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. 

Haiti Day 4

I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith collecting stories and photographs to update our church on the progress of the churches, schools, and other ministries that COF supports in Haiti. Before I came on this trip, my friend Tara, a missionary midwife at Heartline Maternity Center in Port Au Prince, wrote me and said, “Haiti is a place that won’t be understood easily but you will find love there.” I have played her words in my head several times since we arrived, but today I leaned on them all day long. We traveled last night from Gonaive and the rural village of La Source where we have spent the last few days, to a suburb of Port Au Prince where we will base for the rest of our time here. In total transparency, moving from rural to urban Haiti is more difficult for me to process, and the beauty harder for me to find. Our leader David warned us that Haiti is a lot to take in, and he is right. I am trying to process through my feelings and thoughts about the day.

It started off lovely. This morning we got up and traveled to Croix-de-Bouquets to join Pastor Raymond and Pastor Walter’s church for worship. Several groups from COF have gone there before us, so the church members are familiar with us and there is a long established partnership. Members of our team who have been here before reconnected with friends, and we enjoyed worshiping together. When we arrived, worship was already in progress (Haitian church services are several hours long, so us arriving late was by design). I loved the church service, the music, and the warm way we were welcomed. We each gave a short greeting, and if I thought speaking in front of children was intimidating, it was nothing compared to speaking on microphone to an entire church. It felt a little awkward and I stumbled through, but they had grace for me despite. Just before my greeting they had prayed for us by name and for Community of Faith Houston and Mark and Laura Shook (our pastors), and I was able to tell them that even while they prayed for us, our church was praying for them and loved them, and I was grateful we all could talk to the same God big enough to handle all the details of our lives. I sat down after, relieved, and enjoyed the rest of the service. Several groups sang songs in the service, a couple dedicated songs especially for us, we took communion together, and a member of our team shared a short message about a woman who changed her life named Debbi.

On the trip last year Debbi came to Haiti from COF and left a piece of her heart here. She built relationships with the team in Haiti and was scheduled to come back on this trip, but passed away suddenly a few months ago. Although I never met Debbi, so many people I know knew her well and loved her and talk about her often, and it does feel like her spirit is here with us on this trip. She is talked about with love both by members of our team who traveled here with us, and by our Haitian friends. Her light is still shining both in Houston and in Haiti, even while her family and friends continue to mourn. She had already paid her deposit, and her family generously told the church to put it toward someone coming on the trip, so that money paid my way. I in particular am grateful for Debbi’s legacy as I sit typing in the room a few doors down where she stayed last year.

After the service I was feeling a little tired and hot and unwell as we drove to have lunch at Pastor Walter’s house. As we drove, the dust and noise and traffic and trash on the city streets as we drove felt really overwhelming to me. There was just no break, no rest, and everywhere seemed crowded and chaotic and lacking, if I can confess my mental filter. I struggled to find the beauty I knew was there, trying to see as Jesus sees, but honestly, on that drive and for much of the afternoon, it was hard.

We arrived at Walter’s home, and were offered a truly lovely meal. From what we have seen as far as food in Haiti, it probably was the equivalent of a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal with several courses served for us, and I’m really grateful for the sacrifice I know that meal required from his family. There was not room for our hosts at the table in their dining room, so they served us and ate on the bench against the wall despite our protests. We could tell they wanted to serve us and honor us, and it was humbling and beautiful. I fell in love with Walter’s family, as I had been warned I would by staff members back home, and I loved eating lunch with them in their home.

As we drove back to the hotel, again I struggled. I felt heavy, and it was too much. I wanted to look away from it all. I prayed and wrestled, and then decided a good sleep (and maybe a good cry) would help my heart. We returned to the hotel and I quickly fell asleep. Our leader woke me up a short time later because he was going into Port Au Prince to meet up with an artist and writer he knows who lives nearby, and he wanted me to come and meet him and potentially get a part of his story recorded. In all honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I had seen so much today, and I felt tired and emotionally weary, but after reaching out to Justin and my friend Kacey to get them to pray for me, I decided to go anyway.

We loaded up in a car and went to this home in a nicer part of Port au Prince, near the UN compound. We went in and spent some time with the artist and his wife, an older couple who astonished me. I was unfamiliar with his work when we went to his home, but soon got swept up in the conversation and the images around me. His home was full of his paintings (and he had painted on almost every blank wall in the home), and he gave our leader one of his books as a gift. Although when we arrived he wasn’t feeling well, he welcomed us into his home as friends, and even called our leader his son, and I was really touched by his hospitality. I know a weakness of mine is that I can be more task oriented than people oriented, and COF missions is a very people and relationship-oriented endeavor, which always stretches me. But moments like this and connections like these are why that concept is important. We didn’t even attempt to pull out equipment and record him because being present with them was more important. His wife offered us cake and juice and we ate together and talked together before he showed me the art on the top floor of his home and his studio below.

His art, and his writing, is centered on chaos and finding beauty in chaos (and in much of his art the beauty is noticeably absent). Haiti is central to his work because Haiti is a very chaotic place and the struggle to find beauty here is constant and relentless. When I saw his art, heard him speak of the difficulty our planet is facing, and even just the act of sitting with an aging man struggling with what to do with the last years of his life as parts of his body fail, I felt less alone with the confusion I had felt all day. I realized that my struggle to understand and comprehend is a universal struggle that people have wrestled with since the beginning of time. In fact, it is a struggle reflected by artists, writers, thinkers, musicians, humanitarians and leaders for centuries. These same themes are even in the Bible. These opposing ideas of beauty and chaos, a loving God and suffering, the staggering reality of human starvation in a world where there is also ignorant excess, the simplicity of grace in a world overwhelmed with complex addictions and sin – it is all a struggle. The same things I see in Haiti on the street that are a shock to my system are less shocking when they are hidden in suburban Cypress or Keller or Grapevine, but they still exist. And my mind can’t reconcile it.

We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home – Jamie Tworkowski

Tara told me that Haiti will be difficult to understand, and it is. We as humans don’t like complex things, we like to caricature and simplify. But reality is complex. The same city can have dirty streets with beautifully-dressed people walking down that street toward church where they will worship Jesus and show love to one another. A filthy child can sit on a pile of what looks like garbage in the heat and still be absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. The road to a home where we are offered an extravagant and loving meal can be littered with children who appear hungry and animals begging and scavenging for food. A woman who loves the Lord and serves him can suddenly be taken home without warning or explanation. We have the hope of heaven, but for now we walk this world that can be confusing and scary with very real and acute suffering. In the chaos, God is good. I don’t understand it, I can’t reconcile it, it gives me a headache from tears, but I still choose to believe it. Life is lived and love is given to each other in the messy chaotic beautiful middle, and God is there with us in that place. I’m grateful today that God is with me and everyone I have seen, and because of Him there is hope.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18. 

Haiti Day 2

Haiti Day 2

I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith, seeing what God is doing down here through the two churches we are associated with and our school, the Community of Faith School in Le Village de La Source, Haiti. I am posting with limited internet, so forgive the sloppy formatting and lack of photos.

 

I am a person of strong feelings and opinions (understatement). One of the things I have oh so many feelings about is how to honor and respect people when traveling to another culture, so that you aren’t the rude American taking pictures of other people’s children as if they are zoo animals. Just imagine if someone showed up at your house or junior’s preschool and was looking through the window, taking pictures of your little precious without your permission. “Lawsuit” (you need to know that in my head that word was said in the church lady’s voice). It even has a name – poverty tourism – exploiting people with a right to privacy and dignity just so you can score the best Facebook profile picture. It crawls all over me.

So imagine my mental angst when it comes to me traveling for the church to document the progress of the school that our church supports, which involves shooting pictures and video of other people’s children. For me, a natural over-thinker, it is a mental minefield. So I have been praying about it, asking the Lord to give me eyes to see and to use even my camera as a way to connect.

We drove from Gonaives up to Le Village de la Source, which is this tiny village tucked in this valley with literally 360 degree views of absolutely beautiful mountains. We went to visit the COF school up there for older children started by one of the Pastors on our staff. I walked in a little nervous, not only to shoot pictures and videos, but because we had been told that we should each prepare a greeting that they would translate for the children, and I struggled to find the words. I have terrible stage fright and knew whatever I said had to be simple because I was bound to stutter my way through it. The children sang us a song as we walked in, and the leadership of the school began to greet us one by one. Just before I was introduced, our leader David introduced me and explained that I would be documenting the story of their progress, and not only how the school had grown but how they had all grown as students and leaders. I stood up shakily to give my little speech, and it went something like this. “Bonjour (my only French word – they giggled at my Texas/French dialect). Thank you for coming today on your day off to visit with us. Our church loves you and prays for you. I love being here, and personally am so happy to see so many girls in school today. I believe that with education, and Jesus, we can change the world. It is nice to meet you and thank you for having me.” I nervously sat down and looked over to find many of the children smiling at me. It gave me courage, and I slipped out of my seat and began to work my way around the room taking pictures and videos, slowly working my way into a rhythm as I moved around the room and caught more and more shy smiles from eager children. I also caught glances from a group of neighborhood women and children who had seen our van pull up, stuffed like a clown car full of white people, and come over to look through the windows and see what has happening. I shared our snacks with them, and although we didn’t know each other’s language, we communicated through smiles and gestures until I felt like I was making friends.

We gave the school children some gifts, and they gave us gifts, and as they told us stories and gave us greetings, we identified three people we wanted to get on video. I stepped out with another member of our team to setup for the video shoot, and the technicality of it relaxed me even more. As we were setting up, I noticed that the neighborhood women I connected with earlier had following me over and were watching. I used some of them as models to get my settings right, and let them listen to my microphone setup through headphones. I tried to tell one woman my name and get hers, but she remained silent and watchful, not understanding me. I shared a snack with her. After I handed it to her, she reached up to the tree we were standing under and tore off a leaf. She handed it to me and patted her hip. I struggled to understand. I said the word “leaf” and tried to hand it back. She patted her hip again and pointed to my pants. I realized she was pointing at my pocket, and the leaf was her gift back to me. Again tears rushed to my eyes as I put the leaf in my pocket. “Oh Lord, yes, how quickly I forget. This is about connection, one mother to another, and I don’t want to be the one only giving. It is mutual.” I said “Mesi” (my only Haitian-Creole word) and put my hand on my heart to tell her it meant something to me, and we smiled at each other.

We began to shoot our stories, and I saw the children watching me from the periphery. After I finished I took the camera and headed to the group. I asked them if I could photograph them (which of course they didn’t understand) so I gestured and they began to pose. I shot a picture, and then stepped forward so they could see what I had shot. They giggled, and more and more kids came over, and we did this for 10 minutes, back and forth, pose and giggle. I have dozens and dozens of cheesily-posed pictures of smiling kids, and I love them. I need to find a way to get printed copies back to them.

So the Lord did it (not surprising). He made the two things I was nervous about, speaking publicly and taking pictures, the two tools he most used to allow me to connect with the kids. I’m grateful.

Walking Through Hard.

I can always tell when a blog post is churning. These threads float around in my head and I know when I sit down that they will somehow come together as I write. It feels like straining at those pictures that eventually jump out at you, and often for me I finish the blog with comfort that I desperately needed as I began to write.

This week I keep thinking about what we do when things are hard, or confusing. The world has the perspective that hard = bad, especially in this comfort-seeking society we live in.

But we as Believers in Christ know that our reality is different. For us, hard can often mean right. (Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24)

For example, let’s take the topic of having children. When it comes to children, our society seems to have the perspective that children are expensive and time-consuming, and they limit your freedom. I read an article written by Ben Stein for CNN Money, that I couldn’t believe wasn’t satire, that talked about the diminishing return of investment in children, and how that is justification for the declining birth rate in our nation. Let that sink in for a second. If you don’t think that has major implications and explains where we are as a society, you are wrong.

But it plays out on a micro level as well as a macro level. I have had people treat us like the Duggars for our 3 children, and when I’ve mentioned that we want to adopt more a person rather close to me said, “Why would you adopt when you can’t even take care of your own three?” I guess in her mind since we don’t live extravagant lives and our children don’t get everything they want, we aren’t caring for them. Like living in our home is worse than whatever orphanage those kids currently occupy. It was a bizarre moment for me.

Because a Biblical world view doesn’t see children as too hard to take on. As a Christian, valuing children based on their benefit to our lives isn’t an option. They aren’t just an investment that we can measure on a graph. A Christian values children because God told us to. We take the Bible seriously when it says “Children are a blessing and a gift” (Psalm 127:3).

I look at each of my girls and tears press against my eyes as I see their value. There is no limit to how precious they are. Yes, parenting three children is HARD. One is climbing up me now as I type this (so blame her for any and all typos). When we adopt it will be HARD. Some days, marriage is HARD. Ministry is HARD. Faith is HARD. Eating well is HARD. Friendship is HARD. Taking time for Sabbath is HARD. But that doesn’t mean any of it is wrong.

Every year there is a lesson that the Lord seems to teach me over and over. I think this year’s message is this:

Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it is wrong, or I am bad at it.

If I’ve learned anything in 25+ years of faith and 15+ years in ministry, it’s how complicated and confusing and downright hard the Christian life can be. And all the clichés about faith that I’ve heard most of my life are patently false.

God won’t give you more than you can handle. False.

God wants to bless you because He wants you to be happy. Nope.

Those are sweet ideas. They make excellent crocheted pillows. But they aren’t the Christian life.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray and sweated blood before his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray  before his crucifixion.

Maybe you’re like me, and things are just hard in life now. And even the options to get out of where you are seem hard. It can feel pretty lonely in that place, and pretty forgotten.

But we serve a God who gets it. He took the path through Gethsemane, He gave up the comforts of heaven, He was spit on and mocked and beaten and whipped and eventually killed.

It was hard, but it was also good. Jesus saved humanity when He faithfully walked through the hard. And he asks us to follow him, keep walking, and trust him.

Keep walking. Try to trust. Turn to Him. Sometimes that is all we can do. And I have to believe God will redeem it.

Lord, you know well I am a self-reliant, pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps kind of person. I hate to fail. I hate when things are hard. And lately, there’s been all kinds of hard. I fail daily. And I confess anger toward you sometimes over how hard things are. Sometimes I feel abandoned. But I know those feelings are not the end of the story. I know you have not forgotten us or abandoned us. Please forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted you because it’s hard. Forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted me when it is hard. I trust you. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know a way out. But I trust you. We need you – and I know that is good. I’m thankful that you never leave or forsake me. Thank you for doing the impossibly hard work of purchasing my redemption. Thank you for every single thing in our world that is hard. I know you have a purpose in every moment, and I wait for you. Please be near to us even in the hard circumstances of our lives. 

With Eyes Fixed

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is an active, exploring four month-old. We love this stage, where you can see on her little face her focus and concentration as she learns about the world around her. I also love this stage because she is showing signs of attachment to me as her mom.

photo-21She will be looking around, checking out her surroundings, and something loud will startle her or scare her. If I am in the room, she will turn to me and stare into my eyes before she reacts. If I look at her, smile at her, talk to her in a sing-song voice, and draw her close, she will smile and return to what she was doing because she knows she is safe. If I don’t give her my attention or draw her close, her bottom lip will stick out and she will begin to cry. It is the sweetest thing. This is a very healthy sign of her attachment to me and her understanding that I am a secure base from which she can explore her world (see Bowlby’s attachment theory).

I was thinking about this today and saw a definite correlation to what I, as an adult, look to when I am afraid. I will be going about my day, busy exploring my world… and something scary will happen. Government shutdown. A terror attack in a major city. An unexpected expense. Something in one of my kid’s behavior that seems abnormal. And it unsettles me – it makes me anxious. The fear starts to spiral.

Until I look into the eyes of my Father. Until I remember that He is in control, that my days are in His hands, and that I have a destiny beyond this world. Then I can calm down, secure in the fact that the God of the universe protects me.

Every time I find myself frantic and anxious it is an indicator that I have forgotten to look to my Father. That I have left my primary attachment relationship. When I am making lists and plans, trying to mitigate all the negative circumstances in our lives, feeling alone and abandoned, my fear defines me.  But when I check in with Him first and settle my heart with the knowledge that He is FOR ME, suddenly the very real, and very scary things in our world lose their power to define me.

I need to fix my eyes. I need to seek His comfort. I need to let His Spirit remind me that I am His, and I have no reason to fear. I need to learn from my little Lucy and look to my Protector.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

On Being Winsome

I adore Jimmy Fallon.

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Like in the “I want my family to be best friends with him and his wife and his beautiful baby girl and hang out on weekends” kind of way. I think he is brilliant, hilarious, creative, and most of all, winsome.

win·some

adjective \ˈwin(t)-səm\

generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence (source)

If you watch Late Night, one thing you will quickly notice is that Jimmy Fallon isn’t polished or cool – in fact he’s hilariously awkward at times. He is a genuine fan and encourager of the people who come on his show, and they are put immediately at ease because he shows a love for their art. His show isn’t about him and his ego and his sense of humor. It is about them, and having fun, and enjoying life, and it works.

It’s lovely.

So often, when I think of Jimmy Fallon, I think, “That’s the kind of Christian I want to be.” I want to be winsome. I  think as a culture we’ve lost that art. Look at the comment section of any article and you’ll see just how far we have fallen from speaking to one another with respect, joy, and encouragement. (I mean really, who are these people who comment such vile things?) Even as Christians, so often we aren’t concerned with being winsome as much as we are concerned with being right. And yes – truth is important. But truth delivered without love and humility isn’t received by the hearer.

I think by doing this one little thing, by communicating to the world around us with love and with almost childlike enthusiasm and charm, we can demonstrate a radical difference from the culture at large. And maybe then they’ll be interested in what makes us different.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph 4:29

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Col. 4:6

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 1 Peter 4:8

I’m working on being winsome. I think it is an easy way to love the world well. I want to draw people in and make them feel at ease, like my future best friend Jimmy Fallon does.

Thanks, Jimmy!

My favorite Late Night Moments:

“SexyBack” the Barbershop Quartet Version

Brian Williams Raps

“Call Me Maybe” with Classroom Instruments

John Krasinski Lip Synch Off

History of Rap One, Two, and Three

The Remedy

Courtesy longwood.edu

Courtesy longwood.edu

I read an article in a Worship Leader magazine today that really impacted me. It was a story about a woman in her late 60s who was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure after several months of shortness of breath, weakness, and feeling shaky. Her doctor explained to her the function of the heart: that the ventricles which are responsible for pumping blood throughout the body must also relax in order to be refilled after each pump. For her, disease had hardened her ventricles and her heart was no longer able to relax and receive the quantity of blood she needed to pump out. So fluid was getting backed up in her body and her life was in jeopardy even though her heart was technically pumping with strength. The magazine used her story to illustrate the need for rest and silence in our spiritual life, and it hit home with me.

I am a wife, mom of three, a student finishing my degree, and a very part-time producer. I have been proud of myself for my ability to juggle all of these balls and get it all done. I have started cooking more, and am breastfeeding my baby girl – both things I had longed to do. Tasks and projects keep getting added to my agenda and I am getting a good portion of them done (and doing a decent job at squashing the guilt from the things I just can’t get to).  It’s not pretty – but I’m working hard and accomplishing quite a bit more than I ever thought I could. So I should feel really accomplished. But I feel tired, out of breath, weak, and shaky. My eyes fill with tears at the strangest times.

I keep looking to my husband to help make me feel better. Maybe he can take me on more dates, or bring me flowers, or write me a sweet note. But he’s busy (his task-list each week rivals or surpasses mine), and I still need more. So I go to church, thinking that just one more worship service, a chance to raise my hands in praise, a sermon that will inspire and convict will get me back on track. But so often I leave church in tears. I still feel crummy. It was exhausting getting our kids up and getting them there, the baby was restless in service so I heard about a fourth of it, and it just didn’t do the trick.

Today when I read the article it hit me. I am a girl in congestive heart failure. I am pumping out as fast and furious as I can, but I’m not filling up. I can’t get a deep breath. I am shaky.

When you are diagnosed with CHF, the goal is to get the blood efficiently moving through the heart again. This means, if possible, reversing the damage to the ventricle so that it can relax and fill normally.  You need to get the blood pressure down, the heart rate stabilized, and the fluid balance of the body back to a healthy set point.

But for people like us, in spiritual congestive heart failure? What is the remedy?

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself…  Psalm 37:7

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. Exodus 14:14

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. Isaiah 32:17

There are good reasons why Justin and I do all of the things we do. We think each one is necessary for our family’s survival and right now I can’t think of one thing that I can drop without serious consequences. But I think we need to look to Jesus as our example. There was nobody in history with a more vital purpose on earth. He literally came to seek and save that which was lost. His mission was to redeem humanity yet the Bible is clear He took time away to pray and sit in silence. He slept. He rested. He is never portrayed in Scripture as panicked or frantic. In fact, He was almost always infuriatingly calm.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark 6:30 (When Jesus said this people were literally chasing after them – this wasn’t a down time or a break in the schedule.)

How can I think that the things on my list are so important that I don’t have time to rest when I have a Savior with tasks infinitely more important who modeled rest for me? And how have I forgotten the truth that Jesus is all I need so much that I am relying on my husband and church to fill me up when I feel empty? I’ve clearly lost my way here.

Somehow, I have to start receiving from the Lord the rest I need to do the important stuff in my life with health and not just efficiency. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like. I’m not sure what things we need to extricate ourselves from. I’m not sure what balls I need to just let fall to the ground despite the consequences. But I’m planning to sit here for a bit in silence until the Lord reveals it. Because I feel like I can’t take a deep breath, and I know living in spiritual CHF is not God’s best for me, my husband, or my kids.

The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:24-25