Reflections

March 4, 2019

Invisible People:  A Girl Named Alex

I can still picture her long brown hair, her hollow eyes, her drawn face, her crooked and already decaying teeth, and the dirt surrounding each of her fingernails.  Yet, when I looked at her I saw a beautiful young lady, created by God for so much more than she was experiencing.  She sat on the corner of South Audley street, across from the Mayfair library in London, perched on a piece of cardboard and covered with a dirty white(ish) blanket.  Her face was cast downward.  As people passed by, she would occasionally look up, hoping that someone would see her, possibly showing her compassion, giving her money or inviting her to work for wages.  As she looked up, there was a deep sadness in her eyes – a sense of knowing that to most people she was simply invisible.  They didn’t want to look at her.  Looking at her would create this awkward clash with the reality that there are so many people on the earth facing hardships that we cannot begin to understand and that we do not have the ability to easily help.  It would cause them to struggle with the idea that there were hurting and lonely people out there, needing to be seen, needing to be loved……and that may come with inconvenience, interruption to plans, or an unforeseen cost.  And honestly, I think some people were simply afraid to look at her, not knowing whether she meant them harm or was on drugs, or any number of other fears that war against compassion.  The world today is a scary place and we often don’t know how to respond to this.

As we walked past, my heart ached because I knew I didn’t have anything to give her at the moment. My “go-to” in the US is to carry blessing bags or gift cards for food that I can give to people as the need arises.  This addresses the “fear” that by helping someone out, we might be giving them money that would be used for drugs or alcohol, perpetuating potential issues.  (I know, that’s controlling….but it’s  a way that allows me the freedom to engage without fearing that I’m adding to the problem.) Anyway, we were in London and I didn’t have anything prepared this time.  Regardless, I knew I needed to at least make eye contact and offer a smile, let the girl know she was not invisible – not to me, and not to God.  So I made eye contact, smiled and walked past her on to the next shop.  But I couldn’t shake her image from my mind, so I got a little cash and headed back to sit and listen to her story.

As I approached, she looked at me timidly, wondering what I was doing.  I started to sit on the ground next to her and she moved over and graciously offered me a section of her cardboard. I introduced myself and asked her name.  I think she was surprised and pleased, as a hesitant smile came upon her face.  We sat and talked for a while.  She was hungry for companionship.  I asked her about her life and how she came to be in this spot at such a young age.  Sweetly, she opened up and told me her story.  I really have no way of knowing how much of it is true, but that doesn’t matter to me so much as giving her a chance to sit with a “friend” who is interested, even for a few moments.

Her name is Alex.  She is 21 years old.  Twenty- one…..my oldest son is almost 21 now.  Yet her 21 years of life have been much different than his.  She grew up in Serbia, but her family was too poor to care for her amidst all of the conflict and poverty in her country.  As many Serbian families have done, her parents gave her up in hopes that someone else could better care for her.  She was placed in an orphanage along with other refugees and had her basic needs taken care of.  Until she “aged out.”  Aging out is a funny thing.  It makes perfect sense that at some point these children need to be able to care for and provide for themselves.  Yet, there often exists some gap or break in the system that doesn’t always fully prepare them for what this looks like.  From my limited knowledge, this seems to be a problem in the US as well.  In fact, in the US 20% of kids who age out of foster care (that’s one out of every five kids) instantly become homeless.

Anyway, back to Alex’s story.  Alex had just recently “aged out” of the home she was in.  I don’t fully understand how or why, but upon her release from the group home, she didn’t have the proper paperwork to obtain a bank account and a regular job.  She was pleased when she found an employer who would pay her cash for her work.  For two months, she worked for him under this arrangement, but when the paperwork still had not come through,  he had to let her go. From that point forward, she was on the streets, begging for money or work.  She told me what a hard worker she was and how she willingly did all kinds of cleaning jobs for people when they offered.  She felt good about being able to do this well.  All I could think about is how likely she was to be picked up by a sex-trafficker and drawn into a life she never wanted.  Young ladies like Alex are the perfect targets for these predators and it broke my heart that she had to face this reality and risk daily on the streets.  The mother in me couldn’t help but warn her to beware of anyone promising her reward for this lifestyle.

As we talked, she shared about how some days she would have money to stay in a shelter.   Other days she would have money,  but the shelters would be full. And then there were days she would have no money and simply stay on the streets.  I asked about her parents, if she ever heard from them or tried to contact them.  Like so many refugee children, she had no idea if they were even alive.  She was truly alone in this world. And this was her “normal.”

Even amidst all of this, she seemed to have a glimmer of hope. In one month, if all went well, she would have her paperwork in place to get assistance and to work.  In her own words, “there are many people much worse off than me.  I am young.  I have my health.  I am able to work.  I know there is more for me out there.  I know it.”  I shared with her how God loves her and has so much more for her life.  We prayed together, for her safety and provision…and for her to experience God’s protection and love.

Her image is engrained on my heart and mind forever.  Across the street from where she sat is a beautiful courtyard and church.  Inside that church is the most beautiful sculpture named “Homeless Jesus.”  It is a sculpture of a hooded man lying on a bench.  You cannot see His face, but His feet have crucifixion scars on them.  They are the feet of Jesus.  I am reminded of Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

 I don’t pretend to have all the political answers to such complicated things as homelessness, refugees, drugs, alcohol, etc.  But I can love.  I can share.  I can let people know they aren’t invisible.  I can take them to the feet of Jesus and let Him begin a healing work.  I can remember their names and pray for them often.  And I can write their stories  – the little that I know- so that others can get a window into their lives as well.  And maybe, just maybe, by understanding and seeing others journeys, we will gain a heart for who God created them to be and the world will be a better place.

 

 

February 22, 2019

Discipleship thoughts: Be Disciples, Make Disciples

Matthew 28: 19-20  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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 Many of us have heard this verse almost as often as we’ve heard John 3:16.  But have we really put it into action?  Discipleship seems like kind of an outdated word doesn’t it??  What does it really mean even?  In a practical sense, discipleship is  just learning to walk alongside someone through the good, the bad, and the ugly and to go hand in hand right back to God and His truth.  It’s a community approach to  pursuing God’s best for our lives and the lives of those around us.   Let’s face it though.  Discipleship can be messy, it’s inconvenient at times, and it requires commitment on both sides.  It also requires a level of authenticity and investment that many in our society shy away from. But Jesus, in all His wisdom, KNEW that discipleship is essential to growth and He trusted us with this responsibility!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the kind of Christian that simply checks a box on Sunday and doesn’t live life any differently than everyone else all week long.  I want to see people the way Jesus sees them and as the people He created them to be.  I want to love them with His heart, to have compassion whether it’s popular or not, to teach others the truths God is teaching me, and to learn from others who are also willing to spend time learning and being changed by God!   I want to spend time in His word and hear what He has to say about everything…and to obey it!  And I want to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit within me and manifesting itself to others through me.

This is where authentic community and discipleship come in.  True discipleship happens in smaller, intentional groups where we carve out time to invest in one another and seek God together.  We are called to make disciples, to walk alongside each other, discover the truths of God’s Word together, to contend for each other in prayer, and to spur each other onto the fullness of living a life in love with Jesus.  When we live in a world of true disciples rather than mere converts, we will see the world around us change.  People will love more boldly, give more freely, shower compassion on each other more selflessly.  People will reflect Jesus!!  And the world needs more of Jesus!

Challenge: Who are your “go to” people? Do you have a person or group of people in your life that you can process things with and that will lead you back to the heart of Jesus at every turn?  Are you taking time to also pour into others around you and lead them back to the feet of Jesus? Those relationships are so vitally important to our walks with God.  We are called to both BE DISCIPLES and to MAKE DISCIPLES.  If one of those key relationships is missing in your life, ask God to show you who He has for you to walk alongside….and then pursue it!!  It’s worth every minute!

 

 

February 7, 2019

House Ready; Heart Ready

 When I heard God telling me to get my house ready and get my heart ready, a flood of emotions filled me!  What does He have in store? I know change is on the horizon, and this is confirming that feeling/knowing.  But ready for what??? A thousand different scenarios played through my mind.  Could it be a move? Could it be opening our home and hearts to someone – a friend, a stranger, an orphan, or even a relative?  Or is it just a call to greater hospitality or hosting a move of God in our home???  I don’t know.  And I don’t have to know.  I just have to be obedient.  This I’ve learned many times along the way.  When I am obedient, He is faithful to complete His vision through me….and His vision is always better than I imagined!!  Ephesians 3:20 says , “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever, Amen!

Ok, so I have my marching orders….but what do I do to accomplish this “getting my house and heart ready”?  Well, I don’t exactly know so I’m writing about it all.  But one thing struck me today as I was cleaning.  How many times have I readied my house before??  I’m a neat freak who loves organization, so my house truly isn’t that messy compared to most.  Compared to most.  Did you hear that????  And that’s where the rub is.  How often do we compare our walks with God and our hearts to “most” rather than to God Himself?? Compared to most leads to pride.  Compared to most leaves no real room for humility.  And we learn over and over in the Bible the importance of humility in becoming more Christlikeness.  Hmmm.  Compared to most has to come off the table.  Compared to God…that needs to be my standard. His Holy Spirit resides in me and is constantly at work forming me in His likeness.  I just need to cooperate. And by cooperate, I mean listen and obey.  James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

I. for one, can tell you that a million times over I’ve gone through my house in various seasons, cleaning out closets, scrubbing walls, and floors, emptying the refrigerators and closets of things that don’t belong.  So then why doesn’t it stay that way??  Life happens along the way.  A piece of clothing is tossed on the floor, someone enters a door with dirty hands or feet and leaves a mark.  Unattended to, these marks can begin to collect more dirt and dust, the fingerprints left  behind, mar an otherwise clean wall, the clothes left out of place leave a stench behind. In fact, without daily attention, everyday life can simply leave what was once beautiful and pure just a little “less than.”

As I’m using the magic eraser once again on the same door I always use it on, I’m struck with the similarities between our houses and our hearts.   How long does it take for the marks left behind (by sin, by culture, or even by other people) to finally become noticeable enough to us or to others for us to give them the proper attention they need to be cleaned out??  I was reminded of a wonderful story the other day of a group of friends that so desired their comrade to be healed by Jesus that they dug a hole in the roof of a house and lowered him down to Jesus on a mat just so they could reach him and be healed.  (You can read this whole story in Mark 2) These friends easily recognized their friend’s need to be physically healed, but didn’t immediately realize that the greatest healing their friend needed was forgiveness of his sins. How often do we easily recognize our own “perceived needs” and readily pray for those to be met, forgetting that the greatest need we have from God is forgiveness.  And we have a God who is truly the “magic eraser of all erasers”, never hesitating to offer forgiveness and completely purify every blemish and sin we have!!

So, I’m back at “Get your heart ready, get your house ready.”  I still don’t know what’s on the horizon.   But I trust God enough to say whatever this adventure is, I’m all in.  So I’m getting my house ready and my heart ready.

God, do whatever it takes to make me a dwelling place for you.  Show me the marks that need cleaning and let’s do this thing.

 “And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” Ephesians 2:2 .

 

 

January 18, 2019

Beyond Exhausted: The Beauty of Friendship (preface)

Before you read this, I have to share how cool God is and how perfect His timing is…..I actually wrote this in May of 2017, but a precious friend reminded me of it today in a text.  Apparently, God had placed me on her heart and she wanted to share this note she found.  I had given it to the ladies in our group a couple of years ago! What she did NOT know was that as recent as yesterday, I was questioning God about whether He wants me to continue leading the ladies group that has been going now for over 7 years now with various people coming in and out.  I was feeling a bit weary and needed confirmation from Him that this was still His desire and plan…and not just mine. For the record, I asked Him for confirmation and not only did He have a friend send this to me, but He also had another friend text me the verse 1 Peter 5:2 – which was the exact verse He gave me the last time I considered taking a break from leading the group….and neither of them even knew I was questioning it. Once again, I am reminded that we simply need to ask God and He will give us clear and definitive answers. See Jeremiah 33:3! . Anyway, here’s the entry.  Enjoy!!

 

Beyond Exhausted: The Beauty of Friendship

How many times this morning did I debate whether or not to just cancel Bible Study with the ladies?  Maybe go for a walk on the beach with my hubby, do yard word, go shopping – just have a day “free of responsibility”.  But nagging in the back of my mind was this sense that there was something more that needed to be shared today. Something God wanted to speak.  Even though I may be feeling a little empty today, a ‘”knowing sense” was present that God had no intention of leaving me feeling empty….He wanted to speak.  He wanted to bring life.  He wanted to refuel, to refresh, to inspire, to remind me of His calling, of His purposes, of His tender love and compassion.  And He wanted to invite me to be a part of all of that today. And so, I pushed aside the thoughts of abandoning our group time this morning and sat down for some time alone with God, desiring to tune in to whatever He wanted to say.

And then I got this text from a friend, “Praying the ladies are full of stories and life this morning because I am beyond exhausted.”  And there it is.  The beauty of friendship centered on the heart of God.  Proverbs 27:17  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  Oh how we need each other in this journey.  And how wonderful that we have a God who not only knows this, but designed it!!  You see, something special happens when we share authentic community based on Christ’s love.  Our focus shifts off of ourselves and our struggles, busyness, demands, our desires, etc.  We come back together and focus on HIM – on His bigger purposes, His calling on our lives, the ministry He has entrusted us with, and the blessing of walking side by side, hand in hand with the Creator of the world and the lover of our souls.  We worship together.  We pray together.  We borrow each other’s faith, because sometimes our own is wearing thin.  And then we watch as a beautiful thing happens.  Christ pours out His presence through the very people that, truth be told, we might have considered avoiding that day just because we were beyond exhausted.

Today, God, I thank you for the friendships you specifically chose to place in my life.  I thank you for growing each of these ladies, for their hearts for you, for the way you desire to speak and move in each of their lives, for the ripple effects that their faith and their walks are having on those around them, for the children they are raising up to have a heart for you and your purposes, for the laughter you bless us with when we are together, for the way you perfectly encourage us through each other, and for the way you equip us to truly love one another.  We often hear friendships compared to gold…..not mine!  Mine are made of IRON and I couldn’t be more grateful!

Invitation:  If you are looking for a group of “iron-sharpens-iron” friends and hunger for getting to know God better, or even simply want to come see what the big deal is, YOU ARE INVITED.  Our Wednesday Warriors meet weekly at my house at 9:00.  Our circle is ever changing and growing, but we will stand arm in arm beside each other, encourage one another, and keep  bringing each other back to the feet of God:-)!  Feel free to join us!

 

 

 

 

August 22, 2019 (I actually wrote this several weeks ago, but it goes well with the Idol study, so I’m posting it today!)

Convenience, comfort and procrastination – yikes!!

Isaiah 30:21-23   Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying “This is the way, walk in it.”  Then you will desolate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you.”  He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground and the food that comes form the land will be rich and plentiful.  In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows.

This one may be a little rough and unrefined, but I’m writing out of obedience right now and trusting His words to flow.  It’s been an interesting past few days…..the basement flooded (for the second time in a few months) and ruined nearly everything down there.  On the positive side, other than our old yearbooks, nothing of great sentimental value was lost.    But there was loss – significant loss.  Not so much for us as for others.  And our procrastination caused that.  You see, when it comes to idols, they come in all forms.  They are sometimes blatantly obvious and easy to see the fault in.  Yet other times they are more easily disguised and we don’t really know we’ve got them until something happens or we ask God to reveal them.  Well, this is where we sat and what was really at the root of the events of the past few days.

I guess I should back up to tell you the whole story.  I do love how God speaks.  I’m one who loves to hear His voice and His direction.  I eagerly sit at His feet daily waiting to hear His voice, His instruction for the day.  Sometimes, I immediately put it into action and oh how wonderful it is to see His hand at work and the blessings of obedience unfold.  But then there are those other times.  You know, the times I hear a word that challenges me or that I even recognize as a great thing, yet I tuck it away in my journal on a “to do” list that never really gets addressed.  My intentions really are to obey.  I mean, how many times has He told me that delayed obedience is disobedience????  But I go on about my day, not giving the instruction quite the weight He intended….therefore being disobedient.  And this is where I find one of the many idols that I have placed above God.  Convenience and comfort!  Yep, that may not sound like something you typically think of when you think of idols.  But God showed me in a very tangible way this week just how much of an idol this is in our household.

You see, there are phrases He has spoken to me that I hold dear (at least I say I do)….heart ready, house ready; go up, bring down, and build;  spend yourself on the hungry.  And so many specific instructions have been given me over the past couple of years in regards to these.  One of these specific instructions was to clean out our basement.  We have years worth of blessings down there that are not being used – old coats, clothing, furniture, household items, etc that have simply been collecting dust when someone else could be using them.  We do take clothes to goodwill or planet aid every few months, we have had a few garage sales in the past (NOT my favorite!), and we try to weed things out.  But in reality, when you have lived in the same house for 10 years, you accumulate a lot of stuff without even realizing it.

God laid on our hearts ideas for the re-homing the stuff – a “charity” garage sale where the proceeds were donated to a mission trip, taking the items to Salvation Army or another place that would benefit, simply having friends who might be able to use the stuff come choose things and take them, etc.  Typical of us, we started the project but never finished it.  We even went as far as to organize it all on one side of the basement, ready for a convenient day to do something with it.  And months passed.  The time was never quite right, weather wasn’t good for a garage sale, we didn’t want to put the effort into e-baying it, always talked about taking loads to Goodwill or something – but it didn’t quite fit into our schedules.

You would think that means our schedules are super busy.  But they aren’t realistically.  We have a lot of margin.  The truth is that we love to fill our margin with things that are fun, convenient and comfortable – not really things that take a little elbow grease and hard work.  In fact, we tend to hire out a lot of those sort of things in the name of convenience/comfort.  Now, I’m not saying anything is wrong with hiring things out, but the real problem here comes in the fact that God had given us specific instruction and we had other things we wanted to do so we procrastinated.  And like I said, He had already told me that delayed obedience is disobedience.

So there’s the background for this particular insight.  And here’s the reality.  God called us to clean out our basement and share it with others in need.  We delayed in carrying this out. A few months ago, we had some flooding in the basement that ruined a few things and reminded  us that we need to get these things out before they are ruined.  We did what we had to do to clean up and then did nothing more.  Without realizing it, at that point mold started to grow on some things.  Funny how that happens – the smallest amount of moisture that isn’t supposed to be there can suddenly grow and destroy what was once beautiful if not caught and treated right away.  But that’s a blog for another day.   Anyway, fast forward past a few months of delayed obedience and we once again find ourselves with a basement full of water.  This time it has so saturated everything that the entire basement needs to be cleaned out and thrown away.  Thrown away.  Yep, our delayed obedience just cost so many people the blessing of perfectly good furniture, clothing, coats, household items, etc.  And it now cost us additional money to remediate the problem.  So must waste and destruction that easily could have been avoided.

And why did we delay???? Convenience, comfort, spending time on things that are much more fun and enjoyable than digging in and doing the work.  Things that even look noble on the surface, except that they are taking precedence over what God told us to do.  And therein lies the IDOL.  We put our convenience and comfort over His command.  And our disobedience ultimately led to destruction and loss.

Funny….God actually warns us of this throughout the Bible.  In fact, as I’ve begun studying about idols, that is really what I see everywhere!!!  God’s desire is for our whole heart.  He wants so much more for us and He knows the exact things we need to do in order to experience the abundance He has for us.  Yet too often, we think we know better or  simply push His instruction aside until it is convenient and comfortable.   By delaying, we become disobedient and make our own plans an idol.  And God does not take idolatry lightly!! (Check out Jeremiah 44 as one of many examples.)

But there is good news!!  We have a loving and merciful God who is always waiting for us to turn around  and choose Him!  As soon as He reveals an idol in our hearts, He is also standing there with open arms saying “What about now? Now will you let me circumcise your heart and rid you of that idol?” You see, we don’t rid ourselves of anything – if we try, we will fail.  Yet when we fully submit our heart to His leading, this is when He can have His way and He will lead us into actions that will ultimately remove the idol.  (Isaiah 30:21-23).  One step at a time, working in and through us as we abide, obey, love, repeat.

So how did this play out in our flood.  Well, I can only tell you the first few steps so far but they are good.  As I sat at His feet yesterday morning, I asked Him what He had to say about the flood and how we were to approach the clean up.  Of course, with our idol of convenience and comfort, our first inclination was to hire someone to do the work for us.  Yet, He clearly revealed this wasn’t His plan and proceeded to show us that the right choice was to simply order a dumpster and dig in and do the work – still costly, but not as costly as hiring it out.  He blessed us with friends to help, able bodies to carry out the work, and had already given Dan a half day off which we were able to use to clean up.  (Side note, we had planned a fun date day – switched it to a work filled afternoon and followed by an evening date….obedience first, then relaxation and fun – we are learning!)  Step by step we will listen and do what He says to do in order to put this particular idol to death.  It will take effort and obedience, but ultimately will result in greater reward for us and those around us.

 

 

August 16, 2018

All In

Mark 12:30  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment.

What do you see? What do you see?  These words echo in my heart as I’m drawn to walk along the oceanfront and simply open my eyes.  As I turn, the first thing I see is a man lying still against the wall, sound asleep.  Has he been there all night? What is his story? Am I supposed to go speak to him, to share God’s love with him, to pray for him?  As I look more closely, I see a baseball cap placed carefully over his eyes – indicating to me that he has no desire to be disturbed.  And so I keep walking.  I turn back a little later, hoping maybe his position has changed and he will suddenly be open to conversation.  But it hasn’t.  And then I’m struck by watching the seagulls – dipping their feet, playing at the edge of the ocean, but too afraid of its power to go all the way in.  So many of them.  Just standing there at the edge of the water.  Feeding off the smallest scraps left by the roll of the waves – but never seeing all that lies within the ocean.  Then it hits me!  What do you see? What do you see? These images are for me!  Keep looking!!  A sweet older couple walks along the beach, smiling, enjoying their time together with their dog, listening to the waves roll, seeing the beauty, experiencing blessing just by their proximity – but not by fully engaging.  And then there’s the man walking along this beautiful beach, texting/emailing – maybe just playing on his phone, I’m really not sure.  But he’s so distracted that he’s missing the beauty of it all.  I want to go tell him.  But God stops me and simply asks again – what do you see?

I see people – people in all different stages.  Blinded and closed off – asleep to all you are doing God.  I see people dipping their feet in all you have for them, but afraid to experience the fullness of your power or possibly not even aware of it.  I see people walking along in life, enjoying the blessings completely unaware that the God of the universe created all this for them – oh how much more full their joy would be if they knew the source!!  And I see people so distracted by the “urgent” that they are missing the beauty of what’s right in front of them.

And then there are the waves.  There’s power in those waves. The waves rolling in one after the other.  Calling.  Inviting.  Beckoning.  Not slowing down just because some are oblivious to them.  They keep rolling in, inviting people to jump in and play, to enjoy their power, to enjoy being swept away, to enjoy the full life that exists there that so often goes unseen.

What do I see?  I see the opportunity to go all in – to play in the waves, to experience the fullness of His power in and through me. God is inviting me in.  He is inviting you in.  All in!!

Are you willing to go?