Tag Archives: spiritual journey

on going to Haiti

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For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  I Corinthians 3:9

 

So today I leave for Haiti.

I am joining eMi (Engineering Ministries International) for 10 days in Grand Goave, Haiti.  This is one of those rare times when God very clearly told me “Go!”  I hemmed and hawed and didn’t tell my husband for two days because I knew he would say yes.  While some adventures God reveals are invitations (this blog was one of those – saying no the the invitation would not have been disobedience but I would miss the opportunity to see and experience Him in new ways), this was an issue of obedience.  And I did not want to go.

I have wanted to join eMi on a project trip for several years but circumstances continually thwarted those attempts.  You would think I would be excited to finally be able to go.  Funny thing is, circumstances still provide numerous excuses for me to stay home.  A short time frame to prepare (five weeks!), the financial challenges of paying for the trip, leaving my little man for 10 days, health problems during this last week – all of these real challenges tell me this is ridiculous.  And if I’m really honest, Haiti is not at the top of my travel list.

I will be working with a team of engineers and architects to design a church and conference center for Haiti ARISE.  We will also be developing a master plan for a new parcel of land (which will include a goat farm.  Ha!  I doubt any of my architecture professors imagined the expertise they imparted to me being used on goats!).  I am the team architect, and I feel utterly unqualified to hold this role.  Between the obstacles to leave home, the intimidation I feel at being the team architect, and the challenges of Haiti itself, God has me so far out on a limb I can feel it bounce beneath me.

This is what happens when your word for the year is Brave.

Perhaps this kind of obedience strikes some as radical.  But, really, I had no choice but to say “yes.”  My obedience stems not from fear of consequences if I disobey or because I robotically must do what I am told.  But I love God so much, I am so humbled and grateful at all He has done for me, how can I say no?  How can I turn my back on this God who has saved me and transformed me and who walks so intimately with me through each day, no matter where that day leads me?

It is easy to think that we North Americans have all the answers, from the practical to the spiritual.  We feel so smart and privileged and enlightened – and as architects we are trained to be proud and arrogant.  But then I read the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians and Paul reminds me that, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”  The message of Jesus – the central reason for this trip – can seem so simple as to be foolish and insignificant in the face of daunting physical need or next to the expertise and knowledge our team possesses.  Yet it is all, all about Christ.  It is not about me or what I bring or even the building I design.  I want to come to the people of Haiti with the humility demonstrated by Paul, to have a heart filled with fear and trembling because of the weighty and glorious task that has been given me.  I want to “know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This is what unites us across distance, cultural and language barriers, life experiences – we all love and serve the same God.  It is an honor and a priviledge to serve these brothers and sisters.  I am their servant these 10 days.  I do not come to fix their problems but to serve them so that they in turn might transform their community and country with Christ’s love.  

There is no way to prepare for the kind of poverty and need I will see.  My heart wants to erect defenses to protect itself from the onslaught of ache that I will experience.  To steel itself, to harden itself from the reality of the Haitian people so that I won’t have to face those difficult, messy emotions.  But I don’t want to spend the week detached and distant.  I want to consciously make my heart vulnerable to hear their stories, to see their poverty, to experience their joy in the midst of tragedy.  I want to love the people of Grand Goave without pretense, without expectations of return.  To see their beautiful, messy stories and then enter in.

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my story

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Once there was a little girl with curly brown hair and green, serious eyes.  This little girl had a mother and father who loved her completely, just as she was.  She had a sister and brother, grandparents on both sides, aunts, uncles, and cousins, friends and teachers who encouraged her, taught her, and loved her well.  There were dogs to play with, acres of woods to run in, and a lovely little home where she had a yellow (and later blue) room filled with toys and books and clothes.  And she was afraid.

For as long as she could remember, Fear hounded her.  She lay awake at night, afraid to sleep, convinced her house would burn down in the night or thieves would break in to hurt her family.  She was afraid to climb too high in the trees.  Afraid to meet new people.  Afraid to break the rules.  There were few areas of her life that weren’t defined by Fear.

As she grew into a young lady, her fears grew too.  Fear manifested itself in a need for control, in self-reliance, in perfectionism but in reality she was choking under Fear’s tight grasp.  It governed each decision she made, each adventure she refused, each friendship she avoided.  No matter what she tried or how hard she fought, she couldn’t defeat Fear.  Inside she was still that scared little girl cowering under the covers.

******

My friendship with Jesus began almost 30 years ago.  At seven years old I believed there was a good and loving God, and I wanted to know him.  My parents told me that God was holy and perfect and that our sins, the wrong things we do, keep us separated from Him.  No amount of good works can earn a place for us in heaven.  But God loved us so very much He made a way for us to be His friends and live with Him forever by sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins.  Jesus’ perfect, sinless life met the requirement I could never meet and His death paid the price for my sins.  Then He rose form the dead, making away for me to live with Him in heaven forever.  Over many conversations I began to understand this story of salvation.  One hot autumn night, after my parents tucked me into my big canopy bed, I asked God to forgive me for the wrong things I had done and to come live in my heart.

That simple prayer born from a simple faith started a long friendship with God.  There was no dramatic transformation, no stirring before and after story.  Instead I have grown to know and love this childhood Friend more and more.   The changes in me have been slow, shaped by Him over many years – but they have been no less profound.  He has walked with me through seasons of intense brokenness that I didn’t want and wasn’t sure I could endure and has consistently and faithfully woven something beautiful and lasting from those tattered threads.  I have stubbornly refused to obey Him, sure that what He asked was too much to give only to discover a breathtaking freedom on the other side of surrender.  He has challenged my pride, my control, my anger, my priorities, my identity- and my fears.

One Sunday in the winter of 2011 I stood singing with the rest of the church.  I don’t remember what precipitated this thought – some conversation or lyric or nudging of Go’d Spirit – but I realized that I was tired of living in fear.  I didn’t want it to control every decision and saturate every moment of my life, and asked God to help me.  What followed was two years of the most brutal, vicious attacks on my mind and heart that I have ever experienced.  I doubted my faith.  I doubted God’s existence.  I was literally choked by fear, panic rising from deep within me.  I felt like I was standing on the edge of a deep, dark chasm, about to fall and unable to stop myself.  I cried and cried from confusion and pain and fear.  Slowly, I began to realize that the way out of this awful mess was through complete, absolute surrender to God.  I cannot describe to you how much this terrified me.  Despite a lifetime of walking obediently with Him, of memorizing and studying the Bible, I knew I did not trust Him.  Could I trust Him, this God who could, who would ask me to surrender all the stuff – possessions, position, people – that gave me comfort and security?  This God who asks me to live a life of sacrifice and pouring-out and yielding of my needs? This God who let people, good people, die too young from cancer?  Did I want to surrender to Him?  I fought it hard.  And then, in the darkness of a hotel ballroom when I least expected it, God met me.  I saw a glimpse of His glory and I was undone.  I was a blubbering mess of surrender, but it was beautiful.  I confessed and He forgave.  He moved mightily in me – and so many other women – releasing me from the fear that held me captive.  Here are my thoughts from that night.

El Shaddai, I confess my sin of fear.  I have loved this world more than You.  The fear of losing family, status, comfort has kept me imprisoned.  I live controlled by worry and anxiety, struggling fruitlessly to gain control.  I surrender.  Tonight I have come face to face with You and You are worth it.  Wherever You lead, whatever the cost.  I tremble to write that, but I have nowhere else to go.  You have the words that bring eternal life.

I have experienced an amazing peace a freedom since that night.  Do I still struggle with fear?  Absolutely!  But it does not control me.  I am finding joy in surrender, in walking into those things that cause me fear.  This little space on the internet is proof of that.  I am learning to trust Him, perhaps for the first time.  I think I will fight fear my whole life.  Part personality, part personal weakness, it will be something that must be faced in every circumstance.  But I am also discovering it is not me that needs to do the fighting.  When I surrender to God, when I say “whatever,” then He sucker-punches fear and I take a step forward in freedom.  When I try to fight fear with control or self-reliance then I get pummeled.  Exodus 14:14 says “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”  In the still of surrender is victory.

On writing my testimony

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Our pastor, Todd, is asking everyone at our church who is a Christian give him a written account of their testimony.  Simply put, your testimony is your story of how you met Jesus for the first time and how He has changed your life.  Todd isn’t asking for these stories to make some master list of “real” Christians or to grade our stories.  He knows that to write your story, to think through what Jesus has done for you and in you allows you to step back and see the threads of God’s presence in your story.  To document His love, His grace, His amazing gift of forgiveness of our messed up lives is a beautiful act of worship.  This reflection prepares you to share that story with others because, as we see over and over in the Bible, our testimony of what God has done in our life is the best evidence we can give of His real and active presence to those who don’t know Him.

And I have seriously been dragging my feet.  I have no dramatic story of meeting Jesus, no amazing transformation that occurred when He forgave my sins.  My testimony so often feels “less than” because I have been a follower of Jesus since I was seven and have pretty much stuck with Him ever since.  We have journeyed together – arduous uphill climbs, breathtaking mountaintop vistas, and slogs through the darkest of valleys – and I am slowly, slowly being transformed to be more like Him.  It seems such a boring story.  Why on earth would anyone be interested in it?  How could it possibly change anyone’s life?

Ah, there’s the catch.  I am relying on crafting a clever narrative to capture my audience.  I see it as my story and so all of the weight for it’s power and purpose lies squarely on my shoulders.  And that is entirely wrong.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.
              “Blessed Assurance“, Fanny Crosby 1873

These words, penned by Fanny Crosby over 100 years ago, remind me of what – of Who – my testimony is about.  That I or anyone else can call themselves Christian is a stunning miracle.  I have been purchased by God at a very costly price.  My sins have been washed away by Jesus’ blood.  In His grace and mercy He chose me to be His daughter, a fact that should astound me every day.  Why me?  Why did I get to grow up in a God-honoring home filled with love and safety?  Why has He protected me time and time again from my own bad choices and desires and the wickedness of others?  I do not know – but this should bring praise to my lips, not shame or dejection.  All who are Christians have a dramatic rescue story.  It is unequivocally not about me.  How arrogant of me to think that God can’t use me because of how I met Him!

And so I am writing my testimony.  It is a slice, a small glimpse into the numerous and amazing things God has done in me and for me.  And it is getting quite long – but when you start recounting God’s grace and goodness and power and holiness it’s hard to stop (my family will not be surprised that this writing assignment has turned into a small novel – ha!).  Stay tuned…

The thing that unites us

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A beautiful gathering of women began last weekend.  We crossed denominational, cultural, geographical and political divides to join hands and wrestle with the question, “If God is real, then what?”   I say “began” because, while this event was a catalyst, it was intentionally not a singular event.  The leaders are providing numerous ways for us to continue to connect with each other and challenging us to pour our lives out for the hurting, the marginalized, the oppressed, the broken in our world.  It is the closest thing to the early church, as described in Acts 2:42-47 , that I have ever experienced.   And it left me hungry for more of this kind of radical unity.

Why is IF: Gathering an anomaly? Why does it take a deliberate effort to engage in this kind of community?  Shouldn’t it be the norm for a group that calls itself ‘The Body of Christ?’  I mean, it’s not as if my hands or legs or ears can decide to do their own thing and ignore the rest of my parts.  And I think God picked this analogy on purpose so that we can’t escape each other.  Because that is our natural tendency: to collect in little groups who look the same, think the same, believe the same and ignore all others.  We don’t just ignore each other, though, do we?  As soon as the teams are chosen, we start chucking stones at each other like some twisted game of dodgeball.  

I am not naive about why we have denominations, or why the church is the most racially divided institution in America.  I know the history.  I know how we got here.  But I don’t want to use the weight of that history as a reason to keep dividing when the Bible clearly and unequivocally says that we are to be of one mind and purpose.   If we’re going to look into the past to define us, let’s look all the way back.  The very first people to align themselves with Jesus were largely Jewish.  In their religious and political context, there were Jews (good guys) and everyone else (bad guys).  They did not associate with any non-Jews, and they saw no need to change.  Then Jesus showed up and began healing the servants of Roman centurions and chatting with Samaritans and loving on prostitutes.  His contemporaries had no context for this, no frame of reference in which this made sense.  And even after Jesus  was resurrected from the dead and His disciples touched those wounds in His hands and side, they still didn’t get the beautiful magnitude of Jesus gift of salvation.  God had to show up in Peter’s dream and then send a Roman to his door before he really understands that this good news was indeed for everyone, just like Isaiah prophesied.  The forgiveness and grace Jesus offered crossed religious and cultural bounds and united them all in Him.

But aren’t those theological and cultural differences important, you ask?  Of course!  But those things that make us Baptists or Presbyterians or non-denominationals or contemporary worshippers or liturgical are secondary to the one thing that should unite and drive us all: the gospel.  This good news of God-made-man, of sins forgiven, of hope and joy and eternal life found in Jesus – this is what we should be about.  It is the heartbeat of our Body, what gives life to each limb and organ.  And on this we can agree.

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul encourages them to unity and humility as they serve God together.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?  Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.  Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,  he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.    Philippians 2:1-11 (NLT)

There is so much we can learn from these few lines.  The Holy Spirit unites us.  Work together with one mind and purpose (which should be sharing this good news, by the way, not the myriad of other things we make church and religion about).  Don’t be selfish.  Be humble.  Support and celebrate the things other people are championing, not just your own calling.  Be like Christ.

I want to soak in these verses.  I want to make my life about Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and not about all the other junk to which I cling so tightly.  I want to humbly serve my fellow Christians, to encourage them to pursue God and cheer them on when they do.  I want to make the community of believers around me rich and diverse and messy so that we may shine like stars in the darkness as we hold out this word of life.  Will you join me?

Embracing your story, a reprise

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So.  I had this clever blog post planned on embracing your story wherever you find yourself, and then I discovered I had already written about it!  Ha!  Apparently this is a topic I am still wrestling with even two months after my last post.

For the last few weeks I have avoided writing anything here.  In my head I have been trying to create a story that I think would be interesting to others out of the random threads of my life.  I want a story that is fun and adventurous, and I am frustrated that what comes out is mundane.  I fear I am becoming just another “mommy blog”  (unraveling this statement deserves a post of its own!).   So I say nothing.  I keep my story to myself because I don’t like what I have to share.

But again and again I feel God nudging me, encouraging me: Tell them your story, not the story you wish you had or want to fabricate.  Tell your now story.  It is a good story because I have written it!  be faithful in the telling and i will handle the rest.

And so I type out these words, my story of grace and redemption, of the mundane and the extraordinary, the work and the glory of a life lived with Jesus.

Never say never

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You’d think I would have learned by now that saying, “I will never…” is a really dumb idea.  Inevitably that is the very place life takes me.  I said I would never live in Texas (no offense, Texas) and I took a 6 month internship outside of Dallas.  I said I would never have kids, and currently my 4 month old son is playing upstairs with his dad.  You get the idea.

It looks like God is getting ready to lead me into another one of those Nevers.  I didn’t go looking for it. I’m not sure I want it.  And, quite frankly, it scares me.  One might deduce that God likes for us to suffer through Things We Don’t Like.  Or worse, He has some perverse sense of humor.

But I think those Nevers are signs of a deeper heart issue.  When I take a moment to reflect on why I say never I realize there is something causing me to refuse.  Selfishness, fear, greed, or even loving the wrong things can lead us to draw those lines in the sand.  It really is an issue of control.  Do I trust God to direct my life even if He takes me to places that are uncomfortable, scary or unwanted?  Will I let Him pry my white knuckles from the reigns?  Sometimes He leads us to do those Nevers.  Sometimes the struggle and surrender is the real issue, and when the wrestling is over we realize life has taken a different turn.  Either way the process is part of our heart’s refining – I think the outcome is secondary to God’s desire to make us more like Him.

My refusal to have children stemmed from old heartaches and fears that convinced me that to have a child was to risk rebellion and heartache.  I had seen the pain parenting can cause and I wanted no part of it.  God also revealed a deep, deep selfishness.  I didn’t want to share the time or resources or energy necessary to be a parent.  Discovering this selfishness lead me to a place of surrender.  I knew that, children or not, I did’t want my life to be guided by such ugly motivations.  I told God that if He wanted me to have children, He would have to change my heart to want them.  Slowly, over a period of months, He did just that.

The Never I am facing right now makes my stomach churn.  There is still much uncertainty about what God is asking.  But this time I want to face it with wide eyes, aware of the reasons I resist and willing to examine those with Him.