Thoughts That Lead To Death. Thoughts That Lead To Life. (Or Navigating Culture Shock…)

Thoughts that lead to death:

I am done.
Cooked.
Completely overwhelmed.
This was not at all what I expected it to be.
The demands are too high.
The price tag is, too.
In lots of ways.
This is impossible.
And I can’t do it.
So I might as well quit.
Or at least stop trying to so hard.
I mean, does it really matter?
Do I really matter?
There is no point.
Why bother with any of this, anyway?
Why not look out for me?
No one else is – so I need to.
Because, let’s face it, no one really understands what I am going through.
Sure, God says He does but let’s face it – He’s not physically present.
His arms can’t hold me.
He’s here – but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
And I am doing all this stuff for Him and He doesn’t even appreciate it.
I mean, it is getting harder, not easier.
I thought He blessed people who walk with Him?
I thought He cared about me?
I thought He was good?
Can’t see that in my life right now.
So I might as well throw in the towel.
On all of this.
I can’t do it – so why try?

Thoughts that lead to life:

I am done.
Cooked.
Completely overwhelmed.
This was not at all what I expected it to be.
The demands are too high.
The price tag is, too.
In lots of ways.
This is impossible.
And I can’t do it.

But You said I can do all things through You.
It sure doesn’t feel that way right now.

I really want to quit.
But I know You have called me here and You have promised to finish the work You began in me.

But can I at least stop trying to so hard?
I mean, does it really matter?
Do I really matter?
There is no point.

But You say to do everything as if I am working for You, not for people.
So yes, of course it matters.
Because You prepared good works in advance for me to do.
You brought me to this point in time, space and eternity to accomplish Your will “for such a time as this.”
So no, I can’t stop trying so hard.
Because I am not doing this for them – or for me – but for You.

But I feel like no one understands.
No one “gets me” here – and the people at home can’t really “get it”, either.
It is a unique kind of loneliness.
I know You say You understand.
Do You really?

Oh.
Yeah. Right.
Jesus left heaven.
He, who had never experienced sin, was immersed in it.
He, who could hear thoughts and read minds and knew hearts, was in it over His head.
He, who spoke the world into existence and knew no limits to His power, was trapped in a body.
A frail, human, bleeds-when-you-cut-Him body.

And that’s why He so often went off by Himself to meet with You, isn’t it?
Because it is hard.
Hard to live away from Home.
Hard to be constantly misunderstood.
Hard to love the unlovely.
And hard to complete the work You have assigned.

And Abba, it’s true that You are not physically present.
But You have sent so many messengers of Your love.
People
Beauty
Blessings
Protection
Provision
I cannot see Your face – but oh, how I can see Your fingerprints!

So this is hard.
Harder than I thought it would be.
For different reasons than I thought.
But tonight I rest in the fact of Your goodness.
Your enemy wants me to doubt it.
He wants me to believe You are not good.
That You mess with people.
That You have messed with me.
And that the task at hand is greater than I can accomplish.

And on that point, that bitter, nasty serpent right.
I do not have what it takes to live cross-culturally.
To teach such a wide range of kids.
To deal with four different cultures in my classroom.
To work with unfamiliar resources.
And to meet stringent demands.
To have every single thing be unfamiliar.
And to have a learning curve steeper than the paths my friends at Bethlehem routinely climb.

I can’t do what needs to be done. And do it well.
All I have are a few loaves and fishes that are my life.

I can’t.
But You can.
I am incapable.
But You are fully able.
I am powerless.
But You are the mountain-mover.
The ocean-splitter.
The water-walker.

And so the enemy’s reminders of my weakness backfire.
They simply drive me to Your arms.
Your promises. Your character. And Your heart that is for me and not against me.
Leading me to expect You to make great things out of my weakness.
You will take all that is flawed in me, all that is flawed here, all that is impossible, all that I cannot do, and turn it into the best wine, the most bread and fish, an incredible feast.
For me.
For the kids I serve.
And for their parents who are serving as well.
But mostly for Your glory, God.

When I am weak, You are strong.
When my circumstances are impossible, You make all things possible.
When I am overwhelmed, You calm the storm.
And even when You don’t, You calm me.

So back to the original thought.
“I’m done.”
But You have just begun.
Lead on! Show me what You can do – for Your glory!

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The Mounds and The Mountain

The Mounds and The Mountain

They were all around me.
Scattered and tossed about.
So I very carefully took them
and piled them up neatly.

They made a very large stack.
Impressive, really.
And as the pile grew, tears choked my throat
and threatened to spill down my face.

Trouble after trouble sat in a pile before me.
Little things
Big things
And everything in between.

They made an impressive mound.
And it seemed to grow bigger the longer I looked at them.
Until the mound became a mountain.
And I became defeated.

So I turned ever so slightly to the side
and thought to myself,
“I’ll make a new stack. A gratitude stack.
A stack of good things in my life.”

And that pile was also impressive.
But it didn’t have the massive weight of the troubles before me.
And instead of growing as I stared,
it seemed to shrink, dwarfed by all that was bad.

And the tears that choked my throat
found their way to my face.
I slumped to the ground,
Defeated.

But then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I heard a familiar Voice.
And He said, “Turn around, sweetheart.
Just turn around.”

And as I did a 180 from the piles before me,
I realized that there was a mountain looming behind me
A real one –
not a mound-turned-mountain like those I had created

It was a Rock
A real and present Mountain
A Strong Tower;
Mighty and Massive; filling the land and scraping the sky.

It was the faithfulness of God
The character of the One who calls me “Daughter”
The heart of the One who calls me “Friend”.
The Truth.

That mountain of Who He is – not who He was –
towered over my piles
Both of them
The good and the bad; the wonderful and the difficult

All of my circumstances were dwarfed by His presence
The record of His dealings with me
And I whisper with the Psalmist,
“I have seen in MY history the faithful love of the Lord”

Miracles; Messages
Mistakes He has redeemed
Masterpieces of His glory
Magnificence unveiled

This is the Rock that stood behind me.
This is the Strength that surrounded me.
And in the shadow of This, I am undone.
And so are my piles.

The good, the bad and the ugly all crumble
in light of The Eternal.
Because as I stare at His magnificence, I remember two things:
Who He is. And who I am not.

He is the Great I AM. I am the great I’M Not.
He is perfect in all His ways. I am perfectly capable of every sin in the book.
He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
I am incapable of running even a kingdom of one.

He is the Just Judge.
I am the guilty convict.
He is the One Who is worthy to call me condemned.
And I am the one who deserves it.

He is Truth and Justice and Righteousness.
I am Lies and Corruption and Sin.
And yet, He is the One who calls me “Forgiven.”
So that I am the one who is shattered by love.

I turn back to my piles of good things and bad things.
I glance over my circumstances, once again in tears.
But this time they are gratitude and love and awe
Streaking down my face.

The hard things are still hard
And the thankful things are still good
But I am different now.
I am the one who is changed, transformed by His goodness.

So I leave all my stuff at the base of the mountain.
I slide my hand into His and say, “Lead on.
Today is Your day. And I am Your girl.
Do as You will – I can’t wait to see it.”

O.V.E.R.W.H.E.L.M.E.D.

I am about as overwhelmed as a person can be.
I moved to Guatemala this past weekend to teach missionary kids for a season.
I left behind my church – which is also my job and ministry.
I left behind most of my stuff (although it certainly feels like I brought A LOT with me.)
I left behind my family – bio, spiritual, and chosen.
I left behind my freedom in many ways. No car here – which means limits.
I left behind my (beloved) pets.

And I am currently in the chaos that is a new school year.
That is true for any teacher in the weeks before school starts.
But I am teaching a “split” this year of 3rd and 4th grades.
In a new-to-me school.
With two classrooms to manage.
And a new co-teacher to work with.
Juggling four cultures – Guatemalan, US, Canadian and Korean – since I will have kids from all four places.
And all new curriculum to learn.

Living with a new roommate who I met last night.
With new routines that impact everything from how I use the bathroom (don’t flush the TP!) to how I cook (disinfect the produce!)
In a new bed
In a new room
In a new place.

With a new laptop
New phone
New friends
New church

O.V.E.R.W.H.E.L.M.E.D.

Without God in the equation I would be a mess.
(Or more of a mess.)

But He is not absent from the equation!
He is the Author of it.

He called me here.
Made the way for me to come.
He goes before me.
He walks beside me.
He knows my needs.
And has already made provision for them.

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in me.
And God is working all things together for my good.
And more importantly, for His glory.

He is my strength.
My song.
My deliverer.
My fortress.
My strong tower.
The Voice of Truth.
And the Good Shepherd who daily carries me in His arms.

The One who does all things well.
And the One who is completely and utterly in control.

He has orchestrated my life and my circumstances to bring me to this place, this time, these people.
And He has a plan and a purpose for all of it.

So while I am completely and utterly overwhelmed by change and by the task at hand, I am more overwhelmed by Him.
By His goodness.
By His grace.
His incredible mercies that are new every morning.
By His faithfulness.
And His unfathomable love for me.

And I am grateful to be overwhelmed by my circumstances.
Because it drives me to His arms.
He has shown over and over again that I am right where I need to be.
And that He is in this.

So when I am weak – and overwhelmed – then I am strong.

How can He show that I can do all things in Him unless those things are overwhelming?
How is His power made complete in my weakness unless I am weak?
How can He get the glory if I can do everything in my own strength?

So bring on the overwhelming.
It is not a bad thing.
It is an utterly good thing.
Because He is good.
And He is mine.

I don’t know where you are today, what your circumstances may be.
Perhaps you, too, are utterly overwhelmed.

But He is never is.
And He longs to be your strength today.
But it is up to you.
You have to surrender.
Revel in the chaos even as you stand on His promises.
Taking every thought captive to Christ.
Resting in Who He is.
Trusting that He will bring you through.
Asking Him for wisdom, heartbeat to heartbeat.
Allowing the Holy Spirit – literally the Breath of God – to be the air in your lungs.
Delighting in His Word.
And allowing Him to lead.

He wants to do magnificent things in you.
Through you.
For the benefit of a lost and dying world.
But you have to give up control.
Allow for the chaos.
Fight the spiritual battle.
Surrender your will.
Will you do it?

And in the meantime, here’s to being overwhelmed!

The Battle: Fear vs. Faith

They square off in the ring of my heart, ready to rumble.
Who will win?

Fear always throws the first punch.
He shouts says, “I will wrestle with the future because I have no clue what tomorrow holds.”
Faith declares, “I will rest in God’s arms, content in the not-knowing because He is the all-knowing.”

Fear says, “I must frantically do ALL the things today, cramming in as much as possible, because it is up to me to keep all these balls in the air, irons in the fire, plates spinning.”
Faith says, “I will do the next thing in front of me today, working hard at the tasks of THIS day, and trusting that God is at work in all the tasks beyond today.”

Fear says, “It is only natural to be afraid – and that’s OK. You can’t help it so you might as well give in; after all, it is you and you alone who has to face ALL the things.”
Faith says, “I will not be afraid, not allow my heart to be troubled, because God goes before me, is the rear guard behind me, and walks beside me. There is nothing to fear because anyone or anything that happens to me has to go through Him first.”

Fear says, “I don’t have the strength to do all the hard things before me. So I will only do the things that are easy, letting someone else tackle the hard.”
Faith says, “I will do the hard things with a cheerful heart, knowing that I only need strength for this day and no others because this day is the only one that I know I have for sure. And God has promised me all that I need for THIS day.”

Fear says, “I can’t follow God in obedience because if I let go of these people, places and things I love, they might not be here when I get back. I am needed here; I am vital here; I cannot go.”
Faith says, “God loves the people you love more than you do. If you will let go of control, He can show you His mighty hand in their lives. You are not the center of any universe – and never will be. But He is the glue that holds all things together. He is the Savior, not you.”

And Fear, in its last gasps, cries out, “But what if I fail?”
Faith replies, “He will redeem your failures and bring about much fruit.”

Fear whispers, “But what if I’m not good enough, strong enough, smart enough?”
Faith declares, “You aren’t. But He is.”

Fear lives the life of a kicked puppy, cowering in the corner.
Faith lives the life of a beloved child, happy, laughing, carefree and joyous.

Fear lives the life of the unloved, unwanted, unprotected.
Faith lives the life of the beloved, cherished and fiercely guarded.

Fear stops the adventure.
Faith fuels it.

Fear throws up roadblocks.
Faith grows wings.

Fear whispers hot threats.
Faith belts out a glorious song of trust in reply.

Fear says, “Death wins.”
Faith says, “God wins.”

Fear says, “You are losing it all.”
Faith says, “You are gaining more of Him.”

Fear says, “It’s not worth the risk.”
Faith says, “It’s time to soar.”

Heartbeat to heartbeat, the choice marches on: fear? Or faith?
Who wins this moment?
Who wins this day?
Who wins the war?

Not fear. Not today.
And Lord willing, not ever again.

On Climate Change…

I have been thinking a lot about the climate this week.
Soupy, sauna-like, steamy weather has dominated the area.
And it has been intense.

It makes me wonder about “climate change”.
I have friends on both sides of the issue.
Ready with arguments at the drop of the hat – or the drop of the phrase.
Frankly, I can see both sides.

But regardless of what is happening in our weather, a much, much scarier climate change is real for the American Church today.
Our hearts are cold.
We have lost our first love.
And the coldness is terrifying.

Yes, I am speaking in gross generalizations.
I know of pockets of believers in the States that are on fire.
Their hearts are warm and soft, malleable to the touch of the Master’s Hand.

But in general, we – Christ-followers in the US today – are in grave danger.

We care more about what is happening with our weather than we do about what is going to happen in the future.
I have seen joking comments about this heat wave feeling like hell.
But the reality is that most of our friends and neighbors are heading there.
Into an eternity that the Bible describes as full of eternal flames and yet impenetrable darkness.
An eternity separated from God.

And yet we are busier about the business of politics or rhetoric or wringing our hands or not offending our friends than we are about the eternal realities of a world that is dying and going to hell.

The Bible is very, very clear that we have three tasks, given to every Christ-follower. Every. Single. One.
We are to:
Love God.
Love people.
And out of that love, we are to make disciples.
(Matthew 22; Matthew 28)

Loving God means putting Him first.
Making His Word and His ways a priority.
Not just with our mouths.
But with our actions.
Forgiving the unforgiveable.
Defining our lives in relationship to HIM before we take on any other definition.
So I am not a woman first – I am a Christ-follower first.
I am not a white woman first – I am a Christ-follower first.
I am not an American first – I am a Christ-follower first.

And when I put Him first, love His first, seek Him first, everything else falls into place.
He guides my steps.
He give me HIS love for the unlovable.
He changes my heart to match His own.
He works supernaturally in me to change my mind.
To pour out His love.
To serve well.
To shine.

Which leads naturally to loving others.
If my vertical conduit with God is clear, unblocked, and open to Him, then my horizontal world takes on a whole different light.

I don’t see the guy who cuts me off in traffic as the biggest jerk on the planet.
I see him as someone for whom Christ died.
I don’t waste my breath criticizing politicians on every level.
I spend it praying for them, for their hearts, for God to give them wisdom.
I don’t look at you and classify you by your race, gender, ethnicity, language, political party or socio-economic status.
I look at you as a fellow creation of Almighty God, another person who God loves just as much as He loves me, another person He wants to shine for His glory and your good.

And if I am really, truly loving others – if God’s love is pouring through me to them – then my greatest desire is to see them in heaven when I get there.
That’s the third task – making disciples.
Not just wearing a cross or a Christian t-shirt.
Not putting the right bumper sticker on my car.
Not just inviting them to church.
Not simply posting Christian memes or quotes or comments.

But loving them into the Kingdom.
As my friend says, “Loving them until they ask you why.”
Loving them when we disagree.
Loving them when they are ugly.
Loving them when we think completely differently.
Loving them when they don’t love me.
Loving them when they fall on the other side of an issue I am passionate about.
Loving them the way God loves me.

Easy?
No.
Impossible?
Yes.
Without God, definitely impossible.

But in Him?
Through Him?
In a grateful response to all He has done?
In obedience to His commands?
By the same power that raised Jesus from the dead?
More than possible.
Because He is greater than every possibility.
He longs to work in you and through you.
In me and through me.
He longs for our hearts to be fully His.
He longs to see US make a change in this world.
For you and me to deeply and directly impact the climate of our individual worlds.
Starting with the climate of the heart.

So how about it?
Is your heart cold?
Maybe not completely – but does it have icy patches?
People you won’t forgive?
Habits you won’t surrender?
Obedience He is asking that you will not give?

Please, please – ask Him to thaw your heart.
To give you His eyes for your world. And the world beyond your world.
To give you His heart.
That’s the amazing thing – this isn’t about willpower.
You don’t have it in you to change the climate of your heart.
But you can ask Him to do it.
To show you what needs to change.
And then surrender to whatever He shows you. To obey whatever He tells you to do. Wherever He tells you to do it.

We desperately need every heart to beat for His Kingdom.
Not just the “professional” Christians – the pastors, the missionaries, the evangelists or authors.
We need you to show His love to the people in your path.
They are dying without Him.
And you have all that you need to change their climate for eternity.

First, love God.
Then allow Him to love others through you.
And share with them what He has done for you.

It is as simple as that.

Will you be an agent for eternal climate change?

1+1+God = 53

His father was a piece of work.
Selfish.
Abusive.
And addicted to alcohol.

Her mother was mentally ill.
Manipulative.
Needy.
And also abusive in a different way.

Human nature says that they should have repeated those patterns.
Become the sum of the nurturing they did not receive and the product of the harm heaped upon them.

And that probably would have happened.
Except God.

They both came to know Him as young people.
And not necessarily through the example of their parents.
His Mom sent him to church.
Her parents swung more to religion than to relationship with Christ, especially in those years.

But God.
He had a plan for them.
As He does for all of us.
If we will surrender to Him.
If we will yield.

I am very thankful that they did.
They met while she was in high school and he was starting out in the Navy.
A blind date.
Arranged by a human being, orchestrated by God.

And eventually they married.
53 years ago today, they promised to “love, honor and obey”.

They haven’t done it perfectly.
Not the marriage.
Not the parenting.
Not life in general.

Because they are sinners.
Just like you.
Just like me.

But God.

Long, long ago they committed to Him.
And then to each other.
God first.
Each other second.
My sister and I next.
And then everything else.

That was the goal.
And again, it wasn’t perfect.
But it was – it is – good.

Walking with Jesus for decades has not been an easy road.
Walking with each other for decades hasn’t been, either.
I remember years that were very, very lean as they made sacrifices to put us in private school, to work in ministries that couldn’t pay very well, to give generously to others.
I remember times when things were tense. When life got very hard. When the past came back with teeth bared. When they had to deal with the fallout of others’ choices – and their own.
And there have been many, many health situations over the years. Scary diagnoses. Innumerable doctors’ visits. Surgeries and procedures.

It has not been 53 years of “happily ever after”.
But it has been 53 years of glorifying God.
Of choosing to “trust in the Lord with all their hearts, leaning not on their own understanding.”
And that has led to 53 years of joy.

Perfect people?
Nope.
Perfect marriage?
No such thing.
Perfect parenting?
No. Again, it doesn’t exist.

But loved by a perfect God?
Yes.
Held together by His hand?
Definitely.
Choosing to trust Him day in and day out?
The only way they have made it.

Because life is hard.
Marriage is hard.
People in general are hard.

And it takes commitment.
And investment.
Trusting God in the storms.
Reveling in His goodness.
Letting Him heal old wounds.
And believing Him for great things.

So happy anniversary, Daddy and Mom.
Thanks for following the Good Shepherd and for teaching us to do the same.
Thanks for the lessons in commitment.
And the legacy you have built.
One day at a time.
One choice at a time.
One decision at a time.

I am more grateful than I can express.
For the model of “a long obedience in the same direction”.
For the introduction to Jesus.
For loving me. For loving us.
And most of all, for loving Him.

And that’s how 1+1+God = 53

Resource? Or Source?

I am scrambling this week.
The details are many, the time is short, the deadlines are looming.
So naturally, I am overwhelmed.
And naturally, I turn to problem-solving.
Listing my resources.
Seeking solutions.

And the reality is that my personal list of resources is very long!
I am one blessed girl.
I have:

My brain
My (somewhat) functioning body
My bank account
My property
My credit history
My family
My friends
My coworkers
Stores
The internet
Access to professionals of various kinds
Technology
Freedoms of many kinds

I have tons and tons and tons of resources.
I am ridiculously blessed.
God has given me SO much.

Which makes it very, very easy to rely on my resources.

This week it is all about preparing for future events.
VBS next week.
The short-term trip to Guatemala in a little over two weeks.
And then moving to Guatemala for a year in a little over a month.

Other times my challenges look very different.
Something goes wrong.
An issue arises.
A challenge looms.

Regardless of what is causing the stress, my first instinct is to catalog my resources.
So I can then to go into problem-solving mode.
What (or who) can I use to meet this challenge?
How can I fix it?
What can I do to make it better?

But here’s the REAL problem.
The challenges I face – we face – shouldn’t make us seek our resources.
Because they are just that – RE-sources.
They are not The Source.

They are gifts from The Source.
Good things from the hand of a good God.
The God who created all things, including me.
The Giver of Good Gifts.
And the Ultimate Gift, Himself.
He needs to be where I turn FIRST.
He needs to be the One I automatically seek.
Not scrambling to gather my resources and figure it out.
Instead, turning to Him and asking Him to show me the answer.
Most likely, His answer will utilize some of my resources.
But they are not my hope.
Not my bottom line.
And it isn’t up to me to figure out how to best use them.

So, in every situation, I have to ask myself some hard questions.
Am I seeking the Resources?
Or do I seek the Source?
Am I after His hand?
Or am I seeking His heart?
Am I relying on the gifts He has given to meet my needs?
Or am I relying on Him?

It is a subtle distinction.
But it makes all the difference in my heart.
And my outlook.
In my decisions.
And in the truth of what I ACTUALLY believe vs. what I SAY I believe.

Because when our resources become the things we look to in order to solve a problem, they take His rightful place.
Whether that resource is a person – a best friend, a spouse, a coworker, or a mentor.
Or that resource is something tangible like money or possessions.
Even when that resource is our God-given talents and abilities.
When we rely on anything other than Him, it becomes our god.
The resources become the idols. .
The things we actually worship.
Because we look to them to provide. To protect.
To make us prosper. To show us the way. To guide our steps.
And we relegate Him to (at least) second place.

So we have a choice. I have a choice.

Problems hit.
They always will since we live in a fallen world.
And when they happen I have to choose.
Where do I go?
What do I do?
Do I start by cataloging my resources?
Or do I start by seeking Him first?
Do I say, “OK, Kathy, you can do this. Get yourself together and solve this!”
Or do I say, “OK, Abba, Daddy, King of Kings and My Source, here is the situation before me. What would You have me do?”

Who is on the throne?
Me?
Or Him?
My resources?
Or The Source?

I have found that having my resources in first place never, ever works.
People fail me.
Things fail me.
Systems fail me.
I fail me.

But putting Him in first place always, always works.
Seeking His heart about a matter.
Finding out what His Word says.
Modeling what I do after what Jesus did.
Laying every burden at His feet.

When I do that, He supplies the resources.
Bringing to mind something I haven’t considered.
Providing in a way I didn’t expect.
Showing up in the midst of my limited resources and multiplying them in astonishing ways.

I should add, this verbiage isn’t original to me.
I heard Tony Evans tell his congregation that if they ever figured out how to turn first to The Source rather than their resources, their lives would change.
And those words resonated with me.
It is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God – and He will take care of the ALL details.” (Matthew 6:33, Kathy-tized)
He’s promised that if we keep Him as the Source, the Main Thing, the First Thing, He will supply every resource we could ever need.
Resources are good – but the Source?
He’s the very best.
Relying on my resources brings exhaustion.
Relying on my Source brings peace.
Relying on my resources means they may run out.
Relying on my Source means I have a limitless supply.
Relying on my resources brings glory to them or to me.
Relying on my Source gives Him all the praise He is due.

So today, I ask myself, “Resources? Or Source? Which will it be?”
And heartbeat to heartbeat, I want to choose Source.
How about you?