Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Where I Belong

(This past weekend at our church in St. Louis, Jared and I were asked to give a testimony on 'Belonging'.  Now days later, we find ourselves about to board a plane to Honduras once again. As we go, I carry the reminder that God truly is at work in us in both places. No matter what part of this earth we find ourselves in, we are always underneath our Father's roof.)

BELONGING

I didn’t want to come here. I’d just spent nearly five years with The Micah Project, and I had no interest in moving away from a place that I loved, people that I loved, a job that I loved, and--in my pride--a reputation that I loved. Micah was where I felt like I belonged. What could I possibly have here that I didn’t already have there

Oh right: him (points to Jared). I loved Jared, and Jared was here. But there were also moments and days when I forgot. Or, at least, when I wondered if that ‘love’ would be enough (no matter how great a job Jared did at showing me). A few weeks before getting married, a dear friend and staff member at Micah asked me what I was afraid of as I looked ahead. I answered, “that Jared would figure out he didn’t want me, and I’d be stuck in his life.” Would I really belong with Jared--in his heart and in his place?

After hearing me out, my friend responded, “Even if that’s true--which I really don’t think it is--you’re going to be okay.” And he was right. The answer to my fears was not convincing myself that Jared loves me--though I know that he does--the answer to my fears was knowing that the One who has always loved me will always keep on loving me. As I approached one of the biggest changes of my life, the biggest part of my life never would: the Lord. He is the same--always has been and always will be--and my standing with Him is sure, unchanging. I belong to him, and nothing--NOTHING--can change that.

So, what does that have to do with “belonging” at Central? Well, just as my marriage to Jared, though utterly beautiful and an incredible gift, is not where I find my ultimate belonging, neither do I find it at Central. My belonging, first and foremost, is in my identity with Christ. He has chosen me, and that type of choosing lasts for an eternity. Sure, I wish that my marriage to Jared would extend into eternity, too, but it’s not going to. Marriage is for this side of the Second Coming, but our connection to one another as fellow children and heirs of Christ? Well, that’s forever!  This realization doesn’t lessen my commitment to him, but rather increases it. Our bond in marriage is for a lifetime, but our bond as fellow members of the family of God is for an eternity. Likewise, whether you like it or not, all of you fellow children are stuck with me for an eternity, too ;).

You see, our membership to Central Presbyterian Church is temporary, but our membership to one another as members of the body of Christ is not. I don’t belong here because I have a prestigious business card I can hand you, or a host of nearby friends and family to boost my reputation, or a knowledge of this city’s rich history, or a stage where I can showcase all my talents to impress you. I’ll be honest, I wanted those things at first--to tangibly claim my place here--but God needed to show me (AGAIN!) that He is my entrance. And He is yours, too. Jesus is how we are connected for an eternity, and not just at Central but anywhere we go. But right now he has me--and you--here. And while he does, I look forward to seeing how God uses and shapes who he has made me (and you) to be through the power of the Gospel. We’re growing together. Broken believers bumping up against broken believers--confessing, forgiving, serving, praying, loving, grieving, and rejoicing (kind of like marriage, huh?)--together looking forward to the coming of Jesus--in whose heart and place we truly belong. Forever.


(Oh, and speaking of 'belonging', there is a new member to the family. Introducing BABY BULLOCK! Coming to you this summer :))

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Loved to Loveliness

"Jared! Look!" I run up to my now-husband on our trip home from our honeymoon. I point to the Scripture I had just distanced myself to read. Matthew 4, the wilderness... post-baptism.


"Look, Jared!" I say again, as if he hadn't heard my previous shrieks in a public airport. "The Father told Jesus that he was his beloved son before he went into the wilderness! These were the words that were tested! This is what Jesus knew was true of him! That is how he defeated the enemy!"


Somehow in that moment I knew exactly what I was saying. After a clear and miraculous demonstration of love that was just showered on me, I knew deep down where I was headed next: the wilderness. And I knew that no matter how much I thought I knew I was loved now, that truth was going to be tested. But I also knew that truth would be exactly what I would need to make it through a dry season. And I was right.


It has been a sly trick of the enemy to attempt to convince me that I'm loved because I'm lovely, rather than the other way around. I didn't know how easy it would be to see pictures of myself in a wedding gown and feel pressure to always be that beautiful, lest my husband's eye for me start to wander. I didn't know how simple it would be to start letting his compliments regarding my heart for others turn into a rubric for how I must continue to look like a Proverbs 31 woman. I didn't know how much the lie had seeped into me that the love I'd been shown by him was actually something I had somehow earned and therefore would need maintenance to be up kept. And I certainly didn't know how much any belief in those lies would perpetuate the very thing I feared in the first place: looking and acting ugly


Anxious striving and performing--like a tumbleweed of never-going-to-be-good enough works that are blown away by the wind. And yet I keep chasing them down to try and prove myself to be as valuable as I felt when I was in the center of what I assumed to be God's will. And, yes, my time at Micah was certainly God's will for me, but so is this. This time of letting the 'my beloved' words get rooted in me without a stack of reasons I can cling onto for why I somehow deserve to be. The words that remind me of who I am. My new, unearned identity: his.


For some reason, though, those aren't the words I think I want to hear most of the time, because trusting those words means trusting someone outside of me. Trusting someone else's love. A love I can't control. And so I find that I would rather be the one loving, not the one needing. Need scares me. It's vulnerable. And most of the time, I don't like it. What girl wants to be thought of as 'needy'? Who could love a girl like that? But as much as I want to be in a place where I'm not rushing my husband to the urgent care because I slice my finger open when I try to cook. Or in a place where my house is no longer overrun by kids to take care of, but rather where I'm the one curled up in a ball and being cared for. Or where I find myself in a puddle of tears because even though my head knows the truth my heart is taking some time to catch up... But that's exactly where I find myself. And when I'm at my utter worst I also find myself wanting to go home, because I wonder if I'm really wanted in this one. Because I wonder if who I am is not enough. But when I believe that? I'm not trusting my husband. I'm not trusting his promise. And I not only hurt me, but him. And yet, even in the moments where my mistrust has turned into swords, Jared has still looked me in the eye and spoken all those lies away. He has given me his word... I just need to believe him--that I'm wanted, in our home--and, by God's grace, I do.


No, home isn't Honduras anymore. But neither is it is here in St. Louis. Or in the States at all, for that matter. Not really. Home has now become for me where my husband is. Home is where my heart is at rest with my husband's deep assurance that I'm loved by him. Not because I'm lovely, but rather, because his love for me is bigger than me, bigger than us. That the marriage promise really is safe. No outs. And thankfully, believing that is true puts my heart in the place where I become the wife I want to be for him: lovely. And that belief brings me to the place where I can finally love again, just like I've been loved: freely and fully. 


Yes, I've seen the Lord's love in a beautiful, raw, and vulnerable way through my husband here on earth--especially when I feel most unlovable. But, as wonderful as Jared is, his love has only been an imperfect glimpse. Though our marriage here on earth is a promise to be kept, as broken human beings we won't live into our vows perfectly. In the end, our confidence can't come from each other or we'll fall every time the other does. And, aside from that, our marriage here has an expiration date. One of us will inevitably feel the weight of that 'til death do us part' one day. But that doesn't mean our love and our hope are coming to an end. Because our hope for home isn't ultimately based in each other. We have a true Home that's coming through a marriage that is built for forever. Our true Husband has promised to love us--his bride, the church. A love that is free from fear that death will ever again part us. One day our Husband will bring both our hearts to the place where they are always truly safe: with Him. And we will never, ever have to believe the lie again that we have somehow earned his love. I don't want to play the game of eternal love-maintenance, and thankfully we won't have to... when we are finally fully lovely, because we are beholding the face of the loveliest Husband we could ever imagine: Jesus.





For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.


And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven...


Colossians 1:19-23

Monday, July 15, 2019

Fading Flowers, Lasting Life

"The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever."
Isaiah 40:8

There are only a few weeks left at Micah before my pending wedding, and my heart is heavy. The weight of what I am leaving behind is as prominent in my thoughts as the new season to come. And though my faith is renewed by the reminder that the Lord--the I-AM God--is present in and through it all, I am still struck by the brevity--as well as the eternality--of life.


Holding onto Mocha's paw, I look into the eyes of this 91 dog-year old chocolate lab as the teary-eyed vet gives him his last injection. The gray-haired smile of Micah's 'grandpa' brings tears to all of our eyes as we gaze back at him. Mocha has been a companion and friend to many at Micah for what has felt like an eternity, but in this moment we all know his life in this world is not eternal at all but coming to a close.

I have encountered death in so many forms here at Micah, but this is my first time to sit with a creature at the crossroads. With each moment I have left with him, I wonder which one will be his last, and as I do time feels suspended--hanging in the balance. I know the moment I have with this dog now will soon be a memory. So how do I embrace each moment of life when I know that death is coming?

Before I know how to answer this question, it comes. Mocha passes--his body and memory remaining with us--and the day goes on.

The previous moments still lingering, I begin to clean out my room, knowing I won't have much more unscheduled time before the coming wedding. Going through pictures, notes, and prayers, I am reminded of the Lord's faithfulness through so many seasons. Seasons that have died but that still live on in memory. Seasons whose passing have always cleared the way for something new to come forth--bringing my heart great gratitude as I know another season is coming to a close... and another is beginning. One moment gone, another in store. For me, for those around me, for those I have never known... but all known by the Lord.


"All known by the Lord."

This thought brings me great comfort as I step forward into life alongside the man that I love--knowing there are so many I know and love here that I am about to leave behind. In body, that is, but not in heart--that is a place they will never leave. Even so, the Lord has allowed me to be here with them in body for a time--to live and to love those who he has placed me with in a way that is tangible to them. Not that I've done this perfectly--I have contributed both to the hurt as well as the healing in my time here--but somehow the Lord shows his unbroken love to and through broken people (me being one of them).  And I know that his unbroken love will continue to shower all over my Micah family--no matter where we all go. The Lord is with them as he is with me. And I want them to know it.


Elvin, our newest Micah boy, bursts into my cabin, "Is it true you're going to the States?"

Prepared for this, I affirm gently, "After we get married? Yes. For a while."

Elvin and I gaze at each other for some time until I remind him, "You know that we love you."

Elvin nods.

"And the Lord loves you," I say. "And just think about how faithful he has been to you."

I remind him of how the Lord had his eye on him while he was on the streets, that we were all praying for him there, that the Lord brought him to Micah, how the Lord has continued to be with him here, and how he always will be.

Elvin looks at me, listening intently. I tell him of how Jesus loved his disciples and trusted the Father's plan for him, knowing that he was to go the the cross and leave them for a little while, but how he then resurrected and returned--giving us hope that life together is forever. The separation is just for a while. And that, by God's grace, the family of God will all be together for eternity one day.

"The Lord will never stop loving you," I say. "I am just one of the many, many ways he has shown you some of that love."

As he looks at me, his current teacher (apparently he ditched class for this conversation) knocks on my door. "I'm looking for my student," she smiles at us with a knowing glance.

I look back at Elvin, "See? She loves you too. God is going to continue to show you his love through so many people."

Elvin leaves and walks off with his teacher, who loves him (by the grace of God). A grace I know the Lord will continue to show him--forever.


And so, as I look to the Marriage to come, I know that I can walk forward with confidence. Knowing not only I, but these boys, are in his hands. The Lord is on the other side of this aisle of life. An aisle the Father has walked us down. He has been by our side through each and every passing moment. And then, at the end of the aisle, when the Lord Jesus embraces us as his Bride, we will finally be able to truly experience the forever-life that he bought us through his love--a love that endures forever.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Lady in Waiting

Surprise, I'm engaged! 
While on a brief trip to the States to do a couple of Gospel of John shows, Jared (the incredible man over whom I made a RASH DECISION) flew into my hometown and proposed in my childhood living room--just a few days after he and his parents had visited me at The Micah Project in Honduras. And yet, magical as that trip was, Jared waited until I was back in the States. In the one place I always feel at my absolute worst: Rockford, IL. Where all of my brokenness, attitude, and unworthiness is most clearly on display. There--that's where Jared promised to love me forever. There--the place I'm at my worst. And, as magical as that location does not feel, I can't think of anything more romantic.
------------


Post-proposal Jared and I drive back to his current city--St. Louis, where I have another John show lined up. The days fly by--filled with so much love, encouragement, and support from friends and family. And then, far too suddenly, it is time to go again. Devastated, I get in the car to take two days to visit my dear friend and fellow Micah missionary, Stephen Kusmer*, in Indiana. Stephen was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer this past January while I was in Rockford for my Grandpa's memorial service. Because he was suddenly rushed to the States, I haven't been able to see him since receiving the news. And though I have been longing to see him, right now my mind is blank, and I can't seem to think let alone get excited for this long-desired visit.

"Lord, help me to break out of this sadness--to be a blessing and encouragement to Stephen," I pray.

Prayer prayed, the sadness remains. I trust upon seeing my dear friend that all my sadness will fade away, even if only for the sake of my friend, but I still have a few hours left in this car ride and I don't want to waste them. Even so, I can't help but feel empty, not hopeful, so I pray again,

"Lord rather than be sad about what I've left behind, help me to prepare for what is to come."

Prepare... wait a minute... Oh my gosh!  I'm getting MARRIED!?! 
Suddenly I feel utterly unworthy. A rag-romping Cinderella in need of some sort of anointed fairy godmother. Entirely out of my element, I pray again,

"Lord, please help me with the dress!"

(Hint: he does).

When I finally arrive at Stephen's door, I am instantly flooded with peace and joy. After a wonderful day together, Stephen tells me that our Micah friends--Sara and Paty--are coming for a visit, too. Sara, from Honduras, moved to Iowa a year ago to be with her mom after nearly her whole life apart. Paty is in the area for a couple of days visiting Sara. So, of course, they decide to visit Stephen in IN the same day I do (my presence unbeknownst to them).

I open the door when they arrive, and they are obviously shocked to see me. (None of us have ever seen each other outside of Honduras). Paty immediately notices my hand, "KELSEY!?!?!?"

"Yup, I'm engaged."

Appropriate teasing ensues for the girl who 'never needed a man.' Paty grins and imagines me all done-up in a wedding dress. Ugh... the dress...

"Girls, I have NO IDEA what to do about a DRESS!"

Immediately, Sara chimes in, "I have two bags of wedding dresses in my car!"

Wait... What? She can't be serious...

"¿En serio? I just prayed for a wedding dress!"

"¡Sí! My aunt got these for me to sell to consignment shops so I could raise money to send to Honduras--to help people. But no one will by them from me. Since I'm Latina--"

She doesn't even need to finish her statement for me to understand--they think she stole them.
Imagining I must have heard wrong (second language problems), I casually follow her out to the car from which she pulls out two massive bags of, yup, wedding dresses. I take out the first and, to my surprise, it's gorgeous. I put it on, and I feel like a princess. I try on the rest, but this is the one I come back to. I check for the male approval in the room. "That one," Stephen affirms, as baffled by all this as I am.

Trying to find words, I tell Sara I have some money in my backpack (not that it would even be nearly enough) but she stops me, "NO! This is the will of God, Kelsey. These dresses were to help people. God wanted you to have it--it's yours."

Still stunned, I take in the sight of my dear friends. Friends, who have had particularly trying seasons this year, and here they are genuinely and humbly celebrating with me... And all I want right now is for them to have my joy.

"Alright!" I insist and gather them round. "I'm praying for YOU! Because this is OUR Father who has blessed me today, which means he's not only my father, he's yours, too. And that same faithfulness you see in God towards me is the same character of the God who loves YOU."

And then... I pray. Once I finish, I open my eyes to see hopeful, heart struck tears. And I know--this dress is not just for me. This dress is a sign, a symbol--of the Lord's extravagant love for all his children.

Yes, I'm getting married. But whether or not that ever happened this side of eternity, I know that the true marriage is to come. Our Lord Jesus is the ultimate romantic. He committed to us with a promise when we were at our utter worst--when we nailed perfect him to a sinner's cross--and he will see his promise through to the very end when he clothes us in the most beautiful and priceless garment we could ever imagine: his righteousness. And though it cost him everything, he has given us himself... no charge.

----------


*Read more about Stephen's journey here & please join us in praying for him!

**As Jared and I have been praying into our wedding, Jesus' parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:12-14) keeps surfacing. Feel free to pray with us into what this could mean for those around us as we prepare.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Glimpses

When someone dies, a lot gets ‘left behind’. Money (or debt, I suppose), clothes, trinkets, pictures, you-name-it. And that stuff has to go somewhere, does it not? So, the question comes: who wants what? What goes where? All that left-behind ‘stuff’ may have already been specifically assigned, or maybe it will be sorted through later by family, or perhaps picked through in a big estate sale or thrift store by strangers. Interestingly, the same item seems to decrease in value the ‘further out’ it goes in that line of thinking. If someone you love specifically denotes something for you, you’d value said-item far more than if you were to happen upon it in a resale shop. Why? Because of your attachment to the person, not the thing. The thing just calls that person to mind.

I was pondering this as I got home and saw so much of my grandpa’s ‘stuff’. I’m not a particularly nostalgic person, so the things felt more like clutter than a reminder of him. Now, I’m not knocking those who are nostalgic, I recognize we are all different and to some an item of a loved one is a way to treasure their memory. And there is certainly room for both in the Bible--we have examples of when God commanded the Israelites to travel with tangible reminders of those before them (Aaron’s budded staff, for example) and times when what was supposed to be a beautiful reminder/sign went sour when they started worshipping that thing rather than the God it pointed to, and therefore God would destroy it to make a point (i.e. the Temple). That said, my non-nostalgia is not me patting myself on the back for being more spiritual than the rest of you ‘stuff people’. Like I said, there’s beauty in both (when the heart is right, that is).


Even so, I wonder what we value most of what my grandpa, Gerald Larson, ‘left behind’ and what that says about us. Is it his woodworking--all that artistic skill, wow!, is it his sharp wardrobe--we all know he had an eye for fashion!, is it his library of highly theological works--what a mind!? What are we drawn to? Why?


Now, if there’s something we value of what got ‘left behind’ we can’t just have it--we first have to honor at least some degree of hierarchy for preference of who gets what, right? For example, family was called to look through my grandpa’s woodworking and wardrobe, not the manager of Good Will. But who gets first pick? Well, I’d say the one it all belongs to in the first place: God. He made us and all the stuff that we made whatever we made with, so he should get to go through and pick out what he wants before giving the rest of us a go, should he not? So why doesn’t he? Well, I’d say it’s because he already did. He has picked. And he chose the person.


Right now, as we speak, Gerald Larson--not even that name as we know it, but Gerald Larson the person--right now is with the one he belongs to. When all is said and done, who we are is who God cares about. That’s who he came to save. Not our stuff, not our wardrobe, not our list of achievements, not our show-and-tell of ‘good works’, not our paintings and poems, not our books, not even our bodies as we know them here, but our person. Our spirit, who has a new body waiting for us. One that is not wrecked by sin, disease, pride, resentment, pain, and even fleeting, misplaced pleasure. But a perfected, forever body that holds our now perfected spirit. No longer at war internally or externally. Within and without--united in faith, hope, and love.


While my Grandpa was on earth, I loved him--dearly. I still do. And I got to behold glimpse after glimpse of who he is: Gerald Larson, the person. Not just the artist, not just the intellectual, not just the woodworker, not just the prankster, not just the stubborn competitor, and not even just the pastor. But him. The glimpse of him that I got to see when his spirit warred with his flesh--and won. You see, I counted his ‘disease’ (as I’ve heard it called) a blessing. Because when his ‘disease’ or ‘flesh’ or whatever you want to call it took over and he was unkind, or harsh, or lashing out, or lying, I got the privilege to know that that is not him. At least not the true him, the new him. That is the sin--the ‘old self’--that Jesus died for that got left behind with all the rest of his stuff. Because of the extremity of the ‘disease,’ it was as if I got to watch the weeds being separated from the wheat right before my eyes, which then enabled me to see with greater clarity who he is alongside who he is not. All that came from ‘the disease’--or his sin--is not my grandpa, because he doesn’t ‘take it with him’, so to speak. The sin died with Jesus on the cross.


My grandpa is who is now held in my Father’s hands. It is my grandpa I got to see when he knew he was weak and humbly acknowledged his need for the Lord. My grandpa who sparkled as he retold his favorite Bible stories. My grandpa who with faith and wisdom would preach a sermon that would cut right to our hearts. My grandpa who with free laughter would play with uninhibited joy like a child. My grandpa who would flood us with love as he would speak and pray over us. My grandpa who could care less what sort of ‘cultural rules’ we were supposed to abide by when he felt moved to do something by the Lord. My grandpa who shined when he would talk about how dearly he loved my grandma. You see, I don’t think he was delusional for forgetting grandma’s ‘failures’ when he would talk of her; rather, I think he learned something a little quicker than the rest of us: that that beautiful wonderful her that he would revel in was just a sliver of a glimpse of who the Lord had been crafting her to be all along. My grandpa remembered and looked towards the true her, the new her. The her with all of her sin washed away.


Oh if we could see each other through those eyes! The eyes of the Lord’s grace and redemption! If only we could also look at one other with ‘hope eyes’-- letting the lens of Jesus’ blood draw us to who we are becoming in him. The redeemed who. The who my grandpa is now finally fully free to be--the who he is in and with Jesus. The true him. The him I one day long to see. Because all the squinty, imperfect glimpses I got to see of him, my wonderful grandpa Gerald Larson, here were already so, incredibly beautiful. And those were just glimpses! So, that’s what grandpa left behind for me: glimpses. Glimpses of who he is in Christ. Glimpses that we carry to some extent, too, as those glimpses have shaped who we are. And for now, those glimpses will carry me through, until I finally get to see my grandpa, Gerald Larson, for who he truly is--when he is finally revealed in full. In glory.






For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:18-21


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Flickers of Light

     "If your farts could smell like anything, what would you want them to smell like?" I ask our youngest room of boys a playful question before bedtime, attempting to lighten the heavy tension of the day.
     "Shit," our fourteen-year old firecracker responds with a hard look in his eye. "Because that's how I feel right now."
      After letting his sharp words land, I pointedly reply with a firm tone, "Listen to me: none of you is shit. You hear me? None of you."
      Firecracker Boy snaps his head in my direction, finally acknowledging my presence with a newfound awe in his voice, "Did you all hear Kelsey!?"
     These boys mistakenly believe that I can't possibly be 'a dirty-rotten sinner like they are'--solely because they've never heard me swear (literally). And although I will never intentionally sin to try and prove my equal-fallenness to them, I have no problem using what they deem as a 'bad word' to get across a good message. To rewrite the lie they keep believing: that they're trash. That they're irredeemable. That they are defined by the darkness they find when they look inside themselves. That they are beyond the reaches of the light of our Lord's grace... Because that's just not true. Even when all evidence points against it. Because no matter how dark the darkness, I believe in the power of the light.

     If you were to buy a box of lightbulbs, would you consider them worthless just because you've never actually seen them light up before? No. You just know that they aren't plugged in yet. Even though they currently appear to be worthless hunk of glass and plastic when trapped behind that flimsy cardboard box, if you know what they are, then you also know what they are capable of and what their purpose is. They just need to be plugged into the source of light. And then... they shine.

     "I'm not an honest person," Prodigal Boy tells me with a hard look in his eye. We are currently defining various human 'values' in my one-on-one student's Civics class. Sincerity, Solidarity, Integrity... I almost skipped over this material, finding it too basic and cheesy, but it has surpisingly opened up good conversation.
     "Why's that?" I ask gently.
     "I'd rather be alone. I don't want anyone to bother me. Everyone lies to me, so why should I be honest with them? Besides, if you let someone in, they're just taken from you anyway."
     I nod understandingly. Prodigal Boy's older brother recently passed away. Not to mention a history of loss and pain. Rejection from an an abusive, now-in-jail father, a mother who abandoned him, a friend killed by the gangs...
     "I can see how you feel that way," I say. "But if we shut ourselves off to the pain, we shut ourselves off to love, too."
     Prodigal Boy looks at me, absorbing my words but not sure yet what to think.
     "People are going to hurt us and we are going to hurt them," I continue. "That's why it's so important to me to look to Jesus. We can always trust him--he is always honest and his love will never fail. And when my trust is in him that frees me up to open myself up to others. I know that other people will hurt me and lie to me, but I also know that we all want someone to know who we are. And how will anyone ever know who we are if we aren't honest or if we keep closing ourselves off? Someone needs to break the cycle. That's why Jesus came. He knows us and he showed us that he loves us and that we can trust him. And when we look to him, we can start to be a part of the change. Then you can be the friend to someone else that you have always wanted someone else to be for you."
     Prodigal Boy continues to drink in my words. Will he come out of hiding? Will he look to the light? Will he let love in?

    In many ways, I think we all start out like lightbulbs in a box. Wonderful creations intended to fill dark places with light. Just because we haven't plugged in yet doesn't negate our good design nor our intended purpose. We need the true light, of course--we aren't anything without it. But with the light? Oh, how beautiful that we, creations so fragile and small, get to carry something so much more glorious than ourselves.
     However, because of the world we live in--a world seeking self-glory and never seeming to find enough--we keep trying to find our identity by looking to ourselves. Our heap of glass and plastic... but that type of who-am-I search will never work. We will only end up defining ourselves by the darkness, rather than by the Lord's never-failing light. We need to plug in to the truth.

     As I am about to start Bible study with a few of the neighborhood girls, Firecracker Boy stomps into my what once was a clean cabin. He flips his rain-soaked hair and plops his wet body as close to the ladies as possible. The girls beg me to let he and his other dripping companion join us. I let them.
     After allowing some time for flirty banter and popcorn tossing (with plenty of eyerolls and "No... No..."s on my part), I finally sit them down for a little time in the Word. John 10. Just the first few verses. Jesus--the good shepherd--knows his sheep, calls them by name, and leads them out. His sheep know his voice and follow him. Jesus says that the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but he came that we may have life. Abundant life.
     The kids are far more interested in each other than the Bible passage (not surprising). Even so, I continue. I tell them that their are a lot of voices in this world. Around us, inside of us.
     "So how do we know which voice is the Lord's?" I ask. No response... they're still looking to each other. I give specifics.
     "The voice that tells you that you trash," I say. All of a sudden the kids are silent. They look at me. Waiting. "That voice is not the Lord's."
     "The voice that tells you that you will never amount to anything in this life," I say. The kids are still. "That voice is not the Lord's."
     "The voice that tells you that you need a boyfriend or a girlfriend to finally be happy," I say. "That voice is not the Lord's."
      I continue with this list of lies, and the kids continue to stare at me as if I've peered into their heart. This is the voice they are hearing, and living by. This voice is not the Lord's.
     "The voice that tells you that you are worthless," I repeat. "That voice is NOT the Lord's!"
     I can't help but notice the doe-eyed stares, filled with both fear and longing, that are gazing back at me. I want them to know which voice is the Lord's. The voice who came to bring life.
     "That's why I read the Bible," I say. "These words are true. God proved we could trust his voice--he would make a promise, and keep it. He would make a promise, and keep it. Make a promise, and keep it. And so we can know what he says about us is true. And he loves us."
     Oh, if they would only believe it...

     Plugging into the truth, we finally begin to shine. But on this end of eternity, it feels like we are caught in the flicker on the way to being turned on. You know the moment I'm talking about right? When flips on an old light and it buzzes a bit, going on and off a few times times before it finally kicks in? Everything before Jesus finally comes feels a little bit like that. Even if we've finally plugged into the truth, there's a lot of lies to fight. Wrong voices. Trapping us in darkness. Causing us to flicker as we learn how to live in the light. A light that the enemy would love to steal from us--so he points to the flickering darkness and attempts to convince us that the light in us and others is burning out. That the flicker shows us that the light will end... but that's not the truth. The darkness doesn't define us, the light does. And if we know the truth, we know that the Lord's light never fails. He promises to finish the good work he started in us. And when he comes back again, the light will never end. He will shine forever, and as we look to him, forever, so will we.
   
    As I finish writing this, one of the youngest boys in our project, who has been watching a movie with his cousin in my cabin, uses up his final warning with some choice words and an inappropriate gesture. He refuses to leave, but I wait--telling him that I accept him but not those words in this cabin.  Meanwhile we can play outside if he'd like, and as for this cabin he can come back tomorrow. I hear a whole lot more words when I say this... But I know those words aren't true. And so I wait. He punches my arm as he finally stomps out the door, which I close behind me... Hoping that one day, in his heart, the light will finally turn on.

     

Monday, August 13, 2018

Rash Decisions

     I've often found that it takes a fall before learning how to stand. But that fall doesn't always have to be our own for us to learn which road not to take. Hence, this blog entry. I'm going to let you in on my own foolish fall, hoping that you won't go down the same road and take the path of wisdom, instead. The first time.


     As Jhon and I walk up the narrow stairwell on the way to his drum-lesson, I notice the multiple facebook chats he keeps flipping between. All girls. Surprise, surprise.
     "Jhon..." I interrupt his 'flow.'
     "Mmhmm," he responds (just to appease me--his attention is still fixed on his cell phone screen).
     "When a man goes out fishing, are there different sorts of lures depending on what he is trying to catch?"
     "Yeah..." he glances towards me--I've started to get his attention.  Jhon's people, the Garifuna, often live on the Honduran beaches and earn their livelihood as fishermen. Tapping into his roots, Jhon tells me about a few kinds of fish and what is used to trap them.
     "Okay, so what does that mean for girls?" I ask. "What kind of girl do you want to catch?"
     He looks at me dumbfounded. I'm pretty sure any catch would do just fine for him. Any girl, every girl--whichever one will take the bait. That's not the kind of girl I want for him.
     "Jhon, the kind of girl who is using her body as bait is not the kind of girl I want for you," I say. "I want a girl who will honor you and encourage you to be the man God has called you to be. And that kind of girl will not use her body to bait you. Got it?"

     I want to be this type of girl, too. The kind of girl who honors men, who encourages them to be who God has made them to be. The kind of girl who keeps her eyes on Jesus and waits on him with patience. I don't want to be the girl who uses worldly means to trap what she wants--only to lead others to their downfall. So you'd think I would have taken my own advice, but I didn't. I fell... just a little. But because the Lord disciplines those he loves, he didn't let me get away with even "just a little." He had to go and remind me what truly matters: the heart.
   
     Enter: Boy. Exit: Wisdom.

     As I am on a prayer walk of all things, suddenly my thoughts started to drift, and with those thoughts, a glance. A simple glance. Towards a tree. Now, this particular tree--a lime tree--I have passed by before and even unintentionally picked off one of its leaves. Insodoing, I noticed: wow, this leaf sure smells nice! And so, I rubbed just a bit on my wrist to enjoy its citrusy scent. Not a lasting scent, by any means, just a slightly lingering reminder of God's beautiful creation. Simple, innocent. Not today, though. Today, I have a motive. A selfish one. Boy... I want that leaf. I want to cover up the lingering sweat I keep accumulating from all my soccer play with these kiddos. I want to smell good. Somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I'm looking to make a catch. And I'm greedy for bait. And so, I grab not one but a handful of those yummy leaves. Ripping into them, I let their oil seep out and smother them all over my wrists and neck. Ridiculous, I know, but remember: Wisdom has left the upstairs control room.

     Enter: a visual rose garden. Exit: the pretty scent--none of it has remained.

Yup, sure enough up my arm I have begun to form a giant, painful, blistery, rose-colored rash. Well this is lovely. Not only has my bait fallen off the hook, but I'm pretty sure I've just added some strong repellant. Oops...
     Fortunately, the Lord disciplines those he loves, and his object lesson on this recently humbled daughter heart has not been wasted: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last, but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised" (Prov 31:30). I'm convicted: I've started to rely on physical beauty for bait...
     Now, there's nothing wrong with smelling nice and taking care of physical appearance, but what is my motivation? Am I trying to win someone over with a hook that won't hold? Or am I truly seeking to honor the Lord from a pure heart--a beautiful heart that flourishes under his faithful, gentle, steady love? That's the kind of girl I want to be. That's the kind of heart that I want to have--and if the Lord ever wants to open someone's eyes enough to see that heart, well, may the fragrance of Christ be what draws him to me. Not a lime leaf.
     Continually fighting to keep up looks, charm, wit, and smells is a tiring battle--and a losing one at that. Time and gravity are pretty strong enemies if the physical stuff is where we find our strength--just check the wrinkles... and eventually the coffin. But if our identity is in Christ, and his character is what marks us? That lasts, because He lasts. He's the I AM--the Beautiful One, the ever present, life-sustainer!  So ladies, join me in taking Peter's advice: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment such as braided hair or gold jewelry or fine clothes, but from the inner disposition of your heart, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in God’s sight" (1 Peter 3:3-4). Come on girls, let's pursue righteousness! Letting kindness, compassion, humility, and love be our clothing. Let's wait on the Lord. Let's allow his Spirit to mold our character, and if and when the Lord ever wants to let a man in on that beauty--then may it be His doing and His drawing power. But even if he doesn't, Jesus is enough, so let's look to please Him--who looks not at outward appearance, but at the heart.
     Thankfully, when our hearts get sick--he sees us through the eyes of healing grace. He sees who we are becoming, even through the pimply stages that are part of the pathway to maturity. Take me, for instance--I fell. We can all laugh at that funny fall together, but let's learn from it, too. Keep your eyes on Jesus and grab his outstretched hand whenever you start to slip. His hand will hold. He loves you.

Where I Belong

(This past weekend at our church in St. Louis, Jared and I were asked to give a testimony on 'Belonging'.  Now days later, we find ...