November 5, 2012

Welcome Home

I just can’t to stay away. Somewhere in the brokenness and filth and poverty and overwhelming needs of Haiti, my spirit connects in ways that God says, “Welcome home.”

So “home” I went two weeks ago. To the people who have captured my heart, broken it and made it new. Along the way I’ve lost track if I go to Haiti to serve, or if by going I’m the one served. Honestly, I think it’s more of the latter. My goings feel far more like a reunion than an outreach.

To look at Haiti from afar, so many see a one-dimensional portrait of brokenness that’s so easy to paint with a broad brush. But as I’ve gotten closer and gone deeper I’ve discovered there is far more to this country and her people than meets the eye. For one thing, where Haitians lack material wealth they have been blessed with a richness of beauty—of their countryside and of their hearts.

I admire my Haitian friends’ joy, their faith, their perseverance, their passionate worship, their hospitality. I love their smiles. And I cherish their friendship. In God’s incredible creativity He’s united us together.

Safe in Haiti with Pastor Valentin, Annie and Wesley
On my most recent trip our team consisted of only four--Bob, Dave, Jim and me. At first I worried our group was too small, but as the trip unfolded, we all realized that “four” is exactly what God intended. As we traveled, ate, talked, worshipped, painted and sweated (A LOT!) together, each of us marveled at the ways, both large and small, that God shone His light so marvelously for us to see.

This was a different kind of trip. Slower, more intimate. More time for interactions and adventures.

While our team was in Haiti, Foundation for Peace held the inauguration for Complexe Educatif Men Nan Men (Hand in Hand Educational Complex). How awesome to be there for the opening of the school I’ve helped work on during the last year and a half—from ground breaking to final painting. The ribbon cutting ceremony brought together the community, future students, government officials, churches, workers and Americans together to celebrate something that doesn’t happen that often in Haiti—shared victory.

This project stands as testimony to what is possible when God makes a way and we work together. So many hands have dug, pick axed, carried buckets, poured concrete, laid blocks, painted and so much more to make it possible.

"Men anpil, chay pa lou." (Many hands [make] the load lighter.) 

The first phase of Complexe Educatif Men Nan Men is almost finished!

Ribbon cutting with Ken Culver (FFP), Hernery (construction boss), Mayor Ralph, Boniface Alexandre (past president of Haiti) andPastor Valentin.
The wall Woodside helped to build in March.
Besides getting the school ready to open, our team also visited our friends in Kwa Kok, Vilaj Kanez and Vilaj Mirak (formerly Camp Hope). We also made new friends on top of the mountain in Gwo Chwal (Big Horse)—a mountain top experience that will surely be a story to come.

Now that we’re home the challenge for our team is to assimilate our Haiti experiences and revelations into our every day realities. And try to figure out how God wants us to respond, grow and reach out differently.

Dave summed it up perfectly, “I definitely had several days, almost a week of ‘Haiti hangover.’ It was a time where it was hard to focus on anything here. My mind remained in Haiti. It was as if nothing mattered here.”

And so I will process these experiences, pencil to paper (or keyboard to screen) and continue to travel the journey God started me on in February 2010.

Some people say they admire me for going to Haiti, or that they’re impressed with what I do there. But the way I see it I’m just an ordinary girl who got on a plane because God nudged her to go. Along the way I discovered a place that breaks my heart in the world. And I can’t stay away.

Don’t we all need to find that place… No matter where it is?

Dave, forever changed in Vilaj Kanez

October 29, 2012

God, Truth and Politics

“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.”  (1John 1:5)

A few days ago it was the top story on “Pregnancy from Rape is God’s Intent.”

What??!! Incredulous, I clicked to read more.

The article insinuated that Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said that it is God’s will for women who have been raped to become pregnant. Women’s groups were in an uproar, politicians treated him like a leper and late night comedians giddily sharpened their pencils.

 I read the article and discovered that Mourdock actually said, “But I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother. I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from god. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

That’s a MUCH different statement than the headline promoted!

While his admission might be political suicide, and you might not agree with what he’s saying, I think Mourdock is struggling with the tough questions that ALL believers struggle with.

Where is God when things go terribly, horribly wrong? 

Does He intend tragedy to happen? Does He see …or care? Is He powerless to do anything? If God is good as He claims to be, how can so many bad things happen to so many innocent people? Like rape, abuse, cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, murder, crack babies, 9/11…

In the Bible, Job struggled with questions like these after he lost his family, his wealth, his livelihood, his health and just about everything else good in his life. God allowed Satan to bring tragedy on Job. Did this make God less good?

For 37 chapters Job cried, lamented, pleaded and struggled with “Why? … Where are you, Lord?”

Without a bit of apology God finally speaks and puts a tormented Job in his place.
“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” (Job 38:3-4) 

For four chapters God detailed the depths of His power as creator of the universe. Ouch!

A humbled Job replies:
“You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” (Job 42:3, 5) 

You and I have to take our own heart wrenching journeys to wrestle with the questions that torment our souls. To accept that while God might or might not intend tragedies to happen, He certainly allows them. To not just know about God, but to see him with our eyes (as Job did). And to trust that in ALL things God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, almighty—ALL the time.

Isn’t this the essence of faith?

There’s one thing that’s obvious in the Mourdock mess; if the Lord Almighty ran for office, He most certainly would NOT get elected.

God’s truth doesn’t tickle the ears or bend to please public opinion. It doesn’t soften to satisfy constituents. It doesn’t choose one party or group over another. And it doesn’t “evolve” with the times. Just look at Jesus. The court of public opinion nailed Him to the cross!

Thankfully Jesus didn’t come to win elections. He came to shake up the status quo, tear down barriers, redeem, forgive, transform and show us the path to true and everlasting freedom. And He says to all believers—regardless of political party, country of residence or voting status:
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NLT)
This is freedom that no tragedy, news article or government can ever take away.

July 24, 2012

Do I Belong?

I wrote this post for Internet Cafe Devotions. Even though it ran last week, I thought I'd share it here.

She was in seventh grade and excited to finally be in one of the popular crowds. Then one day her best friend—a girl she idolized—handed her a note. As she read the scribbled words, tears burned her eyes: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”

And just like that, it was so.

The rest of her friends followed the note-writing leader because that’s what middle school girls do. With one swift kick they booted her out. Yesterday’s friends now ignored her and talked about her. She was rejected, alone and heartbroken.

“What did I do? Why me? What’s wrong with ME?”

Through the rest of middle school she chose isolation rather than facing the pain of possible rejection from new friends.
Oh, middle school is a tough road for young girls to travel as they struggle to find their place in the world. Their transparent actions cry out, “Do you see me? Am I worthy? Do I fit in?”

As adults we say, “Whew! I wouldn’t want to go through that again!” and take solace in the fact that rejection like this ends in middle school, and that we’re so self-confident and secure now.

But are we?

Loneliness, depression and anxiety are epidemic among us. We may have figured out how to put on our big girl pants and get through the day to day, but inside so many of us carry wounds from life’s disappointments, hurts and rejection. Time and again we’ve wondered, “Do you see me? Am I worthy? Do I fit in?” Often the world has answered—or our inner voice confirms—“No.” We live believing the lie.

There’s a woman in the Gospels who knows about rejection. For twelve years she bled and no doctor could make her well. Because she was perpetually unclean she knew oh so well what it was like to have people move aside when she walked by. To be talked about, excluded and ignored.

After twelve years of living as an outcast, surely she craved acceptance, human touch and affirmation. When she cried out, “Do you see me? Am I worthy? Do I belong?” a “No!” filled her ears. I imagine the pain of loneliness was even greater than the pain of her illness.

Then one day she heard Jesus was coming. In her heart she knew this was her chance for healing! Desperate for a cure, she gathered her courage and pushed through the crowds. Finally she came behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak. Her bleeding immediately stopped.

Despite the crowds crushing against Him, Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
“Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’” (Luke 8:45, 47-48)
Jesus’ response touches the women in her most broken places.

Where she’d long received rejection . . . Jesus offered acceptance.
Where she was used to being invisible . . . Jesus saw her, and called her forward.
Where she’d wanted to remain silent . . . Jesus asked her to testify.
Where she expected to be chastised . . . Jesus praised her faith.

This woman pressed through the crowd that day with so many labels dragging her down— bleeder, unclean, outcast, unloved, unworthy, disgusting.

Jesus knew it wasn’t just her body that needed healing. With one touch He stripped away the lies of who she thought she was and showed her exactly as God sees her: Daughter. His actions proclaim, “I see you. You are worthy. You belong…to me! Now go in peace.”

Where are you most broken? Where do you need healing? What lies block the truth of who you are in God’s eyes?
What Jesus said to the woman, He says to you.

He sees you. He adores you. And He claims you as His own—Daughter. Reach out to Him in faith . . . for just a touch.

July 13, 2012

I'll Have What She's Having

We sat in a circle, talking about repentance and freedom and deliverance and victory. What does it mean? What does it look like? And one question kept coming up, “How? How does this happen … and how can this happen to me?!”

We tossed around thoughts and a few personal stories. We looked up scripture. Then one friend shared her experiences.

It was the kind of testimony shared with fellow sojourners, not casual seekers. She talked about intensely difficult struggles, about shattered expectations and disappointments so great they took her breath away—and knocked her to her knees, literally. As the storms raged, she went to her Lord. In sorrow she prayed. In anger she prayed. Through tears she prayed. Through confusion she prayed. With love, she prayed. With gut-wrenching honesty she prayed.

Through days and months and years, she brought her broken parts to the cross. To Jesus. She’d give and He’d take away.

Did He make the storm stop or give the answers she sought? An outsider might look at the evidence and say, “No.” But as we listen we know differently. Jesus might not have changed her circumstances, but He changed her heart. The more of it she gave, the more of it He transformed. Her spirit shines so radiantly that everyone sees the light within.

As she spoke, it struck me—this is what faith looks like. The persistent, passionate, pursuit of our Savior. The willingness to trust, regardless of the outcome. The courage to come with open hands and let go of whatever holds her back, no matter how precious it is. The desperate need for divine sustenance. The humility to realize when she’s getting in the way of God’s doing … again.

Surely this is why she has a faith we admire, and has experienced deliverance again and again.

Looking at my friend’s walk with Jesus, I think about the line from When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

I’m tired of the status quo in my faith. I’m tired of believing the lies of the enemy. I want the kind of deliverance that Jesus promises in the Bible—not as an eventual victory in eternity, but as a here and now reality. I want to walk in the power of the Spirit and be used by the Lord to do great things for His kingdom. I want to get out of my own way and stop tripping myself up before I even get started.

How about you? So many women I’ve met through the years want a deeper faith. They want to forgive or change or heal or experience intimacy with God. But they are stuck and discouraged.

Jesus didn’t walk this earth and die on the cross for us to live this way. He says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

So what’s the difference between us (or at least me) and my friend? I’ll tell you one thing is clear. She approaches her faith like an athlete in training. Disciplined, obedient, committed, passionate. She puts in the time, works through the pain, looks to improve and stays singularly focused on the goal—Jesus.

If you, like me, want to experience the abundant life that Jesus promises. Here are some bad habits I’ve observed that WON’T get you there:
  • Just going to church on Sunday and spending a few minutes every day reading devotions
  • Holding Jesus as arms’ length
  • Adding faith as a hobby or an accessory to life
  • Not reading the Bible
  • Sitting back and hoping for the best
  • Dictating the outcome
  • Giving Jesus your leftover time and money
  • Thinking, “I’m not that bad”

As the author of Hebrews tells us,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3)

Paul instructs, “Run in such a way as to win the race.” Win the race. Not participate in, observe or dabble in.

Run.To. Win.

Where are you in the race?

May 18, 2012

Shaken to the Core

This devotion is running today on Internet Cafe Devotions

On January 12, 2010 the foundations of the earth shook as a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti.

The already-poorest-country in the Western hemisphere suffered unthinkable destruction. News reports confirmed the ruin, chaos, grief, tragedy. By all accounts Haiti was devastated. Period.

Did you know earthquakes foreshadowed major plot shifts in the Bible?
  • Before Moses received the Ten Commandments, “the mountain trembled violently.”
  • When Jesus was crucified and took his last breath, “the earth shook.” 
  • When the angel rolled the stone away from the tomb, “there was a violent earthquake.” 
  • When Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison, “there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.” 

I imagine the witnesses focused on the chaos, shock and ruin of the earthquakes. But knowing what came next, I hear God saying, “Don’t focus on the shaking earth and get stuck there! Look at me. Watch what I’m going to do!” I’m giving you The Law. I’m overcoming death. I’m giving you eternal life. I’m building my church.

The earthquakes weren’t the end of the story; they were the beginning. It’s been said, “Don’t put a period where God intends a comma.”

In the two years since the earthquake in Haiti, futility, hopelessness and despair abound. Each news report draws circles around the period at the end of the story called Haiti.

But God.

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Psalm 46:1-3) 

The earthquake drew me to Haiti to work with the Foundation for Peace. Relief has turned into rebuilding and ongoing care.

During each visit to Haiti I see momentum building and the story growing. I hear God saying, “Don’t focus on the shaken earth and get stuck there! Look at me. Watch what I’m doing!”  

Newly rebuilt boats ready for fishing.
Recently I received an update on the work FFP had been doing since my team’s departure in March. They:
  • Distributed shoes to children and Bibles to adults in a poor village, and they helped rebuild the village’s three fishing boats. 
  • Finished building a house for a woman and her children who’d been living under sheets. 
  • Held a worship service where a voodoo priest and his family gave their lives to Jesus. (It took an hour to burn all of his voodoo trinkets.) 
  • Continued to build the vocational school started last year—the only school of its kind in the region. 

God is telling a story of glory in Haiti.

In our own lives earthquakes will happen. Natural disasters. Death. Divorce. Cancer. Financial woes. Heartbreak. Our foundations will be shaken to their core.

But God says, “Be still…” Relax. Pause. Add a comma. “…and know…” Experience for yourself. Take my truth into your soul. Turn toward me. “…that I am God.” Your refuge and strength. Your ever-present help in trouble. Your fortress and deliverer.

Has your foundation been shaken? Is God calling you to "Be still, and know…?" Where is He writing a story of glory in your life?

If you'd like to learn more about Foundation for Peace and the work they do, and even join an upcoming trip, click here.

May 9, 2012

Gym Time and Jesus

I wrote this for Internet Cafe Devotions last month and thought I'd share here.

I love Thursday morning spin class at my gym. It’s intense, sweaty and leaves me feeling exhausted in a great way.

A spin bike is stationary, of course. So no matter how hard you pedal, the bike remains in exactly the same place. Yet, every week my competitive streak flares and I try not just to survive spin class, but to “win” it. Throughout the class I compare my perceived effort to others. I try to keep my gear and cadence above what the instructor calls out. And I glance at the digital displays on the bikes of nearby riders to see if my “numbers” are better than theirs.

Recently my bike was “tighter” than usual and during the class I struggled to reach even the lowest gear range the instructor called out. I looked at my fellow pedalers.  

They’re doing it, why can’t I?

My heart pounded. Sweat flowed off my forehead and down my back. Yet, I felt discouraged. At the end of the class my body said, “Wow, tough workout!” But my mind said, “You’re weak—loser!”

The next week, the bike I chose shifted easily. Throughout class, instead of lagging behind, I stayed several gears ahead. A quick glance around the room confirmed, Yep, you’re beating them! My adrenaline pumped and I finished class feeling victorious. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t as fatigued as usual, or that the victory came on an “easy” bike—I “won” spin class.

Letting a fickle machine and the perceived performance of strangers validate and invalidate my results is silly of course. But my competitive nature can be my fatal flaw: I constantly compare myself to those around me—and use them as my barometer. When tail winds of affirmations, praise and success make the ride easy, I feel great…and worthy. When the head winds of rejection, stress and failure press me back, my spirits sink. Up and down goes my self-esteem.

All around us, every single day, the mirrors of life reflect who we are, what we’re worth and where we fit in. They label us (and we label ourselves) by what is seen: Popular, smart, beautiful, talented, winner … Weak, rejected, fat, stupid, loser.
How this must grieve our Savior. That we believe these fickle, flawed labels instead of the heavenly ones He so preciously obtained for us:

Forgiven … worthy … accepted … known … victorious … redeemed ...

His Word shatters false labels and shows us our true reflection. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9,19)

One day I hope this amazing truth permeates into the center of my being, because isn't the greatest victory to truly know and accept the love God has for us? To that end, I pray as David did:
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139: 23-24)
I’m still going to try to "win" spin class, but there's only one label I want to wear as a crown of victory ... beloved.

April 24, 2012

I Love You Not

I have a confession to make.

I have hate in my heart.

 For years I’ve tried to overcome—to be the better person. I’ve tried ignoring. I’ve tried accepting.

See … me and this machine … we’re in a battle. It's game on.

My emotions are so raw that writing this makes my pulse quicken and my insides tighten. Oh, the ill will I direct its way. The thoughts of its demise I imagine. It's stolen the joy from a household chore I actually like!

I think it knows my contempt and is out to break me. The wretched thing is a beast. It’s cumbersome and clunky. The self-propelling quit long ago and I have to drag it across the carpet. It’s built for someone six inches shorter, so I end up with a backache from stooping. The handle digs into my hands. And the motor roars like a jet taking off.

Just about every cap, cover, filter and extra part has cracked, broken or fallen off. The electric cord has 36 gouges in it from being run over. The housing is littered with paint marks from being run into doorways and furniture—and from falling down the steps several times.

You know what really ticks me off? What keeps me from opening the front door and hurling it into the front yard every time I use it? As much as I loathe admitting this, it vacuums really well. Dirt and dog hair are no match for its suction. My practical side won't let me buy a new one.

That leaves us in a standoff … me and this machine. I keep hoping it will suffer a fatal wound—like electrocution. Yet, it refuses to quit. How many favored appliances have headed to appliance heaven well before their time?! This monster won’t die. Seriously, it could take on a Timex.

So, the hate grows and the battle ensues.

I set my sights on a glimmer of hope in the distance. My birthday, anniversary and Mother’s Day are coming up. The trifecta of gift giving. Oh, how a girl can wish.

Dan … hello? Are you listening?