Archives for May 2013

Fearing the Worst {Taking Hannah to Honduras}

Shadows danced across the wooden paneling of my bedroom walls.  Wind swirled under the trailer, making the underpinning clang.  My heart thudded in my chest as I huddled under my covers, sending prayer after prayer heavenward.

Jesus, please protect me.  And my family.  And our home.  And my kitten.

Brewing storms created much fear in my young heart, for the creek behind our trailer often overflowed its boundaries, pouring into our backyard.  Then under our trailer.  Then into our front yard.

Once my grandpa donned waders and carried me to higher ground, so NOTHING cast more fear in my heart than rain and rising water.

Fear. 

When I was younger, I thought as I aged that fear would dissipate.  I’d be older and bolder and less fearful of this world.

Wrong.

My fears would simply change with age.  Instead of fearing for myself, I began to fear for others – not in a paralyzing way, but in an “I’m responsible for them” way.

Over the past few weeks this “I’m responsible for them” fear has been highlighted in my heart by my upcoming trip to Honduras.  One week from today, I will fly with a team and my 13-year-old daughter to Tegucigalpa then later to Puerto Lempira.

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I’ve been to Honduras many times, but have never feared anything except the plane ride – and even my fear of flying is lessening as I frequent the friendly skies.

Yet, I’ve never flown to a third-world country alongside my daughter.  The little girl I birthed has never seen real poverty.  Her heart has never heard the cry of the desperate.  She doesn’t know the feeling of riding away on the bus, wishing you could have done more.  Praying those you’ve met somehow saw Jesus’ love in your actions and heard His words in your speech or through your smile.

She’s never had reason to question God or his ways.  She’s never looked need in the face and called it by name.  She’s never known want  – never been hungry – never been without.   She’s never seen barbed wired, machine-gun guarded gas stations or residences.

In Hannah’s world, a tarp doesn’t constitute a house, a bowl of rice doesn’t equal a meal, and two outfits aren’t a wardrobe.  This is the unknown for her.

And for me.

I’ve never viewed one of the world’s most dangerous countries as a mom protecting her child.

This became most evident to me a few weeks ago when I began having nightmares about our time in Honduras.  I’d see Hannah and I working side-by-side one minute, but in the next, she’d be gone.  Sometimes I’d see her off in the distance reaching for me and other times I couldn’t find her at all.  I awakened as I frantically search, running from place to place screaming for her.

Finally, I admitted to myself: I fear what Hannah will see there.  I fear I won’t be able to protect her.

And, God says to my heart…I am her protector. 

But.

I want to control what she will see, who she will meet.  I want to protect her from anyone who might wish her harm. I want her to experience Honduras and see God show up as He always does – in miraculous ways.  BUT, I also want to help God decide what her experience will look and feel like.

In fact, I’d like to always keep her safe.  From mean girls.  From unfair circumstances.  From death.  From harm.  From the world.

And, I can’t.  I can be wise, but that’s it.

I’ve placed my life in the hands of a sovereign God that has promised to never leave or forsake me.  I’ve taught Hannah about the same God.  About a God who loves her- a God who numbered her days before her birth.  A God who promises his children – including her – eternal life.

If you’re fearful today, I pray you cling to Him and His Word:

Give thanks to theLord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.

Let all Israel repeat:“ His faithful love endures forever.” Let Aaron’s descendants, the priests, repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.” Let all who fear the Lord repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.” 

In my distress I prayed to the Lordand the Lord answered me and set me free.The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me. I will look in triumph at those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes… Psalm 118: 1-9

Instead of fearing, I am thanking God for His goodness and love.  I am remembering that He is FOR me – and for Hannah – and for all of his children.  Placing confidence in myself to protect Hannah is foolish.  Only God can protect her wherever she is in this world.

Give thanks to the Lord; He is good.  His faithful love endures forever. 

And, THAT is enough.

Why Do We Struggle with Sin? {I Am Still Being “Saved”}

I join the group headed down the dusty, gravel road.  Tweens and teens laughing and talking as they sauntered toward the woods.    Our skin is tinted pink from a day in God’s creation.

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It’s been a good day.

We enter the canopy of trees still following the dusty path.  Ahead is a clearing with makeshift benches made from wooden slats and tree stumps – row after row – tiered so all can see the front.  Stepping on and over the seats, we push and shove, trying to sit by our friends.

A leader attempts to garner our attention with a whistle.  We reluctantly respond as a sweet gal with a guitar begins to lead us in song.

Amazing Grace.  Holy, Holy, Holy.  The Old Rugged Cross.  And, You Can’t Get to Heaven (just for fun).

Our voices lift to Him – His creation singing among His creation.

Soon our pastor steps in front of the wooden cross, marking the front.

I don’t remember his message.  I am not sure what words he used, what passage he quoted, or what plea he made, but my heart was overflowing.

And, in that moment on July 11, 1989, my Creator awakened my 13-year-old heart to His presence.  As the final chorus began, I stepped from the row into the aisle and walked forward.

I didn’t really have to go forward.  I knew I belonged to Jesus already.  But, I wanted to pray – to thank Him for my new heart.  Thank Him for saving me, rescuing me from a life of sin.

I knelt at the improvised altar – a piling of stones in a long row.  I bowed my head, joined hands with my pastor, and prayed to the Most High God, confessing my sinful heart, acknowledging His death and resurrection, asking for forgiveness of my sin.

With tear-filled eyes I said Amen and raised my head.  This moment I remember clearly…

Still on my knees, I looked heavenward.  Light was streaming between the trees as sunset approached.  All voices around me were hushed; I could only hear his creation – singing songbirds and swishing trees.

I smiled, for I knew:  I had met Him today.  In person.  He had come to tell me – I choose you, Sarah.

In my 13-year-old heart, this was THE moment.  I was in.  Heaven would someday be my home.  I was a new creation.  The old was gone, the new had come.

I had been saved.

Then, I went home.  And later back to school.  I was a new creation – for sure.  My life’s focus was different.  I attended church.  But…

My problems persisted.  I still caved to peer pressure.  I still struggled with sin.

What happened to the “old was gone, the new had come”?  Yes, my heart was new; I could feel it.  I knew it.  But, why was I still steeped in sin?

As the years have passed, I’ve pondered this often.  I am His child.  I serve Him.  I love Him.  Except for a few seasons, I’ve pursued Him.  I love His Word.  I hunger and thirst for righteousness.

So, why do I suffer?  Why do I struggle?  Why do I give into temptation?  Heck, why am I even tempted?  Why can’t I just be the “new creation”?

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. 1 John 16:33

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4: 12-13

I can’t just “be the new creation” because I am still being saved.  My salvation was not a one-time event.  We can use a variety of terms – redeemed/redemption, deliver/deliverance, freeing/freedom.  But, regardless of the jargon chosen, it’s clear to me that our “new creation” is continual.

I was saved, I am being saved, and the day God calls me home to heaven, I will be fully saved. 

For now, I walk in the wilderness – just as His Word promised.  For now, I live in a fallen, broken world in which Satan is prowling like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

My heart has always had trouble reconciling this continual process of becoming more like Christ.  I have never really understood why God saved me yet my struggles continue.  I might understand it theoretically and theologically.  Still, all those fancy terms like justification and sanctification have mattered little when I have faced deep hurt or sat by a floundering friend.

But, recently as I listened to a teacher review Exodus 1-18 and introduce chapter 19, I finally understood. The teacher said (paraphrase):  The theme of Exodus chapters 1-18 is redemption.  God is saving His people from slavery in Egypt and taking them to the Promised Land.  It’s symbolic of our own Exodus – God saving us from sin and moving us toward the ultimate prize:  Eternity with Him.  But, in Exodus 19, the Israelites find themselves at the foot of Mount Sinai.  It seems they’ve already been saved – freed from slavery – out of the wilderness even.

So, what’s next?  If the saving is over, why aren’t the Israelites being ushered into the Promised Land?

If we’ve been saved, why aren’t our lives reflecting “promised land” living?

Why is life still so difficult? For them – and for us?

Because… God took the Israelites out of Egypt.  So, now He has to get Egypt out of the Israelites.

God has saved us.  He has delivered us.  But, we’ve been living in slavery to sin and this world prior to the moment He saves us – awakens our hearts to Him.  So, now the work of taking the sin and slavery out of us begins.

Our appetites and desires need transformed from those living enslaved to those walking in freedom. He begins teaching us to utterly depend upon Him and Him alone.  We have been freed from the penalty of sin, but now we need saved (continually) from the power of sin in our lives.

He’s still working in us. Don’t be discouraged.

The wilderness in which you walk, the sin through which you stumble is redeemable.  His desire is for you to turn to Him, allowing Him to mold and make you into the promised “new creation”  – one who can rest in Him as the HOPE  – the only hope  for an eternal rescue from self and to Savior.

[NOTE:  I realize there’s more to suffering than this. I simply resonated with Jen Wilkin’s idea that God was “taking the Egypt out of the Israelites just as He’d taken the Israelites out of Egypt.]

Living with a Shell {What I Learned from a Turtle}

I placed the little creature between my skinned-up knees.  I was catching crawdads, and didn’t want him to scurry away.  After I traversed the creek a few more times, I decided I’d had enough for the day.   I took my bare, muddy feet to the front porch and sat by my new friend.

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He didn’t move.  Not one inch.

He stayed inside his box-patterned shell, not even risking a peek at me.  Bummer. I had envisioned a conversation about our families and favorite fishing spots.  I shook him.  Still nothing.

I held his shell up to the porch light, trying to see inside.  Nothing.

Propping myself on the lawn chair, I decided to read a book and outlast him.  It worked.  Before long, the little box turtle dared a peek at my porch.  I froze, watching as he cautiously stuck his head out, one foot then another, and finally his neck.

A slow process as he tested to see what the outside held.

I wanted to run and grab him, but I knew…if I moved toward him or touched him, he’d retreat back into his shell.  He surveyed his surroundings and proceeded cautiously.  Wise.

I observed as he sauntered across the brown outdoor carpet; I wondered what he would do when he reached the edge, for he wasn’t heading toward the steps.

Going over the edge wasn’t an option.  I was poised to save him.

He didn’t need saved.  He stuck his neck out and realized the edge was near, so he skirted the porch perimeter, exploring.  I watched with held breath.  I wanted so badly to pick him up and say hi.  But, I knew he’d suck himself back in to his shell if I interfered.

I can’t remember what happened to that turtle – or the 20 or more I captured throughout my childhood.    I just remember that turtles have a shell to protect themselves, and if and when they venture outside their covering, it’s a slow, cautious process.

And so it is with us. 

We need and embrace the shell of our lives.  The safe places in which we know we are loved unconditionally.  We retreat to those “shell people” when we feel threatened. But, when we feel safe and can trust again?

We dare to depart the safe shell into the unruly unknown. 

I heard this analogy about life and turtles this weekend from a sweet friend who was speaking at the Walk to Emmaus.  It resonated, especially because I’d observed so many turtles over the years, always thinking…if I could just get the turtle to trust me and come out, he’d know that I was not a threat, but a friend.

Our shells are important. 

God, family, and friends.  The people that love and protect us from harm.  The people to whom we retreat when we feel threatened by the outside world.

And while purposed for protecting, our shells must also situate for sending. 

If the turtle stays in his protective covering, he won’t go anywhere unless someone carries him.  Being carried is often necessary when young in age or faith, but eventually the turtle needs to move on his own.

Eventually, we need to move forward on our own.

Moving requires poking our feet out of our shell and putting one in front of the other literally – it requires going.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 28:19

Going might be scary or feel unsafe, particularly at first, but we must dare to step forward and do the next right thing.

Yet, moving forward is impossible for the turtle that leaves his head inside the shell.  He must stick his head out, noting the landscape, learning the terrain.  But, he can’ t move forward until he sticks his neck out and looks around, truly investigating, pondering, and surveying all there is around him.

Those who form our shells must pray and love us into moving forward – into sticking our necks out and taking the next step.  Just like the turtle, we can only see what’s in front of us; we have no idea what’s “across the porch.”

I could see the little box turtle was headed nowhere and would need to turn; God can see us moving toward the wrong or right destination.  His view is bigger.  And sometimes He will stop us, knowing we are headed no where.  And other times, He will let us go, knowing we need to learn, knowing we will stop at the edge, knowing if he tries to pick us up we might be fearful or untrusting.

As I searched my heart this weekend at Emmaus, I knew this to be true in many ways.  I need encouragement from my “shell people” before I will step forward , putting my “neck out” to heal, love, and grow again.  I also often question the ways in which God is at work in the world.  I feel I am purposefully headed toward greatness only to reach the “edge”  – feeling like a failure.  I question why He didn’t stop or redirect, but know only He can see the whole porch – only He knows where the stairs are and when I should reach them.

As my study of Exodus comes to a close, I am reminded of Moses.  God and Aaron served as his shell.   When God called to Moses from the burning bush, Moses chose to “stick his neck out” knowing he had God on his side. Later as Joshua battled the Amalekites (Deueteronomy 25 and Exodus 17), Aaron and Hur held Moses arms as he raised his staff, making Israel’s victory over the Amalekites possible.

Moses had a strong shell; God was his place of refuge and strength.  But, he also had family and friends within the shell, encouraging and helping him.

We must embrace Christ as our shell – our refuge and strength  – God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1

Embrace our family and friends as part of our shells too.  If we fall down, our friends can pick us up.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12

God will always be our protector; He will remain as the shell – our core – but his desire is for us to stick our necks out for Him and walk forward for His glory.

Be Kind {Wisdom from a Sweet Man}

His white hair is askew and whiskers dot his chin.  Behind his glasses, his eyes sparkle.

You know the key to success? He asks. It’s being kind.  Kind people are successful.

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I listen as he describes his brothers and sisters…name, profession, and spouse.  His wife. He misses her.  He explains that she’s in heaven, and he plans to meet her again there.

He blesses our meal. When his bowed head raises, his eyes look sad…reflective. You know, I’ve had a good life, he says.

He thanks me for my kindness and courtesies.  At 84, he’s losing his memory, but he knows what’s important.  Who is important.  He simply thinks everyone should be kind.

I could listen to this sweet man reminisce all day.  He’s sincere and loving.  Grateful. Thankful.  Kind.

Kind.

I begin to wonder…am I kind?  Do I see others and treat others with kindness?

Am I…of a friendly, generous, or warm-hearted nature, showing sympathy or understanding; charitable; humane; considerate; tolerant. (Free Online Dictionary)

Ruth was this:  friendly, generous, showing understanding, considerate, tolerant.  She was kind to Naomi.  In turn, Boaz was kind to Ruth.

When Ruth is picking up leftover barley in the fields of Boaz in order to feed herself and Naomi –

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers.12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”  Ruth 2: 8-12

Ruth’s kindness to Naomi was known throughout Bethlehem.  Her reputation as kind proceeded her.  In return, Boaz showed kindness, showing Ruth special attention.

And, I know deep within my heart that life could be that simple. 

We should simply be kind. 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Colossians 3:12

Be kind to one another. That’s what the charming 84-year-old man knew as a key to life.  Kindness.

So, let’s be kind. To our friends. To our husbands. To our children.  To our moms and dads. To the bank teller. To the waitress.  To our neighbors.  To the lady honking at you when the light turns green.  To the customer service representative. To everyone.

Be kind.