A Recent Conversation…

God, the problems in this world are SO big.
It’s hard to know what is true these days.
Did he really say that?
Did she really do that?
What is his motive?
What is her agenda?
Is there anyone I can actually trust?

Because even the people I love most have let me down.
And things I thought would never be have come to pass.
Other things I thought would be better by now have not changed.
Things in politics.
In race relations.
In Your Church here and around the world.
In my personal relationships.
In financial matters.

It is all – ALL – a mess.

And I – I swing between wanting to DO SOMETHING
And wanting to shut down completely.
Stand up and fight violently against all that is wrong
Or bury my head deep in the sand and hope it all works out

I am a MESS.

In a messy world
Filled with messy people
Messy relationships
And the pain that results from
messes running unchecked.

Political messes
Social messes
Familial messes
Financial messes
Relational messes

And God, I don’t know what to do.

I want to solve stuff.
Fix things.
Make the problems better.

I want to be salt and light like You said I should be.
I want to be an agent of change in this dark, dark world.

So how do I do that?
By yelling at the top of my lungs?
Arguing with those who disagree?
That doesn’t seem to be working for my friends who have tried it.
We are still in a huge mess.

So how do I do that?
By spouting Bible verses and feel-good “theology”?
Pithy sayings and cute memes?
That doesn’t seem to be working, either.

What would YOU have me do?
I’m listening, God.
What is it You want from me?
How do You want me to be salt and light
in the midst of the mess??”

And the Still, Small Voice whispered to my soul,
Do the next thing I have called you to do.
Simply obey.”

“Um, OK, Lord.
But obey what?
What is it You are calling me to do?
If I am honest, even that can be very confusing,
especially with these complex messes.
Should I march?
Move ahead?
Be still?
Start something new?
Join something old?
Declare sides?
Sit in silence?
Speak up?
Shut up?
What would YOU have me do???”

“All of My laws
and all of the messages from the prophets
are summed up in two commands, Beloved Girl.
Love Me with all Your heart, soul, mind and strength.
And then love the people I love.”

“That’s it?
Love You, and
Love people?
How can that be it?
Surely there is more to DO than that!”

“Beloved, when you choose to love Me first, I will provide all of your needs.
I will direct your steps.
I will open and shut doors before you.
I will walk with you and prompt you to speak or be silent.
I will make My way plain.
I’ve already revealed so much of it in My Word.
How you should live
How you should give
How you should forgive.

And if you will love Me first,
putting aside idols,
laying down yourself,
humbling yourself before Me,
choosing to obey, moment by moment,
what I have already shown you
in My Word,
I will exalt you.

Obedience equals love.

And if you will love Me first,
I will put you in the places you need to be,
in the conversations you need to have,
in the circumstances that will lead to ME fixing the messes
and using you to be My hands and feet.

And, child, if you will love Me first,
you will find it much easier to love people.

ALL the people.
The ones you agree with.
And the ones who make your blood boil.
The ones who love you.
And the ones who have hurt you.
And, even when your emotions are not there
and you do not FEEL love for them,
I will give you the strength to CHOOSE to love them.
To make love a verb, not an emotion.

So love Me first.
And then love who I love.
Which is everyone.

If you will do that, then I can use you to change the world.
My disciples did it.
12 men “turned the world upside down”
simply by loving Me first.
And then by loving the people I love.
Over and over and over again.”

“That seems too easy,

And also way too hard, God.”

“It is.
But that is why I AM the I AM.
I AM your provider.
I AM your strength.
I AM your protection.
I AM the Word – the written Word of God
and the words in your mouth as you speak in My name.
I AM all that you need for life and godliness.
I AM your healer.
I AM the God who fights for you.
I AM the lover of your soul.
I AM the resurrection and the life.
I AM the bread that feeds your soul.
I AM the living water that quenches your thirst.
I AM that I AM.”

Now go, in My strength,
not yours.
And change the world
by obeying.
Loving Me more than anyone and anything.
And together we will love them.
One mess at a time.”

$82 of Joy

What does $82 buy me?

Well, let’s see…
That is less than a week’s worth of groceries in my world.
It is 6 of my normal meals at Chipotle, my current favorite place to eat out.
It is about half of my lowest electric bill in the spring.
I have paid that for one great dress.

Of course, it doesn’t come close to paying my mortgage.
Or even my monthly car insurance premium.
Or my cable bill.

In some ways, it is a lot of money.
But in the grand scheme of my life, it is really nothing.
A very small percentage.
Because, as an American, I am ridiculously wealthy.
And you are, too.
We don’t feel like it when we look around here and compare ourselves with each other..
But compared to the rest of the world, we are incredibly rich. And ridiculously blessed.

It doesn’t buy a whole lot.
But a few weeks ago in Guatemala, it was an extraordinary amount of money.
It bought joy.

As most of you know, our church is in a community-to-community partnership with a ministry in Guatemala through an organization called Children’s Hope Chest.
The ministry, also known as a Care Point, is named Bethlehem and it serves hundreds of children by providing meals, tutoring, a school and some limited health care.
But it is also home to more than a dozen orphans.
And while my friend and I were on vacation in Guatemala, we wanted to bless our friends who live at Bethlehem.
So we went to Dominoes (yes, you read that correctly) and picked up about a dozen pizzas and a whole bunch of soda.
And we made their night! The announcement was made to the children: “You can start with two pieces of pizza and then have as much as you want after that.”

And we started doling out pizza.
There were three different kinds.
But you know what did NOT happen?
As we randomly handed pieces to the kids, no one complained that they had no choice in those first two pieces.
Instead, they were devoured with absolute joy.
And then the rest was devoured as well.

Because $82 worth of pizza is a BIG deal to these kids..
A special treat
A very occasional thing.
And a gift received with joy.

But no matter how much they enjoyed it, I enjoyed it even more.
Because $82 is really such a little bit in my world.
But being able to bless my friends with it was worth so much more.
During the pizza-fest, silly games were played.
Jokes were told.
And there was a whole lot of laughter.
Community building.
Joy sharing.
Love flowing.

Worth. Every. Penny.

Paul told the elders of the Ephesian church to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed [and brings greater joy] to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35, AMP)

And it is so true!

Could I have spent that $82 in some other way?
Of course I could!
But I am so glad I did not.

And here’s the thing.
That $82 is more than what it costs to sponsor a child through Children’s Hope Chest. In Guatemala. Or in any of 125 communities around the world.
It is only $45 a month to do that.
And, in some ways, that feels like a lot of money to us.
Yes, there is a lot you can get for $45.
But in reality, it doesn’t go very far here in the US.

However, around the world it buys so much! The picture varies from Care Point to Care Point, but with many common themes.
In those 125 communities that $45 probably provides meals.
But it may also provide tutoring.
A safe place to hang out.
A school.
A place to sleep.
Clean water.
Health care.
In every community, it provides  a chance to live a different life.
To move from surviving to thriving to succeeding.

But more than that, it provides opportunity.
The chance to provide physical needs that then opens the door to share the hope of heaven.
The Truth of our greatest need – a relationship with the God of the Universe.

So here’s my challenge to you:
Look at your budget.
I am guessing you don’t feel like you have an “extra” $45 to spend every month.
But I am wondering if you might be willing to give up $45 in “extras” in order to put food in the mouth of an orphan? To share the hope of heaven around the world?
That might mean giving up two Starbucks a week to provide for a month.
One night out at the movies for a family of four would do the same.
Or simply not buying snacks at that same movie!

Currently, SPC has 6 kids at Bethlehem who are unsponsored.
We would love to have you join us in blessing them.
You can go to www.spc.hopechest.org to see who still needs a sponsor and sign up right there.
But if you are not a part of SPC or you want to sponsor in a different Care Point in Guatemala or around the world, that is also an option. Go to http://www.hopechest.org to see the places that God is moving through them around the world.

Because there are hundreds – thousands – more kids around the world that could also use your help.
One child at a time.

Will it take effort and some (probably small) sacrifice on your part?
But it is worth it.
So very, very worth.
Because you get to provide so much more than $82 worth of joy.
So much more than one night of pizza and laughter.

You get to make an eternal impact in the life of a child.
Giving them the tools they need to grow. To thrive. To succeed.
So that they, in turn, can change their world.
One kid at a time.

On Tripping…

I joke that I have “the spiritual gift of tripping”.
I can literally fall over my own two feet quite easily.
Coordination and balance have always been issues for me, from day one.

But here’s the funny thing:
The more dangerous the terrain, the less likely I am to fall.

I proved that in Guatemala a couple weeks ago.
We walked over some very uneven ground in the course of our adventures.
Cobblestone streets in Antigua. (Thank you, Google, for the picture.)

A very, very old stone building with sloping floors that is now a souvenir market. Tiny cubbies packed with things to trip over, break or otherwise mess up. (Again, thanks Google for the photo!)

And then the tour of the coffee plantation on hilly ground, through the woods on wet leaves. (Thanks, Tashia, for the picture!)

Didn’t trip in any of those places on any of those things.

Because I was alert.
On guard.
And I used help when I knew I needed it.
The shoulders of friends on steep hills.
And simply being careful.
I also chose to not forge ahead on dangerous ground when I had the choice.
Like climbing over a wet, rocky path at a park.
I let the others who don’t have the spiritual gift of tripping forge ahead there while I safely enjoyed watching the waterfall. From where I sat on a bench.

Did I trip in Guatemala?
Oh, yes!

The first time, on very familiar ground.
Our hotel room had a threshold with a step up in front of it.
That I completely missed as I was going up it.
And the second time in a place that had absolutely nowhere near the amount of inherent dangers.

At a very modern mall, tripping up a ramp of all things!

Why those places?
Because I let my guard down.
I wasn’t paying attention.
I wasn’t careful.
And I paid the price.
Thankfully, both times the only thing wounded was my pride.

But in other places and at other times in the past, I have tripped because I wasn’t on guard and have paid a much higher price, damaging my foot and my knee in ways I still pay for to this day.

All of that reminds me of my mouth and my temper.

James, Jesus’ brother and one of the leaders of the first church, wrote these words to those of us who are Christ-followers:
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19)

Sometimes, I get that really right.
Often, I get that really wrong.

I can be very quick to NOT listen, and very quick to speak.
And, yes, very quick to get angry.

I love words.
And because of that, I can “zing” someone without giving it a second thought.

I can respond impulsively, out of emotion.
I can be quick to interrupt, quick to think I understand, quick to be formulating a response instead of really listening.
Often it is simply teasing that crosses a line.
Being thoughtless.
But it can be more than that – it is sometimes emotions coming out sideways.
And I can let them flare and then act on them in a heartbeat.

I trip.
Over my own words.
My own heart.
My own impulses.

When I let my guard down.
When I am tired.
When emotions are high.
When I allow me to be in charge of me.
When I am quick to speak and slow to listen.

I didn’t trip in so many places in Guatemala because I took it slow.
I asked for help.
And used the tools that were in place, like handrails.

I don’t trip over my own tongue and my own emotions when I slow down.
When I ask the Holy Spirit for help.
When I use the tools I have in place, like the knowledge of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit brings to mind.
And when I avoid places that I know are dangerous for me.

Because in relationships, it is so much more than my pride that is on the line.

I can do permanent damage to the other person.
And to the work of the Kingdom of God.

I will probably have the “gift of tripping” in this mortal body until God replaces it in heaven.
It is just part of who I am.

But because the Holy Spirit is at work in me, and because God has promised to complete the good work He began in me, I will hopefully outgrow tripping over my own tongue.
It won’t make God love me more when I finally get this one right more often than I get it wrong. It is impossible for Him to love me more because that is Who He is.  As Micheal Card sings, God “cannot love me more and will not love me less.”  But it will make me a better sister in Christ. A better friend.
And it will save all of us a bunch of bruises when we are each “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”.  Thank God He never stops working!

On Vacations, Heaven and Saying Goodbye…

I am on vacation this week.

This picture was taken Sunday in Guatemala.
Today I am in travel recovery mode, sitting on my couch, bundled up in sweats with two pairs of socks.

I got home from the airport in the wee hours of this morning.
Going from sunshine, breezes and 70 gorgeous degrees yesterday in Guatemala City to 32 frigid degrees with high winds here at home. And snow in the forecast for the weekend.

What a contrast!

I looked forward to this trip for months.
I x-ed boxes on a calendar, literally counting the days.
I did my best to save money to cover all the expenses.
And I made plans to get there, stay there and have a great time while I was there.

Not because of the pretty weather – that was just an added bonus.
As was the gorgeous scenery.
They were awesome.
But the truly great thing about this trip was the people.
And going deeper in relationship.
Laughing until we cried.
Sharing experiences.
Honing our communication skills.
As well as talking about future plans, hopes, dreams and current life circumstances.

Unfortunately, that part of my vacation is over.
Which makes me sad.
I have temporarily left those friends behind.
But that place and those friends will still be there, Lord willing, when I return again in July.

So today I will start a new countdown calendar, looking forward to that trip as well.

But all of this makes me think of another destination.
Not a vacation – but my eternal home.

I wish I would anticipate it as much as I did this vacation.
But it is hard.

Because Guatemala is becoming part of the known in my life.
I have been there before.
These are friends that I am visiting.
People that I can stay connected with via technology.
Even when I can’t hang out with them, we can still stay in touch.
And the sights of Guatemala are tangible.
They are things I can remember because I have experienced them.

But Heaven is way more difficult to wrap my head around.
It is so very unknown.
The Bible gives us peeks into it.
But it is hard to comprehend.

And because of that, I forget to anticipate it.
I forget to live with it in mind.
And I forget that it is far more real than any so-called reality here on earth.

Here is the thing:
I don’t have to understand everything about heaven to know that it is going to be amazing.
Completely and utterly good.
I know this because I know the One who is preparing a place for me.
He is the One who knows me best – and loves me anyway.
But He is also the One who created all the things that take my breath away in this world.

Stunning rainbows
Baby giggles
Majestic mountains
And starry night skies.

Powerful waterfalls
Crashing thunder
The tight hug of a dear friend.
Moose.  And chocolate mousse.

Crashing ocean waves
And the raindrops that chase other down my window pane.
Laughing with friends until tears run down my face.

ALL of these were His idea.
And all of them give me a glimpse into how creative He is.
But only a glimpse – because all of these wonders, as amazing as they are, have been tainted by sin.

I have never seen a perfect rainbow.
Heard an untainted laugh.
Seen an unpolluted world.

But the place He is preparing for me – for us — is perfect.
And all that is wonderful.
And right.

Not only that, the place He is preparing is already the home of people I love.
Those who have died in Christ before me.
And the heroes of the faith that I have studied for so long.

I can’t wait to talk to David about what it was like to face Goliath.
And to chat with Peter about walking on water.
To sit down with Ruth and talk about what it was like to be a foreigner living in Bethlehem.
And to hear Joseph’s tales of raising Jesus from baby to boy to man.

When I remember these things – the splendor of heaven, the fact that God is preparing a place especially for ME and the heroes who have gone before, I get very excited.
As the hymn says, “the things of earth grow strangely dim” as I allow heaven to eclipse my thoughts.
And the trials of this life fade into small, inconsequential things.

Trials like ending my vacation.
Coming home to snow.
And the responsibilities that define my “real” life.

Saying goodbye once more to dear friends.
And jumping back into the day-to-day.
The tiny inconveniences of life.

But when I keep heaven firmly on my mind, even the bigger trials become smaller.
The grieving of more permanent losses, like funerals.
The loss of health.
Or the loss of relationship with someone I love.

Even those heartbreaking things become much smaller, much more bearable, when I remember the eternal Truth of heaven.

Saying goodbye in the long term – or short – is not as hard.
Because either way, the goodbye for those of us who are Christ followers is temporary.
Dealing with loss, frustrations, my own sin and the sin of others becomes less difficult when I remember that those things are also temporary.

God is preparing a place for me, for you, for us – if you know Jesus as your Savior.
And because of that, the trials will be over sooner rather than later.
And we will have all of eternity to laugh, to talk, to love.

But even more than that, the trials of life become even tinier when I remember that I will be spending forever with my dearest friend, the God of the Universe who calls me His child.
He is The Light that makes this all “strangely dim”.

And I will spend all of eternity with Him.

I don’t know most the details of heaven.
Or the new earth He will create.
I don’t even understand all of the glimpses He gave us in His Word.

And I don’t know how many days I have between now and then.
I am solidly stuck between the now and the not yet.
So I can’t make a countdown calendar.
I can’t even begin to imagine what life will truly look like when real life begins.

But I can live with heaven in my thoughts.
Actively choosing to keep my eyes fixed on the unseen.
Which then keeps all of this life in perspective.

It is how I had the grace to say goodbye yesterday.
And how I have the strength to jump back into my life with all its responsibilities today.
And again tomorrow.
And the day after that.
And all the ones after that.
Until He calls me home to Himself.

Because heaven is real.
He is preparing a good place for us.
The goodbyes are temporary.
And this life is merely a swiftly passing shadow when I view it in light of eternity.

May that always be my perspective – and yours as well.

And may we have the grace to live fully, love boldly and celebrate joyfully because of it.

Singing A New Song

God repeated Himself over and over again last December.
He kept saying, “Kathy, I will put a new song in your mouth!”
That phrase is found several times in the Psalms – and everywhere I went, someone was quoting one of them. Or it was part of a sermon. A devotional minute on the radio. Or a song.
I kept hearing it, over and over again.

So I went into 2018 expecting great joy, great excitement, great newness, great something-or-other.
I assumed that is what God meant by “a new song”.

And what I bumped into for most of the year was not what I would call “great”. It turned out to be a year full of tough things in many ways.

My Dad had a stroke and then had to have emergency surgery.
A baby near and dear to my heart faced open heart surgery, shortly after battling pneumonia.
And a young friend, just 19 years old, was killed in a car accident.

That was just the “big” stuff.

Life was also full of the little things that are no fun. Those “little things” that add up to an enormous weight on the soul when they accumulate over time.
And prayers that seemed to be unanswered.

By the time August rolled around I was all done spiritually and emotionally.
And I told God, “That new song you gave me? It’s a song of suffering! Thanks a lot!”

But He is so good.
So kind.
And so right in all His ways.

All of that suffering was the tilling of the ground of my heart.
It needed to be broken up, broken open, and broken through.
So that when He was ready, He could plant new seeds.
Seeds that have, indeed, sprouted into a new song.

He used a friend, a book and the Holy Spirit to do plant those seeds.
And quite literally in the middle of the night this past fall I woke up with a huge Holy-Spirit-floodlight shining on my soul.
Like a brightly lit billboard dropped into my brain, He spelled out the lies I had been believing since my college days.
Lies about myself.
And lies about Him.
And mostly, lies about who I am in Him.

Over the next few weeks He ripped out those weeds, those lies I had never even realized I was believing. At the same time, He cultivated those seeds, replacing old thought patterns with new ones, replacing lies with Truth.
And He showed me who I am in Him.
And what He thinks of me.

As those seeds have sprouted and grown, He has given me a new song.
Not a song of suffering.
But a song of joy.

A song of forgiveness.
And fearlessness.
And the freedom to shine. To sparkle with reflected glory.
Not my own glory – but the light of His smile, His goodness, His grace, and His unfailing love for me.
I knew all of those things in my head before.
I spouted them many times in many venues to many people.
But He used the suffering in the first part of the year to take me deeper into Him in the second.
To expose places in my heart and mind that I didn’t realize existed.

To expose the enemy in his schemes.
To reveal the lies.
To replace them with Truth.
And to set me free in new ways.

So I have asked God to tell me His theme for me 2019.
And His reply?
Just one word:
And that is the theme of my song, my new song.

I don’t know what that looks like.
I know what I would love for it to mean in so many different areas of my life.
But the reality of how all the details play out is up to Him.

Because if I learned anything in 2018 it is that He is “not a tame lion” as CS Lewis said.
I cannot make Him behave according to my will.
But when I surrender to His will, even in the midst of pain, He displays His true character:
That He is good.
And everything He does is right.
I cannot understand His ways.
But I can completely trust His heart.
And that is truly something to celebrate.

My challenge to you:
Ask God to show you His theme for you for the year.
Trust Him to lead you.
Surrender whatever He is asking you to surrender.
And watch in amazement as He does His thing.

It probably won’t match your ideas, plans or will.
But it will be the very best thing for you.
Because He is good, and everything He does is right.

Even if the new song is a song of suffering.
“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5b
I hated many moments of 2018.
But in the end, I am grateful for each of them.
And I gladly anticipate all He will do in 2019.

Happy New Year, my friends!
May it be a great one for you as you walk with God;
may He reveal Himself to you in deeper and stronger ways this year.
And at the end of 2019 may we be singing together a deeper, newer, truer song of Who He is.