Tuesday, December 29, 2015

These Last 30 Days...together

It's come to an end.
I sit on his bed typing these words as he sorts through clothes and shoes and memories.
We've agreed this last week (this whole month actually), we will stay close, no phones or emails are allowed to enter in to these last days together. All families have to say goodbye – goodbye is a part of hello – hello can only come after someone has said goodbye --- hellos matter --- but goodbyes do too.
Even when this youngest born son came to my arms those 22 years ago ---- somewhere in my heart i knew --- the Creator had likely hesitated as Heaven whispered goodbye to him. We can't be in Heaven and on earth at the same time.

And with the goodbye looming on our horizon, this Christmas i saw things in a different way.
Always and Forever we rejoice over the birth of the baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who willingly came to pay for our sins and show us the way of love. Christmas is a joyous time because it applauds the moment the Savior was willing to breathe air beside us.
But this Christmas i allowed my heart to feel the heart of the Father God – the “parent” of the One who would become God wrapped in flesh. For Jesus to be born of a virgin --- He had to step away for the arms of Heaven.
Did our Abba grieve over the step His Son took when earth received a babe born in a manger and the space beside Him in Heaven was silently vacant for the next 33 years?
This Christmas --- i was silent as i allowed myself to love my Father more deeply than ever --- asking Him to allow me to scoot up close beside Him ----- and cry ------ over the space He undoubtedly felt. In the “seeing” what i had not fully opened my eyes to before, something new slid into my heart...
He released His Son on Christmas morning into the hands of the unable and unworthy ----- for one reason alone. HIS LOVE.
He released what was His greatest treasure ----- because of His real love for those He would adopt into His fold.
Christmas is a time we celebrate with colorful lights, evergreen trees, carefully wrapped presents, and tables overflowing.
For me, this year, i allowed myself to weep over The Gift ----- that could only be ours because the Father gave Him up.

Now ---
my dear son is not the Christ child ----- and i am not the Father.
But we are all made in His image, and He feels as we feel.
So this Christmas season, i've learned something new.
Because of love for another ----- we have been taught to release what we love most.
Our Yahweh taught it to us --- He did it for us.
And in the moments when we surrender what we love so dearly ---- our Abba meets us there. He's the perfect fit for the hole left inside. He knows what He is doing --- He knows.

So as i watch him pack, and we talk over the details of the next few days, i write.

And i want to share with you the amazing ways we have chosen to “paint the caboose” of his days beside us here in Kenya.
To tell it rightly, we must go back 12 years.
When Peter was 10 years old, Steve and i made a decision that was perhaps one of our best parenting moves ever. We wanted to give each of our children a special gift that would allow us time to invest in them personally. So as each of our children graduated from high school, we invited them on a “dream trip”. Rather than them heading to the beach with friends, we wanted to personally escort them from their childhood days and into the first steps of their future.
So when Peter was 10 years old, we began saving a small amount each month, preparing for the trip he would receive. We did the same for each of our 3 children.
Our oldest son Michael enjoyed a week in Scotland with his dad for his “senior trip”. Our daughter Maggie and i traveled for two weeks covering 3,000 miles from Yellowstone Park to the Grand Canyon for her “senior trip”.
Peter had always dreamed of going to Australia --- specifically, he wanted to go cage diving with great white sharks. What!!! Yes – that's just what his giddy-up looks like. :)

But when Peter was graduating High School, we were deep in the throws of selling our home and all that we owned, preparing to move to the mission field. We sat with him tearfully during those strained days and asked him to give us time... his father could not step away at that time to enjoy a special trip with him. With much grace (yes, even an 18 year old son can give beautiful grace), he said he completely understood, and that even if he was 30 years old before it happened, he knew, someday it would happen.

Now we sit over three years later and prepare to say goodbye to him. In four short days he will board a plane and fly home to America. We will remain here and continue in the work we are called to.
For all these years, we've held the money we had saved for his “senior trip”, wondering when we could bless him, how it would work.
Well ---- our hearts could not bear to watch him go without somehow showing him our love and gratitude over his willingness to wait ---- and even beyond that ---- his eagerness to support and love us as our calling has changed his world completely. He's not complained the first time --- but instead he's made the most of it. He's grown beautifully in ways that we don't believe he could have grown in our safe little haven on Mockingbird Road. He knows what it is to be the major minority. He knows how it feels to be discriminated against. He also knows what it feels like to know God is near and protecting and guiding and “speaking”. He knows what lonely tastes like, and he knows how God shows up with a feast in those moments. He has grown.
We are so thankful.

After much prayer, and some help from a dear friend --- we decided to surprise Peter and give him his “senior trip” before he returned home.
We couldn't swing Australia (round trip flights from Nairobi to Sydney are a whopping $2000pp), but we could still make shark-cage-diving with great whites become a reality for this last born one who drinks adventure in like it's morning coffee. 

So on December 14th, imagine our JOY as cashed in the “senior trip” savings and boarded a flight to Cape Town, South Africa. It's arguably proclaimed the best place on earth to share smiles with the great whites. For 3 days and nights, the 3 of us celebrated Peter's high school graduation --- 3 years late. But IT HAPPENED!!!

While i perched myself on the top deck of the dive boat, father and son donned their dive suits and entered the cage. It wasn't Australia, someday that might happen, but it was the perfect way to say “Congratulations Peter” for high school graduation, and for working hard to make a success of your years in Kenya. 

God gave us 3 perfect days.
And since He is the One who made the great whites, He proved His authority over them as He brought them to us, and they showed off.
It was a dream trip.
We'll never forget the moments of awe and laughter and even though there was a sprinkling of tears in the ticking away of our minutes together ----- what a gift to share such moments together.

We sat beside each other on the rocky shores of the Cape of Good Hope, we climbed the stairs to the lighthouse on the cliff at the southwestern most shoreline of Africa, 

we looked out at the waves and knew ------ the One who controlled the rolling waters before us was in complete control of our lives, and peace washed over us. 

Flying back to Kenya we couldn't stop smiling. That even though our lives have changed in ways we never could have predicted, we had still been allowed to enjoy a feast of moments with one another and accomplish something we'd dreamed of for over a decade with our last-born-treasure.

But the days of December were not finished with us ---- and we still ached to make the most of every minute of these last few days.

One week later it would be Christmas day. Living in Kenya, we have learned, there are few things we can “buy” and give as gifts. We've been blessed all our lives to have all we need, so for us, Christmas in Kenya is more than ever before a time to look at those around us and g-i-v-e.
Our little 3 foot tall Christmas tree held no gifts underneath, we needed nothing we did not already have, and the day means so much more than ever before. We did finally slide a few sweet presents under our tree – for the children who live two doors down and our dear Eve and her children.
We talked together of Christmas and decided that again this year we would give memories instead of gifts to each other. We have not given Christmas presents to each other since Mockingbird Road.
Being away from “home” at Christmas time is challenging for our hearts. We miss being with family, seeing friends, eating the wonderful foods of the holidays, and counting twinkling Christmas lights as we drive at night. Cold weather with warm scarves and steaming drinks in shivering hands. Christmas music played while cookie smells fill the house...
well... we had it so good for so many years. Memories fill our hearts --- and who wouldn't miss being in those kind of beautiful places. So --- for us --- we've learned, we need to do something “different” at Christmas time, if we don't, we set ourselves up for sadness.

So we packed ourselves up and for 3 days we visited Tsavo National Park on the western side of Nairobi. We've always wanted to visit this special park, where Mzima springs flow and extra big lions with no manes roam. 

We drove our Lori-car the 6 hour drive and spent 3 days looking at what God had made and was now willing to share with us. 

We visited the famous Tsavo bridge that Colonel Patterson built for the British in the late 1800's, where two man-eating lions terrorized his camp of workers and in the end killed over 100 men, reportedly eating over 30 of their victims. 
We stood in front of the cave where those monstrous, mane-less killers stashed the bones of their victims.

Colonel Patterson killed both of the man-eaters who are now stuffed and on display at the Chicago Field Museum. We stood on their still present trails and took pictures at the mouth of their lair. The true story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo was portrayed in the movie, “The Ghost and the Darkness”. It was creepy ----- but also exciting. We love visiting places where history books hold true stories of living --- especially when good won over evil. 

(As i share of our special month of travels ---- please know this, not a dime of ministry money was spent for one minute of either of these special December trips. When so many support our ministry work here, we feel compelled to be sure you know this.)

He's just finished packing his second bag.
It's really happening.
And we will find ourselves living on the other side of the world from each and every treasure of our hearts (except for the gift of each other).

How honored we are to be allowed to serve our Abba and minister to marriages, to pastors, to hurting women, to wounded homes. Each and every day we begin it by asking --- “Use us Lord, we are yours.” We are humbled that He is willing to let His truth and love flow threw us --- cracked vessels that we are. It's proof of His great God-ness --- if He were not GOD, we could do nothing.

And each day we work to remain diligent in our eagerness to obey Him and serve others.
Keeping our chins up and our hearts true (Kweli Moyo) --- we do the best we can to submit and stay.

But there are those moments when our hearts melt ---
and in truth we can only say ----
it is ever-so-hard to say ----
goodbye----NO – not goodbye --- rather --- we say --- see you later son

we will see you soon son ----
we will see you again ----
oh how we do love you ----- 

Monday, December 7, 2015

My wish list for today...

In four short hours she will walk through my gate. Her closely cut hair will bear no braids, her slightly scarred face will frame a shy smile, her dark brown eyes will look down.
...and i...
i will work carefully to give her a map.
My hands will not hold it, my words must.
And those words will need to come ever so gently, but with a sure pressing of the Truth in them.

She is suffering from a “disease” that is perhaps slowly killing more people than we might imagine possible. This 20 year old treasure whose eyes shine with kindness, holds a dark spot in her heart. It's not cancer --- it's worse.
It's not TB – but it is suffocating her.
It's not pneumonia which so often closes in on the last breaths of those suffering from HIV-AIDS (but thankfully she does not suffer from either).
There's no medicine she can take for this sickness that has stolen her peace and brings suffering to her heart.

But there is an antidote available. This morning we will begin administering it.
Forgiveness is the only cure for her.
To forgive another for the wrong they have committed against us ---- it is the only way to detach the chains that silently, but firmly come, when we suffer from the selfish acts of others. Those chains do not disappear on their own. They must be mastered; they must be broken.

When she was a child, only 4 or 5 years old, she had been left in the care of her aunt and uncle while her mother went to work in the fields of Uganda. Family land was producing a good harvest there, and that harvest would feed children and pay school fees. Those two needs are ever on the minds of African mommas here. How to feed and educate their children... they think on it constantly. One speaks of survival, the other of hope.
While her mother worked in the field harvesting, she was to help her auntie gather sugar cane. She would sleep in their hut and work beside her aunt through the day. Her mother would send money from Uganda to help pay for the ugali (food) she would eat. It was a good plan ---- but...
The uncle was a “lion” in his home. It's the way his fellow Kenyans would describe him. Aloof, distant, commanding, and in charge; this man held himself apart from the “underlings” that lived under “his” roof, and when he growled, everyone scattered.
She understood this dynamic. She was not one to rebel or cause trouble.
Obediently she did exactly what she was told to do. Like a furry cub, she hung close to her auntie and did whatever work was asked of her.
But one day as the “lioness and cub” finished their work gathering sugar cane from the field. They carried the load on their backs as they talked and laughed. She remembers her aunt's playful way as they chewed on sugar cane together and walked the dirt path home. It was a treat to chew on small pieces of the sweet cane they had work to gather --- what they carried on their backs would bring a good profit at market the next day.
Chewing on the cane, sucking the sugary juice from the thick fibers, and then spitting the remains out on the roadway, they made their way home in time to prepare ugali before the “lion” returned.
All was right in their world... or so they thought.

As the fire warmed the cooking pot, her uncle returned with a scowl on his face. His words, “Did you harvest the sugar cane today?” Auntie softly spoke, “Yes, and tomorrow we will take it to market.” The growling voice lowered, “But someone robbed us, and even chewed our cane spitting out the remains on our trail.” “No one robbed us husband, we only enjoyed a treat ourselves, rewarding our stomachs from the work of our hands.” The little girl by the fire kept her brown eyes lowered. The “lion” was growling, the “lioness” was there to protect.

Three days later the little girl woke. The pain she felt would not allow her to open her eyes. It felt as if an elephant were sitting on her head, holding it in a painful vice between the ground and the sky. She could move her arms and legs, but the slightest shift of her neck shot agony throughout her little body. Someone spooned water and porridge into her mouth, swallowing was unbearable. For many days she lay this way, unable to see, unable to move. Someone cleaned the ground beneath her grass matt, she was unaware of the excrement her body released, all she knew was a blind splitting pain. She wondered ---- “is this what death feels like?”
Weeks passed by, and in that time, she began to hear voices again. Then slowly-by-slowly she was able to open her eyes. The light shot new surges of pain from her head to her toes. She preferred keeping her eyes closed even though she knew she could still see, for when the sun went down, she opened her eyelids just a sliver to watch the firelight under the ugali pot.
In time, she began to sit up in the dark. It was easier in the darkness.
Her auntie had been caring for her day and night; always caring for her head, feeding her, and cleaning her body tenderly.
Her mother was soon to return. How thankful the little girl was to know that she was not actually dead; she would see her mother again.

When her mother returned, the “lion” was away. Auntie wept as she explained the deep wound that now marred the top of her nieces head. The uncle had become angry when the little girl and her auntie had admitted to chewing on bits of sugar cane after harvesting from the field. He had called them thieves, and had vented his anger on them. For his little niece, he had chosen a large stick out of the firewood, and standing behind her, had swung it like an ax onto the top of her tiny, brown, bowed head. The auntie received her punishment in other painful ways.
No doctor had visited to care for the child, as the “lion” had declared he would not spend a shilling to care for a thief. So the auntie had done the best she could to care for and pray over the wounded little harvester.

The mother was outraged, for her very own brother who had done this to her child.
But not even a lioness can stand against a lion.

She gathered her daughter, prayed with her sister-in-law, and went.

In this culture, there is little recourse for a woman or child who have been wronged by a man. There is even less to be done if you do not have money to hire a lawyer. If she had called the police, (we are told by all here) they would have surely laughed at her. But worse still, since the offender was a family member, it would have been considered shameful to have caused any trouble for the brother. What happens in the family ---- stays in the family... the strong rule, the weak suffer... if the weak do not want to suffer, they better grow strong.
So, nothing was done to hold the brother accountable; nothing could be done.
The little girl was lovingly cared for by her mother. And in time, she recovered fully except for an unending headache, tenderness to her entire scalp (she can not bear for her hair to be braided), and a deep wound in her soul.
She struggles to forget. She wants to forgive. She fears her uncle. She fears all “lions”. She trusts slowly. She feels strangled by the claws of helplessness – she remembers how it feels to be unable to move, to see, to hear, to feel safe.

When she speaks, her voice is soft and gentle.
When i speak to her, my voice is as well.
She exudes kindness.
She compels kindness around her.

Her head never stops hurting. Even all these years later, she carries the physical reminder of her punishment for chewing a few bites of sugar cane walking home from a day of harvesting.

She was wronged. Terribly wronged.

Today she will walk through my gate. We will open The Book together.
I will share Truth with her ------- the only way to be free from the chains of injustice are to clip them with the work of forgiving.
Judges could rule and put all evil-doers in countless prison cells.
But it would not release her mind from the bondage it holds within its wounded self.

Honesty compels me to scream through silent words typed ----- IT --- IS ----- NOT------ FAIR!!!!!
She was wounded. She suffers still. But now today SHE will have to go the extra distance to forgive the one who wronged her --- in order for her to be free.
I lift my “unwounded” head to the One who is over all things ---- and i weep for her. She was a litttttttle girrrrrrrrl attacked by selfish meanness.
Abba ---- help her ---- punish the one who wronged her ---- let her feel your protection today, even though she was not protected then.

Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

It's the weakness she felt as a helpless child that holds her in this place of deep anger and silent suffering. She wakes in the night angry. She sees the face of the lion-uncle. She cringes when she hears his voice on the days the family gathers together and he acts as if the scar she bears is normal. She shrinks from his presence and yet never seems to be free from it.

Her wounds must today be used to remind her of the strength she carries within her. Only the strong can survive such wrongs. Only the able can rise above such offenses. Anger whispers to her to use her strength to hold offenses against her offender. But the Good One tells us to use our strength to rise above the offense, forgive it, hand it to God, and break the chains that hold us down.

It is through our suffering that we can be transformed... if we will allow it to complete its work in us. Strength is needed in these waters.

I sit with Isaiah as the sun rises through these acacia trees.
And the whisper comes strong ----
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me (so there is no value in thinking in my little-person-ways), for the Lord has anointed me (why me, i have no idea, but i know He stirs me and i must follow) to bring good news to the poor (and today, that poor one is the little wounded girl in the young lady's body who will walk through my black gate with an aching heart). He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed (prisoners are not held captive by only bars of steel – more often hearts and minds hold chains around them). He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord's favor has come, and with it, the day of God's anger against their enemies (yes, my Good God is angry over the wrongs done to the innocent). To those who mourn in Zion (the place where Jesus is found), He will give a crown of beauty for ashes (and may that crown completely cover the scar she bears, help me help her see this Lord), a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins... repair cities destroyed... revive them... (what was ruined can be rebuilt, what was destroyed can be repaired)
Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor... (suffering can bring strength that will be used for good)
For I, the Lord, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing. I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering and make an everlasting covenant with them.” (from Isaiah 61)

Your Words are perfect Lord.
Help me today to help her see how Your Words fit perfectly in her.

There is controversy everywhere Lord. People argue over everything. Everyone seems to have an opinion they are certain is right. But, no one, NO ONE is actually right. There are shootings and bombs from terrorists, there are refugees running for their lives. There are shoppers shopping and Christmas lights twinkling, and wish lists shared, and wallets emptying -------------- this world is madness Lord.
I long for you to take us Home Lord.
My clay-covered self can barely make sense of it all (actually --- i can't).
But for today's portion --- i thank You Lord ---- and i ask You for help ---- as one of Your treasures walks through my gate and sits beside me.
My wish list today Lord -----
please set her free and heal her wounds.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"there is nothing new under the sun"...

Tired fingers open Holy Words as a weeping heart wipes leaking tears. And the brokenness of the world whispers weakly ---- we need ...

This morning i found comrads as i sat on my couch and opened the leather book again. Letting myself go deep and allowing time to connect where i am to where they were; it was as if two places fit together --- almost perfectly.
When i was a girl, my parent's had those timeless World Book Encyclopedias. We were fascinated by the human body pages, they had the coolest overlay sheets. The first page was simply an outline of the human body. But then one by one each transparent information page was laid over it and the complexity and completeness of the human body came into view. The skeleton, the nervous system, the internal organs, the veins and arteries, each had it's own page. Not until all the transparency pages were laid together could you get the full picture of the miracle of the human body God created.
It's such a familiar picture of what happens in us as we kids of Abba sit with Him and look into His word. We can begin to see m-o-r-e as He lays another overlay page on the one we bring to Him. And the longer we sit in His classrooms of life, the more pages He overlays into us.

King Solomon declared in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun”.
When i was younger and read this, i thought him not-so-wise. For to me, at my young age, so many things were new. Ahh yes, my ignorance showed for sure. But, as i celebrate my 53rd birthday --- and youth is no longer my running-mate --- Solomon's words sound very right. Truly, there isn't anything new. All that we experience has been experienced before by others who perhaps thought they too were the only ones to have visited those high mountain-top moments or low-valley journeys. We've all been wrong on this one if we thought we were experiencing something new... instead it's just an “old” thing coming to a new place.
Solomon wasn't being negative --- he was being clear.
There's nothing new under the sun. So what we're facing today, was faced yesterday, and someone will face the same tomorrow. But --- HOW we face it today --- that could be difference.

Terror has emerged again ---- but it is not new. In these wonderful old pages, the revisiting of it's schemes can be seen, and the sureness of its defeat is remembered.

Nehemiah had trouble on his hands.
It's the place where the days of old met my day today on the space of a couch this morning.
I brought my simple outline drawing of me, my life, my heart, my need, as i sat on that early-morning-couch ---- asking for... (too much to list).
I'd read through Chapters 1 and 2 and 3 --- remembering the story from my vacation Bible school days. We'd drawn “the wall” on paper, built “the wall” in skits, read the story, and cheered the words, “I'm doing a great work and i can not come down...” (thank you again God for a momma and daddy who made sure their little ones were in those rooms on Union Hill Road).
But for two days now, sitting in Africa, so far from those sweet days, the Lord has laid another page over my simple outline. And Nehemiah has become ----- a friend to me.

You see, Nehemiah was doing the work the Lord had given him to do. He was “on assignment”. Rebuild the wall. But he had enemies, many of them. Sanballat, Tobiah, Arabs, Ammonites, Ashdodites, Samarian officers... all these mocked Nehemiah and the jews who worked to rebuild the wall.
Overlay page --- “when you obey God, there will be enemies who oppose you...”

Nehemiah's response to this --- he prayed.
“Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked...”

As scoffers criticized and Nehemiah prayed, the work continued and the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city. The Word says the people “worked with enthusiasm”.
Overlay page --- “keep steady at the work donna, no matter what goes on around you.”

Then in verse 7 the Word says those who opposed the rebuilding of the wall were furious because the work was continuing, the wall was being repaired, their threats and criticisms had not hindered the workers. So the enemies made plans to go to Jerusalem, fight against the builders, and throw confusion into the work.
Overlay page --- “sometimes enemies will criticize with words, but sometimes their plans will bring threat of an attack”.

Nehemiah's response to these plans of an attack --- “We prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.”
Their response of old brought another overlay for me today. This one had no lines on it, nothing was drawn, but instead it was a solid color, of the faintest blue. Blue being a that calms. This overlay page of “prayer” doesn't directly respond to any line below it– instead it just covers over everything beneath it – it changes the intensity of the dark lines of enemy-attack-plans --- it weakens them, it speaks of something powerful enough to COVER anything under it.

Imagine with me how tired these workers must have been.
Nehemiah himself, he'd worked and planned, up early and working late, with tools in his hands and plans in his head, he was a man working overtime. He's no different than a man today, working to get the contracted job done, managing many people in challenging conditions. But Nehemiah had enemies breathing down his neck, he was extra tired, for his eyes must have always been on the horizon, watching for the approach of those who would do them harm.

Then verse 10 comes and it became so “real” to me as i read the words. “Then the people of Judah began to complain, 'The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.'” Surely --- we today are like these of old. Working hard. Pressing ahead even when obstacles and enemies distract us. Growing tired. Praying for strength to “guard the city day and night, to protect ourselves, and keep steady at the work”... But in our humanness, we get tired and perseverance grows thin and we begin to ------ complain. Our weary eyes cause us to focus on the “rubble” that needs to be moved instead of the progress of the “wall”. We hear the murmurings of others, the criticisms too, and we lose sight of the race that has been set before us.
The mumblings and grumblings of those around us ------ can weigh us down ---- like lead boots in a lake.
And murmuring complaints are as contagious as flu germs passing from mouth to mouth. What a gross picture that is --- we don't want to think of germs jumping into our mouths. But isn't the image accurate? When one mouth murmurs ---- those around it have to steadfastly WORK (at the wall) to not allow those words to jump into their own mouths and multiply off their own tongues.
It's what happened in Jerusalem. Complaints began, people were discouraged and tired, they were weak, the doubting thoughts and strained attitudes were contagious.
Sanballat and Tobiah were not the only enemies at work against the builders on the wall.
The most dangerous enemies are the ones who find a way to sneak inside our “camp” --- and come out of our own mouths.
Overlay page --- “don't let murmuring come from your mouth or sit in your thoughts, don't surround yourself with those who do”.

In the midst of their murmurings, their enemies sent threats, “We will swoop down on them, kill them, and end their work”(V 11). FEAR screams at us when we are already tired --- and threats make their way to our door. More words came, “They will come from all directions and attack us!”(V 12). 

There's nothing new under the sun --- is there?
Yesterday, terrorists killed over a hundred people in France. Many more were seriously injured. Today, hundreds of families grieve their loses. And we see threats of terror and attack unfold. Some tremble, some want to hide away in their homes and forget any “wall” they might have been called to build. But others, they step forward like Nehemiah. He had a response to the threats that came in his day. Verse 13, “So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows. (14) Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, 'Don't be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord who is great... and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

Only God could let Nehemiah's strength speak to my tears this morning.
His words spoke straight through from those days long gone to these days before us.
We've been given assignments by the One who knows what is needed ---- He knows where the needs are --- He has a master plan --- He knows what HE IS DOING.
But we kids... we get tired... we hear threats... and we wonder... will we ever be able to finish the work before us...
Then word of terror comes --- and we wonder, will they swoop down on us and kill us and end our work...?
And we doubt ----- ourselves ---- as we doubt ---- the One.
But the Nehemiah's are among us.
They must not be silent before us.
Those anointed by God to speak the same truths to us that Nehemiah spoke as he stood beside the wall and said “Fight for your homes and for those in your care”.

Overlay page --- DO NOT shrink back, do not be afraid Remember the Lord is great --- fight for what He has given you.

In the moments of morning when the birds begin to sing, it was as if the Holy One breathed in the room, as Nehemiah's words kept coming and Abba's whispers filled air-------
Do not be afraid...
donna – do not be afraid for your sons and daughter.
Wars and rumors of wars will come, that is nothing new--- bullies have always been, and they will always be, until Heaven's doors are opened wide and hell's gates are sealed shut.
daughter – hold steady at the work, FIGHT for what is yours, do not murmur, do not complain, do not whimper in fear or listen to lies of terror. REMEMBER ME, for I AM GREAT... I am with you... I have already won... no matter how things look... Calvary's work is still alive...

(15)”When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. (16) But from then on, only half the men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail... (17)...the laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. (18) All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.”

And i thought of all the laborers i know who remain steady at the work.
I let myself envision all the ones i know who stand guard with weapons --- not literal weapons, but the powerful weapons that flow from “the fervent, effective prayer of the righteous”. The most powerful warriors among us are the ones who have weathered many years. It's not their first rodeo... They can see a more complete image of life, because they've let the Holy Warrior place many overlay pages upon them. They see more, even as their eyes grow dim; their lenses don't focus on the things of this world. They SEE MORE.
And they pray fervently, passionately, powerfully ---- they pray as if victory could unfold in the words they utter --- because they lift those words to the ONE who is over all things.
They know how to draw a sword, because they've had many years of becoming well acquainted with how it feels in their hands, how to sharpen it, how to grasp it firmly and swing it at just the right moment. Their aging, weakened hands can do more damage with the sword they hold because they pull it from the sheath that's between the leather bound pages of power and life. They know the double edged surfaces of the sword they hold; it is heavier than a shaft of iron. It's the “Word of God” and its power shakes the gates of hell and crumbles those trained in terror.

Verse (19)... “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. So when you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!”

Oh my heart – as i read the words -- “we are widely separated from each other along the wall...”
How right Solomon was, there really is nothing new under the sun.
People have been widely separated from those they love --- for ages and ages. But so often, it is what is required --- for the work to be completed.

No matter where we are working. No matter what threats are given. No matter that there are enemies trying to stop the building of the wall of hope and goodness and life and love --- the final word is this ---
“Our God will fight for us!”

    (21)“We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard...(23) “During this time, none of us ever took off our clothes...we carried our weapons with us at all times...”
Solomon was right --- “there is nothing new under the sun”.

There is much work to be done ---
Those who can build ---- build.
Those who can pray ---- pray.
Those who can lead ---- lead.
We must not be deterred ---- we must not be afraid!

Final overlay --- “Our God will fight for us!”

(found this pic on fb -- don't know who to give the credit to --- but THANK YOU to whoever made it!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

No Strings Attached...

Seriously God... are you telling me that after all these years of living and loving, i've been “off”.

That's exactly what my Abba tells me. But His words are wrapped with so much love and grace. Not berating and harsh, but gently wooing. i find myself pausing lonnnnng to actually grasp that He is once again using the “rod and staff” to comfort me (even as He corrects me).
That same rod will discipline me if i linger too long on the guidance of the staff.
It's the right moment to go silent. To sit still, be steady, and drop my head. To allow the wind to blow away what i thought..., and let the Son settle the warmth onto my shoulders of what is better.

It's been a mystery for most of my decades.
You might want to stop reading now --- as what follows might be something you “got” long ago. You'll possibly roll your eyes over the words below and declare inwardly, she's a mess.
But as i reach for the robe over, and over, and over again, i bend to the obedience of sharing what He's teaching me and if only the slower to learn surround me, well, how beautiful to know He calls even the slow ones His Beloved.

After more than 5 decades of l-o-v-e, here's the bony skeleton of me.
Why is it Lord that i can love someone completely, sincerely, purely, with an upright heart, but the result of my love for them might or might not bring love in return? It's not a pitiful “i'm not loved” issue. Not at all. I am loved, this i know. But, instead it's a lonely whisper of rejection and dismissal that has plagued me for far too long. Today, is it's last day of hiding in a back room.

In a recent conversation with my oldest son, he said words that dove deep into the waters of what my Abba had already begun pouring. He said, “Mom, do you know what you could do to make me the happiest son in the world?... Let yourself rest and know, that you are wildly loved.”

Steve and i have just finished reading “Beyond Ordinary” by Trisha and Justin Davis. It's a great read for the married couple who's decided they really do love each other, but they are tired of the whiplash moments in their “good” marriage when life hits too hard and the seatbelt of commitment that holds them in place, might have saved the marriage but they're left stunned and aching.
It seems that man of mine and i are always learning. We graduate out of one “class” feeling pretty good about our new-found-knowledge only to realize the next “course” we need to attend started maybe 2 or 3 days ago and we're behind again. (Not really --- but well, sort of). Perhaps it's because we've dedicated our lives to ministering to marriages that it seems we're always 3 steps forward, two steps back on the path before us. And being honest, (but not giving too much attention to or credit) it's a reality that the Lord we love and serve so earnestly, He has an enemy. And that enemy works day and night to stop the kids that love and serve the Father. So sometimes... sometimes it feels like the wind is blowing too hard to stick our little, feathery heads outside our timid, creaky birdhouse... maybe we should just forgo the worms, let's just huddle in and hide.

But love...
Have you ever noticed how love compels us onward... always.
Self will invite us to hide.
Fear whispers, you might get hurt.
Rejection declares, they're not gonna like you.
Isolation uses a megaphone, “you --- are ---- alone”.

But love...
Love is like the wind-chimes outside my window. It's gentle but clear, it responds to the wind but not with resistance or frustration. It glides with it and produces something the wind alone could never have accomplished. joy-sounds.
Love says don't hide, i want to use you in the wide open spaces.
Love says, yes, you will get hurt, but it's ok, i'm in tight with the One who can fix those gouges so that you'll be even better than you were before the wound broke you.
Love says, oh, for sure, some will push you away. They do me too. It hurts for a time, but then, when all the dust settles, you'll find --- i'm still alive and well.
Love says, when you are most alone, nothing can hide.

Trisha and Justin Davis share their pursuit of extraordinary out of the shadows of ordinary. Thank God for the beautiful ones like them who are willing to pull back the shades and let us see GOD AT WORK.
After all, if something is perfect ---- what need does it have of God.

In one of the chapters, Trisha says something that whammed me. Steve was reading that morning (we take turns), and as the words slipped through the air, tears slipped down my face. Trisha was sharing about her own epiphany while reading a Brennan Manning classic, Abba's Child, with her husband, Justin. Got the picture here --- i burst into tears as my husband and i are reading about what another couple was reading from yet another book. Go ahead, laugh, yep, i'm a mess. (We are now reading Abba's Child – my learning continues.)
But here's what brought about my salty eruption. Trisha writes:
“In the past when i would authentically and deeply love people with compassion and tenderness, I often didn't get the same in return. While I love seeing people succeed, it crushed me when they would break my trust in the process... I had thought, 'If i am faithful to you, then you should be faithful to me.'”
(I wrote in the book margin --- “this has been a heart trap for me”...)
In my lifetime i've had many, many friends. What a gift a true friend is. Many of you reading this blog, you are God's gift to my heart.
But throughout my life there have also been a very few friends that devastated my heart with their false reciprocation of love. We've all experienced those short-term friendships that shocked us when we realized they were only there for what they could get. But wait... we thought they'd be there forever.
For me, when i love a friend, i'm all in. But what happens when the friend only wants to use you while you're “in” their life, and when you no longer have anything they want, they toss you out, perhaps even with a smile on their face.
It's always been a mystery to me. Users who take, and feel fine moving on to greener pastures after they've gulped all the grass you've lovingly given them.
Well --- Trisha and i could share a long cup of java over this kind of hurt.
But, what she writes a paragraph later, opened my eyes (and expanded my tear ducts).
“God's mercies are new every morning because He knew we would need them every day. I had to embrace the painful reality that my view of myself masked a dangerous illusion that I would never be unfaithful, when in truth I am unfaithful to God every day. Yet in his great love and his daily mercies, he still chooses to love me. The question – would i surrender to this new way of life that would ask me to do the same?
“My new life in Him is daily choosing to surrender my need to find my identity in the way people respond to the way I love them, forgive them, and trust them. The “impostor” (from Chapter 2, Abba's Child), tells me to stop trusting others because they will let me down.”
(Oh Trisha, thank you, can i pour you another cup of coffee...)

Of all the beautiful, close-to-heart, loving friends i have, i've always had this horrific fear lurking in a backroom closet. An impostor that sent relentless messages, “if they really knew you, they'd hit the road”... “remember, once you stop doing what they want you to do, you'll be alone again”... “you've been a misfit all your life, you'll never really fit in”...(i'm not saying these are "truths", but just what the impostor presses for)-------
and that impostor works relentlessly to keep people apart, friends separated, hearts unsure (and he's not just doing that in mine and Trisha's lives...)

But wait...
If i am unashamedly loving others ----- then won't they love me back?
People pleasers silently believe that if they can please you, then your overflow of happiness, will sprinkle back on them. And at the end of the day, everybody goes home smiling.
And yet ---- people pleasers often feel the slam of the screen door in their face as they watch their “friend” walk away ---- pleasing them didn't secure the friendship. No amount of sincere love could maintain faithful friendship.
Bottom line ----
people choose.
They choose if they will love, why they will love, when, where, how often they will love.
Love is a choice --- when people are concerned.
Love is a guarantee --- with God.

Inside my Bible, on one of those blank pages at the beginning, on the thin, parchment like paper, i have written:
My life in HIM is daily choosing to surrender my need to find my identity in the way people respond to the way i love them, forgive them, trust them.
The impostor tells me to stop trusting others because they will let me down. This impostor works against me trying to take over my thoughts, shut me down, and keep me prisoner in the muck and mire of bitterness and self-protective anger. (Trisha Davis)
This is painfully true in my life as well. So i must daily choose to surrender to God how others see me or respond to me. “Others” do no define my identity.
I must choose to do the next right thing... and focus on God's eyes on me, not others responses to me.
God loves me ------- His mercies are fresh and new every morning for me.
God chooses to love me.
That's my focus.
And therefore ---- i choose to love others ----- freely --- with no “if i, then you...” strings attached.
Surrender all the strings to Abba --- and love others as God loves me! (they don't have to love me back) Abba Does Enough of that...

It's been over three years now since i last spoke with a friend that walked away from my heart. She had no idea how much i treasured her gentle friendship in my life.
It was ten years prior, that a different friend had exited our family's friendship.
Neither of them gave a reason. They just went away, a slow fade.
Does it sound laughable to you --- that as a grown woman --- i wept over the void they left?

I prayed for them, reached out to them, forgave them, asked God to bless them, prayed for their kids, missed their kids in our home, and each time i pulled out a family-favorite-recipe they had shared, i wondered... what did i do that drove them away...?

Did you know i've always struggled letting a new friend get close ---- because i knew it would matter deeply to my heart if/when they chose to walk-away?

It's a secret... shhhh... don't tell anyone...

But when Brennan Manning exposed the “impostor” and Trisha Davis shared her secret pain, my tears came quick and they were laced with years of hurt, over honest friendship rejected and a people-pleasers sorrow.

And God entered in ---- center stage ---- and whispered from His spotlight position (no microphone needed) ----
“My dear girl, you've been living and loving with your life wheels out of alignment. You've always thought you loved unconditionally, but hear my loving words over you as i make all this clear. You have loved much ---- but with strings attached.”
What God? No, truly, this can't be true...
“donna, just breathe and listen carefully to My heart-words-of-life for you. You've not known it, but I have... don't condemn yourself, instead, feel My grace.
“You've always done it. Somehow when you were the littlest of girls, you did it. You've done it so long, you didn't know there was a better way. My way. The way I love. You've always loved others, but you've had little invisible strings attached to your love. You silently thought, 'if i do this for them, then they'll naturally want to do this for me, and we'll both feel loved, and all will be well'. 'if i love them 'good enough', then they'll automatically love me back, and i won't be alone, i will be loved.' 'if i love my children with focused selflessness, they'll always know they are loved and they'll always love me back.' 'if i'm a good friend to others, loyal and true, then they'll be a good friend to me...loyal...true.'”
Oh Lord --- when the words aren't polished and the rawness hangs out --- that sounds so horribly selfish. It sounds like --- “i'll love others SO they will love me back --- and that means the reason for my love --- is wrapped up in what it will get me in return...” Oh GOD --- that's not the way it should be. Oh Father, i've been so wrong...

And His Heaven-clean words came and washed me again...
“donna, you've loved. That matters. Now I, God, want to take you further into the great mystery of LOVE. Your strings-attached love has been your frightened way of trying to self-protect yourself. When that first hurt came to you, as hurts always come to everyone, you, like others, began trying to figure out how you could outsmart the pains of life. And you decided you would out-love others so you could have a good return for your investment of love. You didn't trust the simple fact of MY LOVE flow, you wanted to insure a flow of love would come from those 'indebted' to you. Do you see my daughter? Look deeply at it. For it has grieved my heart these past many years. That's why when your friend walked away, i allowed that pain to sit sideways inside you. I cared that you were hurting, but what was more important to me was that you begin to see --- loving others is no guarantee of their love --- and yet, it's what i want you to do each and every day --- no return policy allowed. No strings attached. No --- i'll love you and then you'll love me strategy allowed. Because, I, God, am the only true source of love. I loved you first --- donna, have you always responded to my love with love. You haven't. And... it's ok daughter.
I will always love you whether you love me back or not.
I do not love you in order to gain your love in return.
I love you no matter what.
I don't need your love to steady the flow of my own.
I love you freely, completely --- with no strings attached.
You can respond to Me however you like – and I will always respond with love.
And that is what I am calling you to now.
Love others freely.
No strings attached.
Don't love your husband sweetly and deeply, hoping you'll get a good return on your investment.
Love your husband with a Heaven-gush of surrender.
Don't love your children with the dream that they will call you every day and invite you to lunch every Sunday.
Love your children for the pureness of making sure they feel loved, accepted, seen, treasured.
No strings/hopes/desires/expectations allowed.
Don't love your friends with the dream of never feeling alone or abandoned or forgotten.
Love your friends because you are willing to let My love water-fall-out-of-you in their direction, their response is mine... not yours. If they don't love you back, look in MY direction, you'll be flooded.

Love with no strings attached.

Your love is not yours --- it is simply mine flowing through you.
So know that I, your Daddy-God, I see you loving others, and that brings me great joy ---
You Are Loved Deeply not because you do or do not love others ----
but because
I AM LOVE and I choose you.

How about you my dear one.
Pray deep and ask the Revealer to show you if you too have been loving with a few little invisible strings attached.
Don't answer quickly.
Give Him a chance to whisper clear.
I personally believe this string-attached love has drained countless hearts and left just as many feeling abandoned, betrayed, and cast to the side.
Our Good Father wants the impostor exposed, the strings clipped, and the unencumbered flow of love to storm the gates of our lives.
Just ask --- He'll show you too.

----- i write this, with so much love ------
no strings attached,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

...and this is your Kingdom...

 He'd walk into our house with a smile so bright it made you realize, life just got better. His greeting was for everyone in the room, you could count on it, he wasn't one to exclude anyone, he welcomed all. He was eager for life. Expressive with words that came through a voice Goliath the giant would have been envious of, his voice dripped of authority, his delivery was weighted with strength.

But ask me what i remember most about him... and i would say... love... and a verse.

He loved his wife, his sons, his family, his friends --- he loved deep, he loved big.
If you were in trouble, he was the guy that would be on your steps; he'd have a plan of action before you could open the door.
And there was this verse that rolled off his tongue as easily as chocolate melts in sunshine.

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on the earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your Kingdom. We adore you as the One who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.”
1 Chronicles 29:11-12

He and his wife gathered in our home along with many other friends for a weekly time of small-group Bible study. All our kids would romp and run in the wide open yard until the sun went down, then they'd pile inside to play in the over-sized room above our garage. Parents opening the Word together while the Word-Giver watched over His gifts to them. Sweet days.

Only the One who made him could have known his days were running short and he would be the first in the room to meet the Maker face-to-face. He was the healthiest of us all, never eating carbs past 6PM, he took care of himself, we were proud of his self-control, even as we passed around the plate of brownies again.
Perhaps it's because he went “home” so soon, or more likely it was that he truly did have a special presence, but often we still reflect on the impact he made.

Of the many friends i've been blessed to welcome into my life --- few of them have planted a verse inside me. Many have given wise words of counsel, more still have shared laughter and joy, but it's a rare friend who can do all three, and it is always those Holy-Words that settle into the deep places of life. Cultivating one particular string of scripture words that came from them so often, that now, their friendship sits right there in my Bible tucked safely beside those eternal syllables. They seem to actually be “present” in the revisiting of the words they spoke so often.
My grandmother was the first --- i can remember her quoting the Beatitudes. And then she'd say, “Oh these words have helped me...”
My mentor --- she'd roll off Romans 15:13 so quickly, you'd feel like joy and peace and hope just wrapped you in their blanket and tucked you into the bed called trust.
And this friend, Jeff. Dozens of times he would fill the air with words from 1 Chronicles, never would a month pass by that it failed to apply to whatever our topic of discussion was for the evening. Each and every time --- there was a sense that God just nodded His great mighty head --- for God knew He was being praised with every word.

Jeff would say them again for many reasons. Sometimes they'd come as a reminder --- “...everything in the heavens and on the earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your Kingdom....” He'd smile and say something like, “It's His kingdom man, nothing slips by him in His Kingdom...”
Sometimes they'd come as a comfort --- “...wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.” He'd say, “We've got to remember God decides, we make our plans, but God decides how they'll go... we gotta just trust His plan...”
And once when someone in the room was talking a bit boastfully, my friend just said, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty.” There was silence for a few seconds. Not another word was needed. The focus was realigned to where it should be --- on the only One who is worth boasting over.
There were no harsh words, no reprimands or corrections.
Just the application of Truth --- the antidote for arrogance was applied.
And those of us paying close attention --- were awed.

This friend planted his scripture seed in my heart over a decade ago. It's grown deep roots.

Last week, we went to a small island off the coast of Kenya. To get there, we loaded our bags into a wagon pulled by a tractor that carried us from the mainland to the volcanic rock eden. Millions of years ago, the Maker had allowed a solid, thick, rock base to connect the island to the shoreline, so even today no shifting sand hinders the islands ebb and flow of guests. When tide is low, the island workers easily walk the quarter mile span in 6 inch deep water. Imagine our eyes, when at first glance it literally looked like Jesus had called them forth as they appeared to “walk on water”. There are such beautiful places on this earth --- the Maker loves so well.

We'd gone to rest. We needed it. But there was also a second much needed reason for our “holiday”. We needed to pray long and begin working on a long-term project that will require more of us than we feel able to produce. It's a God-thing. His idea. So we needed to retreat and realign ourselves carefully. Sort out the “us” part and reach for His More.

Isn't it just like the Good-One to give an assignment, send us to a place He put special care into making, and let us “rest” in the middle of crashing waves, sandy shores, slow moving starfish, and waving coconut fronds. So far from our home-shores, looking at a horizon we'd only ever read about, the Indian Ocean was before us, we felt the realness of distant shores.

Five sleeps lay ahead with colobus monkeys as our closest neighbors. We laid our heads down for the first snore, and woke early to be with the One who held the waves in place.
Ever working at reading through the Bible (again – since once or twice isn't enough for one as needy as me), i was wrapping up 1 Chronicles. Chapters 28 and 29 would be my focus for the morning. In 28, King David is giving his instructions to Solomon for building the temple of the Lord; what David was not allowed to build, Solomon would now do. Verses 9 and 10 gave me pause, my reading slowed to a crawl.

As David spoke to his son, he said, “And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him (Jeremiah says to seek Him with your whole heart...). But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.”

Does it happen to you too? Reading along in the holy arrangement of words, something launches off the page and grabs you by the shoulders. And you know... i ---- need ---- this.
Minutes passed as my soul fed. And i prayed for MY sons (David prayed for his, i'll pray for mine). Just sliding their names in where Solomon's name is found --- and it's a prayer worth sitting with, worth repeating, often.
“And Michael, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately....”
“And Peter, my son, ...worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind...”
“Mike and Pete, take this seriously, the Lord has chosen you to build a temple as his sanctuary... Solomon built one of wood and gold, but your temples are made of bone and flesh. Be strong and do the work, and boys, know this always, if you seek him, you will find him...”
The Word is alive --- it breathes LIFE --- it travels from then to now and from here to where they are.

The sun rose higher in the morning sky when i passed from Chapter 28 and began strolling through 29. It's where David finished with his instructions and gave gifts for the temple. And then before naming Solomon as king, David does what he's most famous for, he praises God (the only reason he became a great warrior and king was because of the One who gave him that strength and honor, David knew this). And as i rounded the corner of verse 11, there he was, my good friend.
Suddenly Jeff became the voice inside my head as verses 11 and 12 came flooding up from the pages and out of my heart simultaneously.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty (i lifted my head to watch the waves crash against the ancient lava rock walls --- greatness, power, victory, majesty, it sat right in front of my eyes). Everything in the heavens and on the earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your Kingdom (this, this wide open space with endless sky and distant horizon, where peace comes to rest, this too is your Kingdom). We adore you (i do Abba, i adore YOU) as the One who is over all things (we kids of yours don't always act like you are over all things, forgive us Lord, for how blessed we are that You are). Wealth and honor come from you alone (people think they earn it, they don't – You give it), for you rule over everything (those waves could kill me, they don't, you rule them). Power and might are in your hand (how thankful i am), and at your discretion people are made great and given strength (at your discretion, not theirs, not mine --- you alone choose).”

Almost 5,000 days have passed since my friend planted those words in my heart because of the many times he repeated them, applied them, and lived them.
His voice was as present this morning as it was those many years ago.
Others in the room spoke during those small-group days ---- but nothing they said has helped carry me from those days to these the way his choice of words have.

Moving from earth to Heaven hasn't changed how present his voice is when it's attached to Holy-words that are eternally true and right and good.

And i wonder ------
of all the things we do and say ---- will anything we ever produce be more valuable than --- the planting of God's words in the heart of another...

Thank you Jeff Gore ----- for the good planting you gave us.