Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kicking the shoes off

I attended a three day women's event with 60 beautiful women of all ages.

We all arrived at our new "home away from home" with "our shoes shined and looking fine." Pleasantries were exchanged as we smiled at one another.

While unpacking suitcases, I am pretty sure that everyone was accessing one other. "They have it all together." "They would never understand." "They… they… they…" When we allow our minds to play these games, we personally come up short. We don't measure up. Why in the world do we put ourselves through this?

Within 24 hours, the layers began to peel back and real life entered the arena. Those shiny shoes were kicked off and brokenness was revealed. Addictions. Cancer. Children recently buried. Prodigal children. Hanging on to life with a thin thread. Bad choices with severe consequences. Broken relationships. Widows figuring out their "new normal." Fear. Disappointment. And the list went on. Everyone had a story.

We live in a messy world. We live in the midst of pain and suffering. We all have beautiful moments of joy, we all have terrible moments of sorrow. Every person experiences "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

What if we stopped trying to figure out how we measure up to one another? What if we looked at others in our everyday life with a recognition that underneath the facade lies someone who has been hurt or is presently hurting? Would we be kinder? Would we be more courteous? Would we let them go first in the check out line? Would we look them in the eye and smile? Would we say, "How are you today?" and mean it? Would we be open to praying for them - even if we did not know their names?

I dare say that we would be transformed into a people who thought a little less of ourselves and a whole lot more of others. And our little world would be a better place. A much better place!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reflecting on Guatemala 2014

     We arrived to our home-away-from-home at 11:30 in the night. After such a long day, all we could manage to do was make our beds and climb into them. Then, rising at the break of dawn, our team of 23 women, all different ages, began the serious task of organizing. We organized our bunk beds. We organized our kitchen. We organized our suitcases filled with "activities." And we began to get comfortable in our new surroundings. We arrived with prayers, plans, concerns, hopes and mostly, curiosity about what God had planned for our week at Casa Aleluya.
     I left the  security of the "gringo dorm" and ran an errand. Returning, I found myself locked out of my newly established comfort zone. Where was I? On a playground, surrounded by 60 giggling, sweaty little boys. Some were playing soccer. Some were playing on the swings and slides. Some were digging in the dirt. Some were chasing one another. Doing "stuff" that little boys find amusing. I knocked on the metal door that separated me from my Texas friends. And I knocked. And I knocked. I shouted the names of friends and I shouted again … and again, louder and louder. No response!
     After about 5 minutes of futile attempts, I felt a tug at my shirt and looked down. Beside me was a little boy I had never seen before. And I've been visiting Casa for over 11 years. This little one didn't look like the rest of the Guatemalan boys.  His skin was fairer and his eyes were lighter.
     I said, "Hi. What's your name?" (Part of my limited Spanish vocabulary) He rattled off a name as fast as he could and it sounded as if it had 10 syllables. I asked him to repeat his name. So, he said his name - even faster. Beside him was another little boy whom I recognized and whom obviously knew my gringo limitations. He said the little boy's name very s-l-o-w-l-y.
     I asked my new friend how long he had been living at Casa. He went silent and his little friend said, "He came last night."
     Ahhh, this is the little boy that I heard arrived just a few hours after we did. What had this precious little boy experienced that prompted the courts/police to rescue him from his situation and bring him to this home of 500 children? How can people abuse helpless children? How can they "throw away" their gift from God? How? Why? I did't expect the questions that I always struggle with at Casa to hit me so soon after my arrival.
     But some things I did know. I knew that God kept me from entering my physical, emotional and spiritual "comfort zone," so that I could meet this little boy. I knew that I was going to be required to open my eyes and heart if I wanted to see what God had planned. I knew that I needed to slow down and I knew that God was revealing bits of His nature to me. I was also witnessing the devastation that man imposes on man. Sin!
     This little boy was now safe - safe from the circumstances that brought him to Casa in the middle of the night. He had instant friends/family - many who understand what brought him into their midst. He has opportunities. He has dorm parents who truly care. He can receive an education - all the way through college. He has in front of him a future that is rich - not in things of this world - but things of eternal value. This little boy will get the opportunity to meet Jesus, His true Savior, and to fall in love with Him.
     I prayed. "God, please reveal Yourself as Father to these fatherless."
     I kept my eye on this little one throughout the week. He smiled a lot. He laughed. He got hugged each morning on his way to school. He ate a huge bowl of ice cream served by a team of women who couldn't stop grinning. Jesus was loving this child through the body of Christ. It was a beautiful site to behold.
     Jesus continues to amaze me. At Casa I saw tangible evidence that He binds up the brokenhearted. He proclaims freedom for the captives. He releases prisoners from darkness. He comforts those who mourn. He provides for those who grieve. He gives an inheritance. He gives joy. He rebuilds. He restores. He renews. He gives a double portion. And the Bible declares that he loves justice. (Isaiah 61)
     As for me, "I delight greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It Will Be My Joy to Say ...

The screen flashed the words of a song and the crowd sang at the top of their lungs.

"It will be my joy to say 'Your will, Your way. Always.'"

I couldn't sing those words. I did not think they rang true for me. How could all these people around me declare that they would find joy in following God's will always? What if His way meant allowing you to walk through pain and suffering? Would the first Christians say they found joy while they were being fed to the lions in the Coliseum for sport? How does a devout Christian say they find joy while they valiantly fight a dreadful disease? I'm not saying these evil things are God's will. They were not part of His original creation and I know that He hates them. But we live in a broken world filled with sin and suffering. Jesus warned believers that in this world we will have troubles.

Then, Sunday I saw this song being lived by a dear friend. Her beloved husband suffered a severe heart attack Thursday, CPR administered four different times. Her response, "Please pray. I'm perfectly at peace with God's will. And I will not waste my suffering." And her beautiful, strong daughters were of the same mind, trusting the God they love.

Her husband, their father, spent two days in an induced coma, allowing his body to rest. When they began to bring him out of it Saturday, he responded in ways that astounded the medical community, of which he is a part. When I talked with his wife that evening, I heard joy. I heard happiness because of the hope that she has more time with her husband on this earth. But her joy was found in what she witnessed God doing in the lives of others. She knew joy because she knew God's presence. This strong woman who is usually on the quiet side, preferring to listen and learn, could not stop talking. She was bubbling over with story after story of where she saw God's presence and His loving kindness towards her and towards people that had never acknowledged Him in the past. I heard joy. And I know that when her husband is able to hear the God stories, he will grin from ear to ear.

Today, I read Romans 7. Paul wrote of himself (and every believer), "Yes, I'm full of myself - after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps…The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in my life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but I am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different." (The Message)

It's as if there are two Debs. One is shallow and one is deep. The shallow Deb gets caught up in the world and its ways. She desires things that have no true value and she gets ruffled over things that don't really matter. Actually, I think the world likes this Deb. On the other hand, the deep Deb truly wants God above all else. He is her greatest treasure. I don't think the world cares for this Deb. They think that when she hates what is evil, she condemns them. They think that her values are out-dated. Since the world is hostile toward God and His values, she doesn't fit in.

I thought about the song. The shallow Deb cannot sing the words, "It will be my joy to say Your will, Your way always." But the deep Deb can sing at the top of her lungs. The deep Deb knows that God is always good, always faithful, always kind and He calls her His daughter. He's trustworthy. And He promises to be there always-in the good times and in the tough times.

Let the real Deb sing!

And please pray for my friends. I'm asking for full, total healing and recovery for him. And strength and wisdom for her and her daughters. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Monday, February 24, 2014

My Guatamala family

I've been asked, "Why do you return to Guatemala every year?"  The answer requires a story.

Eleven years ago I agreed, with much trepidation, to lead a band of about twenty five women to a children's home named Casa Aleluya, or affectionately known as Casa Para Ninos. As our bus pulled into the gates I saw an armed guard, barbed wire, tons of concrete and what seemed like a million children. The kiddos swarmed us. Some literally crawled up our bodies into our arms while others stood back observing our reactions. My thoughts: "What was I thinking when I agreed to this? Why did I think this was a good idea? I want to go home…now!"

It was a hard week - the most physical labor I have every done at Casa. Before embarking on this adventure, our team was asked to prepare to de-lice a dorm of little girls. Attempting to make this fun for all, our brave little team armed ourselves with what else - hair cutting and styling classes. We were determined to turn our assignment into a party!

For four days, every time the girls left for school, we attacked their rooms (and those bugs) with a vengeance. We stripped beds, washed linens, sprayed down the beloved stuffed animals and remade bunk beds as we prayed for these girls and the place they called home.

When our new friends returned from school, we would send them to the showers with "special" shampoo. They would return to us and allow us to comb through their thick hair for hours. Their reward - a new hair style. Reactions varied. Some girls returned for a second and third trim - mostly because they wanted the attention. There were a lot of "oohs" and "aahs" exclaimed over each girl. Others cried! It was evident that we were amateurs. But the joy we experienced was beyond belief. We could hug every little girl and tell her how beautiful she is. We could personally pray for each one of them. God's love grew and grew and grew til the bond was bigger than life.

Thursday night we attended worship service with the children. After, I sent everyone ahead to escort the girls back to their common living area. Once I accounted for our entire team, I followed with a full heart.

Upon arrival I found the entire room in tears. The girls were wailing. I questioned the first team member I found. "What happened?" She glared at me and said, "They found out that we leave tomorrow."

In shock, I immediately began questioning God. "How is this good for these babies? You asked us to come here and love them and we did. Now we turn around and leave them with broken hearts. How is this good?"

In the midst of my whining, I was interrupted. In my walk with the Lord, I've noticed that He interrupts my rantings - usually with Scripture. I was reminded that this was family. I recalled that children in my culture will often cry when a member of their extended family - an aunt or grandmother - leave after a sweet visit. But there is always the hope that they will return.

At that moment, I knew what God was asking - that I return to visit my Guatamala "family" the following year. I was to be the "aunt" that returned and showed my family how much they are valued. This is why I return year after year. I've seen many of these girls develop into the most beautiful women with huge, kind hearts. Some are now in college. Some are living on their own. And some are stepping into roles at Casa - teaching, administrative work, pastoring, etc.

One year I may not be able to return but I am trusting that the God who was big enough to give me this vision of family is big enough to tell me should that time come.

Today I am beginning to prayerfully prepare for my June trip to see my family. I'm praying for the team that God will put together.

I love my Guatemala family! I'm excited about seeing them and how much they've grown since last year. I am looking forward to hearing their stories and their dreams.

And somewhere along the way, I think I am seem as more of a grandmother than an aunt!

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:18

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Change in Plans

Earth's crammed with heaven
and every common bush afire with God,
only he who sees takes off his shoes;
the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
                                                Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Surely this beautiful piece was written in the beauty of spring. But I am re-reading it on a cold, icy, winter day when my entire city has shut down because of the weather conditions. Texans don't know what to do with ice and so we stay home by our fireplaces. And it's Friday. I love Fridays. I play tournament bridge with a partner that makes me laugh while she challenges me to think. I get to spend time with people who I have grown to love. But today … It's the perfect day for reading.

I love this poem. Long ago, I wrote it in the front of my Bible. It reminds me of Romans 1:20. "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." 

God has crammed earth full of evidence of Him. Nature reveals His amazing power, His creativity, His provision for our every need, His kindness toward mankind, His patience, His wisdom, etc. No one has an excuse for rejecting Him.

God is present in what we see as common. The problem is that too often I become caught up in the mundane and forget to "see" Him … and enjoy Him. Sad for me. Within my self-imposed, limited vision, I can reduce His presence to a quiet little companion, just waiting to be noticed and acknowledged. Crazy! Why would I do that? Why would I even want God to fit that mold? He is fire, He is glory, He is all powerful, all knowing. He is magnificent. He is beautiful. He is all mighty God!

Perhaps an "ice" day is just what I need to slow down, take off my shoes, settle in and take note of my attitude towards living the life I've been given. Perhaps I should ponder how often I enjoy the creation - the blackberries - and deny the Creator. When do I find my enjoyment in what is perishable and ignore the eternal? When do I settle for less?

Yes, it is a beautiful day - icicles and all!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

There's nothing like a baby!

There is nothing like a newborn baby that can create a glimpse of the way that God loves. I began pondering this when Leslie was born. And I am seeing it replay all over again with the birth of my grandson, Maverick.

Watching my baby loving her baby has brought back a surge of emotions and memories. Before her baby was even born, Leslie experienced the pains that accompany every woman's pregnancy. Babies kick and squirm in a small, enclosed environment of a mom's body. They seem to practice tap dancing when you are trying your best to sleep. He (or she) distorts your body and causes your body to respond in many unpleasant, not to be mentioned ways. I remember...though the memory has softened. Painful but you hold on to the  promise of a new family.

When Leslie thought that she couldn't take pregnancy for one more second, her sweet baby boy made his loud entry into the world. Watching her in the delivery room brought tears to my eyes. More pain.

Little Maverick is now two months old and his dad says that he never realized you could go that long without sleep. Little do they know that they will never sleep soundly again.

That precious little bundle of joy can be demanding and impatient. He cries to be fed immediately and it won't be long before he will wail for attention and demand his way be done. But, oh, the joy he brings! I watch Travis and Leslie stare at his every movement. They talk a new language, in a tone reserved only for their adored son. They can't wait for him to wake up from his nap so they can play with him again.

I see both Leslie and Travis overwhelmed with a sense of protectiveness. Hand sanitizer, baby monitors of every kind, pediatrician visits - anything and everything to assure that their baby is safe. I remember coming home from the hospital many years ago and the realization hitting me that my precious baby was exposed to all kinds of dangers. And it was entirely up to her dad and me to guard her. Thinking, "Really? That's the plan?"

For a very long time, babies give nothing in return for all of your sleepless nights and attentive nurturing. But Maverick gave the first glimmer of a responsive smile at about six weeks and everyone began to perform and beg for another. Just a glimmer of response, a hope of connection, a desire for him to be happy.

Yet in spite of all of the pain, sleepless nights, necessary feedings and diaper changes, constant need for attentiveness … you love your baby. He gives absolutely nothing to you but he's yours. And you love him with an immeasurable love.

Scripture declares that God loves us with a never ending, faithful, unconditional love. We fall short of that kind of perfect love. In fact, I think loving our babies is the closest we can come to grasping the way that He loves. God created us and loved us from the beginning. He made plans for us from the moment of conception (Psalm 139:13-16) - good plans, plans that are not meant to harm us but meant to give us a full life.

As the created, we demanded from our Creator. We treated God without regard. But...He gave. He gave more than we can even fathom. "God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

God protects. He guides. He teaches. And yes, He disciplines when necessary. All because of His great love. We did that for Leslie. She and Travis will do the same for Maverick.

We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). It is His love that shows us how to love. Love is more than a feeling, even though it certainly can arouse emotions. It is an action. It is demonstrative. 1 John 3:16 says, "This is how we now what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." John 3:18 continues, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions in truth." Saying "eat" to a baby, does not feed him. It would not be an example of love. Action is required.

Through a parent's eyes, there is nothing like a baby to show you that love is truly patient and kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails! (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

And since Scripture declares that God is love (1 John 4:8), we can be assured that God is patient and kind. God does not envy or boast. He is not proud, rude or self-seeking. He is not easily angered and keeps no record of our wrongs. He does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects. Always trusts. Always hopes. And always perseveres.

God will never fail!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Resolutions, commitments, vows- whatever you want to call them

I don't make New Year's Resolutions. Not that I'm opposed to others making commitments to better themselves. But personally, I've felt like a failure once too often upon breaking my resolution before the month of January saw the 31st arrive. I don't like the agony of defeat! (A little dramatic, I know.)

This year, however, I am going to make a vow to write on this blog more often than last year. Why? Love. The reason I started writing in the first place was because of my love for my future generations. They have always been my target audience. I want them to know the great-great grandmother that prayed for them and loved them before they came to be. I want them to know the woman I am and what (or should I say Whom) drives me and consumes my thoughts and actions. I want them to see my life through my eyes. I want them to see the glimpses of God that I see in my day. I want them to see why I am so crazy about God's Word. I want them to know my over-the-top passion for Jesus. I want them to see my worship of Him through my written stories. I want them to know me, understand me, know how much I love them and see the perspective of someone who is devoted to God. And I desperately want them to love God!

I think that some of my reasons for writing this blog may be the same ones that God had in mind when He breathed His truth into the Scripture we can read today. I believe that the Bible is God's primary tool to help us know Him intimately, believe Him and understand who He is (Isaiah 43:10). I know that God loves us with an everlasting love; it's declared throughout His Word in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe God desires that we see life with His eternal perspective as opposed to the worldly one that our culture tries to push down our throats. I believe we can see the heart of Christ, the image of God, within the pages of the Bible.

Scripture declares that "the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). I am not sure when that time "will come" but I suspect it has begun. Many people in our generation declare themselves to be "spiritual." However, they base their belief system upon what they like to hear or teachings that allow them to essentially be their own god. Future generations may choose to disregard Scripture but that will not change the truth of who God is and what will be.

As for me, I know the Bible speaks truth when it declares, "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal" (Psalm 119:89, 103, 130, 160).

And so I will write for my beloved children, grands and great-grands. And hope they are interested in knowing me and knowing how much they are loved.

I don't mind if you, my friends, travel with me. In fact, I am counting on you to hold me accountable.

January 2014