From the moment I arrived in the Philippines to the moment that I departed - I had zero grasp on why I was there. If I can be brutally honest, I had very little to offer. The children were poor and were facing horrible challenges - BUT - their mommas and daddies loved them. They were kept.
As much as I want to feel horrible for those who are poor and marginalized,it's difficult for me to see them as less than rich when there is monumental evidence of powerful family bonds.
I see wealth in togetherness and treasure in family. Even in bamboo huts and makeshift tents. Especially there.
There wasn't a single child that needed a hug from me. (I did get a little hug therapy, but I'll tell you about that later.) But the kids, nah, they didn't need that.
Day after day, the people of the Philippines blew me away. They are a people unlike any I've ever met. Resilient, hopeful and steady... so impressive, especially those who've seen that the gospel is the solution to the problems of the world, and work tirelessly to walk the walk.
So, I met Richard. I've been home now for 3 weeks and still processing the magnitude of his work. Richard is a former gang member.
In the area where he lives, there are 21 gangs, some of them well-known international groups. Richard's story is worthy of a book - but the cliff notes are as follows, and I'm guaranteed to forget something important.
Richard pulled away from gang life a few years ago. He'd had an encounter with the gospel and surrendered his heart to the Lord. From there, he really wanted to become a pastor. All the while, Richard was praying very specific prayers and asking God to be very specific in His answers and direction. All of Richards prayers were answered ((these were prayers for direction, not prayers for Mercedes!)) An opportunity came up for Richard to go to bible college - a new college nearby. His tuition was sponsored. Funny thing though - Richard was the single ONLY person to enroll. He attended his classes for 2 years - still the only student, and then he graduated. He was a class of one.
And friends, I need you to know, we may as well all be a class of one - because the gospel is no place for competition.
The school closed after Richard graduated. You see.... this was the way that God chose to creatively answer the creative prayers of a young guy leaving gang society and seeking to have his life hijacked by Jesus.
So what then.... well, it's just such a big story.... I'm not even sure how my little words can do it justice, but I'll try.
Richard began connecting with leaders from all 21 gangs. In his very calm and gentle demeanor, but still commanding respect - he has been infiltrating the leagues with the ways of Jesus. Over time, Richard's methods and his testimony have penetrated a culture and slowly changed it. He's teaching them that violence and crime doesn't have to be their path. (**In broken English, Richard explained to us that he used to climb walls.) <-- I really like that image.
Listen, these guys are the real deal. They have murdered, raped, stolen and assaulted. They have tattoos commemorating kills. These dudes were not friendly neighbors. But that is changing. Richard, with God on his side, is single-handedly reshaping a generation. He's leading the way in the redemption of a deadly culture.
I didn't sit in a field with Richard like I had seen in my vision. He and I didn't look eye-to-eye, hold hands and have a moment. But we are very much in a field together.... and I couldn't be more delighted to be a witness to the next bountiful harvest.
Richard is sowing seeds of redemption.
To be continued....
I'd like to be able to tell you that I knew what God had in mind when He pulled one of my threads and knotted me up in Southeast Asia. Did you know that the Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands? That is just nuts, right?
My heart is already entrenched in Zimbabwe and filled up with compassion for orphans. I have neither felt a need nor a desire to really go anywhere else. Being a spectator doesn't appeal to me and I lack any desire to travel just to travel. Flying on airplanes is about as enticing to me as playing with wasps. And how could anywhere be better than Franklin, TN? I'm so happy right here on this dirt.
And then there is motion sickness, vertigo, claustrophobia, insomnia, fear of food and a variety of sensory issues. I'm a party in the sky, y'all.
Translation: "Jesus, please don't make me go!"
My genuine desire is to go only where my heart is called and to serve in only the ways God wants me to. So, when my friend David (a missions director) began telling me about the mission projects in the Philippines involving child soldiers and gang members.... I dunno, my heart pounced. The heart pouncing had some conflict with my brain because - well - I really only want to serve in Zimbabwe, because I've established family there and even though separated by half the world, we breathe the same air and we think rhythmically. They are mine and I am theirs - and who needs more than that?
Months flew by but my heart continued to respond to the notion that God might seriously be preparing me to go. For example, David would say something about the Philippines and my intestines would squeal. He'd mention child soldiers and some loud, crazy spirit in the depths of my soul chimed in like a train conductor ... "ALL ABOARD".
I signed up - and then........ waited.
During the waiting period, oddly enough, I barely thought about it. I wasn't excited or nervous. The impending event was logged on my calendar and for the most part it was nothing more than a 9-day period shaded in purple. (Travel).
A few days before the purple week, something kinda crazy happened. In a normal moment during a regular day, I saw a vision of myself sitting in a field with a little boy. I sat up straight and asked God if this was going to happen in the Philippines. I sensed that He was saying yes.
I saw David at church and told him about that vision. David's eyes shifted and a smile came across his face, and he suggested with a sly expression - "welllllllllllllllll, that can be arranged". And well, of course not. We can't go playing with God's will. So, nothing was arranged.
My time in the Philippines didn't involve me sitting with a little boy in a field.
But I met the boy....
(to be continued)
So, here I am again. And for those of you following, I'm well aware that I owe you Parts 3 and 4 of "All Zipped Up". But hang in there, because God sent me on an excursion in the middle of all the zippers and buttons, and the journey is oh so relevant.
First, I want to tell you about an incredible encounter with a precious elderly woman that knocked my sandals off.
Baulina is a 93-year-young Filipino woman. At the end of March, I traveled to the Philippines with Conduit Mission, my dear friend David Christopher, and a team of people new to my life but forever a part of it, Jillianne, Martin and Dana. I'll tell you more about the map and the mission later ... but first, Baulina.
The team had been invited to tour an incredible social enterprise, founded and operated by an even more incredible man. This beautiful little lady entered the scene unexpectedly. She's the mother-in-law of the incredible man. As she wobbled through the hallway and into the room where I was, she had women on either side of her to hold her steady. There was a chair beside me and I could tell that she was eyeing it, so I assisted swiftly in getting it positioned for her. That beautiful face of hers never stopped smiling.
Let me just go ahead and blurt the facts out so you can begin to grasp her beauty. She is a very well-educated Filipino woman. At her age, we might assume that she didn't go to univeristy. Wrong. Not only did she go to college in the Philippines, she also received grants and scholarships to go to 4 different USA universities for various programs, including UNC, Columbia, University of Hawaii and one other that I'm forgetting. She's been a rock-star for Jesus her whole life and has raised a stunning family. Her youngest son, Mark, is 51 and he has Down syndrome.
Seriously, I could really just stop right here. She is 93. He is 51. He wasn't raised in an institution or given up for adoption - Mark is a Filipino Momma's Boy. Be still my heart. (I didn't take a photo of him but we had a moment. Mark has severe facial markers and I would never want to expose him to a world of evil.) I had met Mark earlier in the day and did not realize that sweet Baulina is his mommy. So, for now, pretend you also don't know.
She sat beside me and inquired of my entire life's history. Everything about her was sharp. We talked and laughed and shared and we each eagerly pointed to Jesus and offered Him our praises. Toward the end of our conversation she began telling me about all of her children, and that she lost of one her daughters a few years ago. She asked to see photos of my family and I excitedly grabbed my phone. Once she saw Shawn's face, her eyes lit up and then they welled up with tears. That was when she began telling me about Mark. I was finally able to fit the pieces together and told her I had spent some time that day with Mark and his toy dinasours. As a very precious tear slipped down her cheek, she said "I'm so thankful God gave me a son that I could keep at home with me." (I know the feeling). Mark is the joy of her life.
As we began to say our good-byes.... Miss Baulina pulled a little notebook out of her purse and asked if I had a pen. I did. She wanted my contact information. She specified that she would like for me to write down my full name, phone number, mailing address and email. Internally I admit I was a bit confused and altogether unsure but I gave her my info anyway. When I finished writing - I asked if she planned to keep in touch.
This 93-year-old little lady in the Philippines responded with hope and conviction...
"You never know.... this could be the beginning of something good."
My jaw dropped.
Jesus, when I am 93 years old (God willing) I pray that I would approach every day like it could be the beginning of something good.
This encounter, her words, her smile and her energy to live have stayed with me each day since then. As I have tried to share this with a couple of friends, I honestly couldn't hold back the tears. What an impact. A little old lady taught me I'll never be old.
Neither will you.
Philippines -- Part 2 -- coming soon.
So, if you haven't read Part 1 - you have to. It's mandatory. :)
Part 1 is here.
Okay, so that was a downer. Trust me, so very difficult for me to share. Realizing that my greed had become a disease was harsh on my soul, but agreeing to be upfront with others about it - well - adulting is hard, but faith and the grand will of God is too good, too powerful not to share. I can't reasonably expose God's unfathomable mercy and grace in my life if I don't first expose my sinfulness. So, there's that.
And why, exactly? Because I'm in His army. I'm a deliverer of His good news. When I signed up, I signed on - and sharing is the mission. I so desperately want you to know Him if you don't already. And I desperately want you to know that He loves those of us who have radically jacked up. My sinfulness goes way way back. If you don't know these things about me yet, you will.
And even if you do already know Him, maybe you just need to be reminded that it is never too late for Him to show up in ginormous ways.
So, here's part two.
February 26th arrived, the year was up. Statute of limitations had passed and I was free from myself. I had signed on all the dotted lines and sighed. Actually, I snot cried. I wailed and gagged and I really wish I were exaggerating for comedic effect, but it wasn't funny at all. All I had wanted was closure. I had spent a fair amount of time uttering cave-woman prayers. "God.make.crap.stop." "Life.hard..Make.hard.stop." "Me.need.peace." "Make.chapter.close."
Closure is all I wanted. And I begged for it. But even after that day passed, I felt like I had lost, having nothing to show for the year myself and my family had endured.
One week after my hand penned the fated end on the dotted lines, Spring showed up. Unseasonably warm and early, all the weeds in the landscaping around my yard called out to me. Please uproot us, they said. I hadn't been able to work in the weeds and flowers the year before because my back couldn't handle it. Slightly over one year later, I was in the earth on my hands and knees getting dirty and happy. I'd pinch a stem near the root and ever so slowly uproot it carefully - and then toss the weeds aside. I did this bit by bit, gently smoothing the dirt as I worked to make it level again. Enjoying the freedom to move without back pain...( I had just had a high dosage epidural steroid injection deep at the site of my injury)...and so thankful to have my hands back in the dirt - something happened.
I smoothed the dirt, and as I did, a little white button surfaced from beneath the earth and found it's little way into my little hand. I brushed the dirt away from it.... and as is common for the Holy Spirit to reach me, He began to speak through the mud. I looked at the button and then at the sky. Even alone, I had to speak aloud and ask God, "What does this mean?"
His Spirit washed over me and whispered one word...
It's all buttoned up.... the physical injury, the mental torment, the fear of my mother's health, the agony of the momma sore, the worries and the anger.
As impossible as it had been for me to willingly agree, I had obeyed the Spirit against all my worldly wishes. I know that this button is my earthly reward for a hellish journey. And it's white for goodness sake.
Part 3 and 4 are going to be super fun for me to share with you. As I sit in this moment, goosebumps have just covered my whole being. I know what this means.... the Holy Spirit is excited too.
I spent a year feeling like that little fuzzy dude up there. PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME.
Adulting is hard.
I'm not one to really measure a year. I mean, calendars are essential and there is a certain buzz about New Year's Eve and January 1st, but most of my memories aren't marked by four digits, with a few exceptions... loss of loved ones, graduations, marriages, divorces, babies being born, horses being adopted and African Princesses moving in.
2015 was a booger. It began like any other year. I fell asleep on 12/31/14 before the ball dropped and I woke up to my sweet family. But in February '15- things began to crash. I'm going to be a bit more candid in this post than I have been about my car accident.
It shouldn't have happened. On February 26th (2015), all of the public schools in our county and in neighboring counties were closed. Students had missed a week or more of school due to snow, but on this particular day, the ice had melted. Well - sort of. Marlena's high school (private) made the decision to be open - and to open on time rather than a less risky late opening. Everyone was antsy to get back and administrators didn't want the end of the year calendar to have to be adjusted. We got the notice by text that school would be open - so she got ready and off we went. I dropped her off at the school and then headed home. In a 5 minute span, the roads re-froze. (<------ turns out that had been predicted). Another student from the same school lost control of his vehicle and hit me head-on. I've not been mad at that kid for one second - but details are important. That sweet guy was barely 16 and was driving a large vehicle. Considering his very fresh age, it's safe to assume that he had never driven in bad weather before. My car was totaled and my back was severely jacked. I endured a solid year of pain, medical treatments and intense emotional imbalance. PTSD, General Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, Depression and a myriad of side-effects. I now have a pill-box for days of the week.
Hold that thought.
My mother had emergency surgery in March '15 due to an 80%+ blockage of her carotid artery. After she returned home, other medical emergencies followed. As an only child (with painful injuries of my own), I faced the real possibility of losing her. I watched her have a series of TMI's (mini-strokes), took her back to the emergency room and waited. Many descriptive sentences could be worked in here, but let's just agree together that 2015 wasn't looking too hot. Mom has new medical worries now, but in all she is doing very well these days!
Hold that thought.
While I am not at liberty to go into detail - I gotta say - being a Mom is hard. One of my children walked through something devastating and my heart experienced a soreness unlike anything before. Take the brevity of that sentence and multiple it by one zillion. It weighs enough to open a sink-hole and swallow the earth inside out.
Then..... (deep breath)..... my cat died on my birthday.
Back to thought one. Due to the auto accident, I missed more than a year of work. Additionally, as if that isn't enough, I wasn't able to be productive for BFGO and our donations lagged by more than 10%. A business partnership that had been in the works for a year went drastically south and due to non-performance, I had to cut ties with someone I care about.
Who's in the mood for cake?
In September, the super special experience of negotiating a settlement with an insurance company began and for 5 months I navigated that sickening journey while balancing both physical and emotional agony. I dealt with crappy attorneys.....and.....I had to make some very difficult decisions. If you're bored yet, hang in there, it's about to get worse.
After a year, a settlement with the insurance company was finally reached. My mind equates the outcome with radical injustice. My loss of wages were not recouped. If I sit here and try to type the details of being "awarded" for pain and suffering, I will spit swords ... but here is the deal.... I didn't want to sue the family. I mean, I did want to, but I didn't want to want to. They have a nice address. A really nice address. They probably could easily have afforded to replace my car. I wanted my car replaced but I didn't want to "punish" a family for sending their kid off to school, even though he had no driving experience. They were simply doing what I did.... they responded to the school's decision to be open by going. At a minimum, 5 students were in car accidents that morning. To my knowledge, I'm the only one who suffered injuries and significant loss.
I called the school right away that morning and asked them to close - to send out the mass emergency text that would keep kids at home. They didn't agree. They also didn't check on me. They also didn't offer us any hot meals or a get well card. But they were kind enough to send us a tuition bill.
So, the attorneys wanted me to sue the family and sue the school (for negligence) so that I might receive a fair settlement. I am not going to sit here and lie to you in the eye. I saw dollar signs. I saw my house being paid off. I saw justice. It was a constant, nauseating struggle for me to get through this. To sue or not to sue? I knew beyond the shadows of doubt that I would win. But my stomach couldn't handle it. The culprit for my intestinal turmoil - greed. I grew in greed by about a foot per day. I knew that it was legal and ethical to pursue retribution and I begged God for permission, but His Holy Spirit sat pretty firm in my heart with a a telling look in His eyes. He wasn't going to stand in the way of my free will, but He wasn't giving me permission, and I knew it.
All I had wanted from the school was for them to acknowledge their role in the matter and to cut us a break for the orphan from Africa considering I had zero wages. In reaching out to them, only crickets replied. And I have lost all respect. Still.
For several months, I wrestled with God. I wanted SO badly to go against Him. I wanted financial justice. I wanted what was fair. Through a series of Holy Spirit convictions, it came down to two choices for me. I could serve myself or I could serve the Lord. That sounds awfully spiritual and holy, but I confess, I was the exact opposite of giddy when I allowed the clock to tick out on February 26th of this year knowing that I would never get the chance again. I didn't sue the family with the healthy address and I didn't sue the school that never came to our side in our crisis that they initiated. A school that probably should have welcomed the orphan, at zero expense, in the first place.
They are still sending me invoices for the $14,500 we still owe in tuition for the orphan from Africa. They are not sending me the (way more than that) that we've lost. They're calendar was protected. My calendar has blood stains.
The 1 year statute of limitations ran out and I asked God if He was happy. Not really. I raised my hands to the Heavens and I loudly pointed out to Him that I had obeyed. I'm sure He chuckled. Because if you have walked a similar road in hearing the Spirit but wanting to cover your years and la-la-la-la-loo straight through it, you know that the only way, the ONLY WAY we can persevere in trials is in the strength that He provides and the direction He provides in paving the way of obedience.
From February 26th 2016 until today, April 16th .... the grace He has poured over our lives has been immeasurable. It feels like a miracle per day.
All I've wanted is closure. Lord, help me move on. Help me Tay Tay and Elsa. ((1 million points if you get that.))
The Lord heard my prayer.
Part II coming soon. And it will be the exact opposite of Debbie Downer.
P.S. Welcome to my new little blog.