Buried Treasure

From my journal:

“I’m emotional. It’s only our first full day at the home and I’ve cried almost all day. I cried through my testimony with my team and every time I behold the girls in their beauty and innocence. I’m so grateful for Prince of Peace – for those who saw the need and fulfilled the vision.”

That first day we worked. We painted two rooms start to finish, and my friend Donna and I were assigned edge work, cutting in around corners, and carefully framing the ceiling. I don’t have to tell you that is HARD work, but I couldn’t have been happier. The girls would peak in and out and smile at us…that was a reward worth more than any check! To know that you are helping, to feel that as little as the task you are doing seems, it is one more thing to make their surroundings inviting and feel more like a home, even at the school! There is no menial task, no small service in the kingdom of God. Every contribution counts. But it’s more than a pat on the back that you did a good thing, it’s more than feeling good about yourself because you did good for others, it’s the understanding that all that you are doing isn’t in your name or the name of America or the name of your mission, it is all for the glory of God. With every brushstroke I felt His hand replace mine.

We were rewarded for our labor with an invitation to eat with the girls, in their homes. You’d have thought that we were invited to attend a banquet with the King, only it was a feast with His princesses. There were two houses to choose from, the two houses that house the younger girls. (The older girls are in independent living houses down the hill – This is where Lucy lived and about 20 other precious teens.) We chose the house that Ann and Yolanda were going to (two interns with the Go 2 Nations Mission – amazing girls that you will hear more about), selfishly because I knew that they would translate and I could watch them interact.

Of course, the minute we sat down to dinner, I cried. It was so much. The girls were chattering and talking and giggling and teasing, it felt like a family meal. It was. The Tia (or aunt and supervisor over the house) sat next to me. She smiled and watched their interactions, careful to rein them in if needed. But, it was loving, inviting and beautiful there. I smiled at her a lot and said “Gracias” and looked around us. I’m sure she knew that I wasn’t just grateful for the meal. She was a treasure. I wanted her to know that she was appreciated. Ann had told us that it is hard for them to keep good Tias. It requires them to leave their families and raise a house full of girls. It must be seen as a ministry or the ladies won’t be able to handle it and leave. This one woman had left for a while but felt so strongly that this was her calling that she came back. She saw them as her family.

One thing became more and more certain as we watched, joined, and understood their surroundings, they were loved and cared and provided for, perhaps the best that they had ever experienced in their lives, and they knew it. One little girl took me by the hand and with a grand gesture said, “Welcome our home!” And welcomed we were. Sarai entertained us by singing Justin Beiber and doing a break dance for the video that one of our team members, Christine, was making. We were trying not to laugh. She was intensely serious about her performance. 😉

I listened as Yolanda read “Aladdin” to the girls and then Donna and I sang “A whole new world” to them, mostly just to feel included. They were so polite listening as we sang, and they told Yolanda “They have pretty voices.” I felt like I had performed for the President and received a standing ovation! Their smiles were like roses thrown onto the stage. Bringing them delight was a blessing. We didn’t want the evening to end. We could have stayed and laughed and played with them all night, but they had school the next day and whether we liked it or not, our bodies were growing tired from the day’s work.

At some point during the visit, we were gifted. Christine was given a yellow rose – ironic since she is from Texas and one of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Then Velveth, a very quiet and sweet spirit came and placed something in my hand. It was a coin purse, a simple pink coin purse made of plastic, with a pirate face on the front. But, it was the words that caught the emotions in my throat and pushed them into my heart, “Buried Treasure.”

I was pierced. I felt God was sending me a message, “My love, these girls are MY buried treasures. Cast aside by everyone that SHOULD have cherished them, misused and abused by those that should have been the FIRST to show them love, discarded as a piece of plastic in a trash heap, but I have rescued them. I have brought them here to protect them and to treasure them for they are worth more than gold!”

The stars above winked at me in the night sky, and I felt the Father smile. The Lover of my soul, my First Love, had given me a most beautiful gift. Me, the girl that had chosen to stay away and let the girls be- not wanting to cause them any undue pain, He had arranged a date for us, and, Valentine’s Day was still a day away!

Tearing at the walls

Something happens when the God of the universe points out you’re living in a box. You notice it. Immediately it becomes tight and constrained and not nearly as comfortable as before. Claustrophobia kicks in and you find yourself wanting to tear off the sides and breathe! Only it’s not that easy. You not only see it surrounding you, but you see the boxes that others live in and you are desperate for them to be freed, also! But again, it’s not that easy. First, they have to see that they are in a box.

It was the second day, the first full day, in Guatemala and we were headed to church.. I don’t know what I expected, a church like the ones I have visited in Mexico and grew up attending in small country villages in Korea? But, the church we attended was huge! Mega.. To borrow a commonly used term. It seated thousands in an enclosed ampitheater, with engaging praise music, a huge information desk in the lobby, and familiar literature about what the church believes and what they have to offer all age groups of all kinds. It was a great place to get lost if you needed, a place where an orphan or cast-aside girl could blend in and maybe find a home.

I say that because we discovered on our bus ride that the girls hadn’t always gone to this church. They were once attending a church just outside the gates of their home which was far more convenient. Only, the church was not acting like the Body of Christ – they were discriminated against, not allowed to attend regular Sunday school, and consistently left out intentionally as if something was wrong with them – bearing the stigma of another person’s judgement cast in ignorance.
Looking around us, my two team partners and I found ourselves separated from our leaders, but we were in church and we saw one of the girls. She spotted us, smiled nervously, and apologized that she didn’t want to sit with us but with her friend that she only saw on Sunday (Please! I totally understood! We were there a week; this was her friend. No offense taken!).
I sat in my folding theater seat and took in my surroundings. I’m a watcher, an observer, I like to see where I am and absorb what I am experiencing. Again I heard the voice of God, “Look around at your family!” And, I did. I drank them in: families, children, men, women, girls, arms lifted up offering praise to my Daddy! Our Daddy! And I wondered, as I looked at their faces – some longing, some basking in His glow, others looking around them – “Do you see the box? Do you like it there? Are you content or tearing at it’s walls like me?”

After the service, we left, and I watched as families filed out, laughing, hugging, moms and dads and sons and daughters, sisters and brothers going home. I looked at the girls we were with.. Did that ever hurt? Did these glimpses of family sometimes feel like a stab in the heart that longs for that kind of connection and love? I knew it must. Maybe not for all of them, but no doubt most felt that pain. My compassion for them grew afresh, and whether or not I fully realized it, that was the moment I pulled back. My whole life I’d had people come in and out of my life and that had left bitter scars and pain and reluctance to trust. That was throughout decades, these little girls welcomed teams from America and beyond every week during the summer and often during the year! What scars might that leave, what issues would they later face? I decided I would love them and pray for them and serve them in anyway available or necessary, but I wouldn’t expect them to open their hearts to me, not again, not to a stranger, only to watch me walk away in 4 days. That wasn’t fair. I wanted to protect their little hearts.

We jumped back on the bus full of smiling faces, girls chattering and whispering, no doubt discussing life just like all teenagers and little girls the world over. I sat by Lucy – precious, beautiful Lucia whose smile and eyes twinkled with shy delight. “What’s your favorite color?” she asked. Strange. But then I understood, she was practicing her English. And the fleeting thought came, “When was the last time I answered that question?” I was stumped but she was waiting so I said, “Green.” She smiled; she agreed. I said, “There are so many shades!” I don’t know if she knew what I was saying but she nodded like she did. I asked her name. “Lucia,” she replied in her most beautiful Hispanic accent. I attempted, “Lucheeya.” She smiled, “Yes, but they call me Lucy.” Plain Lucy. I preferred Lucia, there was nothing plain about her.

In the corner of my eye I see another little girl resting on one of the seats, she has a phone to her ear and she is singing. I know her name already, because she is an entertainer, knows no stranger that I can see, and immediately she looks fun and mischievous. “Sarai!” Lucy teased as her singing voice got louder. (You have to say it with an accent, “Sara-ee.”) A daughter of promise… One of a whole bus full. She smiles at me, “You like Selena Gomez?” and sings a snippet of her song. I recognize it as the very same song my daughters belt out through the halls of our house. “Si!” She smiled and cocked her eyes daring me to say no to her next favorite, “Justin Beiber?” Having understood the threat, I answered, “Si!” before she belted out into what would be her song of choice for the rest of the week “Baby, baby, baby, Ohhhh like Baby baby..” She fell back on her seat, phone back to her ear, absorbed in her music world.

She wore gold stiletto heels, and a flower in her hair. She looked to be twelve dressed like a woman. I felt her injury distinctly though I didn’t yet know her story. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Fernanda.” She giggled, and shyly smiled. Her freckles and light skin reminded me of my daughter, Lily. Angel Kisses…our term for freckles. Did she know that? Did she know that her freckles were beautiful? She propped herself on the side of the seat, standing up, and watched me. I was new. I kind of felt like an intruder in their world. Not that they made me feel that way, but I didn’t understand their language and they didn’t know anything about me, or I them. She rattled something to Lucy, who smiled and looked out the window. “What’s your name?” she asked turning her attention to me. “Leslie” I answered. “Leslie” she repeated. (My name sounds so much more beautiful in an accent.) “Si!” I smiled. “Leslie,” she whispered as she slid into the seat behind me. She was trying to remember. That meant the world to me.

Veronica had been standing beside me the whole time, watching me talk to the others, politely listening, and always, when she caught my eye, smiling. I found her captivating. Lucy had told me her name, so I asked her, “What’s your favorite color?” She smiled, “Azul!” then she swallowed and repeated in English, “Blue.” I smiled and let her brown eyes pull me in, “It’s beautiful.” She smiled and said, “You’re beautiful.” I was touched and smitten.

My box wasn’t gonna last the week. His love for me and my love for the world around me was compelling me to reach for so much more. The walls I wanted to hide behind were of the weakest plaster.. I felt incredible love for these girls – His love – and with each look, smile, or awkward name pronunciation, I prayed, and still pray, that He is Who they saw.


 

The Box Dwellers

I’ve been in ministry long enough to see that some of those that are destitute and impoverished choose to be that way. They have found something that they value more than their clothes, their food, and their shelter. They choose to live in a cardboard box rather than to give whatever it is up or to accept what is being offered. It is no less sad to me.

In Guatemala I learned that there is a whole community that live on and in the dump eating whatever they find, living in boxes or makeshift shanties. They have made this a village within the city; they even have electricity there! Children are raised in this place, babies are born here, and what looks like a trash pile to us has become their home. As our leader was briefly telling us about this, God nudged my heart, “You are a box dweller.”

Immediately I disagreed with Him, “Me?!? A box dweller!? No way! I am open to all denominations. I don’t discriminate. I believe in gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit! I am NOT a box dweller!” Even in the midst of my argument, He spoke. He addressed the biggest box that I live in – FEAR. And He pointed out over and over the places that I attempted to contain Him and revealed that all the time, I was only containing myself and His work in me.

“I AM not in the box,” He repeated.

No. I was.

With fresh awareness I realized that I had not only been living in a box but I had made it home. I was living off the scraps of faith and the crumbs of grace and I called it a feast! I didn’t want to hope too much because then I would be disappointed. I didn’t want to believe in miracles because when they didn’t happen they were easier to dismiss. I didn’t want to trust in His work because if I wasn’t being used that meant I was worthless. I didn’t want to address demons and sickness as enemies of God because I didn’t want to be seen as charismatic. And, the big one, I didn’t want to be ordained because I didn’t want my family to be disappointed. So, I folded the four corners of my insecurity around me and expected nothing more, which is exactly what I got.

I had come on this trip asking God to be what He already was – wild and free and passionate and amazing. And the first day in, He was asking me to be the same.

Is this thing on?

I could totally be the “bullhorn guy.” Sometimes I am so filled with love and amazement and passion, not just for my Creator but for His creation, that I want to grab a megaphone, pull up a box (or a stand in a truck bed), and yell at the top of my lungs, “He loves you! He loves you! He loves you!” I’m tempted. Often.

The minute I stepped onto Guatemalan soil that is exactly what I felt. Love. Palpable. And the invitation that Father God placed in my heart echoed with each face I saw. I asked, “Is this Your child? Are these Your children?” And His answer resounded, “All of this is Mine!” Psalm 24:1 spoke into my spirit: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Everyone, everywhere, without exception.

The streets were at once strange and familiar. Growing up overseas, the scene that met us outside the airport wasn’t too different from the bus stations in Korea which I had frequented. There were vendors and beggars and the man without legs scooting himself along on a cart. (This man is in every third world country!) I loved him at once, and the woman with the baby strapped on her chest, the woman trying to get me to buy her handmade necklaces, as well as the indigenous people in their colorful garb and the westernized people in skinny jeans carrying cellphones. I loved them, and I wanted to smile at them and hoped in some supernatural way that God’s love would transfer in that smile to heal their hurt, and calm their fears, and meet their deepest needs!

I don’t know what my face was doing, but my heart was smiling so big I thought it might crack. The fatigue from all day travel and the dull throb in my ever-aching back disappeared with the expectation of what God was going to do! I was believing Him for some big things, and I was hopeful that I would be used to do His work in a mighty life-changing way. My expectations…of what I wanted Him to do…so selfish in retrospect.

As we made the drive to the Prince of Peace girls’ home, I watched the world around me- the busy streets, people walking, traffic crawling, at eleven o’clock at night. The team asked questions about our surroundings some fearful of the violence and the crime, but all the while I had a feeling that this was familiar to me, almost welcomed. I had no idea where we were going or what awaited us at the Girls’ Home…I just knew that God was calling me to an adventure, a journey, and I was selfishly thinking it might be about me. I wanted to see His works displayed! I wanted the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to rise! I wanted to see His love pour forth and ignite us all and for lives to be forever changed! Again I prayed, “Daddy, use me! Show me your might and your glory, come out of the box that I’ve put you in! I want to experience you in your fullness!”

And, pulling up to the gates of the home I heard His unmistakable voice, “I AM not the one in the box.”

God’s lessons were beginning, and the megaphone was positioned straight at my heart.

The Journey begins…

I’ve been home a full 3 days from my trip to Guatemala, and I’m still struggling with what to say, what to share, what to reveal about my journey. Tonight I have decided that I have to start somewhere, begin to share the story, open up my heart to what I am only beginning to make sense of…so bear with me.

The moment that I saw the lights of Guatemala City appear out the airplane window, my soul thrilled. There was this feeling pulling on my heart like an excited child dragging my attention to something important. I couldn’t process the feeling immediately, and then I heard it, the voice of God echoing in my spirit with that same emotion of excitement, “I can’t wait for you to meet my children!” I almost cried as the lights grew closer and closer and I began to make out the mountains and the terrain. I closed my eyes and prayed this prayer, “God, show yourself to me. Show me your might and your wonder. Show me how wild and free you are! Break out of this box that I’ve placed you in, and be the wild and powerful God I know you to be!”

There is this misperception that ministry teams come to bring God to the lost…the truth is that God’s people are all over the globe. We don’t know them so we aren’t sure they exist, but they do, everywhere, whether we know them or not. God’s presence isn’t ushered in by one source, nor is it limited by anything. Governments can’t stop Him. Laws can’t rule Him out. He doesn’t require us to represent Him. He is, and we are invited into the journey for what He can teach us and do through us, not for what we can do for Him. I knew the moment I heard His Voice my trip wasn’t about me bringing Him to a lost nation, but Him showing me more of Who He is and what He has done and what He longs to do. This set the tone for the whole trip, the journey where He had invited me. It was about so much more than the abandoned, misused, and rejected girls in a home in Guatemala- it was about His Kingdom, His desires, and my expectations.

I’m going to take the next several days to attempt to communicate what I heard from Father God while I was away, and my prayer is that as you read this, you will understand more of Who He is that allows us to call Him Daddy and, as Paul also prayed “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That is where Life becomes more than existing and is filled to the greatest measure of Love and Grace and POWER that can transform a starved and dying world.

Crisis of Friction

I just recently finished a book called “Blessed Friction” by Brad Hill. Brad brings to life that place that we all must come to where we ask, “Is this all there is?” It’s a little harder to give attention to this voice in our heads as Christians. We are taught to believe that as long as we have Christ we have everything, and we do. Greatly, it is a lack of understanding and limited perception.

Henry Blackaby calls this season, “A crisis of belief” that place between calling and pursuit. It’s a place that invariably each of us has to come to before we take on life. It doesn’t necessarily come before a great adventure or before some incredible ministry launch, sometimes it can come in the midst of all that. But, always if you will be honest with yourself and with God, it will lead you to a place of peace and an understanding of Love.

Friction is defined as “the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another; confilict.” I came to this point in my life 2 years ago. Suddenly I had stuffed so much crap in a box labeled “my past” that I had ceased to realize that it was very much affecting my present. I remember the day that God nudged me. I was sitting on my couch reading through some resources to help some teen girls through their pain when it hit me – I’m hurting. I pushed it away. God had seen that, we had talked about it, it was all good. But, the more I delved into the topic of sexual abuse the more I realized, it wasn’t all good. In fact, I was angry. It hadn’t gone away with the years, it screamed just beneath the surface and whether or not I recognized it as such, it was still haunting me.

It took one more fragmented shard of glass to cut before I saw it for what it was and finally collapsed into the honesty of “I’m not okay.” This gaping hole was exposed and with it came out years of pain and hurt and dishonesty and fear. Then the questions bubbled and brewed and I found myself doubting everything. Everything that I thought I knew about myself, about God, about love, and about faith was teetering at best. I was grasping at straws and praying that one of them would hold me up. My whole life was in question and my desire to live it was almost gone, and in the darkness of that place, my heart posed a choice: “Fight through this and find life, or give up and die.”

And that is when the friction became intense.

That is when the crisis became real.

That is when I found life and Love – because one does not exist without the other.

We can exist in heartache. We can exist and go through the motions and look like we are alive – we breathe, we move, we eat, and sometimes we find within us a place to smile or to laugh, but if someone were to ask, “Are you really living?” We know ultimately that we merely exist. And, at the back of our mind, when the doing ceases, we are haunted by that thought.

There are ministers, moms, dads, teachers, coaches, businessmen, business women that merely exist. Someone in every walk of life finds him or herself asking, “Is this it?” They go through the motions of doing and serving and sacrificing all the while thinking that they are pleasing God. “If I don’t do it no one else will. It’s just one more place that God can use me. I will make the time.” To stop would be a disappointment. To not achieve goals that they have placed on themselves is to fail. Somewhere, in the time that we were called and now, we’ve lost the passion. We’ve become complacent. We have accepted that this IS all there is, and we believe that there is nothing more. Work and serve and die. Only, we are dying…a little more everyday.

That’s not life.

That’s not His plan.

“Perfect love casts out all fear.” I’m pretty sure many of us know this by heart, but do we believe it in our hearts? How about “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We can quote it, rattle it off like the ABCs, but does it abide in our hearts? This is where my journey took me. This is the place where my faith found flight and my life took on meaning. These are the words that God spoke over me in the midst of the questions.

When I was on the cliff of life and existence looking down, “God is love” became real to me. In my mind, I had failed me and Him and everyone, and everything that I had ever thought I’d wanted was now forever out of reach. And as I resigned to let go of that last straw, He caught me with one last question: “Do you believe that I love you?” My answer was timid and afraid, shame-filled but desperate, “I WANT to believe You love me.” He led me to His word and there He spoke to me. Suddenly I realized that I was no different than those that He had called on before. They were no more perfect or had it all together. In fact, in someway or another every single one of them were flawed. I found an excuse, “Yeah but that’s THEM. I’m me.” And the return was, “And I love you. Just the same.”

In his book, Brad tells the story of his two dogs. They both, very different in nature, are lying on the bed, longing for affection. He, being their master and father, reaches over and simultaneously pats both of them, rubbing them, and loving on them, but they are so focused on the affection that the other is receiving that they cannot enjoy the love that he is showing them. This is so much our interaction with Father God. Maybe we can’t even admit it, yet there is apart of each of us so desperate for love and attention and we see others around us getting it and we wonder, “Why can’t I feel like that? Where is my blessing?” And all the time, Jesus’s hands are scarred He’s loving you so much! But you don’t enjoy it, because you can’t see that love is for YOU. That was me, too.

“God is love.” We say this all the time. “How He loves us so” our souls rock with passion when we sing these words. “He will never leave you or forsake you.” We tell this to one another. We mumble scriptures about good plans and hopes and future, we memorize scriptures about compassion and how they never fail, and mercy that saves us, and love that endures, but do we really believe it? If we believe it, we have a funny way of showing it.

My journey is not over. Nor is the friction. But the crisis, the questions of why and what and how and when and where, they don’t haunt me as much. My faith is strengthened, not because I am that good, but because His love is that strong. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know that He has gone before me. I can rest, when I do, because I know that my doing doesn’t determine His love for me. I can enjoy my family because I know that they are a blessing, even in the friction that shapes and strengthens our relationships. I do not merely exist. The life that I live is not my own…but the freedom that bought my life gave it back to me as a gift. And my Rescuer and Lover of my soul, asks nothing more of me than to live. He gave me life and longs for me to enjoy it, He gave each of us life because He loves us. If you are alive and breathing, you are loved. No matter what. He is just as desperate to lavish love on a prostitute with a drug addiction as a nun in a convent. There is no prejudice or preference to His affections.

God

Is

Love.

Sometimes the friction feels like restriction, but that’s our perception; it doesn’t have to bring crisis. As long as I live in the flesh and have the Spirit of God living in me, there will be friction, same for you. Like Paul said, “What I want to do I do not do and what I do not want to do this is what I do.” I’m no different, or better, but when I do mess up (as I have), I know He hasn’t forsaken me. Like the loving caring Father that He is, He beckons me to try again. And, when I realize that His love isn’t asking anything of me that He won’t hold my hand through, I find myself willing, longing, and desperate to do it right. His LOVE compels me because He loves me regardless! I can’t define myself by my failures…because He never has. The greatest thing that we can learn, the greatest Truth that we can take into our hearts is this: God loves us, enough to die for us, so that we might LIVE! Then the question in our heart rises up not in frustration that God is holding out on us, “Is this all there is?” But in expectation that we what we have glimpsed is just the start of what He has for us, and squeals, “Is this all there is?!?!” knowing there is more!