Of Travel and Opportunities

I’m headed for Guatemala, folks. I’m sort of surprised that I’m actually going but here I am, in the airport, waiting for the next 2 hours because of a flight change. And I’m going to learn Spanish. At least as much Spanish as a person with average intelligence and self-discipline can learn in four weeks.It just sort of happened, in one of those cool – this is what life has for me – sort of ways and I am thankful. It will be good for me to be a student again and to simply step outside of my normal life for awhile.I’ve been learning something lately, and I think it might be a big something.All of the really good and adventurous things in my life have happened because there was an opportunity and instead of being afraid I said yes.Take the opportunity in front of you. No you don’t know what will happen but you don’t know what will happen if you don’t take it either.Experiences are worth much more than their immediate cost. They change you and shape you and slowly, before you know how it happened, you are a different person.But maybe you’re happy about the person you are. Maybe your life is the best it can be.But for me, it is worth it. I like the person I’m becoming more than I liked the person I left behind.So I’m going to Guatemala. I’m taking this opportunity and we’ll see what happens.I think when God gives us an opportunity, He’s disappointed when we ignore it and keep going down the same old path. God is a God of adventure.I’m along for the ride.

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This Child

If you came with me to children’s ministry and met Tyrone, you’d probably wonder why we even let him come.

Sometimes we wonder why we let him come.

Sometimes all we see when we look at him is the scowl on his face, the anger in his eyes, the cuss words coming from his mouth. The tobacco in his pocket that he’s chewed since he was 3 years old.

Sometimes we forget that he’s only 12 years old. That he’s still a little boy, really.

Sometimes.

But sometimes we remember.

We remember the child who stood outside the fence because he was too afraid to come in.

We remember the child who bolted out the door because it was simply too much.

We remember the young man who paced up and down the road in an effort to get his anger under control.

And we remember other things. The way his mother curses him when he comes home. The fact that his dad has been in jail “a whole lot of times”. We remember that he’s two years behind in school thanks to his parents irresponsibility.

But the saddest story, to me, is why he doesn’t go to church.

“Do you go to church on Sundays?” Sharon asked.

“You know,” he answered. “I used to but I just don’t anymore. You see, my mom’s boyfriend is so annoying and when I’d come home he’d be like ‘oh so you’re going to be a good boy now, going to church, how nice. Be a good boy’ and he’d just make fun of me and it made me so mad and I’d just cuss him out and you know, I just couldn’t handle that. It just ain’t right, I can’t cuss straight outa church so I just quit going.”

“Why don’t y’all have kids church every night? he asked.

And I remember the sad, afraid little boy beneath the angry young man and I want to cry.

What will happen to Tyrone?

Where will he be in 20 years from now?

I don’t know.

I can only hope and pray that God will reach down and touch his life.

I pray that his anger could be channeled into an anger against sin.

That his energy could be channeled into building the kingdom of God.

That his leadership skills could be channeled into leading the church.

This child is a child of potential

For good. Or for evil.

Pray that he would choose the good.

Pray that God could be the father he so much wants in his life.

I Stand

I stand in the rain.

Gentle drops of coldness on my face.

Springy earth beneath my feet.

I stand in the rain.

I stand in the storm.

Raging winds beat upon my brow.

What comes to tear me down,

Instead builds strength.

I stand in the storm.

The Strong One

He is strong.

I forget that sometimes. I try to be the the strong one. I try to hold everything together. I think somehow I’ll make it through.

I can be strong.

And sometimes we need to be strong. We need to be the warriors. We need to be the one that others can lean on. We need to be brave.

Even when we are afraid.

Especially when we are afraid.

That is when we need to be strong.

Because He is Strong. The Lion of Judah. The defender of the weak.

I am not strong. Sometimes I pretend to be strong. I can be a warrior for awhile, but deep inside, the warrior is a child.

Children need someone to fight for them. Someone to be their defender. Someone to run to.

I am the child.

Often I am afraid.

But He is strong. I can run to Him. I don’t need to be strong for Him. I don’t even need to pretend to be strong.

Because He makes my weakness strong. I don’t know how He does it. I don’t understand.

But He promised.

My strength is made perfect in weakness.

Perfect.

He promised.

And He is the Strong One.

Jesus Today

He is not here.

The tomb is empty.

They were words of sadness. Disappointment. Abandonment.

He had promised he would never leave them. And now he was gone.

He is not here.

It was the angel’s message.

But Mary only had half the story. It wasn’t finished yet. The story that seemed so finished, wrapped, tied, knotted.

It wasn’t over.

But how was she supposed to know?

“My Lord is gone, I do not know where they have laid him”

He was there all the time but she,overtaken by grief, failure, disappointment, could not see him.

Her eyes were probably tear clouded. Her heart broken.

She couldn’t see him.

Even though he was there.

It’s Easter morning.

My Lord is here.

Stepping out of the dead places in your life. Hidden behind the tears on your eyes.

He is here.

And He dries the tears.

He heals the broken heart.

He brings life to dying dreams and stone-sealed disappointments.

He is here.

And He is life.

Not Too far from Here

Not too far from here lives a girl with cold eyes and a hardened heart. Her dad is in jail, her mom is somewhere but she doesn’t know where. She lives with her dad’s ex-girlfriend supposedly but most of the time she’s staying with one friend or another. She’s been abandoned. Raped. And in and out of foster care seven times. She cries, but she’s not ready to share her pain, not yet.

Not too far from here is young girl who lives with her aunt, and her aunt’s boyfriend’s father. Her cousins use her as a scapegoat. Her “papaw” beats her for for minor infractions until she’s covered with bruises. She’s been taken from her mother thanks to all of her mother’s boyfriends but life hasn’t gotten better. Her face is sadness personified. Even her smiles are edged in sadness.

Not too far from here lives a young man who tells me casually that no one would care anyhow if he died. I can tell by the flatness of his voice that he believes the words. “I’d care” I say.

Uselessly.

He doesn’t believe me either.

Not too far from here is a nine- year old who says she worships the devil. And why not? Her father, the man who should protect her, has raped her more times than she can count. She cuts lines into her arms, the physical pain helping her to forget the emotional pain for at least a little bit. Her only hope is the tiny one that perhaps he’ll be put back in jail eventually.

Not too far from here is a little girl whose grandma is to old to climb the stairs to tuck her into bed. No one comes when she has nightmares. Her daddy and her uncle fight. The police come. She’s afraid and there is no one to hold her close.

The stories pile up, slowly, the ball of pain gets larger with every layer, like snowballs rolling down the snowy hill. And suddenly, without warning, the weight is too much, and the haunting does not leave.

These children.

We love them.

Some nights it’s hard to sleep.

Some days are hard to stay focused.

And you realize that if you had lived that life, you would not be the heroic survivor.

I would be the bitter young girl with hardened eyes.

And suddenly you question your own identity because you are not the person you always imagined yourself to be.

And than there’s guilt.

What can you really do? You always thought you would be the person who would help, who would do something.

And then you come face to face with your own helplessness.

And you realize there is nothing you can do.

You cannot make it better.

You cannot even make it stop.

You are helpless.

I should be positive probably. I should say that God can fix it. Because He can. But that only brings more questions. Why does he allow it to happen in the first place?

Pray for the children tonight.

Pray for those of us who carry the weight of their stories.

A Year in Flowers

April

The earth is fresh upon your grave. I do not resent the rain as it falls gentle in my hair. I thank God that his tears fall with mine. Amid the mud and rivulets of tears, I place a tiny sprig of bleeding heart.

May

The sun shines soft on luscious grass. The sky is brilliant. The beauty hurts. The mound of earth that is your grave has shrunk and the temporary marker inscribed with your name and our messages of love is beginning to fade. I am silent and my thoughts are painful, and remembering is hard and forgetting is worse. I stoop and gently place an Iris on your grave.

June

The first full-blown pink roses are yours. All my life, as long as I live, pink roses will always be yours. The headstone looks new and stark and cold.

July

It’s blackberry season. I think about the times we picked blackberries together and how we didn’t mind the thorns for love of the berries. I think blackberries and life might have something in common. I wonder if I could put blackberry blossoms on your grave. I think that might be a little strange. I do it anyway.

It’s August

I come with a handful of white daisies. They grew wild and free. I think if you, running through fields of splendor. The earth is dry and cracked so much like the feeling in my heart.

September

Goldenrod grows in profusion, so do black-eyed Susan’s and purple wildflowers. I gather a bouquet, it’s pretty but it looks a bit mixed up, Confused. I’m ok with that, my life feels much the same.

October

It’s getting colder. Flowers are scarce. I pluck a pansy from the pot beside the door. But I feel resentful. He is a bit too cheery.

November

It rains and rains and rains. I resent that too. Life was dreary enough before. I visit your grave empty-handed. There are no flowers now. Huge raindrops fall and life is hard and very, very ugly.

December

This time I have a sprig of holly. It seemed like the right thing. It grows abundant on the mountain and the crimson berries and vibrant green leaves are pretty against the snow.

January

It’s your birthday. I stop and buy a rose. A red one. Red is for love. I stop to place it on your headstone, and I smile to see that someone else has done the same. You are so loved.

February

Spring comes slowly. I pick an armful of daffodils and scatter them over your grave. I wish I would have thought to plant them here. I whisper a prayer, asking God to hold you close.

March

I wonder which tulips you would like better, Red or yellow? I feel afraid, trying to remember the sound of your voice. I’m afraid I’m forgetting…

I choose yellow. Yellow is for hope.

April

This time I hold a balloon. It holds a secret message just for you. I must let it go. Letting go is hard. But balloons tug and pull and when you let them go, they reach heights that I can only imagine. And so do you.

5 books I’ve read in 2019

15 Secrets Successful People Know about Time Management. This book was one of 10 that were recommended at the Sattler College open house. It wasn’t what I expected and it has changed how I view my time and what I do with my time. In practical terms, I get more done now. After all I have 1,440 minutes in every day and that’s a lot. I’ve lent this book to my mom, my sister, and my brother-in-law and my 3 older brothers are waiting for their turn. This book will change the qay you live your life.

12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. My brother Matt introduced me to Jordan Peterson and after listening to several of his lectures, I understood why he likes him. They’re very much alike. While reading his book I often had the sensation of coming up for air at the end of a chapter. He thinks so much deeper than most of us do that it’s a bit hard to follow. I loved it because he makes sense of a very chaotic world and he’s not afraid to say it how it is. I am troubled, however; by the fact that a man who is not a Christian and would not even say with confidence that God exists, understands the bible and how the kingdom of God should function much better than many Christians do (myself included).

Wasted: a memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher. This book is troubling. Not only in it’s feeling of hopelessness, but also in that it points out how many young ladies are on the edge of, or perhaps deep in the middle of food disorders and no one is noticing. Marya writes honestly and skillfully. We walk a journey with her and that is, I believe, a step towards understanding. This book is not for children.

Courtship in Crisis. I feel like I should explain why I read this but at the same time I feel annoyed that I feel like I should explain so I don’t think I will. But if you’ve heard that Joshua Harris has stopped printing his bestseller I Kissed Dating Good-bye or watched his documentary or TED talk explaining why, this book may interest you as well and for those of us in conservative Christian settings, it may shift your worldview slightly.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. This book is fascinating. So was the conversation with the Goodwill clerk when I bought it. It’s a but disconcerting to realize how predictable people really are, as well as how irrational we are. I would really like to believe I’m a very rational person but…

Knowing how we are irrational might help us become more rational so there’s that.

Leave the Scar

We all have them.

Most of us hide them.

We are afraid. Afraid of the stories our scars would tell. Afraid of the judgement we are so sure will follow.

It’s not true you know.

You’re never as judged after you tell the story as you were before you told it. And once you told the story, you’re always glad you did.

They’re battle scars, really.

We should be proud of them.

Scars give us an opportunity and a reminder.

A reminder of where we were.

An opportunity to tell the story of how God has led us here.

Why hide them?

Because remembering means remembering the pain. Scars come to us through pain. We don’t like pain.

And in an effort to forget the pain, we forget the grace.

And grace would triumph if we only let it.

Please don’t hide your scars. Please don’t hide the grace that brought you here.

The story of your scar may help another bear the pain of a similar wound.

Wear your scar proudly.

(A beautiful song here)

So Blessed

I walked through the dreary rain out toward my little red car. My arms full of dirty towels and my coffee cup. I’d just spilled half of the coffee down the front of my dress. I dumped the dirty towels into the back seat of the car and turned to look through the gloom at the tall brick building, It’s dim light barely penetrating.

And I thought “I still can’t believe I’m this blessed”.

It’s crazy. I think sometimes I must be crazy. Why and how can the most chaotic parts of my life make me feel the most blessed?

It wasn’t because I was comparing my life to theirs – these lovely broken children.

It was because I couldn’t believe I was the one privileged to be here.

The one to see the brokenness.

The one to feel the pain.

The one who cries herself to sleep because why is no one caring about the kids?

It’s a privilege.

Most of the time they hide the hurt under toughness and bravado.

I am blessed to see the pain.

I’m blessed too because sometimes, in tiny glimpses, I see God.

And I see that he can.

He can heal the hurt.

He can wipe the tears.

He can bring hope to the hopeless.

It’s in the overheard conversation “I was so scared, but you know what? I prayed…”

“You prayed?!”

“Yeah, I said ‘God please help me'”.

And I know that a year ago this child would never have thought to pray no matter what was happening.

I see it in the angry young man who stalks up and down the road to calm himself and yet when we gather in a circle to sing he sings loudly “We’ve got the power in the name of Jesus”.

And I know, that no matter where he chooses to go from here. No matter where life may lead, those words are now graven deep in his heart. I believe God will let those words follow him, perhaps even haunt him. And I am thankful.

I am so blessed.

What is more blessed than to be the face, the hands, that come to the mind of a child, when they think of Jesus.

“Whooo loves you?”

Those were the words on the owl craft tonight. We pulled the wings apart to see the answer.

Jesus!

I put my arms around the angry child. “Put it in your bedroom,” I whispered. “then you can always look at it and think ‘Jesus loves me!’ because he does”.

She stared straight ahead, not looking at me but I saw her go out the door with the owl in her hand.

Jesus loves her.

And when she finally understands, he can take away her anger and heal her tiny broken heart.