Posted in Living this Life

Sinkholes and Chickens

It rained a lot around here recently. Like, a lot. State of emergency type rain – flooding in towns all around us.

And in my town – a giant sinkhole opened up in someone’s backyard.

So, you know to do when a giant sinkhole opens up in your small town? You go take a look, of course! And as we drove by, the realization hit me and my husband at the same time – this was a house that we had looked at possibly buying a few years ago when we were moving. In other words… this could have been our house, with a sinkhole for a backyard!

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I have thanked God many times for the home He has blessed us with – but this time I thanked Him with an extra degree of awareness. Because I saw what He had saved us from.

It all kind of got me thinking. We all know how sinkholes work. There’s something wrong under the surface. Unstable soil, a cave or a hole underground faces sudden or unpredictable pressure. And the surface gives in – the pressure takes advantage of the weakness and causes a collapse.

Sinkholes happen all around us – everything looks fine on the outside, but inside where no one sees, our souls are slowly being eroded in immeasurable ways.

Confidence seeping away in the barrage of lies thrown at us by the world.

Mired in insecurity because we can never seem to measure up to what is expected of us.

Trapped in a life we never thought we would live. Decisions we wish we could change, but how does one undo the mistakes of the past?

Paralyzed by fear and choking on darkness.

Most of the time we can keep up the façade. No one can see the gaping hole inside threatening to consume us.

And then I think about Jesus. As He laments “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Mt 23:37.

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Jesus sees her guilt, her sin, her filth. And He longs to gather her up and protect, heal, nurture. “But you were not willing,” is His cry.

Does He not weep even more over our stubborn hearts? The pride that keeps us from letting Him gather us close? The stubbornness that keeps us broken when He is so eager to heal? Hear His heart for you… let it sweep over you and fill in those empty places in your soul.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.” Deuteronomy 33:26

“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 43:25

I don’t know what you see when you look over the landscape of your life today. Maybe everything looks okay, but you sense a sinkhole coming. Maybe you see what you’ve been healed from (or saved from) and are holding fast to the One who keeps your life intact. Or maybe it’s all you can see when you look out of the portholes of your soul – sinkholes scattered like landmines, leaving you trapped and isolated.

Hear this, my friend. There is no chasm too great for Jesus to bridge. It all starts with one step – letting go and letting Him in. To those places you can’t admit are there. To the gaping insecurities and holes that you have spent your life trying to fill. And let Him gather you close, and heal those broken places.  Nestle in tight under His wings, and He will give you rest.

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“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91

Keep reading – His promises are true and so beautiful!

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” Isaiah 49:16

“But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. Isaiah 49:25

 “The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you. He drives out the enemy before you; he cries out, ‘Destroy them!’” Deuteronomy 33:27

“And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11

 ““Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

Posted in Walking it out

Do the next thing

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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 Living this Life

He whispers your name

“Mary”, He said.

And in those two syllables, her entire world was changed. What was it about that time? Just a simple name.

Mary

I wonder – how many other times had she heard her name spoken?

And I wonder – how many other ways had it been spoken?

In scorn?

In lust?

Maybe anger… or even pity.

Maybe with a curling of the lip, or the rolling of an eye.

“Mary”

 “Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). John 20:15-16

 There’s something about the voice of our Maker. It opens our eyes to who we really are. It soaks deep into our bones and changes everything about us.

DNAHe who created our DNA, when He speaks our name, awakens that very DNA.

Hearing Jesus’ voice speak her name, Mary suddenly knew the risen Jesus was standing before her! But in that moment, I wonder if Mary also knew who she was for the first time!

One of the meanings of the name “Mary” is “Sea of Bitterness”. There by the tomb, I can imagine Mary lost in her own sea of bitterness. And yet in one word, Jesus turned her weeping into dancing (Psalm 30:11). Her name took on a whole new meaning.

Is your heart weeping today?

Or maybe it’s too numb to weep? Too cold to feel? Too scared to trust? Maybe you have much in common with Mary. Then come, share one more moment with Mary.

He’s saying your name. Right now – do you hear it?

Is it finally time? Time to stop running? Time to let the cacophony that surrounds you fade away… until you hear it.

It’s that gentle whisper – deep in your soul. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;” Isaiah 49:15

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And Mary simply said, “Rabboni!” – she uttered the first name for Him that came to mind. Teacher. Her Master –  and Lord.

This is where I am today – hanging out with Mary a bit. Will you join us?

Posted in Living this Life

Nostalgia

A strange thing happened to me today.

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I was sorting through some things that have been in my basement for far too long, when I found the black, empty projector case.  I held it, I opened it up, my hands touched the zippers again, lightly stroking that empty space inside, and I wept. I wept not for the item itself, but for all the moments that flashed before my eyes on seeing it again.

I remembered many Sunday nights, setting up that projector (somehow missing from the case now – I wonder where it is?), the weeks, months, and years all blur together, but the moments are as salient as if they were yesterday.  I remember bringing my baby boy home from the hospital, wounded from surgery and on oxygen, hanging out on me in his baby carrier while I fiddled with those zippers, pulling out that equipment for an expectant crowd. I remember steaming mounds of food, Thanksgiving turkey for a few dozen young people, laughing, happy faces. Hopi SunsetI remember packing that projector away, filling a van with Hopi faces, listening to their stories and their laughter as we drove over the mesas, down the dusty road, back to their homes.  I see again the mesas turn from brown to brilliant orange and then blazing red when the sun is setting, the smell of rain in the desert – but most gripping of all are those moments gripped in worshiping my Savior with those precious brown skinned friends – all through the eyes of that projector.  The nostalgia sweeps over me and I weep.

These stirring emotions are strange – strange because my present is so full of the assurance that I am living squarely in the center of God’s will. I have no immediate desire to go back or try to re-create any of these moments. Yet I feel the same feelings when I stand at the ocean and the waves take me back to hours spent in childhood being carried on the waves of the Atlantic off the coast of Liberia. I remember the smell of the red clay dirt and the clammy feel of humid African air. My eyes drift from my workspace and I see duckmugthat silly cup in the shape of a duck – the paint is cracked, you can see the lines where I’ve glued it back together, and yet it holds a place of honor above my desk because of the memories it carries. Sipping coffee from that strange little duck in a little snackbar in the middle of Amstardam, the din of voices from around the world, different languages – the questions about God and the meaning of life – all so invigorating. It makes me crave a shoarma bought from a little stand in the middle of the city, long for a cone full of hot fries and some kind of intoxicating mayo, and I find myself mumbling “ein koffie met slagroom” under my breath as I once again feel these overwhelming emotions.

I’m weeping for a time so familiar, and yet so long ago it seems as if it was another person living that life.  I think there is no way to explain or describe the meaning of these feelings except to quote someone much wiser than I – C. S. Lewis got it right when he described nostalgia as the writings of eternity on our heart. Our longing for heaven, for that one good that will never end, is wrapped up in these exquisite remembrances, carrying so much joy and pain in the same breath.

“Apparently,” he says, “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”  And here, in beautiful detail, he explains, “In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… If [we go] back to those moments in the past, [we] would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what [we] remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering… These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

I’m hungry for heaven. How about you?

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