Posted in Living this Life

The God who sees

So there’s this bracelet …

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

It was a hard week, last week. A few days ago, we got some news that shook me.

More than how this specific situation affected our lives, the news started a wave of emotions that seemed beyond my control. I was having a nuclear moment in my soul and I couldn’t make it stop.

The enemy of our souls will latch on to any opportunity to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10) And this was the moment he grasped.

I was consumed with emotions. I felt anger. I felt confused. I felt frustrated. I felt hopeless. I felt darkness. Every morning, for these few days, I would wake up consumed by these feelings. And let’s be honest – that’s all I’ve described so far is feelings. We all know feelings can lie. So I did the only thing I know to do when feelings rage out of control – cling to the One who is always in control. The Word of my God and His promises.”From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Ps 61:2)

And when I turned to His Word, these are the promises I read, that stood as a strong tower over my heart: “For this is our God, forever and ever. He will be our guide even to death… LORD, YOU are the portion of my inheritance and my cup… He restores my soul… my flesh and my heart may fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name… The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of your hands… Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace … He who calls you is faithful and He will do it… Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (Ps 48:14; Ps 16:5; Ps 23:3; Ps 73:26; Ps 33:21; Ps 138:8; 2 Pet 3:14; 1 Thess 5:24; James 5:8

Though these words didn’t stop the onslaught of feelings that were combating the truth of these beautiful promises from God, I clung to them nonetheless – and I prayed. I asked God to intervene. To help me find my way back to peace and joy.  And in my moments of despair, I asked Him for some tangible expression of His presence in this mess. It was a simple plea from a hurting heart.

Now, my friend, hear the rest of this story…

Because I have this friend. I hadn’t seen her in a couple weeks nor talked with her over that time, so she knew nothing of my situation. This friend walked up to me just a couple days after this desperate prayer and said she had something for me. She said she thought I would understand. And she gave me a bracelet.

And here is where this story takes my breath away. Two weeks earlier – long before I had hit this wall, while my days were humming along as normal – she had sensed God whisper in her ear that she was to give this to me. She hadn’t seen me since then, and so at her first opportunity, she was obedient to the nudge of the Holy Spirit. Two weeks before I would ask God for a tangible expression of His presence with me, He had already answered my prayer! He had prepared the heart of my friend, He had whispered to her heart, and His gift to me came through her beautiful hands.

This gift came to me on the exact day my heart was hurting the most. And God doesn’t miss the details – most bracelets don’t fit me well – they are just too loose, too big. This one hugs my arm like it was made for me. And to top it off, this bracelet was hand crafted in Africa – where I was born!

Friend, do you hear it in the wind? That still small voice echoing clearly through the storm? Saying “I see you. I know what you’re walking through. And I care.”

This isn’t just my story. It’s all of ours. Maybe like me, you’ve walked down long, dark roads. Maybe you have felt despair when the heavens have been silent. Maybe, along with me, you have found the faithfulness of God in those silent places.  But then sometimes when the storms are spinning in our souls, His voice breaks through in a gentle whisper.

Sometimes God chooses to capture the smaller moments when we least expect Him to show up. And in those moments He displays a beautiful truth – that He is with us. That He sees. That He truly does catch each tear in a bottle and hold it close. (Ps 58:8) He promises that when we walk through the fire, He will be with us. That the waters will not overpower us. (Is 43:2) And to be honest, that’s all I really need. Not answers to my many questions. Not a “fixing” of all my problems. Just His presence, here with me know, telling me that He sees.

So as I see that bracelet on my wrist tonight, I catch my breath. And in Him, I rest.

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

this is my story – this is my song

There are some moments in life that pass by quickly and get covered by the dust of passing time, only to be re-discovered years later as a pivotal moment in your life.

Not too long ago, I found myself driving through my old college campus, and as I rounded the backside of  the parking lot, I suddenly felt like I had stepped back in time about 20 years… feet in darkness

I was walking back to my Mission Ave apartments after an evening class with Dr. Dorsett.  I don’t remember what class was about that night, only that I was talking with God as I walked. And then I heard something stirring in my heart.  It sounded like the voice of my God, and it asked me this: “ Will you speak for me? Will you go where I ask and say what I want you to say?”

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.

I heard the same question again. And my heart leapt at the possibilities – of where God may take me and what I might live for Him … and yet my lips uttered a quiet, resigned  “I can’t”. My heart desperately wanted to, and yet my head was clamoring with all the insecurities, questions, self-doubts … all the reasons why I would mess everything up. “I want to,” I found myself muttering under my breath, “but don’t you see I just can’t?”

And quietly life went on. I found myself wandering a bit. From Minnesota, down to a handsome young man on a reservation in Arizona, and then away… far away to Amsterdam.

beautiful Amsterdam , canals in downtownThere my heart was stripped bare. Like Aslan with Eustace, the strong claws of my God cut deep through my dragon skin and I was given new skin, a new life.1  And Jesus quietly whispered to my heart, “here, in this rawness, in the pain of finding your way, I will walk with you

I wandered some more. Back to the US, back to Minnesota, and on until I finally found my home with that handsome young man in Arizona. I found my home among a beautiful brown skinned people, so similar in heart and culture to the dark-skinned people I had grown up with in Africa. I love them as my own family – I got married among them and had my first two children among them.

Hopi Sunset

In the midst of such wonder and joy, I found myself in the middle of a wilderness I had never imagined for myself. A vast, dark, consuming cloud of fear descended on my life. A barrage of worry, a fear of loss, of death, of life – this world that I had always been enamored with now just seemed to hold threats, and I thought at times I was losing my way. And in the swirling madness, my sweet Jesus, gave me His Word, showed me the way out by the power of His promises, and whispered to my heart, “here, in this darkness, I will walk with you”

Then came those words a mother dreads. In the dark of the ultrasound room, the doctor told us that there was an “anomaly” with our baby boy (a boy! We were going to have a boy!) Next came the barrage of tests to determine exactly what the “anomaly” was – the doctors called my baby a “fetus” and offered to run tests to see if we should end the pregnancy – the horror of such words still make me shudder. Months of tests and monitoring and not knowing, until that beautiful day my baby boy exploded into our world and it has never been the same since.  We experienced the truth that there are no “anomalies”, only perfect creations of God, knit together as He sees fit. We saw miracles, unexplained healings and parts held together by invisible hands – and yet God saw fit to use the hands of doctors to do more healing. Surgery on my 3 day old, 10 days in NICU, a baby having to go home with oxygen tubes in his nose – swirling confusion, loneliness – nothing makes a mother feel smaller than knowing she can do nothing for her baby but pray. caleb

But pray! There is nothing a mother can do that is more powerful than that – pray! And in those exhausting, breathless days, my Jesus came close and whispered to my heart, “here, in this place, I will walk with you”

 

Life has moved on, as it always does. Years have passed, that fragile little baby boy with a weak heart is now a strong big boy with an irrepressible belly laugh that takes over a room. We have different scenery out our front door than we did back then. Our days are filled with all the joy and stress, laughter, tears, and busy-ness of full time marriage-ing, all-consuming parenting, and constant ministry. But some things will never change. He continues to whisper to me, “here, in this place, I will walk with you”

 

And so when I found myself in that parking lot last year, the memory – those words- came flooding back and took my breath away. “Will you speak for me? Will you go where I send you?” And my heart knelt, and I saw Him in a new way. He didn’t give up on me, on my halting and ashamed “I can’t”. He didn’t move on to the next better candidate. He just kept walking with me. And as He walked with me, I discovered that He was never asking if I could … He was simply asking if I would. He, who walked with me in the brazen streets of Amsterdam, through the swirling darkness of fear, in the midst of such confusion and pain in the NICU, in the daily pressures of now, will continue to walk with me through whatever He asks of me. And He will give me the words to speak.

 

And so today I echo the words of Moses in Exodus 33:15 when He begged God to simply walk with him.–presence And I rest on the promise of God that followed his bold request: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33) There is no other life for me.