LET LOVE BE
Africa and her orphans have done something irrevocable to my soul, having shaped me into a messenger and an advocate for the motherless, hungry and other vulnerable children in her heat. After years of finding ways to bring water or food, provide school fees, blankets and other needs, what they keep thanking me for is my love. But I know this love and it isn’t mine. For it to be mine would imply that I brought it up and out and gave it away but only Jesus can do that. So, I’ve looked at His life and studied His feet, sensed the movement of His Spirit and all that I can see is love. Soft love. Hard love. Even disciplinary love and ultimately unfathomable sacrificial love. And the Bible asks, even challenges us to live and walk like He did. We know how difficult that is but still His example hangs stretched out before us. Do we watch and observe or look away? I believe we are supposed to imitate Him until it becomes real in us, His love that works wonders, because after all we are the ones charged with carrying out his mission of love. Every single thing He has done demonstrates our way. This is the challenge - that we would let His love be in us so much so that we become love at every turn and every standing still.
This may be complicated but yet it is this simple … that we would let love be the underlying, common denominator in every aspect of our lives, what drives the things we do day in and out. That love would be our bottom-line in relationships, at work, and parenting. That love would be the motivation in why we carry out tasks and chores, resolve conflict, acquire things and that it would be the object of our desires … love to a world of hurting people.
Sometimes we try to place our love in people, things and experiences, which is misguided at best. Let’s ponder this, that Jesus invited us to “follow” him. In repeated instances the New Testament shows us that Jesus would ask his disciples as he chose them, one by one, to leave whatever they were doing (working, family, etc.) and walk with him. We can imagine it as him saying something akin to “follow me and I’ll meet your needs for work, enjoyment and relationship.” In this modern age, however, we tend to focus first on meeting our needs for these things and then to give Jesus whatever we might have leftover; a couple of minutes for prayer or possibly a few moments for devotional or Bible reading. I believe we are tragically missing out. Jesus’ focus for healing was love, as was his focus for salvation. He rescues because he loves and redeems and restores out of and because of His great love. Love was his constant motivator, his reason for everything. It is possible for us, and maybe even necessary for us to live with the same set of desires and intentions. To let love be the reason for everything.
In order to let love guide our hearts, focus our minds and lead our lives, we have to be intentional about putting it in front of us and then to go where it goes. What if we thought about every little (or big) thing in terms of love? Love that is patient and kind, that puts others first and recognizes the weaknesses and wounds in others to know that they might need special handling? I believe we can do this. With God’s power, anything is possible.
His sister, Princess Marlena, is in college now. What a ride for our African beauty.
His oldest brother is in the work force making bank.
His other older brother is rocking 6th grade and flipping across the SE USA, aiming high.
But he, he is in 3rd grade following goals and objectives designed by me and his IEP team. His academic days are filled with modifications for everything including assistance with shoe tying and buttoning. The overall goal is for him to do his best, be his best, feel loved and valued at all times and ...
Like most of America, I have boarded the Joanna and Chipper Gaines train. They are our spirit animals. We salivate uncontrollably, united in solidarity for the shiplap craze. The Magnolia enterprise isn’t merely our design inspiration but possibly also our marriage muse. They are faith centered, home-grown, hand-made, soil turning, vintage lamps along dreary paths and they are adorable. They are our Ma and Pa Ingalls.
Just this morning I placed an online order from Magnolia Market that will arrive in 5-7 business days. My order includes vases, cotton-ball stems, wall hooks and wire baskets. I am drinking their Kool-Aid. The hubs and myself are in the process of purchasing our own fixer-upper under extremely unique circumstances. The house in its current state looks like an old run-down barn. I’m going to call this house the “Hoedown House” (wink wink). It’s 1900 square foot and we have an all-in budget of
It is smack dab in the middle of my favorite verses of Scripture in the New Testament. I have read it, taught it, shared it, believed it and have even called it my life verse - but I've only just begun to understand it.
I was focused on words like "perseverance", "steadfastness", "strength", "maturity" and "complete." Take a look at James 1:1-8 and see the foundation of my hope. I married these verses back in 1999 (<--- by the way, not the party I was expecting. RIP Prince).
Have you ever had a word jump off a page and smack you in the face? I've had plenty, but in this case
I want you to know that he is a humble man. Humble, mild-mannered and soft-spoken. You wouldn't necessarily view him as a world changer. I doubt he ever woke up one day thinking that he'd take bold, irrevocable steps for the Kingdom, but he did and still does. I am going to skip over all of the social enterprises, the generosity and the deep love he has for his people, the Filipinos. I'm not even going to mention the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of lives he has supported, impacted and changed.
I want to tell you of his relentless pursuits.
I met Manny in the Philippines. He is probably, roughly 65 years old now. He didn't believe in Jesus because he was doing alright without Him, even though his wife didn't share in his unbelief.
At the age of five, their daughter developed a brain tumor. Her symptoms were severe, including loss of speech and inability to walk. Manny was devastated - as everything he knew and loved about life was suddenly far and wide outside of his control. There were numerous doctor visits, bad-news meetings, hopeless dead-ends and raging fear. Ultimately there was a plan to operate but they had been warned the operation was probably going to kill their little girl. Meanwhile, the tumor was growing larger and the symptoms more devastating.
Some people regularly gathered nearby to pray and Manny always passed them by, but on this day, Manny was drawn in. He was desperately searching and begging his own heart to help believe in the power of prayer .... to help him believe that there is a God who hears them. Manny joined in the prayers and felt a presence he hadn't ever known. Somehow he just knew that God was with him. He took his belief into the bedroom of his little girl and laid his hands on her, knelt over her, held her and prayed for healing. He prayed over her constantly for several days and then returned her to the hospital for testing.
Scans revealed that the tumor was gone.
(And yes, of course, this rocked the medical community. Doesn't it always?)
Manny had relentlessly pursued healing for his daughter, going so far as to believe. Not that "belief" is far away - its just one step. His pursuit touched the heart of God and in one fell swoop - both of them were healed. His daughter is a healthy, successful adult now.
Manny has two sons. Soon after his daughter was healed, the two sons began pushing the boundaries, walking fine lines and dancing with devils. They both became addicted to drugs and one even began to sell them - engaging himself in the underbellies, navigating in the pits.
These two brothers shared a bedroom. Horrified that he was losing his sons, Manny began to go into their bedrooms when they were sleeping and sit on the floor between them to pray. Sometimes his boys would wake up and try to get away from him, so his method changed. Instead of keeping his prayers secret, Manny began crouching between the boys and he would grab a wrist of one boy in his left hand and the other boy's wrist by his right. He would squeeze them tight and hold them fiercely as he prayed aloud for God to heal their addictions and to open their hearts to Him. They couldn't escape.
I can't exactly recall how long Manny said this went on - but today both boys are grown men. Both are Pastors. Manny is now a pastor too - and He mentors other pastors and takes the Gospel to the Indigenous Peoples (tribes) of his area in the Philippines. Truthfully - if that were all he does it would be more than enough - but his efforts are so much more.
Manny didn't just volunteer these stories. We weren't at a conference. Our time with Manny was a meeting at his house (after touring one of his social enterprises). We had been invited to dinner in his home - and we asked him a series of questions. Thank God for MY big mouth - "soooooo, Manny, how did you become a pastor?"
As he very (oh so very) humbly shared these stories, often with his eyes not really focused on any one of us, tears poured out from my eyes and pooled up in the 45-year-old creases in my neck. All I could think of is how scripture teaches that we can reflect Christ in our lives, that we can live in Him and walk in Him - and that "they will know we are disciples if we show love one for another".
I don't have a good relationship (or relationship at all) with my earthly father - so sometimes I'm just super sensitive to these things.... but in Manny I saw my Heavenly Father. Not metaphorically, but actually.
In the story of Manny's daughter - I see him as Jesus, the one relentlessly pursuing our healing. God wants nothing more than for us to be whole. In Him, we are never less than.
In the story of Manny's sons, and his firm grip on their wrists while he spoke powerful prayers over them, I see him as Jesus...the one relentlessly pursuing our salvation. Even when you can't feel Him, you are clutched in His hands and He is praying -(the Holy Spirit prays for us) - for you to be released from yourself.
I had never visualized Jesus loving me quite this way - that He relentlessly pursues us for His glory - to dance in the light of His Holiness and to display His loving-kindness as He relentlessly pursues others.
Jesus is so real.
I've been having difficulty deciding how to publicly share the remaining and continuing parts of this story. It's very big to me and it exposes the kindness of the God in very detailed ways - I don't want to screw it up.
For now, I'm going to be revealing bit by bit over on Facebook at a page I just created called Scripture & Shenanigans. If you would like to join there, please do. It is a closed group but I will approve everyone that requests to join. Why? Because I want share it in small spaces first and I want you to help me get it right. If something I say isn't clear, I want you to help me make it clear. If something isn't sound, I want you to help me get to the root. If something is arrogant, I want to be humbled. Please join me there for this continuing story. But also stick around here - I will continue posting as God continues breathing into me. *You can subscribe to this blog via email over in the right margin of this page if you don't want to miss anything.
Scripture & Shenanigans
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.