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.

The Day Love (almost) Didn’t Win

It is Saturday. Two thousand years and a day ago, an ordinary man was hung on a cross because of an extraordinary love. A man born to a young girl and her new husband, in a feeding trough far from home. A man who grew up with siblings, and never once made a mistake. One man, a carpenter by trade and sacrifice by calling, voluntarily took on undeserved mockery and shame as he suffered beating, whipping, public torture and humiliation. One of his best friends sold him out for 30 pieces of silver, and still another denied association three times. He went to trial for a crime he did not commit. In the tradition of Passover, a prisoner is set free; the members of his community voted to let Barabbas, a known murderer (Mark 15:7), go free, in place of a man who had done no wrong. He let the guards force a crown of thorns–not just little rosebush thorns, but big, long acacia thorns–on his head, mocking him, the King of kings. He was nailed to a cross, raw and splintering, through his wrists and feet–not by just any nail you might have lying around your garage, but a railroad spike driven through some of the most sensitive nerve centers in the body.He watched Roman guards gamble for his clothing. He hung there, bleeding and mourning for his people, calling out, ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’ Not only that, but as he hung there, he offered salvation to another man being crucified next to him (Luke 23:40-43). He hung there, suffering and in pain, and yet you and me were at the forefront of his mind. Every step of the way, Old Testament prophecy was being fulfilled, plain as day. Not a single bone was broken; all looked away from him after piercing his side and the pericardium around his heart. With his dying breath, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). At that moment, Christ had taken on the sins of mankind, past, present and future, and God turned his back on his own son. Clouds blocked the sunlight so severely that it was pitch black at midday. We know that the veil, the barrier between the Holy of Holies, God’s physical dwelling place within the Temple was torn completely in half–there was no longer a reason for the separation between God and his creation.

And then there was Saturday. Like any other Saturday, Jewish people woke up and went about their Sabbath day business of rest and worship. And while this next little bit isn’t in the Bible, this is how I imagine it went down:

Pontius Pilate: So that darkness yesterday was weird. Not really sure what happened at the Temple…but everything else is back to normal. Phew. Good call.

Pharisees: Haha that so-called ‘King of the Jews.’ What was that guy thinking? No really. How crazy do you have to be to let yourself be crucified for something so stupid?

Disciples: …is it possible we were wrong? We’ve seen him perform miracles, and I mean yeah some crazy stuff happened after Jesus died…but nothing?

The Enemy: HA take that Jesus! I told you we would win. I’ve got the people on my side. They killed your King.  Those people that you love so much–they love me more. They mocked and beat you! I win. There is the victory. There is the sting. Death is final. It’s permanent. There is nothing you can do now. I win.

For about a day and a half, it looked and felt like love had lost the battle. The disciples were in hiding, the Pharisees were smug and no longer felt threatened. Pilate made sure that Jesus’ tomb was sealed and heavily guarded so that no funny business could take place. In shock, the disciples literally could not even…but still they waited. They knew the prophecy said three days. The man they knew and loved and gave up their lives to follow had promised them three days. Patiently, anxiously, nervously, they waited.

An Ethiopian Endeavor: Part 3 // Set Apart

joey and isaacSide note: This is Isaac. He is a ten year old habesha (meaning Ethiopian native, etc.) boy in the city, and I love him dearly. I’m really bad at names, so I call kids ‘baby’ all the time. At first he hated it, but we eventually came to an understanding that I can call him my baby if he can call me Mommy. And thus, I have been dubbed the ‘American habesha mommy’ to sweet Baby Isaac and his close friends.

Ethiopia was an interesting trip. I learned a lot. About our God, about missions, about different team dynamics, about myself. I came home with two very important lessons burning a hole in my heart:

I am, in fact, set apart for life as a vocational missionary.

Not everyone with whom I travel with is.

In a previous post, I talked about the comfort I found in this last trip to Swaziland. Being at Njojane was like coming home from college for the summer.  I’m just as comfortable sitting on a bench in the feeding center as I am on my parents’ couch. Half my team to Swaziland, our team leader and family, has a permanent, lifelong heart for the people of Njojane, just like me.  Ethiopia was an entirely different ballgame. For the first time, I was in the minority of people who were diving headfirst into a brand new experience. Of the eleven team members, eight of them had been to Ethiopia with this group before; a ninth had at least been to Ethiopia with another organization. The tenth team member was the teenage daughter of #9; I was number eleven. I was the odd man out, without any friends or family members on the team, and without experience on my side.

I was the odd man out in another way as well: I am dedicating my life to wherever the Lord might send me, and I am therefore prepared for the things the mission field can throw at me. I’m not wowed or shocked by the same things that other people can be. Climbing into and bouncing around in the backseat of and old Land Cruiser has lost the luster the once had. I no longer ooo’d and aww’d over the food; Swazi food (and now shirowat) has become my comfort food of choice. I am comfortable with children I have never met pulling at my clothes, crawling up into my lap, giving me sloppy wet kisses, calling me mommy. The discomfort associated with carrying around a child who is bare-bottomed, wearing no pants, underpants or diaper, is completely neutralized, though abjectly avoided by most. The illusion of living the glamorous life of missionary has been shattered–I’ve been doing this long enough to know there is nothing glamorous about sticky fingers leaving fabric paint on my favorite skirt and having my hair pulled painfully tight in braids, dishing out three hundred bowls of sticky rice and beans without a single thank you.

As a sweeping generalization, parents in the third world (particularly in African nations) don’t love on their children in the way parents in the first world (particularly in western nations) love on theirs. Children are to be seen and not heard, and preferably not seen. In many cases, the announcement of a pregnancy or birth is not one that evokes congratulations or excitement, but solemn understanding. One more mouth to feed, one more mind to put through school, one more dowry to pay or spouse to support. There is no one cheering that child on while he or she struggles with reading or memorizing times tables or dealing with self esteem. I love getting to be that cheerleader, for however short a time. I love it so much that I requested to lead the large group time during the part of the trip spent in Amharic territory. I love it so much that I begged the translators to teach me the Amharic for a list of the daily affirmations I have seen, heard, and lead on Swazi care pointes, so that I could teach our kids. I am special. I am important. I am pretty. I am smart. I am loved. I matter.

There was one specific instance while in Ethiopia that I felt distinctly, definitely, irreparably the odd man out on my team. It was one afternoon after vacation bible school in Amharic territory, and we were circled around the dinner table, talking about the day. People were complaining about the kids’ relentless behavior each time we try to depart. I sat in stunned silence as my team members said the following things:

“They [the kids] don’t have to crowd around the care at the gate. They know we’re leaving, why don’t they let us leave?”

“I can only hug one person at a time. You need to back off.”

“I’ve already hugged you like five times, I don’t need any more.”

One of my very favorite things in the entire world is a giant hug from a group of kiddos at the end of the day as we’re leaving. You know, the kind where I’m walking with hands full of smaller hands. One kid comes up and wraps arms around me, and slowly more and more and more kids are wrapping their little arms around me and weighing me down and pushing me over. It thrills my heart to pass out kisses on the cheek or forehead to an endless line of kids desperate for affection, and to get down on my knees to look kids in the eyes when I tell them they are important, that they matter, to hug them one on one so they know I mean it. Do you know why? Because these kids, like all kids, need someone willing to get down on their level and tell them they matter, to take the time to kiss them on the forehead, to hug them one on one.

My heart was so deeply wounded to hear team members complain about children acting out to find the affection for which they are so desperately starved. Could they behave better? Yeah. Could they listen better when we say, that’s enough, we have to go? Sure. In my mind, I was instantly quoting Jesus–“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:14). So maybe it’s time to go, but what’s the rush? We’re on no strict schedule. The whole evening is composed of free time. We can spend a few extra minutes loving on kids in need. That is a need I feel, I understand, I can fill. It took everything in me as all members of the team chimed in with some sort of agreement to not scream at the top of my lungs. Don’t get me wrong, I love these people and the work they do. We are brothers and sisters in Christ…but nonetheless, I was livid. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been so angry. Are you kidding me? I thought to myself. Do you understand that this is the purpose behind our mission? It was because I love these people that I had to take a deep breath. Okay, a lot of deep breaths. I had to complete about fifteen minutes of deep breathing exercises in order to make sure I was really in control of my mouth before I felt calm enough to talk. Love is patient, love is kind, I thought to myself. It keeps no record of wrongs. Before I could say anything, I remembered a conversation I had with Jesus a few days prior:

“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” Galatians 1:15-16

God has set me apart and called me by his grace. If I’m going to preach his name, my words need to show him, not my humanness. My mind jumped to other places scripture talks about being set apart:

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'” Jeremiah 1:4-5

“Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Tremble and [in your anger] do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Psalms 4:2-4

I love when the word of the Lord resonates within me and my circumstances, not just in one place, but repeatedly. I have no authority to point a finger; I am not blameless. He knew I would encounter this conversation with my teammates, and he knew the anger that would burn inside of me, but that his divine love would overcome. I waited awhile to write this to let that anger dissipate, rather than have this piece be a lashing-out against my team. Now that I’ve given it time, I have found that I am no longer angry, but rather, I hurt for my teammates. They don’t get to experience the same kind of messy, dirty, smelly, sweaty, sticky, unadulterated joy in which I have been called to thrive, and that makes my heart so sad for them. This is a joy that forces my cup to overflow, overflow, overflow. It’s something I know deep down in my soul, that Christians are set apart from the world–it’s that whole ‘IN the world, not OF the world’ philosophy–but it occurred to me that I have forgotten that I am set apart from other Christians because I have been called differently than other Christians. The passage from Galatians specifies that God has set me apart, called me by his grace, and demands that I live a life worthy of the Lord and that calling (Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1). I have never been so happy to be the odd man out, because I was reminded that I was the odd man out for Christ. It’s a constant reminder that this fabulously unglamorous life I have been given is a rarity, and that I am blessed enough to live it.

An Ethiopian Endeavor: Part Two // Rest for the Weary

The first night we camped out in the village, I was dangling from an acacia tree in my little green hammock. Under my bug net, under my rain fly, in case the looming clouds decided to end their drought and pour out on us. After being awake for nearly 80 hours, I was exhausted and ready to pass out as soon as the sun went down. So there I was, dangling, my first time ever camping, totally unsure of what was to come in the following weeks. I managed to drift off to sleep in the middle of my nightly conversation with my Creator, despite the ambient sounds. You see, we were in a Muslim country during Ramadan–sleep all day while fasting, party all night with food and drink. I remember hearing the villagers laughing and cheering and chit chatting in an unfamiliar tongue before I fell asleep. A few hours later, I awoke to a silent village, and the sounds of footsteps on the compound. Not one set of footsteps, like a fellow camper getting up to use the facilities. Multiple footsteps, light and careful, but still crunching on the gravelly soil around our hammocks. I panicked. This is it, I thought seriously, not sarcastically. This is how I die. The words of Paul in his letter to the people of Phlippi ran through my mind:

I eagerly hope and expect that I will in no way be ashamed, but have sufficient courage so that now as always, Christ will 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]. (Philippians 1:20-21, emphasis mine)

Over and over and over, I prayed these words. I pleaded with God. To my own surprise, I was not pleading for my own life, but for the souls of those around me. I begged for the opportunity to explain why I would die for the cause of Christ. For the small chance that one of our captors might pick up the bible laying beside me in my hammock and read it, that just one of them might be changed by the willingness of my team members to lose their lives to advance the Kingdom. I found tears streaming down my face as I silently petitioned for the will of God to be done in that moment, regardless of the cost. I prayed and prayed and prayed for what seemed like a long time–probably no more than a half hour at most. I prayed until I noticed the absence of sound altogether. Cautiously, I unzipped my bug net. I pulled back my rain fly just enough to peak out at the compound. No more footsteps. No more strangers walking around on the compound. Nothing but two Land Cruisers and ten other hammocks swinging in the gentle breeze as dawn began to break on the horizon. I slid back down in my hammock and zipped my bug net and prayed tearful prayers of thanksgiving. I prayed until I fell back asleep, hard as a rock.

The next night, and each night for the following week, our team went to bed just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon. Just as I was on the cusp of falling asleep, an alarming announcement was made over a loudspeaker. An unfamiliar tongue was shouting things rhythmically–Arabic, to be exact. It was the first of five calls to prayer for the surrounding Muslim community. After a few seconds of initial shock, I gritted my teeth. That call to prayer felt like the Enemy staking his claim on the people of this village and it made me angryWho are you to claim these people? I found myself thinking. You are not their Creator. You are not their Sustainer. You are not their Protector. You can’t claim them. There is too much going on. We’ve built a school. We are building a special needs center. Our God has promised that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, and there is nothing you can do about it. And so I closed my eyes and began to pray. and pray. and pray. If the Enemy thinks he can conquer these people with five calls to prayer, fine. I’ll fight fire with holy fire. I’ll have five calls to prayer of my own. Each night, there are five calls to prayer that wake me from a dead sleep, and so I will cover these people in prayer. In addition to the calls to prayer, some sort of sermon [for lack of knowing what to call it] was given over the loudspeaker as well. It lasted maybe 12-15 minutes, in a language I cannot understand, and I did everything I could to counteract whatever instruction was being given. I prayed, I recited scripture, hummed worship songs. Every night for the duration of our stay, I was awakened six times and I decided to fight the Enemy on his terms. We went on a prayer walk at the site of our new special needs facility. Rather than walking around the site, I settled under the shade of an acacia tree and assumed the prayer position used during the Muslim call to prayer. Knees on the ground, face in the dirt, arms extended. Body bowed before the one true God in absolute submission. and I prayed. I got eaten alive by who knows what kind of bugs. We had thirty minutes to pray, and for thirty minutes, I sat in the dirt and thorns begging Christ to be undeniably present in this place. I don’t regret it a bit.

I didn’t sleep well in Ethiopia. Even after we left the village and returned to the city to stay in a hotel, I had trouble sleeping. Though I could not hear a call to prayer over a loudspeaker, I still awoke five times a night and prayed for the people of the village and of the city, until I could fall back asleep. Here’s what is so interesting: each morning, I awoke, and I felt rested. I was ready to tackle another day. Yes, I will admit, that shortly after waking, I did partake of the best coffee I have ever had, but I am sure that my alertness and readiness for the day had less to do with caffeine intake and more to do with the restoration found in Christ. Over and over, Scripture promises such:

“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'” Matthew 11:28

“But those who call upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when we has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

Prayer becomes extremely unnerving when you take it out of your familiar context and pray in such a way that makes you uncomfortable. I recently found the following quote:

God invites us to pray in such a way that it scares what is scared within us. If you are not praying the type of prayers that scare you, they are certainly not frightening our enemy. –Lisa Bevere

This quote struck a chord within me, because this is exactly what I was doing in Ethiopia. I can honestly say I have never been so frightened by the prayers I was praying. They didn’t make sense. I was not praying for selfish provision or needs; I was praying that my death might be used to glorify God by changing the lives of my potential captors. I was praying prayers of conquering over an enemy, who is counting his chicks before they’ve hatched. I was praying in the manner of those who worship a false God for the purpose of overcoming. Prayer should be taken out of a familiar context more frequently. So frequently, in fact, that a ‘familiar context’ does not exist. The way in which we pray should constantly push us to the limitations we think we have, and turn them over to a God who has none (AW Tozer).

An Ethiopian Endeavor: Part One

The tallest mountain in Ethiopia--right around 11,000 feet!

The tallest mountain in Ethiopia–right around 11,000 feet!

I recently returned from my first trip to Ethiopia, and I have been wrestling with the experience. Just about every aspect of the trip conflicted with previously held standards, opinions, and methods of ministry. It was uncomfortable, and for me to claim discomfort…well, then it’s real.

I don’t mean uncomfortable in the way you might think. Yes, I slept outside, dangling from the branches of an acacia tree in my little green hammock (which was really much better than it sounds, after the first sleepless night. more on that later). Yes, I learned how to poop on the backside of the building (while making eye contact with nationals, I might add). Yes, I ate more goat than any one human should ever eat in a lifetime (to answer your question, it’s like eating cheap, slightly overcooked beef). Yes, I dealt with the stigma of being a ferengi, a foreigner, an outsider, and the ensuing scrutiny by tribal leaders. So maybe those things weren’t the most comfortable aspects of the trip, but they were nothing in comparison to what made me the most uncomfortable:

I couldn’t identify with my Creator.

For most of the trip, I couldn’t speak the name of Christ; I could not read my bible openly; I could not sing any of the many children’s songs I know because of their spiritual content. I could not lead worship. I had to make sure my tattoos, all of which relate back to Christ, stayed covered. I couldn’t live out loud the way I am used to, or be myself “in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:13, MSG). I had been warned that we would have to censor some of our ministry…I guess I didn’t understand that we would have to censor our entire ministry not only for our safety, but for the safety of the children with whom we would be spending our time. I don’t think I have to mention the fact that, if it were only my safety in jeopardy, I wouldn’t have censored a dang thing. The Gospel would have been proclaimed far and wide at the top of my lungs…but, since the lives of innocent children were at stake, I gritted my teeth. clenched my fists. and loved with open arms. I taught English–the parts of the body, various animals (taught by playing charades! so fun), articles of clothing, the literal way in which light pierces the darkness of this world. We taught songs, we played soccer and dodgeball, we painted a giant picture on a canvas drop cloth.

The language barrier was far greater with the tribal kids than I’ve previously experienced with the kids at Njojane, so fortunately for me, I didn’t have to answer questions like, “Why are you here?”…however, it was still incredibly painful to see beautiful smiling faces and squeeze tiny hands and hug malnourished bodies without being able to whisper in waiting ears that Master of the universe, the Creator of the world loves you so very much. Unfortunately, upon my return, I cannot give specifics about the tribal area in which we worked; I cannot post pictures of the children’s faces due to the unique bone structure of the tribe…doing so would give away the location of our ministry and put the safety of the children in jeopardy.

Never in my life have I had to keep quiet about my faith. Sure, as a child and early pre-teen, I was not so boisterous and boastful about the grace and mercy I’ve received at the hands of my Father; in fact, if you told little Joey that I would one day be traveling all over the world to preach the Gospel, I would have laughed in your face. Since my initial collision with Christ, I have found the strength to boast in my weakness and I can’t stop. While I was in Ethiopia, I discovered that not only can I not stop, but I don’t want to stop…but more on that next time.

The Interim

I have been struggling through the aftermath of this year’s Swazi experience. It was much different for me than previous trips; living arrangements were different, the people were different, my expectations were different. With very limited access to the internet and longer work days, I was unable to write much of anything worth writing. I have pieced together a collection of anecdotes detailing some of the individual experiences, to be posted in a few days. I’m still mulling everything over, trying to glean as much information as I can from this trip before I am too far removed.

One note of concern I had early on in the trip was my lack of emotional response (aside from a handful of small experiences to be shared later). The shock factor of the various care points has worn off; I didn’t feel the same stretch and pull or the nudging of the Holy Spirit that instills growth and reveals the lessons that God has prepared for me. I’ve been patient. I patiently waited out the 355 days in between trips. I patiently waited in line for airport security. I sat patiently through the 16 hour flight and the 6 hour drive to Mbabane. I waited patiently through the first morning at Njojane, playing with the preschoolers, helping dish the meals, singing songs…all while waiting patiently for my babies to get back from school. Finally, I saw Tengetile coming over the hill, dragging a piece of firewood behind her–kids eat for free as long as they bring a stick to keep the cooking fire burning, that’s the deal–as she approached the stick pile, we made eye contact. She dropped her stick and ran full speed at me. I picked her up and hugged her…but there was no spark. Even when Khetokuhle got to the care pointe and sought me out, it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.

I wrestled with this for the first few days. It took some thinking and praying and talking to my team leader, a 4-trip veteran, to realize why I wasn’t experiencing an emotional response:

I am home.

Home is a place where you are welcomed and comfortable. It’s warm and there is lots of hugs and laughter. Home is where you’re feet feel happy upon the familiar ground, there are games to be played and stories told. Its a place where no one is afraid to be himself or herself, where bellies can be filled and spirits lifted. Home is where the language of love is spoken, through smiles and hands held. It’s a resting place, where you are comfortable in your own skin. I don’t get emotional when I come home at the end of a semester, because it’s home. Its a special place, but comfy. Familiar. It’s not exciting, but it is a place I belong.

I keep coming back to the word comfortable, which is funny to me. If you ask anyone that has ever been to Africa on a mission trip, they will tell you there is nothing comfortable about Africa. We are forced to grow in faith and in spirit, in strength and in courage because of the people we meet and the things that we see. There are too many heart wrenching sights to grow comfortable in a place like Swaziland, but nonetheless, I feel comfortable. There is nothing comfortable about carrying around two toddlers while others pull at your arms and legs. There is nothing comfortable about bouncing around in the backseat of a khombi on dirt roads, hitting potholes the size of a small sedan. There is nothing comfortable about sending children home loaded down with a backpack full of the bare necessities, hoping an older child or adult won’t rob her of your gift on the walk home. There is nothing comfortable about watching your sponsor children sob at the sight of the khombi pulling out of the care pointe for the last time. These things are excruciatingly painful, both physically and emotionally, but these are the things I am dedicating my life to so that some day, no one else will need to.

text message

This is the very greatest compliment I could receive. I got this text message yesterday from one of my very first babies–the young ladies in the small group I had the blessing to lead while I was in high school. She is now finishing up her freshman year of high school, and is making me so proud in everything she does. She is currently leading a group of third and fourth graders at summer camp, and this is what she shared with me. I can’t think of a single third or fourth grader I know, but somehow, he knows me and my heart well enough to identify the Guatemalan equivalent of me. My cup and my heart are so overflowing.

5 days, 14 hours until Ethiopia.

2 Days // I didn’t ask for this.

My trip has been 100% covered in your contributions, and for that I am so, so grateful.

In the interest of transparency: I didn’t ask for this.

Just like the human body, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 tells us that each part of the body of Christ has its own unique purpose, different gifts and talents and abilities in order to complete the mission for which it has been appointed to do. One body part cannot function without those around it, and without one part, the whole body cannot complete its mission.

There are some days where I look at this earthly body of mine and think to myself, wow. I am uniquely qualified for the assignment I have been given. More often than not, however, I look at this body of mine and think to myself, I did not ask for this body of mine.

I did not ask for a mind that keeps me awake at night, trying to think of ways to logistically house and feed every orphan in Swaziland. (I mean, come on, the military can house and feed hundreds of thousands, why can’t I?)

I did not ask for eyes that are drawn to the outcasts, the lonely, the ones most in need of attention and affection.

I did not ask for eyelids, the inside of which are indelibly inked with the images of painfully beautiful moments with my babies.

I did not ask for ears to which the sound of children is like the most beautiful of songs, ears that hear the cry of one child over the laughs and cheers of others.

I did not ask to find my heart walking around outside my body (click here) so, so far away.; a heart that is broken over watching these sweet babies fend for themselves, and grow up feeling unloved by parents, siblings, their Creator.

I did not ask for an immune system that might kill me in the US, but save me in a third world country.

I did not ask for a voice that does not shake when asked to speak in front of large crowds.

I did not ask for arms that can rock colicky infants to sleep.

I did not ask for hands large enough to hold that of three or four children at once, because there is a shortage of such.

I did not ask for fingers that could pluck guitar strings and teach children to sing of the Happy Day when Christ came alive.

I did not ask for a stomach strong enough to withstand the smell of un-bathed children, urine-soaked clothing, burning trash and feces.

I did not ask for long legs that can play soccer as easily as they can provide seats to two or three children at once.

I did not ask for feet that feel at home wrapped in canvas TOMS, stained red with Swazi soil, impervious to rocks, thorns and sticker plants. Feet that knew I was home the moment they touched Swazi soil.

I am clumsy and uncoordinated with these things that I have been given. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in what’s happening in front of me to see the ones most in need, or enjoy too much the sound of laughter to hear the cry of a child. Sometimes my heart aches more for my own circumstances, those that keep me up at night. Sometimes my immune system knocks me flat on my back (pun intended), and sometimes I can’t use my voice to speak up for my babies. Sometimes, my arms and legs and hands shake so much that I can’t hold a glass of water, let alone hold babies or play guitar. Sometimes, my feet get tired, and the Swazi soil washes away. Sometimes I forget the beauty of the sights, the strength of the smells, the depth of the feels.

It is on days like today that it is the very hardest to cling to the Cross, when I feel weak and powerless, undeserving of the gifts and talents I have been given in order to complete my mission as a part of the body of Christ. As a missionary, I have been warned that the enemy attacks when we are closest to Christ, when there is the most at stake, when we have the most to lose. It is in those moments that the enemy finds us the most vulnerable, because we never see it coming. Today is one of those days. I know the enemy is attacking, but knowing doesn’t make it easier to face. It is days like today that I think that this body of mine is more a burden than a blessing.

And then I remember: this body of mine is not mine.

I may not have asked for these things, but God did. Not only did he ask, he commanded them. He commanded ME. To go, to do, to love. To use this little ol’ speck of his great and mighty body to be a light in the darkness, so that his children might rejoin the Kingdom of Heaven.

On days like today, straight out of Ephesians, this is my prayer: that I might live a life worthy of this calling I have so graciously been given, even when—especially when—I fall short of the glory of God. So here I am. Lord, send me.

2 days, 14 hours, 21 minutes until I go.

Here I am, Lord. Send me.

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.

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.