He gives and takes away…on Wednesdays.

wednesday

If I had known I was experiencing the last chaotic morning of being a mom of five, I would have lingered more. I probably would have made pancakes. I would have written each child a sweet note – even though the little ones can’t read. I would have hugged them longer. I would have studied their little faces more. I would have done so much differently. But, I didn’t. It was a normal morning. Continue reading

Reality TV found my father, but I didn’t.

I have not wanted to write this for a long time. I mean, I have really really really NOT wanted to write this. But, it will not go away. I feel words and emotions dancing on the tip of my tongue, creating an itch that just will not subside. This morning, I woke up with the courage to tackle this topic, and friends, I have done every single thing I could to “busy myself” in the hopes that I will run out of time and energy. Sisters, I even did a “Jillian: Killer Buns and Thighs” video (ok, I only did 13 minutes, but it took a lot longer because of all the post workout recovery time). But, I am all out of excuses – the house is quiet – the kids are playing outside like little angels (grrr), my phone is not ringing, and I have done all the housework that I care to accomplish in a day (very little). So here goes. Bear with me as I bare my soul.

The Show:

When I was eighteen, I did everything in my power to be a guest on the Gordon Elliot Show.

Don’t remember him? Well, you totally should. He was like the knock-off Maury Povich; the second string Sally; the vanilla Montel Williams – and he was my chance.

Gordon+Elliott+9JtoR0m9yPlm

The Call:

I remember watching his show late one evening while I was all alone in my dorm room. The room was dark, and messy, and full of emptiness. Now that I think about it, I was a lot like my room – dark, messy, and empty. I sat there staring straight ahead, wallowing in my emptiness, with tears welling up in my eyes. I watched intently as he reunited family after family – finding long lost loved- ones. The episode ended with a plea for anyone who was desperate to find a long lost loved one to contact the show immediately to get Gordon’s help. The loneliness of that room was a painful reminder that I was desperate. So, I picked up the phone right then and called. I was so caught up in hopefulness that it didn’t even occur to me that the likelihood of a real human answering the phone in the middle of the night was pretty slim. I was only slightly saddened when an answering machine fielded my call. Undaunted, I left a long, rambling, sob-soaked plea… begging them to find my father.

I remember waking up the next morning, totally excited to tell my roommate all about it. She was a bit weirded out and almost completely unimpressed. But, it didn’t phase me. I was certain that Gordon himself would hear my message, find my father, and surprise me with a Hallmark movie ending to my heartache.

Gordon didn’t call that day.

He didn’t call the next day.

He didn’t even call the next day…. but one of his staffers did. And, I almost wet my pants.

They were planning to help me…. In fact, they had already found some promising information about the whereabouts of my father. All they needed from me was some information. They asked me approximately 137 questions (most of which I could not answer), and then they said that they would need to contact my mother. My heart sank. For as long as I could remember, my mother had protected me from my father. Something horrible had happened, and like any good mother, her desire was for my safety. Though, I knew it would likely go quite poorly, I gave the show’s rep my mother’s phone number…. and waited.

It didn’t take long for my mother to call me to let me know that I would not be appearing on the Gordon Elliott show. I will never forget the hurt in her voice when she called. I never meant to hurt her, but y’all… I just couldn’t shake the emptiness of not knowing my father. No Hallmark movie ending for me.

The History:

Most people don’t know this, but my mother and father divorced when I was really young – maybe 2 or 3 years old. The only real memory I have of him is him driving up in a red convertible. I don’t remember hugs or bedtime stories or vacations or snuggles or birthdays. I can’t remember his face or his smell or his voice.  And, I don’t remember his love.

That has plagued me my entire life. Without warning, hopes of some evidence of my father’s love would destroy seemingly happy moments. Every birthday brought the hope that a special card might show up in the mailbox, but no cards ever arrived. Every Christmas, I watched the mail to see if any mysterious packages arrived, but none ever did. Every major life event was tainted with a secret hope that I would look up and notice someone in the crowd who resembled me, but no one ever came.

I spent my entire life desperate to find someone who I thought would love me. Though my mother was very present, her love didn’t seem to be enough. I craved my father’s love. I wanted him to want me – and I could not understand why he didn’t.

The Lunch Date:

This longing never went away. My desire to see my father never subsided. Off and on through the years, I would seek him out – unsuccessfully. Until a couple of years ago. Feeling empty and longingly nostalgic, I mentioned my desire to see my father’s face to my husband, Vance. For those of you who know Vance, you will not be shocked to discover that Vance made it his mission to find my father… and he did.

But, I did not get the happy ending that I had dreamed about. Instead of seeing his face, hearing his voice, or feeling the warmth of his embrace, I had to settle for meeting a half brother that I had never known. Unbeknownst to me, my father had passed away in 1998. Four years after my Gordon Elliott escapade.

I was terrifically nervous about meeting my brother, but Vance and I scheduled a lunch date with him anyway. He was charming and kind and compassionate – and our eyes matched… that was so very comforting to me. With pain in his voice, he carefully answered my questions, and told me stories from my time with my father. My father was everything I had ever hoped he wasn’t. And, truthfully, I simply cannot bear to elaborate any more than that today. Our lunch was devastating simply because I left just as empty as I had been when I arrived. And, I was sad – heartbroken, actually.

Vance and I drove away from the lunch date in a silent car. Neither of us knew exactly how to process all of the emotions that were filling our thoughts. We haven’t really talked much about it since then, but a realization about that day has been welling up inside me.

The Reality:

Here is the reality: I have struggled with feelings of worthlessness and insignificance all of my life. Though I have had people who loved me, I never really felt loved. Does that even make sense? Many of the most foolish things I have done, the most blatant sins in my life, the deepest darkest shames that I carry, many of the hardest moments have all stemmed from feeling unloved. As I reflect on my past, I am almost too embarrassed to even allow my history to play out in my memories – because it is so hard to see myself crying out to be loved – to be chosen – to be cherished – to be the most important thing in someone’s life.

For years, I thought that finding my father would fix that void. I was certain that he would run to me with open arms and tell me stories of how he cried every year on my birthday because he missed me; stories of piles of letters lovingly written to me — waiting to be delivered; stories of years spent searching for me- of near misses…. And, I thought that he would love me with reckless abandon.

But, he didn’t. He just lived and died. Without me.

For a long time, I have been trying to figure out why the Lord would allow such pain and emptiness and loneliness in my life. I’ve wondered why I had to walk through life feeling so very unloved. And, I’ve wondered how someone like me ended up in a ministry based on love. It just hasn’t made any sense to me. How in the world could a Holy God , a sovereign God, a perfect God, ask someone like me- someone who has felt so stinking unloved- to love others. Why? Why? Why? Doesn’t He know how much it hurts me to even think about these emotions?

Why would God call someone who feels so unloved to love others? What was He thinking?

Perhaps He was thinking something like this: “You’ll be able to relate. You’ve felt the hurt. You’ve experienced the pain. You’ve been there. Go use it. Reach out. Relate. Respond. React. Recover. Then, Rejoice.”

Y’all. I see it now. That hurt that I just didn’t understand, those times that were just so so painful, those moments that I wanted to just forget – all of them – ALL. OF. THEM. were blessings from God. Long before I ever knew that I would be called to put Love to Work, He knew. Long before I could begin preparations for ministry, He prepared me. Long before I knew I was loved, He loved me.

Perhaps my story is a lot like yours (or nothing like yours at all). Perhaps that ache in your spirit, that painful thing, that thing you wish you could change – perhaps THAT thing is THE thing that the Lord is calling you to use for His glory. Give it to Him.

And, rejoice.

Hope, Grace, and Miss J

I know a lady who is 45 years old. She lives 3 minutes away from me. And, she is dying.

My path crossed with hers a little over a year ago when I met her daughter and her grandchildren. I’ve seen her a handful of times, and, truly, nothing about her really captivated my attention. She was just like many of the women I have come to know through our LoveWorks ministry. She’s a hard worker. She cares for her children – – and her grandchildren. She lives in poverty. And, she needs hope.

But, this is what is haunting me right now – and it just won’t stop. During the past year, I had opportunities to share hope with her- to extend grace to her, but I didn’t take them. On numerous occasions, I felt that gentle tug of the Holy Spirit. I knew that He was prompting me to go to her – to reach out to her kids, her grandkids, and HER. I knew it. But, I didn’t. Other things took priority. I was busy… and, I excused myself from carrying her burden because I was busy doing “good things” for people in need. I self righteously decided that I could pick and choose who deserved my time and my efforts.

But, here’s the amazing thing about God. If He is calling you to do something, one way or another, you WILL do it. Don’t believe me? Read the book of Jonah, then we can chat.

Last week, I spent metaphorical time in the belly of a whale. God redirected my path, gave me time to refocus my thoughts, and showed me my own sinfulness and need for repentance.

One of my Bible study ladies had a birthday last Monday. To celebrate her big day, a friend and I took her to lunch. It was a special time. For me, it was such a picture of racial barriers, socioeconomic barriers, social barriers, and cultural barriers collapsing. We sat at lunch and laughed. We smiled a lot. We celebrated like real sisters. It was precious. During the entire meal, the only time we stopped giggling or chatting was when we were interrupted by the deafening roar of firetruck sirens as a series of emergency vehicles rushed by our restaurant. We paused for a minute to acknowledge them, then continued our chatter. We left lunch a little sad that our time had to end… and we headed back to the apartments to drop off our dear friend.

My heart sank when we pulled into the apartment complex and discovered those same fire trucks that had interrupted our chatter. They were parked in front of a building that I know well – and fear crept through my veins. We got out of the car and hurried across the parking lot to try to see what in the world was going on. And then we saw it. Smoke was billowing out of the front door of the apartment of my 45 year old friend, Miss J. My eyes scanned the crowd to find her, but she wasn’t around. Within moments, though, I found her daughter and began asking questions.

Through tears, her daughter described the fire that had broken out in the kitchen, the frantic call for help, the rescue of the fire department, and the ruin of almost everything that they owned. I listened to her story, saw the panic written across her face… and felt the desperation in her voice when she added, “Miss Kim… my mama don’t even know yet. She was on her way to the doctor again. She ain’t doin good at all right now. And, she don’t even have the strength to deal with all this. What are we gonna do, Miss Kim? What are we gonna do?”

A car pulled up a few minutes later, and there in the passenger seat sat a stunned Miss J. She looked frail, and tired, and sick – very sick. Looking into her sad eyes made my heart hurt. In that very moment, I knew that it was no accident that I was standing there. In His grace, the Lord was providing me another opportunity to love on Miss J and her family in a big way… just as He had prompted me to do months before.

Standing right there in the parking lot with fire trucks all around, we made necessary arrangements for hotel rooms and food, and we began working out the details of getting Miss J and her family into another apartment. Within two days, we were ready to clean out the contents of the burned apartment, and move them into another one – complete with furniture, food, and all the supplies that they would need.

And, here’s how amazing our Lord is. A couple of months earlier, I received a call about hosting a group of college students from Georgia. These students were seeking opportunities to serve the Lord during their spring break. At the time, I gladly accepted their offer to come and serve with Love Works – but I had NO IDEA what I would have for them to do… Oh, but God did! Wednesday morning, I sat in complete awe of the sovereignty of God – amazed at His perfect timing, His provision, His persistence.

I was almost giddy with excitement as I drove to meet the college missions team and share the story with them — beyond eager to see what God would do as we worked. I knew that God was up to something. But, even though I spend my days serving those in need, I wasn’t prepared to see the depths of poverty that we were about to enter. Nor was I prepared to share the weight of the hopelessness that my precious friends had been carrying for far too long.

With our surgical masks secured snugly on our faces, we walked into the destroyed apartment to clean it out and salvage what we could. It took us about 13 minutes to realize that most of the items in the apartment had either been destroyed or were simply not worth saving. The longer I stood inside of the tiny apartment, the smaller it felt. It was like desperation and hopelessness were clinging to every surface; it was dark, and lonely, and scary. The walls seemed to close in on us with every second that passed, and the reality of the situation began to sink in as I sorted through the items that survived the fire.

There were pictures, and personal documents, a few scattered bags of clothes, two dilapidated dressers, a couple of out-dated televisions, a tv stand, a broken coffee table, and two small decorative racks, and a series of mismatched plastic chairs…. that’s it.

Every single remaining thing that they owned was on display in a revealing pile on the sidewalk outside. I stood there with the sun shining on my shoulders taking it all in. And then I realized that the tiny, two bedroom apartment had been home to eight people. Eight people. Eight. Eight humans, ranging in age from 3 to 45 had called that place home. Those walls that seemed to ooze desperation and hopelessness had held all of the hope that they knew. Everything that they had known and loved had been in that apartment… and there it all sat, looking empty and broken – right there for all the world to see. It really was a tremendously sad sight.

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Moments turned to minutes, and minutes faded into hours – and in what seemed to be a shockingly short amount of time, we had managed to move everything from the darkness of the destroyed apartment, into the sunshine beaming outside, and finally to its final resting place in their new apartment. With the smell of Pine Sol hanging in the air and a cool breeze blowing through the open door, I was finally able to sit down and really talk to the inhabitants of that new apartment. Though Miss J was too ill to be there and was resting back at the hotel, everyone else was there. We sat around like old friends and smiles abounded. Through conviction of the Holy Spirit, I focused all of my energy on really listening to what was being said. I sat there smiling outside, but inwardly groaning – pleading with the Lord to give me His eyes and His ears so that I could display His love for them.

The stories that casually rolled off their tongues were heartbreaking. I sat in stunned silence as Miss J’s 18 year old son shared that he had hopes of attending college, but had missed scholarship application deadlines because their family couldn’t afford to complete the paperwork and mail it in. The cost of a few stamps… Raw emotion was flooding my entire body, and I found myself doing everything I could to maintain focus and composure.

Curious, I began asking questions about the sleeping arrangements. I simply couldn’t imagine how 8 people could comfortably rest with just 3 beds crammed into two small bedrooms. I discovered that Miss J’s daughter and 4 of her 5 children sleep together in one of the small bedrooms… and Miss J, her 18 year old son, and her 6 year old grandson share a bed in another bedroom. Every night. Every night, Miss J’s son sleeps beside her. Every night, he helps her in change into her nightgown, helps her brush her teeth, helps her in and out of bed. Every night he is faced with the reality of a dying mother. Every night that family tries to survive in a seemingly hopeless situation. Every single night. I watched as everyone’s eyes suddenly became downcast and sad every single time Miss J’s name was mentioned. Every person in that room recognized the severity of her sickness – and each person seemed to feel so small and so very helpless against such a difficult health battle.

Reality set in. Miss J is dying. Last Wednesday that became clear to me. She is dying. And, she is currently hopeless. Until last Wednesday, I felt no urgency to share the gospel with her. She was just a sick lady who needed groceries. Shamefully, that’s all I saw when I looked at her. But all that changed when the Lord opened my eyes to her real needs – to the real needs of every single person in her home. They need hope. And, they need hope that can’t be bought… hope that nothing on this earth could ever destroy… an everlasting hope – an eternal hope – real hope.

Here’s what I know: Apart from Christ, we are all hopeless. We all fail. Every single one of us will make mistakes – some big, some small – and, in those moments where our mistakes seem too many to even count, what we need is grace- not condemnation. Praise Jesus that because I am His, there is no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1)

Let me be honest with you, though. Though there is no condemnation for me, there is often awful condemnation in me. Sometimes, I look at people and I am too quick to judge. I look at their situation, and rather than extending grace – rather than listening to their story – rather than taking the time to be compassionate, I simply judge. I condemn. I look at circumstances and think “You deserve exactly what you’ve gotten.”

Shame on me. Shame on me for so quickly forgetting the amazing grace that I have received. The grace that never ceases to flow. The grace that I need in every moment of my life. Shame on me for not readily extending it in EVERY situation.

Today, I am pleading for prayer on this family’s behalf… on my behalf. I am pleading that you will join me in praying that the Lord would soften our hearts, open our eyes to truth, and captivate us with His great love. I am praying for hope. I’m praying for Miss J.

In the meantime, I am willing to do the hard stuff. I am willing to participate in messy ministry. I am going to let my love for them be tempered with grace – and then more grace. If meeting some basic physical needs will allow me opportunities to speak truth and display Christ’s love, then I will do just that. I know that love works. I’m just praying that it works quickly. May we all recognize that time is passing. People are lost and dying. Let’s love people with urgency. Let’s use our time wisely. Let’s make every effort not to miss opportunities. Let’s offer the same grace that we have received. Let’s make much of out time here… Let’s put love to work.

Matthew 25:40; James 1:22

And Then I Cried..

Glorious things have happened in this house recently.  Things that have brought us tremendous joy and endless laughter,  But lurking near every moment of joy has been pain that is equally as intense.  There has been fear that is crippling, and doubt that rushes over me in waves so intense that I feel like I am drowning.

Yesterday was a perfect nightmare of emotions.  Indeed, yesterday was a prime example of the beautiful juxtaposition of grace and pain in our lives.

My day began with some major celebration.  I’m talking happy dance; happy tears; warm, fuzzy “God-you-are-really-here” happiness.   The day began with a quiet house – a rarity in Daly-land.  Destinee was at school learning with her friends.  Jeremiah was in a rare super-snuggly mood, curled up beside me watching “Super Why”.  I was enjoying the slow place of the morning, and then it happened.

Vance sent me a text. In a flash, my mood dashed from being happy to being over-joyed.  The text was quite simple, really.  It was just a picture of a legal document. But, friends, this legal document was an important one to me.  It gave us the legal power to actually make some decisions for our precious chocolate children.  No more stress over doctor visits.  Or dentists. Or school.  Or dance class.  Or soccer.  One piece of paper… containing the guarantee of so much peace.  I simply cannot even covey my joy in that moment.  I stared at the signed document, developed a zillion questions for Vance about how he had managed to get a signature from our chocolate children’s mother so quickly, laughed, danced ( I mean full-blown Roger Rabbit dancing), giggled… and then I cried.  Big tears.  Tears of joy.

I was still in celebratory land 43 minutes later when the doorbell rang.  Something felt weird, and I was a little concerned when I rounded the corner to hear voices in the kitchen.  My sweet little Jeremiah had not only answered the door, but had invited our guest into our home.   I’m not even sure I know enough words to adequately explain the surge of emotions that rushed through my body when my eyes locked with hers.

There, in my kitchen, stood the birth mother of my precious children.  In MY kitchen.  Unexpected.  Unannounced.  Unaware of the effect that her presence had on me.

It was awkward.  It was uncomfortable.  We chatted almost as eloquently as two toddlers being forced to share a beloved toy.  Jeremiah, on the other hand, was beside himself with elation!  He dragged her all through the house.  He showed her his room.  His bed.  His favorite toy.  He showed her the pictures he had drawn… even the picture of “Daddy Vance and his vanilla brodders”.  He held her hand.  He smiled.  He giggled.  He chattered incessantly.  And, I sat back in a fear induced trance.   I felt invisible.  Unnoticed.  It was like I had suddenly become a stranger in my own home.

And then it got worse.  His mother lingered.  And lingered.  And lingered.  And then, after what seemed like hours, but was most likely only 30 minutes or so, she asked if Jeremiah wanted to go outside to see her boyfriend. (Unbeknownst to me, he had been waiting outside in the car.)  And, I heard words come out of my mouth – words that were shocking and painful and scary- I asked her if she wanted to invite him in too.  And the cycle continued.  Again, Jeremiah proudly exposed his “family” to his new life… and I, once again, became an invisible figure in my own home.

Minutes ticked away, and I needed to finish getting dressed so that I could pick Destinee  up from school and take her to the dentist.  I accidentally explained why I needed to excuse myself – secretly hoping that my guests would decide to leave… but, it didn’t work.  It backfired.  As soon as I finished talking, Jeremiah’s mother quickly spoke.

“You’re taking Destinee to the dentist today?  Can I go with you?”

Time stood still, and I heard myself respond.  To my astonishment, I almost sounded cheerful and encouraging.

“Sure you can!”

They stayed seated, chatting with Jeremiah- my Jeremiah- and I left the room.  As I walked out of the room, I cast a helpless look in Vance’s direction; and, without uttering a word, I knew that he felt every ounce of emotion that I felt.

I walked into my bedroom, dragged myself into my closet, sat on the floor.

And then I cried.

Big tears laced with more fear and pain that I ever imagined possible.  Through my tears, I begged God to help me understand.

Seriously Lord.  I do not understand.  She hasn’t been here at all.  At all.  We’ve been doing all that we can to keep them stable.  To keep them safe.  To make them ours.  This morning you gave me such hope.  We got  LEGAL papers.  Hope.  Happiness.  Please please please help me understand… Why is she here?  Why did you let her be here today?  I cannot do this.  I just can’t.  You can’t give me such hope only to rip these kids from my arms.  I cannot do this today.  I.  just.  can’t.   Remind me of who you are.  Help me.  Help me.  Help me.  Help me see your face.  Help me trust you.  Help me love her… because I don’t want to.   Father, help me.  

Within minutes, Vance walked through the door.  “They’re gone.  They will meet you at the school to pick up Destinee.”  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Then he added one more sentence.  “And they took Jeremiah with them.”   It took me a few seconds to understand what he had told me.  I sat down as a stunned silence echoed in the room.  And then I cried some more.  

Through my tears, I began to confess all my fears to Vance.  Words just kept falling out of my mouth.  The fear of losing my chocolate children is a constant in my life; but, until I heard myself actually articulating my fears, I didn’t realize the tremendous grip that the fear had on me.   I rambled on and on, and my precious husband listened patiently.  But, something happened as I talked.  The truth of God’s word kept coming out.  Without really intending to do so, I kept speaking life and truth over myself.  And, in that moment, I realized that God had been lovingly preparing me for this very moment.

I sat there in awe of my savior as I recalled the notes I had written during my quiet time the day before.  In my chronological study, I had read Genesis 42:1 – 44:34 – The story of Joseph’s brothers showing up to buy grain during the famine.  You know, the part where the brothers who tried to kill him finally discover that not only is Joseph alive, but he just so happens to be a powerful leader in Egypt.

Usually, the “brother drama” in that story captivates my attention.   But not when I read it the other day.  Suddenly, the plight of Israel, Joseph’s father, captivated my attention.  My eyes locked on Genesis 42:36.  “Their father Jacob (Israel) said to them, You have deprived me of my children.  Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin.  Everything is against me.”

At this point in the story, Israel still believes that Joseph is dead.  Simeon is locked away in Egypt and will only be released if the other brothers bring Benjamin back.  Through Israel’s eyes, nothing seems to make sense.  Life seems to be falling apart.  It makes absolutely NO sense to him to send his youngest son, his new favorite, his precious Benjamin to Egypt.

And he freaks out.  Letting go of Benjamin is so hard.  But, what Israel doesn’t know is that God has a plan – a plan to not only return Benjamin and Simeon to the arms of their father, but also to restore Joseph into the family.  Israel has no idea that he has to let go in order to regain.

Israel’s story was so powerful to me the other morning.  I was moved.  I was haunted.  I hurt for him.  And this is the note I made in my Bible:

 “In the middle of what seems like chaos, often we struggle to see how God’s hands are holding us, shaping us, and guiding us into restoration.”

When my hands wrote that in my Bible, I had NO IDEA that I would need to hold on to that same truth in less than 24 hours.  I had NO IDEA that God was preparing me to trust Him.  To trust His timing.  To trust His way.  To do the hard things – even when the pain seems almost unbearable.

Sitting there on the bathroom floor, less than 24 hours later, God simply reminded me of what he had already showed me.  He reminded me that Israel had to let go in order to receive…and He flooded me with a peace that only He can give.

And then I cried.

The rest of the afternoon was unbelievable.  After our dental appointment, we ventured to Chik Fila for lunch and some playtime.  The kids ran and laughed and played.  They bounced from one “mom” to the other, covering us with their love.  We all smiled.  We all laughed.  We all enjoyed the time together.

While the kids played on the playground, in a rare moment of quiet adult -time, God poured out His grace in the form of 13 words.

“I’m not going to ever take the kids away from you, Miss Kim.”

She knew I needed to hear it.  And, she gracefully allowed me the freedom to love these kids with reckless abandon.  And, in that moment, I realized that she needed my love more than I had ever realized.  And, suddenly, I wanted to pour it on her.

I sat there swimming in warm fuzzy sappy spiritual thoughts.  I thought about Israel – how he had to let go to receive; how he must have felt when he realized the grace and mercy of God; how he must have cried such tears of joy…

And then I cried.  Right there in Chick Fila, I cried.

Love is so so hard; but, it works.  It really does.

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Sparkly Chocolate Grace

Our family has expanded a bit for a while.  Instead of 4, we have become 6.  Chocolate has been added to our vanilla.  Chaos has been added to our structure.   Our days are filled with sticky fingers, baby dolls, tiny trucks, endless chatter, 4 million questions, sippy cups, sparkly bows, cute little afros, and a whole lot of laughter.

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At least 900 times a day, the owners of those precious brown faces stop whatever they are doing, run to me (or Vance or Houston or Aaron),  throw their little arms around us, produce the biggest smiles you have ever seen, and and say “I luv you, Miss Kim”.

It seriously doesn’t matter what is going on around them.  I could be correcting, instructing, teaching, or just breathing and their little responses never seem to waver.  It is almost like they have an overwhelming desire to be sure that we know that they love us.

“Jeremiah, come wash your hands.”

“I luv you, Miss Kim.”

“Destinee, let’s pick up these toys.”

“I luv you, Miss Kim”

“Who dropped these pancakes on the floor?”

“I did.  I luv you, Miss Kim”

“Somebody didn’t flush the toilet.”

“That was my brother.  I luv you, Miss Kim”

“Don’t hit your sister.”

“I luv you, Miss Kim”

“Who’s ready for lunch?”

“I’m is.  I luv you, Miss Kim”

“Time for a bath!”

“Can we get some bubbles?  I luv you , Miss Kim.”

Seriously.  The love vibes in this house are ridiculous.  They make me  gushy and mushy and soft and precious with preciousness.

I’ve gone soft.  I’m losing my street cred.  I’m thinking about chocloate hair styles, and coloring books, and bedtime stories, and crafts, and glitter, and rainbows, and unicorns.  It is ridiculous.  But, it isn’t in vain.

Here’s what I know:  God never wastes a moment of our lives.  If we seek Him, He is faithful to grow us, stretch us, teach us, remind us.

Friends, He’s been working on me in a big way lately.  Through these tiny chocolate children, He is leading me to repentance.  Fall-on-my-knees repentance for forgetting His grace toward me.

Grace.  These tiny brown souls understand grace.  G-R-A-C-E.  In their sweet little 3 and 4 year old lives, they have already experienced more hardship than you and I could ever imagine.

They’ve never had a home.

They’ve never had a bed.

They’ve never had their own closet or clothes to put in a closet.

There has never been a need for a toybox.

No one has ever read them a book.

They’ve never had a birthday party.  Or birthday cake.  Or birthday gifts.

They’ve never been tucked in.  Or snuggled.

No one has taught them about Jesus.

No Dad has ever played catch with them.  Or tickled them.  Or told them “I love you.”

They’ve never decorated a Christmas tree.  Or hung stockings by the chimney.  Or worn new pajamas on Christmas Eve.

They’ve never had stability.  Or predictability.

They’ve never felt special.

The things that I often take for granted are little luxuries for my newest children.  A warm bed, clean clothes, the guarantee of 3 meals each day, bedtime stories, and bubble baths- these things are huge expressions of love to them.  They simply cannot even contain their joy at receiving what they deem to be such extravagant gifts… such luxurious acts of love.  I truly believe that they are so overwhelmed with love that they simply cannot help but pour out that same love right back at us… oozing the love because they simply cannot contain it all in their tiny bodies.

I heard Destinee talking to Jeremiah earlier today.  Their little conversation has brought me to my knees.

“You know who love us, Jeremiah?”

“Yeah.”

“Miss Kim do.  She ain’t have to love us, but she do.  And Jesus do too.  He ain’t have to either, but He do.”

“You right.”

“We better listen to Miss Kim and Jesus.”

Innocence.  Precious innocence reminding me of such a deep and powerful truth.

None of us deserve the magnificent love that we have been given, yet it has been poured upon us anyway.  We had better listen to the giver of that powerful love; just like Destinee said.  Clearly, He is for our good.

Grace.  The overwhelming grace of His love toward us… it should change us.  It should ooze out of us.

Perhaps, we have become so busy with living life that we have forgotten the love that saved us?

“I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.  But, I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove my lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

Revelation 2:2-5

Remember the love.  Remember the grace.  

Love always works.

Rocks and Buckets.

My precious husband and I just returned from a trip to Africa.  During our stay in Zimbabwe, we had the privilege of sharing the gospel with many local residents.  Daily, we ventured hut to hut, met people, shared our testimony, shared the good news of Jesus, and “loved on” people.  It was a wonderful experience.DSCF3230

When we got home last weekend, my 10 year old was eager to hear all of our “Africa stories”.  He sat in wide-eyed wonder as we showed him pictures and talked about all the awesome works of the Lord.  He almost could not wrap his mind around what we were saying when we told him the story of walking up to one hut and meeting a group of men who had never even heard the name of Jesus. 

 

Our conversation went a lot like this:

Aaron: What do you mean they didn’t know about Jesus?

Me: They didn’t know anything about Jesus.

Aaron:  They didn’t know anything about Jesus?  How is that possible?

Me:  I don’t know.  Maybe no one had ever told them.

Aaron:  Well, you told them… right?

Me:  Yes.  We did.  We told them all about Jesus.  And about sin.  And about Heaven and Hell.

Aaron:  Did they get saved?

Me:  No.  They just listened politely.

Aaron:  That is so sad.

Apparently, his little heart was burdened for those people.  This became apparent when two days later Aaron broke the silence in the car as we were running errands.

Here’s a snapshot of our exchange:

Aaron:  You know what you needed in Africa?

Me:  What?

Aaron:  You needed a rock and a bucket.

Me: Umm.. ok?

Aaron:  For the people who didn’t know about God or Jesus…

Me: What?  I’m not sure I understand.

Aaron:  You could have used the rock and the bucket to show them that God is real.  Then they would have believed.  They could have been saved.  You should take a bucket next time you go.  They have rocks there, right?

Me:  Son, I have no idea what you are talking about.  (Forgive my perceived lack of patience here – I was still very jet lagged.  God gives grace for the weary, right?)

Aaron:  Well, if they didn’t believe what you were telling them about God and how powerful He is, you could have proven it.  All you would have had to do is turn the bucket upside down and put a big rock on the top of it.  As you were leaving,  you could have told them that if the rock isn’t on top of the bucket the next morning, they should repent and trust Jesus.

Me:  Um, ok.

Aaron:  Really, it would work.  God would move the rock.  He would for sure.  It would be His way of showing them that He is real.

Me:  Good idea son.  You are right.

That little conversation did something to me.  In fact, I’ve been thinking about it a lot during these past few days.  How is it that my 10 year old has more faith that God will move mightily than I do?  How come I didn’t have enough boldness in my faith to put a rock on a bucket?  Is there something in me that doubts God?

The thought that my faith is small really gets me in a tizzy.  I don’t like it one bit.  I want to be a woman of great faith – unshakable faith.  I’d like to know and trust God with such boldness that it seems foolish.  Heck, I’d like to have the faith that would have me not just put a rock on a bucket, but maybe even something crazy- like a huge boulder.   That would be something, wouldn’t it?  Waking up and seeing a giant boulder completely removed from atop of a bucket… wouldn’t you just fall on your face and worship Him?  Wouldn’t it be amazing?

Aaron’s suggestion reminded me of one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Elijah sort-of challenged the prophets to a bucket/rock duel, didn’t he?

And, let’s remember how that turned out:  God moved.  People repented and turned to God. He was magnificently glorified.

Take a look at what the Bible says happened when the people saw God do what was seemingly impossible:

And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”  1 Kings 18:39

Take some time to read the whole story.  You won’t be disappointed.  All the crazy good stuff starts in 1 Kings 18:20.  No matter how many times I read it, it totally re-rocks my world.

Like I said earlier, Aaron’s bucket/rock suggestion has really been on my mind… and today, the Lord showed me that buckets and rocks come in many forms.

About two months ago, I received a call from an extremely distraught woman named Jennifer.  I talked extensively with her, but was never really able to do much for her.  Things just didn’t work out.  I had almost forgotten about her until I received a facebook message from her a little over a month ago.  I responded to her message, gave her my contact info and asked her to call me so we could talk more in depth.  She never called.

Again, in the chaos of life, Jennifer faded from my thoughts.  Until 5 days ago.

When we arrived back from Africa, I was almost afraid to turn my phone on.  I knew that I would be bombarded with a million texts, emails, facebook messages, etc.  Sure enough, I was right.  Instead of allowing myself to become overwhelmed, I decided to pace myself and return a few calls, texts, and messages each day until I got caught up.

Late Wednesday evening, I was working my way through seemingly endless facebook messages when I noticed a message from Jennifer.  In her message, she described her recent struggles and reached out for support.  It was a rambling message filled with desperation.   I was glad to hear from her again, and I wondered if she was finally ready to get the help that she so desperately needs.  I messaged  her my phone number again and told her to call me.  All day Thursday we played phone tag… 14 rounds to be exact.  It was mid-morning today before we could really connect.

When the phone rang today, I listened, once again, to Jennifer tell her story.  It was tear-filled, and I could tell that every word was dripping with hurt and shame.  After a while, I finally asked her if she was really ready for the help she needed. Her response left me stunned.  It was clearly a rock/bucket moment.  Through sobs and sniffles, this is what I heard her say.  “These last few weeks have been awful.  I’m at the end of my rope.  I sent you that message a couple of weeks ago… but I didn’t hear back from you.  I had given up all hope that anything would change.  A couple of nights ago, I prayed.  I prayed hard.  I asked God to give me a break through… to show me something. —– a few minutes later, I got your facebook message.  I knew that was my answer.”

Friends, I could barely contain my gasp.  She seriously put the rock on the bucket – – – and God moved it.

Amazing.

Awesome.

Astounding.

I cannot help but be in awe of how the Lord moves – at His faithfulness – at His power – at His incredible love for us.

He cares enough to move a rock off a bucket so that we see Him, know Him, love Him, adore Him, and serve Him.

His love works…. on buckets and rocks… and people.

Join me in praying for Jennifer.  Pray that the Lord would continue to draw her into His presence, that she would know Him more, that she would rely on Him- trust Him – follow Him.  And, pray for me… for many more buckets and rocks… and much more faith.

PS – Enjoy a few pictures from our time in Africa.

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Flaming Pants.

If honesty is really the best policy, then why are we believers such liars?   Why does no one call me out when my pants are clearly on fire?

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I must admit, even typing those questions makes me uneasy.  Immediately, I am feeling quite insecure.  I am consumed with thoughts about what people will think, how they will respond, what they will say… so consumed that I almost deleted every word.   But, I finally developed the courage to leave it right where it is.  And, as I continue to type I am working up the courage to open up – to actually bear my soul- warts and all.

This whole lying thing has really had me in a funk lately.  My pants have been flaming – and even though the fire is royally roasting my cheeks, I just cannot seem to break the habit of refueling it at every opportunity.    Case in point, I have recently begun many many blogs – truthful blogs about personal pain, ministry struggles, and general revelations about my sinful nature – blogs that were dripping with honesty: tear soaked, raw honesty… only to quickly delete them.   Point number two: I’ve almost started several conversations where the truth almost eeked out.  But. something has shut me up every time.  Perhaps I am subconsciously afraid that  honesty would produce tears which might extinguish the fire that I have so carefully constructed in my pants?? Translation: Maybe I am afraid that people will see the real me…. and they won’t think that I “have it all together.” (gasp)

If I am honest with myself, I would admit that I am often way way way more concerned with what people think about me than I am about what God thinks about me.  And, if I really get honest, I would admit that I choose to ignore what God is calling me to do more often than I actually do what He says.  Of course, I’d only admit those things if I happened to accidentally tell the truth.

God has been wearing me out about this lately.  I mean kicking my tail.  Hard.   He actually tried to gently nudge me at first, but since I completely ignored Him and chose to rebel against Him – carefully explaining to Him all the reasons that He is wrong (Someone help me.  I can be a huge idiot sometimes.) – He has had to take a less subtle approach… Those gentle nudges have quickly morphed into shoves/ ninja kicks/ full body slams… Indeed, I am a slow learner.

It actually started a long while back.  Precious people, some strangers and some dear friends, would lovingly ask me how things were going.  And I would lie.  Instead of admitting that things are hard or that on many occasions things feel so overwhelming that sometimes I’m scared to even get out of the bed, I would smile stupidly and reply, “They are great!”  Instantly after each lie, I could feel God nudge me.  Sometimes I could almost hear Him question me… “Why don’t you just tell the truth?”

At first, I thought that my little lies were “protecting” God’s image.  I mean, doesn’t He need me to smile and look like everything is perfect so that it doesn’t tarnish His reputation?  Can’t God see that I am actually doing Him a huge favor?  Seriously dude, how effective would it be for me to really admit that things in my life are falling apart… that I am weak… that sometimes my heart is really really ugly…. that sometimes (gasp) I don’t want to love anyone – especially rude lost people.

Though my excuses became increasingly lengthy, God’s nudges got incredibly stronger.  Everywhere I looked, every sermon I listened to, every book I read, every everything seemed to make a case for authenticity.  For example: I’ve been studying Ephesians for quite some time.  About a year and a half ago, I felt the Lord prompt me to memorize the entire book of Ephesians.  I read it two trillion times.  I have listened to it approximately 736 times.  I’ve been swimming it it quite frequently.  And, memorizing it is going great! Never mind, that was a lie.   Memorization has been slow agonizing brutal.  Even with my absurd failure to memorize the book, it has been my go-to source of comfort  conviction comfort lately.

Check out some of the verses in Ephesians that have been convicting my socks off…

14 “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  15 Rather, speaking the TRUTH in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

17″Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the FUTILITY OF THEIR MINDS.”

20″But that is not the way you learned Christ! – 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the TRUTH is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be RENEWED in the SPIRIT OF YOUR MINDS, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Let me break it down for you.  Here is what I hear the Lord screaming to me:

“Speak the TRUTH in love… Care enough about others to actually be honest.  Be real.  If people never see your hurt, then they never realize how precious I am to you as your healer.  Share your journey – even the ugly parts.  Perfect people don’t need redemption… And your imperfections point to the perfect nature of Jesus.”   Verse 14, ouch.

“Girl, when you choose to hide the truth and share what YOU think people should know, that is foolishness.  Everyone feels the need to be fake.  Don’t be like everyone else in the world.  Be honest.  Be authentic.  Be who I am calling you to be.  Your way is foolish.  My way brings ME glory.”  Verse 17, ouch.

“How did you learn about Christ?  How did you fall in love with Him?  You heard the TRUTH, right?  Even when it was hard to hear, right?  The TRUTH saved you.  Not a watered down, politically correct, socially acceptable version of Jesus.  If you are called to put on the new self, why are you still holding on to the lie that the real you isn’t good enough?  Do you believe that you are created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness?  Do you trust the truth?” Verses 20-24, ouch.

Ouch, Ouch Ouch, Ouch Ouch.  God is calling me to put the pant fire out.  And, fire pants have been my staple attire since.. well, forever.

Let me be clear with you.  Changing my pants has not been pleasant. I have convinced myself that I needed those fire pants.  Lies have seemed more beneficial than truth.   But, God has been gracious enough to let me see how powerful the TRUTH can really be.  A few weeks ago, I sat in a small apartment with several ladies who came for Bible study.  Admittedly, on the outside, we didn’t have much in common at all.  There I sat with my monogrammed tote plopped at my feet, my  customized Tervis Tumbler filled with organic cranberry -pomegranate nectar, and my iPhone  resting in my lap.  I stuck out like a cow at a dance recital. (I don’t even know what that means… it just popped into my head and I felt compelled to leave it there.)  Most of the women sitting in that tiny room had grown up in a very poor area of town and have lived extremely hard lives – witnessing, participating in, and surviving things that we can barely even imagine.  And, there I was sitting right in the middle of them, obviously an outsider – doing my best to share the truth of God’s word – wanting desperately to love them so hard that they cannot help but feel the love of Jesus.  After an hour of intense study of Genesis, and hearing me weep over the goodness of our creator, the women sat around me– seemingly unmoved.  I could feel the emptiness in the room, and I began to do my best to reach out to each woman, asking them to share their story… to open up.  They dutifully shared minimal details of their lives, but none could articulate anything real.  Not one prayer request.  Not one.  In a room of hurting women, no one amitted her need for help from our savior.  No One.  I was baffled.  How in the world could these women not have any prayer requests?  Why were they not opening up?  What was wrong with them?   As these thoughts were whirling through my mind, one couageous young lady piped up, “Miss Kim, we don’t mean to give you any kind of disrespect.  But, you just don’t understand.  You ain’t been in the streets and done the things we done.  We ain’t like you.”

Right there my heart broke.  God’s word came sooo alive to me.  “Speak the truth in love.”  The magnitude of my stupidity hit me in the face.  How could I ever expect these precious women to trust me if they didn’t know me?  How could I expect the to know that I DO understand their heartache?  That I do understand what the weight of sin feels like?    Instantly, tears began streaming down my face.  “You are like me.  I. am. just. like. you…. that’s why Jesus is so precious to me.”  Those were the first real words that I spoke to those ladies.  Those were the words that I spoke moments before I shared my testimony – warts and all.  Want to know what happened?   God used my ugliness to point to His holiness and grace.  We sat in that room and began to get real with each other.  We prayed real prayers – for real things – to a real God.  That day marked the beginning of real relationships.  Real women  with Real problems crying out to a Real savior.  It was good.  It was really good.

That day also marked the beginning of my freedom from myself.  I still battle “being real”, and I still struggle to trust Him.    Layer by layer, the Lord is stripping me of every single thing that I think I need to be.  He is showing me that the only approval I need is His.  He is gradually giving me the courage I need to fully trust Him.

Forgive me for seeking your approval.  Forgive me for not being honest.  Be patient with me as I learn to truly open up and share the real journey with you.  Be praying for me as I take my baby steps toward true righteousness.

Pray that I would LOVE others enough to be authentic.  After all, He has shown me time and time again that Love really does Work!

Chewing, Churning, Choking…. Choosing to Love

I’ve been chewing on some rather rough thoughts lately.  My mind has been working some serious overtime to try to figure things out… to make sense of things… to make the chaos fit into a logical thought pattern.  And, I simply cannot do it.  I can’t make insanity make sense.  I have found myself spinning.  And searching.  And seeking. And screaming. And sobbing.  And finally – surrendering.

I like for things to be predictable – to go the way they “should” go.  For example: Christmas gifts.  I was always a sucker for beautifully wrapped gifts.  In my simplistic mind, I deduce that beautiful wrapping = amazing gift. (Turns out, that isn’t always the case.)    If you need proof, just check my Dirty Santa resume… I’m always the girl who leaves with a plunger.  After 36 years on the planet, you’d think that I would learn to expect the unexpected… but, I have not.

Often, my adventures in the unexpected are humorous.  A few weeks ago, after several weeks of non-stop chaos, my sweet husband planned a surprise date- night for us.  I love it when he has those really thoughtful moments, so I was PUMPED!  I was even more excited when he revealed that we would be heading up to  Hope Church in Memphis to a Third Day concert.  Because the date-night was a bit impromptu and time was quite limited, we opted to grab  a to-go “supper”  from our kitchen and head straight to Hope Church.  Who cares that the only “to-go friendly- food” we could find was a couple of bananas and some rice & bean chips???  We were going to a concert!!

Imagine our confusion when we pulled into the church parking lot and saw vast emptiness.  No. One. Was. There.  Not Third Day.  Not a ticket taker.  Not a fan.  Not a single soul.  After a few moments, we finally pulled out the tickets and closely examined them.  No worries!!  We had simply arrived early.  Very early.  A month early, actually.  The rest of the night was a comedy of errors – every restaurant that we selected happened to be closed, every turn we took was wrong, every contingency plan failed….  So what did we do?  We ran to the mall, picked up a shirt that we had ordered months ago, bought a new pair of sneakers for Vance,  wandered through the aisles at the Brookstone store (I wandered… Vance tried every single gadget in the store), headed back home, and went to bed at 9:30.

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Phase One of our contingency plan for our date: Find a new healthy restaurant to enjoy… After, 19 tries- and repeated failures, I finally snapped a picture. Yep, It was closed.

Phase Two:  Run to the mall to pick up shirt and purchase shoes.

Phase Two: Run to the mall to pick up a shirt and purchase shoes.

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Phase Two and a Half:  Brookstone... The pictures don't lie.  He was having a blast!

Phase Two and a Half: Brookstone… The pictures don’t lie. He was having a blast!

Our date night was certainly not what I expected.  It was not bad – just not what I expected.    And, that, my friends, is what the Lord is teaching me lately.  I. Am. Not. In. Control.  But, He is.  I can choose to question every single thing, OR I can choose to praise Him and serve Him – in every moment- especially the unplanned ones.

Our date night was an unexpected breath of fresh air.  But, those fresh breaths have been scarce lately.  The Lord has placed hurting people in our lives a lot lately- people with hurts so deep,  so unimaginable,  that we struggle to come to grips with the reality of their suffering.   Their pain and their struggles are sometimes so overwhelming that I almost feel that I am suffocating- choking.    Most of the situations are so tragic that I have not even been able to find the words to write or speak about them.  To add to the pain that we feel for the people we serve, we have had more than our share of personal pain lately.  It has been almost unbearable.  Hopeless.  Heart-breaking.  Hard.

Lately, I cringe when people ask how ministry is going because I just don’t feel like it gives God a lot of glory if I burst into tears and begin my testimony with, “This has been HORRIBLE!!!….”  Something about a weeping, snot-covered woman bellowing about tragedy and pain doesn’t inspire people to serve our Savior…  so, I choose a different approach.  Instead of falling apart, I have plastered on my fake “happy face”, choked back tears, and answered with vague responses like, “Whew, it has been busy!” or “There is always something, ha!”  When people ask about Love Works…  I’ve been a liar; but, I’ve totally been lying out of love for you, I promise.  (I’ll repent when I finish this post.  I pinkie-promise.)

Love is soooo not easy.  The work is easy, but the love is difficult – not for the reason you may think, though.  See, superficial love doesn’t really cost me anything.  A quick hug, a batch of freshly baked cookies, a sweet note – those things are easy- painless.  That’s not the love that has brought me to tears lately.  I’m talking about painful love.  Messy love.  Real love.  Radical love.  Love so deep that you willingly endure hurt for the good of someone else.  That’s what has been killing me.

Love hurts.  The love that put Jesus on the cross was real.  My Savior looked at me in my wretched state and loved me enough to die.  He knew every single thing about me – every lie, every malicious thought, every “secret”, every everything.  He knew me, really knew me, and still made the choice to love me in an unthinkable way.  He laid down His life.  Let me repeat:  HE laid down His life… because He loved.  What a gloriously happy ending for all the sinners like me!  Hope was born for us – out of HIS LOVE.   That is simply magnificent news!  Such amazing hope came for us… but, it came only after Jesus suffered on the cross to pay for our sins.  Painful love.

And, that, my friends is the second lesson that I have been learning.  Those sweet moments… those hope-filled moments… those moments when the presence of our Lord is so thick that you can feel it on your skin – those moments frequently come after a season of painful moments – of suffering.  And, when the sweetness arrives, all that pain; that hurt; that anguish; that fear – all the junk that seems to cripple us- disappears.  The pain is forgotten.  The hurt is gone.  The fear seems foolish.  And you breathe again.  You breathe hope.  You breathe love.  You praise Him for the pain. You look back and see His plan, notice how He was moving in the middle of the trials, recognize His grace as He lovingly refined you through the journey.   You remember your purpose.  You remember your Savior.

Indeed, lately those feel-good  happy-endings have seemed almost nonexistent, and suffering abounds.   Many days, I have felt like time is moving in slow motion while I watch a scary movie unfold before my eyes.  It is tragic.  Surreal.  Painful.  There have been lots of days here lately that I would have preferred to avoid it all and stay snuggled up in my bed.  I’d like to pretend that all the bad stuff doesn’t exist.  I’d like to take the “ostrich approach” and bury my head in the sand.  I’d like to focus on fun things like romantic movies, puppies, fuzzy slippers, sunshine, and cake.  But, I can’t.

I surrendered.  And, that surrender changed me- even in the moments when I want to un-surrender (is that even a word??)- I cannot will myself to turn back.  I am beginning to realize just how hard this whole “following Jesus” thing is.  Knowing all about Him is easy.  Loving Him becomes a bit more difficult.  Following Him in total surrender… is painful.  He keeps leading me to places filled with turmoil and pain and fear.  Places I could never find on my own.  Places filled with people who need love.  People who are desperate. As I stare into the faces of desperate people that I am called to love, often I see myself.  I see my own sin.  I see my depravity.  I see the amazing grace that was extended to me on the cross.  I see the love that Christ has for me.  I remember that His love for me cost Him.  I remember that He suffered.

Those thoughts move me.  They help me get back up.  They help me dry my tears.  They help me to love.

And that, my friends, brings us to the third thing I’ve learned lately.  It is pretty simple actually:  He wins.

I’ve read the book.  I know the ending.  He wins.  Better yet, because I am His, I win too!  Even if every single day serving Him on this earth is painful; even if I never again feel His presence or see His face; even if tears and tragedy mark every moment – Eternity in the presence of the Lord is worth it.

He wins.  He wins.  He wins.    Death has been defeated, and He wins.

Praise Him with me.  Serve Him with me.  Love Him with me.  Through His pain, we win too.

Put faith in action.  Don’t let fear cripple you.  Believe Him.  Love works.

Tacky Shoes and Wretched Feet.

I’ve been thinking about shoes a lot lately.  It seems really silly, but I simply cannot stop.  Neatly perched on the steps just outside of my back door, there sits a tiny pair of smelly brown shoes.  I see them every single day.  I have stepped over them for two months now, completely unable – perhaps unwilling- to move them.  The mere sight of them brings back precious memories of  a vivacious two-year-old little boy who captivated our hearts with his spunk and charming grin.  Those shoes, in all their ragged splendor, are precious to me.  I loved the owner of the little feet that used to cram into those brown shoes.  Quietly tucked away in another room in our home – perched neatly beside a dresser- is a pair of off-brand sneakers with two dirty socks crammed inside- shoes that Larry proudly wore home one evening after finding them at the Goodwill store.  Two pair of shoes.  Two people that have impacted my life.  Two reminders to love…. in spite of the condition of the shoes.

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Shoes are a big deal.  Seriously, think about it.  If you really ponder, it is pretty easy to connect major life experiences and memories with the shoes you were wearing.  Track with me.  I have some pretty fond memories of times I spent wearing the oh-so-slippery-and-profoundly-impractical-jelly shoes.  I can barely keep a goofy grin off my face when I think back to the times I spent shopping for shoes with my Granny when I was a little girl… She always navigated me to the “age appropriate” shoe aisle – while I did my best to drag her to the aisle where gaudy high heels were stacked from floor to ceiling.  How I longed to wear those hideous heels! Those heels were important to me.  In my mind, sporting a pair of high heels would signify that I was mature – a real woman of the world – and not a mere baby.

Indeed, most of my memories are closely connected to the shoes that I had on my feet.I have precious memories of tap shoes, softball cleats, high-top basketball shoes, oh-so-uncool band shoes, flip-flops, sneakers, dyed-to-match pageant shoes…  My choice of shoes changed with the seasons of my life, and eventually morphed into much more practical shoe selections.  Until recently, a quick scan of my closet would have pointed to sheer practicality.  The shelves were lined with a sensible selection a footware: black flats, black pumps, black heels, black boots; brown flats, brown pumps, brown heels, brown boots; neutral flats, neutral pumps, neutral heels, neutral boots.  A closer scan would reveal a pair of sneakers and some flip flops neatly tucked away.  Practical.  Sensible.  Reliable.

I have worn a lot of shoes.

This season of life has dictated some new footwear choices for me.  I rarely reach for any of those practical, sensible, reliable shoes.  In fact, for what I spend my days doing, those shoes seem almost ridiculous.  Odd, isn’t it?  A change in my situation made practical shoes suddenly become very impractical.

I was driving down the road the other day, completely lost in my thoughts… trying to figure out why I had become so plagued by “shoe thoughts”.

I began to recall all the ragged shoes I’ve seen lately.   I thought about the elderly woman who I see sitting in a ragged chair on the porch of her tiny apartment every afternoon.  I thought about her frail hands, her wrinkled face, her sad eyes, and her swollen feet… then I remembered her shoes.  Her tattered shoes – dirty pink slippers with worn soles.  I thought about the herds of small children who play in the small area between the apartments.  I thought about their mismatched clothing, their dirty faces, and their cheerful voices.  And I remembered their tiny bare feet… sweet little toes covered in dirt.  I remembered some of the younger women with their sassy shirts and spandex pants.  I remembered how they seemed to accessorize every outfit with a baby on their hips.  But, mostly, I remembered their shoes…inexpensive, seemingly impractical, oddly-out-of-place shoes.

I thought about how different my shoes were than theirs… how I’d like to offer them some of my shoes – some better, more-practical shoes.  Then,  I recognized that my shoes won’t work for everyone.  They won’t fit everyone.  I’d be foolish to try to cram my shoe onto every stranger I meet.  No matter how much I think I know about their feet… what seems logical and practical for my ten toes may not be logical or practical on another person’s foot.  This realization wrecked me.

I thought about all the things my sinful mind had been thinking. Within nanoseconds of meeting these women and children, I had begun formulating plans to fix them – to help them see how foolish their shoe choices were. Yep, with time, if they would just listen, I’d have them fixed…. and they’d all own much more sensible shoes.

That sick feeling welled up in my gut.  The shoe metaphor unfolded in my mind.

I saw myself.   I saw the self-righteous pride of my thoughts.  I saw my foolishness.  A sickening drama danced across my mind…. If I had lived during the time that Jesus walked the earth, I probably would have had tried to lecture Him about His sandals.  I mean, who wears sandals in large crowds??  He should realize that if He wears sandals, He is asking to get His toes smashed.  Sheesh, somebody should help Him.  Perhaps, I could talk to Him about some “more appropriate” shoe options.   I could help Him out.  Clearly, His shoe choice is a cry for help.  Sadly, I probably would have failed to notice that I, like John, am not even worthy to tie His sandals…. much less select better shoes.

I spent some time thinking about what Jesus really calls believers to do.  Nothing in His word tells me that I am called to be a shoe inspector.  Or a people inspector.  I’m not called to judge.  I’m not called to criticize.  I’m not called to condemn.  I’m not called to mock.  I’m not called to belittle.   I am called to do something much harder. Something that is often much more uncomfortable.  Something important.  Something meaningful.

I am called to love.  Love the elderly lady in the worn out slippers.  Love the barefoot children.  Love the young women, stilettos and all.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (NIV)

I don’t want to be a clanging cymbal, noisily pointing out the flaws of others.  I don’t want to serve others without actually loving them.  I don’t want to waste a single moment.  I don’t want to be so busy taking people to shop for new shoes that I forget to send them to the feet of the savior.

Forget beautiful shoes.  I want beautiful feet.

Lord, help me – help us all- choose to love.  Keep us mindful of the amazing grace that you have lavished upon us.  Humble us with memories of our jelly-shoe-wearing days and our foolish desires for hot pink high heels…. remind us that you loved and pursed us even when our feet were wretched. Give us your eyes for others so that we may see them as you do.  Open our ears so that we can truly listen… and only allow our mouths to open when our words will bring You glory.  Help us to be more concerned with the beauty of our feet than the fashion of our shoes.  Amen.

Matthew 25:40; James 1:22  Love actually works.