Posts

, ,

Get out of the Boat

“I will go, I will go, I will go, Lord send me…” Sixteen thousand passionate college students sing in unison, arms outstretched. Individual faces are highlighted by the sweeping spotlights – some streaked with tears, some exuberant in worship, some quiet and reflective. As I stand in the midst of the massive crowd at the Urbana 2012 student missions conference, I’m struggling with an internal battle. Something inside me is holding me back.

“I’ve been here before, Lord,” I remind Him, as if He needs reminding. “And I remember what happened last time. I don’t think I’m ready to go there again.”

At Urbana 2000 I was a passionate and idealistic college student, ready to change the world. On the last day of the conference, I knelt down by my seat and told the Lord I was willing to go wherever He sent me. Within days after I returned home from Urbana 2000, I received an invitation to teach at a summer English camp in Shanghai, China. And that was the beginning of a new direction in my life. After graduate school I moved to East Asia for four years, where I taught English, learned some Mandarin, and made wonderful friends.

Burnout

But I didn’t know some of the challenges I was signing up for. Missing engagements and weddings. Not being there for the births of my friends’ kids, or being able to watch them grow up. Unable to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I was surprised at how hard-hit I was at times by loneliness, isolation, and the waves of homesickness that hit me at unexpected times. The long hours of teaching English, the cultural and language barriers with teammates, the conflicts with roommates, and the constant turnover of coworkers over four years left me physically and emotionally dry. Eventually I reached a point of burnout and had to return to the US.

It was probably the lowest point in my life. I felt like a failure. I was depressed. Whenever anyone asked me about my time in Asia, I cried. And I definitely did NOT want to ever go back. But through the ministry of Fresh Start and other godly counseling and prayer, the Lord began to heal the hurts in my heart and show me how He wanted to use it for good.

And now, 12 years after I first attended the conference as a college student, I’m at Urbana again. As I listen to the thousands of students singing “I will go, I will go,” I feel jaded and cynical.

“…To the world, to the lost, to the poor and hungry…”

“They have no idea what they’re in for,” I laugh to myself. “I KNOW how hard it is. I know the loneliness, and the frustration, and feeling like you wanna quit and go home every day…” Unable to fake it anymore, I sit down and cover my face with my hands to hide the tears.

“What are you so afraid of?” I feel the question more than hear it. No audible voice, but I know God is talking to me. “God, I don’t think I can go through all that again. The loneliness, the depression…”

A New Thing…

“Don’t remember the former things…” a snippet of a verse pops into my head. “…I am going to do a new thing.” A new thing. I exhale slowly and rub my face. A new thing. What amazing words. It doesn’t have to be like it was before. I learned from those experiences. I’m thankful for how God used that time in my life. But it doesn’t have to be the same. He’s going to do a new thing.

“…Take everything I am, I’m clay within Your hands…”

“God, I want to trust You,” I pray silently. “Even if I go through times of loneliness or discouragement, I know You will be with me. Help me not to fear. I know You are working all things for Your good. I choose to believe that You’re doing a new thing IN me!”

The cloud of fear slowly dissipates. I know there will still be hard times ahead. But like Peter, I take the step of faith out of the boat. Raising my arms I stand and sing with the crowd, “…I will go, I will go, send me!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)
,

The Weakest Link

 

It’s a simple thing. Something I’ve done thousands of times. But today it takes all my energy to turn the key in the ignition of my car. The first attempt twists my wrapped and splinted wrist in a way that sends shooting pain towards my elbow. I drop the injured hand to my lap and wait a few seconds for the throbbing to subside. Then I awkwardly stretch my left arm across my body and around the steering wheel to turn the key with my left hand. The engine finally roars to life, and I slump back in my seat, relieved. I’m sweating and I haven’t even left the parking lot yet.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime in the last few weeks I must have strained my wrist when lifting heavy trays of food or carrying stacks of dirty dishes at my summer catering job. The little every-day activities – chopping an avocado for guacamole, swiping my card for a Guatemalan brew at my favorite coffee shop – have suddenly become difficult and painful endeavors. And now I’m supposed to wear a splint to keep the wrist still and allow the joints and tendons to recover.

What amazes me is how this little pulled tendon in my wrist has such rippling repercussions. Each time I turn a doorknob or pour a glass of orange juice, my neck and shoulder muscles automatically tense up, my body tilts to shift weight to the left side, and my limbs contort in unnatural positions to avoid unnecessary strain on the “weak link.”

It gets me thinking of that passage in the Bible where Paul is comparing the followers of Jesus to a human body. He explains: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” …If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (I Cor. 12:21, 26, NIV).

Just as the rest of my body can’t ignore my injured wrist and go on with life as usual, so I can’t ignore the hurts of my brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow members of the Body. The book of Hebrews tells us to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:2, NIV).

So how can I help support the “weaker members” of the Body? I can pray for the pastor imprisoned in Iran, as if his chains were around my ankles. I can write to the widowed woman in Vietnam, reminding her that she is not forgotten. And I can put my arms around the tired young mom who sits two rows behind me in church, being a friend and a listening ear when she feels discouraged and alone.

Is there a hurting member of the Body that you can pray for, support, and encourage today? Give away what you’ve received! Share the GOOD NEWS of hope and healing with someone else today – so that the Body can be whole and healthy and working as it should!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“But God has put the body together, …so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
(I Corinthians 12:24-25, NIV)
, , , , ,

Called by Name

 

“As I watched my father’s mistress put her suitcases in his car, an animal rage came over me. I felt I could tear her apart with my hands.” Yagmur, tall and elegant with perfectly styled blond hair, spoke evenly to the audience in the church, but the pain of that childhood memory was evident. “That day I made a decision to hate my father for the rest of my life.”

Yagmur’s mother was also angry, and took out her anger in the form of physical abuse toward her daughter. “As a young girl, I had scars and bruises all over my body from my mother’s beatings. I hated my father for his unfaithfulness. And I hated my mother for her helplessness.”

“Every day my mother told me I was ugly and stupid,” Yagmur continued. “Faith comes through hearing. And I started to believe in what I was hearing.” Escaping to her room and pulling the blankets over her head, Yagmur would dream of being a beautiful princess in a long, sparkling gown. And she would imagine her mother and father smiling at her, proudly. She longed for their love.

Immediately after college, she married a charming and passionate young man, desperate to escape the abuse and pain of her home life. But soon another nightmare began. Her husband began beating her too, accusing her of unfaithfulness, demanding to know why she was a few minutes late coming home from work.

Then one day her husband held a knife to her throat, insisting that she jump out of an eighth-story window. Yagmur clung to his ankles, sobbing and pleading for her life until he let her go.

In desperation, Yagmur fled to the U.S. to start a new life. But when her second husband’s drug abuse got out of control, she found herself becoming more and more hopeless, wanting to end her life. “There is hatred and pain everywhere I go,” she thought in despair. “I can’t escape.”

Eventually Yagmur found a job working for a Christian company. Wanting to impress the boss, she joined the early-morning Bible study at the office. They were reading the story of Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman. Yagmur couldn’t help blurting out, “Why did he forgive her? She was not worthy to be forgiven!”

“None of us are worthy,” a co-worker explained. “But Jesus forgives us because he loves us. Even if that woman had been the only person on the earth, Jesus still would have come to earth for her and died in her place, because he loves her.”

Called By Name

“I was that unworthy woman,” she recalled. All the shame of her childhood, the memories of being called ugly and stupid, the feeling of being worthless, the abuse of her marriages, the abandonment and emptiness and thoughts of suicide – it all culminated one day in a desperate cry in the office restroom. “Help me, God! Have mercy! I need You!” As she dried her eyes and walked to her desk, she wondered if He even heard her.

Before she could even get back to work, Yagmur’s boss called her urgently to his office. “I’ve never done this before,” he explained hesitantly. “But I feel Jesus prompting me strongly that I need to tell you something. He says that He has heard your prayer in the bathroom. He saw you when you were a little girl. He’s been with you all this time. And He loves you and forgives you.”

Yagmur crumpled to the carpet, weeping. “Do you want Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?” Her boss was asking kindly. “YES, YES, YES!” She sobbed. Finally she had found the love she had been searching for.

Eventually Yagmur was able to forgive her father and mother for all the pain they caused her for so many years. And today Yagmur has a ministry of bringing hope and healing to girls and women around the world, through TV programming and radio broadcasts. “You are loved, you are valued, you are beautiful,” she tells them. “God has a plan for your future. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” She knows it is true – she is living proof.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1b (NRSV)
, ,

Private Grief

Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, Bella apologized for her tears. “I’m sorry for unloading on you. It’s just been so hard recently.”

Two miscarriages in the last few months had left her raw. And as the wife of someone in church leadership, it seemed she had no one to talk to about it. “Unless you’ve lost a baby, you can’t understand how how much it hurts,” Bella explained. “And well-meaning people can say such insensitive things.”

All I could do was listen and cry with her. “It’s so hard to trust God in all of this,” Bella confided before we said goodbye. “But I just have to believe that He’s doing something good in me in the process.”

Giving it to God

Here’s the rest of the story, in Bella’s own words.

I hit bottom on my first baby’s due date. I felt so discouraged. Nine months, two lost babies, and still empty-handed. And now I was scared that not only would I have to deal with losses, but would I now have to deal with infertility again?

I remember one day having a very honest conversation with the Lord. I told Him that I was angry, frustrated, and tired. It felt like I was coming to a place where this burden of pain and loss was more than I could bear. I wanted this season of pain to be over. And I told Him I was so disappointed that I didn’t get pregnant, and to please have mercy on me.

And in that moment I felt His presence so strong with me. I heard Him tell me to just hang on a little longer, that this season would soon be over, and that He was holding me by my hand and would not let me go. I also felt Him say that I didn’t conceive because He was answering the very thing I had asked Him, and that was to not allow it to happen until it was His time. But then I heard Him say that my time was coming very soon and to just be patient.

I felt such a peace come over me about having another baby and the timing. Even the way I felt about the babies I lost… God gave me such a peace about that. There is no way to explain what He did. It was completely effortless on my part. I just felt different. I felt such a healing work from the Lord. It was like although He knew already what I was feeling and thinking, I needed to be honest with Him and myself first.

Hope

That night that we spoke, I didn’t know yet, but a few days later I found out that I am expecting again! Naturally I am nervous, but I must say that I feel different than with the last pregnancies I lost, especially the second one. With that second one I lost, I was in a constant state of anxiety, panic, and worry. I knew something was wrong, and I felt completely helpless to save my baby.

So here I am now, expecting again. Hopeful, but cautious. I know I have a long road ahead of me before I can feel completely at ease about whether this baby will make it. But I am trusting in the Lord. I know He is with me.

Do you have a secret pain? A private grief? Your secret pain doesn’t have to consume you. Give it to Him today. Let Him hold you and give you His peace in the midst of it. And trust Him to do something good in you and through you in the process.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

,

The Secret Power of Tears

“I love how much you cry.” Heather gave me a sheepish grin. Outspoken and straightforward, Heather was one of the thirteen foreign English teachers at this Fresh Start retreat in East Asia. I was drawn to her adventurous spirit and appreciated her questions and perspective.

“Well, I certainly cry a lot,” I said half-apologetically. I couldn’t tell if Heather was teasing me. She had a great sense of humor and was always laughing at something.

“I think it’s great!” Heather assured me. “Seeing you cry as you share your stories makes me feel like its ok for me to cry.”

I was taken aback. Heather gives the impression of being pretty tough. An outdoors girl, athletic and adventurous. No-nonsense. Not one that strikes me as needing permission to cry.

The Power of Tears

I don’t usually think of my tears as a good thing. No matter how many times I share about going through a period of severe burnout and depression a few years ago, the tears always flow when I get to certain parts of the story. Some of it is still painful to talk about, and I’m often embarrassed at my sniffling and nose-blowing and snotty tissues. I worry at times that people will think I’m being overly emotional. I’m tempted to think I should compose myself and cover up my tears. In Psalm 56:8, it says God collects our tears in a bottle. For my tears, I think He needs an Olympic-sized swimming pool!

Yet I was willing to be vulnerable in sharing my emotions and some of the painful parts of my past, and because of this Heather realized she didn’t have to keep her tears hidden. She was able to honestly begin to face her hurts and let the healing process begin.

Our Heavenly Father sees your tears. He knows your pain. He cares about your heart. Don’t be afraid to be real with God. Begin to process the issues of your heart today!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God, on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”
Job 16:19-21, NIV

,

The Consolation Prize?

Catherine’s Story

Have you ever felt like you’re getting the consolation prize in life? You know how the winner on those old TV game shows would get some fabulous prize like a trip to Hawaii and the losers would get a blender?

I will confess to you, I thought for a long time that people who were joyful over God’s hope must be cut from a different cloth than me. Maybe they were just naïve, or more spiritual than me. Or maybe they just had nothing in this life they were hoping for, and so hope in God was all they had. I decided, subconsciously, that God’s brand of hope was kind of the consolation prize for people who lose.

Hope Deferred

Recently I found out that a dear friend of mine is expecting. She and her husband had struggled with infertility and had basically given up hope. She is near the end of her childbearing years, and so this was an unexpected thrill for both of them. Now, I will tell you I am thrilled for them, but when she told me, for a moment I was nearly overcome with pain and sadness.

In my own life, a deep grief has been not being able to bear children. I got my hope of finding a wonderful man. But the hope of children, at least in the natural, wasn’t fulfilled. And I have grieved over that.

The Bible says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Heart-sick means crushed in spirit. Have you ever felt like your spirit was crushed? God understands this and He is there to comfort us in times of heart ache and grief. It says in Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

I thought I had dealt with my own loss a long time ago. But when I heard that my friend is expecting, I found myself saying, “God, that’s great what you did for my friend, but what about me? Why did I get passed over?”

God is the Real Prize

And right at that time, I sensed His Spirit saying, “are you sure that’s not still what you think I am, the ‘consolation prize’?”

I wrestled with Him over that in my heart, for the better part of a day until I was finally able to say, “Lord, You are not the consolation prize, You are the only real prize. And You love me, and Your plan is perfect. I will put my hope in You.” And His peace flooded over me again.

Your situation may be entirely different than mine. We each have our own blessings and gifts, and we each have our own challenges and griefs. But God can meet us where we are, when we’re honest with Him, and He can fill us fresh with His hope.

David said in Psalm 42:11, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” That is living in His hope. We can have hope, because we have a God we can trust.

Going Vertical!
MJ

,

Clinging to Hope

“I don’t know if you remember me. I hope I’m not bothering you…” The man’s voice is hesitant, almost apologetic, with a distinct mid-western drawl.

The number on my phone shows an unfamiliar town in Missouri, and the voice isn’t registering as anyone I know. Wrong number?

“We met on the bus to Springfield,” the man continues. “I had just gotten out of prison.”

My heart jumps as it all comes rushing back. Just after New Year’s. The greyhound bus from St. Louis to visit my grandmother.

The young man sitting next to me had struck up a conversation with me during the three-hour trip. He revealed that he had just gotten out of prison. That morning. Drugs and the wrong friends had messed up his life, but he was ready for a fresh start, he’d said.

“Fresh start.” Those were his very words. Jesus had met him in prison, he’d said, and he had read the Bible he’d been given over and over. When I told him about Fresh Start For All Nations and the blog I write, he agreed to let me tell his story. “If my story can encourage someone else, then please use it.”

Before I got off the bus, I gave him my business card with the Fresh Start website. It was only afterwards I realized it had my personal cell phone number too. Was it wise for a single girl to give her phone number to an ex-con?

Defeat

And now, four months later, he’s calling me.

“I’ve gotten mixed up with my old friends,” he confesses softly. “And I’ve started doing drugs again.” I can hear the defeat in his voice.

My heart is heavy. He was so hopeful when I met him a few months ago. So confident. And now…

“I’ve been looking through old phone numbers,” the man continues, “and I remember that you were so sweet and encouraging. I was just wondering if maybe you would pray for me.”

What else can I do? I feel so helpless.

“Can I pray for you right now?” I ask. The man agrees. Taking a deep breath, I plead on behalf of this broken man.

“Father, thank you for your grace and forgiveness…” I ask God to be with this man, to bring him good friends, to help him get connected with a good church and a recovery support group. “…And most of all, may he know how much you love him…”

Cling to Hope

When I finish, the man thanks me. “That was so sweet. I really appreciate it.”

As I hang up, I still wonder if I did the right thing. But what else could I have done? “Always be prepared to give an answer… for the hope that you have,” we’re encouraged in I Peter 3:15. Hope – that’s what this man needed.

Is there someone God has brought in your path who is in need of HOPE? Are you prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have? All you can do is point that person to the One who is the source of all hope – Jesus. And pray that he or she will cling to that hope. It’s a hope that does not disappoint us.

Going Vertical!
MJ

, , ,

Is It Enough?

 

Alone

“Trapped. Hopeless. Depressed. That’s how I felt after four intense years of teaching English in an extremely sensitive, highly stressful area in northeast Asia.”

Thirteen pairs of eyes watched me intently as I began my story at this foreign English teachers’ retreat. Seated on metal folding chairs in a semi-circle were American teachers from a large university in Asia. They were all single women, ranging from age twenty-three to fifty-something. Several of these ladies had served in this country for five, ten, fifteen years. I could see the weariness in some of their eyes.

I had only just met these women. And I didn’t know their stories. Yet I felt such a strong connection to them. I wanted to fling my arms around them and say, ‘I know what it’s like! I’ve been there too!’

“Many times over those months and years in Asia, I wondered what on earth God was doing,” I continued. “I couldn’t see the results of all my work and investment in relationships. I struggled with homesickness, cultural barriers, serious conflicts with team members. And I felt so alone.”

“Yet time after time I felt the Father gently ask me, ‘Is it enough that I have asked you to come and you have obeyed? Even if you never understand? Even if you never see any results? Can you trust Me?’ ”

“Over and over again I had to surrender to Him, not knowing or understanding it all, but trusting that He would somehow, someday use it for good.”

I smiled. “You know, God didn’t have to show me why I experienced some of the hard things I went through.” I had to fumble for a tissue in my pocket before I could go on. “But here I am today, standing before all of you, sharing my story. And I feel He’s giving me just a tiny glimpse of His bigger purpose.”

Giving Hope

At the end of the three-day retreat, one young woman came up to me with a broad smile. “I love how much you cry,” she said. “Thank you for being so real and vulnerable in sharing your story. It gives me permission to cry too.”

The author of Corinthians says that “…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort… comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Cor 1:3-4, NIV).

If through my tears I can encourage one woman that she is not alone, if I can remind her that God has a purpose in HER pain, if I can give her hope that she, too, can find help in her time of need, then it’s all worth it. Because HE is worth it.

Going Vertical!
MJ

, ,

Don’t Compare!

“What’s wrong with me? I have no right to be sad. There are so many people who have it much worse than me. Think of Jennifer. Her sister was killed in a car accident at 21, and then her son had cancer at age four. Or what about Sarah, who just had a miscarriage after praying for and waiting for a baby for so long? My loss is nothing compared to that.”

Shifting in my chair at the beautiful mountainside retreat center in Hong Kong, I try to pay attention to the Fresh Start seminar. Just days before I left for the East Asia trip, I got the news that my sweet 101-year-old grandmother had gone to be with Jesus. It wasn’t really a great surprise. We all knew it could be any day. And it wasn’t a great tragedy. I know she is now in heaven, and is no longer limited by her frail physical body or weakened memory.

Yet I still miss her. For the past four and a half years, I helped my mom to care for my “Abuela,” who lived with my parents. Every day we got her up, helped her get dressed, and took her to the table in the sunny yellow living room for a breakfast of shredded wheat cereal with sliced bananas and 2% milk. Abuela loved to watch the cardinals and chickadees and goldfinches that came to peck at the birdseed in the feeders my mom placed by the windows.

Abuela loved anything pink. Her eyes would light up at the sight of flowers, especially if they were pink carnations or roses or lilies. “Oh my,” she’d say softly. “How pretty!” Abuela loved babies and young children. She’d reach out her hand and touch the chubby cheeks and smile. “Why, hello there! Aren’t you cute!” Abuela loved her family. She may not have remembered what she had for lunch a few minutes earlier, but she never forgot the faces of her children and grandchildren, and even her great grandchildren. And Abuela loved her Jesus. Each night when we prayed before bed, even if her sometimes muddled mind couldn’t say anything else, she never failed to say, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”

The tears are coming now as I picture her gentle smile and warm eyes. I wipe my face and try again to concentrate on what Pastor Steve is saying.

“You can’t compare your offense, hurt or loss horizontally,” I hear him tell the eager crowd, then pause for translation. “There will always be someone else who has it worse or better than you. Resist the temptation to compare your situation to others.”

It feels like he’s talking just to me. How does he know what I’m thinking?

“Don’t minimize the loss or the hurt,” Pastor Steve continues. “Jesus didn’t minimize it. He thought it was worth going to the cross for.”

Permission to Grieve

My accusing inner thoughts are silenced. It’s true. I’ve been comparing my loss to others, and feeling like I have no right to grieve because my loss isn’t as great as someone else’s. But though I am happy that Abuela is in heaven, though I am thankful for her 101 years of life, though I am grateful that I had so much time with her at the end of her life, I am still grieving the loss of not having her with us on this earth. I need to allow myself to grieve. I need to give myself permission to be sad. I need to recognize that it’s OK to miss her. And I need to stop comparing myself to others.

Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, even though he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead a few minutes later. He allowed the time and space for grieving. He “wept with those who wept” (Rom 12:15), sharing the loss of Mary and Martha. He didn’t minimize their sadness, but joined them in their grieving process.

My loss is significant. Because my heart is important to my heavenly Father. He understands when I have moments of missing my Abuela’s girlish giggle, or her meticulous way of washing dishes, or her gentle kiss on my cheek when I said goodnight. He allows me to cry, to mourn, to grieve. And He gives me the hope that though “weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning!” I look forward to that eternal morning, when I will see my sweet Abuela again, and when my Jesus will wipe away every tear.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Psalm 30:5b (NLT)