Author Archive

A Unified Vision

new sun

I am excited for this new season of GLOW.

As Kelsey pointed to in her blog post to kick off our explanation of this season, the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for every season. Sometimes that is hard to understand, but as our lives ebb and flow, God is present, working and declaring his glory over our lives, in creation, and in many other ways we probably aren’t even aware of yet.

As many of our contributors prepare for new seasons of life, adding members to the family, beginning new jobs, moving to a new location, etc., I am also looking forward to embracing my next season. I am excited to pour into young adults here in Zambia as I help welcome four North Americans to volunteer for the next year with our partners here at Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Zambia. I also get to help send out one Malawian and three Zambians to volunteer for a year of service in other parts of the world. I am so thankful for this job and this opportunity to come alongside people and welcome them into a new season as I help send others out. It is so beautiful to see how God works in newness and in challenges that take us out of our comfort zone and beacon us to trust in Him all the more.

feast

The feast prepared by one of our volunteers to say goodbye to her host family as she also moves to the next season

I am looking forward to leaning into these experiences and continuing to listen to where God is and finding ways to share that with others. Whether God leads me to share with someone one-on-one, in small groups, or through writing, I am excited to find new outlets and new ways to be held accountable to growing in my faith every day.

However, as much as I want to learn who God is in my own life in this next season, my heart is also after unity from within our GLOW team and community even in this season of quiet and stillness. As we take the next three months to step back and rest from our time writing regularly for GLOW, my prayer is that this would serve to build up our bond with one another as well. As God continues to move in our hearts individually and as we continue to shine God’s light where we have bene placed, may we continue to contemplate how we are also called together as writers, readers, and Christ-followers around the world.

The writer of Ecclesiastes not only reminds us of the beauty of each season, but also the beauty of doing things together,

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

When Alyssa first asked me to join the team of regular writers at GLOW, I was honored and excited for the opportunity. Not only has writing for GLOW kept me accountable for listening to God speak, but it has left me encouraged to be a part of something bigger than myself. Even in this season of stepping back, we are still united in this purpose. I would encourage you all as readers and writers yourselves to set up ways to lean deeply into Christ this season. Maybe he will call you to reach out to someone new, learn a new skill, or even write something new that could encourage our GLOW community when we begin writing together again.

May we continue to pray for one another and grow in the unity created by the love of Christ for us.

I’ll miss communicating often with you all so often, but I am excited for what God will continue to do in our midst. May we continue to allow him to transform our lives and make us GLOW for his sake in every season.

Fresh Eyes

Looking Water (1)

Lately I have been learning how to drive the dreaded stick shift! I hoped and prayed this day would never come. I have been very comfortable driving sweet automatic cars all my life. Then, I decided to move to a part of the world where manual driving is the standard, and for long trips, the best vehicles my work has to drive are manual. So, as I prepare for a long trip in just a few weeks, I have got to learn to drive this thing. Boy has it been humbling, frustrating, and challenging, but as I continue to try and to grow, I am thankful for this emerging skills and these fresh eyes I have to see driving in a whole new way.

I started thinking about this message of freshness, and although it has not been easy to embark on something new, something I know I am not good at, what would it be like if I approached other areas of my life with a fresh attitude, open to learning, experiencing, being vulnerable, and conquering fears. I believe freshness is part of the Gospel message. God has freed us from sin, which has hung over our heads since birth. He sets us free to have a fresh start on life. However, our journey as Christians does not end there. Though we are free to live a life away from sin, we often choose to go back to our old ways and are in need of God’s renewing spirit again and again.

The Psalmist proclaims the good news in chapter 34 verse 22,

“The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

God is our redeemer, he takes our punishment and replaces it with His new life. We must come back to Him, to know deeply how much we need freshness to break through our old habits and unhealthy behaviors that are not in line with our new lives in Christ.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” Psalm 37:5-6

Those are such beautiful words, but often difficult to put into practice. How do we commit our ways to the Lord? What does it look like to trust him in everyday life? How do we live in such a way that we show we believe this message?

For me, it often starts with prayer. I may be troubled with a feeling of how things are, knowing that there is something in my life that is not fully committed to him. I must ask for fresh eyes to see my heart. Talk to God and listen to where he is leading me.

God searches and knows me, and wants to reveal to me ways that I can draw closer to him and align my life with who he is. He knows the secrets of my heart that need to be revealed and reworked. And sometimes it will feel like I am driving a manual car for the first time. It will be awkward and bumpy and embarrassing as these dark things come to the surface. But ultimately, if I am trusting Him to lead the way, He will make things right, He will bring about righteousness in me.

Sometimes this means that God will work in us to teach us a new skill, a new way of doing things, and before we know it, we will be driving manual all the way to Southern Province to see His glory at Victoria Falls. Other times, we are never truly comfortable, and though God shows us secret areas of our heart that need mending, but instead of getting rid of it, God uses it to help us continually lean and trust in him.

You may be familiar with Paul’s quote about his own struggles and weakness in 2 Corinthians,

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 12:8-9

Wow. Thank goodness.

I am not the only one that struggles. You are not alone if you feel like you have something similar in your life that you have prayed for the Lord to take away. Just because it is still there, or you are still working through it, doesn’t mean God has left you. He is still leading you toward His righteousness and he is using your struggle to bring gory to his name.

Looking out (1)

Take a look at your struggles and your strengths with fresh eyes. How does the Lord want to use what you have been given to draw others closer to him? What is something new He wants to teach you? What is something you are wrestling with that can draw you closer to Him?

May we take a look at our hearts with fresh eyes. May we take a look at one another with fresh eyes. And may we battle alongside one another to bring about His kingdom in new ways and in new places here on earth.

Where is God challenging you to see with fresh eyes?

Return

It has been an overwhelming couple of weeks for me. My days have been full of one too many things I don’t feel good at, and I have been plagued with stress. Ever had one of those weeks where things are so out of focus with the chaos, it’s hard to see anything meaningful in the midst?

Blurry Monkey

I know this is not the place that I should be. It’s not the place I want to be, and yet, I find myself in an endless desire to please others instead of focusing first and foremost on pleasing God. As I continue striving in my own strength, I find myself in these verses Paul wrote to the church in Rome, warning them about those who pursue unrighteousness,

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore, God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

Romans 1:22-25

When I feel my body, literally overcome with stress, pushing to please and to accomplish and to prove myself worthy, I exchange God’s truth for a lie. I lie to myself that I am somehow worthy of life, when my unrighteous deeds need to be paid for with death. I worship those I am trying to please or the task I am trying to accomplish rather than the Creator who made it all possible and gives it all meaning in the first place.

And yet, in all my lowliness, I still feel God speak transformation and a ministry of reconciliation. Though He does not condone where I am, he is not content to see me stay here, and he is looking to help me find a way out. I see this beautiful ministry of God pursuing us in spite of the ways we wander in the parable of the lost items in Luke 15. The message I see is not to shame the one that was lost, but to rejoice in the one that is found,

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:10

God is after our hearts, God is after repentance. Though he hates sin and does not approve of me getting caught up in what others think of me ahead of what He thinks of me, more than anything I feel Him longing for me to return back to Him. When I’m striving to please others, it doesn’t make sense just to redirect my striving to what I think God wants me to do. Striving is part of my problem. To come out of it, I need to be still, repent, and answer the loving call to turn back to Him. Again, he repeats this message to the Israelites who are infamous, just like us, for going astray,

“and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.”

Deuteronomy 30:2-3

Throughout all the chaos of my week, I have felt Him calling me to return, letting me know I don’t have to feel this way, I don’t have to run after these things again. And instead of getting frustrated with myself for messing up yet again, it is best for me to turn back to him, to cry out to him in my time of need rather than continue running to keep up with what I know I need to do. I must trust. He will take care of me. Everything that actually needs to get done will get done, and everything else will fade away. I must stop chasing after the wind and declare along with the Psalmist,

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation and my glory;

My mighty rock, my refuge is God.”

Psalm 62:5-7

Rocks

What are you chasing after this week? Where is the attention of your mind and the affection of your heart fixed? The fact is, no matter how much we grow in our walk with the Lord, we only get it right in His strength. Let us encourage one another not to dwell in our short falls, but instead to return our hearts to Him and trust Him to take care of the important things and let go of the rest.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Misty Water

This week, another group of women from my University in Texas came to Zambia on a very similar trip to the one that I went on to Kenya almost five years ago. Of course, there will always be a special place in my heart for memories of when I was first introduced to Africa. The goal of these trips is to promote women’s leadership in Africa, little did I know that a short term trip would eventually open a door to where I am today — living and working in Zambia to promote cross-cultural experiences for young adults, while my husband studies theology at an African University.

Although our time here has been more difficult than I would have imagined as well, I am so thankful for the way God has woven my story here, and I was honored to share a bit with these young Baylor women and the Zambian women they came alongside during their time in this beautiful country. God has plans for all of us that are much better than we can imagine. He places dreams inside our hearts and gifts upon our hands and weaves it together with whimsy and perfection that can only come from the amazing Author of the universe. He designs every good and perfect thing we can experience in this life.

My story starts in Oaxaca, Mexico on my first international mission trip right before my freshman year of high school. Although I was committed to following Jesus before the trip, it was here that God opened up my eyes to his heart for the nations as I came face to face with a completely different culture for the first time. I fell in love with people’s stories and God began developing desire and skills to communicate and live cross culturally. I will never forget the message one of the missionaries shared with us as he went through the entire Bible and recounted God’s pattern of blessing people so that they could be a blessing to others, and in turn, glorify God and fulfill our overall purpose in life.

In the same way, our lives should also be shaped in such a way that we look to God with open hands, asking what he would have us do with our talents, dreams and any other gift he has given us. As I went on to University, I tried to keep my hands as wide open as possible and chose to pursue a degree in International Studies. You really can’t get broader than that, I wanted to study the whole world! One of the only requirements for my degree was to study a foreign language for two years. As I considered where God was leading me, I chose to study Arabic as I was told it was the 3rd most widely spoken language. I felt a call to reach out to the Muslims in my classes and at my school, and figured that God would call me somewhere in the Middle East.

Out of nowhere, my now dear friend, Melanie, spoke about this women’s leadership mission trip to Kenya. I felt like Africa was just the trendy place for young adults to go, so I wasn’t particularly interested in that aspect of the trip, but I loved the idea of empowering local women to take leadership and make the changes they wanted to make in their community rather than someone else making change for them. I figured I would just apply for the trip and see what would happen. Melanie selected a small team of women to join her on the trip and I ended up being one of them.

Our trip was amazing, Melanie’s heart for Kenya was contagious, and much to my surprise, I fell in love with Africa. I loved the colors, the people, the culture, the smells, everything! When I took my first breath every day, I was so amazed to be waking up in AFRICA. Ten days just wasn’t enough, and I had this deep sense that I was supposed to come back. I didn’t know exactly where or how, but I knew that I wanted to come back to this continent somehow some way.

The following year I asked Melanie if I could help her lead the trip to Kenya with her, and she was so excited to train me to lead University women to Africa. We went around announcing the trip to people in different clubs and recruited an amazing team of young women. We starting fundraising and dreaming about our trip, but all of the sudden, my peace about the trip was gone. It just didn’t feel right. I began getting this sense that this was not what God was calling me to at this time, and so I finally told Melanie that I didn’t think I was supposed to go. We were both heart-broken, but couldn’t argue with this feeling I had.

Melanie ended up having an amazing trip with the young women, and I spent my summer leading mission trips near my home town in Denver. I ended up working alongside my, now husband, Drew who felt a similar call to return to Africa one day. We fell in love, got married and God opened up the door for Drew to study in Zambia. We packed up the few things we owned and 4 months after we got married, we started a new life in a country I had never been to before. God continued weaving in such amazing ways and though I had to navigate through complicated immigration processes for the first time, I got experience working for an international nonprofit and then landed my dream job helping young people in Zambia and other countries spend a year learning and serving abroad in the name of Jesus.

These are just a few of the twists and turns God brought my way, but I am so thankful for the ways he used my story and my open hands for His glory. I am so thankful he didn’t allow me to be content with just leading another short-term trip, but instead fulfilled my even deeper longings of living cross-culturally and introducing others to the beauty of serving in another culture for an entire year. I still can’t believe it when I think about it too much, and the best part is that this is just the beginning. This is the amazing part I get to play right now, but God is doing even more.

Where has God blessed you, and how can you use that to be a blessing? I want God to show me more of that every day, and in turn I know he is taking me to the best place that I can be to display His glory. My prayer is that he will teach me to open myself up to the magnificent plans he has, not only for my life, but for our entire universe. I love Paul’s words in 1 Timothy,

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16

May we lean in to this promise. God took me beyond my expectations on taking just one short-term trip to Africa and paved the way for me to meet and amazing man and serve alongside him for at least the next four years in Zambia. And this verse promises so much more than that. God is going to take us for who we are, in our deeply sinful state, and use that to show others the amazing gift of eternal life. How is God using your story? May we open ourselves up more to be used by him and see each blessing in our life as an opportunity to overflow those blessings onto those around us.

Zealous for Good Works

Vic Falls

Is it sad that living in this beautiful of a place can start to feel routine?

I’m kidding, this was a gorgeous view from a little get-away my hubby and I took on our way home from a recent work trip, and it was anything but routine. Seeing the beauty of Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, was breathtaking. After taking this photo we followed the path and got SOAKED on a nearby bridge just from all the mist the falls produce. These are the kinds of things Disneyland and Water World try to emulate, but we get to experience the real deal. And let me tell you, it is awesome! God’s creation is amazing, and I pray for more moments where I can do nothing but stand in awe and experience His creation up close and personal.

Sadly, now that I have been home for a few weeks, I feel settled into the office part of my job, no traveling or anything special to look forward to in the next couple of months, and I can go from the on-top-of-the-world-in-awe attitude to the stuck-in-routine-mundane kind of place just like that. It’s probably a symptom of my short attention span and craving for spontaneity as much as anything, but I can so easily forget the awesomeness of God and the privilege of living for Him when I go back to “normal life.” My weekdays become bogged down with a few classes, making dinner, and collapsing after spending a day in an office and reaching for any little bit of margin I can find in my routine-stricken life.

I have found myself asking God, what is the point in all of this? What should I be reaching for? Where do I want to be, and why am I not there right now? How can I keep from feeling so bored?

All of the answers seem on the tip of my tongue, but overall I was feeling a lack of zeal for where I am lately. It feels crazy to complain because everything in my life is just okay. There’s nothing too major, nothing totally out of hand, but nothing over the top either. How do I just be?

God has been seeming to answer in an equally subtle way, and has been revealing life means so much more when I shift my focus from the mundane, and look up for opportunity. He has done amazing things for me, and I get to walk in that every day of my life. Some days I get to walk through a waterfall, other days I’m stuck with a pile of dishes, but beyond the task at hand, there is so much more He wants for me.

Our small group has been reading through the book of Titus, picked for its convenient length of three chapters, and it has been helpful to dig in deep during my season of boredom to discover part of the vision God has for me through Paul’s words to the church through his co-worker, Titus. Titus was sent to what some would consider a challenging community in Crete, known for lawlessness and reckless living. He was asked to appoint leaders in the churches there, and to me this letter is calling Titus to help the churches wake up and remember the lives God has created for them. In turn, it’s helping me to wake up and remember the intentions God has for me and how I sell it short when I get stuck in boredom and the mundane.

After describing different ways the kingdom of God can manifest itself in different circumstances and life stages, Paul reminds Titus to remind the believers the meaning behind it all,

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing for the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus, Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14

In other words, wake up! Jesus came to reveal to us the grace and forgiveness of God to redeem us from the sinful ways we wanted to live, and instead He saved us and is redeeming us and showing us the ways we were meant to live right now. He is making us into a pure people, set apart for His glory, eager to proclaim who He is through our good works.

I found myself thinking, wow, well when you put it that way, it’s pretty lame I have been choosing to look at the boring and mundane parts of my life instead of the amazing ways God is using my normal, everyday, life to point to who He is. He does not have a boring routine planned for my life, he is purifying me, giving me opportunities to share in His mission and carry out His good works. This needs to motivate me, not only when I am staring Him in the face at Victoria Falls, but also when I have the opportunity to be faithful in the everyday, in loving my husband, in being a kind person at the grocery store, in caring for my friends, enemies, and anyone else I come into contact with, remembering we are all made in the image of God.

I am doing myself and my God a disservice when I see my life as just mundane.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy by the washing, regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit, who he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:3-7

Look at the where we have come from, and look at where His extravagant love has intended for us instead. May we walk in the self-controlled, upright and godly ways He has called us toward a life where death cannot separate us from God. He is making us pure. Let us be present with Him today.

Wherever you are, whether it feels mundane like mine has this week, or maybe you are barely hanging on, or perhaps you’re on top of the world, remember the life that God has called us to this day. Seek His face and His intentions for your day, rather than getting distracted with the busyness of this life. Let us spur one another on to the good works he has for us to tell about his great love to those that haven’t yet tasted and seen His glory.

But I had hoped…

Looming storm

This weekend, I gathered with a small group of women on mission here in Zambia and we reflected on the lives God has called us to, other women’s testimonies we can relate to, and passages in God’s Word, all the while eating delicious food and enjoying one another’s company. We had gathered to go through retreat material created by an online community for women living overseas called Velvet Ashes. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to get too much out of this half day of activities, other than some extended girl time, but God certainly met us there. Our morning retreat was a powerful time set aside to reflect on the most important thing in life, our relationship with Jesus. After coming away from our time feeling so refreshed, I didn’t realize how much I had needed this time.

One of the most powerful parts for me was going through Luke 24, where Jesus appears after his death to a couple of believers on the road to Emmaus. If you are familiar with this passage, you will remember that the pair walking together were discussing Jesus’ death with a stranger on the journey with them, but the whole time they were kept from knowing the stranger that was with them was actually Jesus himself. It’s a unique picture of how God is always with us, even when we aren’t aware of His presence. He longs to hear the deepest cries of our heart when we think no one important is listening, He is there.

In verse 21, they lament about how the chief priests and rules sentenced Jesus to death, and they go on,

“But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.”

Stop here.

Now, if we jump ahead, we know that Jesus actually rose again on the third day, he was walking among them, and not only did He redeem Israel, but his death redeemed all mankind. He had to die so that we might have life, but this was not yet revealed to them, they didn’t yet know the bigger picture. They didn’t yet know Who was listening to them as they walked.

But we had hoped…

I want to invite you, like the authors of my retreat study invited me, to think back to a time when you were as disappointed and distraught as those walking together on the road toward Emmaus looking for answers. What were the disappointments you were (or are currently) carrying? Take some time to just list them out.

But I had hoped (fill in the blank for yourself)…

Go ahead and list as many things as you would like.

This was so powerful for me to admit the things that I had hoped God would have done for me, the ways I had hoped I would have reacted, and the things I had hoped to feel. For me, to admit that I was disappointed about certain ways things had turned out lifted a huge burden. I knew that some of these disappointments were in the back of my mind frustrating my everyday life, but I was afraid to give voice to them.

Confession, even if first just to myself and God, is powerful. Life often doesn’t pan out the way that we expect it to, and as much as I wish I could just go with the flow and trust God in it all, often I don’t. It’s hard to admit it. I’m so worried about coming face to face with the not so great ways I am feeling and reacting, that I rob myself of the freedom I experience when I consciously confess my disappointments to Jesus. The truth is, he already knows, why am I so afraid?

Next, we were asked to take a look at our list of disappointments, and ask ourselves which of these God may be asking us to offer back to him. This is kind of a strange concept, and I don’t think it was meant to say when we exchange our disappointments to God He gives us what we want in return. Rather it’s the act of acknowledging our disappointments and opening ourselves up to Him that puts us in a position for true peace.

I invite you to also ask God what he wants you to do with that disappointment. Is he calling you to trust him with that disappointment? Is he calling you to let go of that disappointment? Is he calling you to just be still and wait?

For me, the answer was TRUST. Such a simple word and idea, but a deep concept to embody. I must trust, even though a lot of my disappointments were for good things, He is God, His ways are higher than my ways. He may fulfill the missing things my heart is longing for in a different season or in a different way, or I may never get an answer. But I found so much power in just confessing what I was longing for or sad about, and then laying it at his feet. He cares about how I feel, but He knows what I truly need, and he promises he has given it to me.

The other passage we went through at the retreat was Psalm 23, and as I sat there thinking about God’s provision co-existing with my disappointments, the first verse of the Psalm came to mind.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Psalm 23:1

I lack nothing.

Though I am disappointed, though I fall short, though some things may never get answered, I lack nothing. As the Psalm proclaims, my Good Shepherd knows all that I need, he is leading me to green pastures and quiet waters.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t face difficult seasons or moments where my pastures feel anything but green and it seems the waters are far from quite. In fact, the Psalmist calls where he is at “the valley of the shadow of death.” However, even in my lowest of lows, God is with me, He is with all of us.

He is a God that comforts, guides, anoints and restores us. There is such peace in that. God is God, He is the one orchestrating all of the good and wonderful things around us.

May we find Him in our valleys and our disappointments, but instead of letting those things take center stage, may we conclude with finding fulfillment in our Maker.

May we find ways to stop running around and worrying about the things that haven’t turned out the ways we had hoped, but instead lay down in the green pastures He offers within the storm. Join me in finding peace this week, in pouring out our true hearts, but still fixing our eyes on the hope that comes only from Him.

The Art of Practicing Love

Guitar

Love is kind of a gushy word. People use it often, but at the same time not enough. People sing about it, read about it, watch movies about it, and think about it sometimes constantly throughout the day. And yet, love is still hard to understand. Love, when talked about in the romantic context especially, can seem easy, automatic, almost an accident or something we can just “fall” into. But there is a deeper side of love that we also long for in the midst of the other loves we are surrounded by each day. A love that was demonstrated to us by God when he created the earth and everything in it, and then was confirmed as he journeyed with humanity demonstrating his love to the extent of sending Jesus to incarnate that love.

As John describes love in one of his letters to the early church, love is important because it is the way we display who God is in our everyday lives,

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7

This sweet little line is important, and many Christians and non-Christians would agree that love is important, but I have found it is easier to talk about the importance of love than to live out that love on a daily basis. The kind of love that John is talking about takes practice.

For example if I told you to just go out and love your husband, or your brother, or your neighbor it might be easy for you to agree with the idea but there are moments when it is very difficult to actually do. It’s easier for me to love myself and do what I want to in the moment and get my point across rather than choose to love someone else. But when I choose to love in that way, where I have directed my love at another person made in God’s image, it makes way for God to use me in that person’s life.

My church here in Zambia does not have a pastor, so people in our community volunteer for everything from music to Sunday school to preaching on a Sunday mornings. A few weeks ago, we invited a mission group that has been here for a couple of weeks to speak in place of the sermon and tell us about what they have been learning through their work here in Zambia. These women are birth attendants, so they go into the large government hospital every day to help out in the labor ward. One of them talked about one day at the hospital where she and a friend visited a woman who was alone in her room and about to give birth. The doctors were already prepared to help the woman give birth, so the women visiting didn’t actually have to do anything, but they stayed with the woman held her hand during delivery. At the end she told the girls that they were her angels and right before they came into the room she was praying for someone just to be with her during the delivery process.

These women came with skills and knowledge that allow them to work in the hospital, but it was in their obedience to love this woman and to see her and to simply be with her that God used them to answer her prayer. Their simple action of practicing love through being present made a difference for that woman and God was given the glory through them.

After these women shared their stories, it freed up the floor for some other women in our community to share about how God had specifically answered prayers through another person. That is amazing. You can be that person; I can be that person. If we truly receive the gift of love that God has first extended to us, it should flow out of us in every aspect of our love.

Adam Hamilton, a mega church pastor, was quoted in a book I was reading, giving a similar instruction to his congregation,

“If 12,000 of us realize that we’re missionaries first and we go out into our workday world every day on mission to bless, to love, to heal, to bring justice, to serve God in the workplace — then we finally begin to do that, I tell you, the world is going to be different.” (The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, pg. 95)

It is not enough to know God’s mission and even to preach God’s mission, we have to practice God’s mission by bringing it to life through our actions in our communities. Look at your schedule, where can you practice extending God’s love today?

Are you going to the grocery store? How can you use that as an opportunity to practice God’s love?

Are you meeting a friend for coffee? How can you use that as an opportunity to practice God’s love?

Are you sending a bunch of emails? How can you use that as an opportunity to practice God’s love?

It makes such a difference for me when I am going throughout my day and I realize my opportunities to practice God’s love. I don’t always do this, and many days I can get stuck in autopilot just making it from one day to the next, but it makes all the difference when I take the time to consider how God can use me, I obey, and trust God with the rest.

Ways for us to practice God’s love are endless. Our world has so many needs, and many of you may have heavy hearts thinking about the people and places in our world crying out for God’s love in their situation. Where are your opportunities today to be that answer? There is so much to do, God’s work is not yet done, but what is the one or two things where he has called you to participate in it today?

Peter Greer sums up this idea well,

“I don’t know why suffering happens, and trite answers are offensive to those suffering. But I do know what happens when people see the pain of others and respond with Christ’s love.” (The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, pg. 132)

Let us respond to our context in Christ’s love today. May we practice it where we have opportunities today. And when you are tempted to sit back and look the other way, pray for Christ to move in you and through you despite of you. Rely on his love when you don’t feel like you have any left of your own. May we open ourselves up to being his hands and feet right where he has placed us today. May Jesus work through us so that the words he read in the temple may again ring true,

“And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because he has anointed me

To proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovering of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

…And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:17-21

God is fulfilling this scripture today as well, many we pray for our eyes to be opened and for the strength to practice and participate in Christ’s work among us.

Receive

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Spring is beginning to come! Whether you recognize it by the flowers blooming or the surprise snowstorm, it is quite an interesting time of year. I have always been a fan of the changing of seasons. I am addicted to variety, and while I can often take the wonderful constants in my life for granted, I am very tuned in as life changes. Though seasons look quite different in the Southern hemisphere, I still enjoy learning the beauties of each season here in Zambia, and Easter brings in a very beautiful time of year. It is finally beginning to cool off after a very hot, dry and rainy season, and we are ready for the Zambian winter to come our way.

My team at work took this special time of year and the two public holidays (Good Friday and Easter Monday) to get away for our annual retreat at Lake Kariba. The change of scenery was so life-giving for me. We got to see the beautiful lake, which is the largest man made reservoir in the world, and spend time with one another away from our work and all of the other distractions that go along with everyday life.

This renewing time brought about a fresh perspective, and as I sat down to read the first chapter of John on Easter morning, a new word stood out to me more than ever before.

Receive.

“He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:11-12

How do we receive the God of the Universe who made his home among us, in spite of us, because of us?

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Receiving something sounds so simple, but many of us chose to reject Him instead. How does that work? How did His own people miss the opportunity to receive Him? How do I miss opportunities to receive Him?

Among Us

I know personally, I struggle to receive Christ when I am distracted by my own desires for my life above the higher plans and desires the Lord may have for me. It’s like I am on the boat trying to get somewhere I have pictured in my head, and then I miss the beauty of the sunset, the birds flying about, and the opportunity to just be because I am focused on where I want to go.

It’s not bad to have goals or to pursue the desires God has uniquely placed on our hearts, in fact, I believe that is part of how God made us. However, we have to realize that we only get to see a small part of the picture that God is creating through His relationship with humanity. We have to remember that above all else we are to receive Christ in every aspect of our lives. As we diligently seek Him, He will take care of the rest.

Receiving is not about anything we have done or anything we are going to do. It is a simple response, but in the end it means everything. Receiving is not something we can be self-righteous about, because it takes very little effort and will power. At the same time, we must receive to experience true freedom and reflect our Creator. Receiving takes humility and acknowledging the need for the saving power of Christ who came to die so that we might live.

Rejection is also an easy response. It can be so subtle, even seemingly innocent. We can reject Christ by choosing to pursue other good things before Him. We can reject Him by ignoring that small voice that urges us to do something, to say something, to reach out to someone, because it is more comfortable to do what we want instead. Rejection, when practiced over and over again, can become automatic and we will hardly even notice we are truly convicted and consciously take the time to look to Jesus.

Thankfully, we are not on our own. God has extended His hand in grace to us, knowing our tendency to forget what we know is good. He has given us His Spirit, that small quiet, guiding voice that is with us deeply urging us to receive Christ. We can ask Him for the strength to receive, we can ask Him where we have chosen to reject, and we can ask Him to guide us back to the plan that He has for us.

When I picture myself receiving Christ through the day in and day out, I have to ask for my eyes to be opened. I have to ask for Him to help me see the way that He sees, treat people the way He would treat people, love the way He loved. If we have received Christ, not only do we believe he is who he says he is, but also we become one with who he is. We must wrap our lives around the message He preached. For some this means selling everything we have and giving to the poor. For others it means standing out in the work place, or taking the time to know and serve our neighbors.

What can you do to receive Christ today? Where have you chosen to reject Him or His voice? Who can you talk with, pray with, or share with about receiving Christ?

May God help us to receive Him amongst all the chaos and distractions around us. May He save us from ourselves and our sin that allows us to reject Him. Let us cling to His grace in all things and remember the God who came to save that we might receive and be made right with Him again.

Important Things

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“One of the teachers of religious law was standing listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus has answered well, so he asked, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Mark 12:28

I can imagine Jesus got questions like this quite often. He did a lot of teaching in parables and talking about heavenly things that are difficult to wrap our minds around. In this chapter of Mark, the Pharisees were asking Jesus all kinds of question in the hopes of him saying something so wrong that they could arrest him. However, this last question from a particular Pharisee seems more genuine. He has heard Jesus respond with wisdom and grace to all of the other questions the Pharisees used to try and catch him off guard, so this teacher of the law asks a question that is probably on the minds of many others who listened to Jesus. The answer to this question continues in Jesus’ theme of confronting conventional wisdom and commonly held beliefs not founded in the truth.

“Jesus replied, ‘the most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all you mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Lord your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

As simple as this message seems, I have found it quite difficult to follow. I wonder, ‘Are you sure Jesus? Just these two commandments?’ I mean think of how the Jews present received this message, especially rule followers like the Pharisees. In Jesus’ culture, many of his listeners devoted their livelihood to memorizing the stories and laws of what we know today as the Old Testament. Each day I am sure it took not only memorization of all these laws, but also careful planning to follow them throughout each and every moment, and now Jesus is saying they can shift their focus to the two most important commandments.

However, among many other Jewish practices, these two commandments require just as much if not more careful attention because loving our God and neighbor rightly applies to the deeper calling to pay attention to the attitude of our hearts. So, it’s actually easier to focus on following specific rules already laid out for everyday tasks such as working, cleaning, worshiping, etc. rather than truly paying attention to our motives and the way we treat people throughout our daily tasks. Though following all the laws of the Old Testament may seem like a foreign concept, I find myself like the Pharisees at times where I cling to rules I have made up in my head for everyday living rather than making space for the most important commandments that call me to focus on my heart.

In fact, my sweet husband has been noticing this trend in my life as well, and has made the discovery that I too have a lot of unspoken rules! We’ve been married for just a year and seven months, so we still have cute newlywed moments, but as we get to know each other more deeply, along with the sweet feelings of acceptance and companionship, knowing someone this well can also get ugly.

So, as of recently, Drew and I have been in an interesting season of resistance toward each other. We never really fought while we were dating, so we are navigating through how to best deal with conflict together as husband and wife. Sadly, we both have a tendency to be stubborn and we bring out a competitive side in one another that we have to keep in check, or it can be disastrous.

One of my first rules had to do with my cute little tea towels many of my friends got me at my bridal shower or on my wedding day. They all had pretty delicate stitches on them and I loved hanging them cutely on the handle of the oven, just like the newlywed housewife picture in my head. Drew, on the other hand, is a clean freak. He values things being clean more than he values things looking cute. To my horror, Drew decided to use my sweet little tea towel to mop the DUSTY, African floor of our kitchen. The sweet man meant well, but I was so upset! He broke my rule! We were only had a few wedding gifts we were able to pack with us when coming to Africa and he used it TO WIPE THE FLOOR??! I found myself mourning the loss of my poor, once cute, little tea towel.

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Newsflash: there is a much larger picture than my rule about which towel to use!

Although this story is a rather goofy example, my rules often bring me to the same preoccupation that I believe Jesus tried to point out to the Pharisees. I come up with ways I think my life should go, whether it’s the course of my day, my career, my future, or how my tea towels should be used, but so often I miss opportunities to love those around me, and love and acknowledge the holiness of our God.

“The teacher of religious law replied, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all the burnt offerings and sacrifices offered by the law.” Mark 12:32-33

How I long to have the same “Aha!” moment like this teacher of the law. I have been meditating on this quote from the book I have been reading with my team at work, where Peter Greer comments on passages like this where Jesus tells us the most important aspects of our lives.

“There is nothing wrong with a bigger ministry or congregation, but a fascination with such markers is toxic… Jesus defined success as loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor. The extent of our love, not numerical growth, matters most.” (pg. 76, 80 The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good)

The extent of our love, not numerical growth, matters most.

In other words, though some of my rules and the pursuits I have for my day and my life may be good, they are not the most important. I want point myself to the most important things each day rather than focusing on what I have decided I would like to accomplish. I want to sit down at the end of the day and instead of asking myself, was I successful with what I wanted to do today? I want to ask, was I successful at loving my God and the people around me today? It seems like the latter is more like what Jesus would ask me.

What is it throughout your life and throughout your day that you are striving after? Is it focused on the most important things, or something you came up with using human hands?

May we be women known by the extent of our love.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous of boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Speaking Restoration

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“You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,

but you will restore me to life again

and lift me up from the depths of the earth.

You restore me to even greater honor

And comfort me once again.” Psalm 71:20-21

God’s plan for our restoration is totally mind boggling, counter-intuitive and altogether peculiar. As humans, we continue to mess up, we continue to miss the mark and disappoint the God who wants to give us gifts beyond even our wildest desires. Though He is angry with our injustices and the things we do to ourselves, one another, and the earth he gave us to manage, He wants to make a way, because His love is that great.

He proclaims this message to the Israelites in Jeremiah,

“This is what the Lord says:

‘The whole land will be ruined,

but I will not destroy it completely.

The earth will mourn

And the heavens will be draped in black

Because of my decree against my people.

I have made up my mind and I cannot change it.” Jeremiah 4:27-28

God is mourning the behavior of the Israelites throughout all of the earth, but he will not destroy it completely though that is what they deserve — that is what we deserve. He wants to teach the lesson that sin is wrong, but as the Psalmist proclaims, He is about the business of restoration. Though our actions deserve the depths, God wants to bring us back again. We deserve death, so He died that we might have abundant life in relationship with the Father. That is amazing, may we stand in awe of what our great God has done for us.

Yet as life comes at each of us, it is hard to remember this message of restoration. Every day there are places of brokenness in our world, things that are not right, and there are no easy solutions. Just last night in my small group, we were going around individually and proclaiming the areas we want to acknowledge God more in our lives and live out His mission. But again and again, as we talked through our daily lives and prayed for one another, I was deeply reminded of the brokenness in our human lives.

One of my friends in particular is an amazing woman who has felt the call to work at the largest hospital in Zambia. Though this hospital was meant to do great things and has tons of potential, it has been overwhelmed with the brokenness of our world. As the population in Lusaka has sky-rocketed since it was built, the hospital has remained relatively the same size with no additional staff to handle all of the additional patients.

I visited there with one of my friends just a couple of weeks after moving to Zambia, and she took me through the malnutrition and labor and delivery floor. The conditions are overwhelming, it’s a large building that feels like it was built by someone in the 50’s and there have been no updates since. Utter chaos is the only way I can describe the atmosphere with doctors running here and there, patients waiting in lines down every hallway, and sickness and destruction seems to be running rampant around every corner. There aren’t enough beds, there isn’t enough medicine, but most of the people have no where left to go. This hospital is the last stop after being referred from one doctor to the next, it’s many people’s only hope at getting better. If only the system could handle all the people and needs.

Locals often refer to this place as the waiting room for death. People are afraid to go there because of experiences they have had with family members or friends, but it is the only place equipped to handle the worst of situations, and so the doctors often see people in the worst case scenario. The doctors are tired, and they have seen so much death, I can only imagine how hard it would be for them to let themselves feel for each patient. My friend who works there can feel the weight of this as well. She has faced death and sickness before but here, it’s just different.

It seems too painful, too much for a human to handle. And my friend, though struggling through how to process this broken system, knows God is still in this place. As we prayed over her that she would see God there, I was at a loss for words just picturing all of the despair. I know God is there, but my heart longs to see Him more.

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“And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it is here now, when the dead will hear my voice — the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live.” John 5:25

May we listen to our God this week. May we proclaim His life saving grace and restoration in all of our brokenness. May we see Him in places where the rest of the world says He is not. May we let Him be the Lord of our lives, including our fears and the darkness that is hard to shake.

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