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.

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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.

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.

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.