Romania, Part 1

During July, I had the privilege of going on a mission trip with my church to Romania.  While we were there, we worked with an organization called Project Ruth, which ministers primarily to the Roma people, or gypsies.  Project Ruth encompasses a wide range of projects and ministries, but on this particular trip we worked with their school.  Our team, along with a few other missionaries and translators, took a group of children from the school to a weeklong sleep away camp.  Throughout the week we led Bible Study, crafts, recreation, electives, and other fun activities like a talent show, campfire, and even a dance party. For the majority of the kids on the trip, that week was a once in a lifetime experience, and they had a BLAST! (So did we, of course.) And we fell in love with the kids. I mean, just look at these sweet faces…

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Every time I have the opportunity to travel, I’m reminded of two truths: the world is so much bigger than my view of the world, and God is so much bigger than my view of God. If we’re not careful, we can forget that. We start to imagine that the world is really just the way see it, the way we experience it. And we can turn God into our own small version of who we think he is, who we think he loves, and what we think he can do. But I watched these kids, whose world is so very different from my own, worship God with gladness and gratitude. I watched them embrace us and love us with abandon, even though we didn’t know one another or speak the same language. I watched as God worked in our hearts and theirs, changing us along the way.

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As I’ve read the stories and seen the images coming out of Charlottesville over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about Romania and these kids and love. Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the to the human heart than its opposite.”

In Romania, I was reminded of the truth of those words—that love indeed does come naturally. We didn’t speak the same language. We couldn’t share stories or jokes or even prayers. But we loved. And they taught me something about God’s love, too.

More than anything, I want to be a teacher of love today. I want to speak the truth boldly and denounce hatred clearly and loudly. I want to be an instrument of peace in the world. That’s my prayer for today.

Expecting the Unexpected

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One of my favorite things about kids is their curiosity.  They are unassuming, full of questions and wonder. They are always hunting, searching for answers—freer than we are to admit that they don’t know something. They love surprises and that little thrill that comes from the appearance of the unexpected.

Adults aren’t really like that. We like to know what to expect, what’s going to happen next. Our modus operandi to act like we have all the answers, like we have everything figured out already. We like to plan, to be in control of every aspect of our lives.

But that’s not really the way God works, is it? From the very beginning, the life of Jesus was all about the unexpected. We expect that the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the entire world, would arrive in some grand fashion with flashes of lightning and clashing cymbals, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, Jesus came quietly, gently, and without threat or fanfare.  In fact, only a few lowly shepherds and animals living in a stable had any idea that the world would never be the same.

We expect that the very Son of God would be awarded great power and prestige, but again that’s not what happened. Jesus taught us that the meek would inherit the earth and the last would be first.  He taught us that it is better to serve than to be served, and he lived that truth in his leadership throughout his life. And then finally he died. Jesus didn’t use his incredible power to free himself from the cruelty of crucifixion, but he died a painful and humiliating death on the cross. For us. Because he loved us so much.

And now we arrive at Easter. The women went to the tomb that first Easter morning with the no doubt that they would find exactly what they expected.  A tomb. A body. Sadness. Despair. But then the most unexpected thing happened—the tomb was empty.

The women, understandably, were terrified. But an angel appeared to them and asked what must have seemed like the strangest question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The angel was tasked with delivering the most unexpected surprise in history—Jesus could not be found in a cold, dark tomb. He was not there anymore. He is risen.

The story of Easter has so much to teach us, but I think one of its greatest truths is that God has the power to do so much more than we expect or imagine. You think God can’t bring healing to the brokenness in your life? Think again. You think no beauty can come from this hurt? It’s not true. The story of Easter—the story of God—is about light from darkness, hope from despair, life from death. The resurrection is God’s promise that what is lost and broken can be redeemed, that whatever pain you’re experiencing right now doesn’t get the last word in your story.

This Easter, I’m thankful that God does so much more than I expect or even believe is possible. And he that he loves me so much more than I know.

Aware

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I’ve been studying the story of Moses recently.  Our kids are doing a musical about Moses freeing the slaves, and in an effort to help them understand more about the man they’re singing about (no kids, Moses was not one of Jesus’ disciples), I’ve been learning more about him, too. The other day I was reading the story of Moses at the burning bush. I’ve read this story many, many times and heard it told a hundred different ways. But this time, I was struck by something new. There was one word that stood out and changed everything for me: Aware.

God spoke to Moses, and he said, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering.”

Aware. That word says everything, doesn’t it? Often, in times of hurt or fear or pain, we feel like God is absent—like he doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what we’re going through.

But God speaks to Moses in the most miraculous of ways, and assures him that he does indeed see what’s going on:

I know. I see. I’m there. It may not be the way you want right now, but I promise that I’m working in this, too. I’m aware. I’m with you. 

I think that what we want so often is just to be seen. So many people are walking through life carrying massive burdens that know one else can see. And even though we may try to keep these parts of our lives quiet, there is something inside of us longing for someone to come along and say that they see our pain. They get it. They’re right there with us. We want to know we’re not alone.

God’s promise to us is not only that we don’t have to go through it alone, but that he knows and understands what we’re experiencing.  He’s knows every fear, every worry, every hurt—he sees all of it. God is aware. Isn’t that a beautiful promise?

Lent and the View from the Mountain

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In Exodus, God speaks to Moses and says, “Come up to the mountain and stay here.” It’s a simple invitation, and yet it strikes me as profoundly important.  As I’ve reflected on those words this week, I can’t help but think that this invitation is at the very heart of Lent. During this quiet,  reflective season, God offers us an opportunity to come up to the mountain with him and just stay.  He invites us to stay with nowhere to be and nothing pressing to do. He invites us to rest in the quiet and just listen. He invites us to be present and make space for his glory.

Last week I spent some time with a group of ministers talking about wellbeing.  One of the leaders spoke about this particular scripture and he noted that the thing about being on top of the mountain is that it changes your perspective.  Suddenly, your view is completely different.  When we’re on top of the mountain, we notice the beauty and majesty of creation—the vastness of it all.

But at the same time, everything feels smaller. The details fade, and we’re left with the reality of who we are.  We are human. We are small. Sometimes we fail. We are broken and in need of a Savior.

And yet, we are surrounded by the grace and majesty of God.

Lent offers us the chance to see things from a new perspective. Today, on this first day of the Lenten season, I’m giving myself the space to experience something new. I’ll be closing my office door for a few hours in order to go up to the figurative mountain and stay for a while with God.  I will let the details fade away, if only for a moment, and listen for how God is speaking to me in this season.

The invitation extended to Moses is for us as well.  If you’re tired, restless, weary, or broken, there is place for you to sit and rest. Come up to mountain, take in the view from the top, and stay.

 

*Photo Source

Breaking Through

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All that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world, in the serenity of the air, the fineness of seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colors, the fragrancy of smells, the splendor of precious stones, is nothing else by Heaven breaking through the veil of the world.

-William Law

A Prayer for MLK Day

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The Civil Rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith.  We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something. 

-John Lewis

May we always be advocates of justice, equality, and peace. Not only because it is right, but because it is the work of the One who calls us all children of God. Amen.

A Word for 2017

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Well, it’s been pretty quiet around here for the past few weeks.  Last week I took a little break from the internet while Bryan and I spent a week soaking up the sun in Hawaii! We had such a wonderful time, and I’ll definitely be sharing more about our trip here soon.  We came home to snow and ice (sigh), so we’ve spent most of the past couple days curled up at home watching Netflix and snuggling Finley. For now, though, it’s back to real life. Today I’m sharing my one word for the year—the word I want to meditate on as I go through the coming year and the word that I hope becomes a bigger part of my story. This is my word for 2017:

Grace. 

As I thought about what I needed this year, what I was truly longing for, I kept coming back to the word grace. For me, it means grace for others—withholding judgment, offering forgiveness and understanding freely, and striving for compassion. For so many of us, this year has been difficult and divisive.  We’ve had to bite our tongues about issues of great importance and swallow our anger when friends and family members make remarks that are hurtful or cruel.  It’s a painful time in our country and most of us are struggling with how to respond.  I have to admit that my first instinct in these situations has been judgment or anger or even disgust. But if we’re going to move forward then each of us must learn to show grace…even when we disagree.

It also means grace for myself.  It means letting go of perfection and hustle in favor of a more present and content way of life. It means accepting that things may not always turn out exactly like I hope, and that’s ok. It means relaxing my grip and expectations and living with gratitude for the life I have, just as it is. It means cutting myself some slack when things don’t get done and learning about the beauty that exists in the imperfections.

Finally, this year I am praying for grace for our world. We are hurting and broken, but God offers us grace freely and unconditionally. My prayer is that we would accept and live into that grace, extending it to one another and working towards a different way of living.

So, what are you hoping for this year? What is your prayer for 2017?

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

1 John 1:16