Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Struggle is Real

I sat in my car as the tears rolled down my face, feeling the crushing blow from the words I had never heard before... "You have had a miscarriage." I waited to feel until I was away from people who didn't know me or my story. I waited to find the quiet place to share my heart with the One who has been with me in every disappointment and hurt. My quiet place ended up being my car, in the parking lot of the doctor's office. I cried. A deep cry.

Christmas Eve was when we found out we were pregnant.  I was shocked, a little overwhelmed but excited all at the same time. We began praying for this baby and asking the Lord to prepare us for this new little addition to our family. My husband was laying hands on my belly and talking to it with the expectation our little one could hear him.

Now... the weight of a hope deferred has hit. My car felt safe. I called my husband who I knew would feel the disappointment deeply. He was at another doctor's office with our little girl who was sick. I called him crying and he knew. It wasn't his time to process his feelings in front of our little girl at the doctor's office while on the phone with me. I chose to go into work for a few to try to distract myself. It was difficult. I ended up leaving early.

When I got home I was reminded of a blog post I had just written about having hope for 2016. Ummmm, God? This doesn't seem to fit under that umbrella. I remember hearing a quiet voice in my heart reminding me of the nature of God.

He is good.
He is redeemer.
He restores.
He resurrects.

Here it is, here is how we as believers handle pain... we feel, we wrestle with the feelings, we wrestle with God, we question and then, then we do what we should do best... we believe. When we invest in our relationship with God and pursue an understanding of who He is through scripture, prayer and worship then we understand we are only able to see the smallest part of the biggest picture, an eternal picture that is painted by a magnificent Heavenly Father. Too often we attach pain and disappointment to God but if we read scripture we see a beautiful story of redemption and the glorious love of our God.

Yes the pain of struggle and disappointment are very real. We learned that in 2012 when our son, at 12 years old, was hit by a car riding his bike and is now limited to a wheelchair due to traumatic brain injury. However, we have seen God's goodness over and over again in the midst of our pain and our son's pain. God has touched lives and transformed them because those people have seen a family who chooses to believe in the redemptive nature of God.  Do we land there immediately every time? No. Nevertheless, we are so glad God's goodness and redemption isn't dependent upon our initial reaction. 

Here's the deal, what should separate believers from the world is hope in the redemptive nature of God. You see, as believers we don't live in defeat. Why? Because we know the end. Our end is eternity in heaven. We get to live from a place of victory. So every situation we face we know that we know that we know our eternity is secured in Christ!

Listen, we are human and in our humanity we are created to feel. We are going to feel the pain and disappointment this world throws at us but we need to remain in Jesus.  He is for us and with us when we face struggles.

Look at these verses:

Romans 8
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

The struggle is real but we have an eternal hope. A hope that shouldn't be shaken. We get to live knowing the end! Isn't that amazing? Come on believers, let's feel and question and then let's believe!

Monday, January 4, 2016

3 Ways to Approach 2016 with Hope

It was several weeks back, while my husband and I  were on a cruise with several of our friends, the table question at dinner that night was, “What do you expect God to do for your family in 2016?”
It took several seconds before one of the four couples began to share what they are asking God for in 2016. My husband and I listened, intently, but to be honest I couldn’t come up with the words because this past year had been a difficult one for us. We had faced struggles which were emotionally draining and the cruise was a reset for us.
What does 2016 hold for us?
My husband finally chimed in to share what he expects in 2016 and what he said was exactly what I needed to hear. He looked at the table and said how challenging this past year had been for us. Oh yes, we have had “more” difficult years but this one in particular, 2015, had just been a consistent drain on our family.  It felt like one thing after the other had happened.
He shared words like: distracting, weariness, emotional, etc…
Then he said what he expected in 2016. That’s when my strong husband got teary-eyed and said he believed 2016 was going to be a year of breakthrough for our family. He said it with such confidence, even through tears; his hope released a lump in my throat I didn’t know was there. I couldn’t even look up because the tears flowed. I did an insecure laugh as I kept my head down and thought of this past year. It hadn’t been the easiest of years but let’s be real, it hasn’t been easy for a few years.  Yet, something is stirring. My husband’s words watered the seed of hope that was lying on the dry ground of my heart.  
There was an expectation shift.  What’s next for us?  Breakthrough.
My husband continued to say he believed God was not only going to redeem the struggles but God was going push open doors for our family we didn’t even know were there.
I brushed my hand over my husband’s back and could feel the resolve in him…. 2016, our year of breakthrough.
Let me ask you something, have the last few years been difficult? Have you wondered what God was up to?
I want to give you some hope. I don’t know what’s ahead for you but I want you to do these three things in this next year:
1. Be attentive to the voice of the Lord. As you read the Bible, as you pray, as you listen to your pastor or a friend, or as you listen to a worship song or hymn…  Be attentive to what the Lord is speaking to you and hold onto those words. Sometimes, all it takes is one moment and one word from the Lord to bring hope, peace and faith.
2. Believe in the Character of God. Holdfast to the truth the Lord is the Great Redeemer. No matter what you have faced or what you will face the Lord will redeem it because that is Who He is. We may be surprised at how he redeems the struggle but stand ready for his redemption. Expect it because it is His nature to redeem.
3. Find your security in Him.  There are so many things that can rock your security but you must remind yourself He is the Rock that is Higher than you. He stands beside you like a Great Warrior! He is your defender! Believe in His might and power and find your security in Him.
I pray you have hope in the God who breaks through the disappointments, struggles, pain, and heartache to give you love and purpose for your future. Be attentive to the Lord, Believe in Him and Find your security in Him. He never fails you and He has not forsaken you. He is with you and for you!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Great Commission in the Slums of Africa

We met a man named Moses. He was quiet and humble but at the same time he was compelling and intimidating. When he spoke, he spoke with authority and his words were full of God's Word. We were all eager to get to know him because we knew he had a story. We could see it in His eyes. 

He wasn't eager to share with us his life story but we were forewarned that Ugandans are not ones who like to offer much information about themselves. It's a trait I'd like to bring back with me to the United States

On the first full day in Uganda we separated from Moses and travelled with some of the other Sports Outreach staff.  We went to several places within the slums of Kampala, Uganda. We stopped at a tiny house in the slums and walked in. The first room had children sitting on their knees while writing on their paper. We could see a teacher in the next room ask a group of kids sitting on the floor to spell CAT. The response was a loud, "C-A-T." Behind her was another group of kids sitting in circle with an older child who was holding up legos of different colors. The whole circle would say the color at the same time. 

We continued to walk into another room where small desks lined the outside wall. Two children sat at each table and they were quietly writing as a teacher walked behind each of them to assist them in spelling. This is the "catch-up" room for kids who haven't yet been to school. That's when we were told the story about this school.

You see, this place, this "school", used to be Moses' home in the slums. He was working as a soccer coach when one day he saw a young boy who came to the practices. This young boy would never go home after practice. Moses asked the young boy why he didn't go home and the young boy told him he had no home. Both of his parents had died. Moses took the boy home to his house in the slums and made a bed for the him to sleep. 

Later, Moses was reading his Bible and he read James 2:14-26. He became challenged by the words "faith without works is dead." The Lord stirred in his heart to begin to take into his home more children who were abandoned on the streets of the slums.   Moses ended up taking in other kids and into his one room home. He shared what he was doing with Sports Outreach which helped him buy another room for more children.

He discipled every child he brought into his home. Many of them accepted Christ as their savior and have gone on to get an education. Today, this building is used as a school during the day and a home for several people at night. They are training up a generation of young people to love Jesus and value an education.

What amazes me about this man and all of the staff and coaches at Sports Outreach is their commitment to the Gospel. EVERYTHING they do revolves around the Great Commission. They have no intention of making a name for themselves. They move when they see an opportunity to share the Gospel. Their selfless obedience to the Word of God is genuine and inspiring.

Moses is one of many men and women we have met in Uganda who have sacrificed their own comfort for the sake of the Gospel. Nothing matters more to them than seeing Jesus name lifted high. My life will forever be changed because of Moses.

Matthew 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

All Up in My Space

God and I have this thing between us... I get to be honest with Him about how I'm feeling even if it's not pretty, then, without me realizing it, He sneaks right into the middle of the situation with His warmth, kindness and goodness. I don't understand how He's done it but my heart begins to soften from His love.

He just loves me even in the midst of all the ugly feelings. His love gets all up in my space and I can't run from it even though I think I want to.

I want to remind Him how angry I am at Him and blast Him with questions like "why?" and "where were you when...?"

I want Him to get angry at me so then I have the right to be angry. I want Him to yell at me so that I then have the right to yell at Him. I want Him to say horrible things about me so that I have the right to say those same things back to Him.

But what does He do?

He lets me ask any question I want. He lets me be angry. He lets me try to push Him away. He lets me cry while He listens.

I was pulling weeds in my yard this past weekend doing this very thing while listening to worship music. Oh the irony.

"Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You. It is well with me." The words vibrate through my headphones as I pull a weed. Tears fall.

"This mountain that's in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea. Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You." 

His warmth wraps itself around my hard heart and begins to melt me. Another weed pulled. The tears are no longer anger but like a child being comforted by her father, my hurt leans into His strength and I cry. His strength strengthens me. His love gives me hope. There are no words that I could hear but I remember something that becomes my truth in that moment... He hasn't left me. He understands the pain. He sees a bigger picture. He allows me to be human because He created me to be and yet, He gives me a supernatural strength and peace that only comes from His great love. This is what unconditional feels like. This is what unconditional looks like. I don't have to be perfect. I can express the hurt and He just loves. He is merciful. He is gracious.

He never let's me stay in that dark place because, in all honesty, I don't want to stay there. It may feel justified for a moment but He knows I need Him to get all up in my space and invade the discouragement and disappointment with His truth.

Something is pulled out of my heart and is filled with the truth of who God is. The moment those murky and muddy feelings wanted to entangle me, Love wouldn't let them.

My words become praise to Him. I thank Him for His love. I thank Him for His goodness. I can't stop them. They just roll out of my mouth just like the tears roll down my cheeks.

I can't explain to anyone how real He is to me but I will try. His love. His words. His truth. They bring life to the parts of me that feel as though they are dying. He resurrects hope and gives me His thoughts. They aren't the answers to an easy life but they are the answers that point to an abundant Heavenly Father.

His love is abundant! His grace is abundant! His faithfulness is abundant!

He just gets all up in my space. And... it never gets old.

A side note: all the weeds got pulled out of the jungle that had grown on the side of my house.

You are loved by an abundant God who is relentless in His pursuit of you!

Let me encourage you today to go to God and vent. Let Him get all up in your space.

Verses to dwell on:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Deut. 31:6
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Eph. 6:10
I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only. Psalm 71:16

Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's Tough, Ya'll

I walked into my house after working out last night and the movie Annie was on the television. My husband and I were laughing with the kids about how the main character started dancing and singing and then everyone who was around them all knew the dance moves. We laughed for a moment and started telling the kids how funny it would be if life was really like that with people jumping in knowing the same dance moves and singing the same songs. Then my mind went to a thought, "I wish Elisha could get up and dance with me." It was like cold water was thrown in my face. Why can't my little boy, created in the image of God, a precious miracle, stand up and dance and sing with me? Yep, I went there quickly. What in the world? We were just laughing and having a grand old time. The suddenness of the moment was painful. I cried. The feelings of disappointment, fear, and doubt filled my mind. I had no strength to pull myself out so I settled in and allowed the tears. My husband walked over and put his arms around me. He asked what was wrong. I told him, unashamedly, I was broken. Aren't I supposed to be beyond this kind of pain, it's been 2 and a half years? He squeezed me a little tighter and said, "I know this is hard." We were hugging while I was on the floor. Then he sat back and looked at me with confidence, a slight smile was on his face, he looked in the direction of Elisha and said, "We are going to be dancing together, right Elisha?" And Nate, in all of his rhythm as a drummer, began to do some crazy,awkward, nonrhythmic dance moves. He literally looked like he was convulsing. Elisha began to laugh and laugh so hard that he could barely breathe. I smiled even with tears rolling down my cheeks. I could see the goodness of God in this moment of brokenness. My precious little miracle who was hit by a car, bleeding to death in the road, unresponsive and in a coma for month, who lived in a hospital for over four months, and came home on 15 medications, is now sitting there laughing hysterically at my husband's inability to dance.

The pain I was feeling was still there but it now wasn't conquering me. I had the right to cry. It was okay to feel. Too often I want to shut down the pain but that's not how it works. Pain deserves a voice. It needs a voice.

"This hurts!"

My pain had to get out.

"It's not fair."

"This wasn't supposed to be the plan God. This wasn't what my life was supposed to look like."

Then the joy of my home, the laughter of my little miracle man, the warmth and confidence of my husband, the smile of my oldest and the purity of my youngest all covered the pain with a louder truth... God is good! He is just good. He is doing something powerful and I get to watch Him do it. Yes, He demonstrated His love by dying on the cross and conquering death, but He continues to demonstrate His love by turning this tragedy into something amazing!

It's tough, ya'll. There is no lie in saying that but in Christ there's hope. He always turns the bad stuff to something good. It's just His nature. He's good. I heard someone say the other day, "If it's not good then it's not done." We have to get to a place, even in the disappointment of life, where we believe in the unfailing character of God. He always wins! It's never too difficult with Him. His grace is sufficient! His power is unstoppable! His love is unchanging and everlasting! He is faithful! He is good!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

One Night In Bangkok - A Journal Entry

December 12, 2014

Our flight landed in Bangkok after 19 hours of flying. We grabbed a cab and told the cab driver our address. He spoke in broken English about the part of town we were going to have to drive through to get to our hotel. Our fearless leader Jo said, "Yes. We know."

We had our first experience as a team driving through downtown Bangkok. There were girls up and down the streets dressed in short, tight skirts. They were trying to reveal as much of their skin as possible without showing everything. The roads we drove down were narrow and every turn we made looked the same with women standing close to the curb or leaning up against a building trying to entice.

It was midnight in Bangkok and it was wide awake. People were dancing in bars, the street vendors were still out, and men, many of them white men, were walking the streets with bloodshot eyes. You could feel the lust. It was dark. It was heavy. We passed a vendor selling stuffed animals. I remember distinctly seeing a large pink teddy bear. Oh, the irony. Our cab driver slowed to allow a beautiful girl to walk across the street. He pointed and said, "Ladyboy." Then he laughed. I couldn't speak. 

Every girl we saw had a smile on her face. It was a forced smile. There was a tall white man leaning against a telephone pole looking down at a young Asian girl with a jeer as he looked her up and down. 

I didn't feel like I could cry. I wasn't angry. I was taking it all in and asking the Lord, what am I supposed to do on this trip? What am I supposed to see? I was quiet and prayerful in the cab all the way to the hotel. 

We finally got to our hotel, the place I hoped would be "safe" from all we had seen. Three white men who spoke a different language were standing to the side as we entered through the doors.  We approached the front desk to check in and the sound of the elevator caught my attention. A tiny, beautifully dressed Asian girl stepped out of the elevator. Her hair was curled perfectly. One of the three men, the one that looked the oldest, put his arm around her waist when she walked over to him. He had just paid her for her services.

This was only one night, my first night, in Bangkok and I have several more to go.

The strongholds in this place are intense, yet... Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I Was Flipped Off The Other Day

I was turning left at a busy intersection the other day. I waited till, I thought, it was my time to go. I went and immediately got into the lane all the way to the right so I could then make a right hand turn. I looked back and saw a car with one of his passengers giving me a one finger gesture that certainly wasn't to tell me I was number one. I remember allowing myself the three seconds to take in the whole picture. This guy giving me the gesture wasn't the driver, he wasn't the front seat passenger, he actually was sitting in the backseat of the car with his body halfway hanging out the window with his hand up and he was mouthing exactly what the finger meant. Our cars went in opposite directions at that moment and I began to think about what in the world I had done. I then started laughing. I know, I should be a little bit more serious about what had just happened. However, I couldn't stop laughing as I thought about the backseat passenger, literally, hanging out the backseat window.

It was funny because I recalled a moment over the weekend when I had a short fuse with my oldest son. He interrupted me while I was reading a sad news story. He caught me so off guard that I shut him down with an abrupt and a loud NO! Both my husband and son started laughing at me. It was such a funny moment because I had no reason to be so short and abrupt with him. I just yelled because it wasn't a convenient moment or really a convenient week. I was thankful both my husband and son started laughing because it brought perspective. What in the world would cause me to be so short?

Listen, I am tired. I am involved in a lot in this season of my life. I have kids. My husband and I were given some bad news that our son has to have another major surgery. There are other things we are battling privately. And the list goes on...

Here's the deal: you and I could take an inventory of all the difficult things we are facing right now and we could commiserate together with how hard, how unfair, how sad our lives might be and then we could project those sad and angry feelings on those closest to us or onto the person driving the car next to us...


You and I could be honest with what is difficult in life and then make a list of all of the great and amazing things the Lord has done in our lives! We could let go of the anger and let go of the feeling of how unfair life is. We could change the path of our thoughts and choose to focus on how wonderful the gifts we have been given are! We could give grace because we have been given grace. You and I could be slow to anger. We could show kindness when it's not deserved. Too many times we are waiting for someone else to do that for us. While we are waiting for our husbands, our wives, our neighbors, our co-workers, and the driver next to us to show us grace and compassion, let's step out and do it ourselves for others.

This going to sound very preachy but let me speak truth: God in all of His goodness and grace, which is undeserved, showed His great love towards you and me by sending His only Son to die on our behalf. He took upon himself the pain, the brokenness, the hurt, the abandonment, the anger, He knew we would face and He said we don't have to bear the struggle in our own strength. We don't have to carry the difficulties of life by ourselves, we can give them to Jesus because that is why He died. He died so you and I could have life and life more abundantly. He promised us a life of freedom in Christ! A life full of His love even in the midst of great battles. Life is not easy but we can do this, we can walk this path because we are not alone when we are in Christ.

As I write this, I have tears in my eyes for you because I know how difficult life can be. I know it is hard. But you need to know there is some One who wants to walk with you, to cheer you on, and to hold you up. You are not lost in this battle. God is greater than this battle and when you believe in what Jesus did and accept His gift then He fills you with His strength, His endurance, His love! All you have to do is believe He is with you, He is for you, and believe you can do this in Him.

That guy that flipped me off could be facing the most difficult season of his life or maybe it's just what he does, hang out of windows flipping people off, but no matter why he did it, I know that I want to give grace because I know I need grace. What he did caused me to look at myself and say why do I lash out in anger? Why are there moments when I don't have self-control? Well, it's because I allow the challenges of life to be my focus. It's easy to fall into the darkness of our circumstances and to allow the emotion, the fear, the anger to dictate how you and I treat others but it's time for us to live in Christ and in His love.

This life isn't about perfection but recognizing our weaknesses and living in the strength of Christ in us.

PSA: Let's try not to flip others off while driving. :)