The basket

Lately Justin and I have been crazy busy, and today is the first day I have come out of the work haze and realized what day it is today – the month of May is almost gone.  And as is often the case on days like today, in the aftermath of busy seasons, that I have a choice.  Do I sit down and let despair in another month of under-employment* wash over me, or do I trust the One who holds my days in His hands and let hope rise?  The name of my blog is “Let Hope Rise” because it is a choice I have made to do that – to let the hope that is in me rise to the surface, above all of the doubts and fears that vie for my attention.  To believe and stand on the truth of Scripture, even while our circumstances loudly cry out falsehoods.

*I say under-employment because although Justin and I neither one have fulltime jobs, we are both continuing to freelance and work part-time at several places at once.  So although we are seeking a fulltime ministry position for Justin, we are both working and we feel grateful the Lord has provided for our family in the meantime through these freelance positions.

I know many of you walk this road with us and pray for us.  I hesitate sometimes to bring up where we are, because I know you are all praying and I really do want to be a joy to be around, not a drag.  But I would appreciate your prayers.  About two months ago I began to feel sick several times a day, each time for a couple of hours.  I thought it would pass or was a virus so I waited about 6 weeks before I sought a doctor’s care.  We initially thought my gallbladder was failing, but the tests have been inconclusive.  I continue to feel sick for a couple of hours each day despite diet and lifestyle changes.  My doctor has encouraged me to go to a specialist, but truthfully, I think this is stress-related.  I have spent so much money already on this, with no answers, so I am choosing to not pursue any more tests until our employment situation resolves itself.  If I am still sick after our stress has somewhat abated, I will seek care (at that point we will likely have insurance).  But it is my guess that when our stress recedes, so will this sickness.

In the meantime, I looked online today and our insurance from the church is showing cancelled – a week earlier than expected.  Not a big deal – it would have happened in a week anyway.  But it is an occasion when fear can take root if I let it.

I’ve said this before, but right now, all my eggs are in one basket.  I am waiting on the Lord.  And I don’t really know what the future holds.  We believe it will look like a fulltime position for my husband at a church that loves the Lord and loves people.  I believe that there is a church and a staff maybe even looking over his resume today where he will connect and grow with the church as he follows the call the Lord has laid on His life.  I believe we as a family will connect to that church where lives are changed and families are healed.  I pray that maybe we will see our children come to faith at that church.  I have big dreams and I believe that the Lord can fulfill all of those dreams and more.  And not only are our dreams for the future in that basket, but our financial goals and aspirations are there.  Once fulltime employment is achieved, if God allows, we can begin the adoption process.  With His direction, we will continue on the road we have been on since our engagement to get our financial house in order.  And recently, my physical needs have been thrown into that basket as well (they were always there – we rely on the Lord for every breath – but it is easier to realize that dependence when something is wrong).  I feel weak and sick and I am trusting the Lord to heal and provide medical care if/when I need it.

Here’s the key point to this blog.   What is that basket? If all my eggs are in that basket – it is pretty important to know what that basket is and if it is reliable.  We as people can put our hopes in positions or things so easily.  But there is no hope in things that are seen.  My hope is in the unseen.  Not in a position.  Not even in a church.  My hope is not in a job.  Not in benefits.  Not in a paycheck. Not in health or doctors or surgeries.  The basket, my hope, is in the Lord.  He will provide for me.  He is the Provider (Jehovah-Jireh), the Healer (Jehovah-Rophe), He fights for me (Jehovah-Nissi), because of His Son, I am holy (Jehovah-M’Kaddesh), He is my peace (Jehovah-Shalom), He is Almighty (El-Shaddai), He leads us as a Shepherd (Jehovah-Rohi), He is ever-present and near to me (Jehovah-Shammah), He is most high (El-Elyon).

That’s a pretty impressive basket.  I am so thankful for that basket – and thankful that all of my hope is in Him.

So today, as I fight off the feelings of fear and nausea and doubt, I ask again for prayer from those of you who have been so faithful for months to pray for us.  And I choose to fill my mind with the names and attributes of our King and I force my human controlling nature to rest in the arms of the One who sustains us.

And I let hope rise.

Being a Consumer… of Ministry and Missions?

We live in a consumer culture (I am sure you are fully aware). The United States is one of the few nations where the service industry is larger than the manufacturing industry. In other words, we don’t so often make things as we provide services. And I believe we have all, in this service-oriented culture, become spoiled and critical. We often judge a restaurant, dealership, or retail store by the service we receive, not necessarily by the object we obtain. And it doesn’t take but one bad experience and we, with our money, walk out the door.

For many years, being on church staffs, we have talked about how people have become consumers of ministries. We shop around and find the right mix of ministries that tickle all of the right spots – we may go on Sunday mornings to this church because the preaching is great, but we go to this church on Sunday nights because the Worship is powerful, then on Tuesdays we go to this church for the Ladies Bible Study, and our teenagers go to camp with this church because that camp rocks. We judge each experience based on “customer service,” if they don’t sing the songs we like, or say the words we like, or have the building with the big slide for junior, we are out the door.

In an article entitled “Confessions of a (Recovering) Church-hopper”, the author, John Fischer, stated, “In our free-market, commodity-rich society, it’s understandable that we would approach church as we would a shopping mall of spiritual products and services. This is the way our culture operates.”

Jesus warned us that in this world we will have trouble and that this world is not our home. In Matthew 10 He said “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” He knew that the deceiver, the great enemy of our souls, would be constantly at work feeding us the lies of our surrounding culture. So Jesus warned us to test everything and to be wise, to not buy into the culture mentality, but to instead have a Kingdom mentality.

I think this consumer culture has corrupted both our expectations of and our commitment to churches. And we often don’t realize that there is a price we are paying for being church shoppers – a great price. This is a culture mentality and not a Kingdom mentality. In all of that running around, true community is lost. It becomes about the show, about the experience. We become critical consumers, instead of joining into the Body of Christ and playing the vital role God intended for us to play. We become spectators instead of members of the Body and we lose sight of the church as a body of Believers that we were intended to join.

And in all of this – essentials of the faith are lost. Where do we serve? Where do we tithe? The unfortunate evidence shows we don’t. According to Barna, only 5% of church goers tithe. (Tithing is the giving back to the Lord the first 10% of what the Lord has given us).

So not only are we consumers, but we are cheap. We are interested in the best free show out there.

It is no wonder that many of us walk away from church, never to return – as do our students who have grown up treating church this way. Recent research by Barna of 2,660 twenty-somethings shows that Americans in their twenties are significantly less likely than any other age group to attend church services, to donate to churches, to be absolutely committed to Christianity, to read the Bible, or to serve as a volunteer or lay leader in churches. Without community, the purpose of the church is lost. Don’t you wonder if we are throwing away an entire generation because we have been fooled into this consumer mindset and they have watched us and this mindset is the only thing they have grown up knowing of church?  I’m sure many things play into these statistics, but I wonder if this mindset is also a part.

We must be very wise when it comes to our church membership. I am not advocating remaining in dead churches (what my husband calls country clubs – a topic I wrote about in detail last year). But I am saying we need commitment and true community, not consumption, both for ourselves and for the children who watch our every move.  We must join into the work of Christ through His church. We must give. We must serve. We must connect. We must change everyday to become more like Him.

The past few months, I have been noticing the trend towards this consumer model not only in churches and ministries, but also in missions. Don’t get me wrong – there are some great things happening in missions around the world these days. It has, and I’m grateful for it, become vogue to care for “the least of these.” Churches and Believers are using terms like “social justice” and are truly becoming interested in sharing our immense wealth with the rest of the world as well as with the single mom down the block. I do love that, and don’t want to ever discourage it.

Another incredibly positive thing that has happened in the past 20 years is an amazing infrastructure has been developed to reach the poor and lost around the world. Compassion International and WorldVision are both amazing 4-star rated charities on the ground all over the world feeding, clothing, schooling, and reaching millions of people with the Gospel of Christ. For about $30 a month you can take care of a child in another country and assure that they will be fed, cared for, and given the chance to hear the Gospel. You can pay for it automatically, write them from your laptop, and make a huge difference. This is a FANTASTIC thing.

In addition, many ministries have sprung up in recent years taking people on trips to experience what God is doing in other countries. You can journey on a short-term mission trip and visit orphanages or villages and care for people directly – sharing the love and light of Christ. This can be another wonderful thing. My husband and I met on a short-term mission trip and I have loved being a part of those in the past.

But I have begun, in recent months, to feel a conviction and a caution in my heart when considering not only going on these short-term mission trips, but also sponsoring other people to go on them. I feel we must be wary of the consumer mindset creeping into our decision making.

My sister has given me permission to share this – and hopefully it will help you see where I am coming from. My sister is about to leave on an 11 month mission trip to 11 countries. When I first heard about the trip a few months ago, truthfully, I was against it. I had a huge sense of caution, not because of the trip, but because of the expense. At the time, my sister was going to begin fundraising for the entire $15,000 that she needed for the trip. I felt like it was a great potential experience for her, but I felt cautious about the fact that she was going to be asking people to donate so much money. I felt there was a huge red flag and I expressed to her my concern. In time, the Lord revealed to her that she needed to sell everything she had to raise money for the trip, and she was obedient to that call. Through the sale of her possessions and her car, she raised over 2/3 of the money needed for the trip. So although she was fundraising, she was also sacrificing. She gave her all first before she asked anyone else to give to the cause. Practically speaking, she felt that if the trip was going to be a great experience for her, the primary weight of financial responsibility needed to fall on her. At that point, my cautious feeling went away and I can now say, after watching her sacrifice this past few months, that I feel this trip is the best possible thing for my sister and I am convinced she is ready to follow this call.

This is where I have come down on this issue, and please keep in mind this is only my opinion and conviction and I understand others may disagree. I think we must be VERY wise and wary when making decisions about missions because I think the enemy can fool us here. We can allow a short-term mission trip to become an expensive safari, an experience for our benefit where we get to observe another world and take pictures and then we leave and return to our life leaving little good effect in our wake. So we spent a ton of money, but outside of us having a life-changing experience, we don’t have much to show for it.

On the other hand, because of the infrastructure in place through worthy ministries like Compassion and WorldVision, we can do a tremendous amount of good for a small amount of cash. For the cost of some of these short-term trips, we could sponsor more than 10 children for over 3 years through Compassion International. And as each of those children are changed, over the long-term, they impact others. So the ripple effect of that sponsorship has huge potential. The money goes into that community directly to make a concrete difference.

I am not saying there is not a place for short-term missions, but I believe we must be wise and we may need to only consider them after we have given our money sacrificially to other places where it possibly can do more good. There is only so much money we can give to causes, and we must be wise. There are missionaries all over the world who are long-term career missionaries giving their lives to invest in people groups. They are making a massive difference in the lives of hundreds of people and they need our support. We MUST support them before we become spectators or consumers of missions ourselves.

And we must be sacrificial. We cannot ask others to give to things when we ourselves have not given our all.

So our giving then looks like this:

1. The tithe – 10% of income to our local church where we are an invested member serving. (Biblically mandated – must be first).

2. The offering – Sacrificial giving over and above the tithe to worthy ministries.

3. The experience – Short term trips where we ourselves also benefit, that we ourselves have sacrificed to attain.

It is, after all, not about us, but about the spreading of the glory and gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not consumers then of missions, but we are contributors to the cause of missions around the world.

What do you think? What do you think are the pitfalls in our consumer culture we need to avoid when it comes to Ministry and Missions?

**Just in case someone may understand, please know I am not advocating these guidelines for the life of every Believer.  I am simply saying, as I have processed this, these are the thoughts and boundaries I have put in place in my mind to test these things and see if I am buying a mindset that is not holy.  So if you have a concern or think I am imposing rules on you, please know first of all that I am not, and please feel free to reach out to me**

The Climb and the Cry

photo by the amazing Jess chasethelightwithme.com

My sweet little Bekah is at this hilarious stage in her life.  She is constantly climbing up things to get into great adventures, but she isn’t old enough to climb back down.  So about 18 times a day I will hear this little scream, and I’ll get to go rescue her off of her sister’s bed or the train table or some other elevated position.  To illustrate – just now I had to step away because Bekah had climbed into the (empty) bathtub and was stuck – seriously.  Perfect timing, right?  Hilarious.

When I hear her cry and go on my rescue mission, I don’t spank her or reprimand, I always laugh and pick her up and take a few seconds to cuddle her before I put her back on safe ground.  I am totally in love with this child – totally captivated.  She is beautiful and has this vibrant personality already.  It makes me proud of her when she climbs up – I think she is brave.

This morning I was thinking about her climbing and what I think I love best is that she cries out to me when she is scared or overwhelmed or in over her little head, but she still keeps climbing.  I began thinking about us and the Lord and came to the conclusion that I think we are to follow her example in our lives.

Psalm 24:3-6 says –

Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?  Who may stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.

He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior.

Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.  Selah

I think there there are times, even in our faith, that we can be anxious and feel overwhelmed.  We can have a moment of bravery and climb up to a new level of trust or commitment.  But so much of our faith is a mystery, and sometimes it can be scary to be in a place of vulnerability.  We are still human and by nature our reality is we are double-minded, half trusting and half terrified.

I know so many people, some I am really close to, who once they climb up and feel vulnerable, climb back down and never venture any farther again.  It is like the vulnerable feeling is so scary that they force themselves to become content with the ground.  Or they let guilt over persistent sin and a feeling of worthlessness keep them distant in their relationship with the Lord.  They know they are distant, they sometimes regret they are distant, but for some reason they choose the distance over the vulnerability of climbing to the next level.

I also know others who climb and climb and climb and never call out to the Lord.  It is like in the climb and the search for righteousness, they forget the Object of our pursuit and their life becomes about the mountain and not about the Maker.

Salvation is free, it is entirely based on grace because of the amazing sacrifice of Christ for us.  But growth does take work.  And we can choose to work and climb, or not.  The Lord draws us and woos us, but He doesn’t force Himself on us.  But the work that it takes to climb isn’t our work alone – it is ultimately the work of our Father.  He begins the work and carries it to completion.

So what does it look like to climb up to the next level?  I think it is taking ourselves and our messes to the Lord and asking for Him to take us to the next level, and then being obedient.  Our role is to humble ourselves and bravely desire Him above all.  When we get into that posture, He does the rest.

Ecclesiastes 7 talks about this balance.

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:  a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.

Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—  why destroy yourself?

Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—  why die before your time?

It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.  The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

So what are we to do?  We fear God and seek Him first.  We follow when He leads, we bravely climb higher, and we cry out when we are afraid.  And He rescues us over and over again as we trust in Him.  And each time He rescues us, He draws us near.  He comforts us and cuddles us close.  We get to know His heart, over and over, and we find that He loves us and is absolutely captivated by us.  We are His creation.

Life is about the climb, and about the cry. If we can get those two things right, there is no telling the mountains we can conquer together.


Lead me in the way I should go

I think I am weird.  Really.  Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (Anybody know what that is from?  Hahaha – Answer at bottom.)

The past few weeks, I have had several people contact me about job opportunities for both fulltime and freelance work.  So many people care for us, precious people who want to see our family succeed, and as they pray for us they see jobs that align with what I do and they send the job to me.  And every time I hear about another, I start to feel sick.  Isn’t that bizarre?  But it’s not the first time that has happened.  I have found, in my life, that if one door appears to open, I am good.  But if several do, I immediately begin to quietly freak out.

Are you like me?  Do options and choices make you anxious?  What is that?

I am in a strange place in life.  Before all of this happened, I felt strongly that my primary role in our family was with our kids.  I also felt strongly that I am supposed to be in school right now to pursue a lifelong dream, so I started back in January.  So, around those two things, I have fit in a job, but it has moved to third in my list of priorities.

But where we are today is that, without Justin or me having a fulltime job, obviously the acquisition of said job becomes a huge priority for us.  We only have benefits a few more weeks, and that deadline is looming.  And there simply is more work available for what I do than for what Justin does, because his is so specialized.  There is a ton of freelance work for Justin out there (he is in the middle of two great projects right now for two different companies), but the fulltime job we desire for him is much harder to find in this economy.  Will we find it?  I absolutely believe so – with all my heart.  I truly deeply and honestly believe that the Lord is not only shaping us for the position but is shaping the position for us.  Justin is so talented and loves the Lord and the church so much – he is a tremendous asset to a church and I know the Lord will open that door soon.  And when the door opens, I believe I am going to see my husband thrive like never before in a position doing exactly and perfectly what God has called him to do.

So, what do I do now?  Until that door opens, what path do I take?  Do I follow the money?  Do I sacrifice what I felt called to do when things were good now that things are difficult?  I don’t think so.   I know that many of you are like me – intensely practical.  And many of you won’t understand that.  I’m not sure I would if I were you.  Why would I, if I could take a job and alleviate the pressure, hesitate to do so?

This is the question that is making me sick to my stomach.  I am a doer.  A firstborn, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, independent force to be reckoned with.  And because of God’s grace placing me in amazing positions, I have a great resume.  I could probably make some phone calls today and have a fulltime job.  But chances are good it would involve a great deal of travel, or necessitate me dropping out of school or placing my girls in daycare, or be at a church where my husband does not serve alongside of me, again putting my family in the position of us being in two different places on Sundays.  And I feel that all of those options negate what I have been called to do.  I get sick at my stomach because I don’t want to do that.  Not because I’m lazy, not because I want to crush my husband under the pressure to provide, but because it is contrary to what he and I believed I was called to do a year ago.

And truthfully, I want the Lord to dramatically rescue us.  I do.  I want to get the phone call that a job has opened for Justin and that our waiting on Him has resulted in tremendous blessing.  I want all of our eggs in one basket, if that basket is depending on the Lord for a miracle.  I want to honor the role my husband is in as provider of our home and I don’t want to step in and take that on.  And I want to be nimble – ready to go in a moment’s notice wherever the Lord calls Justin and me to go.  We could move anywhere and do anything He called us to do because I am ready to go and support my husband in His calling.

So I fight off the nausea and tell people “Thank you but no thank you” and I don’t pursue these jobs I’m being offered.  It scares me – I worry they’ll find me ungrateful or lazy.  How can I truly explain this lack of peace that I have about accepting work right now?  But I know to what I have been called, and even if they don’t understand, I seek to obey.

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:3

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies— make straight your way before me. Psalm 5:8

And by the way – if you’ve kept reading, first of all I love you.  Thank you for caring.  The quote was from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride.  Inigo Montoya says “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” Totally cracks me up.

Have a blessed day.  Jen

Jessica the Brave

If you don’t know her and love her already, let me introduce my little sister, Jess.

Jess is 11 years younger than me – and she really is a walking miracle.  When we were little, my mom was very sick when she had my brother, so she was told it was not safe for her to have more children and her tubes were tied.  Joe and I didn’t know this – so we would pray for a brother or sister all of the time growing up.  When I was 11, the Lord answered our prayers and gave us our miracle little sister – my mom was one of the very small percentage of women whose tubes grew back after they were tied.  And I know it is silly, but it is true when I tell you that Jess, since conception, has been very special.

She is one of those people who is a light.  She is beautiful and wise beyond her years, compassionate, loving, joyful, sweet, humble, and loves the Lord with all of her heart. Although there is a huge age difference between us, she is my best friend.

In a month, Jess is leaving for a great adventure.  A 11-month mission trip to 11 countries.  You can follow her blog here.  The Lord has called her to it, provided a way for her to go, and she is following Him in obedience.  I am incredibly proud of her.  It is going to grow her and stretch her and change her in ways we can’t imagine.  I think it will be one of the absolute highlight years of her life.  On one hand I am very excited.  But what I think the Lord has showed me in recent days is that the way will probably also be difficult.  Eleven months.  Jess is kind of a homebody.  She loves her nieces and nephew and hates to go even weeks without seeing them.  Much will change in the eleven months she is gone.  And she isn’t going to resort locations – she is going to hard places throughout Europe, Africa and Asia.  She will see great suffering.  She will hold sweet orphans and then have to leave them.  I believe she will join in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His name and His glory.

I watched this amazing video from John Piper about suffering yesterday, and then I did a quick word study of the word “suffering” this morning.  It really is a privilege, if we can wrap our minds and hearts around it.  And it seems that suffering somehow unlocks a completely new and amazing level of intimacy with Christ.

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Acts 5:41

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:2-4

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:19-18

For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 2 Corinthians 1:5

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11

And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 2 Timothy 1:11-12

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13

I am very proud of my sister.  She has sacrificed to do this – she has sold almost everything she owns and given it all to the Lord.  I know this year will be difficult.  She will suffer.  But she is going to have the privilege of living out, in small measure, the suffering of Christ.  And I know that through her sacrifice, the love and freedom of Christ will flow onto all of the precious people she comes into contact with.  Many of them will meet Him because of her sacrifice.  And I will, from here, be praying for her and try to join her in walking that suffering.  Because only in realizing that our treasure is in heaven and this world is not our home is true purpose in life and joy in Christ to be found.    And Jess is on the right path – she gets it and I am so blessed to be her sister, friend, and supporter.  She is, in leaving and following Christ, a greater model for my children than she ever could be staying here and playing with them everyday.  We will make sure they know what their aunt is doing and how important it is and how right it is, and maybe someday they will follow in her footsteps.

I respect my sister.  Though she is terrified, she is brave.  Although she is shy, she is bold.  Although she loves being at home, she is leaving to live in a tent for a year.  Although she is weak, He is strong.  This change in her is all because of Christ.  And that is beautiful.

Manna

With tears in my eyes I write this one, because today was a rough day.  I say that not to garner sympathy, but because I have committed to walk this path with transparency.  And maybe someone is like me today and needs to hear this.

I woke up today with a heaviness.  A fear.  A dread.  I kept praying and trying to shake it off.   Still not sure why today was the first really tough day – but it was.  And truthfully most of the difficulty today was financial.  Today I moved money over from savings – our “emergency” cash reserves – with no real idea how I would pay it back.  And that was pretty scary.  And then this afternoon I heard that to have my test tomorrow, the test I need to verify that I need to have gallbladder surgery, I’ll need to pay out almost $1500 in the morning because I haven’t yet reached the deductible on my insurance.  Brutal.  So now I’ll need to move that over from savings as well.  And after that, truthfully, there isn’t much left.

Manna.

This morning a precious friend was talking to me and I was telling her about the freelance things that Justin and I are piecing together to pay our bills over the next couple of months until we see what the Lord is going to do.  She said, “He gives us just enough manna for each day, doesn’t He?”  I laughed and began to remember the story.

I immediately got off the phone and looked up Exodus 16 and read again about the Israelites and manna.  You see, the Lord had rescued His people, the Israelites, from slavery.  They had seen Him do great and mighty things.  He parted a Sea and let them walk across on dry land, then he released the Sea on their enemies and they saw the bodies of their pursuers and their captives washed away.  The Lord then led them through a desert.  They were afraid because there was no food and no water, and they grumbled against the Lord.  So the Lord struck them all dead.

No He really didn’t.  Sometimes we see God that way though, don’t we?  We are afraid if we grumble against Him that He will squish us like a bug.  But that’s not how our God is.  I love that the Bible includes these stories of humans being human so we can see His mercy.

Exodus 16 says that they grumbled against Him, and then He…

Fed them.

Manna.  Just enough for each day.  In fact, to test them in this and see if they trusted Him to provide each day, He would cause the manna to rot each night if they happened to store any up.  He wanted them to look to Him, each day, for their daily bread.  Literally.

When I was younger I would read this and think, “Silly Israelites, why would you NOT trust Him?  You’ve seen what He’s done.  He rescued you.  He parted the Red Sea.  He brings manna from heaven.”  Now that I’m older and have kids and a mortgage, I unfortunately relate more with their grumbling.  I bet it was terrifying.  Deserts are vast and hot and creatures die in deserts.  I’m sure the Israelites were like me – they would hold their kids close and feel the weight of the responsibility to care for that sweet child the Lord had given them, and with tears in their eyes they would just beg God to work.

I am really tired.  And I am really scared.  Where we are, today, feels like a desert.  And although I do trust my God, there is this human part of me that feels alone in this.  I look around and all I see is desert.

So today I lay my fears at the feet of the cross.  I choose to trust Him with the manna He has provided for today.  I try to take comfort from the fact that the Israelites did in fact cross through the desert safely.  I look up to the God who saves and I ask Him to provide today for my family.  And I’ll turn to Him again tomorrow.  And the next day.  And the next day.  Until He leads us through this particular desert.

Because our hope is in Him and He alone is our good.

Headed Toward Healing

It amazes me sometimes the body’s incredible ability to heal. My best friend growing up was the youngest in this big wonderful family. Her dad was recently in very critical condition and in the last week we have seen him turn a corner and his body has healed in a profound way. He has a ways to go – but we have seen a miracle in a situation where there seemed just days ago to be no hope. It reminded me again this week that these bodies we are in are fearfully and wonderfully made.

As I have watched this happen several times in recent years, it seems to me there is a moment where the body goes from reacting to circumstances to fighting to recover. And when that happens, the progression from critical to stable can be very rapid.

I think it is the same for our emotional and spiritual health. We can allow circumstances, consequences of bad decisions, and the weight of this broken world to overwhelm us. And when we react to all of those things, our emotional and mental health can rapidly spiral downward. Have you ever done that? Sometimes we can be in a highly reactive state and a circumstance can happen and suddenly we seem to have been thrown into a crater. We churn on it and dwell on it and can’t seem to break free. It is like all we see is the circumstance.

But there is a moment that can change that downward spiral. In fact, it can change the direction of our life. The moment may be a truth that suddenly gets illuminated for us, or a caring friend confronting us in love, or a turning point in our heart where we simply humble ourselves and turn back to the Lord and ask for help. And in that moment, although our circumstances don’t change – our direction does. Suddenly, things aren’t so overwhelming. And we begin to, very quickly, heal. Now that our direction and focus are right, our attitude and actions and perspective suddenly snap back to center. We begin to feel like we have control over ourselves and our emotions again.

I recently worked with a guy named Josh King and he drew this illustration about people and their relationship with Christ for us in Staff Meeting – I thought it was really powerful. Imagine that each of these dots is a person and the diagram represent their closeness to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He said that we as people tend to want to judge the condition of people’s hearts. So we begin to do this grouping thing. This person is close to Christ obviously because they do this and this and this, and this person – well they are far far away because of all these things they have done. So, we begin to draw a circle. The red area represents people we think are “in” and the white area is everybody else.

 

The point my friend made, which was so powerful to me, is that what we judge as closeness to God isn’t the important factor. The important factor is the orientation of the hearts of men (which we of course cannot truly see). So if we were able to instead look at the direction people are headed in relation to God, then we would be able to see the entire picture.

Our job then, as Christ followers and ministers of the Gospel, is to encourage others in their orientation towards Christ, as we ourselves continually correct our direction to orient our own lives toward His glory. Realizing that only when headed toward Christ can true happiness be found, we make it our life’s ambition to point people toward the wonderful person of Christ. How close they end up, whether they are “in” or “out” is not something we can ever judge or truly know. All we can do is reflect His glory and point people back to Him, realizing it is all about the direction of our focus.

Just as this amazing illustration represents our overall spiritual direction, I think it also illustrates my point about healing. Emotional and spiritual healing, I think, is a matter of orientation. And when we and the people we love are facing the right direction, with the right goal and the right God, it is AMAZING how quickly everything can change.

 

The Storm

I think I am in the eye of the storm.  Between the job losses and the financials and now the health struggles – the wind has been whipping at our family pretty consistently.  There is much swirling around us.  And I’ll be honest – I have moments of shakiness.  Moments where our circumstances seem, well, insane.  But underlying it all there is this calmness – this foundation that is not shaking.  This realization that God is no less God today than He was before all this craziness began.  And the realization that I really do trust him.

This trial is good for my soul.  I do know that.  I have been confronted with my own powerlessness.  There is NOTHING I can do to help this situation.  (Believe me – we have tried it all.)  Jesus is all and He has us here for a reason.  I have learned that I don’t need rosy circumstances to love my Lord.  It reminds me of Job – when his friends told him to curse God and die.  I don’t think it ever occurred to Job to do that – God had already given Job the faith to withstand the trials.  I love my God.  He is good.  He cares for me – for my family.  He is near.  I know He loves me.  And I love that He has grown me to a place where I can say that with all honesty.  I was ready for this storm – He had prepared my heart already.  What a blessing.  Not only that – but I have seen, in this time, the church shine.  And by church, I don’t mean buildings or systems.  I mean the people in whom Christ dwells.  We cannot measure the blessings of the friends and family the Lord has given us in this time.  Chances are good if you are reading this you are a part of that body.  THANK YOU.  We love you.

I am thankful for this storm.  I decided when I started this blog that I was going to live my life on the pages of it openly and honestly.  Even to a fault.  And I know that I am having a chance to demonstrate to myself and to the world that I trust the God who provides.  That is an honor.

I am a visionary girl.  I like to go on walks and imagine the future.  I can see that the Lord is going to, soon, open a door for my husband.  I know the talent my husband has – and it is amazing.  I have watched even this time of great trial grow him – this trial has been good for his soul too.  There is no one in this world I respect more than my husband.  He walks with integrity and righteousness, fearful of no man, following Christ.   He gives himself and the gifts the Lord has given him freely to the Lord and the church.  He loves people and wants to see them worship.   I know that the day will come when he gets to do that fulltime in a church he loves.  And in the meantime, we will do whatever it takes to survive and make income during the week so that he can do what he’s called to do on weekends and in his spare time for wonderful churches like Keystone and Fellowship.  He is called – what else can we do?  He was made to do this.  To not do it doesn’t occur to him.  And I love that.

I also can see the future for us adopting.  I can see our Gotcha Day.  I can see the hands and feet of our children.  I can see the family photographs that look like my precious friends who have gone before us (the Weimers, the Teabos, the Footes) – these beautiful rainbow families of children from all over the world.  None of these financial trials have any bearing on that vision.  I can see it.  My God is bigger.  I cannot WAIT for the day.

This storm, this time, it is good for my soul.  And this storm does not change the future the Lord has for us.  So I hold my breath and hope because I know that when this storm passes, it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Between the Beauty and the Chaos

My mind is stuck in Haiti and I write to process, so be warned this is all over the place.  I think about Haiti as I go to sleep and immediately upon waking up.  And yet I am home now and holding my beautiful Bekah and playing with my beautiful Grace in our wonderful home and the stark comparison of those two things just baffles me.  My friend Aaron Ivey wrote an album entitled “Between the Beauty and the Chaos,” and he and his wife share a similar heart with Justin and me, and that sums up where I am.

Last night as I lay in bed trying to sleep I told Justin that it is hard for me to watch the father he is, to watch him dance with Grace while we watch Cinderella, without thinking that every girl deserves a daddy like him.  Here’s the beauty of the life we live.

Jamie and Aaron Ivey’s son, Amos, is still living in an orphanage in Haiti until his adoption is final and for the past two nights they have had to sleep with all 70 children outside because of the aftershocks and the insecurity of their damaged building.  Here is a photograph they posted.  This is the chaos of these precious children’s lives.

A few months ago one of my Compassion kids, Widline Floreal, graduated from the Compassion Program.  I received word that she had come to Christ during her time at the Project, and I prayed that she would know always that Jesus is with her.  Beautiful girl.  I hope she isn’t alone in the chaos.  I hope she’s alive.  I wonder if I’ll ever know.  I pray she knows Jesus loves her and is with her.

We have given to several organizations that are on the ground in Haiti, but it isn’t enough.  We are praying and reading the blogs and calling out to God, and I know in my mind that is more but it still feels like it isn’t enough.  I just want to bring these babies home.  I just want to gather our friends and get them all adopted – be this beautiful rainbow family of people who love Christ.  I just want to see my husband dancing with my daughters from around the world.   I want to be used by God to bring beauty into chaos.  That is why we give.  That is why we pray.  That is why we will adopt.

There is beauty.  I sincerely hope that everyone is giving something to this cause.  If the people who are tweeting links to give to a cause are actually giving, I am thrilled with the generosity we are seeing.   The tweets and blogs from people on the ground in Haiti are so incredibly moving and powerful (@troylivesay, Livesay Blog, the Real Hope for Haiti blog, the Howerton blog), people are helping in extraordinary ways (Fellowship Church Miami’s plane headed to Haiti with food and water 36 hours after the first shaking), people in Haiti are singing worship songs, reading their bible, praying, helping, coming together.  I love this.  This is what we are supposed to be about.

There is chaos.

I know that some people who are my friends are not Believers in Christ, and yet you still read what I write and I thank you for doing so.  I have hesitated to speak to the Pat Robertson comment because I sometimes feel so unwise to respond to such things, but let me simply say this.  He does not speak for me, for any authentic Believer in Christ, or for the Jesus that I read in the Bible.   Pat’s comments were chaos.  We as believers are called to be light and love to this world (Right before Jesus’ death in John 13 he told the disciples A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Pat’s representation of Christ is not love or light.  I am sorry he claims to speak for us as Believers.

If you care to read it, Donald Miller’s response to Pat’s comments was completely in line with what I feel about Pat Robertson.  I thought his words represented Beauty well.

I thought Keith Olbermann’s response to Pat’s comments were very interesting, and I didn’t know what he was responding to until I looked it up, and I was shocked at the political comments I found.  It is amazing how many people used this horrible tragedy and turned it into political fodder – yet another chance to bash our President.  I am incredibly frustrated with the 24 hour news cycle and with the nonsense it has inflicted on our country and I am frustrated with Fox News and what it has done to Christianity.  We are NOT to be known primarily, or really at all according to my Bible, for our political point of view.   Jesus lived in the time of the Roman Empire, and he never once said to “Rise up and fight, call everyone a fascist and circulate hate through email and picket and be known by your division.”  He said to “render unto Caesar what is Caesars and render unto God what is God’s.”  I’m fine if you vote Republican, so do I. I am fine if you vote for the life of the unborn.  So do I.  But when you politicize everything, including a horrible tragedy such as this situation in Haiti and use it to be hateful, disrespectful, and anything but submissive to the leadership that God has placed over you, you are sinning.  God ordains our leaders.  Look at China.  The church is exploding!  God does not need a Christian in the White House to be glorified.  Read the new Testament, the church was meant to be a subversive force in our culture.  If you are a Believer in Christ and watching Fox News (or MSNBC) and getting all fired up and hateful and divisive, if you are known for that and not for your love for people around you, you are known for the wrong thing.  I am not a sheep.  I am fully aware of what is going on in our country.  But I am not a citizen primarily of this country.  I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God and I will behave as such.  If you are spreading chaos into this world, and not spreading beauty, beware.  You might be about the wrong Kingdom’s business.  Again, I typically don’t speak to this, and you can now see why.  🙂  But this is where I am.  That junk is chaos.  And we are not to be about it.  I’ll now stop spouting my opinions on this, in case you were nervous.

Here’s the truth of where I am today. We live in a horribly fallen world.  It is simply and terribly chaos.  We were meant for another world – for heaven.  A world of beauty.  And in the in between, we are here with a purpose to give God glory and to be a light into darkness.   To bring the beauty of the next life, of peace with God, into the chaos of a fallen world. Jesus please help us to do that.  Jesus please be near to Haiti.  Jesus please hold the fatherless in the palm of your hands, and raise up fathers here with a passion to bring their sons and daughters home.  There are 140 million orphans.  Jesus please call your church to be a forever family to these sweet babies.  Please let no Christian be satisfied to be a citizen of this country.  Please call them to be a citizen of your Kingdom first and foremost.  Jesus help us where we are weak, be great when we are not, and cover over us with your grace when we are decidedly human.   To You and You alone be the glory.

Where’s my glass slipper?

There have been many things swirling around in my head this week and I’ve thought “I should work through that in a blog” but truthfully, I’ve just been so very busy I haven’t gotten to it.  This week I leave for New York for a show.  For the past five years I have produced the annual convention for the National Retail Federation.  It is a fun deviation from my everyday job working from home to get to travel and produce a show with retail and business leaders from around the world.   I always enjoy it – this is what I used to do as a career and it always stretches me a little bit to step back into it for a week.  I try to take my vacation and produce a couple of shows a year to keep my foot in that arena and make a little extra income for our family.  All that to say if I am slow to respond to things these days – there has been a reason!

Something appropriate is happening right now that is exactly what I was going to write about today!  Right now as I type this Grace is saying “I need my glass slipper” over and over.  She has been saying it for about 10 minutes without rest.  She is watching her favorite movie, Cinderella, in her Cinderella dress.  She has 5 pairs of Princess slippers, and right now one of the glass slippers is missing and she is just devastated.  She is missing her favorite movie and driving me crazy repeating over and over her request for this slipper, while there are 4 perfectly good pairs of slippers waiting for her in her room.  She’s been doing this pretty often – I guess it is a two year-old thing.  She’ll get “stuck” on something and miss fun and joy and life while she is fixated on this one thing wrong in her world.  One night last week she was totally fixated on having a glass of milk, and we were out.  Justin had made this great dinner, and she wouldn’t eat any of it and cried through the meal because she wanted milk and was angry that we weren’t giving her milk.  Everything we tried to do or give her in lieu of milk made her cry.  It made what could have been a pleasant dinner a very frustrating experience. As I was watching her I got that uncomfortable feeling because yet again, it made me start thinking again how alike we are.

I keep getting “stuck” on worry or stress or praying for this “one thing” that we need, and sometimes it is like it is this massive wall in front of me blocking my view.  And I hate that about myself because I know I am missing joy in those moments where I am stuck.  I am not dwelling in gratitude, and I have so very much to be grateful for.  I know that God is infinitely patient and infinitely loving, and so he probably is not like me, but I get TIRED of Grace asking repeatedly for one small thing and missing all of the other wonderful things we’ve provided for her.   She has food, drink, toys, a home, love, laughter, fun.  Why on earth is a missing slipper causing so much drama?  I know He isn’t like we are, but don’t you wonder if the Lord ever gets frustrated with our constant desire for more?  If the times where I pray and ask and ask and ask and ask for the same thing doesn’t just make Him want to go “STOP and look around you and see what all I’ve given you – there is a reason why this thing that you want isn’t appearing in front of you, and it has nothing to do with a lack of love for you.”  Now as a disclaimer, I don’t think that is the way the Lord responds when we ask.  Like I said, He’s infinitely more loving than we are and I’m so thankful that He’s more patient as well.

But watching Grace does make me wonder.  Matthew 7:11 says If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So if that is true, and I believe that it is, then there is a reason even for the things missing in our lives.

There is a balance to be struck, don’t you think?  We are supposed to take our desires, our “one thing we need” requests, our concerns and requests to our God.  He wants to hear from us.  He knows these “glass slippers” are important to us and He wants us to ask Him for them.  But while we wait, while we ask, we need to trust Him to provide and take joy in our lives and live the life we’ve been given to the fullest.  There must be a way to wait and yet not “get stuck,” right?  I don’t know that I have this concept, or this balance, down.  Again I go back to what I am learning as I watch Matt Chandler go through this time in his life.  He trusts God.  He believes Jesus is all.  He knows that God is in control and that it may not be God’s will for him to stay on this earth even another day.  And yet he asks for healing.  His desire is to walk his daughter down the aisle and to grow old with his wife.   So He draws near to God, he speaks His requests, and He trusts God to work all for good, regardless of the outcome.  WOW that’s hard.  It’s hard to wrap our minds around, right?  But it’s right.

Just as parenting teaches me things about God, so does marriage.  On a micro level, marriage models the relationship of the church of Jesus Christ to God.   As a wife I STRIVE to be submissive to my husband.  Yet I am one opinionated lady.  So here’s what I do.  I draw near to Justin, I communicate with him what I think that I need, and then I rest and trust him to make the wise decisions for our family that God leads him to make.  And it is HARD!  Sometimes I have to bite my tongue.  I have to seriously reign in my nature to take control.  But because I love my husband, because I know his heart for me and our girls, I can trust him to make decisions with our best interests in mind.

If you read much of my blog, it always seems to come down to this:  I want to trust the heart of my Father.  And when I don’t trust His heart, I get into trouble.  So today I take these desires, this “one thing” that we’ve been praying for truthfully for years now, and I trust my Father to provide that in His timing and according to His will, and in the meantime, I trust him to use us as we wait for His glory.  And I dwell in gratitude for ALL we have been given.  I determine not to get stuck and throw a fit for what we don’t have – but to take joy in what we have been given.

And that dadgum glass slipper can stay lost for another 2 years and I still won’t doubt His love for us.  Because I know better.  My Father loves me, and if the glass slipper is best, He’ll give it to me when I need it most.