On Homesickness and Living Hope…

I have never in my life been this displaced.
I have moved out of my house completely and it is sold.
I am living temporarily in a beautiful basement apartment provided by friends.
And eventually I will move back to my apartment on campus at the school where I teach in Guatemala.

But I don’t know when.
I have tentative plans of returning in a few weeks.
I am hopeful that the airport will be open.
But I don’t know for sure.

So I am living between worlds.
Trying to enjoy all that the U.S. offers that Guatemala does not – like people I love here, foods I can’t get there, and the differences in the scenery.
All the while looking forward to what awaits me there – people I love there, the ministry God has called me to, different foods, scenery and weather.

But really, I am living between three worlds, not just two.
Because the U.S. is not perfect.
And neither is Guatemala.
Both are wracked with pain from the results of sin.
Some of the pains are very similar because, after all, people are people.
Others are strikingly different.
But both places, both cultures, both sets of issues make me cry out, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”
And “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

My heart longs for my real home, where I can see Jesus face to face.
When I can touch the scars in his hands and kiss them in eternal gratitude.
When I can see the Father’s glory and fall on my face before Him.
When I can fellowship with the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, in person.
When I can sit down and talk with David about Goliath, with Joseph about his life in Egypt, with Peter about what it feels like to walk on water and with Mary about what Jesus was like as a kid.
When, as one of my favorite authors would say, all my question marks will be yanked into exclamation points.

I long for that home.
More than I miss Guatemala when I am in the U.S.
And more than I miss the U.S. when I am in Guatemala.

I long for the day when I get to worship with people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
When I get to see loved ones who have gone before.
Where my body will no longer wrestle with sickness and disease.
And my soul will no longer wrestle with sin.

Keeping my eye on that home, my heavenly destination, is how I deal with all the ick of this one.
It is easy to fall into despair in these times.
So easy.
And yet, Christ-followers have hope!
Eternal hope
Living hope
Life-altering hope.

This life is NOT all there is.
Yes, we have work to do here until God calls us home.
Yes, we will deal with pain and suffering here for as many years as He has determined for each of us.
Yes, we have to live with the effects of sin. And they are ugly. Deadly. Horrific.

But C.S. Lewis said that this life is the title page of the book.
The title page!
It is just the introduction to real life, eternal life, sinless life.
And sooner than we might think, the hand of God will turn the page.
And the real story will begin.
The story of eternal joy
Eternal celebration
Eternal fulfillment
Eternal peace.

To my fellow Christ-followers – can I stand on my soapbox just for you for a moment?
Yes, for you personally.
Pretend we’re having coffee.
And listen to me, please, I beg you:

We have the message of HOPE!
We have the message of eternal life!
Because every single person you meet – ALL OF THEM – are headed to one of two places: heaven or hell.
And YOU have the life-giving answer – the knowledge of the way that they can be guaranteed access to heaven!
So instead of using your energy to fight about politics or masks or elections or race or anything else, what if you used all your creative energy to share the hope of Jesus?
To woo and win souls for Christ?
To simply be a witness of what He has done in YOUR life?
To love people until they ask you why.
To shine. To be kind. To forgive. To live the power of the cross, which is forgiveness, and the power of the empty tomb, which is hope.

I am homesick, yes.
Longing for a home I have never seen.
But my dearest friend is there, not only waiting for me, but preparing it for me.
And it is going to be glorious!

But I am also heartsick.
The enemy is winning souls for hell left, right, and center.
He is shutting down Christ-followers by distracting them with a thousand other things.
And he is feeding the hopelessness and despair in the people who don’t know Jesus, convincing them that life is not worth living and that there is no answer.
According to a report on the radio this week, calls to suicide hotlines have increased 800% in the past few months.
People are silently screaming at the top of their lungs for hope.
They are starving for the Bread of Heaven and dying of thirst for a drink of Living Water.
We, those who follow Jesus, have the answer!
We have living hope to share!

That hope is not a feeling.
It’s not even man-made solutions to issues.
It is a relationship with the Living Lord.
The One who gives us what we need to face each day.
The Author if all wisdom, who gives it freely when we ask.
The Shepherd who guides us step by step as we walk with Him.
The One who gives us the power to keep looking ahead.
The One who is passionately for us, who longs for us to long for Him.

Are you, Christ-follower, homesick for heaven?
Let that drive you.
Let it be the passion that causes you to take as many people with you as you possibly can.
God left the job of telling them with you.
He’ll give you all you need to get the job done.
You just have to be willing to open your mouth and spread hope.
Will you? Please?

Who Is He?

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Charles Swindoll

What does come to mind when you think about God?

Maybe you see the angry judge, seated behind the imposing courtroom bench, scowling down at you, the guilty party, gavel in hand, ready to bring it crashing down with a death sentence.

Maybe you see the soft-hearted, arms-open version of God with the word “Tolerance” on His lips and many paths – or all paths – leading to Him.

Perhaps you see the dozing, ancient man in a rocking chair with his watchmaker’s tools at His side, covered in cobwebs since He set it all in motion long ago but no longer is concerned.

Or do you see the frantic God, sitting at a switchboard in heaven, panicking over the calls coming in, unable to meet the demand of billions of people praying at the same time?

Perhaps you see Him with some biblical accuracy – but then you see yourself, off to the side, rejected and unable to join in the fellowship happening around His throne.

Maybe you see Him as a God with split personalities, angry and violent in the Old Testament and yet soft and squishy in the New.

There are so, so many misconceptions out there about Who God is.
What He wants from us.
What it means to belong to Him.

Partly because He is unfathomable in many ways.
A mystery beyond our understanding.
He even says that about Himself!
He declared through Isaiah, ““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

But even as He is shrouded in mystery in many ways, He is also able to be very, very known.

He reminds me of the ocean.
If I stand on the shore and look at the crashing waves, I can see many attributes of the ocean.
I can feel the power.
Taste the saltiness on my lips.
I can see the splendor of the colors, the waves, the beauty of it all.
I can see just of few of the creatures who make their home there – or at least evidence of them.
But for all I can see and experience, there is more.
Depths I cannot explore.
Creatures I cannot even begin to imagine.
Underwater features that would amaze me.

But for me to understand those things personally, it would take time.
Equipment.
And investment.

I can know them through the lenses of others who have done the exploring, the studying, the investigation.
But I will never know it for myself unless I do it personally.
I can get to know the depths of the ocean vicariously.
But that isn’t the same as me exploring it for myself.

God is vast, powerful, creative, and yes, even terrifying.
He is beyond my comprehension.
And yet He invites me to dive in.
To take the time to know Him as He is.
As He is revealed in His love letter to me, His Word, the Bible.
It takes time.
And investment.
And even the equipping of the Holy Spirit.

But it is so, so worth it to know Him as He is and not who I think He is.
To begin to examine the facets of His character.
To start to explore the depths of the Truth about Him.
To live in the tension of not fully understanding and yet falling in love a little bit more with every bit that He reveals.

Seeing Him as He is:
The God who loves justice. Is furious with sin. Is completely and utterly holy. And who punishes sin with death.
And the God who loves mercy. Is passionate about sinners. Longs for a relationship that does not violate His holiness and yet allows us entrance to His presence. Who punished sin with the death of His only Son so that I could stand before Him without fear.

The God who does things and allows things that I do not understand and never will on this side of eternity.
And the God who is completely and utterly good, right in all He does, without flaw.

The God who chose to not make us robots so that we would willingly enter into relationship with Him.
And the God who bears the thousands of ways we reject Him every day and still waits for us with open arms.

The God who allows suffering because we are not robots.
And yet promises to redeem even the worst things in our lives for our good and His glory.

This is the God of the Bible.
All this and so much more.

So yes, I agree with Mr. Swindoll.
My perception of God is the most important thing about me.
Do I know Him as He truly is?
Or as I want Him to be?

Do I seek to know Him in Truth?
Or do I conveniently re-create Him in my image?

Do I let Him be the guide of my life, the rule-maker, the Sovereign King?
Or do I simply pay Him lip service while I do my own thing?

Do I see Him as a loving Dad, passionate about me, fighting for me, loving me too much to let me stay the way I am?
Or do I see Him in some other negative way?

Do I flinch when I think about seeing Him face to face sooner rather than later?
Or do I look forward to that day with deep joy and anticipation?

I challenge you.
I challenge me.

Get to know God as He is.
Ask Him to show You Himself through His Word.
Do your best to look with fresh eyes and a refreshed heart.
Put aside your preconceived notions.
What others have said about Him.
What YOU have always said about Him.
And seek Him for Who He is.

If you aren’t sure where to start, I have some suggestions.
Read (or reread) the book of John, looking for His character, looking to know Him.
Then check out Romans, too.
Perhaps the last few chapter of Job for good measure.
And the last few chapters of Revelation as well.

I dare you to do it.
You will be so glad you did.

On Being Content…

I have been thinking about contentment lately.
Partly because my 50th birthday is days away.
But mostly because I am stuck here in the U.S., unable to get back into Guatemala.
The borders are closed due to COVID-19.
And it is very uncertain when they will open again.

So I am not where I want to be, at least physically.

But I have wrestled with contentment my whole life – and particularly through my late 20’s and all the way into my early 40’s.
As my friends got married one by one.
And then started having babies.
And did “real life” – or, at least, what I had assumed my life would look like. Or “should” be.

But life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
No husband.
No kids.
But a whole lot of wrestling with God.
And a whole lot of ministry that would not have happened if I had been given the ministry of my own family to care for and children to raise.

In all of that, I have learned a few things about contentment along the way. Here are the lessons that I am applying even today, as the birthday looms and the borders stay closed:

Lesson One: Biblical contentment is not the absence of desire. It is the submission of my desires to the will of God.
We were wired by God to want certain things. To have desires. That is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. And those desires are not wrong in and of themselves. Of course, I am not talking about temptation and desires that are sinful. But good things – a spouse, children, relationships with people, places and experiences, even the desire for dessert – these are not inherently wrong. It is OK to want what you want.

But what do you do when God doesn’t give you what you want? (Or what you think you want.)
That is where contentment comes in to play.

Paul said it this way in his letter to the church at Philippi:
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

I am sure that when Paul was hungry, he desired food.
But when that food was not available, he surrendered himself to God.
He didn’t let the desire keep him from trusting that God loved him. Was in control. Was able.
He LEAREND contentment.
Submitting himself, his circumstances and his desires to the will of God.

He talks about his desires again in his letter to the church at Corinth. He explains to them that he begged God three times to remove “a thorn in the flesh”. He doesn’t name the thorn, but most biblical scholars think it had to do with his failing eyesight. In several of his letters he alludes to issues with his vision and attributes the physical act of writing them to a scribe.
Did Paul know that God could heal him? (Or grant him the request to remove the “thorn”, whatever it was?

Yes, of course!
This is the same man who wrote to the church at Ephesus that God is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all we can ask or think”! Paul believed in the power of God. He saw God use him to heal people and to utter prophecies that came true. Paul even was able to shake off a deadly snake that was biting his hand without harm.

Yes, Paul knew and had experienced God’s power.
It is why he asked for the removal of the thorn in the first place!
But when God said, “No” each time, Paul accepted it.
He submitted his desires to the will of God.
And he even declared that this “failure” on God’s part was a blessing – that in Paul’s weakness, God could show himself to be strong.

Contentment isn’t a feeling. It is the active surrender of my desires to the will of God.

Lesson Two: Choose to be aggressively, unstoppably and determinedly thankful for what you DO have.

I long to be back in Guatemala. School starts next week, and while we are doing online school for the foreseeable future, I still long to be in country where I could help my kids one-on-one in person when they need it. Where my resources are easily accessible. And mostly, to be in the place God called me.
It is a strong desire. One that I have to submit daily to the will of God.
I am praying that He allows me back in country sooner rather than later.
(Specifically, I am praying for it to be by September 15.)

But until He opens that door, I WILL praise Him in the hallway.
I WILL be thankful for what He has done.
I WILL be thankful that I have friendships in Guatemala that make my heart long to be there. That I have people to miss. That I have a fulfilling job calling me back there.

And I WILL be thankful for the extra time with the people I love here in the U.S.
For access to different food choices.
For the ability to speak fluently to store clerks.
For God’s provision that I have seen over and over and over again.

It is the thankfulness that keeps the bitterness at bay.
It is the thankfulness that re-centers my heart on faith rather than my feelings.
It is thankfulness for my circumstances that leads to praise.
Which is…

Lesson Three: Praise God, no matter what.

Thankfulness is about specific blessings He has given.
But praise is about His character.
His heart.
Who He is.
Not just what He has done.

None of us want to be loved exclusively for what we have done.
We want to be loved for who we are.
And that is also true of God.
There are times when I cannot trace His hand.
I cannot see what He is doing.
And I do not understand His ways.

But even when He befuddles me, I can remember His character.
His grace.
That His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3)
That there has never been a God like Him, who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)
That this life is so very short and eternity is so very long. And when this life is done, I will be with Him forever, every desire met in who He is. Every longing fulfilled by His presence. Every mystery will either be explained, or it will not matter anymore.

Satan desperately wants us to forget the goodness of God.
He wants us to question God’s love.
And His integrity.
He wants us to stack up our perceived evidence of God’s faithlessness to us because we have desires God has not fulfilled.

It was the lie in the Garden of Eden that tripped up Eve.
And it is the lie that takes us down today: “God is not good. He doesn’t know what He is doing. He is holding out on you and you cannot trust Him.”

Praise is the antidote to the lie.
Because when I fix my eyes on Him, my Abba Father, the God who rescued me from sin and rescues me from myself, chains are broken.
Lies are silenced.
And my heart is lifted.
It is easier to trust.
It is easier to hear His still, small voice.
It is easier to confidently rest in His goodness – in the TRUTH that God is good and everything He does is right.
That He is God and I am not.
And that I can yield my desires to His perfect Father heart.

There have been many times that kids I love have asked me for things that they really, really want.
And I have said “No” for their own good.
Because I had a bigger picture in mind than they could see.
I have allowed children I love to suffer.
At the hands of doctors.
At the hands of school officials.
And even at my own hand.

I have given failing grades.
Kept kids in from recess.
Not allowed them to eat any more.
Told them they had to wait.
Not allowed that field trip, that party, that event.
Because I love them.
And because I know that their desires are not always in their best interest.

So I face birthday number 50 and the fact that I don’t know when I will get back to Guatemala the same way.
I surrender my desires to His will.
I choose thankfulness.
And I choose praise.

My Daddy in heaven has said “No” to many of my desires.
But I can see in so many cases where that “No” was for the best.
And where I can’t see that, I have learned to trust Him.
To wait for Him.
To keep seeking His heart even when I long for His hand to move.

Because He is good. And everything He does is right.

Posture

Lord,
You know my heart.
And You know all the chaos of my world right now.

Nothing is “normal”
And it may never be “normal” again
Because even when life is in a pattern –
which becomes our “normal” –
it gets shattered.

A phone call
A test result
A financial bump in the road
A repair
An argument
A weight gain
A visit to the doctor

And “normal” ceases to exist.

But Lord,
This abnormal normal has been going on for months
And there appears to be no end in sight
We are all stumbling from report to report,
Recommendation to recommendation
And, yes, from argument to argument

And these uncertain times bring forth other uncertainties
For me, they involve travel and borders and being stuck between two worlds

For others it is economics
Or health
Or prolonged time with people they don’t really like any more
Or politics
The emotional climate of our nation
The spiritual climate of our nation
Lack of hope
Death of compassion
Famine of love for others

Chaos, Lord
It feels like chaos
Because in so, so many ways it is!

What is true?
How do you know?
Who do you listen to?
What should I be very concerned about?
What can I let go?
How can I manage better?
Who should I be managing?
What should I be managing?
Where do I find answers?
What timeline should I expect?
How is this going to work out?

And suddenly this Truth looms:
While there are definitely storms out there,
and I am surrounded by the wind and the waves of the unknown,
I AM (often) MAKING THEM WORSE.

The more the wind howls, the more I try to control it.
The higher the waves crest, the more I seek ways to manage.
The fiercer the storm, the tighter my grip.

And when I do that, the storm in me strengthens and outstrips the storm of my circumstances.

———-

Open hands, Lord.
That is what is required in the storm.
Open hands.
Lifted arms.
Upraised face.

Everything in me wants to do the opposite.
Grip.
Huddle.
Drop down.
Curl in.
Hold tight.
Head tucked.
Eyes squeezed shut.

Managing.
Controlling.
Holding on.

Manage my emotions.
Manage my finances.
Manage events.
Even manage my people.

But that was never, ever what You called me to do.
That is the equivalent of the Captain of a mighty ship asking a toddler to take over the helm.
The Parent asking the preschooler to manage bill pay and the budget for the family.
The Coach letting his kindergartner call the plays of the biggest game of the season.
Laughable.
And unnecessary.

I am the child.
You are my Dad.
You, the King of the Universe, are my Father.
You, the Sovereign Ruler of all things, call me Beloved.
Daughter.
Princess.

All You have ever asked me to do is to trust You.
In the storms
In the calm.
And everywhere in between.

Lift my face.
Lift my arms.
Hold ALL of my life with open hands.
Every detail.
Every circumstance.
Every relationship.
Held up to You, without a grip.

And as I stand tall, it is a posture of praise.
With all I have.
And all I am.
To praise You in it all.

Key word:
ALL.
All of it in Your hands.
All of me singing Your praise.

And then You guide my steps.
You take the wheel.
You call the plays.
You function in Your economy.
You lead me in Your higher ways.
You parent me.
You shepherd me.

Even in the mystery.

You, Who can see it ALL.
You, Who knows every motive, every heart, and every personality that crosses my path.
You, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
You, the Glue that holds all things together.
You, the Creator Who “works out all things in conformity to the purpose of Your will”.
You, the Great I AM, Who Was and Is and Is to Come.

You, Who control the ALL.
Storm
Calm
ALL

So I come to You with open hands.
Lifted arms.
Upturned face.

Am I soaked from the storm?
Yes.
Is my hair whipped from the wind?
Yes.
Is the boat pitching and yawing and generally being topsy-turvy?
Yes.

But I laugh at the wind and revel in the rain.
Because this boat cannot go under.
It cannot be torn apart.
It is impossible for it to fail.

Not because I am holding it together.
But because YOU are.
And even if everything falls apart here in this life
I have a firm, rock-solid, unbreakable guarantee:
YOU.

The sake of Your name
The glory of Your reputation
The promises You have made
The fact that I am Yours – and You are mine.

This life may beat me up
Your enemy may try to destroy me
The fact of sin in the world and its ugly consequences will mess with me

However, this is a moment in the spectrum of eternity
My whole physical life is no bigger than a blip on the screen
A flower quickly fading
Grass that is green today and dead tomorrow

But my eternal life started the moment I asked You to be my Savior
Which means I can approach all of my circumstances from a posture of praise instead of a huddle of hopelessness and fear.

This is the abundant life
The joy-filled life
The sweet life

Not gripping tightly
Not needing to know all the answers
Not seeking to control
Not managing it all

But riding the wind and waves with a song of praise on my lips
Sometimes sung through tears
Sometimes wrung out of the depths of my soul
Sometimes forced by an act of the will from my mouth

But You are worth it
Worth clinging to
Worth living for
Worth knowing
Worth serving
Worth praising

Always, always, You are worth it.
So I will live in this posture:
Arms high.
Head up.
Hands open.