a body that quits & a God who doesn’t

I had a nice long post written under this same title, talking about how the enemy has a tendency to attack right before big things happen for the Kingdom: one of our sponsor children, a little boy we’ve met and invested in, has left our care pointe, and we won’t be seeing him again; I broke my tailbone the week before our wedding, and the 16-hour flight and dirt roads will not be kind to that injury; one team member’s father broke his back just a week before our departure; a missionary friend miscarried today; another team member lost a close friend today. A young boy was dragged into a lagoon by an alligator. More than 100 people were injured or killed in Orlando this weekend.

It was a beautiful post, and I spent a lot of time working on it. And while it’s the least of our problems, the post has simply vanished. I saved the draft multiple times, but there is no record of it anywhere on my computer. (the irony is not lost on me.) I’m choosing to look the other way–maybe Jesus is trying to humble me, or maybe what I was trying to say isn’t what needs to be heard. Instead of sharing my words with you, I will share someone else’s.

Today on the radio, the DJ shared a statement from Ann Voskamp:

The world needs prayer warriors who don’t see prayer as the least we can do, but as the most we can do.

I will sit here with a busted tailbone and eat my words and my humble pie as I ask for prayer for H and I, and really for our whole team. There are teenagers leaving home for the first time, and parents leaving small children behind. There is a young woman who recently got engaged. A newlywed couple, and a brand new husband who is getting ready to leave for boot camp. I am in the midst of a fibromyalgia flare up that meds can’t keep under control. And, with just 3 days until we depart for Swaziland, we still have a need to raise $1300. Our God is good, even when our circumstances are not, and we know that God will be glorified regardless of what is required of us. We kneel here and pray confidently and expectantly that God’s will be done by the time we get on a plane Saturday afternoon.

My body might want to quit, but my God never will.

9 Days // Like No Tomorrow

I leave for Swaziland in 9 days, 6 hours, 59 minutes.

Quiet time with Jesus is always an interesting thing for me because this is what tends to happen:

  1. I start reading a passage of scripture.
  2. Jesus verbally punches me in the face.
  3. I sit there in shock for a few minutes.
  4. I keep reading.
  5. Jesus shows back up and empowers me.

I wrote the other day about how James 4:3 hit me hard and called me out in sin. Today, as I flipped to the bookmarked page in my bible, I returned to continue reading James 4 when I stumbled upon verses 13-17:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and so this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

In my crazy semester at school, I was working in a sushi restaurant. There was one Saturday I worked a painfully long shift—10:30 am to about 12:30 the next morning. Fourteen hours on my feet on the busiest day of the restaurant week, and I was ready to go home. My last table of the night was a group of four gentlemen dressed like serious hoodlums—baggy jeans, South Pole and Baby Phat sweatshirts, flatbills, grills in their teeth—and my programs of study came up in conversation. I was able to explain how much I love Swaziland and my upcoming trips and the overwhelming need that exists. The following conversation went a lot like this:

Guy: Aren’t you scared you’re going to get killed or raped?

Me: No. I could just as easily get killed or raped here in the US, and I wouldn’t be impacting people in the same way on Christ’s behalf.

Guy: What happens if somebody walks in and holds a gun to your head and asks if you’re a Christian?

Me: I’d say yes.

Guy: What if it were right there in front of your thirty kids?

Me: You better believe I’d say yes.

The guys erupt into laughter of shock. “You’re crazy,” says one of them. “You can’t protect your kids or save babies if you’re dead. Why would you do that?”

Me: The best way I can protect anyone, especially my kids, is to shield them with Christ. Philippians 1:20-21 says, ‘I eagerly hope and expect that I will in no way be ashamed, but that Christ would be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death (NIV). Alive, I am Christ’s messenger. Dead, I am his bounty. Life versus more life? I can’t lose (MSG)!’

Guy: But why would you put your kids through watching their mom get shot?

Me: Because there is no greater example to set for my children. My job is to model the best example of Christ that I can for my kids, and really, for anyone I come in contact with. “There is no greater love than he who lays down his life for his friend.” I hope and pray that I was a good enough mother and leader to those kids that they understood that Christ-like love, and that those kids would follow suit and claim their faith in the face of danger.

I heard this somewhere, not sure where, awhile back and it changed my outlook on things:

The Jesus I know wants us to go dangerous places and love dangerous people and live our lives so dangerously for the Kingdom that we become a hazard to everyone around us who is trying to play it safe.

God has called people to dangerous places to do dangerous things almost exclusively throughout history. You have Abraham, who left behind everything and everyone he knew, simply because God asked him to. He was even willing to kill his own son to follow God’s command. There’s Jochebed, a Hebrew woman living in Egypt, who hid her newborn son from guards with orders to kill baby boys before floating him down the Nile in a basket—without her, we wouldn’t have had Moses, who liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. There’s Noah, who built a gigantic ark while being mocked and threatened by his community. There’s Mary, who bore the shame of pregnancy before marriage so that she might bear the Messiah. Paul, who spoke out on behalf of his encounter with God, knowing that he might lose his life. The disciples, who followed Jesus despite his reputation and seemingly heretical teachings. Rahab, who risked her life to harbor Israelite spies. Jonah, who [eventually] went to Ninevah to preach a warning over the people. Lot, who left behind everything he knew, and never looked back. Peter, who built the church despite persecution. There is Jesus, who came to earth knowing he would be mocked, ridiculed, abused, and killed, simply for proclaiming his title of King of king, Lord of lords, the Son of God.

Millions of people all over the world who hide their faith on a daily basis from family, friends, coworkers, neighbors…but would claim Christ, even in the face of danger. Especially in the face of danger.

Some of those millions of people are my brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. About a month ago, 30 of those brothers and sisters were taken from this world at the hands of ISIS, because they refused to deny Christ. They understood that tomorrow is never promised, and so they lived dangerously, by harboring a forbidden faith, a salvation relationship with Jesus so they might live their lives for their Creator in the way they are called.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

I have not been given long on this earth. None of us has. None of us has even been granted a tomorrow…so why do we waste our today trying to play it safe?

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and so this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

People ask me why I would go to a closed nation like Ethiopia, where my faith could sign my death sentence. The reason I am going is that I am not promised a tomorrow. I refuse to waste any more time by not doing exactly what God has called me to do. The reason I am going is that Matthew 28:19 calls us to make disciples of ALL nations…not just the easy ones. The reason I am going is the very fact that my faith in the Creator of the universe could sign my death sentence, and that is not okay.

It is the Lord’s will that I go; if I know that I should go to Ethiopia and then I don’t go, it is like telling God my safety is more important than His plan. His divine and perfect plan to save all of mankind—if I have any saving faith at all, how could I refuse to be part of that plan? If it is God’s plan for my life that I die for my faith, I will die for my faith at the appointed time, whether I am in Ethiopia or Swaziland or the US. If I know this to be true, how could I possibly turn God down?

17 Days // at the foot of the Cross

17 days. There are only 17 more days until I leave for Swaziland.

The word ‘transparency’ is a big church buzzword that has a tendency to get thrown around casually in conversation without, unfortunately, always being demonstrated or explained. People like me, meaning those of the Jesus generation who want more on Sunday morning than a mega-church with an awesome light show during worship, tend to shy away from this type of word. It is overused, and thus loses its meaning; however, there is something to be said about transparency in the proper use. When a person is transparent with another, he or she is giving full disclosure, typically about things done wrong, failures, shortcomings, etc., to another for the biblical purpose of confessing one’s sins to another, in order to be held accountable (yet another church buzzword) and continue to grow. In my opinion, it is one of the most crucial responsibilities of anyone who desires to work in ministry, whether voluntarily or vocationally, because it does more than keep us honest–it forces us to deal with our own mistakes and grow through them, while our coworkers do the same, so that we all grow together and there is no comparison of dirty laundry because everyone has it. This being said, I need to be transparent with you, to confess an area in which I fall short.

First, it is important you know that I am struggling to fundraise for my trips this summer. Ethiopia will be paid off after I transfer some money out of my savings account, but I still have a large sum to raise for Swaziland. Even after nearly 150 letters sent out, very little has come in. With only 17 days left until our team departs, I am getting very nervous.

I got up early this morning to take my younger sisters to get donuts before dropping them off at school. Afterwards, I came home and sat down at the kitchen table to work on a blog post for today and hit writer’s block. I decided to skip ahead to my pre-Swaziland mission devotional, a fantastic book by Jack Hempfling called, ‘Before You Go.’ I’ve read the book before, but we read it annually as a team, and today’s devotional hit me right between the eyes: today’s devo was entitled ‘Losing to God Will Help You Win,” paired with a passage from James 4. It is not a long chapter, so I pulled out my bible and read the passage in its full context. By verse 3, I felt as though I’d been slapped in the face.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Ouch. It stings to hear read such things, especially when you are hopeful of being filled up and encouraged. I read over Hempfling’s devo for the day, and sat back to think. Have I really been asking for financial provision with the right motives? In my heart, I want to answer yes, because the money I have been trying to raise is for a philanthropic purpose. It’s so I can go out into the world, to see my place, my people, my babies in Swaziland. .

Even as I type this now, I flinch. MY place. MY people. MY babies. I know that I am not the most humble person in the world; I think it may be a common misconception that missionaries don’t struggle with the same sins that everyone else deals with. After all, I take pride in the work that I do and the things I am passionate about, because God has gifted me in ways that call me and set me apart, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking pride in that. The problem comes when I am prideful in that. I have concentrated my focus far too much on the necessity of ME going to Swaziland, not the gift of GOING to Swaziland. I think back to last year’s trip, and realize that my pride got in the way then too. I was so excited that  got to go back, that I lost a small part of the joy that comes in serving. I took a step back to let others, those who had note been before, serve first, experience first, love first, which I thought was the right thing to do, seeing as how I have had the chance to experience this before; let the newbies do it. If they need help, I can step in like the pro that I am to bridge the gap. Only now am I realizing how wrong this thought process is.

It hurts my heart to think that I missed out on some of the joy, but, as much as it stings, I am glad God has called this to my attention now, rather than a month from now when it is too late. I refuse to let my pride get in the way of the joy God has in store for not only me, but my team as well. Instead, I will cling to the words of Paul, at the start of Ephesians 4.

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness.

So there you have it. I have removed the plank from my eye, confessed my sinful nature, admitted defeat. I ask for forgiveness from God and from you, for not properly conveying the joy that lies in a cheerful heart with the right motives. I am on my face at the foot of the Cross, praying that Christ might change my heart in order to prepare me for the experiences that lie in wait.

17 days. I go home in 17 days.

Day 1: Before I Go…

It’s today. So many feelings this morning. So many instances of nearly crying in the middle of church or driving home or talking to people, asking me how many hours until I leave, because they know I am keeping track.

I have eagerly been counting down the days since I last found myself in the Indianapolis airport. My mom came to pick me up, and she asked how my trip was and I broke down crying. The only words I could fathom were, I have to go back. I have to go back I have to go back I have to go backI am going back. It’s right now. This is happening. I am sitting in the Indianapolis airport waiting to board the first plane and it is taking everything in me to not jump up and down and yell “It’s today it’s today it’s today!”

Just this morning someone asked me if I was ever afraid to go. I have heard a lot of variations of this question: Isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t there disease? Isn’t it weird to have strange children crawling on you? Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable to be stared at because you’re white? Do they have real toilets or are you going to use squatty potties? What if they don’t like you?

Doesn’t it scare you?

The answer is yes. Yes, it scares me very much. It is terrifying to be so incredibly in love with something that I can’t get it off my mind and to know I am risking my life. It is terrifying to be so scared of this passion so deeply rooted in my heart because I don’t get scared of things. But I know that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is one of the most elemental truths of my entire life, and I am so, so grateful for this.

However: the people I am leaving behind don’t feel this. They can’t understand how fulfilling it is to rock a colicky baby to sleep while her mother cooks, or the overwhelming feeling of having kids fight over who gets to hold your hand while walking from place to place. They haven’t experienced this raw, unadulterated joy; they see only the risks. I have several friends and family members that adamantly oppose this trip and the plan to go back long term, and I can appreciate their opposition. It is out of genuine concern, and lack of understanding. It is for them I have these words:

“And I will be to her a wall of fire all around,” declares the Lord, “And I will be the glory in her midst.” Zechariah 2:5

“God is within her, she will not fail.” Psalm 46:5

I’m a little nervous to step on this plane, but I’m not afraid for myself. I know that I will be taken care of, that I will be safe, that everything that happens on this trip will be nothing short of God’s glory and his plan for my life.

Goodbye, America. See you later.

6 Days // The Week Of

I leave in 6 days. 1 hour. 3 minutes.

Yesterday was wonderful; I spent the whole day with my loving church family. Our team was invited onstage as part of the service to be prayed over. The small group of girls I lead threw a baby shower for a coleader’s first child…but before I even had a chance to go home, I found myself kneeling before a toilet bowl. Sick to my stomach. This can’t be happening.

6 days from this very moment, I will be sitting at the gate in the Indianapolis airport waiting to board an Atlanta bound airplane. I should be preparing for my trip. I should be doing laundry or packing, but instead, I have spent the better part of the last twenty-four hours passed out in bed because I am sick.

This is the struggle and frustration of immunodeficiency. I got sick two weeks ago too, and I finished a round of antibiotics two days ago. And boom. Nausea hits, headaches return, and I spend twenty two solid hours asleep.

I don’t know how this happens; I haven’t had an infusion in six weeks, so my immune system should be at its highest point right now. It’s frustrating to not be in control of my own health–I mean, I wash my hands. I carry hand sanitizer in my purse, cough into my elbow, avoid public restrooms, keep my distance from sick coworkers and friends and take vitamins and drink orange juice for crying out loud…

And yet, during the two hours in the middle of the night when I woke up hungry and nauseous and unable to sleep, I picked up our pre-mission trip devotional book and opened to Day 33: a whole message on spiritual warfare. I know my last post was about spiritual warfare, but I think the point of this is to drive home the fact that spiritual warfare is real and effective.

Spiritual warfare goes further than just illness. In two weeks, my trip account has not budged. I’m still only one-third of the way funded, and my prayer team has yet to materialize.

This is the last week before I leave. My last Monday before Swaziland. I should not be worrying about where the money will come from, who will be praying, or if I will pass sickness along to my sweet babies. I should be enjoying the anticipation. I will be spending this week eagerly doing some last minute shopping, packing my suitcases, praying endlessly because I know my God is bigger, greater, stronger than an empty bank account or stupid virus. And I know this because he tells me so:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11

“Do not worry or be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to the Lord. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And most importantly: “The gifts and calling of the Lord are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29

Listen up, spiritual adversaries: I’m a little bit too sassy and a lot too untamable and far too loved for this to keep me from doing the work God has laid out before me. Get on my level.

6 days. 20 minutes.

 

Update: I posted this 11 minutes ago…and I just received an email from our trip coordinator saying our accounts had been updated. You have helped me reach $1,675, which is just past the halfway mark. God is so good. Keep it coming.

Tonight

As I type, I am sitting on my kitchen floor, in front of our sliding glass door watching a thunderstorm. And I am crying.

I am crying, because I leave in 17 days, 15 hours and 47 minutes.

I am crying, because I am experiencing major writer’s block when it comes to the message I have been given the blessing and privilege  of delivering to the older students, parents, community members…anyone who will listen. I am crying, because this is all I want out of life.

I am crying, because the voice in my head is telling me I cannot do it, that I should tell our trip leader that I don’t feel comfortable doing this, that my message will be no good and no one will come and those that do will walk out saying, ‘What a waste of time.’

I have spoken in front of people before…but no more than seventy at a time. I have sung, alone, in front of hundreds of people. I have even gotten up on stage during chapel at my school, while the campus pastor told two-thirds of our student body my testimony. But teaching Swazis about their self-worth in their identity in Christ? This should not be difficult, but I am drawing utter blanks.

I have been told that if the church doors are open, the people will come. They will come and they will fill the seats. And the aisles. And the foyer. And they will be spilling out into the outside of the church. I know this, because I saw it happen a year ago. Even if only a few show up, I am a vessel for Christ. And thus: the pressure to be perfect sets in.

I paused to take a drink and I remembered that a friend of mine posts a piece of scripture as a Facebook status  a few days ago that I knew would be useful in terms of identity in Christ, so I went searching for it again. The loving words of my friend Sam, speaking not only to the Swazis but also to my heart tonight:

1 Corinthians 1:27- “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
He chose you. Stop saying that you’re not capable, because He makes you ready, and will prepare you. He has a plan for you.

And I am crying, because my God is so good. Even when I struggle, my cup overflows.

This post isn’t really going anywhere, and neither is my message, so I’m going to sign off for the night. Before I do so:

1. If you have any biblical input in terms of self-worth and/or identity in Christ, PLEASE comment below, email, text, call, tweet, etc. Clearly, I need help. If nothing else, please be praying for me specifically to speak light and truth into these lives.

2. A huge blessing has befallen me–my fundraising account has been enriched to reach $590 out of my $3,200 goal, which is incredible. If you are part of this, thank you thank you thank you. If you haven’t had a chance to donate, you can go to http://www.cpccweb.org/globalgiving to make an online contribution.

For your help and support, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I leave in 17 days, 15 hours and 6 minutes.

20 Days // Confirming the Call

Twenty. The big 2-0. The number of miles between my driveway and my parking spot at work; the number of hours I will spend in transit between the Indianapolis airport and Johannesburg. The number of sticky fingers and toes each of my sweet babies possesses; the number of days until I will be holding those sticky fingers. It is a number I can understand and wrap my brain around.  It’s beautiful and frightening, because this is really happening. I am really going back and soon and it’s making me nervous…which, to me, is the best and greatest indicator that this is what God wants me to do. Which leads me to something people ask me a lot: how do I know this is where I am called and what I am called to do? There is the obvious answer–the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19 where Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He’s pretty cut and dry–but why me, why Swaziland, why now, why kids, why Njojane? In all total, complete honesty, I have no idea why and I’m not going to pretend I know. All I know is that I am and this is how I know: The fact of the matter is that I am slightly crazy. The plan is to forfeit a life of comfort and luxury in the US to live in the bush country of Swaziland, where the most reliable variable in life is that nothing is reliable; to give up Dr. Pepper and weekly sushi runs with my best friend for Tang, pap and sour porridge; to trade everything and everyone I know for that which only God knows. Well before Africa was on my radar, someone told me “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” It has been proven over and over and over in the Bible–God continually calls people to leave behind what they know to follow him: Abraham and Sarah to venture into Canaan, Moses to liberate the Israelites, Peter to walk on the water, Paul to spread the Gospel all over the Roman Empire. But I don’t get scared about things. I don’t get test anxiety, I’m not afraid of needles or climbing tall ladders to change display case lightbulbs. I excel at killing bugs and speaking and singing in front of large groups of people. I’m not afraid of flying, nor do I get homesick, or really even miss the conveniences or luxuries the US has to offer; and yet, going to Africa a second time makes me nervous. I am anxious because I am well behind the mark on fundraising; I am nervous because I woke up two days ago with a horrendous sore throat, which means my immune system is bottoming out a mere three weeks before departure. I am fearful about the sermon I will be delivering to the older students and community members because what if it doesn’t reach them. I am terrified that I will fall even more in love, and that leaving Swaziland for the second time will be even more painful than the last. There is some beauty in this fear. I serve a great and mighty God who can (and does) make amazing things happen. I know financial provision will make itself evident, and my immune system will rebound–because I watched God make it happen last year right about this time. The little bit of nervousness that has burrowed itself deep in my heart is nothing short of confirmation that this is what I am called to do and nothing can stop me.

24 Days // What Will I Make?

I leave in 24 days. 2 hours. 14 minutes.

I had a job interview today, at a local clothing store. The interviewer asked me about what I’m studying at school, and what I want to do with my life. In case you haven’t noticed…it’s kinda my favorite thing to talk about. After I finished explaining, he looks quizzically at me and asked, “There’s a need and all, but why would you pick that? You seem smart. Why not choose to be a doctor or a lawyer? What are you going to make, anyways?”

This is a question I get a lot. I’m not sure why it struck me as it did today; it could be the condescending tone, or the lack of professionalism, I don’t really know. Needless to say, I was livid. I don’t think I have ever been so angry. I wanted to choke him and yell, “YOU ARE A MANAGER OF A TEEN CLOTHING STORE. DON’T JUDGE MY CAREER CHOICE.” right there in the break room, but because this was a job interview and not some televised fight, I couldn’t. Instead, I took a pause. And I thought about 1 Corinthians 12:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? (verses 12, 17-19)

Here is what I am NOT saying: my calling is better than yours.

Here is what I AM saying: my calling is just that–mine. It is personal, just as yours is personal. And whether you are called to missions, or being a manager of a clothing store, your calling is equally important to God’s plan as anyone else’s. Please friends, do not belittle the ambitions of others…especially with trivial questions like what will you make.

I took a deep breath. And I smiled. And I said, “I will make enough. Aren’t there more important things in life than money?”

He nodded in agreement and quickly moved on to the next question.

I thought about it through the whole interview and my whole drive home: What will I make? I thought about Winston Churchill’s famous words, “You make a living from what you get, but you make a life from what you give,” and I have decided that I have a whole mouthful for him, whether the Lord calls me to Africa permanently or keeps me stateside:

What will I make?

I will make kids feel loved. I can give hugs and kisses and smiles and kind words.

I will make my kids understand that there is a God who made them, who loves them, who died for them.

I will make my kids believe in themselves. I will give my kids a reason to believe they are worthy of being loved.

I will make parents and guardians believe in their kids. I will make my kids give others a reason to believe in them.

I can give the support and encouragement to make minor triumphs feel like winning an Olympic medal. I can make major obstacles feel like pebbles on the side of the road.

I will give my kids cause to think and question and wonder.

I can make kids believe they are part of something bigger than themselves. I hope and pray every day that I make myself an example of what it looks like to live a life that demands explanation. I can give them proof that if they love God with everything they are and everything they have, nothing is impossible.

I get to give my kids a chance.

If I am to be really honest, you (and just about everyone else in the developed world) will make more money than me. That’s okay, because I get to make something better:

I get to give everything I have for my whole life. I get to make a difference.

If that isn’t the best dang job in the whole world, I’m not sure what is.

 

I leave in 24 days. 1 hour. 46 minutes.