. We've spent money, gas (and that's not cheap if you haven't noticed...), time, and energy to do everything we possibly can to help them in their desperate time of need. I've driven many miles, waited in waiting rooms for many hours, sacrificed time with my family, answered 100 phone calls and made just as many, stood in the heat for more than an hour because my car wouldn't start but I needed to get to the next place of help before they closed. I've given and given and asked others to give. Literally all of our focus has gone to them over the last 72 hours because we know that that is what you require of us. That is what your love tells us to do.

Their response? Doubting. Hateful words. Lack of effort. Ungratefulness. Selfishness. Greediness. And more hateful words.

And to top it all off, we finally come up with a solution that will help them out in the long run. It's uncomfortable now. It's not what they want now, but it will have the most long term good, and they tell us it's not good enough. That it's unfair.

Me? I sit here exhausted. My mind is tired. My body is tired. And my heart is heavy.

And I get it. I get at least one small part of what You are teaching me.

You have given it all for me. You have listened and held me and comforted me. You wrote an entire book for me. You promised to always be with me and to love me unconditionally. You said I didn't need to ever worry because You are in control. You said You have a beautiful plan for my life. And You went so far as to sacrifice Your only Son to prove that.

My response? I doubt You. I say faithless things to You. I'm selfish and greedy. I'm ungrateful and I don't trust You.

But at the end of the day, You still love me. You still listen to my complaining and never turn Your back on me. You keep your promises and always forgive me when I wrong You.

So tomorrow I will follow your example. I'm going to wake up and spend the day loving them in the same way that You have loved me. I'm going to spend more time and money and gas. I'm going to spend more time away from my family. I'm likely going to spend hours doing things that are inconvenient and uncomfortable for me.

I'm going to do that because no matter how much I sacrifice, it pales in comparison to your unending mercy and grace in my life. And demonstrating Your love to others is the very least that I can do

Thank You for trusting me with Your name like that.

'Til the Work is Done,

(Disclaimer: To those of you who know the full story, only one half of the couple was as described above. The other half was very grateful and is working hard to better the situation.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dear God, That Was Unexpected

Dear God,

Remember the other day when I asked You to send someone our way that we could be a blessing to? And remember how not long ago I asked You to take me out of my comfort zone? And remember how a little while back I had asked You to teach me a little bit about what it meant to serve You and it actually cost me something?

Ok, well, I guess I didn't expect You to answer all three of those, like, at the same time.

For real, though. I wasn't expecting that.

But, since You have, and since You are sovereign and all knowing and never make mistakes, I'm now asking you for a little bit a lot of wisdom. And by a lot I mean A LOT. Like, the biggest dose You can give me without my brain exploding.

And, also, since You were so quick to answer those three requests I mentioned above, could You also answer this one really quickly?

You're awesome. Seriously. I am literally in awe of You and who You are.

I looked up the definition of "awe" and it means: "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like"

That's basically a perfect description of how I feel right now.

But also, I feel overwhelmed by my inadequacy. I'm overwhelmed by my lack of faith, my selfishness, my helplessness, and my overall inability to go more than five minutes without once again relying on myself rather than You.

So thanks for being all that You are and never giving up on me and for loving me enough to stretch me and grow me. You're so good like that.

Love Your Modern Day Doubting Thomas,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Confessions of a Missionary Part Dos: I have a [real] tattoo.

Whew! I've wanted to say that for a long time.

To some of you, this is a shock. Maybe I even just dropped a few notches in your book.
To some of you, you wonder what the big deal is. You have twelve tattoos and you're getting another one tomorrow.
And some of you just don't care. This is petty to you. [If this is you, don't feel obligated to keep reading.]

Regardless, this is a relief for me to say. Why?
Because it's on my ankle and I've been trying to hide it for 2.5 years, that's why. That's not an easy task for goodness sake. Imagine: summertime = shorts + trying to hide a very obvious tattoo that is clearly [and permanently] etched into your ankle = very difficult

Why have I tried to hide it? After all, I was the one who consciously got the thing! It's a long story. So, if you're up for it, take a few minutes to read a little bit of my story...

I come from a very conservative background and I'm--wait for it-- a missionary. If you can relate to either of those, you understand the taboo-ness of tattoos in this realm. They are right up there with going to movies and reading from modern translations of the Bible. Unacceptable! Sinful even.

If you don't, however, come from a conservative background and/or you're not a missionary then you have no clue what I'm talking about. As a matter of fact, you may have several tats that are clearly visible and you proudly display them. Maybe you and your Pastor have matching tattoos. I don't know. But regardless, you don't see what the big deal is.

Allow me to explain.

When I was about 11 years old I developed a religious form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). (Google it. It's not uncommon.) I had been taught, whether purposefully or not, a checklist Christianity.

Read your Bible. Check.
Pray. Check.
Tell people about Jesus. Check.
Don't cuss. Check.
Don't drink. Check.
Don't smoke. Check.
Don't get tattoos. Check.
And Jesus will be happy with you. Check... right? Or did I miss something? I don't want Jesus mad at me. Let me try this again..... Read your Bible. Check. Pray. Check.........and so commences the OCD.

[I'm being transparent here. I hope it doesn't make you too uncomfortable... or maybe it should.]

I was obsessed, but not with Jesus Himself. Not with knowing God. Not with loving Him and humbly serving Him. I was obsessed with the motions. I wanted to "do the right things" so I could somehow be in favor with God. I wanted to be a "good person", not one of those "bad people" who did do all these things that I didn't do. Sinners.

I distinctly remember some of my thought processes. I would pray using the "right words" (Heavenly Father, Lord, in Jesus name, Amen, etc.), on my knees, hands folded. At one point I remember being afraid that I wasn't saying "Amen" correctly. I had heard it pronounced "Ah-men" and I had heard it pronounced "A-men". Which was right? Which did God want to hear? I'd use both, just in case.

I would carry tracts around with me and place them in random places. I would become anxious as I tried to decide if I should leave it under the windshield wiper or in the door handle. What would Jesus do? Should I leave two tracts? Maybe three?

I would read my Bible but I found myself reading the same verses over and over. What if I was missing what God was saying to me? I would read the genealogies word for word. Gotta read every jot and tittle. Right? Don't want to displease God.

I had to be at church every time the doors were opened. Every. Time. That meant every youth activity, every Old-Fashioned Revival, every prayer meeting, e-v-e-r-y-t-i-m-e. And I was sure to wear a dress or a skirt. That's what Christian girls do.

I had the t-shirts. I had the devotional books. I did my "Quiet Time" and had the points to show for it every Wednesday night at small group check[list]-in. I brought my KJV Bible. I took notes.  I had preachers sign my Bible. I brought my Bible with me to my public school. I went to See You At The Pole. I even did a report once on Billy Graham (again at my public school). I wore panty hose in the winter.

I was doing all the right things. I was a "good Christian girl". I was a "good spiritual example". I was pleasing God.

Right?? I was pleasing Him, wasn't I?

Wait, did I pray the "salvation prayer right"? Did I mean it with all my heart? What if I only meant it with some of my heart? Did I know "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that I would go to Heaven? How much doubt is that, exactly?

This went on for years.
On the outside, I was a "good Christian girl".  
On the inside, I was empty and stifled. 
I was suffocating in well-intended Religion.

I had crammed myself into the "Christian mold". I did all the right things. I followed the checklist obsessively because I was taught to do all of the things to be a "good Christian". That was what Christ looks for: obedience to these rules. You know you love God when you do these things.

I never stopped to question it. That would be wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

Fast-forward a bit. It was 2008 and I was 22 years old. I had finished Bible school (check), married to my high school sweetheart, working at a ministry (check) and was just accepted as a missionary to begin raising support to go to the foreign field full time (check)... and I was so cramped inside the Christian mold after 11 years of living by the checklist, I was ready to throw all of Christianity away.

If this was what it was all about, no thank you.

And I was frustrated. Maybe even angry. I had done ALL the right things. I went to church. I stayed pure for marriage. I went to Bible school. I did all these things. I couldn't be holier if I had been born on a church pew.

But I was empty. I was walking this walk that I was told was in the right direction but I felt so out of place.

Somewhere along the way, while checking off my list, I had overlooked the fact that God looks on the heart. All my efforts? Useless. All my attempts to please God? Worthless. Why? Because they weren't from the heart. They were in an effort to make myself somehow worthy of God's love.

So there I was in the midst of a spiritual identity crisis. I believed that Christ as the only way to Heaven.  I genuinely wanted to serve Him. But I was disconnected. I didn't "feel it".

And I was determined. I was determined to break out of this Christian mold once and for all. I was tired of being seen as a "good Christian girl" on the outside and wanted to prove that you could indeed love Jesus and not obey all of these man-made rules of modern Christianity.

What better way than a tattoo? It was edgy. It was unexpected. And it was permanent.

So that's what I did. I got a tattoo (see pic below). But what's funny, looking back, is I was in some way still enslaved to the checklist good-girl mentality because I got a tattoo of the Hebrew word "to have faith". At least it was a "good tattoo".

"So there!" I thought, "Maybe I'm not such a good girl after all. Boo-ya!"

Um. So. Now what? I found myself even more conflicted after this. Now I had this permanent fixture on my ankle and I still felt trapped.
There was still an emptiness in my heart.

And I suddenly felt the need to hide it. What would everyone think?? Ashley got a tattoo! She's gone off the deep end. She's rebellious. She'll never be a good missionary now. How can she lead another culture to Christ with a tattoo? Oh, not Ashley!

So I hid it. For 2.5 years I've hidden it.

But then through a series of events, I began a journey about a year and a half ago that has transformed me. I began studying for myself. I began being myself. I began to feel alive. And it has absolutely positively nothing to do with reading my Bible. It doesn't even have to do with praying or being good or moral. I didn't even have to get a tattoo to figure it out.

It's like God took a razor blade to that box I was in and revealed to me that He doesn't fit in there after all.

My life was transformed when I realized that it's just not all about me after all. It's not about what I do. It's not about what I say. It's not about who I appeal to.

It's all about Christ. It's all about Him. He died so I could be free. He died so I didn't have to have religion. He died so I could love Him. He died so I could love my brothers and sisters. He died so I could LIVE.

And the ironic thing about it all? Now I want to know Him. I want to read His Word. I want to pray and talk to Him. I want to share Him with others because He is just so good.

And I don't have to do anything at all but love Him. The rest just starts to come naturally.

So I threw my checklist away so to speak. And I'm free. I'm free to tell you unashamedly that I have a tattoo. And Christ doesn't love me any less for it. It's part of my story and who I am.

[Before you go all Leviticus 19:28 on me, stop for a minute. Go back a couple of verses to Leviticus 19:19 and make sure you aren't wearing clothing made of mixed materials. Yeah. Exactly.]

So take a minute and ask yourself:

Have you been living a checklist Christianity?
Have you been believing things because it's what you've always believed?
Have you been holding standards for other people that aren't even in the Bible?

Are you in love with Christ or your checklist?

Are you serving the true Christ or a Christ that's been manufactured by modern Christianity?

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