Selfless Challenge – Week One

Any time you take up a challenge to reflect more of the heart and love of God, the enemy rushes in with arrow pointed, ready to aim. The very day I issued that challenge to myself, was possibly one of the hardest days I have had in a long time. I was physically ill and emotionally drained and no matter what help I needed from those around me, I wasn’t getting it. Their actions seemed to say. “You don’t matter.”

I refused to have a pity party because after all that would be selfish…and I was doing my best to keep from that. But, I talked to God a lot, asking how I might turn my feelings around into something selfless for someone else. Only, my motivation seemed more out of spite than love, and thus, the wicked cycle of selfishness hit my heavy heart again. I cried out to Him, “This is hard!”

And, I realized. It isn’t for Him. He is in His very nature selfless love. For Him to give it all for us is His joy not His challenge. The challenge resided in my flesh not my spirit. I had to control my flesh. Not an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s a very hard thing to do. But, He was there…selflessly loving me through each step of painful reflection.

We are selfish.

It’s killing us.

Our families.

Our marriages.

The root of every divide lies in the “me first” mentality. And we might see this, maybe silently admit this to ourselves…but we don’t change it. Honestly? – Because we don’t want to. We say “I love you..” but what remains unspoken is “..when you do this… while you act like that…because I need something… that’s what I’m supposed to say… if I’m happy.”

I have always hated the saying “You wanna have your cake and eat it, too!” Well heck yeah…how are we gonna enjoy it if we don’t eat it!? But when we love selfishly it’s a pathetic picture…(You English buffs will relate) It’s Miss Haversham in her molded wedding dress sitting at a lavishly spoiled wedding table. The feast is there…but in our desire to please our selves and what we want, we guard it and mourn it at times, but never eat it. Love lived selflessly doesn’t sit at that table, but stands behind it offering slice after slice and taking a bite here and there, smearing your cheeks with icing and offering extra servings. And guess what…? Love like that doesn’t run out, and it doesn’t feel like a chore and it doesn’t drain you. In fact, it fills you as you fill others.

I guess the challenge in selflessness this week has become, “True love can’t be selfish.” By definition it is not. So how do we show true love? What does that look like? I’ve gotten some glimpses. How about you?

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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!

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.

Dave Ramsey called me “STUPID”

I will never forget that day. I found myself in a tough financial situation, and needed some advice. Who better to get financial advice from than Dave, right? I called the number, I waited for what seemed like hours (but was more like 20 minutes), and an operator asked me my problem. “I don’t have health insurance and my daughter was recently hospitalized, I need some advice.” I couldn’t believe my blessing when I heard her say, “Hold on. We will patch you thru.”

What? Deep breath. (Okay, a few deep breaths and a quick prayer.) “Hello, you’re on the air…” It wasn’t an all together big thing to be on the radio, I cohosted a local radio show, mostly it was the knowledge that I was talking to THE Dave Ramsey. I began to share with him my problem, stating that my husband and I had been without health insurance for a little over two years, and we were suddenly stuck in a situation with medical bills that we weren’t altogether prepared for. I didn’t get much further. “What!?” He was appalled. I don’t remember the exact next few words, but he finished it with “Of course you are in a bad situation, you are stupid!” He rattled something off about finding an endorsed insurance provider right away and to never make that stupid mistake again. No time for response, the music played, the endorsements started and the show was over.

It was my turn to be dumbfounded. And then, I was angry.

Stupid is one of my least favorite words in the world. You can call me ignorant, unwise, naïve, but don’t call me stupid! I wanted to call him back, not in a fit of anger exactly, I was biting back tears of explanation. It wasn’t stupidity that led us to make that decision. It was faith!

My husband and I have never been in debt. We learned early on that you only buy if you have the money. You never borrow what you can’t pay back. Even then, we lived on a budget and were frugal; money wasn’t something we were stupid with. We weren’t living in “envelopes” but we were very aware of our expenditures. My husband was offered a new job, he had crunched numbers and looked at our present income compared to the adjusted income, it was driving him insane, almost literally. He was trying to figure out how I could stay at home with our kids, a priority for us, and him still take this job that would eliminate a 45 minute commute that he felt was wasted time that he’d rather spend at home.

One Sunday he was in that same state of mind, crunching numbers, a constant calculator running digits through his brain, but he was on stage at church singing with the praise band. It bothered him that he couldn’t even worship without numbers cropping up, so he prayed, “God, what do you want me to do!?” He says the answer was practically audible, “Don’t take the insurance. I will take care of your family, but invest in My House.” Weird, right? Absolutely. But any responsible child of God doesn’t hear that message and say, “Nah.” In His heart he replied, “Yes Lord,” and IMMEDIATELY the numbers stopped.

So we began a journey of faith. Two kids aged two and four and we opted out of health insurance. Stupid? According to Mr. Ramsey it was and by no means something we would haphazardly recommend to others, but we were absolutely convinced that God would take care of us. And He did, for exactly two years.

My husband admits that at the end of that time he felt that God was leading him to be insured again. He began looking and talking to people but procrastinated in making a decision on acquiring insurance for our family. Then, one of our daughters got really sick with double pneumonia and was hospitalized with white blood cell levels that the doctors were convinced were fatal. We were told we’d be in there for a week at least, probably 10 days. Even as we filled out admission papers, I trusted and believed that God would to take care of us. Three days later, to the doctor’s documented and utter amazement, my baby was healed and discharged. Three days and $6,000 dollars later, we had accrued debt that we weren’t prepared for, slight as it was compared to what it might have been!

It was that debt that led me to call the debt guru. It was that debt that God used to show us that it was time again to be insured. It wasn’t a fear thing. It was just very clear that our provision was shifting. And, in those two years, we had done as we promised by investing in His house.

But that isn’t the end of the story… this is the part that I want to tell Dave, “God used that debt to show us what our next steps should be financially, and in less than 6 months time, we not only had paid off every bit of that debt, but my husband’s employment changed and our income increased and that additional amount we were having to pay separately for the girls’ and my insurance didn’t seem to dent our budget!”

This isn’t a story about health and prosperity. This is a testimony of faith and faithfulness. A confession of being weird (never stupid!), and realizing afresh that God sometimes asks us to do the ridiculous, but in the end, He will give you wisdom and understanding that is like foolishness to the world. We continue to live weirdly. We happily live below our means so that we can do more for His Kingdom and His people. Not because we have to, or because we expect His blessing, but because we have seen that there is nothing in this world that can compare to serving God.

The day He swallowed my death

*WARNING THIS IS ABOUT SUICIDE AND MIGHT BE CONSIDERED GRAPHIC

“Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death?” 1 Corinthians 15:51

In our community we have suffered the loss of 5 teens through suicide in the last 6 months. That’s been almost one a month. So, in an effort to share encouragement and to speak life into broken hearts, we are choosing to make May Suicide Awareness Month and having a huge, free concert this Thursday (June 2) with Building 429, Royal Tailor Band, and Hayley Masters!

I have a vested interest in this venture. Eighteen years and about a couple months ago, I was convinced that I would be better off dead. The heart-wrenching and overwhelming fear of my future, years of bearing the guilt and shame of a past that I couldn’t come to grips with, and the feelings of isolation and “no one will understand”, were all climaxing to a point where suicide seemed like the best choice.

Unlike some might think, one very rarely just wakes up one morning and decides to take his/her life. It’s a very deliberate murder of self. Much thought goes into this – the hows and whens and wheres actually are very well thought out. I wrestled through all of those options, and luckily for me, I lived in a foreign country where handguns were not easily accessible, so a blade or a knife to the wrist seemed to be my best bet. I had thought it through and was well aware of the “failure rate” of that type of suicide so I studied my arms and wrists intensely so that I would know exactly where to drive the blade, what blade would be best, and whether or not a knife was necessary. I chose a weekend where I knew that I would be alone in the dorm, because honestly I didn’t want a peer to walk up on the scene and be traumatized. (Strange. I thought I was being thoughtful.) I chose the community bathroom, because there was a large sink drain in the floor and I would run the water so that it would drain away the blood more quickly so I wouldn’t have to endure the sight of blood for long. I knew it would hurt my parents, and come out of nowhere for them because I had worked so hard to disguise my depression and my anguish, but I also figured that they had two other daughters that would fill that void for them. They would be fine. It was the best plan for everyone.

I remember the walk down the hall. The blade was securely in my hand, and my tears were blinding me. It felt very much like a march to the gallows…even if I was my own executioner. I turned on the light to the bathroom and made my way to the sink. I said my goodbyes in my head, I cried for each of my family members and wished my friends life’s best, then just as I was about to jerk the blade into my flesh, I saw something in the sink faucet. I was crying so I wiped away the tears thinking that I was mistaken, but then I saw that it was a face. I leaned in to take a closer look and noticed it as the precious face of my then toddler niece. Funny, I didn’t think I was going crazy. It was a welcome sight. Then I heard the following words, “For her.” The moment freaked me out. I pulled back and got angry and became once more resolved with the blade when I heard, “NO! You must LIVE for HER!” I know it sounds crazy, but I knew exactly Who was speaking to me in that moment. The Power and Authority in that Voice was so strong. I dropped the blade and fell to the floor, “God, help me! I beg of you, help me!” I heard the door creak at the end of the hall down from the bathroom. I pulled myself up from the floor and wiped my eyes. I was a master pretender. If someone were coming, they would never know what was about to happen. But, no one came. In that moment that I stood and waited for the door of the bathroom to open, all I could hear was my heartbeat, and with every beat of my heart those words echoed, “For her, for her, for her, for her…” I looked at the blade, where it had fallen just about two feet away from me, and I stared at it. I looked at the faucet, where I had seen her face. I looked at my wrists. Then, I remember, squeezing my hands in a fist, dropping them to my side, and walking out of that bathroom.

I felt two things as I made my way down that hall – “I’ve failed”… and “Now what?” I got back to my room, turned off the light, laid on my bed and waited. The next morning, there was a knock at my door. My friend, Joy Conrad, had made something for me. She brought it to my room. She laid it in my hands. It was a picture album. She had hand-stitched the front with the words “Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” But, instead of pictures, this book held about 20 3×5 cards, and written in hand on each one of these cards was verse after verse of God’s promises to me, His love for me, His desire for me, and His purpose for me. She had no idea, but that was the beginning of a long climb out of a dark pit.

It began with that book. I found the energy to move one step into life. I acted the part of the perfectly healthy teen while I was at school or with my friends, but when I got back to my room, I would sit on my bed, facing the window, and I would sit in silence…letting my heart speak to it’s Creator. The next week, the silence turned to words. I would read those scripture verses out loud and let their power fill the room. The next week, the words were replaced with songs, simple heart-felt songs that echoed my Father’s heart back to me. We stayed in that place for a long time, singing to one another. It probably sounds crazy that I knew He was singing to me, but I knew that He was…He was singing through me and to me… and as we sang, life began to grow brighter. Slowly but surely, I began to write…my feelings, my fears, my heart, my life song…whatever I was thinking. Never knowing that He had given me my purpose in that.

Last night, as I watched and listened and my heart grieved for those lost and those desperate and those considering, I wept. But mingled in with those tears of sorrow, were profound tears of joy as I nuzzled my husband’s cheek and thanked Daddy God for rescuing my life. It’s no wonder I’m passionate about teen girls…and for the heart of broken women of all ages…it was more than for my niece that He saved me that day. He saved me for every her that He would allow me to meet…and in time He has filled me with a powerful love for them, that refuses to let them believe that they are anything less than worthy! He saved me so wonderfully that year that even the pain that came after that time, and the pain that I recently endured, and the pain that I have yet to endure, in the end, all seem worth it, because with each revelation of frailty, I’m reminded that He is Strong and He is with me, and in those moments of stillness, He is still singing over me.

Spirit, Opportunity, and Destiny!

I think that the church could stand to learn something from NASA. No, really! I was diligently searching the web for a recipe of something healthy and tasty for dinner..ok,ok…I was taking a break from writing and wondering how on earth I devoured an entire Almond Joy without realizing it! Anyway, the title of an article on my homepage caught my eye. NASA: Mars rover, phone home after yearlong sleep. I decided to investigate the story behind the intentionally vague title. I clicked on the story link with visions running through my mind of E.T. holding his (E.T. WAS a HE wasn’t he?) glowing finger in the air and saying, “E.T. phone home.”

The article was about the attempts of NASA to contact the stuck Mars rover Spirit. Spirit became stuck in a sand trap in April 2009 causing it to be unable to fully tilt its solar panels towards the source of its life, the sun. NASA has continued attempts to contact Spirit on different frequencies and at different times of day in hopes of somehow reaching the rover to find out what happened and how to fix it.

It is fascinating to me that even though Spirit’s twin rover Opportunity has continued to operate without problems, NASA still cares enough about Spirit to keep searching for that which has been lost. I know another well known “astronomical observer” that cares about the lives of lost explorers, His name is Jesus Christ. In Luke 15:4-7 Jesus tells us how heaven rejoices more over one sinner repenting and accepting salvation through Him than it does over 99 righteous people who are secure in the faith!

Many people would have already given up on Spirit after a few days or months. Most after an entire year. But not its creators! They have remained faithful to their creation! There have been many, many people who I am quite sure wanted to give up on me. Daddy God who is MY Creator and Savior has NEVER given up on me! He, like NASA, is constantly helping me to free myself from the sinful sand traps of this world. He uses every “frequency” around me (media, dreams, other people, prayers, etc) to try and illicit a response to His Call to serve as I was created to.

But what about the church? Have we become too joyous over being one of the 99 that we forget the 1? Do the lost get our words and thoughts of pity but nothing else? Do we give up too easily? Jesus encourages me daily to remember why I was created (to serve and please Him), what my primary mission is (to do my part of the Great Commission), and to see Him in EVERY face that turns my way!

No brothers and sisters we cannot forget the 1! The one in your life that causes you to turn the other way at work, the one who stays in an abusive relationship because she doesn’t realize there is any other type. The one who finds release through cutting because she doesn’t know that her Savior has already bled FOR her. The one who simply cannot accept that those who look upon his tattoos and piercings with such judgmental disgust without even knowing his name or his story could worship anything other than themselves.

I think it is time that the Body of Christ learned a lesson from NASA. God’s Beloved should always remember that while NASA’s “Opportunity” will eventually cease to function, OUR opportunities to serve will not, and while the Mars rover named “Spirit” may very well be dead, we do not have to let the Spirit within us follow suit. Thank you NASA for reminding me that Daddy God’s Hand can indeed be seen in everything if we just take the time to look.

The 99 + the 1= 100% ;~)

Wisdom from Pooh Corner

I was lonely this morning. It happens. So, instead of doing the pile of work that has mounted through the week, I got online to reach out…and I came across my favorite wise bear – Winnie. Have you ever taken the time to go through those books? They are some of my favorites! In fact, long before Dr. Seuss or Sandra Boynton, I introduced my kids to the wisdom of A.A. Milne, in the chronicles of a precious bear and his boy. I felt it was a good beginning. It was the best introduction to love and friendship.

The story of Christopher Robin and Winnie is one of timeless fascination and entertainment, and as the story goes we learn along the way. We learn that just because people don’t look the same or think the same doesn’t mean that they can’t be loved and appreciated for who they are. We learn that friendship is timeless and love is enduring. We learn that we can be “bothered” for a bit and come back to arms of grace and acceptance that say “It’s ok.” We learn that big or small we have a purpose, and most often it is the things that people see as our weakness that endears us to them. And we learn, that even in those times when we are forced to part, our hearts connect us forever.

Isn’t that a story of hope and assurance that every child needs, every adult needs, every human needs? I’m not sure that Mr. Milne was a Christian, but he certainly loved his son. He created strong life lessons and padded them with the bodies of stuffed animals, and related them beautifully to his precious young son. In the life of a “brainless bear” we experience loss and fear and heartache and imagination. We see depression and apathy, compassion and amazing love…all from a beautiful place called “The Hundred Acre Woods” – A timeless place of priceless lessons.