Friday, July 24, 2015

The Futility of Busyness {and the richness of waiting}

a reflection of three years living and loving overseas

When I close my eyes and {try to} imagine Christ, for some reason I never picture Him up and running around, busy. I picture a peaceful calm. Yet at the same time I know He is constantly at work among us, through us, in us.

When I open my eyes, however, and see my life, so often all I see is busyness and rush. A hectic race of back and forth.

Nothing like my Father. 

If there is one thing God has taught me these last few years, it’s that He is not in a hurry.
(And let’s be honest, that is tough news to an American!)

We have plans and dreams and schemes and hopes all laced with goals and timelines and to-do lists to make those happen.

But God? He has all the time in eternity and He’s not afraid to use it.

We pace the floor, glancing at the imaginary clock wondering when all of these things will come to pass. And all it does is create in us a dissatisfaction with where we are, who we are, what we have.

All the while, God moves and breathes life, methodically and timely.

We huff and puff, missing the whole point of it all—Him.

But that’s too simple, to walk towards Him in humble submission.

We want results. Numbers.

I don’t suppose I’ve attended a single “church service” in my life that didn’t put a varying degree of emphasis on a number. This many in attendance, this many confessions, this many baptisms, this many new churches, this many Bibles given, this many “souls saved”, this much money donated.

Numbers. Goals achieved. 

And so we say that, yes, these numbers represent souls and lives changed. But ever so slowly {and mostly with no recognition at all} we fail to realize that, while these do represent souls, those souls have quickly faded from our focus. Because we are off to the next number goal.

Last year we had 100. This year we want to see 200.

Last year they gave $1,000. This year we want $10,000.

Numbers. Objectives. 

But why do we care about "how many" and "how much"? Because time is short... right? Some would say because Jesus is coming soon. Some would put up the counting clock that shows how many souls are dying and going to hell this VERY moment and what are we DOING if we aren’t counting “souls for the Kingdom”?

We’re living. That’s what we are doing. We are loving our neighbor. We are confessing our sins to one another. We are praying for healing. We are giving and serving. We are poured out and broken.

And yes we are even longing for that Day. But we are living this day in all of its holiness, too.

And when we recognize that God is sovereign and His plans cannot be thwarted, suddenly we don’t feel so glorified in our busyness. Because it’s that same lie that the busier we are, the more productive we are that leads us to neglect our children and our marriage and our neighbor in pursuit of the goal. It leads us to shout judgment and rules rather than hope and love.

Because when we are rushed, there is no time for love. Because love takes time.

Love is patient. Love is willing to endure rejection, hatred, failure, backlash. Because love has all the time in the world. Love never fails.

Rush says we need to see repentance now. It’s now or never.

Love says God is in control of the outcome.

Rush says the bigger the crowd, the better.

Love says this one sufficient.

Rush says goals must be met.

Love says goals are good but not ultimate.

Rush says there is no time to sit still, there is work to be done.

Love says we’ll stay as long as we need to.

So often we confuse waiting and stillness with laziness. But we neglect to realize that it’s often busyness that creates laziness. For what else do we want to do after a busy day but sit on a couch and let our “brains rest” in front of the television? What is a better excuse for a little more time on social media that a long day of working hard? We deserve it, right?

But when we create a habit of waiting and watching, suddenly our time is consumed with things that matter. More time with our Savior. More time to pray for healing. More time to listen. More time to sit. More time to hear. More time to see.

More time to truly feel the groaning of the world around us in need of a Savior. Our Savior.

More time to taste and see that He is good.

No longer do we need to shout from the rooftops our expansive knowledge of spiritual things. Our lives speak loudly enough.

No longer do we need to organize and plan bigger and better activities to win people over. Our lives are speaking Truth from which the Holy Spirit will win people over.

When we moved to the Jungle three years ago, we had plenty of plans and goals.

Not one of them came to pass as we had thought. Not a single one.

But when we found ourselves at the end of so many dreams, we found God was moving all around us the whole time. Turns out He didn’t need us after all.

And then we slowed down and we could hear it for once.


And it was scary at first because there wasn’t a plan laid out in that one word. He didn’t say where or how or when or even what the outcome would be. He just said, “Come.”

So with feeble hands and weak knees, we stepped out of what we thought was the way things had to be done and we decided to just trust His timing. To take it one step, one day, on moment at a time. We would just live life with these people and trust that He would do the rest.

And oh what we have seen Him do!

This doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard work. Again, waiting doesn’t mean sitting idly by. We’ve worked harder and cried longer and wanted to give up countless times these last three years. But there in the quiet we still hear His voice whispering, “Come.”

His Spirit strengthens us again and we walk with the broken and speak into their lives and show them a better way with all of our insufficiencies and weaknesses in full light and at the end of the day all that can be said is, “Wow. Look at what a God we serve. LOOK at what He is doing!”

So three years into this thing, I’m {not so} sorry to report that I don’t have any numbers for you... I haven’t been counting. But if you want to sit for a while I can tell you some truly incredible things that God is doing in and around us.

None of it was our plan. None of it fit into our schedules and timelines.

But all of it—every last detail—fit perfectly into His.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Life Off the Bandwagon

As I watch from a distance the United States becoming a huge mess, I have very conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I long for God to open eyes so that we remain the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

But on the other hand, I simply wait and pray.  After all, it’s hard to see the Light when all seems day.

So instead I pray for God’s true Church to come down as the darkness closes in. No more cheap grace and Gospel show. No more divide and conquer.

The Spirit is far from our pretty buildings and well-coordinated programs and our endless checklists of do’s and don’ts.

We hop from bandwagon to bandwagon as they pass by with their Scripture-laden banners flying high, announcing what is right and wrong. All the while our feet never even touch the ground.

Because it’s messy down there with the lost and broken. And we don’t even recognize that our bandwagon wheels are only making the mud thicker.

Down there we will get dirty and our clothes will get tattered. We will sweat and we will cry real tears. Our hands and feet will get calloused.

But our hearts will grow softer. Our ears more in tuned to listen. Our eyes focused to see.

Life off the bandwagon is lonely and exhausting because pouring yourself out will require every ounce of you and more.

Loving unconditionally requires that we expect nothing in return.


It means we get hurt. We may never see “results”. But we keep loving.

And when the next bandwagon comes along (and come it will), we will be tempted to hop on board for just a little rest. After all, many times those banners wave truth.

But truth without love is useless. Our words without action are meaningless.

So we remember our own frailties and brokenness before His grace came down. We remember we were dead—DEAD—in our sins until His life breathed fresh into our lungs.

Only by His sweet, sweet Grace.

So we stay in the mud and muck of this broken world and whisper truths, not with our words but with our actions. We pray for eyes like His. We pray for our lives to speak grace and mercy. We pray for hearts healed and hope found.

We stop thinking it’s our job to save and condemn.

And it’s down here that we find we ourselves need to drink deeply of the Living Water that sustains us in this barren place.

How good that this Spring never dries up! And on the hottest of days and the darkest of nights, we realize He is found right here with us.

It is in that moment—our awareness of Him—we are no longer afraid. We aren’t afraid to love with our whole being. We aren’t afraid of what others will think or say when we walk with the broken—even those who have yet to realize they have cracks and those who never come to the truth. We walk beside them just the same.

We are no longer afraid of not seeing the “results” we long for.

We trust Him so.

We will go as far as we can to show that this Love is real. No news will shake us. No words will break us. Because we will physically ache for those who have yet to see the Light. So much so that the only place we want to be is right in the midst of the hard and ugly. Right beside the lost and lonely.

So here is the invitation to come down. It is too hard to hear the cries from up there anyway.

Live among the dead. Put your heart into action. No more shouting truths. Just living Love in humility and gratitude to the One who healed our own wounds.

God promises to handle the rest.

This is not a call to giving in, as some would assume. I pray you hear my words. This is a call to action. We have, as a whole, confused the volume of our voice with the deeds of our hands. So often we are passively passionate about so many things. This manifests itself in the form of social media posts and podium outcries, making clear where we stand on issues. But it neglects to create humility and a love that is moved to action. May we be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” as James admonishes. May we realize that “perfect love drives out fear” as John tells us. This is not only fear of the future, but fear of the “what-if”.

Loving the broken doesn’t mean selling out or even condoning sin. Quite the contrary. Jesus tells us, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Let’s love loud because in so doing, we will speak volumes.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Grace from His Fullness

Sitting there in the corner of that little 500 square foot house, I looked around the room at the little faces of the kids that had gathered together that Saturday afternoon, almost thirty of them. It was hot and cramped and little two-year-old Francisco was not happy that his mom had brought him there.

Taiwani sat next to Mariclene and my mind went back to when they ran the streets together. They were like the dynamic duo, stealing fruit from the trees in our back yard and throwing mud at the house when we said it was time to go home. Now Mariclene has been part of our family for a year and a half this month, and oh how she has transformed. But Taiwani still wakes up to the same troubled house she lived in when we first met her two years ago. The stories I know are horrific.

I see the others. This one being raised by her elderly grandmother because her mom didn’t want her and her dad got remarried and his new wife didn’t want her either. This one who will likely not make it to thirteen before she has a baby of her own because all of her four sisters before her have walked that same road. This one who is so selfish and overbearing because her parents give her every last thing that she wants because it’s easier than teaching a child. After all, no one ever taught them.

Then there is little Chico who stands outside the doors all wide-eyed. He refuses to come in because he prefers to “run the streets”. He’s five.

There is Rafaela who has the sweetest little timid voice and I swear she hasn’t grown an inch these last two years. Her dad is a drunk, but her mama, who can’t read a single word and asks Rosa to count her money because she doesn’t know the difference, works hard to provide for her and her brother and sister, always smiling as she walks several miles to work and back.

And so many others sitting there laughing and coloring and listening and learning. I know pieces of their stories and this room feels so much smaller.

I feel so much smaller.

It’s always made me a little uneasy when I have people tell me that the ministry we do is “amazing” or “incredible” or “awesome”.  

To me it feels heavy and not enough. I feel inadequate and overwhelmed by the needs. I look around and I think, “We could never do enough to change-really, really change--this town.”

I know how weak I am. I know my own faults. How many days I just want to go away, back to the comforts and familiarities of my homeland. Imperfect, unable.

I know Rosa’s family struggles. I see the personal battles she faces and I watch as the “church” criticizes her every move as she seeks to be faithful to the calling He put in her heart twenty years ago. Imperfect, unable.

I know the financial needs. The funds are limited and I feel like we aren’t doing enough but a dollar only stretches so far so we have vitamins to supplement the physical lacking and prayer to increase awareness. Imperfect, unable.

I know the stories of these littles as they file in and out on Saturdays. I know many of the houses they go back to and I wonder, “Does this really even matter?” Imperfect, unable.

And then I hear it. When I step away from myself and all this imperfect, it’s there. That still, small voice again that faithfully reminds me:

“I AM enough.

I AM sufficient.

I AM here.

I AM at work.

I AM the Creator of all things.

I AM the Sustainer of all things.

I AM amazing.

This IS amazing. Because of Me.”

{Or, in the words of Francis Chan, “God says, ‘This is MY party and I invited YOU!’”}

And so I applaud this ministry and say at the top of my voice that YES! this ministry we are a part of IS amazing. YES! the work we do here IS amazing.

Because we are so very weak, but He is so very strong.

Because we can’t see past this difficulty or that obstacle, but He holds the future.

Because we are so far from perfect in our endeavors, but He sees the intentions of the heart.

Because... Grace.

“Indeed, we have all received grace after grace

from His fullness...”
John 1.16

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pancakes and Prayers

It was one of those evenings that I nearly gave in to the temptation to skip story time and prayer time all together. 

The day had been great mind you, but I was tired from the Amazon sun and was flying solo for the evening while Richard had stayed back in Benjamin to finish up some projects, so the sooner bed time came around, the better. 

But I mustered up just a wee bit more energy and made the usual rounds.

I asked each of the kiddos what they were most thankful for today. RaeRae had her usual answer of "Eat pizza!!" (Regardless of whether we have actually eaten pizza, that is always what she is most thankful for.) Clene and Elliott followed suite with their usuals of playing and what-not. 

Next question, "What's something you want to ask Jesus for?" 

We have been focused on teaching thankfulness for over a year and only recently introduced the idea of asking Jesus for specific things. It has actually been really amazing to hear their child-like requests. You would think it would be full of wants and personal desires, but mostly it's just the opposite.

Elliott's eyes lit up.

"I know!" he said. "We could ask Jesus for an apple for Chico. He NEVER gets apples. He just eats Cheetos and candy ALL the time. {Insert sad face here} And you know what else? He NEVER gets pancakes."

"We could definitely ask Jesus to give Chico some healthy snacks, Buddyroo," I replied. "That's a great idea. Like maybe some apples and bananas?"

{Face lights back up} "Yeah! And we could make pancakes and... maybe put, like, three of them... put them in little bags and give them to him for breakfast!" 

"Dantakes!!" (That was RaeRae's enthusiastic agreement.)

What can I say? My kids love pancakes.

My heart melted. 

I think to fully understand, you'd have to know a little more about Chico (pronounced "She-koo"). 

That little cutie in the middle there. The one in the brown shirt. That's Chico. 

This picture was taken at the Grace House Christmas party. Most of the kids stayed for craft time and then went home for lunch. Not Chico and his sister though. They sort of just hung around awkwardly as we all fixed our plates. 

We fixed them plates, too. We knew why they were hanging around. 

The party carried on and we all went our separate ways later that day. It wasn't until a couple weeks later that Rosa told me that very early the next morning after the party, around 5:30 or so, she heard a knock at the door. She opened it to find Chico standing there all wild-eyed like he is. 

"Is there another party today?" he asked.

"No, Chico. That was just for Christmas," Rosa responded.

"Oh. Ok...

I just wanted to eat again," he said.

We saw Chico again today while we were at Grace House. He was chasing kites down the street. He had a sucker in his mouth, his lips bright pink and sticky. 

My mind went back to that story. I knew that sucker was probably one of the only things his little taste buds would enjoy that day. 

Like so many other kids in this small jungle town, Chico is actually not an orphan by definition. He has a mom and a dad and a house to sleep in. But he is a street kid. His days are spent running wild in the streets, eating 25cent bags of sugary puffs and sucking on 10cent suckers to appease the hunger pangs. His clothes are full of holes and he has fungal infections on his legs from rarely taking a bath.  I've watched him cry because he is terrified of the stray dogs that roam the street, often aggressive. He is navigating this great big world all alone while his parents run a bar/poker ring. 

And I've hugged him and looked in his eyes to see maybe one of the saddest things I've ever seen.

A blank stare. 

So many of these kids lack the affection, love, attention, education, and nutrition that they need so their bodies are in a constant fight, flight, or freeze mode. Chico is one of the hundreds here. 

I glance down the road at the older boys who I know are up to no good. I know about their stories, too. Some of them hit close to home. I look back at Chico and I know that, unless the Body of Christ intervenes, that's him in just a few short years. There is no choice really. What else is a street kid supposed to do? Grow up and be a productive member of a society where drunkeness and teen-pregnancy abound and no one teaches otherwise? 

( At what age does the compassion for the little ones burn up, replaced by disgust for the "hooligan" teenagers? A question I struggle with myself. )

So here we are just taking things one step at a time with Grace House. Investing in these three that God has given Rosa to care for. Offering them love and nutrition and education and Jesus as best as we know how. Praying that God would provide the strength, capacity, finances to reach more. 

And we know we can't reach them all. Chico will never live at Grace House though he is an orphan for all intents and purposes. 

But maybe, just maybe, we can still invest in him. Maybe we can love him like Jesus did. Maybe we can offer him some nutrients. Maybe we can teach him about Jesus. 

Maybe he can even eat pancakes.

I don't know what God has. 

I do know that Mariclene cried big, real tears the other night thinking of her biological brother who still lives with her biological parents in a very bad situation. I do know Elliott has a heart for these kids who don't have a family like he does.

Will you pray? Pray for wisdom. Pray for vision. Pray for funding. Pray for faith. 

Pray for these kids. 

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