Archive of ‘faith’ category

on messy discipleship, unmet expectations, and baptism

I tried something new this summer.  A family-wide, sync’ed up Bible reading plan through the book of Romans.  It all started off grand.  The kids had their darling new Kids Read Truth books, I had my iPhone app, and we all had some pretty solid intentions.  We’d read Scripture.  We’d talk about it around the dinner table.  We’d strum harps and sing Kumbaya.

And we’d fail epically.  Or, at least so it would seem.

I mean, we read it.  Most of us at least, though all at different paces and with varying degrees of whining.  I’m pretty sure we rehashed Scripture around the dinner table a grand total of thrice.  And the harp sadly never made its debut.

As we approached mid-summer, I began to feel frustration creep in.  Once again, my lofty expectations did not align with our summertime reality.  Once again, parenting looked a lot more like a hodgepodge of messy moments than shining examples of family discipleship.  And, once again, doing A + B wasn’t exactly equaling happy, compliant, Bible-loving children.  No, A + B was simply driving me to an 8pm bedtime, overwhelmed and defeated.  Romans and all of our well-written, beautifully-designed Bible reading plans could SHOVE IT thankyouverymuch.

Then there was that day several months ago.  It was just another day when Carson approached me at bedtime in a completely nonchalant way.  “Hey mom, I’m ready to get baptized.”

Pause for a second.  For a solid year now, we’ve been having conversations with Carson about his faith in Jesus.  And, for a solid year now, he had remained fairly adamant that he didn’t want to get baptized.  He didn’t want to stand up in front of people, and he didn’t want people looking at him.  It felt awkward and it felt scary and he just wasn’t ready.

So we backed off.  We’d stand by him, encourage him, pray for him… but this was something that he and his logical, analytical little brain needed to hash out.  Just between him and God.

So, I pressed a bit.  “Dude, that’s awesome!” I said.  “But, I’m just curious.  How’d you get to this point?  How’d you come to this decision?”

“Romans,” he responded, shrugging his shoulders.  “I just read Romans.”

Funny how that works.  We, as parents, spin our wheels, workworkworking to see our kids to follow Jesus.  We use all the latest tools and read the best, most gospel-centered parenting books, desperate to be all that our kids need us to be as parents.  And yet, at the end of the day, we’re reminded that what our kids really need from us is a signpost pointing back to Jesus.  Back to Scripture.  We quickly learn that we can spin those wheels all the livelong day, but the power to change their hearts lies in the Spirit alone. 

 

So, Carson.  Thanks for this reminder.  This reminder that I can buy all the right books and say all of the right (or wrong) things, but I’m still not in control of you guys.  And, you know what?  That’s actually a really beautiful and freeing (and sometimes really really terrifying) thing.  For BOTH of us.

Buddy, we are so very pumped for your decision to get baptized last weekend.  This felt scary and risky to you, and you did it.  Scared.  Which stands in pretty close resemblance to what this crazy adventure of following Jesus is all about.  But here’s the really awesome thing: we can do hard things scared because we know His presence goes with us, before us, and behind us.  We can do hard things scared because we have His very word to guide us along the sometimes rocky way.

You know this.  Dude, you saw this with your own eyeballs and experienced this with your own life this summer, but let me just remind you once again that His Word is truth.  This world may lead you astray.  Heck, I MAY EVEN LEAD YOU ASTRAY SOMETIMES.  (I know it’s exceedingly hard to believe, but I’m not perfect.)  Scripture though?  It can be trusted.  HE can be trusted.

We’ve got your back, buddy.  Our big, messy church is chock-full of people who love you and who have got your back.  And that God of the Bible who you met in Romans this summer?  He’s totally got your back.  So get after it.  We love you so much.

on the fear and the gift of being found out

It was just another morning.  Just another meeting.  A gathering of professionals, conference room brimming with degrees and smarts.  The best of the best.  I settled into my seat and looked around.

“Well, shoot,” I thought.  “I FOR REAL don’t belong here.”

And from there, it spiraled.  Fast.

“What if someone sees me?  Sees me for who I really am?  Sees that I clearly don’t belong within their ranks?  What if I’m found out?

I wanted to jet.  Stat.  I wanted to peace out before the secret was out.  Before anyone else had the chance to point out the imposter in the room.

Shortly thereafter, it happened again.  I had posted something online.  A Facebook status, maybe.  An innocuous quip that prompted someone to throw out the “w” word.

“Wise.”  She called me wise.  The hairs on the back of my neck bristled.  “Delete!” I thought.

I wanted to pull the plug on putting my words out there.  Because if I quit writing, people wouldn’t mistake me for something I wasn’t.  I didn’t want to be found out.

Wise?  Ha.

Or I could tell you about the church meeting I sat in.  With a whole slew of Jesus-loving, Bible-knowing people.  People I love and respect.  Church leader sorta people.  And, yet, all I could think was, “Out.  I gotta get outta here.  Don’t they know that I haven’t been to seminary?  That I’m not nearly as articulate as they are?  I’m a nurse and a mom… a far cry from a fancy ‘Professional Christian.’  I. Do. Not. Belong.”

Same song, different verse.  All with a common trailing thread and same toxic theme:

Self-centeredness.

Hear me when I say- this is not about humblebrags.  This is not a veiled plea for a pat on the back and a hearty “No, no, Catherine.  You belong!  You’re great!”  No, this is a confession of how my heart can turn in on itself.  It’s an acknowledgement of sin.  It’s my head nodding “me too” to any of you who may live in the fear of being seen.

I know enough about myself to know this full-well: when I’d rather quit while I’m ahead than finish the work God has set before me… when I allow myself to become preoccupied with the feeling of not belonging… when I’d rather peace out that be found out… my eyes are focused squarely on me.  I’m hinging everything on my feelings, while tossing truth to the side.

Feelings lie.  But the truth?

Well, I’ll let King David do the job for me.  Hang on, friends.  This is good.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it. 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,’
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.”

(Psalm 139:1-12)

In short?  You’re already found out, my friend.  So am I.  We can flee and we can cover up and we can believe lies about ourselves all the livelong day, but we’re not about to escape the reach of our omnipresent and omniscient God.

So, dear mama who is knee deep in child-raising…  The mom who cringes when she hears,  “You’re doing a great job, mama!  Keep it up!”  Because SHE knows the truth.  She’s well-acquainted with her messy house and often-messier attitude.  “Little do they know,” she thinks.

Dear businesswoman who’s kicking tail and putting in the hours at her job…  Who’s climbing the ranks and earning the accolades but has a nagging sense of dread.  Dread that someone, someday, will view her for who she truly is.  An imposter.  A wanna-be.

Dear ministry leader who is running hard after good things…  You who tirelessly train, lead, teach, and disciple.  You who, in the quiet of the night and in the still of the day, still find yourself questioning, “Do I have what it takes?  Are my Bible smarts up to par?  Is my prayer life robust enough?  Am I ‘good enough’ to be leading these people?  What if someone sees me for who I really am?”

Dear anyone anywhere who has ever feared being found out, I have a few questions for you.  A few points that have been helpful in my own journey and with my own VERY REAL ISSUES.

1. Am I placing more value on who God says I am or who others perceive me to be?

2. Am I placing more emphasis on who God says I am or who God says HE IS?

3. Am I more interested in presenting a perfected version of myself to the world or an already-perfect picture of my Savior?

4. Is my quest for belonging and identity misplaced?  Am I looking for my identity in an earthly job, role, or organization?

5. Do I spend more time lamenting my own weaknesses or praising God for the strengths and abilities of others?

6. If my fears come true, and I am seen for who I really am- if I am found out– what then?

Listen. If your biggest fear is being found out, then let me just fill you in on a little secret.

It’s already come to fruition.

You don’t need to fear being found out; you’re already perfectly known by the One whose opinion holds all worth.  He looks at you with eyes of love and with a spirit of mercy, grace, and kindness.   He sees you and says, “You’re right, my daughter.  You don’t measure up.  Not in the least.  You’re not enough. But in me and with me and through me and because of me, you are whole.  You’re not enough, but I totally am.”

And that, my friends, is where freedom is found.  Rather than wringing our angsty little hands and crying, “Heaven forbid I’m found out,” we can pray, “God of of the Heavens, find me, see me, search me, and know me.”

And he will.  And he does.  And, still, he loves.

So, if my life is laid bare for all the world to see, I pray that people would look long and hard.  But I pray that they would gaze right past me.  That they would see Christ and his strength in my weaknesses. I pray that any strength or gifting I may have would herald the Giver of everything good.  And that they would see his grace and mercy completely overtaking any and every sin in my life.

Maybe I have nothing to fear after all.  Maybe this whole “being found out” thing- maybe it’s a gift after all.

Lord, be with this child.

 

Last weekend, our sweet Elizabeth Francine was baptized.  For the second time.  We weren’t there for the first.

I am told that Elizabeth was first baptized as an infant in the local church near her orphanage.  The denomination of churches to which we belong doesn’t do infant baptisms, and yet, I have always been jealous that I missed out on this.  I picture her sweet little frame held close as the life of baby “Francine” was dedicated to God.  I imagine fervent prayers being offered up to God by the body of believers in that remote eastern Congolese village.  “Lord, be with this child.”

Meanwhile, back in the States, an equally fervent body of believers was praying.  Praying as our adoption process stalled and halted and picked back up again.  Prayed as we learned of a little girl who needed a family.  Prayed, “Lord, be with this child.”

And He was.  And He is.  Several months ago, Elizabeth began talking seriously about following Jesus.  We prayed and talked and prayed some more.  “Baby girl,” we said.  “The decision to follow Jesus is not always easy.  It’s going to be an adventure- the greatest and sometimes hardest adventure you’ll ever go on.  But our God goes with us.”

Lord, be with this child.

So, Saturday night, Matt looked into Elizabeth’s eyes as they stood in front of our church.  “Elizabeth, do you believe Jesus has done everything necessary to save you?  And do you promise to do whatever He tells you to do, and go wherever He tells you to go?”

And as she went down into the water, the tears came.  Because the Lord has indeed been with this child of ours.  This child of theirs.  This child of HIS.

I wasn’t there for Elizabeth’s first baptism, but you better believe I was front row and center this go ’round.  And I’m not sure I’ve seen a more technicolor picture of our God’s faithfulness. Ever.

So, to that little church in eastern Congo, I say, “Thank you.  The Lord has heard your cries.”

And to her unbelievably strong and deeply resilient Congo family who, since Elizabeth’s birth, has begged the Lord for her salvation, I say, “Thank you, the Lord has heard your cries.”

And to our village here in the States who has come alongside our girl and our family to speak truth and love over her life, I say, “Thank you, the Lord has heard your cries.”

And to our faithful God to whom salvation belongs, I say, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.”

When you’re just not sure if you fit where you should. Or, maybe, if you fit at all.

It starts young.

“Good little girls do this.”

“Real Christians don’t believe that.”

“If you wanna be cool, you better put on a pair of these.”

“If you’d like to belong, here’s what you need to do.”

“Color in the lines, child.  Don’t rock the boat.  Clean yourself up.  Gotta look presentable.”

 

Belonging.  We all crave it.  No one wants to be the square peg desperately wiggling to fit in a round hole.  Or the lone one outside the box when everyone is safe and cozy within.

Just recently, I turned to Matt and announced in more-than-slightly melodramatic tone, “Maybe it’s me.  I guess I’m just BROKEN.  NO REEEEALLY.  Is something wrong with me?  Clearly, something is wrong with me.”

And then, the floodgates just opened as I went on.

 

Maybe I’m just too passionate.

Too sensitive.

Too much this.  (And, often, not enough that.)

I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.

 

Perhaps you’ve been there.  Maybe you’ve felt like something is… off.  Like you just don’t belong.  Like maybe your passion is too big or your beliefs all wrong.  Maybe you glance sideways and see the huddles. The groups of people who seem so alike in all the right ways.  They’re not too much, nor are they too little.  They don’t rock the boat.  They color in the lines.  And they fit ever-so-neatly in all the right boxes.

 

Maybe it’s that you feel like you’re too liberal.  Or too conservative.

Too outspoken.  Too silent.

Too political.  Too unengaged.

Too Baptist.  Too Catholic.  Too Presbyterian, Methodist, or Pentecostal.

Too much law, not enough grace.  Not enough law… easy there on that grace.

The truth is, it’s easy to feel a bit unhinged over all of this.  Like you just don’t fit in.  Even at church.  Especially at church.

 

But what if…

What if we were never designed to be boxed in?  What if, rather than hiding out in our own comfy little boxes, our goal is to be hidden in Christ?  To know Him.  To enjoy Him.  To share Him with others.

What if we could be okay with our Creator’s work?  So what if our passions and words and days don’t look precisely like all the others, so long as our eyes are locked in on Him, just doing the next right thing.

What if, rather than this elusive idea of “fitting in,” our greatest relational objective is to see one another as God’s image-bearers?  What if our eyes were trained to look straight through boxes and walls and differences to lock in with our peers- all different and unique in their own ways?  To say “I see you, and I see you, and I see you too.”

What if our identity could be so secure as a child of the sovereign, holy, unchangeable One that we could stomp out our comparison games once and for all?  What if, rather than obsessing over our differences and questioning our belonging, we make a deliberate decision as the body of Christ to be a united front?  Because there’s work to be done.  And we have- no, I HAVE- wasted too much time on comparisons.

 

Here’s the thing, friends.  God does not view us as too much or too little, too weak or too strong.   Because we’re vessels created in His image for His glory.  Vessels fearfully and wonderfully created by the masterful Creator who makes no mistakes.  Vessels for God to use for HIS purposes in HIS strength.  We don’t need to shine ourselves up or tone ourselves down.  We simply need to come with empty hands saying, “Alright God, this is what you’ve got in me.  Have at it.”

And He WILL.  He’ll have it, alright.  But, spoiler alert: this initially looks a whole lot like our own sanctification and realignment.  We’re so eager to put our “yes on the table” and do great things for God, but often God is saying, “Whoa, hang on now.  I know you want to use your passions and your giftings, but let’s start with me.  Let’s talk about who I am.”

We say, “My passion is just too big.”  He says, “I’ll show you passion,” while pointing to the cross.

We say, “I’m too weak”, and He reminds us that His power is amplified in our weakness- that He alone is enough for us.

We say, “I’m just so tired,” and He shows us the rest found by abiding in Him.

And when we say, “I just don’t belong“… well, THE ETERNAL AND IMMORTAL GOD looks at us and calls us HIS.

 

So, fine.  Maybe I am passionate at times.  Maybe I do have a bleeding heart that can cry at the drop of a hat. Maybe I’m too much on some days and too little on others.  Maybe I champion all the “wrong” things and don’t fit in a single box around me.  And maybe you, too, can relate.

But, for the love, let’s just agree on something right here, right now.  Let’s agree to stop apologizing for who God made us to be.  Let’s stop bemoaning and belittling His creation.  Let’s drop that whole “I’m too this, not enough that, WOE IS ME” act because I annoy even myself with that mess.

Let’s pause.  And, sure, take inventory of the gifts, personalities, passions, and abilities our Creator has placed within us, leveraging every last drop of it for His fame and glory.

But, let’s keep first things first.  Christ as our primary identity, chief goal, and greatest treasure.  Because when we’re hidden in Christ rather than hidden in our own personalities and ideologies- when HE is our greatest prize and highest goal- nothing. else. matters.

One mission.  Singular focus.

Coloring in the lines and fitting in the boxes is SO LAST SEASON anyway.

A year in review. And a look ahead.

Oh hey, February.  I see you.  I know 2017 is old news and everything, but listen.  I’m not ready to move on without first addressing 2016.  Because goodNESS it was a year.  One of those game-changing, life-rocking years that will not be soon forgotten.

It’s funny, really.  Because on January first of 2016, I determined that “rest” would be my one word- my primary mission statement- of the year.

I wrote about longing to do and to be and to be used up by God.  I can just sense my passion spilling out onto the keyboard as I typed.  And still, I felt as though God was telling me to stop.  To wait.  To rest in Him.

And so I did.  I pulled back and pressed in.  I begged Him to reveal Himself to me.  And I am here to say, my friends, that those kind of prayers never, ever return void.

Over the past year, God stretched me and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zones that it’s laughable.  I’ve found myself on a stage and I’ve found myself overseas and I HAVE FOUND MYSELF INVOLVED IN FREAKING WOMEN’S MINISTRY FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Is it unbiblical to say that God’s surely ROTFL? Because I’m pretty sure that’s precisely what’s happening right about now.

But here’s the thing.  This crazy year- all. of. it.- flowed straight out of a deliberate season of rest.  I have found that the greatest rest often comes when I’m busy seeking His face.  I saw this and lived this close up.  And as He taught me His character anew, it’s if He slowly released me out, saying, “Alright, kid.  Now go live it.  Follow me.  Eyes straight ahead.  Keep in step with my steps.  Just keep doing the next right thing and the next thing after that and just keep stepping and stepping.”

And as I’ve stepped, followed, fallen, and stepped again over the past year, here’s what I’ve learned: Our God is loving, and He is kind.  He is quick to forgive and slow to anger.  He is righteous and good.  But our God is not safe.  He doesn’t call us to “be still and know that [He] is God” so that we can sit around and bless our little hearts within the confines of our Christian bubbles.  No, that verse that we love to quote?   It’s preceded by this:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling…

‘Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!'”

(Psalm 46:6-10)

I mean, just check out that imagery right there.  Mountains trembling.  Waters roaring.  The earth crumbling in.

You see, sometimes it gets messy.  Scary.  Uncomfortable.  Sometimes our footing will get slippery and our ground shaky. Sometimes God will jack up our sense of comfort.  Sometimes, he’ll ask if you’ll go, and you’ll say, “well, crap.”  Sometimes, you’ll wave your arms around wildly like an obnoxious school kid yelling “me! me! me! pick me!”, and He’ll say, “No, not you.  You wait.”

No, God’s not safe. But we’re safe with Him.  Because no matter where he sends us or where He keeps us, he has promised His presence.  He’ll always be with us- leading, teaching, giving grace for every impossible moment.

2016 taught me that God’s not afraid to get all up in our faces and in our spaces if the end game is our focus and affections ultimately directed toward Him.  If experiencing His presence is the ultimate win, then God forbid I get comfy doing this life on my own.  Lord, keep launching me into scenarios my stubbornly independent spirit simply cannot handle without you.

Man, I don’t know.  I started off 2016 with “rest” as my theme and goal, and God really jacked with my life and heart.  In the best way possible.  Because, God.

That said, I don’t even know what to think about my goal and theme of 2017:

Be interruptible.  

If assuming a posture of rest got me into THIS much trouble, maybe I’m just asking for it in 2017.

But, God, YES.  Interrupt me.  May I cling more tightly to Your holy design than my daily agenda.  May my days be rearranged at a moment’s notice.  May my priorities be realigned. May I pour out from the rest I’ve found in You.  Lord, interrupt me.

And all God’s people said… “hang on tight.”

a letter to my kids on the eve of the inauguration

pexels-photo-129112Dear kids,

As you know, tomorrow is a big day for our country.  Donald Trump will be sworn into office as the next President of the United States of America.  Occupying that same big, white house and following in the footsteps of such predecessors as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson, all eyes will be on President Trump over the coming four years.

That’s the thing about leadership, kids- it’s a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.  People watch their leaders closely.  People listen.  People mimic.  Leaders set social mores and solidify cultural norms within their sphere of influence.  It just so happens that the presidential sphere of influence is deep and wide.

But, guys, listen.  As a new president steps into the oval office this week, and as we stand witness to the inevitable change he has promised over the coming weeks and years, I need you to know something.  I need you to know that even the most powerful human in the world would have no bearing on your own moral code.  And I need you to hear me when I say that our family will never be swayed or defined by behavior and attitudes deemed “normalized” by our society.

Kids, here’s the deal.  This is how it’s going to go down tomorrow:

You’re going to wake up, and you’re going to get dressed and go to school.  It’s going to be business as usual.  You’re going to work hard and obey the rules and show kindness to your classmates.  And then, you’re going to come home.  And when you do, we will have a new president.  And you know what?  The American flag will still be flying, and our God will still be in control.  Truth will still be truth.  Our hope will continue to be firmly rooted in Christ.  And our family’s rules, expectations, and norms will be completely unchanged.

Because, in our home, we will not live in fear of any leader or policy or perceived threat, for we know our Keeper, and we know that He alone is sovereign.

In our home, we will not place our faith in promises of economic change and prosperity, for our God is the manna-provider, and we believe in radical generosity no matter what.

In our home, we will throw open our doors to those on the fringes of society, knowing that those are the very people to whom Jesus gravitated.  When the world’s eyes are closed to the outsider, our eyes will lock in and say, “I see you.”

In our home, we will be slow to speak and quick to listen.  We will speak the truth in love and will use our words for good and not evil.

In our home, we absolutely will not support the normalization of anything that goes against scripture, no matter how counter-cultural this may be.  We will live by the norms set by Christ Jesus Himself, chiefly love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

In our home, we will respect others.  This means that we will respect our elected officials and those who voted for them.  Likewise, we will respect those who stand in adamant opposition and who are mourning the transfer of power.  We will look around and see our peers, colleagues, family, and president through the lens of the gospel, recognizing that we are all broken sinners in desperate need of grace and mercy.  And that not one of us can be saved by our own merit or goodness.

Listen, kids.  Learning to lead well is so very important.  Still, our lives do not rise and fall based on the power of any earthly ruler or authority.  And no role model, no matter how charming, competent, or smart, is worthy of our complete allegiance.

So, in summary, I guess my message is this: Don’t be like Donald Trump.  Or Abraham Lincoln.  Or Rosa Parks or Malala Yousafzai or Steph Curry or Beyonce.  (Though, let’s just be real.  If you’ve got pipes like Bey… I claim lifetime first row seats at your concerts.)  Don’t strive to be like Moses or Peter or Paul.  And if you have your mom and dad on some pedestal, I hereby give you permission to knock us down.  Because, you know what?  Every one of us is deeply flawed, and we’ll all ultimately lead you astray.

Carson.  Mary Grace.  Elizabeth.  Hang with me; this is important.

In our home, we will always, always point you back to Jesus.  You’ll see plenty of leaders and influencers come and go.  So, go ahead and take note of the good.  Of the ways in which they lead with excellence and model what is right.  Meanwhile, don’t forget to learn from the bad.  From their mistakes and missteps.

But, at the end of the day, remember- any good you see in this world is found in its fullness and completion in Jesus.  And kids, no person is ever, ever too broken for His mercy.

There’s only One who keeps His promises every. single. time.  One who loves perfectly, no matter the sacrifice or inconvenience.  One whose kingdom will never, ever fade and who will be worshipped by every nation and tribe, color and dialect.

And I have one clue for you: it is certainly NOT our president.

So, let’s land there tomorrow, kids.  And every single day that follows.

Love,

Mom

West Africa. {a few reflections and an onslaught of pictures.}

I don’t have the words yet.

Oh, I have pictures.  Lots of them.  But the words and the thoughts are coming at their own pace.  Slowly.  Almost as slowly as the jet lag has dissipated.

It feels trite and not even close to sufficient to say that my time in West Africa was amazing, though it certainly was.  Any and every trip I’ve been on overseas has rocked me, this trip probably more than others.

But why so amazing?  Well, I could spout off funny anecdotes and memories.  Like the time I was bitten by a monkey.  Or wound up OH SO VERY LOST in the African bush.  Or was gifted chickens by a generous village chief.

I could sing praises of my awesome team- of a surgeon and nurses and physicians and administrators- who came together with a united rallying cry: “My gifts are yours.  My talents are yours.  Have thine own way, Lord.”

I could go on and on about the missionaries on ground in West Africa.  Sweet goodness, could I speak of sacrificial love and the holy  and good work they’re doing in a difficult land.

But most of all, as the words trickle in and my heart continues to process through big feelings and hard questions, the overarching and unmistakable theme of it all is that our God is so much greater than we can even fathom.  As I stood on the ground of what truly felt to be the “ends of the earth”, I couldn’t shake these verses:

“The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him…

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lordand all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations…

They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Psalm 22: 26-28, 31) 

He is doing it, y’all.  Turning hearts toward His greatness.  In big cities and remote villages.  In the darkest places and at the very ends of the earth.  His faithfulness never falters, and His righteousness is sure.  As the local church and lone believers cry out, “He has done it!,” the poor are being fed and the sick are being healed and hearts are being turned to Him.

And, you guys.  It’s a sight to behold.

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Almost Go Time. {how to pray}

My bags are packed. (And teetering dangerously close to my 50 pound limit.)

My visa is signed, sealed, and delivered.  (And good for five years.  Boom.)

And one of my children just vomited all over the place and all over the people at my Mexican send-off dinner.  Par for the course.  (Oh my gosh.  Pray for us.)

Speaking of which.  Prayer.  I have had a number of y’all ask how you could be praying while I’m in West Africa over the next ten days.  THANK YOU.  I believe with everything within me that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).  Not because we’re anything awesome.  Or because our prayers are anything special.  But because our God is completely holy and wholly righteous.  That He hears and He sees and He cares.

So, with that in mind, let’s pray y’all.  Specifically…

  • For hearts softened to the good news of Jesus.  We’ll be working in a country that’s almost entirely Muslim and in a region where many have never heard the gospel.  Pray that we would have opportunities to clearly articulate the extravagance of Christ’s love for us.  Pray that it would be well-received.

  • For safety.  With any travel comes risk.  Pray for safe travel and good health.

  • For productivity as we work to build and prep an operating room– the first and only OR for many, many miles– in the small, rural village where we will be staying.  THIS IS SO HUGE, you guys.  Having a local operating room (coupled with, Lord-willing, a local surgeon) would save countless lives.  Near and dear to my heart is the fact that it would prevent so many maternal deaths- and, consequently, so many orphans- through the availability of C-sections.

  • For wisdom as we see and treat patients in the clinic.  I, for one, feel overwhelmed at the thought of providing medical care with so few drugs and treatments even available to offer patients.

  • That we, as a short-term medical missions team, would be quick to listen and slow to speak.  That we would show utmost respect to the culture in which we will be living and working.  That, while we may arrive feeling like we have so much knowledge to impart, that we would first and foremost come as learners, recognizing that the local villagers were there first and will be there long after we leave.

  • That we would be a source of encouragement to the local church and missionaries there.  That they would be refreshed and encouraged by our presence.

  •  For team unity.  Because, let’s face it- we’re all still practically strangers at this stage in the game.  Pray that God would bind us together quickly as a team and that we would work as one body.  That we would “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

  • For the families we leave behind for the week and a half.  For husbands, wives, and children whose routines are going to be thrown off.  If you think of it, I would love prayers specifically for Elizabeth, as separation can be very, very hard for her little heart.  We’re already seeing some of this manifesting itself in recent days- just pray that “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) would be so near and that she would trust that I’m coming back to her.

I am just so grateful for your prayers.  You have no idea.

And I’m off.

(But, first, to get my kid to stop puking.  Because motherhood.)

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room. (And Then, Buckle Up. Because Things are ‘Bout to Get Real.)

Perhaps this is an unconventional confession for a church-going, Jesus-loving, pastor’s wife, but it’s a true statement all the same: Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and live for myself.  Sometimes, I grow weary of the surrender.

Case in point: in exactly three weeks, I will be flying out to a remote region of Africa for a medical missions trip.  We’ll be bringing life-saving medicine and the life-giving message of Christ to people who desperately need it.  And yet.   Shortly after opening my eyes yesterday morning, one of the first sentiments that escaped from my lips was, “Why did I even say yes?”

You see, my friends, here’s the deal.  Leaving the country, the kids, the husband, and the (very new) job for ten days- at the height of the holiday season, no less- is beginning to feel increasingly CA-RA-ZY to me.  The unknowns feel overwhelming.  And my flesh cries out, “Oh, God.  This is way too hard.”

If my flesh is good at one thing, it’s precisely this- doing things MY way.  And, if you’re wondering, my way is efficient and smooth and logical.  It’s easy and tidy.  Void of hardship or sacrifice.

However, it’s Christmas time.  And every Christmas card I read and every carol that I hear reminds me that Jesus did not exactly share in this way of thinking.

While I long for comfort, Jesus was born in a barn.

While I cling to my strength and ability, God came to earth as a helpless baby boy.

While I strive for control, Jesus surrendered Himself to the cross.

While my sights are often cast inward, Jesus lived- and died- for everyone else.

Jesus’ life was anything but my idealistic fantasy of a neat and tidy, smooth and easy life.  Every iota of His existence modeled humility and sacrificial love.

You guys, it has been quite the year.  It’s been a year replete with “I don’t wanna”s followed by “fine, God. I’m scared, but I’ll go.”  It’s been a year of speaking when I preferred to stay silent and of going when I preferred to stay.  It’s been a year of saying “no” when a “no” seemed outlandish and saying “yes” when I just wanted to quit.  Submission and open hands and, even more than any of that, a year of digging deep, so deep, into the character of God.  Desperately leaning into His strength and sufficiency when I had none of my own to offer.

But isn’t that what it’s always about?

Just yesterday- after my brief and admittedly melodramatic meltdown over my pre-Christmas, pre-Africa to-do list- I overheard the words of Joy to the World ringing out through my iPhone.  “Let every heart prepare Him room,” it sang.  And those words- they’ve been bouncing around in my head ever since.

Prepare Him room.  

Sounds pretty benign, right?  Or not.  Because when we truly begin to see God for who He says He is and for all He’s come to do, we start to understand this phrase to mean something a whole heck of a lot more radical.

We prepare Him room, understanding that this God of whom we speak doesn’t just want a chunk of space in our hearts and lives.  He wants all. of. it.  All of us. We’re talking complete and total surrender.  An open-handed proclamation of, “Hey God, I’m yours.”

Prepare Him room, but be forewarned.  He’s bound to jack a few things up in our lives.  Because this God who humbled Himself to human flesh born in a barn isn’t particularly concerned with our comfort.  Safety isn’t the highest priority for the Great King who obeyed until He hung on a cross.  Worldly success is of little import to the One who flipped everything on its head when he taught that “the first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31)

Prepare Him room because THIS.  This is the One who came.

The One who is anything but safe and tame.  Who may get all up in your business and who may completely mess with your notion of comfort and stability.

The One who is not just some meek and mild Sunday-morning-only Jesus.  The One who is strong and mighty.  The One who is a good, good Father, yes.  But the One who is also a Warrior King.

This is the One.

So, as we prepare Him room, let us sing with a deeply-rooted conviction that He does indeed rule the world with truth and grace.  May our eyes be opened wide to the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love, and may our surrender flow from that space.  From a first-hand knowledge of who He is.

We prepare Him room, knowing that the Immanuel has already come.  That He’s here.  In the hard and the joyous and the stressful and smooth.  In the extraordinary and in the mundane.  He is here and will continue to be.  And man, if that’s not something worth celebrating.

Yes, the Lord has come.  The Savior reigns indeed.  So, go.  Prepare Him room.  Clear out and make space for Him to move, work, break down, restore, keep, send, and be.

But things might just be about to get real and get real fast.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I know from experience.

And you know what else I know from experience?  He’s so worth it.

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On Giving Thanks When Thanksgiving is Hard

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This week, all around our nation, families will gather.  They’ll gather around perfectly adorned tables set with fine china and finer wine.  Others will gather in living rooms, squeezing close on couches, paper plates on laps.

For some, Thanksgiving- with all of its family, food, and football- is as good as it gets.  The best of the best.  Words of thanks spill out of lips effortlessly.  Because maybe it’s been a banner year.  Maybe the pregnancy test was positive, the wedding bells rang, the kids were on honor roll, and your wallet remains fat.

Still others will wake on Thanksgiving morning with an air of trepidation, hearts heavy with hurts and misgivings rather than joy and thanks-giving.  Maybe family represents heartache, and there’s no feast to be had.  Perhaps the pain is still too raw, the fear too heavy, the reality too… real… to want to celebrate.  Maybe the notion of giving thanks this year just seems ludicrous.

This Thanksgiving, we’ll gather.  And, whether we intend to or not, we’ll bring our stories, our experiences, our present and past realities- we’ll bring it all to the table.  With all of our turkey and casseroles and baggage and triumph, we’ll gather.

So, what can we do if thanks-giving doesn’t come easily this year?  What if we fall in the camp of heel-dragging, feast-lacking, “What are you thankful for this year?”-question-dreading people?

We give thanks anyway.

Not in a Pollyannaish, blind-eye-to-suffering way.  Or a fake smile, “I’m fine, it’s fine, we’re ALL FINE” kind of way.  But in a “I know that my Redeemer lives” kind of way.

What if all of us- those of us teeming with thanks along with those who are empty and dry- what if our gratitude and joy could flow from something more steady, predictable, and sure?  What if we could gather around the table, the living room, and the backyard this week confessing, “I don’t know what your year has held, but I know who has held me.”

Whether you’re limping to the table this year, wounded and weary, or skipping lighthearted and baggage-free, we can all unite under the truths that our God is the same.  Trophies or baggage, tears or laughter, we can always, always give thanks.  Because if all we have left is God Himself, then that’s all we’ll ever need after all.  And if His unchanging character is the only object of gratitude on our tongues this Thanksgiving, then I can think of no sweeter words to speak.

So, friends.  If all feels lost, and you have nothing left- I pray that you would cling to one truth this Thanksgiving: that, while rulers and friends and careers and money and prestige and family may come and go, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

We can give thanks that He is wholly just, even in the face of unspeakable injustice.

We can give thanks that God IS LOVE, even when vitriol and hate seem to be dominating.

We can give thanks that He is the good Father, even when we grow weary in our own parenting.

We can give thanks that God is the masterful Creator of everything, even when creation seems to be unraveling at an alarming pace.

We can give thanks that God is sovereign, even when life seems to be careening out of control.

We can give thanks that God’s strength is magnified in our weakness.

We can give thanks that our God is the Good Shepherd who pursues the one lost sheep when we feel like we’re too far gone for saving.

We can give thanks when we feel unseen and invisible because He numbers the hairs on our head and keeps watch over the sparrow.

We can give thanks when we look death and disease in the eye, knowing that our God heals and restores.

We can give thanks that God is always merciful even when our own compassion wanes.

We can give thanks that God is all-knowing and supremely wise when we just don’t know how to proceed.

We can give thanks that we don’t have to strive and hustle for grace because Jesus sat down after His work of salvation.

We can give thanks when we feel abandoned because Jesus- our Emmanuel– came.

We can give thanks that God has already won.  That death and Hell have been defeated.  That, yes, we can lament, but we need not wallow in despair and defeat.

Friends, we can give thanks this Thanksgiving because our God is unmovable and unchanging, steady and sure.  So, go right ahead and get to your Thanksgiving table.  Get to your people.  Whether you go limping or go dancing, may your steps land on these truths. And may you go giving thanks.

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