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. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Beautiful Stories

This week we had our 4th annual International Festival at New City Fellowship.  Most of you who actually read this know that our church here in Nairobi is comprised of people from all over the world and several tribes here in Kenya.  It is messy and hard a lot of the time, but so beautiful when we all work at it together.  The international festival is one way that we celebrate the unique ways God made each of us.  As we have said before, we can come together under one roof and worship the One True God together because we were first reconciled with him through the blood of Jesus, and that reconciliation and peace overflows from us because of the Holy Spirit living inside of us.  It's a glimpse of heaven when it's done right. 

Our church loves to party - one thing we do really well is celebrate!  This year was the fourth year of the festival, and though Shawn and I started it, we found that we weren't all that necessary this year.  It was such a wonderful surprise to see people really own it and do it out of their own desire to see it happen.  We even had to tell people that there was not a budget in place for it this year, so all of that yummy food and those decorations came from the people here.  While I worried this might make it harder for people to do, no one batted an eye when we told them, and instead they got together in their groups and prayed, planned, practiced, and cooked!

Before we moved to Nairobi I would have said I had a pretty good sense of the world.  I am so fascinated by cultures and languages, and I study them as much as possible.  Having lived in a very multicultural part of Malawi as well as places in New York, I thought I was pretty wise to what it meant to adjust to and learn from other cultures.  However I l still learn something new here every day. 

Each year as we put this festival on I am in wonder of the amazing, beautiful ways that God created us. 

When I was younger I would say that I didn't see different colors or cultures, that we were all the same inside.  I said that with a very naive heart, and it was done in innocence and a desire to love people from all over well.  I thought that saying I didn't see a color or hear a different sound was a way of saying that I didn't think any different of them than I do myself.  However, I have learned as I have matured and made (a lot of) mistakes, that saying that is being ignorant of the fact that we ARE different - purposefully by our Father.  He celebrates these things! Different isn't a status - it's not saying one person is better or less than another.  It's just what it sounds like - different, not the same, unique!

Yes, it is true that our hearts are all broken and turn to self naturally.  In that way we are the same.  But we don't have to have different skin tones or dialects to see how truly unique each of us are.  My kids - though they come from the same two parents and surely Shawn cannot deny them in looks - each react differently to things.  They think differently.  They receive and give love differently.  Each of their unique experiences have shaped them and continue to do so.  Anyone who is parent of more than one child knows this to be true. 

After we moved here and I started to see the beauty in each person and culture, I wanted to truly celebrate the fact that each of us are created in the image of God.  Yet each of us - somehow - are also our very own, specially made, unique and wonderfully individual self.  I am not sure how that all happens!  The creativity of our Lord is astounding and breathtaking!

So I keep asking God to reveal himself to me in others.  As broken as I am, I know he is working in me.  But I want to remember that he is at work and living in and represented by others as well.  I want him to keep opening my eyes and heart to his beautiful masterpieces all around me.  I want to do this remembering that every person has a story - a story with hurt, love, frustration, hope, desperation, fear, and victories.  I want to really hear the meaning when they share their lives with me and know how to love them better because God is opening my heart to that. 

As I do this I will try to listen well.  I will dance and laugh.  I will celebrate. I will cry with those whose stories are stuck in brokenness and have not yet come to the healing part.  I will pray. 

Not perfectly.  But wholeheartedly.

"Once you are in communion with God, you have the eyes to seer and the ears to hear other people in whom God has also found a resting place."
Henri Nouwen

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