How to be a Missionary Anywhere

Today I have the pleasure of guest posting at Erica Mbasan’s blog. Erica is a missionary to Uganda and author (you can find her lovely books here) who I was blessed to meet online. She writes about her journey as a missionary and offers both insight and encouragement regarding Christian living.

How to be a Missionary Anywhere

Back in February, America experienced a tragedy in the form of another school shooting. Since then, we’ve had additional acts of violence to grieve. But on that particular day, as the media once again exploded with politically charged calls to action, I kept thinking about the 19-year-old who had destroyed other young lives and his troubling record.

I kept thinking, Lord, where were all the Christians in the young man’s life? Did no one reach out to him?

Read the rest here.

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Laundry in the Corner, Breadcrumbs on the Floor

There is laundry in the corner
There are breadcrumbs on my floor
And beneath my kitchen table
A sticky little mouth grins

There are bath toys in the bathtub
There are board books on my chair
And clinging to the couch
A diaper-clad bottom bounces

There are lessons in the learning
There are hand prints on my soul
And busily blessing his mama
A chubby pair of hands reaches “ppppp”

When God Slooooooooows You Down

IMG_0573If you’ve spoken to me recently, you probably know that we’re in the middle of a sleep crisis. My sweet baby boy, in spite of being a pretty easy kid in all other aspects, hasn’t slept through the night since day one. And believe you me, it’s not for lack of trying the many schools of thought that exist!

For the last month, about 5+ hours of my day have been tied up in getting and keeping this child asleep. (Note: this does not include the additional time spent nursing and begging him to eat some solids, any solids, please Lord hear this mama’s prayers.) As a result, my to do list has been a little stagnant and my home is looking decidedly lived-in. Right now, we’re staying very close to home as I try for the umpteenth time to establish a set-in-stone nap time, which will supposedly put an end to the nighttime nonsense. There’s an Indian saying, “children tie the mother’s feet,” (more on that in a minute) and I’d always resented the thought. In some arrogance born of premotherhood ignorance, I was sure that I’d do it differently. Yet, here I am, recklessly neglecting chores as my son naps because anything other than typing (in the next room, mind you) is likely to wake the little sleeper.

But the funny thing is, although it’s been frustrating, it’s also been really good. I’ve been strategically placing some Christian living books near the couch (because why would any kid want to enjoy the spacious, memory foam queen bed?) and cuing up Bible reading on my phone. When I curl up with David for a couple of hours (did I mention he doesn’t sleep by himself?), I get my quiet time with the Lord. I may even get to take up some other expedient reading. Midnight wakings become opportunity for prayer, assuming I’m conscious enough. Sometimes I get to nap a little with my son, which is also a huge blessing when we’re still doing 4-5 wakings at night.

But God is slowing me down. I mean, sloooooooowing me down. He has both reins in hand and is leaning against my donkey-stubborn nature, telling me through the pressure of motherly responsibility to find new ways to be still and know this: He is still sovereign and Almighty God. Selah. (Psalm 46:10)

Meditate on that. Soak it up. And in His infinite grace and goodness, provided I daily choose to abide in Him, I am serving Him no less than I ever have. He takes my VERY humble offerings (think diaper changes, people) and counts them as service rendered unto the least of these. The cup of water I get for David or the (fiftieth of the day) clean shirt I help him into is rendered service to Christ Himself (Matthew 25:34-40). If that’s at the forefront of my mind, how can I grow weary in well doing? When we are promised, “…for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9) how can I be discouraged?

We reap not only the temporal reward of the great joys amidst the difficulties of parenthood (Psalm 127:3), nor even just the eternal reward of the treasure God stores up for us in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20); we are promised that as we train up our children in the way they should go, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). By the grace of God, through faith, (Ephesians 2:8) little souls are being added to the kingdom of God. Wow.

Isaiah 40:11 says that our Good Shepherd gently leads those of us with young. Praise God. Ladies, I don’t know about you, but for me in the here-and-now, that is some good news. I feel lately that God wrote Psalm 23 for this season in my life; He’s making me lie down in green pastures (on the couch), leading me beside the still waters (or not-so-still during bath time), and my soul is being restored. I’ve about as much right to complain about that as the Israelites had to complain about gathering mana each morning. (Exodus 16)

Getting back to that quote about children tying up mothers (or something like that)… I think I recall reading it in A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot, although it originally came from a book called Gold Cord by Amy Carmichael. Ms. Carmichael was a 19th century missionary to India who cared for hundreds of children during her lifetime. She wrote the following as she gave up her traveling ministry to care for little ones:

Children tie the mother’s feet, the Tamils say… We knew we could not be too careful of our children’s earliest years. So we let our feet be tied for the love of Him whose feet were pierced.”

At present, my life is relatively simple; help one little boy and one good man to live healthy, happy, holy lives. This is what Christ has trusted me with for now. I can only assume that things will only get more complex as we continue to grow our family. But whether I’m given one talent or five, I know that I long to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant…enter in to the joy of the Lord.” (Matthew 25:23) My heart is the determining factor in that:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

However mundane or chaotic your day, take heart: we are serving the Lord Christ. (And incidentally, an early happy Mother’s Day to you.)

Update/afterthought: This post was written over several nap times (mostly on my phone) and edited whilst my dear husband took over bedtime one night. Sleeping is going much better thanks to the prayers of many kind mama friends who know that the struggle is real. But all this to say, if I ever write like I have my life together, remind me that it takes me two weeks to write a few hundred words and that I have a bruise on my leg from that time I was trying to fill out an application and my kid bit me. Then we’ll have a good laugh about ridiculous life circumstances and get back to our (heavenly) business of discipling tiny humans and being discipled ourselves. 🙂

Why Abstinence Matters

“We’re engaged, which means we’re already committed like we’re married.”
“We’d better live together first to make sure we’re compatible enough for marriage. Everyone else is, anyway.”
“I don’t want our first time to be on our wedding night – how awkward would that be?”
“We’re only a couple weeks out from our wedding. It doesn’t matter.”

Coming into my teen years in a Christian, homeschool community, I sat through many a lecture/sermon on abstinence. The topic was covered from a variety of angles on Sunday morning, at the homeschool convention, during youth group, throughout young women’s retreats, and in its fair share of Christian books for teens. I wore my purity ring, kissed dating goodbye, and got all relevant information on men from the most reliable source on the market, For Young Women Only. I abhorred the passion and embraced the purity. My love was true, so darn it all, it was going to wait. And yet (dare I say?), by the time I was getting ready to say “I do”, I could understand why the justifications offered above can suck people in.

Maybe I just missed it as a teen, but as I recall, rarely did any of the resources on “sexual purity” get to the heart of why Scriptural living is paramount. Why it’s worth it to resist the Devil and zealously pursue righteous living. As I found out, sooner or later, even the most sheltered youth come to realize the world is pointing and laughing at our so-called uptight morals and narrow-mindedness. They tell us that we’re missing opportunities to explore and experiment. And folks, I’m here to tell you, Satan is a very convincing liar.

It isn’t enough to teach that sin is only fun for a season. It’s a lie to say it isn’t fun at all – and if you tell that lie, it will make for distrust that goes beyond this single topic. It isn’t enough to lay out natural, physical consequences for disregarding God’s rules for sex. Sure, you could get pregnant or contract an STD or your parents/church/community could find out and disown you. But none of that is the point.

There’s only one consequence worth teaching about and we can be sure of its happening 100% of the time, as the result of any sin. When we disobey God’s law, we damage our relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.

When you live outside of biblical boundaries, you not only grieve the Holy Spirit indwelling you, (Ephesians 4:17-32) but you render your prayer life ineffective. Yes, sin does that! (Psalm 66:16-19) And the worst part is, the sweet, thrilling fellowship we enjoy with Christ cannot be as it was intended. 1 John 1:5-7 reads as follows:

This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

The passage has both the bad news and the good news. You can’t walk in darkness and fellowship with God. But the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and so we need not walk in darkness any more.

It takes courage to say no – especially to someone you love. It takes courage to treat sex as a holy part of marriage, rather than the casual, physical pleasure the world presents it as. But Christ calls and equips Christians to live differently.

As a married woman, I’ve got news for you: nothing is as crippling to your relationship with your spouse as having a half-hearted relationship with Christ. Whether you’re making plans to walk down the aisle a few weeks from now or you’ve only been on a few dates, let your love be God-honoring so that whatever comes of it, you have drawn closer to the Lord as the result of having been in the company of one another.

I write this because my heart is for other Christians (other young Christians, especially) to know God personally and deeply. And I am so tired of seeing Satan ruin lives under the guise of romance, using Christians to do his dirty work, laming other Christians so that they cannot run the race set before them. (Hebrews 12:1) But God promises to chastise us, “that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:13)

Don’t buy into the lie that because your sin is already forgiven it doesn’t affect your walk with God. Repent. Draw near to Him and experience His tender mercy and lovingkindness and sin no more.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Why the Church Will Never Reach “Young People”

Not too long ago (but pre-baby), my husband and I enjoyed the pleasure of a late Christmas party with a group of Christian friends. Over the course of the evening, we got to talking with a woman active in youth ministry at her church. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but at some point in the conversation she asked something like, “So, how do we attract young people – you know, people your age that aren’t in high school but don’t really fit in with the adults – to the Church?”

The interesting thing is, this wasn’t the first or even the second time we’ve been asked this. My husband and I joke that we’re serving as ambassadors for the 20-something population in Christian circles, because in a variety of places, there aren’t that many of us in church on Sunday morning. As a result of the recurring question, we’ve thought a bit on the topic and came up one primary reason that the Church will never reach Young People.

The Church cannot reach Young People.

The Church was never meant to cater to a specific demographic. Christ didn’t become a  Baby Boomer, hippy, goth, “crunchy” parent, or millennial so that He could save any of those respective “tribes.” He “…[the Word] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, emphasis mine) That’s the gospel message, which is “the power of God unto salvation…” (Romans 1:16) and that is the only way to meaningfully reach people.

We can only hope to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 1:24) by living out the gospel, preaching the gospel from Scriptures (Romans 10:17), and as Epaphras, by laboring in prayer (Colossians 4:12). Changing your worship style or hosting a “college and career” group does not ultimately get people through the doors or keep them there. God calls individuals to Himself, so the only way to get more people (young or otherwise) in your church is to get more God in your church. To center the happenings in the congregation around any particular group is foolhardy, because the Church is meant to be Christ-centered. Anything less is just that – horribly, insufficiently less.

Having said all of that, I’d also like to underscore the fact that millennials are not a special interest group and shouldn’t be treated as such. Heck, you might even consider that we’re adults and ought to be pulling our weight in the church and otherwise. (I say this tongue-in-cheek, speaking as much to my generation as to those outside of it.) I wince when I see articles written by millennials for millennials, complaining about the state of the Church. Ladies and gentlemen, you are the Church as much as any other set of believers. If there’s fault to be found, you’re part of it; if there’s a solution to be had, you’re part of that, too.

And I’d also like to briefly put forth a couple of generational-gap-bridging thoughts, because the fact that we’ve got so much discussion on the topic says to me that there is some kind of a problem…

The Church cannot reach Young People (see above). However, Bill – a personable 60-something, married for many years with kids and his own business, but willing to invest in others in spite of his busy life – can reach out to Matt, a married 20-something new father that has visited church a few times. And as a couple with a little bit of purposefulness, Bill and his wife can form a friendship with Matt and his wife that results in godly influence and fellowship on a personal level. Bill doesn’t try to create false intimacy in a truncated timeframe (subject for another post). He doesn’t try to mentor (or worse, parent) this couple that he’s just met. He and his wife allow a friendship to form naturally, and make themselves available to do life together as fellow-adults who have been where we are. And this relationship goes both ways – both generations have to work at it.

Also, the Church cannot reach Young People (see further above). But those in leadership can view “young people” (starting in high school, really, depending on the high schooler and the responsibility) as just as much of a resource to be drawn on as other groups. They are a resource for deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, chair-stackers, and floor sweepers in so much as they fit the Biblical criteria for these types of service (1 Timothy 3). I’d like to stress that throwing immature Christians into ministry is a recipe for disaster, but being mature in the faith doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your age, as per 1 Timothy 4:12. Each member of the church ought to be working along side another, building each other up in the faith. (Jude 1:20)

I recently rediscovered this quote, which I love…

But you will never help young people if you do not love them. I do so long that God’s people will be more human, have more heart—cleansed heart, with Christ in it—you can do anything with people you love and who love you. This is not natural love, because it loves the ugly and the unpleasant. It is the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts” that is needed. We are too occupied with our own spiritual growth and progress. Oh God, let us die to ourselves! Lord, come thou and live in us, so that thy life can flow out to others through us! ~ Jessie Penn-Lewis

Let more of Him and less of ourselves be our prayer.

Anxiety in Light of Christ

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my struggle with anxiety and/or depression on this blog before.  The depression has launched a couple of major campaigns against my sanity in both high school and college, and we’ve had several skirmishes in between. Anxiety has been my constant companion since earlier on, I just didn’t have a word for it until a couple of years ago.
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Part 2: When God Plans Your Delivery

David William came to join us on January 31st – a full five and a half weeks early. Needless to say, once again, we found ourselves living a different plan from our own. And in each circumstance, God provided.

A few weeks before David’s birth, I began to experience an insane amount of itching. As if I had been rolling in poison ivy. But pregnancy had come with a lot of uncomfortable weirdness so far, so I didn’t think much of it (aside from “I want to tear off my skin”). I wasn’t going to even mention it to the midwife, but a couple of hours before a routine appointment I googled my symptoms on a whim. Cue mild panic.

Later that day, the general pleasantries between the midwife and I turned into a concerned conversation. Blood work was ordered, and within two days I was diagnosed with a liver condition called intraheptic choleostasis of pregnancy (ICP). If you’d like to read extensively about the condition, I encourage you to do so here. But for the shorter version, ICP affects 1-2 in 1,000 pregnancies. It’s not terribly dangerous for the mother, but it can be harmful to the infant in a number of ways. Since it only lasts as long as the pregnancy and increases risk of stillbirth after 37 weeks gestation, it’s typically treated by inducing early labor.

The midwife explained all of this over the phone, and that she’d like to talk about inducing labor at 36 weeks – I was 33w 6d at the time. She also told me to schedule an appointment for that Monday to come up with a game plan and retest my blood. Dutifully, I made and attended the appointment, with a different midwife than the one who had been working with me so far. This new midwife brushed aside all concerns, and told me that there would likely be no need for an induction. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with her blasé attitude (this is my child’s life we’re discussing) and more than a little confused and upset. My husband and I made a plan to call the office first thing the following morning to speak with the original midwife.

Fast-forward a few hours, my husband and I attend our evening childbirth class and learn all about pain management and breathing techniques. We walk downstairs together, and I tell him that I’m planning to stop at Wendy’s on the way home to grab a late night snack. We hop in our separate cars and head homeward. As I exited the Wendy’s drive through, my water broke. Events proceeded as follows:

10:35p – Husband receives phone call requesting that he not go to bed yet; I am 60-70% certain my water has broken.
10:50p – I arrive at home and we decide my water is most certainly broken. But no contractions yet (as far as I’m aware).
11:00p – Call midwife; I am told to come in so we can figure out what’s going on, but I’m probably not in labor.
11:01p – Since I’m “not in labor,” I tell my husband I’d like to take a shower and have a snack before we go in. (He declines the bedtime story request.)
12:00a – Arrive at hospital, fill out copious amounts of paperwork. Do lots of waiting. Find out that I am having mild contractions, according to the belt monitor, but they’re really irregular.
2:00a – Midwife finally checks me out; I am definitely not in labor or going to have the baby tonight since I’m not dilated at all.
2:10a – I am moved out of triage into a delivery room because that’s the only place they have space to put me.
2:20a – Definitely having contractions now that I need to breathe through.
3:20a – HOLY COW, I AM HAVING CONTRACTIONS. I CANNOT DO THIS FOR HOURS. NO WAY.
3:30a – Midwife returns; apparently I’m fully dilated and it’s time to start pushing.
3:40a – There’s suddenly a lot of activity at the end of the bed. Baby needs to come now because he’s not tolerating the labor well.
3:52a – Oh, hey there kiddo.

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David spent two and a half weeks in the NICU as a result of preemie status + vomiting green goop on day 4 of life (which scared the begeebers out of everyone and led to transfer to a bigger hospital than where I delivered… but that’s a long story). There, we met some amazing medical providers and tremendously encouraging NICU parents. Although it isn’t what I would have chosen, it actually ended up being an amazing blessing to have so many people helping me learn how to care for an infant in those first weeks. Also, Ronald McDonald House was a HUGE blessing, providing a quiet place for us to step away from the bedside, as well as grab meals. The hospital also had a meals program for me as a breastfeeding mom, and their financial aid program covered all of David’s medical bills. God. Is. Good.

We’ve all been home for 5ish weeks now. David is already 8lbs and 13oz and counting – which is great especially considering he had dropped from 5lbs 9oz to 4lbs 11oz his first week. As everyone keeps telling me it will, the time is flying by. He’s already outgrowing newborn clothing. He’s making messes everywhere and stealing our hearts. And as I wake (many times) in the middle of the night to meet my son’s needs, God is still good. God’s teaching me patience, generally refining me, and also reminding me how great my husband is. God’s seen fit to place a number of fantastic people in our lives that have blessed us in countless ways. To say I’m humbled by His provision for us is a bit of an understatement. So I’ll just finish by repeating, God is good.

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