29 April 2013

Of Loss

I have struggled with whether I should write this post, whether I have "the right." My husband and I both, as we grieve for a man with whom we can count the number of individual conversations we've had on one had, have struggled with the burden of a pain we feel unjustified in having. Not because we have not been impacted, but because we know there are those whose sorrow runs much deeper.

Yet, justified or not, there are two scenes running a constant loop in my mind. The first being the moment on Wednesday night, when I stood in the hall of our church and heard the words I would never have imagined in my entire life. From the tone of the voice in the question, "Have you heard?" I knew I was facing something serious. The name that came next flooded me with dread - not this, not one of ours - and the rest of the sentence, the means by which his life ended much too soon, were unthinkable. And though I stood strong at the time, painted on the face of ignorance for those who did not yet know and carried on, I have since fallen to my knees at reliving that one moment.

Almost immediately after, my brain brings to mind the image, for some reason, of his boots. The cowboy boots that were his Sunday best, peeking out under his jeans as he casually crossed his ankle over his knee in the second row of  our Sunday School class less than three days before. A semi-photographic memory clings to the strangest images at times and this is one of them. I see those crossed legs, the arm wrapped around the back of his wife's chair, his easy laugh as he shares his plans for the week. A week that was never finished.

And though I know our personal interaction had been limited, I also know we were family, in a way I would never have thought possible until I entered this Sunday School class - a class with whom we live our daily struggles and celebrate our joys, where the word "Unspoken" is rarely spoken and transparency is par for the course. We share our flaws, we praise the Lord for our successes. Though introverts like Philip and I are rarely known for actively participating in discussion, we are there. When we speak we are heard, but more often, we are listening. We know each and every person that has come to share life in our circle.

This "class" isn't confined to four walls or a certain time on Sunday mornings. We have traveled together from first years of marriage to first pregnancies, through losses and gains, joining together at that precious time in our lives when we are learning who we are, both as adults and, more importantly, as followers of Christ. Rarely are we all in one place at one time, but always our hearts are together.

So how could we lose one of our own? And how can we continue to rejoice with one another when this is where living life together has carried us? How can the overwhelming joy at his announcement at the class Christmas party over their coming blessing turn to such sorrow before we've even welcomed the baby into our arms?

And, most of all, how could anyone who hasn't met him even begin to understand what we have lost? We have lost a passion that ignites us, a motivating force to action when many of us only ask, "What can we do?", a contagious love for life and for people. All of this contained in the spirit of one person. One person who has left us.

This is how two people, who rarely spoke with such a man one-on-one, find ourselves grieving - tears on the floor, prayers lifted up, sorrow poured out - grieving. Because he was one of our own and his presence will always be felt.

22 April 2013

Of Taking Steps

I previously mentioned God has been gloriously messing up all my preconceived notions of what our life would be in just the past couple of weeks.

That may not be completely true. While I've only recently (like, very recently) realized just how drastically he is re-arranging my priorities and centering my focus back to Him, if I were going to be honest, I'd point you back another month or so to the starting point of my current inner revival, the point when I really wasn't feeling it, exactly, but I was taking a step of obedience anyway - and one step is all He needs.

It was back when a group from our church returned from a journey to the Holy Land, and my heart started to yearn.  My heart that has spent many months overseas, but has not stepped foot out of the midwest, let alone our country, in six years. I longed to go - anywhere. But just because I longed for it, didn't mean it was where I needed to be. Yet, as luck (wink wink) would have it, the very same morning, I noticed an announcement calling for all interested in mission trips for the year to attend an informational meeting.

I still didn't know if I was called to get on a plane, but I knew, without a doubt, God wanted me at that meeting.

So I took a step.

Despite his misgivings of whether we really needed to be there, my husband joined me while we received information about all the upcoming plans our church had for reaching the lost with the name of Jesus. And I tried, believe me I tried, to feel a calling. I tried to feel the nudge to go on a medical trip to Quito, Ecuador - we'd done it before and I definitely had the vernacular down for pharmaceutical translating. But my heart wasn't really in it this time. I thought it would be great to join a group going to Colorado - I mean, we have friends there and I'd really been wanting to go. But I wasn't really sure that was meant for us, either. In fact, if anything, the only trip that even vaguely stuck in my mind was a mission to visit orphans, and other children in need, in Ecuador. But I ignored that thought, because I don't work well with children and I have never felt inclined toward orphanage work. It's not my thing.

So I shoved it away.

The only clear thought I had was how neat it would be to take our children on one of these trips someday. But surely not now. Surely. They're too young, right? As our coordinator of missions continued his spiel, I meandered the "policies and procedures" just to put my mind at ease. Yet it's only stipulation was children under 16 must be accompanied by a parent.

"Are there any questions?"

"Yes, what's the minimum age for a trip like this?" That was the question burning in my mind. But everyone there knew my oldest child was only four. And clearly they would think me an idiot for even asking.

So I shoved it away.

And Philip and I later both agreed. Nothing stuck out to us. We weren't meant for an overseas mission at this time.

Yet, one week later, the thought bubbled again. What would it be like to take my pre-schooler to Ecuador? I pondered how I would entertain her on the plane, or a van, or all the boring lulls trips like these can have when there are scheduling issues or changes in plans. And for every "difficult-for-a-four-year-old" scenario I could drum up, a response immediately popped into my head.

And then He spoke it to me. What I would call my life verse, if I had ever been pushed to claim one, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:21) In that moment, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, I was hearing that voice. 

Dang it.

But I still didn't want to believe it. I needed someone to tell me I was wrong. I knew, surely, my husband would think me insane and that would the end of this crazy mental talk.

So I told him my thought. The one about packing up our four-year-old, taking her on a plane and flying to a city in the mountains of Ecuador. I assured him I knew he must think me crazy.

"Actually," he said, quietly, "I don't think you're crazy. I think it would actually be really good for her."


We knew, though, there was still one more step. Because surely someone at the church would see the insanity of even presenting such a thought for consideration. Surely there was a bylaw or something that would put an end to the nonsense. Surely. But deep down I knew. I knew my daughter and I were going to Quito in July.

And that night, when I spoke to the leader of this particular trip, her enthusiasm was genuine when she stated, "She would do so great! The kids we're working with are so much more willing to open up when they have a child their own age to play with."

And that's when the reality struck me. I was out of people to tell me no.

The only bridge left to cross was me turning in that application. It was me saying, "Yes, Lord, we will do this.  We will go."

So I took a step.

And this is how I find myself realizing my children can now pick out Ecuador on a map. They know what language is spoken (though their training in it is not quite the success story for which I'd hoped) and they know it'll take a long time on the plane to get there. Micaiah talks about going "on an adventure - like when we go to Ecuador" and Emmett will ask, "Is that Ecuador?" when looking at prayer cards.

My heart is overwhelmed with excitement at introducing my daughter to this South American culture which has so easily become a part of my own. I smile at the thought of her playing side-by-side with the children of Quito - playing house through the language barrier and begging to invite her friends home. And I feel humbled to think she will see Jesus at work, whether she grasps it all or not.

This trip is a life-changer. For both of us.

21 April 2013

Of a Natural Beauty

Just the other day, I pinned my hair up quickly before heading out the door. While hurrying to catch a glimpse of the back, just to be sure all was in place, I snatched an old compact, opened to view the reflection of my reflection and noticed the flesh-colored powder pressed in the bottom, suddenly remembering the feeling of swiping this material over the skin of my face.  It's been two years this month since I first stepped past that drawer, forever cutting the task from my daily routine.

I didn't realize, at the time, my simple motion of rebellion against the lies of my culture, the lies that God's beauty was not enough, would forever change how I saw myself.  

It was just a step.

And sometimes that's all it takes.

At the time I took that small step, made the small decision once a day to not open that drawer and defile my face, it was strange. I looked in the mirror and saw a girl not quite up to par. I didn't match the beautiful pictures I'd previously seen of myself. My lashes were too light, my pores too noticeable, my skin too marred by the past. I didn't feel this unpainted face was the best version of myself, it wasn't normal to be simply me.

Yet, this past week, as I recalled the sensation of powder on my skin, this is now what felt strange. It was almost unimaginable to consider picking up that compact to coat my face with a foreign substance again. It wasn't normal. The walking past of my drawer is no longer a conscious thought - it simply doesn't even register.

Two years later, I see beauty in the mirror - a beauty that comes from no effort of my own, a recognition of God's handiwork. My old way of life has gone and feels strange to myself.

And if He can do this on the outside, how much more can He do this on the inside. 

I long for the day when an angry word feels foreign on my tongue. The thought of lashing out will seem so abnormal. The drawers holding jealousy, bitterness and fear will remain closed as I march past, choosing, instead, the true beauty of a character of Christ.

Because there is beauty in there, a beauty I have too long ignored and covered over.  Lord, let the clothing of myself in your love be the most important part of my daily routine until it's not even a conscious thought, it will simply be me becoming who You have made me to be.

20 April 2013

Of My Plans

"In just the past two weeks, my view of what our future looks like has shifted completely.  God is messing with my life!" 

These are the words I spoke to my husband just a half hour ago. And it's so true and so beautiful all at the same time. I teased He was messing with it, when really what I'm seeing is a complete mess taking shape into something so potentially beautiful - potentially difficult, crazy and/or painful, yes, but the beauty in every work of God's hands is undeniable.

This weekend, as I learned of the process of glass-blowing and it's spiritual applications, I stepped back for a moment to realize all of what our eyes perceive as truly beautiful is born of difficulty. A rainbow arcs after the rain.  An Oklahoma sunset is most gorgeous when blazed across the cloudy remnants of a stormy day. A diamond is birthed from pressure, pearls from irritation. Glass and precious metals must endure the shaping and refining of intense flame.

The truest beauty comes after the truest difficulties of life.

Avoiding these trials will a) cause me to miss the exquisite nature of a life lived for Him while b) not guaranteeing safety. Because safety is never guaranteed, anywhere.

So, no guts no glory, right?  Is it not better to take the risk of following the Leader, when I know Who the leader is, seeking His glory, than to live my days to their bitter end on the sidelines - playing it safe and wondering why I'm still suffering the turmoil of a hollow life?

This is the place I find myself. Messed up, "planning" a life that is not what I would have planned. And I couldn't be more excited.

10 April 2013

Of Breaking My Heart

Last night, in one of my "I won't be able to sleep until I can stop thinking about this one inane thing" rampages, I found myself, in the darkness of midnight, snuggled under my covers, clicking link after link while my husband slumbered soundly beside me.  And after satiating one curiosity, I found another and another until I was here.

And then I couldn't stop.  As the night wore on and I knew I needed sleep, I could not tear myself away.

Photo after photo of real humans in the middle of real lives giving real answers to a guy on the street.

It struck me at one point, looking into the faces of these humans of New York, the vast majority of these individuals (based not on appearance, alone, but on sheer numbers and statistics) are living without hope.  They will continue to live their lives - whatever those may hold - and will meet their end without ever knowing Christ.

And for the first time in my life (which is a considerable fact, knowing I, myself, have been a "Christian" for the vast majority of that span), I felt a real, actual, true burden for the lost.  I felt sick to my stomach - literally  nauseated.

They're dying.  These real people.  With real lives and real answers.  Are dying.  Without hope.

How could I have ignored it this long?  How could I have traveled to another portion of our globe, multiple times, and not felt this?  I've shared my faith - quietly, hesitantly, barely - without the real, honest desire that the listener comprehend and embrace the message of HOPE, of LIFE.  I shared it because it was my task for the day - a day I hoped would end soon so it would be someone else's job.

How could that be?!

If I truly believe what I believe, how could I not be devastated at the thought of others not believing, knowing, hoping?

And, yet, it's how I have lived.  Every day of my nearly 29 years.

A common thread among these images of these real people in their real lives is the desire to be noticed.  Some go so far as to say it - to say they desire a presence in this bustling world, in a city so overflowing with humans you have to be almost crazy to be seen at all.

And yet they don't know.

El Roi.

The God who sees.

He sees them.  He sees you.  He sees me.  And He knows us all.  And He longs that we would know Him, too.

God, break my heart for what breaks yours.  Burden me for these without hope - in another city, in another country, on another street, in another house.  Down the block and across the sea.  Burden me.