Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Another in the fire


Maybe you don't know what the process to move overseas is like, but there was a lot of what we thought of as jumping through hoops or checking off boxes.  One of those major hoops came when our mission told us that before we could go any further in the process, we had to have some counseling.  I was super annoyed because we have had regular counseling throughout our adult lives.  I didn't want to have to spill my secrets to yet another person and start from scratch - that gets old after a while.  God knew what he was doing though (duh), and lead us to a woman who really changed my life and brought healing to me in ways that had never happened before. 

One day while talking about a particularly traumatic thing in my past, I started to get frustrated.  I mentioned that this had been talked about over and over again, but here I was still - same place, same feelings, same bondage to shame.  It felt like groundhog day, but it was happening in real life for me with one of the hardest things I had ever faced.  

She took a minute to let me cry and vent, then she calmly started praying over me.  She didn't ask me to repeat the story, or to analyze my thoughts and feelings.  Instead, she asked the Spirit to reveal the a particular instance to me.  I immediately pictured the scene that I always went back to.  As I felt myself tense up she then asked Jesus to reveal where he was.  

I have blogged about this before.  I use to feel that my life before Jesus and after Jesus was exactly what that sounded like - that the before part meant Jesus wasn't around and He came after I invited him.  This instance was in the before part, and I honestly never really gave it much thought about where Jesus was. 

There's a song I have been listening to recently called "Another in the Fire" by Hillsong United.  I absolutely love the acoustic version, and can rarely get through it without tears of brokenness as well as tears of absolute awe of his love for me.  The chorus says, "There was another in the fire standing next to me.  There was another in the waters holding back the sea. And should I ever need reminding what power set me free there is a grave that holds no body and now that power lives in me."  

In the moment that this woman prayed for Jesus to reveal where he was when I was going through that trauma, I saw - very clearly- a picture of him standing in front of me.  He was weeping, but he held my gaze.  He was holding one hand out to me and the other was held back behind him - a gesture of power, stopping evil in his tracks.  There was something awful happening, but it was not what it could have been.  I was not being swallowed up by the enemy or destroyed beyond his redemption.  He acknowledged my brokenness, fear, and pain by holding my gaze and looking at me with love and empathy while holding out his own scarred hand for me to see.  

He was in the fire with me.  He held back the waters.  

There was never a before and after with him.  "There is no other name but the name that is Jesus.  He who was and still is and will be through it all."  

This one revelation changed the way I pray and live my life.  As I pray for my family and friends who don't yet know Jesus, I pray that their eyes would be open to the fact that they are never alone no matter what they are going through.  I pray that they see the evil that is being held back and the power in the one who is doing the holding.  I pray that in my own life they will see that the darkness bows to the one living in me, the one whose name is the only thing that can stand against it.  

"And should I ever need reminding of how good you've been to me I'll count the joy in every battle, because I know that's where you'll be."  (Click the link below to hear the song!)


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Pruning




We've been living in DC for four weeks as of today.  While reflecting on this last night as a family, we realize that as far as transitions go, this has been a relatively easy one.  A big part of this is the church we have come to and the fact that my sister lives so close.  These are huge gifts to us.

A couple weeks after moving in we had a neighborhood open house to meet the people who live in this community.  Our wonderful friends and landlords set the whole thing up, so instead of taking months or years to meet the people living on the block, we had many of them in our house less than two weeks after moving.  To prepare for this we decide to do some yard work.  The front of the house has a large porch and a cute little yard, but many of the bushes had become overgrown and you couldn't even see the street when you were sitting on the porch.  Because Shawn is the expert gardener in our family, I listened to him when he said we needed to hack it all back and cut away any extra growth and unhealthy parts.  I knew this instinctively, but when we actually started doing it I continually questioned him because it was so bare and ugly! Instead of being green and lush it suddenly looked a bit sickly and barren.  This would be the first impression of people walking up to the house. 

I'm sure you can see where I am going with this.  The Bible is not lacking in gardening analogies.  But even though it seems obvious, I have been surprised at how much pruning and hacking I needed coming back to the States.  

We landed on a Tuesday and drove to DC on a Thursday to start the interview that happened for a full weekend.  I was jet lagged but excited about the possibility of this church, so the adrenaline kept us going.  We left feeling like the weekend was a sure sign that this was going to be our place, and were happy to hear 10 days later that the church felt the same way.  

But suddenly all the newness, the grief of what we had left, and the anxiety of starting over again started to overwhelm.  Even as we settle in, my eyes are open to overgrowth and places of rot that need to be cut off so healing and new life can come.  The problem is that since we are new, I prefer people see lots of the overgrowth because at least it's green, looks healthy, and hides the rot for the most part.  It comes across as life, even though it is actually sucking life out of me.  I don't want to be seen as unhealthy or with baggage, I want to be seen as capable and full of ideas and life.  

But right now God is being very clear that he is pruning me.  And he's not being frugal in that pruning - all the excess is being stripped off down to the place where it can start fresh.  Though a gentle gardener, he's very thorough. He leave nothing that is not his plan in place. 

"My child, your identity needs to be in me alone." 

All those places in life where I have been finding my identity apart from simply being His are being stripped away and I feel raw and exposed.  He is cutting and snipping and sometimes ripping away not only the unhealthy growth of lies about my identity that I cling to and let grow among the leaves, but also the good things that I think define who I am.  Being a loyal friend, being known and authentic, speaking, writing, discipling, teaching - everything has been cut off down to the stubby knot on the branch that is the only visible sign of the promise of new growth.  

But when he points to that little green knot, kisses me on the forehead, and starts singing his love song for me over me, I start to believe that this really is for my good and his glory.  

The bushes outside of our house are already growing new leaves and the gaps and barrenness are being filled in with light green growth that looks different than before, but are obviously healthier and will be beautiful and mature in time.  Shawn was right in the ruthless pruning, and God is (of course) right in his pruning of my heart.  While I can't see the vision of the gardens Shawn plans here, I always end up soaking in the beauty of the results. In the same way I trust God's plan to make me more like him to bring peace and beauty and life to those around me.  

Friday, July 12, 2019

Tremble

Listening to music always speaks to my heart in ways that seem to break through even my most grumpy, tired, or distant flesh.  I have a current favorite right now that I could listen to non-stop, and whenever I hear it I feel like my emotions explode to the surface. 

"Peace, bring it all to peace
The storm surrounding me
Let it break at your name..."

If you've listened to Christian radio or worship in a place in with contemporary music at all you've probably heard the song "Tremble."  It's not new.  Nor is it filled with a truth I have not heard before.  But something in these lyrics touches me deeply in this time of my life.

Right before we left Kenya I spoke at our church ladies retreat.  One of the things we talked about the first night was how we are in a battle.  We so often and so easily believe the lies that are whispered to us from Satan and shouted to us from the world about who we are, our worth, and our identity.  The longer we allow these lies to sink in, the deeper the roots they grow and the harder the battle becomes to see truth again.  We began our battle that weekend by worshipping our living God. 

Because when we worship, we confess and proclaim that the blood of the Lamb is our saving, purifying grace.  We acknowledge that the death of Jesus overcame anything that Satan can send our way.  We exclaim that the resurrection brings new, eternal life and power to those who believe and who surrender their old life and truly die to self.  One of my favorite passages about this is in Revelation 12:11 "They triumphed over him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony; they did not love their loves so much as to shrink from death."

It's hard to live in truth when you are so entrenched in the lies and hanging on tightly to the life we think is the best.  To surrender, to die - it can be very painful.  It makes us feel raw and vulnerable.  But we are not powerless when we die to self and live in Jesus.   

There is power in the blood and we battle with the word our testimonies about his truth. 

"Jesus, Jesus you make the darkness tremble
Jesus, Jesus you silence fear."

This is not just a poetic lyric to make you feel good in the moment.  I think sometimes I forget that the same Jesus who  commanded the storm to stop with just a word is the one I serve.  The same Jesus who makes the demons tremble at his name is the one working in and through me each day.  He has given us the Spirit, and through Him we have power and authority when we call out in his name for his work to be done. 

"Your name is a light that the shadows can't deny
You name cannot be be overcome
You name is alive, forever lifted high
You name cannot be overcome."

1 John 5:4 says, "For everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith."

So as we start this new chapter of life here in DC and as we get to know our new family with whom we will be doing life here, I am excited to hear the stories of these people.  I want to rejoice in the victories, and weep together in the hard, the raw, the ugly.  I want to proclaim the power of the resurrection over the dark places that we are ashamed of and take back the freedom from the slave driver who bombards us with lies.  I want to live life together and know his lavish love and abundant power in the daily and mundane.  I want to be real and authentic about the struggles we have and the places we feel enslaved, because pretending those places don't exist only feeds the lies more.  I want to remind each other of the paradox of being safe in His peace and presence, yet still aware of how we should be trembling in front of His holiness.  I want to know and be known without judgement and without fear because we are all just jars of clay. 

"Breath, call these bones to live
Call these lungs to sing
Once again I will praise..." 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

We're Not in Kenya Anymore, Toto.

Since getting back to the States from Kenya, there have been a few things that make me giggle every time they happen.  While our adjustment has been relatively seamless (home assignment last year helped this) there are still a few things that make me have to stop and think.  Here are some examples:

1.  Which side of the road should I be on when I turn on right on an unlined road?  For the most part I have not had to think twice about it.  But for some reason my right turns always confuse me.  I want to be in the lane closest to me rather than crossing the full road.  This could be dangerous if it was a busy road, but usually the confusion only happens on unlined country roads, thankfully!

2.  Stocking up for Kenya.  The last several times we have been back I would go into doomsday stocking mode.  If I saw good prices on parm, ranch packets, pepperoni, or something else we always took back to Kenya with us I would buy a huge load and take them home to pack in a bin.  Several times I have found myself grabbing unreasonable amounts of things.  The first time I went shopping I bought 4 things of parm "just in case."  Just in case of what?  A sudden shortage of parm in the whole country?  In my defense, this did happen ALL THE TIME in Kenya.  Once I had everyone I knew looking for black beans.  But here - not so much.  Stores are stocked and easy to get to - no going through security a million times, paying for parking, and then realizing the thing you need is not there anyway.  Today I was at the dollar store and saw pepperoni.  The first thing I thought was, "Good price for a pack that size.  I should buy them all."  I refrained.

3.  That's a bird, not a monkey.  Tonight we had a campfire.  We kept hearing the branches of the trees above us moving when birds would take off in flight, and several times Anna and I looked up expecting to see monkeys jumping while we prepared to protect our stuff.  (Monkeys are nasty thieves!) The birds here at not as aggressive as the Kites that we had in Nairobi, so usually we do not have to duck and dive.

4.  Water is easy.  When I am in my bedroom at night and I have finished my glass of water, I can simply go to the bathroom and fill my cup from the sink.  I don't have to buy water or wait for it to filter.  I can also get water for free at restaurants, because they can give me tap water without me worrying about getting Cholera.  Bonus!

5.  It's just barely spring here in upstate NY.  Don't let that sunshine fool you.  I definitely miss the warm sunshine of equatorial Kenya.  The last few days here have been sunny, but if you step outside of the direct sun you still feel the cool breeze reminding you that winter has just ended.  (Side note - this is not the the opinion of the people who live here!  We've been seeing these tough New Yorkers in tank tops and shorts since we landed.  Meanwhile we are wrapped in Kenyan blankets and wondering if the lake will get warm enough to paddle board before we leave at the end of June!)

6.  I don't need a bank loan to eat Keto.  Last week I bought 4 huge packs of butter (hoarding again...) for the price of what one pack would be in Kenya.  And cheese - it's every where and so completely affordable!  And so many kinds and flavors!  Last night we finished off a creamy block of bacon infused cheese! Yummmmm.

7.  On the other hand, avocados are a sad state of affairs here.  I was spoiled with an avocado tree in our backyard in Kenya.  Even when I did have to buy them they were 20 cents apiece and always a yummy texture and taste.  Not so much here.  I saw a sale - 2 for $5.  And they are not even the nice, big ones - just tiny little things. Yikes.

I am sure there will be other cultural adjustments that pop up.  I have been watching the kids and seeing what they are noticing.  They all love free refills of soda here when we eat out and driving here - even in DC - is so much more enjoyable and safe! We miss friends and nice weather, but we are excited for new friendships and putting roots down deep.  It's always an adventure! 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Kwaheri Kenya

It's my last night calling Africa home.

I feel like the last several weeks I have been on auto pilot - doing the things I needed to do to wrap up work well and get things in place.  This week we had a lot of goodbyes, however my eyes stayed dry and my emotions in check.

But today...

What a hard, beautiful, honoring, loving, joy and sorrow filled day.

I was standing and looking out the window tonight and feeling like this chapter has come to a close.  I don't just mean Kenya - though that is the immediate, in-your-face thing.  But this dream of living in Africa.  Ever since we spent the year in Malawi I have longed to come back and live.  We lived in the most rural you possibly could in South Sudan to the crazy chaos of Nairobi in Kenya, as well as the in-between in Blantyre.  I've seen poverty I could never have imagined, and money that I never knew existed.  I've lived on the brink of war and through insane elections.  And I've shown off this life I've loved to anyone I could.  When people say, "What is it like to live in Africa" I want to tell them to come visit, because my Arica is very different from our cousin's Africa on the West side of the continent.  My Malawi is different from my South Sudan and from my Kenya.  The number of cultures, languages, tribes, landscapes, and climates would take your breath away if you truly thought about it.  And the people...

Well, here's what I have learned about people.  As they say in Malawi, "Munthu ndi munthu."  Man is man.  We may grow up in vastly different surroundings.  We tell our new teammates, "Expect difference as a starting point."  However our hearts and our desires all come from the same deep longing to experience love and acceptance - to be a part of something greater than us.  We want to know that we belong somewhere and that in this gigantic, crazy world there are people that are "ours."

We've found that here.  Our church family has been amazing.  Being in an international church is not always easy - in fact, that is rarely the word I would use to describe it.  All those cultures and languages and ways of doing things "correctly" clash often.  We reach points where we get frustrated and default into "my way or the highway" mode.  We hold grudges over misunderstandings and break relationships because it feels like too much work.  We are human that way.

But we also push into the absolute, breathtaking beauty of seeing the image of God in so many people and faces that looks nothing like us.  When we stand in a circle and take communion and I see people from all backgrounds, religions, cast systems, and cultures breaking bread and celebrating what Christ did for us - it truly is a glimpse of heaven.

As we leave Kenya tomorrow I will miss my church and many of the idiosyncrasies of "Africa."
And I will say goodbye to that dream of living here.  I am ready.  I am excited for what is next and we will jump whole heartedly into it.  But I will still need time to grieve many things as they pop up in the next several months.  It means I have loved well and been loved well - and that is a good thing.

As we look at the possibility of this new international church next weekend we are so excited to see what God has planned.  We dream about friendships and putting down some roots and all the possibilities that this new life could bring.  But we will also be working through the goodbyes as I suddenly realize one morning that I won't be singing in Hindi, or that I can't meet my bestie at Java for lunch, or that driving through a national park no longer means looking for giraffes and lions.  There will be other beautiful things and God will bring new relationships and life to us again  - I know this from experience.

But for tonight I am just sitting in gratefulness for His love for me and the life that he has given to me.

Kwaheri Kenya.  Tuonane Tena.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Eating Crow

I hate eating crow.

For those not familiar with this expression because you are not a native English speaker (or simply because I am old and you are not) this means having to apologize for something after taking a strong stance.  Presumably eating crow would leave a bad taste in your mouth.  So does apologizing after you have been so stubborn.

I am a hothead. I am also a verbal processor.  These two things can be explosive together when I reach a point of frustration where I just let it out.  I can't tell you the number of times I have had to swallow my pride and reach out and apologize. It is an almost painful, and certainly humbling - sometimes humiliating- experience.

Over the years as I have grown up and matured (hopefully hah) I have learned better how to hold my tongue and can usually wait until the proper moment to approach a situation in a way that is more calm and reasonable.  However there are still times of stress and feeling overwhelmed when I don't do this in the right way.  This week I had one of those times and I had to reach out to my poor victim (who truly was nothing but the messenger) and ask forgiveness.  Of course my platform to talk about the things that really are a problem is gone because no one takes it seriously anymore.  It's an unfortunate side effect of this particular sin.

One of the things that we continually talk about in our mission is the fact that we, as humans, are capable of so much more evil that we want to admit.  We often surprise ourselves when we fall back into a pattern where we thought we had victory.  We are taken aback my the toxicity of the words that flow from our mouth - or at least the thoughts that come from our hearts, even if we don't verbalize them.  I find myself thinking this often when a thought comes into my head about a brother or sister that I am with.  I expect tons of grace given to me because I know what God is doing in me, but I am quick to forget that he is working in others as well.

However, we follow up that idea with the fact that God loves us more than we can possibly know or imagine.

I have been working with interns and apprentices on this team for the last few years.  They come excited and ready to change the world in a few short months.  They come with a romanticized idea of Kenya, and fall hard when the reality of how hard it is to live cross-culturally hits them between the eyes.  It is one of my privileges and joys to help them walk through the tension of how ugly they feel when the "I'm right and you are wrong" thought permeates through them and the fact that this is not who they are anymore battles for their hearts.  Their sinfulness startles them, but I can see that it is nothing that has not been there all along.  Our flesh is ugly and messy and very, very selfish.

But then I remind them of the good news - the news that they are loved more than than they can even imagine.  The news that the old is gone and the new is here.  The news that we don't fight against each other but rather against spiritual forces of evil.  The news that there is no condemnation for those in Christ.  Often their (and my) first reaction to being confronted with our sin is justifying their actions by whatever means necessary. How crazy our flesh and our need for reputation is!   But slowly I  see a lightbulb come on (again and again) and they confess and repent, they reconcile things between them and whomever they hurt, and they let go of that weight and move on.

It's so easy to remind others of this.  I love mentoring and discipling. Both because I enjoy seeing these revelations happen in the people I am talking to, but also because it is a constant reminder to me of who I was without Christ and who I now am with him.  As I study and teach each of these lessons, I am given a new revelation of the depth of these truths each time. 

I am sure I will be eating crow many more times in life, though hopefully it won't be served as often as when I was younger.  However I am so so thankful for the grace and new life that comes as the next course of that meal.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Bookends of Beauty

I love the bride of Christ.

I know that many of you reading this have seen the ugly, the broken, the spiteful.  It has been aimed at you or someone you love and the hurt has caused so much pain that you ran.  Maybe you are still physically present, but your heart is not fully in.  I understand.  We've been in full time ministry for 23 years now.  You can't be in this type of life without experiencing some of that ugliness - or handing it our yourself. 

However, I have been reminded again recently how beautiful it can be when it is done as a picture of Him. 

In the last few churches that we have been at where Shawn has pastored we have had a point in our time there where we had to admit that we couldn't do it anymore.  These churches in the States were ones that were under redevelopment - meaning on the brink of closing for one reason or another - and we were brought in to see if there was any health left and to push it in that direction if the answer was yes.  That means that we've seen a lot of crazy things!  But we also saw things that were profound and life-giving when we were put in a position where there was nothing to do except allow ourselves to be loved.

When RJ was born with two holes in his heart, our next 6 months were a blur of weekly drives of almost 2 hours to the doctor, figuring out plans, and making sure he stayed healthy and alive.  We had 3 other kids - ages 8, 6, and 3.  Two of them were being homeschooled.  We lived in an amazing farming community and we loved these people fiercely.  We always knew they loved us - they showed us by keeping our freezer full and serving us in many ways, but never so wonderfully as during this time.  Suddenly we had people stepping in to care for the three older ones with no questions asked.  They were aunts and uncles and grandparents to them and loved them.  One time when we were gone for a good portion of the day we came back to find a huge garden planted for us!  We had decided not to do it that year because our time was so chaotic already.  Not only did they plant the garden, but they took care of it and helped with canning the harvest as it came. 

This was the same church that a year later stepped in again and paid for us to go to a marriage counseling retreat center and take some time to get ourselves healthy again.  They also surprised us when we got back from a trip once with a home makeover - painting the walls all the colors they knew I would love and giving us a few new pieces of furniture.  I felt very known and deeply loved.

The church we were at when my mom got sick and spent the summer in chemo before passing away also stepped up during this time of grief when we couldn't think straight.  It was a church of young people, and many didn't quite know how to react to me, but they loved the kids, played games with them, included them in fun things to help them not feel so confused with me gone a lot.  Loving my kids is loving me the best you possibly can. One family gave us an extra car so that I could travel to and from without leaving Shawn stranded.  It was really after this time of us being completely vulnerable to them that we started to see the church really grow. 

It left me wondering - have we often swooped in to "save the day" and allowed ourselves to be indispensable?  We started to do things differently after realizing that the church would step in when we allowed them to love us and see sometimes we were not so capable.  It is a hard thing for a pastor sometimes - to let his guard down and show that there are true weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  Shawn is really good at that - I tend to fight it a lot more when it comes to my reputation.  The truth is, these weaknesses can be a real strength.

So here we are - 4 years into time in Kenya and having this crazy kidney stone saga that has bookended our time here.  We came as evacuees to have surgery done in this crazy city knowing no one and being afraid to venture out into the place we had heard called "Nairobbery." We had zero community when we landed.  But now...

Food, meals, prayers, visitors, love in so many ways.  We just said goodnight to a family that has become our family here and came to pray over us and remind us they are here with whatever we need.  And I believe it.  Maybe by being so weak and vulnerable here at the end we have been given a beautiful gift to see God's people in action again.  Because I have not felt alone even once in all of this.  I have so many - so many- people that I can call on for big or little things and I know it will happen.  Apparently it takes a village to defeat a kidney stone!

As I look forward to our next community and the getting to know the people that will be our family and lifeline, I feel excited.  Yet I also have apprehension - everything will be new again.  It will be starting from scratch. I will have to learn the area, the people, know their lives, find their passions.  And I know that we will - we love relationships too much to not push into them deeply.  But it will take time.  I pray that our next community is one that we can get to know and be a part of for many years to come. 

For now I am just sitting here grateful and humbled.  Because you people are amazing and beautiful.  Thank you for showing us a glimpse of the face of Jesus. 

Another in the fire

Maybe you don't know what the process to move overseas is like, but there was a lot of what we thought of as jumping through hoops ...