Am I Even Flexible Enough to Limbo? (No)

Limbo is an interesting word, and when you look it up it has a few definitions.

First, it is this uncertain state between things, the unknown where you await a decision. In some religious contexts it is the void between heaven and hell  (correct me if I’m wrong my Catholic friends).

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Of COURSE the Hoff had a limbo album. As always, he gets me.

Second, it is a REALLY uncomfortable dance move, for which my 5’9″ frame has never been suited. It requires flexibility and a lot of trust (and rum, I’d imagine). I’ve never attempted it (not enough rum in the world).

Truthfully, I’m not a fan of either definition. YET it is our life the past few weeks in the wake of Harvey. Again, God laughs.

Today some of the limbo because clear, and a couple of miraculous things happened. ONE we found a temporary place to live in Houston, a place to call our own for a bit. Guys this is big. Rental property in the Houston area is like when the Krispy Kreme opened in Arlington Texas 15 years ago and people lined up for blocks and sold their firstborn for a taste of “hot donuts now” goodness. Homes are going FAST, or are damaged, or are $3000/month for a 1600 sf house with carpet issues. Trying to navigate that world has been super discouraging the past week. Say a prayer for the real estate agents in Houston, seriously.

So this place we found today will give us a little breather from that chaos, and keep us from having to make a bad decision in the haste of panic. It is out in the country a little bit, with some land to explore. We will be able to drive our kids to their school, where they will be loved on by teachers who know them and they’ll see their friends, so something in their sweet little lives will be normal. We also won’t have to live with another family for an extended amount of time, stretching the boundaries of kindness. We’ll have a kitchen and beds for each person in the family. And Justin and I, introverts both, can have a little healing time and space, where we get to actually live together in the same city where we work! We literally had none of those things yesterday. Thank you God and thank you friends with garage apartments and giving hearts.

TWO – all of the events I had on the calendar for September have now officially cancelled, and will reschedule. Earlier this week I had to cancel on a show in Orlando next week (which I NEVER do), which meant I was in breech of contract. But I knew if I left my family while so much was in flux, and flew into the path of another hurricane, I would be in the fetal position. I’m trying to learn to know my limits, and I knew that was beyond them, so I nervously cancelled to people who were entirely understanding. Today that event itself cancelled, so I am no longer in breech, and I may actually get to work the event if my schedule allows on the reschedule. Such a gift.

THREE – the love keeps flowing toward the Wells family. We were shown more love today, and more understanding. Thank you, each of you. As we write our thank you notes we are praying over each family, that God will bless them beyond how they’ve blessed us. That really is our prayer. We cannot repay, but we can pray, and I have to trust that is enough.

Limbo on, people.

Plenty

So to briefly catch you up… we don’t exactly have a home right now. Last Monday, after three days of an exhausting but effective “shelter in place” hurricane strategy during Harvey, we woke up to flooding in the park behind our house and an evacuation order because the Army Corps of Engineers was flooding our neighborhood to protect an overwhelmed Levee nearby. We were told the water would rise rapidly, and would remain flooded for weeks. We quickly prepped what we could in our one-story home and loaded our three kids and our dog into our car while a Coast Guard helicopter flew over our house at about 400 feet. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that moment, or the shock of it.

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The girls in their seats, holding their lifejackets.

Justin and I were tense with one another as we loaded the car, both dealing with the stress and panic in different ways. I kept losing my phone, Justin his wallet. I wanted to leave immediately, Justin thought we may have more time. I gave each child a life jacket to put on in their carseat, in case we needed to abandon the car in route. In Houston, over and over the news tells you the roads are the most dangerous place to be in a hurricane and a flood. But now they were telling us to get into our car and leave, but not telling us where to go. We drove out of our neighborhood through the only exit that was passable, the other one was already flooding and will be under water for weeks more they are saying.

As we drove north, toward higher ground, I started to feel better. This was a good plan, we would now be safe. There were very few cars on the ground, everyone looking as worried as we did. We had plans to try to make it out of Houston, and if that didn’t work, we had three friends waiting to receive us. Whichever house we got to first was the winner. But my heart began to fall as every road we went down was flooded. We turned back time and time again, growing more afraid and frustrated. We drove backwards up a highway that was flooded. Finally, all routes out were exhausted. We weren’t even sure if we could get back home at that point. My heart was racing, I couldn’t feel my hands, my face and skin felt like they were burning. I called my sister, a nurse, because I thought I was having a panic attack but I needed to make sure it wasn’t something more serious. She reassured me, it’s a panic attack, it will stop when you are safe.

We finally saw a couple of police officers in front of a grocery store. We pulled in and I got out to ask them what to do, bursting into tears as I approached them. “We were told to evacuate – but where should we go? The road to the shelter is flooded.” They didn’t know either, they empathized with our question. They said the parking lot was full of families in our situation, told to leave but trapped in by water. They suggested a parking garage close by, stay on the 5th or higher floor, wait out the storm, in a few days the roads will open. My mind went blank. Days in my van with my kids and our dog, no restroom, no bed, in a hurricane. I went back to Justin and the girls in the car, wiping my tears, trying to control my fear. We started driving again. We saw a hotel, maybe they’d take us in. I joined the line in the lobby, making reservations at other hotels on my phone just in case. It was full. So was the second. And the third. Justin called booking.com and found us a hotel close by, I booked it on my phone while we drove. Thank you God. We checked into the 6th floor, the top floor. We snuck our dog in. We started to figure out meals. My panic attack calmed a little, but wouldn’t stop. We were still south of another failing levee, flooding on all sides, helicopters surrounded us day and night. My body wasn’t fooled – we weren’t really safe. Two more nights passed and I was unable to sleep. I tried crying and meditating, praying and walking up and down the halls – nothing worked. We hugged and talked to other evacuees as the hotel filled with people as wet and desperate as we were. So many difficult stories, so much loss.

Three mornings later the sun came out and we left Houston, the moment the first road opened. In the time since we have rested at my mom’s house in Dallas, trying to figure out what is next. I have slept quite a bit, and used anti-anxiety medications to right my body. Justin stayed for a day and then headed home. He has worked with countless kind people to gut our house, getting out everything we can salvage. So many people have given to us, gifts and money and gift cards. Every show I had through the entire month of September cancelled, my sweet parents are processing their own version of grief and fear.

So while it is still happening, and while what is next is still unsure, I needed to write about it. Because it occurs to me that there are about a dozen ways to look at this.

Yes, in one sense, we are homeless. But in another sense we have had so many offers of places to stay. We went from one home to many. We have options, which is grace to us.

We have been through a trauma, yes, but we are strong and safe. We know now what we can handle. Our marriage was stretched, yes, but it is strong. We have held each other. I took care of things at the house when Justin was in shock and couldn’t prepare, Justin took care of me after we left when I was so weak I couldn’t function.

In one sense, my girls have lost a great deal. They may have trauma effects for decades. But they have gained perspective and wisdom. They know stuff is just stuff, they know we don’t walk alone, they know people are good. They may have lost some of their clothes, but they are wearing beautiful clothes given to them by people who love them. They will know empathy and kindness, service and gratitude, because of this event. They will watch us overcome.

My shows are canceling faster than I could ever book them, but I will know by the end of this My provider. He knew all of this and none of it worries Him. We will be fine. We will have plenty. He will open some door to provide for us, He already is. People we don’t even know are giving to our family. It is humbling but unbelievably precious.

We don’t know what is next, really. We feel stuck on the big things like where we will live and where our kids will go to school. But we have options. We are free to choose the life we want.

When we moved to Houston from Dallas, we were leaving home. We knew nobody, we had no family. Three years later, we have two homes. We didn’t lose one, we gained another. We genuinely love Houston, we love our city, we love our people there, we love our home. Our family in both places are holding us up right now, we are so grateful.

My mind wants to turn to scarcity in this, it really does. It wants to obsess over every loss, every unknown detail. Justin and I have joked in recent months that we are cursed, because there are times where it seems our family just can’t catch a break. But that isn’t truth, it isn’t the whole story. We are blessed. We are strong. We have enough. We are safe. We will overcome.

We have plenty, even after Harvey. And for that, we are grateful.

The whole Body of Christ

I have realized something, and I’m still piecing it together. Please bear with me and love me even if this rubs you the wrong way. Let me preface it by saying this is about race and racism and the church, and my perspective. I have always had a heart for people who were not white, taught and nurtured in us by our mom as a contrarian reaction to growing up in an extended family with a lot of racism. She genuinely stubbornly loves people of color, and she taught us to as well. When you grow up around covert and overt racism, you learn the code words and the worldview, and you can recognize that spirit in others even in varying degrees. If racism is a spectrum (which I believe), there are many variations between someone who truly loves and celebrates people of color and the torch and sign holding people in hoods or adorned with swastikas we have seen in recent days. Most people land somewhere in the middle, and everyone hates being called a racist, even if they fall closer to the overt worldview we saw in Charlottesville.

Not only do I believe racism is a spectrum, I know it is fluid and we can move across the spectrum throughout our lives intentionally. If I may, I’ll use again my mom as an example. She called me one day, breathless with excitement. She had been driving alone earlier that evening and needed gas, pulling into a gas station at night that was almost deserted. She had been working the past year-and-a-half on the “security team” at her church, and had become really close friends with several Black men on that team. So she is pulling into this station and she sees a Black man filling up his car. She excitedly pulls in next to him, because her instinct was that a Black man was a safe man, and she knew he would protect her. It was only after she drove away that she realized this instinct was the exact opposite of an instinct she would have years before, before getting to know these friends as she did. We talked about it, and she was so grateful that in knowing these men, her innate instincts to protect herself from someone who looked different was dying away. I’ve thought of it so often since that day.

When we know each other, we stop fearing each other. 

I think this is really important in the church today, and I didn’t fully realize it until I stepped away from the church after serving in churches throughout Texas since I was 19 years old. In my time outside of church the past year, I have still cultivated my faith. But I have craved different voices, and in particular have been blown away by the voices of Black women: Austin Channing, Priscilla Shirer, Christena Cleveland, and the women of Truth’s Table (A podcast made by and for black women, but one I listen to and learn from as often as possible https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/truths-table/id1212429230?mt=2). These women have been my pastors in my time outside of the church. It is like I have turned a prism, and am seeing God and the world from an entirely different viewpoint. I am seeing something I missed, and I didn’t even know I missed it.

I have really wrestled with why this has been so fulfilling for me, and I think, for the first time, I am learning from something closer to the whole body of Christ. I’m still reading and listening to white men and women (Jonathan Martin, Shauna Niequist, Sarah Bessey), but now I’ve added in another perspective. And honestly it is expanding my understanding of Christ in a really revolutionary way. How have I missed this for so long?

Our society, and our churches, are entirely too homogenous. We don’t KNOW each other, so we aren’t relating to one another. We fear each other more than we learn from one another (certainly more than we listen to one another). And this isn’t a political reality, it’s an American reality. Somewhere between 70 and 81% of us have social networks entirely made up of our own race (https://www.prri.org/research/poll-race-religion-politics-americans-social-networks/).

And I thought, because I am blessed with friendships of people of other races, that I had a more diverse understanding of life in the United States and my role in the whole Kingdom of Christ. But I realized, in my time away from the church, that my church life (which had been so overwhelmingly active both in time and in intensity), I was not getting a picture of the whole body of Christ. In the past 20 years, I have been led almost entirely by white men. They have been my Senior Pastors and Associate Pastors and bosses and Worship Leaders. They have taught me the Bible and I have learned a great deal under their teaching. Some churches have made attempts at diversity, but in all honesty it has been Black or Latino people delivering songs or messages or carefully worded greetings chosen by white men (and very occasionally, white women). I’ve never sat on a Staff with any person of color in a position of real authority or influence. Thankfully I have sat under the leadership of one woman, but that was one woman in over 20 years of ministry. So in my entirety of church experience, the default worldview is that of the white male. I have learned, 52 weeks a year, what living the Christian life looks, sounds, and feels like from a white male perspective. So if I listen to a 40 minute message each week, and I’ve been in church 25 years, I have spent approximately 950 hours learning about God from a white male perspective. If I had that many hours in any university in one subject, I would have a doctorate degree (so I may update my resume and say I have a doctorate degree in white male theology :).  And that is great, but it is like looking through one facet of a prism, or working out but only focusing on one body part. You become really strong in that one area, but the rest of your body (and your faith) could very easily be weak and stunted.

The body of Christ is beautiful and diverse, yet our churches are not. I’ve realized the past year that I am ready to listen to someone else about the experience of faith in Christ.

In the march in Charlottesville, hundreds of angry young white men yelled “You will not replace us!” And I’ve heard that from white men in my life, as others moved above them in leadership at their work. They have felt replaced. And I’ve wrestled with that – is that what I’m advocating? Is that what I want? Do I want all white men replaced in the positions of spiritual authority in the church in the United States?

Let me say unequivocally that is not what I am saying. I am simply saying that I want to be in a church (and honestly in a country) where I get to hear the voices of the entire body of Christ. I don’t think we should just accept the reality that Sunday morning during church is the most segregated hour of the week. I have spent almost 1,000 hours of my spiritual life listening to what white males believe about the Christian faith, and I’m ready to invest a few hundred hours in the other sides of the prism. I want to hear poetry and music and liturgy and theology from the perspective of everyone else.

Because when you know each other, you stop fearing each other. Maybe we would have more empathy, more understanding of the fears and concerns of others if we were hearing them in our churches and in our homes and in our lives. It humanizes them, and humanizes us. We develop empathy. Our faith becomes more well-rounded as we learn from the experiences and perspective of people with different struggles from our own.

We would know them, and when we know them, we stop fearing them. Yes we have a racism problem in this country, and in this church. We DO. It is because we do not know our brothers and sisters in Christ, made in the image of God. We are not hearing them, or listening. And our churches can, and should, do so much more to solve this problem.

 

Teach Me to Number My Days

In Psalm 90, in the middle of a chapter about the passage of time, the inconsequence of our lives, and the judgment of God there is a plea; “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” When I read it today, it stood out. I’ve read it before and heard it in sermons, but today it felt like a message for me. Sometimes I am tempted to look things up, searching commentaries to find out what something means to the “professional” theologians. But today I felt like I should just sit with it a bit, give it time to process in my heart and in my spirit.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

There are two things I notice – first is the emphasis on measurementNumber our days. I don’t think I am good at this. In fact, let me amend that – I know I am not. Not only am I forgetful, but I am forward-facing. I am goal-oriented, a striver; a first-born with a massive bent toward people-pleasing, an Enneagram 9 peacemaker who bears the weight of the world. Injustice weighs on me, a lack of truth weighs on me, a lack of harmony in any relationship of which I am aware will keep me up at night. I not only know what is lacking in this fallen world, I feel it.

whack-a-mole

Whack-a-mole

And I’m pretty convinced I can do something about it. I am a problem-solver, smart and efficient, good at seeing all sides of any problem. So when I do my thing and harmony is achieved, I feel accomplished and I move on to my next superwoman mission of peacemaking. I live in a perpetual state of whack-a-mole; squash a problem, move on, squash a problem, move on.

But this verse tells me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom. I know in my heart as I read the verse that this is a spiritual discipline, a way to get the knot in my chest to loosen, to get the tears pressing behind my eyes to recede.

Because this world is messed up. Blatant injustice, economic and racial inequality, a Church (at large) who seems at times to be asleep to it all, famine and war. Just today images fill my timeline of children sleeping who are not sleeping, but who apparently are the tiny innocent targets of a chemical attack in their own country from the air. And that is just today’s horror. Yesterday there was another, tomorrow there will be more. Jesus help us. There is so much to fix in this world.

And those are just the macro issues. Our family is facing some hard realities in our everyday life; needs that press in and things outside of my control that I want so badly to fix, wounds I want to forgive that persistently intrude on my days. And we have friends who face challenging kids and big life decisions and personal battles and I just want to help ease the pain they bear. There is much to do in this dark world of ours.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

So today, I am trying the spiritual discipline of measuring God’s faithfulness, numbering my days. I am remembering and listing the passages of Scripture God has given me as promises, over decades; revisiting hard times and remembering the faithfulness of God, re-reading prayer requests in old journals to note the answered prayers and the fulfilled promises. I am not looking ahead, I am looking back, writing it down, a monument to God’s faithfulness and to problems solved just as the Israelites stacked stones to remember.

Second is the emphasis on time. Numbering my days. I am also determined in the spiritual practice of only focusing on today. Not on our long term needs, the long term problems, the challenges I know we will face next month or in a future season. Today. I am thanking God for the daily bread for today. The friends who are faithful, the financial provision, the strives my daughters have made, the jobs Justin and I have that provide, the health of our family. I am taking this life that feels so long to me, but that is but a breathe to the Lord (back to Psalm 90), and I am handing every part of it over to the God who made me, focusing my grateful heart on today.

I was talking to a couple of friends yesterday, women full of grace and truth. I was asking for prayer for persistent needs and struggles that weigh on me. And they reminded me, as faithful friends do, of the truth of my situation, and the truth of theirs. We can become overwhelmed with the one next thing we need, we can take on that weight (because we are get-it-done women), and that weight can crush us. Whether it is our children or our home or our companies or our finances, the weight of what God has given us can be too much to bear. Because we weren’t meant to carry the weight of any of it on our own. We have to remind each other that it isn’t ours to carry. Yesterday all day I repeated that as a mantra to remind my frazzled sole. One friend kept repeating “You are safe. Your Father loves you.” Another constantly reminds me of gifts that are “daily bread.” We have to help each other remember these things. I really think God is teaching me we are part of each other’s “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 12), encouraging each other on to righteousness.

Daily bread. Teach us to number our days.

Part of the solution to that control-freak nature so many of us share, that tendency we have to forget the ways God has come through for us in the past, is to learn to count our days.

One last thing I noticed. I love that it is a prayer. Even this isn’t on us. Again, tears behind my eyes. God knows us so well, He knows even this we can’t do well on our own. Here’s the verse in context:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Jesus teach us.

Peace in the Age of Quarreling

I’ve had so much time lately, one of the amazing side benefits of leaving full-time employment for freelance. I’ve been reading books and studying Scripture and playing with my kids and it has been absolutely lovely. I’m craving information; I’ve always been an avid consumer of news, but in addition to that I am reading poetry and fiction and books about my faith. I just can’t get enough. It is an interesting time to be reading from a multitude of sources.

One of the things the Lord has been teaching me is wisdom in arguing, because we have not only a divided country, but a divided church. And division doesn’t have to be destructive, when handled well, but it does require wisdom.

As Believers simply disagreeing well will be counter-cultural and shine light in darkness.

I am blessed with really diverse friendships; my friends are moderates and hippy liberals and religious conservatives and serious students of geopolitical issues and people who would rather watch E and get the totality of their news off Facebook. And despite our differences, for the most part, we live in harmony with each other. The years of investment we have made in friendship overwhelms any petty disagreements about politics or government. But a few times, disagreements have flared. So what do we do when our beliefs rub up against the beliefs of someone we love?

  1. We are to be people of peace. It is much less important that someone see your way and agree with you about some political issue than that they know you love them and are there for them. You are not going to argue anyone into the Kingdom, and if you love someone, maybe you should consider giving them grace to understand their motives and heart behind whatever they are doing. We are not, first, Americans or Republicans or Democrats, we are Christ-followers. We do not all share the exact same theology, and that is fine. His command to love each other doesn’t specify people who believe exactly like we do. We love, we show love, we show grace, to everyone.
  2. We need to realize that, in this heightened political climate, we ALL are defensive. If you are conservative, there are people who have lumped you in with racists or people who are anti-woman, and that stings. If you are liberal, there are people who have lumped you in with violent protesters or people who mooch off the government, and that hurts. None of us deserve to be compared to the tiny segment of worst-case examples of people who share our views. We have all assumed the worst of the other side while expecting our side to get the benefit of the doubt. And it isn’t working, so we are ALL defensive. So take a few minutes, maybe even overnight, before responding to something that stings. Ask yourself “Are they actually saying what I’m reading – or am I assuming the worst based on defensiveness?” And when you realize you are being defensive, simply backing away with an apology will defuse almost any argument. And if you sense someone is defensive and they are attacking, give them grace. Someone cussed me out on Twitter, after I asked a question about a policy, and when I calmly responded he wrote back, “I’m just tired of being called a Nazi and being told I voted wrong.” I wrote back, “I don’t think you’re a Nazi, and don’t even think you voted wrong. Peace be with you.” He apologized, and we actually have started corresponding online and we don’t disagree on everything! Being people of grace is so different in this war of words that it bridges even partisan gaps.
  3. We need to be wise about motivations behind the argument. We need to be wise to understand, “Am I arguing to understand and bridge this gap, or am I arguing to win?” And then ask this question about the person you are talking to. If the answer is “to win” – from either side, then the argument has trumped the relationship, and you are in dangerous territory. When that is the case, if I am the one putting the argument over the relationship, I will back away and make the relationship right, leaving the argument to the side. If the other person’s motives are winning, I walk away from the argument, conceding the win. Because for me, as a minister of the Gospel of Christ, the argument can never overtake my love for the person. I wonder if this is why Jesus remained silent instead of defending himself before the Sanhedrin? Why defend yourself when someone is determined to find you guilty? I have actually left a job when I realized the person I was in the meeting with was determined to win over working it out, which showed me they had no interest in working with me long-term. Being wise in conflict will show us when to stay and work it out, or when to walk away.
  4. We need to seek truth, although it is hard to find. Truth is always right, even if it doesn’t defend our position. All truth is God’s truth and we need to never fear finding the truth about a subject (even if it reveals that a party or politician we prefer is lying). Truth is crazy hard to find these days, but it is out there. Source material, fact checking resources, questioning everything is the job of the Believer in a post-truth world. So look for the source material, read the article not only on the news site we prefer, but the opposite side. So we read FoxNews and CNN and New York Times and even Al Jazeera or the BBC to get an international perspective. Don’t buy what you read on Facebook, it’s almost always false. Read fact-checking sources and don’t just believe what someone tells you is fake news. Be openminded to slant. Both sides do it, and we need to be people of truth. Just because something is a talking point of your side doesn’t mean it is accurate or worth defending. I respect people who admit the things the other side does well because all sides do some things well. If you can’t even acknowledge that, then your partisanship has probably overcome your commitment to truth. I’ve recently found http://www.allsides.com, which is a great resource that shows you the slant on all the news of the day.
  5. We need to look for what we have in common. Do you and I disagree on gun control? Probably. There is plenty we could argue about if we were so inclined. But honestly who really cares, and what difference would it make? Our kids play together and we love each other and you don’t have to believe like me for me to love you. I am proud to have friends who have NRA stickers on their car and friends who won’t own weapons because they take seriously Isaiah 2:4, “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” If our friends all look and believe like we do, what a sad monotone world. Seek diversity in thought and opinion, it’s good for us.
  6. We need to realize not every fight is our fight. I would much rather be known as the person who loves people over being known as the best political fighter of my time. Our culture wants us to jump in on arguments about politics or theology or religion, and it’s unnecessary. If something is your passion, and you feel like silence is complicity in injustice, then by all means, speak with truth and grace. I’ll be speaking and marching beside you. But sometimes we have to let balls fly past us without swinging (a sports metaphor!). Some things are not our fight to fight, and that is fine. If we are constantly fighting with people, then we probably need to spend more time building relationships with friends instead of instructing them to believe as we believe. Maybe we need a break from Facebook (I’m in the middle of one now and it is wonderful) to remember what is really important. So often I see people speaking condescendingly to people they are supposed to love because someone doesn’t believe the way they believe. They will ignore everything they know of a person, over decades, and lump them in with the worst examples of the side they assume they are taking. Since when do condescension and snobbery and overgeneralization win anyone over to our side? Just let it go, and show the people you love that you love them.

“Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.” 2 Timothy 2:14-17a  The Message

It is hard to know how to be a light out there in the world today, but it is still our role. Peace be with you as you make your way through the world, friends.

Tighten Up Your Courage

I’ve written before about the way that God speaks to me. These threads or ideas start swirling in my head, and certain things I encounter in my day to day life seem to glow with significance, and I know they will eventually form into a complete picture, a message from God. But I’ve learned to be patient for that final revelation, because noticing the ideas swirling and the moments that are significant requires me to be present in my life, and that is sometimes as important as the final message.

Lately I’ve been noticing fear, in myself, in my children, in the motivations of people around me. Once you start watching for it, you see how utterly soaked in fear is our entire culture, which is heartbreaking.

Our family is in the middle of some job changes, and it has me very prayerful and cognizant of the environment around us. I’m trying to notice when I’m reacting out of fear, or feeling it, and it is taking energy and practice for me to combat the fear that is, really, an enormous part of our reality as humans. Both I and my oldest daughter, who has always been so spiritually sensitive, have been having dreams about the fear in us and the people around us. So I’ve been praying for freedom from fear, and tuned in to noticing it.

I’m a big musical theatre person, and both in the Hamilton musical and in Beauty in the Beast, I’ve noticed this line “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” It struck me as interesting, so I looked it up and it is a Shakespeare quote, from Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7;

Macbeth:
If we should fail?

Lady Macbeth:
We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.

It basically means to tighten your courage down to something stronger, like twisting a peg into its hole, to reinforce it. When I realized what they were saying, it was an illuminating moment.

The strength is not in the peg, or in the screw. It is not in us to fight fear and be brave. The strength is in what we attach ourselves to, and how tightly we connect. We need to daily, moment by moment, tighten up our courage to the sticking place.

And the sticking place is, for me, our great God. And if you look at the verses on fear in the Bible, and there are 365 of them (as all of the embroidered pillows you’ve seen on Etsy proclaim), they are all about God being our defense against fear:

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-8

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The action is to tighten into God, not to fight fear. I’ve been getting that wrong, no wonder it has been a frustrating fight. Fighting fear has nothing to do with fighting fear – it has to do with connecting to the author of love (the opposite of fear). Screw your courage to the sticking place.

Right now, where I stand may seem wobbly, and I may feel anything but brave. But if I screw my courage to the sticking place of God’s great love for me and my family, and His power and might, and His plans that never fail, I can take courage and not be afraid.

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Haiti Day 5

Today was our last full day in Haiti, and we leave in the morning. This morning we went downtown to the National Museum of Haiti and learned about Haiti’s difficult history as a nation. It was humbling. Haitians are a people who have overcome slavery, oppression, over a dozen coups, unrest, exploitation, and of course the earthquake that devastated large portions of Port au Prince and the surrounding areas. Between that visit, and the visit to the artist’s home yesterday, my mind races. I am a problem solver, a diplomat, a big picture person, a dreamer. And as we drive these streets, I want to think of things that would help. Roads. Clean water. Sanitation. Ways to address hunger. Education. Medical care. I remember a scene from West Wing where they asked the question, “What would you do if you could solve just one problem?” and I keep finding myself trying to sort through my answer to that question. But as my mind rolls round and round I remember the writer of Ecclesiastes, “What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” (Ecclesiastes 1:15). Here’s the truth: my mind races because I am uncomfortable and convicted and I want to not know this kind of systemic breakdown exists, not because what is happening here is a problem I can solve.

This kind of poverty and need is uncomfortable, and I don’t like to feel helpless. I like macro level changes – systemic changes that can improve the lives of everyone quickly. But I’m not sure the macro issues in Haiti can be resolved easily, and I can see how solving one would only unearth another. And I especially don’t think the issues can be solved from outside sources (if they could then the aid that poured in after the earthquake probably would have made more of a difference than it has done). I think the model COF has adopted, helping empower local Haitian people who understand her culture, history, language and community to make micro-level changes in their immediate circle of influence is the method Jesus himself chose when he left the good news of the Gospel in the hands of a ragtag group of followers. And through them, His message changed the world.

I have had to realize that I can’t impose my thoughts, my methods, my timeframes, my need for comfort, my “wisdom” on anything when it comes to Haiti. I am here to learn, to listen, to pray, and to encourage those who are actually doing the world changing work.

Raymond, one of the Pastors, is an engineer. We went to his home after the museum and I was so encouraged and humbled. He lost everything in the 2010 earthquake. His home was destroyed and he and his family moved in with his brother in law for months (11 people living in a modest home that somehow remained standing). When we arrived at his home, I confess I was surprised by the fact that it is half built, without a roof on the front two rooms (that filter of mine is hard to turn off). But as he gave us a tour, I understood better why, and was amazed. He has built so much on to his home himself with limited and incredibly expensive building supplies. He has a room for him and his wife, a room for their children, a kitchen and a living area, a generator and a battery that he runs to cover their electrical needs. He has dug his own well to get them fresh water. He has built a tilapia pond onto the back of his home to supply his family and neighbors with a great source of fat and protein. He has chickens, goats, turkeys, and bunnies to provide varied proteins and eggs for his family. He has planted fruits and vegetables and trees around his property, and rigged up mazes of barbed wire through his yard as a security system. He did all of this without any kind of city water, or power, and without a completed fence around his property. By the time he completes his home and garden area he has planted, 5 large families will be able to live completely independent on what he produces in his yard without having to go to the market. I have often wondered what would happen to my family if we were to suddenly have no electricity or water or source of outside food, and I have to tell you, I would be in much worse shape than my friend Raymond and his family. For the little that he has, he has made much. And all the while he is paying the fees to send his children to school and helping fund the school in La Source that we visited.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:23

I have supported Mercy House Kenya for several years and the director of the house in Kenya is a young girl named Maureen. She grew up in the slums of Nairobi, but because of sponsors from Compassion International was able to go to school, and even college. She returned to her home country after her education and helped begin this home, and because of her, over 40 women have been rescued from terrible life-threatening situations and almost 40 babies have been born healthy in a safe environment instead of on the streets or aborted through dangerous illegal abortions. Every morning the residents of that home meet for prayer and praise and Bible study, and they end each day the same way, and Maureen is making a difference in her own world, with a little help from people who love her in the US. She is a world-changer.

I think of the children of La Source that I met in the school that Raymond started. If God will capture the hearts of those children and they will make a difference in Haiti after receiving the education that COF helps provide, that is hundreds of circles of influence completely changed. You keep doing multiplication math like that, and Haiti will start to change, whether the macro systems catch up or not.

I loved driving through Haiti first thing in the morning or around lunchtime when the thousands of school children would emerge in their colorful perfectly clean uniforms on their way to school, siblings holding hands and climbing onto the back of colorful tap tap taxis on the way to school. First, how impressive that they manage to get those uniforms beautifully clean when clean water is a scarce resource, and second, those children are the future of Haiti and because of them Haiti will get better for future generations.

Each of the administrators of the school in La Source are from Haiti, they all got a college education (some of them outside of Haiti), and each came back because they love their country and love these kids and want to make a better Haiti. It was so encouraging to me. One of them kept telling me, “Haiti needs your prayers.” I think perhaps that is the greatest gift I can give them, not trying to fix a system that God has not put under me to fix in the first place.

Small changes, in community, over time, create sustainable positive change. Come Kingdom of God, be done will of God in the people we met, the churches and schools we visited, and in the lives of your people. Multiply the work, rescue lives, capture hearts, and be glorified as things get better. We trust you to make Haiti new – to bring your Kingdom to earth there, and protect her children.