Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lessons learned in Haiti

Sometimes opportunities come at inopportune times.  

My last mission trip was like that.  I had so many things on my plate - a roof project, and family stuff, and an upcoming Mobile Pack Event.  When I got the invitation to go to Haiti along with a Feed My Starving Children team, I thought of a thousand reasons to turn it down.  Going just didn't make sense.

As you can see, I couldn't turn it down.  



                                             Inside the Malnutrition Clinic at Love a Child.
                                             photo credit: Ryan Gallagher

                         
                                                   Outside Love a Child School at recess.


                                        Serving Manna Pack food in a remote mountain village.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

"anything" - abandoning entitlement

Expectation.

Unfulfilled expectations are something I have struggled with before, and probably always will.  Anyone else?  

I don't think I really expected my life to be perfect or easy, because it didn't start out that way.  I did, however, have a plan and a goal and I headed toward that with everything I had.  I mean, ever since I was very young I had a picture in my head of what my "ideal" life would look like, and I orchestrated lots of details to make it happen.  

But..... what happens when life doesn't look like that?  Honestly, it feels like failure.  

In chapter 5, Jennie explains that "It is too easy in this country for blessings to become rights, for stuff and money to become what calls the shots in our lives.  And before we know it, God's gifts have replaced himself."  Wow.

Why do we settle?  The point is not that we have a plan and it doesn't work out.  The point is that we shortchange ourselves when we pursue our plan and not his.  On page 46, don't miss it......"There is another normal - it is invisible and lasts forever and it doesn't fall down.  The ironic thing about believing in God and supernatural things is that the invisible stuff is actually the most trustworthy, the most stable.  So the concrete things we can see and touch, they become the wind, they become the things we try to catch, and over and over, they pass through our fingers and souls, keeping us empty.  But when I take my empty self to God, he feels familiar and stable and more like concrete than wind."

All those things that scream perfection to me, they don't satisfy my soul.  How could they?

It is definitely a matter of focus.  When I focus on what I want and what I don't have, my heart hurts and feels cheated.  When I focus on how good God is, how much He loves me and wants me to love others, perspective shifts and the hurt dissipates.  

Later in the chapter comes this:  "But God often seems unconcerned with helping us maintain same, simple lives where everything fits and works.  I don't know what God's plans are for you, but I do know that we don't hear from him until certain things die.  (emphasis mine)  He doesn't compete.  And when He does speak, it typically costs us something."

So what had to "die" for me?  My expectation of what my life should look like had to go, as well as my security.  I really like security.  I mean, really like it.  I was finding security in my family, my church, my knowledge, my plan.  Unfortunately, those things are not constant, and the continuous shifting was wrecking me.  

What I learned in the process is that I don't dream big enough dreams.  God's plan for me is complete and satisfying and amazing!  When I stop mourning the things I didn't get, and let go of them, God shows me the better things. 

I won't tell you it is easy.  Letting go of what we know for something we can't define is terrifying.  It is also necessary.  

In the final words of the chapter, Jennie describes a friend of hers who abandoned her plan for God's better one.  She describes her like this:  "She still bleeds God, and her life is being poured out on the neediest and the most broken.  She traded entitlement for surrender, and God took her up on it."

I pray I will look like that. 



Thursday, May 21, 2015

"anything" - (chapter 4)

Sure. We are abandoning the approval of others and getting our heart under control. 
Easy, right?  Is that even possible?

We talked about our preoccupations, our "streams" if you will, this week.  What are those messages, those thoughts we have running underneath the surface that get pushed to the top when we are squeezed?  Those unspoken but learned messages can send us careening in directions we don't want to go, and make us do things we didn't mean to do.  

Jennie Allen asks the question "How does one control the heart?"  Our small group couldn't answer that one.  In fact, we all laughed out loud thinking about all the times we have tried but failed!

As women, we are blessed with lots of feelings, aren't we?!  That can be such an asset.  We can offer comfort and empathy and hope because we feel things so deeply.  Or....we can let our emotions rule us and carry us to unhealthy places.  (and I don't mean Taco Bell)

Proverbs 21:1 says "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever He will."  When we let God control our heart, he brings us back into fellowship with him, and changes our perspective to his perspective.

I passed out blank index cards and asked everyone to write down the things that were keeping them from praying that "anything" prayer.  Not everyone wanted to share their thoughts, but there was some discussion that centered around fear, loneliness, loss of control. Can you relate?  

What would it take for you to let go of those things? 


Monday, May 4, 2015

"anything" - missing buttons/losing control

"We are supposed to want God all the time for everything and trust Him with every aspect of our lives.  We are also supposed to hand write thank-you notes and vote in local elections."

Let's face it.  We are "supposed" to do lots of things.  We are supposed to be good, love others, be beautiful and together, prompt, organized, genuine, on and on.  Praise God for giving us grace - but that doesn't mean everyone else does.  Jennie points out that when God gives us grace He takes something from us.  He takes our control.

Last night I listened as my daughter Meredyth gave her testimony in small group.  Her stories were my stories.  As tears ran down her face and I listened to her words, I relived every moment of her pain.  I thought of how much God had taught me since she was born.  Ah....my plan was to dress her in frilly dresses and big white bows and protect her from every hard thing.  I was single-minded in my pursuit of perfect motherhood.  I wanted absolutely none of the horrible things that I had endured to touch her in any way, and I never wanted her to feel the insecurity and helplessness that I felt.  

But...life doesn't work like that.  

If I had my way, Meredyth would have never felt a moment of pain in her life.  She would never have been broken and afraid.  I felt like I failed when I could not protect her from life, but God had a plan all along.  His plan is so much better than mine!  My role was not to protect her from all the hurt, it was to teach her who will heal those hurts, put her back together, and make her stronger.

What I see in her that I struggle to see in my own life is that the broken places are actually the beautiful ones.  As women, we are most beautiful when we are vulnerable and teachable. When we let go of control and fear, and trust God with our stuff, He gives us freedom.  What a trade!

"Freedom isn't found in rebelling or pretending.  Both places bind us tighter.  Freedom is found in a person who took care of the buttons we are missing, the places that are scarred in us and stolen from us......If I view God rightly, I run to Him the second any weight descends on my shoulders  He deals with it.  I go to Him broken, like the adulterous woman in the Bible, and he takes my hand and helps me up and says to me as He said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you, go and from now on sin now more.' (John 8:11)

And from the final page of the chapter:
"This is the gospel:
We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
And then God did what the law could not do.  He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.  (Romans 8:3 paraphrased)
Christ did what none of us, no matter how bright and shiny could do.
We get to be free."
Hallelujah.





Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"anything" - Clarity

Chapter 2 of "anything" is sub-titled: abandoning pretending".  What a concept.  As believers, we can come to a point of fatigue - fatigue that comes from striving for goodness.  We can think we are right, we are good enough, we are on-track.  We can hide our weaknesses and our struggles, thinking we should present a pretty package to the world.  It is exhausting!

Jennie talks about Adam and Eve's decision to choose evil, and their shame afterward.  They were without a church or Bibles to pressure them, yet their inclination was to hide and pretend.  Don't we also find comfort in hiding and pretending?  It seems safer to present ourselves as together and secure rather than humbly show the world our flaws.  As Jennie says:  "Humility is costly".

We like "good" people.  We like good children and good adults, and we find them acceptable.  But, Jesus went to people who were broken.  Broken people needed Him, and still do.

There is something really beautiful about a woman who is open and humble about her brokenness. We can let down our guard around someone like that, and just be who we really are.  What would it take for you to just relax and push away the pretense?  We can be women who are tender, and approachable, and openly broken.  When God is our refuge and our constant, it is safe to just be ourselves.  

Let's not wait for someone else to do it first.   Jennie wrote about a group of men who had been in prison. These men were open and vulnerable, and grateful.  She said it was as if "they had 'screwed up' written on their foreheads."  In small group, we talked about how people would react if we walked into church like that!  It might be scary, but it would also be liberating. Perhaps we won't write on our faces that we have "screwed up" and aren't perfect, but maybe we live in such a way that we are always ready to share our weaknesses.

 I think we can do that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"anything" - Risk

Our small group met Sunday for our first discussion of Jennie Allen's book "anything, the prayer that unlocked my God and my soul".  I was thrilled to hear that everyone loved the study so far and the message had really resonated with each of them.  I love these women, and I love their transparency. It isn't easy to be open, but they are willing.

We started by asking a question from chapter one:

"How do you give someone God?"  Jennie says her dad did his best to give her God, and as a parent, I can relate to that.  How desperately I wanted to give a relationship with Christ to my children, my family, my friends!  All we can really do is teach about God.  That isn't the same as knowing Him, is it?

"The only exercise that works 100 percent of the time to draw one close to the real God is risk......To risk is to willingly place your life in the hand of an unseen God and an unknown future, then to watch Him come through.  He starts to get real when you live like that."  (page 9)

Risk can be a scary thing.  It perhaps is most frightening if you are a woman - but I might be biased there.  We can love so many things more than our God: children, spouses, jobs, comfort, control.  We can spend lots of effort and time trying to protect these things.  Trying to reduce the risk.

Can you do it?  Can you pray that prayer from the introduction that Jennie prayed?  "God, we (I) will do anything.  Anything."  I asked that in class and got some honest answers.  Some said "No" and some said "Partially".  (which also means no)  What will you say?

Jennie says in chapter one: "I believed He was big enough to save me forever, but now I would have to grow to believe he was big enough to weave in and out of my every day leading me, changing me."

Let's believe like that.



Sunday, April 19, 2015

"anything"

It has been a while.

I don't write much any more.  Oh, I compose things in my mind, but they never really make it to paper or computer.  The longer the hiatus, the harder it is to begin.  There was a time when I swore I would never again write a single word.  

But, there is Katherine.  Katie is my sweet, precious niece.  I have started leading a small group of women at church, and Katherine wants to join us from another city.  I invited her to explore the "anything" book with us, and told her I would post our insights.

For our first meeting this evening, I am asking all the ladies to read through Chapter 1, ending on page 11.  Warning....this book is not lighthearted and fluffy!  We will be discussing what it means to pray the prayer:

 "God, I will do anything. Anything."  (and that is just from the introduction!)

I prayed something close to those words just over three years ago.  God turned my heart and soul upside down, and continues to do so on a regular basis.  

We meet in 2 hours, so stay tuned, Katherine!  I love you!