Miracles (Part 3)

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I am a skeptic. I was raised in America where skepticism is clothed in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge.  The traditional church doesn’t seek out miracles due to the belief that they were only needed when the church was being formed and the Bible was being written.  The non-traditional church believes that healing happens every time, as long as you have enough faith.  I have walked both these paths. I have seen healing happen. I have also sat in hospitals and begged for healing that never came…at least not in the way I expected it to.  I wanted the supernatural-get-up-and-walk-out-completely-healed type of healing as I sat in the chemo chair.  I wanted the no-question-God-just-did-a-miracle experience when my husband had a brain injury. You know, take up your mat and walk.  Instead, I concluded there are many ways God heals, and sometimes he doesn’t at all.  He CAN heal, but he sometimes chooses not to.  It is what I have witnessed in my faith journey.  But just when I have come to some to peace with this healing question, he challenges me again by doing a miracle…the kind I have been asking to see.

IMG_1583In Romania behind a gate, a woman tells us she has trouble hearing us.  A scripture comes into my mind…faith comes by hearing.  I begin repeating it in my heart.  Faith comes by hearing.  Faith comes by hearing.  Over and over I pray it. The woman’s daughter tells the story to us.  Her mom had a bad ear infection.  They had gone to many doctors, but none of them could fix it.  It just kept coming back.  One doctor decided to go in and clean out her ear, which resulted in a punctured ear drum and permanent damage to her ear. Her head scarf covered her right ear.  A Racer on our team is bold enough to ask the woman if he can pray for her ear so she can hear. He asks her to remove the scarf and gauze from her ear.  He has seen miracles, and therefore knows they exist.  I, on the other hand, would not have been bold enough to even ask, because ‘what if’? What if it doesn’t happen?  What if she thinks we are crazy?  What if God looks bad? Fortunately, none of those questions had to be asked because after praying for her twice, her ear opened up and she could hear.  We offered a song and she gladly accepted the opportunity to hear a guitar and a chorus of Amazing Grace.

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Still amazed by this event, we continued our day with Kid’s Club.  It was a typical VBS type format, songs, bible story, and games.  Children followed us down the dirt road to our meeting place.  They arrived in all manner of clothing. Some with only underwear, some barefoot, some in clothes too big, all covered with a layer of dirt from the walking.  I was struck by the absence of shame or embarrassment as well as the innocence. During the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den, the reader asked, “Have you ever been scared like Daniel?”  There was a loud and unanimous “NO!” from the group of mostly boys. When the story was over, we were starting to make the transition to games, when one boy said he needed God in his life so he would not be afraid.  The other boys watched carefully as he sincerely prayed for Jesus to come and help him in his life to not be fearful.  Two more also wanted to pray, and though these childlike prayers were not dramatic on the outside, it occurred to me they were miracles nonetheless.  A broken heart made whole is no less significant than ears than can hear.

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Later in the evening when all the teams were reviewing the day, another story was shared by another self-proclaimed skeptic.  The mom of a Racer told the story.  They were conversing with a woman who was blind, when her Racer daughter simply asked the woman if she could pray for her eyes.  The woman agreed. They gathered around the woman to pray and afterwards, she said she could see a little.  The Racer prayed again, because she wanted to woman to see a lot!  Soon the woman was dancing, running around, and kissing everyone she SAW, because she SAW them. Her eyes were healed!  As the mom relayed the story, she said, “I am usually a skeptic, but what I felt as we were praying was like nothing I have felt before. What I saw I have never seen before.  It was real, and the woman could see.”  For the skeptics among us it was a gate-opening experience.  The places in our hearts that were sealed off to the possibility of dramatic miracles were swung wide open.  The King of Glory came in and showed us all what happens when we open the gates of our hearts for him to come in.  Once again, he used miracles to get attention for something much deeper than physically seeing or hearing, but rather to open hearts to SEE and to HEAR his heartbeat for everyone to be loved and whole.  The gates of Romania and the hearts which visit there are opening.  Maybe not ALL the way, maybe things are tentative, but they are opening nonetheless. They are a representation of all the ways we close ourselves away.  All the ways we divide ourselves and forget to look up to the one who can…open ALL the gates.

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Stories of the Gates (part 2)

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After the World Racers and their parents have been reunited with many tears and much joy, the mission begins. Over the next few days our hosts create plans for how we can help them in their mission to love their people well. It is pretty straight forward, feed the poor, care for the widows and orphans, open they eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. It is really not complicated.  Love people. Many are without food and so we are sent in teams to homes of those in need, to offer food and prayer.  Walking down the streets of Draganesti with my team, I am again drawn to the gates.  As we walk out of the small town to the smaller backroads, we go from pavement to dirt yet, the walls and gates remain the same. Every house is walled off and closed to the street outside. It strikes me that the people we pass along our way are also closed off with faces which express no emotion. Segmented.  Divided.  Shut away. Without our local interpreters, there is little chance we would be welcomed.  However, because we are with people they know and trust, the gates swing open to us, and inside we learn the stories.

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Our first gate is wooden planks that are roughly put together. No paint, no frills, just boards hammered together. On either side of the gate stands a cinderblock wall that spans the property. We are invited inside by a young girl of 14 with big brown eyes, who knows our Romanian interpreter. Inside are two block houses, which are more like single rooms, and a shed for the animals. The family transportation is an old red bike leaned against the wall. The first house within the compound is painted blue, with red trim windows which have no panes, but are covered with sheets.  The girl’s father is shy at first, standing behind a curtain which serves as his front door.  He passes out anything from inside that might be used for a chair. Every person with our team is offered a place to sit, be it a chair, stool, or crate.  There are numerous family members all in one compound and our interpreter explains that the man’s wife died a few weeks ago from a sudden brain aneurism.

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To show us the customary veil of grief over his home, the man comes out and points to a black cloth draped and tacked on the side of his house. His eyes tear up as he tells the story of his wife. He is overwhelmed by grief and what he will do to raise his daughter. He is roughly put together, just like his gate. He seems rickety in his sorrow. He points to his heart and rests his hand on his chest, which needs no interpretation.  We offer condolences and gather around them with our prayers. The food we leave is appreciated, and I find that within the walls and behind the gates the normally stoic people become open, passionate, and vulnerable.  They quickly go to the deep and painful places in their lives as if sharing their hearts is the most natural thing in the world. It is another Romanian contrast…indifferent on the outside, hospitable and tender on the inside.

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The next gate is made from tin. It is neatly cut and pieced together in three parts from bottom to top.  Its wall looks to be a rough stucco, or concrete of some kind. Once again, we are welcomed inside.  An older woman takes ladles of water and throws them on the ground to settle the dusty floors for our entrance.  That way our feet will not get dusty, and since there is no grass, this is the way to care for the yard. A man and his son, who knows our interpreter, begin the offering of chairs.  They redirect us into the shade of a tree in the front of the house and give us the best seats where we are most protected from the glaring sun. Again, there is more than one house and though it is unclear to us how they are related, we know each person within the walls are family.  Once they have brought every possible chair, we are seated. One of our team has a mosquito bite which is bleeding, and a middle-aged woman notices. She sends her son to get water and a cloth, along with medicine.  She kneels in the dirt to tend to the wound putting the needs of her guests as her highest priority.

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Soon after, she begins her story. Her mother died recently, and she explains that is why she still wears the black scarf of grief around her head.  She is full of emotion as she tells her story and at times, tears flow freely.  A man on our team tells her that his father just died recently also and they share tears of sorrow.  She cared for her mother for some years before her death and now she misses her.  She is hurting because her mother was too sick to make the customary trip to be baptized before she died, and it weighs on her heart.  A girl in our group paints a picture of her mother’s new healthy body being baptized by Jesus in heaven. We gather around the family for prayer and the woman looks us each in the eyes with gratitude.  They ask us to take a photo to remember them by so we can continue to pray for them. They are grateful for the food and for our visit, but not half as thankful as we are that she blessed us with her story. It is carefully crafted together from the cut pieces of her life, from bottom to top, just like the gate.

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Gate number 3 is a tall and strong gate.  It appears to be made from iron or some other kind of metal.  It was not ornate, but sturdy.  We were invited inside by a little girl of about 4 who was wearing only underwear and a smile.  Her face lit up like the sun and she ran to greet our interpreter, and pulled her into the gate.  This family compound had three four homes inside, all cinderblock. None were painted.  Rather than bring the chairs to us, this time the man brought us to the chairs, inside his home.  It was the only room we saw all day which had a door. The walls were barren in the small blue room, which barely fit a couch and a loveseat.  We each took our seats as directed by the man.  Soon he was surrounded by his daughter, and granddaughter and other children from the family because the door stayed open, and we were a source of curiosity.  He told us his story.  Drinking too much and how he realized it would kill him and so he stopped.  Now he works hard and he told us of his children and his 10 grandchildren.  His family are migrant workers who go to other countries to find work since in Romania the jobs do not pay enough to survive.  His sons live in Spain with their families because work is abundant there in the vineyards. He is proud of his home and the way he has cared for his family. He tells us of his hard work to pay for his compound.  He believes that many local people who say there is no work are simply lazy and are not willing to do what it takes. He tells us all of his children are hard-working and that they all work together as a team to provide all that they have.  He tells us that from Adam to Noah all men were from the same family.  At the tower of Babel is where we first spoke different languages and spread out, but under our differences we are all still the same family.  We are brothers and sisters.  We pray for blessings on his house and leave toys for the children. This strong and sturdy man does not need food for his family because he earns it.

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These are the stories of the gates.  Three of them.  Each one I pass on our way back to town I wonder, how many more stories of heartache and pain?  How many more are without hope?  How can they survive within the gates and doors that lock them away from others?  Authoritarian government from years past lingers over the people still.  Fear and mistrust hang in the air and yet, the gates are beginning to open. The stories are being told and hearts are opening up. Psalm 24 comes to my mind and I pray it as I pass each gate.  Lift up your heads, O gates of Romania, be lifted up, O ancient doors which try to close people off.  Allow the King of Glory to come in to bring hope and love.  Who is this King of Glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, who will fight for you. He will fight for your family. He will fight for your life and your heart.  You are not alone behind your walls.  He is the Lord of hope who will make it safe to open your gates and doors.  Who is this King of Glory?  The Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory. Precious people of Romania, you are not forgotten or abandoned.  You are not alone, the King of Glory sits upon your walls, he hovers over the gates and doors waiting for them to open.  Lift your heads O you gates and doors.  Lift your heads to hope.

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Romania (Part 1)

IMG_1629Outside my window there is a cacophony of noise, roosters crow, dogs bark, and pigeons coo.  Horse drawn carts clop, clop along and cars rev their engines and honk their horns.  The sky is baby blue with cotton ball clouds. Someone is sweeping down below and the sound of the broom echoes up into my 4th floor window, along with sounds of lively conversation in a foreign tongue of which I am beginning to become familiar.  After rain earlier in the week, there is a chill in the air, the first sign seasons will be changing soon.  Pigeons sit on the scalloped terracotta shingles; their feet make the sounds of tiny tap dancers above my head.  The gray concrete building contrasts with the tattered roof tops creating an old-world feel. In the distance, I hear a rooster crow and the birds outside my window seem to reply.  I do not understand the language of the birds here like I do at home, but I gather that they are joyful that the sun is shining. Some things are the same despite language and species barriers.

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Romania is a land of contrasts.  There are colorful signs in the modern cities which proclaim any number of products, sitting right next to buildings that have stood for centuries. The alleyways twist and turn in narrow branches which seem to have no pattern to my foreign eyes. Some buildings are skeletons of their former selves and others are shimmering with new sleek designs.  Cafes are hidden amongst the twisted maze of streets and behind the gates. If you stumble into one of the nondescript buildings you find laughter and good food abound within courtyard walls.  Just outside, markets from a bygone era boast with local produce. Drivers talk of old times, during communism when power came and went along with heat, but “It wasn’t so bad.” He tells us the fall came quickly, but the transition is very slow ‘in the minds’ because there are many who still think in the old ways.  The younger generation has their own vision, but it has not come to pass yet. We cannot tell if he himself has a preference.

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In the train station his words ring true, as I look into the faces of the Romanian people. The older women wear head scarves, printed dresses with aprons.  Their faces are kissed and leathered by the sun and hardened without a glimmer of a smile.  In stark contrast, the younger women are dressed in modern clothes. Old and young alike have eyes that tell a story of hard work and fending for themselves.  Old men with hats and talk to one another as if they are solving the problems of the world.  They are animated in their discussions revealing a passion you cannot see just by looking.  Aboard the train, chatter is happening all around and much of it contains the word Americani. We are easily identifiable among the local people. Soon we settle in for our 2-hour ride.  A baby cries nearby, and the mother works diligently to get her to sleep.

Outside the big glass window, the city fades into farmland.  Fields of corn and open skies trick me into thinking I am in the Midwestern US, until I see the fields upon fields of sunflowers.  Their heads are hanging down at the end of their season, but I can imagine the breathtaking scene it would be when they are in full bloom.  The farms roll on and on with villages in between. Patchwork rectangular fields create a quilt with dirt the color of chocolate, tall green grass, and swatches of golden stalks of corn at the finish of the harvest. Houses are surrounded with fences and gates, some beautiful, some bedraggled.  Most every house has some chickens wandering nearby. Within the many of the walls are gardens of flowers, fruit trees, and vegetables.  Roses and zinnias are lovingly cared for among many flowering plants which are unknown to my eye. On the streets, the older women sit on stools or benches beside produce that looks freshly picked from the garden behind the fence. In the heat of the non-air-conditioned train car, people doze on their journey to far away cities.  The occasional ring of a cell phone interrupts the feeling of being in another time period.

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The clouds outside the window have transitioned from white to gray and the sun has gone into hiding.  By the time we reach our stop the rain is beginning.  We hop from the train directly onto the track and wrestle our luggage over gravel and tracks.  We attempt to roll it down the stairs where we will wait for our ride.  The stray dogs greet us, hoping for a morsel of food.  It is clear that feeding one would start a frenzy from the others nearby who turn their heads our way, and so we resist the urge. After some time in the rain, we make our way under the overhang of a nearby building to wait for our ride who arrives shortly. We are travel-weary and wet while we wait, but once we are snuggly in the van, we drive past more gates of all kinds and colors.  They each tell their own story, and I have to quench the desire to stop and ask them for more details.  There will be time for that later.  We arrive at the church, the only gate that is open, and we are welcomed by our hosts with open arms and hearts.  I am intrigued by this country of contrasts and I look forward to having my curiosity satisfied in the days ahead.

How Do You Prepare for a PVT?

IMG_9778“Mom, you are going to have to prepare yourself.  Time isn’t the same in other countries.  You have to take off your American-time-consciousness and your need for control of your schedule in order to just go with it.”

No truer words have ever been spoken.  You see, my daughter knows me. She knows I like to be in control.  I am a teacher; therefore, I am a plan-my-life-down-to-the-minute-and-take-charge kind of girl.  I have been doing it for so long it is natural for me to eat lunch in 17 1/2 minutes, no matter where I am.  If I am to arrive at 10:00, I will be there at 9:58.  I am conditioned to show up early because, in a school, if you are two minutes late to any place, you have disrupted the schedule of the entire building.

kids leaning out of busI plan things weeks in advance.  Field trips require buses to be reserved, lunches to be ordered, tickets to be bought, permission trips to be signed, and all of these things have to be done efficiently or disaster happens. I have been on numerous field-trips-from-hell with an entire grade level of third graders.  Once we were going to the Puppetry Arts Center in Atlanta, two hours from us, when a bus broke down on the side of the road, we went to the wrong Arts Center, and we got lost.  We missed the puppet show and had to eat lunch on the busses on the way home. Another time, we were at a nursing home and our students had an assignment to write the stories of older folks.  I had asked for the most coherent residents to be in the dining area so our kids could conduct their interviews. Instead, they pulled ALL residents into the hallways and released the kids to “go talk to someone.”  It was a teacher’s worst nightmare.  After one code blue, we left the trip hours earlier than planned to avoid traumatizing the kids any further. (And FYI, the code blue was NOT me.)

I think you get the picture, I have an aversion to unscheduled, poorly planned activities. Okay, okay I admit it…I am a control freak. Because of these types of experiences, I am a queen of time management and I kind of expect everyone else to be too.  If I get stuck in traffic, oh my!  If my precious schedule is compromised, horrors!! I begin to cut things off the list to get back on track.  What, you don’t keep a running list in your head of your schedule at all times? I do. I don’t even realize I am doing it, but my family knows it’s there. I think managing a household with four small children is where it all started, but if I am honest, I know I have always been this way.  I have also found, in America, my time sensitivities are cultivated by the culture. Which is why my daughter warned me before my arrival in Thailand. She knew it would be a struggle for me to let go of who I am. She also knew for me to truly enjoy the trip, I would have to do just that.  Because of her words to me, I made a conscious decision to let go of time and to let go of the need to know the schedule.  I decided instead to relax.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Just take off my American need to know and control. Go with the flow. I have to tell you it was not as easy as it sounds.  Yet, I immediately saw the reasons for it.

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There is this thing called a language barrier which requires more time than usual to navigate.  Also, foreign currency requires doing math, in your head, on the fly, just to do the simplest of things.  Then there is the fact that you don’t know the city, which requires you to ask directions.  Did I mention the language barrier?  When you know NOTHING about the culture, EVERYTHING takes longer.  In America everyone else knows about time pressure, but in Thailand (and most other countries, I am told) there is NO time pressure.  It is quite difficult to hurry when no one else is in a hurry. It is a lesson in frustration if you cannot drop your expectations and judgements.  And planning ahead of time?  Non-existent. You can arrange to have transportation set up, and they might show up on time, but it is more likely that they will come “after breakfast time” which could be anywhere from 8:00-10:00.   I was amazed at the skill of our logistics guy to adapt our plans as these types of things came up.  Remember, I have experience counting heads to make sure my entire group arrives, so I know the anxiety that happens when an unforeseen wrench gets thrown in and you have to improvise.  Not an easy task. Especially with a large group.  Add to that the fact, the people you are managing are adults with expectations as to how things should go, who do not fully understand the lack of time pressure, and you have a recipe for disaster with questions like this one.

“Shouldn’t AIM be able to control all variables in a foreign country, like language barriers, bus schedules, traffic, markets, currency exchanges, guides, available ingredients for food, weather, temperature, and time, to have a written schedule for us that includes each day of ministry, meals, free time and exactly what we will doing and where?”

In case you were wondering, the answer on that one is no. 🙂  My recommendation to parents going on PVT, is the same one my daughter gave me.  Just go with it. Expect the unexpected.  Let others worry about scheduling and timing.  Be in the moment.  Enjoy time with your racer whether it is doing ministry, exploring the area, or waiting on a bus.  Let go of your need to plan, and trust that every interaction is ordained by God.  Be looking for the people he puts in your path, even if the path isn’t smooth and straight. Allow your Racer to guide you.  Let them lead.  It seems odd to take the back seat to your children, but being so far out of your comfort zone will require you to lean on them, rather than the other way around. They have been doing this for a while now.  You will be amazed at how well they have adapted to the uncertainty and the day to day challenges of international travel.  Let them show you their world without imposing your own structures on it.  You are there, with them, in their element…soak in it.  How many parents get the chance to get instruction while in the field on how to be a missionary, from their kids?  Not many.  Do not let this opportunity be stolen from you by frustration with things beyond your control.  Be flexible.  When things unexpectedly change, Racers laugh and say “Welcome to the World Race.” By the time the week is over, if you embrace the experiences as they come, you will understand and be laughing too.  What do you expect? It’s the World Race.

I Wasn’t Invited

 

 

IMG_9778To the parents of World Racers who weren’t invited:

There are host of reasons for not being invited.  The thought processes for these things are as varied as the stars in the sky, and just as individual.  Racers sometimes think we can’t afford to go, so they don’t invite us.  Or they believe that launch will simply prolong a goodbye that is already putting them in an emotional state. Some of them have the idea that this is their thing and for us to be present might somehow take that away from them. Some of them want to bond with their teammates and they feel torn between the past and the present moment. Or by the time PVTs (parent vision trips) roll around later on in their race, they have grown in the Lord so much, they hesitate to disturb that growth by bringing us into the midst of it.  Some Racers have begun to gain some independence, and for the first time begin to feel like adults in their minds, to bring us into that space threatens to send them back into childhood. Some of them don’t want us to have the financial pressure to make the trip. Others simply want to show us they are doing well without us. And yes, there are a few, who are estranged with us and do not want contact.  Here’s the thing, your racer has a reason for the choice to leave you out of the mix, and the majority of the time it isn’t personal.  Truly.  It is about them, not about you.  Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • They still love you.
  • They do not want their choice to do this on their own to devastate you.
  • They don’t.
  • They don’t mind telling you their reasons.
  • They are not personal.
  • Ask them.
  • They still love you.
  • They are spreading their wings…some of them for the first time.
  • Let them.
  • This is something you prayed for since they were young.
  • They are following God, on their own.
  • Remember that.
  • It is a good thing.
  • Goodbyes are hard no matter where you are.
  • They worry about you.
  • They probably won’t tell you that.
  • They still love you.
  • They are as scared to be on their own as you are.
  • They won’t tell you that either.
  • They might not even know it.
  • Supporting them emotionally is just as important as supporting them financially.
  • Actually, more so.
  • Being honest about your feelings is important too.
  • Honest heartfelt conversations need to be had.
  • We do tend to ‘take over’ from time to time as parents.
  • Managing them has been our job for so long, it is hard to stop.
  • They still love you.
  • They really want to be grown-ups and make us proud.
  • To do that, they have to separate from us.
  • It is painful on both sides.
  • Growing pains always are.
  • The pain will be worth it.
  • They still love you.
  • They are excited about becoming their own person.
  • You should be too.
  • It is okay to be sad at the same time.
  • It is a grieving process as your role in their life changes.
  • Not being invited hurts.
  • Separation always does.
  • They still love you.
  • Would you really want them to stay dependent on you forever?
  • They see that wouldn’t be healthy.
  • We know they are right.
  • They are making steps to change themselves.
  • It is not personal.
  • Their time in the world expands their vision.
  • It will expand yours too.
  • They will still love you.

 

You Might be a Parent going on a PVT if…

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You might be a parent preparing for a ParentVisionTrip if:

  • The knots in your stomach have turned to butterflies.
  • You have a long, long list of items to bring, from your racer and the team.
  • You wonder how you can fit said list AND your own stuff into one carry on.
  • You consider wearing the same thing for a week in order to do so.
  • You can’t wait to meet the racer who wanted twisted bbq Fritos.
  • Or the one who wanted Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • You wish those items didn’t take up so much space.
  • You consider popping the airtight seals to make them fit.
  • You decide you can take less just to see their smiles.
  • You pray diligently that your body will adjust to whatever the sleeping arrangements are, and whatever the walking arrangements are.
  • You hope that AIM considered an over 50 body doesn’t bend like it used to.
  • This keeps you awake at night.
  • You decide to take extra advil…just in case.
  • You make room for it in your carry on, beside the chic-fil-a sauce.
  • You pray that you will recognize your racer.
  • You worry that you won’t.
  • You liked him/her the way he/she was before he/she left.
  • You trust that God will have done amazing things.
  • You hope that you are not too far behind them spiritually now.
  • You feel a growth spurt coming on.
  • You dream of a long-slow-motion-run-into-each-others-arms hug at the airport.
  • It makes you cry just to think of it.
  • You wonder how to prepare your heart for this adventure.
  • Suddenly packing seems like the easy part.
  • You are nervous about leaving your comfort zone.
  • You leave it anyway.
  • You realize God used your racer as bait… and you took it.
  • You’ve been tricked.
  • You laugh at God’s follow-your-kid-anywhere-they-go strategy.
  • It has been his strategy for years.
  • It works. Every. Time.

Hide and Seek

IMG_9892Around the corner. Just ahead. A rustling in my spirit draws me like a note in a song. It pulls my heart forward. I catch a glimpse.   A shadow. A dancing light. My heart turns towards it. My eyes strain to see but there is nothing. Maybe the in the next curve it will reveal itself. Whatever IT is.

 

A whiff. An inkling. It uses my curiosity against me. Or perhaps for me. Ever tugging me along. Just out of reach. I can feel it there, but it is unknown to me. I can almost see it. Almost.

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Part discontent, part anxious anticipation. Part fear, part faith. All wrapped up in hope. Surrounded in ‘could it really be?’ and ‘I’m going to do what?’ My heart cries out its need to know in this holy game of hide and SEEK.

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Ahhh….seek. Yes. Seek jumps from the page. It catches my attention. Seek me first. Seek and you will find. Seek. A search. An attempt to discover. Seek a person and you will find the thing.

The secret. The new thing. It is waiting just around the corner to be present in the moment I arrive. But which corner? How do I get there? ‘Seek. No need to rush. It will wait for you,’ the wind says to my heart. ‘But I will explode if I do not find it soon!’ my heart replies.

The wind laughs. Pauses. Kisses my cheek as it encircles me. Calling me to follow. Inspiring me. Seek the secret. The new thing. Then it blows past. Resuming our game of hide and seek.

Lift Your Eyes

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The sun is out, and after weeks of rain, it is a pleasant feeling to look out into the upcoming year with a bit of sunshine lighting things up. It had seemed dark and dreary for so long with the news and weather cooperating, conspiring even, to bring hopelessness and darkness to everything around me that I was beginning to think 2016 would begin in that muck and mire. Now, with the sun shining brightly outside my window, I am aware of how much more I appreciate the glowing light when I have been denied its rays for weeks.

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I like to kind of close out one year before I open the next. Honestly, 2015 wasn’t the greatest year. To me it seems the world went a bit crazy this past year. I look back over my blog titles and I see a lot of traumatic world events. I see much sorrow and suffering, from the refugee crisis to the cities who endured attacks of one kind or another. I see unexpected death within my own community of too many young people. But mixed in with the hard things were some light-hearted moments and joyous ones as well. My heart is glad for those. Because despite some pretty dire trends in the world around us, there is always hope and light if you look for it.

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I am not sure what 2016 holds, but I find myself in a pessimistic place. I am holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The other “there is no hope” shoe. I am trying to be optimistic, but with the election coming I know the division in our country will increase. With Isis continuing their plunder, violence will continue to happen and images will continue to flow onto our screens. People I know will die this year. If I focus on these thoughts I will quickly slide down into a pit from which escape will be difficult.

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Yet, resounding in my spirit, I have heard a call to prayer. I believe it is a key to navigating this crazy life we live. Personally, if I could not communicate with God I would be at a loss. Prayer is my lifeline…a way to stabilize my thoughts. Rarely do I speak eloquently when I am in a hard place. I just pour out my heart and then listen to God’s heart. In this quiet place I am reminded of who is in control, and once my eyes are lifted, peace follows.

Corporately, I have sat in many prayer meetings over the course of my life, especially at the beginning of a new year. Meetings in which there was much prayer for our country. I have cried out for a revival that would reconcile us with God and with each other. Where love would take precedence over politics, and humility would bind us together in unity and care for one another. I have called for hearts to return home that have wandered far away. All prayers I have prayed with passion and a full heart in sincerity. I have cried out to God this past year for some relief from the pain of the world that feels as if it is spinning out of control. I guess I cry out louder when I think he isn’t listening.

In a conversation I had with him recently he assured me that he hears prayers and is answering them.

I said, “What? I beg your pardon? Darkness appears to be winning. I don’t understand what you mean when you say you are answering. It seems darker and more divided than ever.”

“Beloved, my ways are not your ways. Answer me this, where does revival come from?”

“Brokenness? I think.”

“Yes you are correct. And where does brokenness come from?”

“Pain?”

“Yes. And in within pain is the seed of healing. For the seed to sprout it has to be broken open. So in the breaking is where revival lives. “

“So, you are saying God that in praying for revival I am actually praying for pain?”

“You cannot pray for safety and comfort at the same time you pray for revival…they are opposites. Revival comes from discomfort and exposure. Darkness exposed to the light. So hatred must be exposed. Division must be exposed. Hypocrisy must be exposed. The wickedness must be visible in ALL people on ALL sides before I can revive…because you cannot give up what you cannot see. You cannot be healed from a wound you do not know you carry. The sooner you see your own flaws, the sooner you can be healed. The sooner individuals seek my healing, the sooner the masses will be revived.   Revival doesn’t begin out there somewhere…it begins in YOU.”

“Hmmm…not sure I like the sound of that.“

“No one does, Beloved. The darkness you see is prayers being answered. There is much evil in the hearts of men which must be exposed…by the light. Do not forget that last little part. There is light…always. There is hope…always. In the midst of the exposure of darkness humble yourself quickly, and then look for the light. And remember I will never leave you, or forsake you.”

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There is always hope!

 

So in 2016, I look for the light in the words of these foundational truths.

  • If God is for us, who can be against us?
  • The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?
  • I will never desert you. I will never leave or forsake you.
  • In God put my trust and I shall not be afraid.
  • The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.
  • In him was life and that life was the light of the world.
  • But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
  • I will lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? From the maker of heaven and earth. He will keep your foot from stumbling; he who keeps you does not slumber or sleep.
  • We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
  • Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
  • Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
  • The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
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Lift your head up!

Lord,

Once again I come to you at the beginning of a new year. I speak your words rather than my own. I lift my eyes to you. I stand strong and courageous, not with dismay and trembling because I know you are with me. I look to the stars to remember your great power and strength. I remember that if you are for me no one can be against me, and that because you are for me I need not fear what man can do to me. I thank you for your light that exposes darkness wherever it resides…even in me. I chose to humble myself quickly when you reveal areas of darkness that have blinded me to you. I thank you that you do not slumber or sleep and that you truly have all things under your authority. You breathe and our world turns. You laugh and the sun shines. Your heart breaks and you cry at the brokenness of your creation. Thank you for shining your light into the darkness. Thank you that even though the darkness seems huge, it cannot overcome your light. I thank you mostly for your life…that shines out into all the Earth. You truly are the light of the world…the whole world. Thank you that you do not leave us to our own devices. We would surely destroy one another. Give me your grace and your compassion to love as you love…and to speak on behalf of that love, which surpasses my understanding. You are my beloved, and I am yours. Continue to show me your heart…always your heart and how it beats…now and always, for me. Amen.

I am a Hypocrite

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I am a hypocrite. Allow me to explain. I have taught my children to believe in a God who protects his children. I have taught them that to be bold in their profession of faith is a desirable trait. I have taught them that to follow Jesus and to be like him should be their life’s aim. And guess what? They believed me. They believed me when I said every nation tribe and tongue. They believed me when I said, God so loved the world. They believed me when I said, red, and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. And now, they are calling me out. Or rather their generation is. They are asking me what do you mean we are not helping people that are in need? What do you mean they are dangerous? Doesn’t God protect us? Didn’t you say that he wants us to love boldly and to trust him? Why aren’t you doing that?  Wow.  Challenging me with my own words.

refugee child  refugee praising

And they are right. They look at me and they see the fear. They see my desire for safety that supersedes my capacity to love. I am a hypocrite. I am an armchair Christian who would rather sit and tell others how to live than to live myself. I am just like those who watch football, who have never even played the game, who believe they know better than all the coaches what play should be called…those who yell at the TV, because they feel as if every missed opportunity is a personal attack on them. I am one of them who sees so “clearly” what the right thing is, that I will not even consider that someone else might know more about the issue than I do.

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The undoing of my hypocrisy began several years ago during my cancer battle. Where my mantra of “just trust God” took on new meaning, because we all know that God doesn’t always protect his own…at least not in the way we profess that he does. Some people, who love him greatly, do not get healed. Trite words, which I had always thought were such a comfort to those I said them to, fell empty on the floor all around me, uttered by well-meaning people like me. The reality becomes an up-close-and-personal one when you don’t know if you will live or die. Trusting God takes on a whole new meaning when you realize you may have to trust him to raise your kids when you are gone.

Then my big-hearted daughter decided to go around the world on a mission to help those in need. Fear once again gripped my heart. I was face to face with my “trust God with your kids” speech. Was I going to believe it, or not? While she was gone she faced illness, political unrest, and natural disasters much to my dismay. Her take on it was a calm and steady belief that God was in control. Where in the world did she get that crazy idea? Oh, right, I taught her that. At least I did with my words. I am thankful that God knows that the desire of my heart is to grow in him, and that he does not leave me the same person as I was before my trust was challenged. In fact, I kind of think challenging my trust is a big part of his job.

I could continue to give you more examples of where the rubber met the road in my life, but you get the idea. The thing is that I think we are all hypocrites to some degree. I think once you realize the truth of that statement and you own it then things get easier.  I have come to see that only God really knows the truth, and he doesn’t need my help to prove it. The truth proves itself. That is such a freeing thought. I guess time will tell. Until then, I have decided to stop being an armchair Christian. I have decided instead of sitting on the sidelines and watching with contempt, I will choose to be in the midst of life where he leads me.

refugee scared child

My heart is breaking for the refugees. I cannot help that or change it; no matter how fear tries to grip me…my heart is breaking for them. They visit my dreams every night.  It will do no good to argue my point. I would be arguing with my old hypocrite self…who would never listen anyway. Instead I want to do something for them. I realize that you may not feel the same and that is perfectly okay. Maybe you feel for homeless veterans…so do something for them. Or you might be pulled towards single parents…so give them a night off by taking the kids. Or maybe you have a heart for hungry kids…so feed some. I guess my point is, we will never all agree on what to do or not to do and what God puts on my heart may be entirely different than what he puts on yours. There is a bit of beauty in that I think. My commitment is to stop being an armchair Christian. It is a call to myself to take action instead of taking aim. It is my answer to my children’s generation that, “Yes, I believe the things I taught you are true. Let me show you what I mean.” Challenge accepted.

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Dearest Y Squad

IMG_9778Dearest Y Squad,

Your blogs have done it…are doing it. Your pictures too. They are breaking up the hard ground inside of us. Reshaping the way I see the world…the way we all see it. Showing us pain. Displaying vulnerability. Painted pictures of love and of life. Life that is inexplicably hard and the compassion which softens it. Tills the rocky ground. Joins us together as the humans that we are.  I wonder if you knew, when you sang the words “break my heart with what breaks yours” with a sincere heart, that you were praying. I wonder if you realized that you were giving God permission to show you his pain. When you sang “you call me out upon the waters, the great unknown, where feet may fail” were you aware that it would be actual waves that would show you your failing feet? Did you know that he would take you to a place to learn the all the questions which cannot be answered? A place where you would experience what it means for your faith to stand, because your body is too weary and your mind too confused? If you had known would you have still gone?

Did you know that God’s heart was THIS broken?

You are his image bearers. He feels…deeply. And so, you feel deeply. His heart is crushed by the suffering. You cannot breathe for the weight of it upon you. He cries tears. Yours run down your face. He grieves for his creation. You mourn for all that you see. It is a very, very hard place you are in.

It is the place of why. Why is this happening? Why won’t He stop it? Why am I here? Why? Why? Then why leads to How? How can this go on? And then What. What am I doing that will change anything? -and so on and so on. The questions roll around unanswered. They are the ones that keep us awake at night when we find ourselves in traumatic and difficult situations. They are a staple of hardship, and a building block of faith. The foundation really. Where the status quo is challenged and the constructs that hold our beliefs in place come crumbling down. It is only after the breaking that they can be rebuilt. It is a humbling place is it not? A place where we recognize all that we do not know. A place of holding on despite what we cannot see or do not understand. A place of trusting without seeing. It is blindness. It is brokenness. It is faith.

I wonder sometimes if, since we are created in his image, he asks questions too. Does he say why? Why is this happening? Why won’t they stop it? Why am I even here? When they will not listen. When they will not choose me. How can they choose to harm each other over and over again? How did I go wrong? It is an odd thought I know. To think that God asks questions of us. To think that he might not know the answers either. I wonder if we are perplexing to him, we humans. One thing I do know and that is that he wants us to SEE. To see his heart, for us, for them…for the refugees…for the world.

We are all sojourners and strangers. We are all refugees. We wander. We do not belong or fit. Until he finds us and until we fall into his arms…we run. We desperately run away. Fear chases us until we are exhausted in our fleeing. We know not where we are running to, only that we must keep moving. Never stopping, lest fear catch up with us. It is only when we get still, and we are quiet enough to hear his calling to us that we begin to feel belonging. The beautiful thing is that sometimes our weary bodies are so exhausted that our spirits can suddenly hear. It can be in the midst of chaos that his still, quiet voice breaks through. It is then that he rescues us…from ourselves…as was his plan all along.

You are watching this play out in the most heart-rending way. You have extended your hands and your feet to be his love. You have opened yourselves up to be his still and quiet voice in the midst of turmoil. You have exhausted yourselves to help the exhausted ones. Funny how that works, isn’t it? You have become a drop in the ocean…and that may not sound like much…and you may wonder if it matters at all, but in His ocean every drop of love costs. And every drop of love counts. No matter that it is sweat, or tears…every drop matters. What you are doing matters. It is a God sized issue, this crisis…and in human efforts and through human eyes it is an impossible one. But his ways are not our ways. He can use even this to bring his love into the world. He can use even you. Is using you.

Are you aware that the brokenness in the world of the refugees is only a FRACTION of his pain? Think of all the trafficking, and slavery, and orphans, and…and…and. He FEELS it all. Did you know that when you agreed to go on the World Race you signed up for a tour of his heart? The world’s brokenness is something he cannot escape or ignore…he loves too much for that. But I imagine he longs for the day when he will set things right and wipe away every tear. Until that time, I know he is glad to have you to walk with him so he can share his pain. It is always such a relief to share the depth of our hearts, isn’t it? I am sure his load is lightened because you are walking with him through his heartache…and because you love while doing it. Pouring yourselves out to love the world…like he does.

Hold on tight to his hand. Watch for his face. You will see his reflection in the mirror…look in your eyes. And then you will see his pain staring back at you through the eyes of everyone you serve. My prayer is for you to have strength so that you will not grow weary. Stamina. Wisdom. Compassion. Divine appointments. Peace. Words. Mercy. Grace. All of these things…are my prayers for you. Most of all, that as he continues to break your hearts with what breaks his…that you will endure and press in to all that he has for you in that place…walking with him.

Blessings,

Michelle Gunnin