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.

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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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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