Posted in Living this Life

The scent of a flower we have not found

I had that dream again. It’s never the same, but the location is. I guess some places are so tied to our emotions in a visceral way that we can’t shake ourselves free of them.

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In my dream, I’m back in Amsterdam … I don’t remember all the details, but I always wake up with that aching sense of homesickness. I call it homesickness – I think the proper word might be nostalgia. Bittersweet nostalgia – pulled to the surface by the adventures we’ve had these past weeks.

Over the last week, I have walked down trails of remembrance with my family. It started at the ocean. Walking down the boards, my husband told us stories of when he was younger and the memories carved into that beach. We re-lived his memories and made new ones along the way.

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We worshiped at the church he grew up in, hugged and kissed faces that had watched him become the man he is today. We saw old schools, drove by old banks and post offices, and ate way too much pizza. We drove by the beach where he learned to swim, and saw the brick steps of his old house, where a 6 year old Brad sat with his mom and asked Jesus to be Lord of his life.

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It was beautiful and fun. I love hearing the stories that come when we are in these special kind of places. And yet in the quiet moments, I found myself feeling an ache creep across my soul.

An ache for my own memories. My dreams bring me back to Amsterdam, but there are other places. Ones that pull at my heart even stronger. They live on only in my mind … changed forever by the ravages of war. Places I haven’t seen since I was 14 – places I can never return to.

me and monkeyThere are foods I try to describe to my children, but the words don’t exist to really capture the sense. It would be impossible to find a way for someone to feel the sticky wet air of Africa, the smells that fill your senses, the noises that are so rich – and yet it’s all so different. Sometimes I wonder if my memories are accurate – it’s been so long. How my heart longs to walk those red dirt roads one more time, to experience the wild cacophony and colors of the Liberian marketplace!

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Nostalgia is a strange beast. It seems to always be there, waiting for the right trigger to explode in your heart. But like an itch you can’t reach, it’s an ache that can’t be filled. So what do we do with these strange longings that surface and call our hearts to other times and places?

I wonder if this is what Ecclesiastes 3:11 means when it says that God has “set eternity in the heart of man”. One version says He has planted eternity in our hearts – like a seed that grows ever bigger, beckoning us to another time and place. We think it’s a longing for the past, when in reality it’s a longing for our future home. 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.

In 1 Chronicles we read that our days on earth are like a shadow – A shadow is but a distorted reflection of what is real. We are filled with this sense that this life is all so fleeting, but someday we will live in what is real and will never be lost. And so we call it names like nostalgia, and we long for the “good old days” when life was simpler.

C. S. Lewis puts it so much better, of course. “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.”

Keep reading! He says, “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.”

When the pangs hit my heart, I think of what is to come. And I marvel that when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, He meant it – a home that will never end, a safety that cannot be taken from us, an eternity that won’t rust or fade.

It leaves me hungry for heaven. How about you?

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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