Monday, December 10, 2012

Humility 101

"In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, 'There is no God.'" - Psalm 10:4

I read this scripture this morning while working through the first chapter of Jones and Fontenot's The Prideful Soul's Guide To Humility.  I've read through the Psalms probably half a dozen times so this scripture wasn't exactly a new one to me, but when I read it in the context of the book, having a better understanding of where I struggle with pride, my heart was convicted.  My pride blocks me from God.  My pride prevents me from seeking him and drawing near to him.  My struggle with pride lies primarily in my self-sufficiency and insecurity.  While I may be able to do just about anything and balance any kind of schedule and having the attitude of believing I don't need anyone'e help... I also really struggle with believing anything I do is ever good enough.  I'm in a constant battle with old expectations of perfection.  It's a long story, but suffice it to say my pride is clear when I, or others, take a look at my habits of stubbornness, independence and the way I tend to disappear when I've failed, disappointed or hurt others.

Having made this discovery, I face the challenge of putting my pride to death and embracing humility in my present circumstances.  How do I shelve the old ways of thinking?  How do I renew my mind as I'm called to do in Romans 12:1-2?

I have a friendship that's been a constant encouragement since it began a few short months ago, but recently I've learned that my heart simply isn't ready for the path the friendship is on.  I have to communicate this to my friend, and in my pride I want to say, "I need space and time and I need you to be okay with that."  I want this friend to be okay because I can't stand the idea of hurting someone I care very deeply about.  Humility calls me to be vulnerable and explain, to a certain degree, what I need and rather than trying to make him be "okay" with my needs, be humble enough to accept his feelings as they are.  Though what I need isn't wrong, it's not going to make sense to my friend, and it is going to be hurtful.  Humility doesn't make excuses, and humility recognizes the consequences and affects it'll have on others, even when the decision is a good one for me.  Humility allows others to have their needs, to feel what they need to feel without condemning them for it or telling them they need to reach the point of surrender and acceptance you've already achieved.  It means putting others before myself, even when its uncomfortable and painful and not trying to fix or change someone just so I can be more comfortable.

I don't pretend to have all the answers.  I'm at the beginning stages of learning about humility and how to apply it.  Without a clear understanding of the "why" behind the "do," I have no conviction.  Conviction enables me to do the right thing when I know it's going to be painful for myself and others.  Such is the walk of a disciple of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Impossible Task

For the first time in my life I’ve faced a situation where I don’t know what to do.  I’ve always believed I would be a great person to have in a time of tragedy.  Despite my good intentions and idealistic notions, I’m facing a situation where someone I love deeply needs love and encouragement and I don’t know what to do.

In order to leave this woman anonymous I’ll call her Momma B.  Momma B was the first woman I ever allowed myself to love like I’ve always wanted to love, and be loved by, a mom.  She was the woman who inspired me to go after my dream of being a writer, cried as she held my hand and said, “Do it, Sam.”  She’s held me as I wept through pain that has no remedy, laughed with me to the point of tears, shared her life with me, and listened and loved as I shared my heart with her.  I’ve never allowed myself to offer my heart to any woman like a daughter should with her mom until I met Momma B.  She gave me my first safe place after years of never feeling safe.  Finally, after years of praying to have a mom who would love me with all of my weaknesses, and be that woman I could share my heart with and not just my to-do list, I had her in Momma B.

She was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer this previous September.  Less than a year after I began to experience this wonderful relationship with her.  The cancer has metastasized and she now carries spots on her spine, pelvis, ribs, and lungs.  She has chemotherapy treatments every week, three weeks on, one week off, for six months.  The first woman I ever let myself love the way a daughter loves her mother, and I’m starting to lose her less than a year after I really began to get to know her.  I wept when she told me the news.  I swore to myself I’d be there for her through everything, I’d go to appointments with her, I’d hold her hand when she was crying or throwing up after the chemo, I’d clean her house, read to her from the Bible like she loves so much…. In three months I haven’t been able to visit but three times.  Two of those times were with other people who asked me to go with them.

I’m ashamed that I haven’t seen her more.  After all she’s done for me I haven’t been able to convince myself to just sit with her.  Each time I visit, she’s been steadily getting worse, and as I watch each stage progress and hear about others’ visits with her, my heart begins to scream.  The idea of losing Momma B… the first woman I’ve learned to love wholeheartedly with no fear or reservations… it cripples me.  I can’t bear to visit because the times I’ve sat in that chair beside her, I leave emotionally paralyzed and feel like screaming at the top of my lungs and uprooting the trees in the park.  I feel like wailing, “Why her?  Why now?  Of all the women in the world why her?  She has two grown boys who need her.  She has a heart our church family counts on, relies on, and loves.  Selfishly I even find myself asking, “Why must it be my heart to bear this constant pain of loss?  I can't bear losing the one woman I prayed for since I was a child.” 

I fear losing my faith.  I fear I will never recover if I have to watch her slowly die.  I fear the idea of my own fear being the reason I wasn’t with her as she went.  I fear what she thinks about my not visiting, and I fear telling her the real reason.  So much fear is wrapped up in my heart about her being sick.  I try to focus on the good in my life, I justify my not visiting with the fact that others are visiting and she’s being taken care of, and I tell myself that no amount of visiting will ever make this easier so why begin?  Then I think about her face, her smile, her heart, her hugs, and even as I write this tears come to my eyes because I miss her.  So much.  What kind of friend, what kind of daughter, am I to abandon her in her time of need because I can’t handle it?

As I write this I consider 1 Corinthians 12:8-9, which reads, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take (the thorn) away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest upon me.”  Matthew 25:36 reads, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  When we do this for the least of these, it’s the same as doing it for Christ.

I need to be willing to be weak, even if it shatters me, because somehow, even though it doesn’t make any sense, God will be my strength through the experience.  Momma B isn’t the “least of these”… she’s the woman who’s been mother to me the past year.  Even if taking care of her while she’s sick means getting her a glass of water or holding her hand or being present while she sleeps, it’s something.  Even if it breaks my heart, God will, somehow, be my strength. 

I pray I can take this knowledge and have the courage to apply it.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The highlight lately: A Winter Storm

The current movement in my life is attached to the links below, but within the next few days I'll have a better update for my readers.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

God Never Left, but I Did

One of the most difficult things since getting home from Haiti, exactly one week ago, is trying to hold onto that feeling I had when I was there.  This week has been a battle to hold onto the reality of what happened in Haiti, to not lose sight of what God did in me, and in that orphanage, and often it’s felt like a losing battle.

I was surrounded by poverty to such a degree I’d never seen before and yet God had never seemed so present.  I swear there were moments I would be sitting on the roof of the orphanage watching the children get ready for the day or play with their friends and I’d see Jesus walking among them with a smile.  The sun would reach over the horizon in this golden burst of light that spread across mountains and swept into valleys, crawling along the rocky ground of the orphanage and greeting the children with warmth much like an embrace.  How could a God so glorious not intend for such a breathtaking sunrise to be anything less than his smile and loving touch?  When my little shadow, whom I’ll call Pierre for the sake of protecting his privacy, clung to my side gently squeezing the soft back of my arm for comfort, when he smiled up at me and said, “I love you!” with such conviction it nearly broke my heart… God was there.  When seventeen women can share one bedroom and one bathroom without a single complaint for an entire week, in fact smile and laugh about the bucket showers and single toilet, when a young girl I know has been raped and abused and is only seven years old, reaches for the hand of one of my brothers in the faith, God was there.  How could I experience such a journey and not see the face of God?

I’ve been home for a week and I’m inundated with the distractions that accompany a young American woman.  College classes, a job that runs from 24 to 48 hours a week, the responsibility of marketing a book I recently published, going to church three days a week and meeting with people to encourage and spur one another on in d-groups and bible studies two days a week, babysitting children, pressures of media and society to be a certain way, family, somehow shoving in time for a run or at least a long walk… and in all of it there must be Facebook, a cellphone, Twitter, blogging, and, oh yeah, I have a cat to take care of.  In the midst of it all, I long for those truly quiet moments in God’s presence.  Sitting on a rooftop listening to the roosters crow, the turkeys gobble, children laugh, wind rush through the bushes, and the pages of my Bible flip in the breeze… my only concern being to love these children and teach them English was easy.  Being surrounded by disciples who had the same focus made God seem within arms reach.  Being back home at my desk, my computer beckoning me to get back to my homework, my calendar reminding me I have the next six days ahead of me at work, my ministry struggling to have the heart they once had that was so full of love for God after a very difficult year of loss and pain, and my fridge telling me it’s long past due to go grocery shopping… I long for the closeness I felt with God in that orphanage. 

I will go back to Haiti next year, but I refuse to wait for that day in order to feel how I did eight days ago.  I will continue my habit of praying every morning and evening, I will dig into the Word and beg God for insight and to draw nearer to Him, and I will strive to love those around me with the same urgency I had to love those orphans.  Because in all reality, when it comes to spirituality people in America are no different than those orphans in Haiti.  The orphans are actually better off, because they don't have a million distractions preventing them from seeing their need.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The little children came

It’s difficult to believe I was in Haiti less than a week ago.  All too easily I’ve transitioned back into the rich American life.  As much as I love waking up to my cat snuggling with me, I miss being woken up by the sound of 90 Haitian orphans getting ready for the day.  I fell in love with those children.  They were victim to some of the most tragic experiences a human could possibly survive.  These children lost entire families in the January 2010 earthquake.  Some parents simply could no longer afford to take care of their children because of the desperate economy where most people make $1 a day and therefore had to sell their children into a wealthier family where the children worked for their education and a meal.  In most cases, however, the wealthier family was abusive and cruel, which led to the child running away and becoming a street kid before landing in the orphanage.  Despite these circumstances, the smiles on these children’s faces left me awestruck.  How could children who’ve endured so much pain, still have so much love to give?  How could they give it so freely to strangers who ride up on a giant truck singing camp songs about Tarzan at the top of their lungs?

I came to love and serve these children, but when I arrived I discovered this was even more difficult than I thought it’d be, even after becoming more comfortable with my brothers and sisters.  I confessed my insecurities and through consistent prayer, encouragement and a challenge from a brother who helped me see myself the way God see’s me, I discovered I’d forgotten a key element in my relationship with God: honesty.  I experienced a similar abuse these young girls endured and had never allowed myself the freedom of feeling the anger, resentment, and disappointment I felt toward God for allowing it to happen.  I jumped strait to the logic of accepting that he had a plan and would work it all out for my good (Romans 8:28).  Some daughters will yell, “I hate you” to their father and a good dad will come right back and love them anyway.  I never gave God the chance.  That unwillingness to share made it impossible for me to fully experience the realm of God’s unconditional love, and if I couldn’t experience it I certainly couldn’t share it with these orphans.  So I sat on the rooftop of the orphanage with my sister and I finally confessed my hurt, rage and displeasure to God through prayer.  Not just my anger about the circumstances, but my anger toward the God who allowed them to take place.  I said things I didn’t realize I needed to say.  “Sometimes I want to throw rocks at you; I hate that this is part of your love; how cruel do you have to be to just sit there and watch?”  I finished by telling him that though I didn’t understand and didn’t particularly care for him at that moment, I would trust in His Word because I know full well that apart from it there is no life to be lived. 

Once I uttered the words, “Amen,” there was no miraculous healing, no sudden change of heart.  I felt pain, sadness, detachment, but a certain acceptance I hadn’t anticipated.  When I woke the next morning, there was peace that surpassed my understanding.  I wasn’t able to love every child with that unconditional heart, but God blessed me with one boy who continued to seek me out and soon began calling me “maman,” which is a Creole term of endearment for “mother.”  I thought of the woman who grabbed Jesus’ cloak in Matthew 9 and instantaneously she was healed.  Jesus turned to her and said, “Take heart, daughter.  Your faith has made you well.”  I had to have faith in God’s word when he says, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15) otherwise I would’ve never said the things I said.  By being honest and opening my heart I began to experience a deeper relationship with my heavenly Father than I thought I was capable of experiencing.  And that was only the beginning.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I asked and it was given...

I have been transformed by my trip to Haiti. 

As I reflect on my trip, I’m awestruck by the way God led me to Haiti.  I prayed He’d help me to draw nearer to Him, to see myself through His eyes, and then prayed to see Him as He is rather than how I perceive him to be.  A trip to San Antonio, Texas for a three-day conference opened my eyes to this trip to Haiti where I would be challenged to teach orphans English.  I didn’t realize that by filling out those application forms I was actually responding to an invitation from God to join Him on a journey that would answer the prayers I’d been praying, and more. 

Upon arriving in Haiti I was automatically overwhelmed and doubtful of my decision to come.  I didn’t know a soul and I was the only person representing the Pacific Northwest.  The majority of the 65 volunteers were from east coast churches.  There were a few from Chicago and Los Angeles, one from London and one from Sweden.  I was the youngest person on the trip, a ripe 23 years old, and the second youngest spiritually at only 19 months old.  I hated how insecure I felt around everyone.  I hid behind my camera and took pictures of everything I saw, trying to mold into the wall of the bus and then into the scenery of the village of Croix des Bouquet where we were staying overnight.  One of my sisters, who’s been to Haiti four times to serve orphans with HOPE worldwide and serve as a nurse with another organization shortly after the 2010 earthquake, she made an effort to get to know me and I ended up confessing my insecurity.  It wasn’t the country that overwhelmed me; the country was beautiful, the people were beautiful, and the entire situation was tragic.  I was fascinated.  But the mission itself and the maturity of the disciples in age and spirituality intimidated me.  Could I serve?  Do they think I’m too young?  Would I hold everyone back or make things more difficult?  Had I made a mistake by coming?  Sunday morning in church I was miserable.  I faked it well enough on the outside, singing with people on the bus, smiling when something funny was said, trying to get to know people who first made an effort to get to know me – though the conversation was as uncomfortable as chewing nails.  

When I sat among Haitian disciples who spoke nothing but Creole, of which I didn’t understand a word, I finally just closed my eyes in prayer and begged God to change my heart.  I tried forcing joy, I tried to just tough it out until I “got over” whatever it was that was making me so insecure and I couldn’t.  I was there, and I wanted to have fun and I wanted to make the most of the trip.  I asked God to change my heart (Matthew 7:7) so that I could be joyful about being in Haiti, be eager to get to know my brothers and sisters, and be a joy to be around instead of being the sourpuss I know my attitude was projecting.  I wanted to be near to him and with that attitude I felt very far away so my prayer was the only way I knew how to step toward him (James 4:8).  When that service ended, I experienced the first immediate answer to one of my prayers.  I no longer felt bitter and resentful and frustrated and insecure.  I could stand in a crowd of disciples, American or Haitian, and be at ease, even eager to be around my family.  I was amazed to feel the dynamic changing in the group because of the shift in my heart and because I simply asked God for help.