Posted in Walking it out

Do the next thing

me

 

A couple of days ago, I got to wear my Liberian dress and talk to a younger generation about what it was like to grow up in Africa.

We talked about that big word “missions” and what it means to spend a lifetime telling others about a relationship with Jesus. We talked about languages and laughed when a mispronounced word turned a man’s name into “sheep”. We played African instruments and looked at pictures of me at 7 holding a monkey. We touched the 10 foot long boa constrictor skin I brought with me and talked of God’s miraculous power in saving my sister who was bitten by a viper a lifetime ago.

me and monkey

But in the days since, I keep thinking of things I forgot to tell them. I remembered to tell them my Kisi name (Finda Soko), but I forgot to show them the unique and very cool way Liberians shake hands! I told some about that time I ate a rotten porcupine – but forgot to show them the picture of grasshoppers fried to a golden yummy crisp in palm oil! But even as my thoughts swirl, there’s this one thing that I can’t shake … it keeps swelling in my heart.

You see, my parents were just farm kids. You might think that you need some special experience or “background” to prepare you to move your family to Africa and translate the Bible into a language that has never even been written down. And while there’s no denying that my mom and dad are two amazing people – and that they definitely had training before they went –  they started out on a simple farm in North Dakota, doing what farm kids do across this world every day.

So what I can’t stop thinking about is this: what makes them so special?  Why did they end up in the middle of this grand adventure that has taken them to the far corners of the world and changed hundreds of people’s lives as they’ve walked?  And I think it comes down to one word.

Simple obedience. A heart to hear God … and then simply follow.  Sometimes we can’t hear God because our world is so full of noise. Distractions surround us and consume us. When is the last time you stopped, breathed in deep His holy breath, and just listened?

But then sometimes we do hear His voice.  And like Moses, we deflect. We find every reason why we are not qualified, every reason we will fail. And we tell God that someone else would do a better job. And while we applaud the efforts of those around us, we hide inside our own quaking insecurities.

Sometimes we get really busy doing good things for God – until we end up empty and lost, realizing we weren’t really following Him, but our own personal notions of godliness.

Because, let’s be honest. Which one of us really feels qualified, gifted, or talented enough to do great things for God? And isn’t that just the point? I told these kids the other day that God has hidden treasures in them – gifts that they will discover as they walk with Him. And each discovered gift gives them a new opportunity to follow Jesus more fully.

What gifts has God placed in you? We like to think of gifts in grandiose terms – music played in Carnegie Hall and art displayed in the Louvre. Have we forgotten the lesson of 1 Samuel 16:7?  “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” What lies in your heart, my friend, that is begging to be let out? What next step is the Lord calling you to take? Because a calling isn’t a grand plan for your life – it is this day lived in full obedience to Him! In the array of gifts God has hidden in me, there is one embarrassingly simple thing that has reached more people for Him than any other. It is this: a mere smile.

A simple genuine smile has opened more doors to conversations about the freedom Jesus has brought me than any long-winded argument about apologetics ever has. There are other gifts and abilities God wants me to use for Him, but what I’m trying to say is this: don’t wait for the big moments. Or for the more talented people who’s gifts seem to shine brighter by man’s standards

God is calling you, today, to offer everything you have, large and small, to Him.

And the adventure that lies before you will take your breath away. It starts with one step of obedience.

“Many a questioning, many a fear,

Many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from heaven,

Time, opportunity, guidance are given.

Fear not tomorrows, child of the King –

Trust them with Jesus. Do the next thing!” (ancient Saxon legend)

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Posted in Walking it out

Helicopters and God’s faithfulness

I stood here on that cold October morning, the wind whipping my face as I watched the helicopter take off. The helicopter carrying my son away from me.

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And my heart broke. The night before, Brad and I had rushed to the ER with our boy. What had started with a cold, followed by a fever, had erupted into a full blown seizure. And now this moment– I feel the tears welling up even now as I remember. They needed to get him to a bigger hospital, and this was the best way to do it. I knew it was the best thing for him, but nothing prepares a mother’s heart for this moment. Watching her precious baby being loaded into the back of a helicopter – more helpless than I had ever been.

I stood there today, another cold and cloudy morning. And I watched that same helicopter land. All the memories came rushing back as the wind whipped my face. Some feelings never fade. This day, it was just a demonstration – they brought the helicopter to show us it’s life saving capabilities. And this day, my 8 year old boy scrambled into the back of it to see the place he had once laid as a helpless baby. So big, so strong, so energetic and smart – I sometimes forget.

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I forget the day the doctors told me about an “anomaly” with my “fetus” (I couldn’t believe they would call my precious baby a fetus). The months wondering what we would find in him when he was born. The days in the NICU, the tests, the surgery, the oxygen tanks they sent us home with. I forget that control is but a vapor – taunting us and then slipping away.

And when I remember, I find my soul breaking out in song. Not just songs of thanksgiving for how God has rescued our Caleb, but songs of thanksgiving that my God is in control. And reminding me that I’m not.

Because when the dark clouds roll in, I hear these words “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

And when I feel hopeless, my tired eyes read this “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.”  Zephaniah 3:17

When I feel alone, I am lifted by this promise: ““the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders… There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty.The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Dt. 33)

And in my despair, I hear these simple words: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Ps 46:10

I didn’t expect this to happen today. It’s been so many years – life has moved on. This morning I opened my Bible and read these words: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live… Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God” Dt. 4:9

I nodded my head, and went on with my day. But when I watched that helicopter land, it slammed into my heart like a tidal wave.

DO NOT FORGET THE THINGS YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN

DO NOT LET THEM FADE FROM YOUR HEART

REMEMBER THE DAY YOU STOOD BEFORE THE LORD YOUR GOD

Oh yes, my Lord, I remember! And I praise You. I praise You – not just for your miracles (which are many), but for Your presence and for Your power. In my lostness, in my confusion, in my moments of despair, You have carried me.  Your mercies truly are new every morning – great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3)

 

Posted in Walking it out

Can you hear Him?

That strangling darkness.

It’s hard to say exactly when it started. When my soul turned from her adventurous thrill seeking self. Was it that trip many years ago where a faltering plane threatened to fall from the sky, leaving me feeling vulnerable and out of control? Was it that day driving in snow when I could no longer see road nor ditch nor car coming my way? Was it merely watching pain move in and out of other’s lives and mis-appropriating that pain to my own – wondering how and if I would ever survive such loss?

Maybe these little moments just all worked together, like bombs going off in my spirit – wall-of-thornsslowly shattering my trust and leading me to suspect what lay around every corner.  I became a mother, and suddenly had a little life to protect. And slowly seeds of desire for control and fear of the unknown bloomed into a wall of thorns, threatening to strangle me and the adventure filled life God had given me.

I would leave my baby safely in one room and immediately envision the terrifying harm that could come to her if I wasn’t always by her side. It quickly invaded all areas of my life – fear lurking in every corner of my world. We would drive somewhere – anywhere – and the possibilities of our demise were seemingly endless. Panic began to encase me, consume me.

Have you found yourself doing this too? I think we don’t talk about it because it’s embarrassing – or maybe we think we’re just going crazy – but many of us play these mind games to some extent. It’s when the mind games start to rule your life that it gets terrifying.

When trapped inside your own head, where is one to turn? How do you get out of a prison that traps you from within?

God has a way of walking in these dark places. It’s not with a spotlight. And it’s not the thunder and lightning of immediate transformation, although I prayed for that so often – “God just come down and save me from this!” When I look back at my life, especially in the dark places, the footprints of God are silent and gentle.

Elijah – the fiery prophet of God. I look at him, and see a man with no fear. I think of the elijah-fireprophet who walks up to the king who is trying to kill him and challenges him to a duel of their gods. I think of a man who single-handedly took on 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. I think of the man with enough faith to douse an altar in water while praying for fire from heaven. Imagine praying for God to send fire in the face of an entire nation – and God responding!

The next day, one woman, filled with hate and evil, threatens him. And he gives up – he runs! “He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’.”

Really, Elijah?! Didn’t just yesterday you experience the power of God come down in FIRE? Didn’t you see the end of a devastating famine in response to your prayer? Didn’t you boldly stand before 850 prophets and a king who has been hunting your life? And now, one woman has threatened you and you turn and run and want to die? How did fear do this to you?

Yup, that’s pretty much me. Minus the fire from heaven and the bravado in the face of hundreds of detractors. Just me – who has seen God’s hand move, who has experienced the touch and presence of a loving God. I may not have lived the big, bold miracles of Elijah, but I have seen God move in ways that confound the mind and make the heart bow in utter adoration. And yet there I was, laying down under the broom bush of fear, waiting for the worst my imagination could summon. Letting the fear consume. Waiting for death.

And God answered Elijah. The angel of the LORD came to Elijah. He didn’t supernaturally reach down and remove his fear. He didn’t even tell him that everything was going to be okay. He told him to eat. The angel prepared food for Elijah! After eating, sleeping, eating again, and traveling for 40 days, he finds himself in a cave, still feeling sorry for himself. Many believe this cave was in the same mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

And God comes to him. And God finally speaks.

These aren’t earth shattering words. This isn’t a fresh revelation etched in stone. God speaks one simple question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then come raw displays of nature’s power – the earth shattering power of wind, the ground rumbling in a mighty earthquake beneath his feet- but God wasn’t there. Next came the silence.

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The winds died, the rumbling ceased, and in that quiet, Elijah heard it again. That still, small whisper of Almighty God asking one more time, “what are you doing here, Elijah?”

My soul stirs in hope at the simplicity of this moment. My raging fear stops cold and lies down at Jesus’ feet. After listening to Elijah’s complaint, God simply points him back to the task at hand. It feels to me like He’s saying, “I’m not done, Elijah! Don’t quit before the story is over. Don’t sit there in your pool of self pity while I have more for you to do! Get up, and do the next thing” In my despair, I had a hard time seeing God. I wanted Him to show up in a bolt of lightning. There were no flashes of mighty power in that moment of time. Instead, all He whispered to me was “keep being faithful – to the calling, to the life I have given you”. He gave me tools to disentangle myself from the vice of fear – that story is for another time. But I discovered life again as I walked through the wilderness, clinging to His still, small voice – my Shepherd’s promises at every turn. Too many to number.

“He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23)

“His mercies are new every morning”  (Lam 3)

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Is 43:2)

“…the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Dt. 31:6

Awake my soul and sing! His promises never stop, so let’s keep walking – we will find Him there as we go.

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Posted in Walking it out

Awesome Ninja

Hello my name is

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. We’re all given a name when we are born – some cultures hold ceremonies and have great traditions surrounding the naming of a baby, others just put a name on a certificate. Some parents choose their baby’s name as they race to the hospital (someone needs to ask my father in law about that!), and some parents agonize over every nuance of their child’s name.

God had a habit of changing people’s names in the Bible. Abram became Abraham – Sarai was changed to Sarah. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, and later Saul became Paul. All very significant in the life of the name-bearer.

My dear sweet amazing “mother in love” got to meet Jesus face to face last week. Her name was Karen. But she had another name – a name hundreds of beautiful brown skinned young people called her – “Mama Hutch”. She’s carried that name for years – it embodies her so well. A Mama to hundreds who don’t have mothers to go to. I asked my husband, Brad, where she got that name. He can’t remember. It just seems like it’s always been. It’s who she was.Sam 2

I have a nephew named Sam. He is 4 – and he likes to choose his own name. Sam is cool – the names he chooses always start with “Awesome”. A few months ago he was “Awesome Ninja”. A couple weeks ago it was “Awesome Iron Man”. We never know what his name will be – but we know it will start with “Awesome”.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. What if we introduced ourselves to everyone we met as “Awesome ______”?! “Hello – my name is Awesome Sara!” My name means ‘Princess’ – so I guess I could go with “Awesome Princess”! I giggle a little thinking about it – but I wonder – what would the impact be? Would we begin to feel differently about ourselves? Would others think about us differently – even treat us differently?

What if we really did it? Had the audacity to claim our true names – the ones Jesus gave us? He made us, you know – wouldn’t He have the best names picked out for us?

Try some of these on for size. Some of them take great boldness to believe that it could be true. Some make me feel like a little girl trying on my mama’s high heels and wobbling around the kitchen.

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But don’t take it off just because it feels strange – grow into it! This is your name – wear it with all you’ve got!

  • Treasured Possession – Dt. 7:6
  • God’s chosen one, holy and beloved – Col 3:12
  • Friend – John 15:15
  • The Apple of His eye – Ps 17:8
  • His son! His daughter! – 2 Co 6:18
  • Chosen – Eph 1:4
  • Masterpiece – Eph 2:10
  • Crown of Splendor – Is 62:3
  • Repairer – Restorer – Is 58:12
  • Beloved – Song of Songs 2:16
  • Saint – 1 Co 1:2
  • Temple of the Holy Spirit – 1 Co 6:19
  • Righteousness – 2 Co 5:21
  • Set Free!!! – Gal 5:1
  • Forgiven – Eph 1:7
  • Citizen of heaven – Phil 3:20
  • Overcomer – Rom 8:37
  • Accepted – Rom 15:7

So live today bravely – boldly – fervently claiming the name your Creator calls you! And while you’re at it, introduce yourself to a few people as “Awesome Ninja” !

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Posted in Walking it out

Words I was taught never to say

I give up

Words I was taught never to say

Words I teach my children never to say

Have now become my mantra.

It started when the moose slammed headfirst into our RV, crushing in that window in RV mirrorfront of my driving husband, sending glasses and bowls and boxes of graham crackers flying across the vehicle that was my home for a month.

We were spared. Miraculously spared from what could have been something so much worse. Satan must have sent that moose to stop us from our mission to spend the summer travelling and bringing the Gospel to those trapped in darkness. But on we marched. “Now we see through a glass dimly…” Then came the rest of the story. Under that RV was a mess of metal and bolts that were coming apart. Unbeknownst to us, we had been driving all summer with a rental RV that was being held together by only a nylon washer. Tragedy may have faced us hours down the road, had we kept driving. God sent us a moose. He whispered in his ear to meet us on that dark road in the middle of Idaho, and He saved us. He hadn’t saved us from the moose – He had used the moose to save us. “Then we shall see face to face”.

We travelled on, confident in our mission. Confident in how God had spared us. And sitting at a stop light across from Denny’s, waiting to turn left, it happened. A car lost RV crashcontrol, hurtled towards us, and slammed into the front of this same, battle weary RV. And this battle weary family shook.

And we limped on. God showed up in ways we could never have envisioned. Our personal chaos didn’t have to distract from the larger story – but it changed me forever. This time there was no second story. No reason why it happened. Just a moment that ripped my sense of control away from me. And God whispered “Are you ready yet? Are you ready to finally let go?” Now we see through a glass dimly…

I spent the majority of my life looking for answers to the “why”? Wanting to understand – to control my circumstances, to prevent pain and loss. Or maybe trying to form myself into the person I thought God wanted me to be. Twenty years ago, when He asked me if I would go anywhere – to speak His words to whoever He asked me to? Brokenhearted, my insecurity spoke and I stammered “I can’t” … for 20 years He has been walking beside me – gently reminding me that though I can’t, HE CAN. And that’s all He’s ever asked of me.

So that day the crazy driver slammed into our RV? I gave up. He didn’t just shatter our RV– he shattered the illusion of control that had threatened to ensnare me. It’s in our shattered places we find the most healing. I gave up. Not in the traditional sense – I gave up myself. I didn’t need to know why anymore – Then we shall see face to face. The answers will come one day – I don’t need them now. On that day I will be all He created me to be – until then I will just do what He tells me to do and trust Him to be sufficient in my weakness. Just Jesus – that’s all I need to know. And here I rest.

I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering…Phil 3:10

 

Posted in Walking it out

Belonging

I went to the local park the other day with my kids. We had some bread with us, so we decided to feed the ducks nearby. That’s when I saw this.

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I’ve seen a lot of Canadian Geese in my life … but I’ve never seen one alone. I’ve read all the stories of how geese travel in a group, how they take care of each other, look out for each other on their annual migration. So seeing this guy mixed in with a motley assortment of ducks struck me as odd.

But look closer. His wing is dragging. goose wingHas this guy been injured? Suddenly, it makes a bit more sense. He obviously couldn’t continue his flight with the rest of his flock, and had to be left behind. Moments like these prompt me to think strange thoughts – like, “what is it like to live as a Canadian goose among Arkansas ducks?” Does he feel out of place? He certainly looks out of place to me… And how does he feel about being left behind?

It kind of made me think of myself a bit. Almost everywhere I’ve been, I have felt out of place. My light skin and blonde hair certainly made me look out of place among my Liberian friends where I grew up. On the outside, I fit in much better among my friends in Los Angeles, later during my high school years – but my heart still beat African. I definitely didn’t “belong” there. In fact, the first time I ever felt that sense of “belonging” was among an array of nationalities, languages, and cultures in the center of Amsterdam … a bunch of misfits that found belonging among each other.

And how many of us have felt that horrible “left behind” feeling? There goes the rest of the world – they have their life together and are moving along just like they “should”… and here I sit with a broken wing. The loneliness can smother at times like this.

But this goose wasn’t alone. And though his new “family” was a strange assortment of creatures that didn’t look like they belonged together, I found it a beautiful picture of the church. Not the building – the church as Jesus referred to it. What could have been more out of place and clumsy to the outside observer than the motley crew of disciples Jesus gathered? And to the loudest, most impulsive, He said, “You are the rock on which I will build my church” (Mt. 16)

And here we are, 2,000 years later, still clumsy and out of place, but being together. Jesus gave us each other for these broken wing times, when all your expectations and dreams and longings seem to fly on without you, and you’re stuck with a bunch of strange ducks. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11).

Is Jesus trying to tell us to release the yoke of expectations, our self-inflated notion of who we should be, our habit of comparing ourselves and our lives with everyone around us? We all have our yokes – things we have done, things done to us, shame we hide in the dark places, things we wish we could erase. What if we really lived this – and set it down? His yoke may involve a cross, but His promise of true freedom can’t be shaken. Galatians 5:1  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. you will be free indeed                           Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Proverbs 1:33 “But whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If this is what it means to have a broken wing, let it be. And let me be free!

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But I don’t think I’m unique in this. My story may sound different – not everyone grew up in another country – but I’m guessing your desire to “belong” is as strong as mine. And I’m also guessing that you haven’t always felt like you fit in.

I realize that there is nothing new in this. And we’re in pretty good company. Hebrews 11 talks about great heroes of the faith – Noah, Abraham, Enoch, Sarah, and many others … and then it says this: “they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Paul says it this way: “Therefore, I urge you as foreigners and exiles (aliens

 

 

 

Posted in Walking it out

African waters

I am thinking about water tonight.

Specifically, I’m thinking about water in Africa.

Because today, while sitting around a table with precious friends, we talked about what it looks like to be close to Jesus. And it seems like such a simple question, but we found ourselves groping for words to describe – even understand – what that really means.

So I’m thinking about water tonight. Deep, clear, clean, cleansing water. And I’m remembering…

I guess when you have to work for your most basic necessity – water – you remember it a little more. In this case, I remember great rivers, deep rivers, flowing with mighty streams of life giving water. For some of the year. But when the dry season would come, and the rains would stop, that roaring river would slow to a trickle, and the life supply would dry up.

dry riverbed

When you need life, and the rains have stopped, and your river dries up – where do you go? How do you quench that soul sucking thirst?

Deeper in the jungle – down a dusty trail stairstepped with gnarled roots of jungle trees – lay a quiet spring. It didn’t rush, it didn’t roar. In fact, it never seemed be more than a couple of feet deep. The water was clean and pure, flowing up from within the earth, fed by unseen underground sources. Every person in my village would get their water from that one spring. It never mattered how many filled their bucket, the spring never ceased to provide life.

Water up        Water kid

But the true miracle waited for those dry, dusty months when the rains stopped. Though the surrounding rivers would dry up, that spring remained the same – never changing, never leaving us thirsty. It was always enough.

spring

Doesn’t that sound just like our Jesus? “… whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

I don’t know about you, but I usually prefer the big, loud rivers. They seem more exciting. They seem more safe – you can SEE that the water is deep and oh how I like to be able to SEE. It feeds that illusion of control, that sense that you know what’s coming, what’s left, and when you need to move on. But  then it dries up, and I’m left with that same dry, cracked, thirsty, soul hunting for another source of life. -“For my people… have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:13

But Jesus promises us a spring of water WELLING UP to eternal life. Clean, pure, life-giving water. And we usually can’t see the source, but that doesn’t stop us from “tasting and seeing” that the LORD is good! Oh may I drink deep today of His water, and may I camp here and not be lured away by the promises of deeper waters.

And then the transformation! “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:38   We get to participate in the miracle! He feeds us, He nourishes us, He soothes our thirsty souls, and then we get to refresh others with the same water He’s given us!

This, my friends, is what it means to me to be close to Jesus. I still can’t comprehend it, but here is where my soul finds rest.

never thirst