Monday, August 18, 2014

A Confession

On Saturday, when all those thoughts that became my previous blog post were rumbling around in my head, I must confess that I was frustrated and angry. I don’t know if it came through to you, my readers—I felt that I was calmer about it when I actually put it all into words—but I know my heart & mind had been vigorously and selfishly decrying the unfairness of it all.

I didn’t fully realize this until I was sitting in church Sunday morning and the sermon “just happened” to be about Asaph and Psalm 73. I sat there listening, and it suddenly hit me that I had been feeling and acting a lot like Asaph, although the circumstances are different. But I was still jealous of others who seem to have a better life. Questioning why they get it good while I have to give up more to follow where God is leading me.

Even on Saturday, the Lord had opened my eyes to the selfishness of my attitude, as I wrote about at the end of my post. In light of what our Savior did, I am sacrificing nothing. But the sermon on Sunday showed me even more clearly the trap I had fallen into, and it pointed out that nothing in this life tells the full story.

I was questioning God “why?” again, based on what I see in the physical reality. And that’s wrong on two counts. One, I don’t have a right to ask God why He acts in the way He does. Two, judging things based on what happens in this life is like judging a book by its cover alone. In the light of eternity, I am beyond blessed simply because I am a child of the King. That should be more than enough satisfaction for me.

And so I have a new verse to remember, to keep me perspective right:
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.
Psalm 73:28

Trust God and declare His goodness: that is to be sufficient for me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Know Nothing of Sacrifice

{Warning – this is a rant that has been coming on for a while.}

In three weeks, I’ll be getting on a plane to go back to the bush of Uganda, and I couldn’t be more excited to do it! Yes, there will be luxuries and conveniences that I will certainly miss…but I will also get to see friends again, and I will get to be joining a ministry which seeks to help kids know the Fatherhood of God by experiencing it through us.

Sometimes, though, the thoughts—thoughts of what I’m leaving behind, thoughts of what I’m missing out on—are challenging to accept.

The other day, I received an email from a friend making a referral of a job possibility for me. When I first read the email, I didn’t think too much of it. I am committed to Uganda for at least 14 months, and I am eager to fulfill that commitment, especially because I am confident Kasana is where God is leading me!

But last night, when I opened up an email to let the person know I wasn’t available, it hit me more. Here was a job opportunity. A “real,” “big-girl” job. One in my degree field. One that would—I assume—allow me to provide for myself financially….to be fully independent for the first time since graduation.

In some ways, it was very tempting. It was a moment where I had to let go of my desire to be self-sufficient on my own. A moment where I had to once again trust God’s leading…trust Him to provide for me as I go into this place where I will be 100% counting on the support and donations of friends.

Today, I sent the email refusing the job opportunity, and there was no serious hesitation in that choice. But it did get me thinking.

Because it feels so unfair. It seems as though I am sacrificing a lot to go where I will have intermittent electricity and internet. Where there is no air conditioning other than the breeze. Where my freedom to move about will be somewhat hampered by basic safety concerns. Where there are no washing machines, dryers, microwaves, or dishwashers. Where I must count on people’s generosity for everything.

This is especially true when I think about other bigger missions organizations I know about which pay their staff members comfortable incomes. My mind goes to at least one “non-profit” whose president and handful of VPs each make six-figure annual incomes. Yes, they do good, good work. But how many MORE people could they help if those organizational leaders chose to live more modest lives?

We Americans think—I so often think—that we/I “deserve” a certain standard of living. We have a huge sense of entitlement that honestly is a bunch of bologna.

One job I applied for last fall here in the States probably would have paid me more in one year than some of my friends in Uganda—the better employed ones!—could dream of making, even if they worked for 50 years (in a country where the life expectancy is 58). I can go to a fast food place here and blow more money on one meal than day laborers there can make in a week.

And when I think of that, it makes me sick. And it makes me realize that I know nothing of sacrifice.
 Sure, in the bush of Uganda I will lack a lot of conveniences. But I will still be living the “good life.” I have friends who live in the village who have no power at all. No Internet, definitely no cable, probably no TV at all. Who probably do not have bathroom facilities. Who probably have to walk a good distance just to fetch water.

I don’t write this so that you will pity them. They don’t need your pity. Many of them know more about living an intentional, communitarian life than most Americans. Relationally, I believe they lead much richer lives. Because when someone has a need, they do what they can to help fulfill it. They care for one another and help bear one another burdens on a daily basis, and it is beautiful to witness.

Earlier today, as I was holding this rant in the recesses of my own mind, a thought struck me.

I definitely do not really know anything of sacrifice. Even my friends in Uganda do not know all there is of sacrifice.

We each know different parts of sacrifice. They know what it is to truly be in want. But they did not choose that station in life, and many of them wish to better their circumstances. For me, I am choosing to give up certain things. But as I said, I will still be living a comfortable life compared to parts of the world. What’s more, I have the certain opportunity to return to my plush, fancy (albeit middle-class) life in America.

But there is Another who knows everything that sacrifice entails. One who gave up the riches of the universe for a peasant’s life—who during His sojourn here did not even have a place to lay His heavenly head.

And that was only the beginning of the Truest Sacrifice.

Because not only was He poor. Not only was He misunderstood and often rejected. Not only was He bound for the first time in eternity by the constraints and weaknesses of a human body. On top of all these—each a sacrifice bigger than any I could possibly make, even if I lost everything and went to live in the poorest streets of the world—On top of all these, He willingly chose to relinquish His right to command angel armies. His right to be worshipped for Who He was. He gave up His very life. For what? For His glory, yes. But it was also for His enemies that He made this sacrifice. For you and me.

Because what do we as human beings actually, truly deserve?

We deserve to be destroyed, to be banished from God’s presence forever. We deserve nothing other than the wrath and judgment of God. This very instant. Every breath any human breathes—the fact that the world still exists and we are alive—is a gift of God’s grace. But the fact that He has made me His own dear child—and that at such a high cost……there are no words for such grace and love.

The innumerable physical luxuries I am enjoying this very moment? Sitting here in my room of a house, with lights, AC, laptop, music, a closet full of clothes, a satisfied stomach, money in my purse, clean from a running water shower…….Those are not things that I deserve. They are gifts. But at worst, they can be horrible distractions.

And as I think of all this, I can’t wait to go back to Uganda. To go back to a place where I am reminded on a daily basis that I must depend on God for the strength to face each moment. Where I am confronted every day with how enormously blessed I am.

What’s more, I’ll be following in the footsteps of my Savior. Not because of how good I am, but because of His grace and mercy at work in my life. And it’s all for His glory, for the sake of His great name.

There’s nothing else to say to that.

Monday, August 4, 2014

God's Grace in my Brokenness

{I wrote this last Tuesday in the rawness of the moment. But I've kept coming back to in my mind...feeling that I should post it here. And so I share it with you, not because it puts me in a good light, but because it shows the Glory and Grace of my heavenly Father, that He would receive one such as me.}

It’s all gonna burn.

I can imagine myself torching my room in a moment of fed-up frustration and watching with a look of smug satisfaction as it all—every bit—gets reduced to ashes.

None of this STUFF lasts into eternity. And yet I’ve spent so so so much time in collecting this stuff. In organizing this stuff. In cleaning this stuff.

And for what end? Because in this stuff I trust? Because in this stuff I hold onto the past? Because this stuff carries my memories?

I’m struck again by the tension of living in the light of eternity vs. being too involved in the perishable things of this life.

It’s all gonna burn.

And as I try to answer the NHICF application question of what motivates me, the tears roll down my face. I reach out a tentative hand

“God, are You there?”

This time, this time at home. It’s supposed to be a time of preparation. It’s supposed to be a time of relating to people here, of reconnecting with them. Of gathering a support team so that I can return to ministry in Kasana.

But I’ve squandered so much. I wake with a headache so many mornings, because of staying up too late, usually binge watching my TV show addiction.

Last night I was watching as I finished cards…but the night before that, when I was up until 2 a.m.? There was no profit there.

“God, I want to stop running.” This is when the tears came. Because it feels like no matter how many times I come to this point, no matter how many times I say this, still I go back.

I am no different than the Israelites. They turn away. They forget the Lord who has done wonders among them. Even when it’s right in their face, still they question and go the way of their own stubborn hearts.

I say I want to go back to be in community with people. I say I want to touch the lives of others.
In the past two months, what have I done?

My life doesn’t start when my feet touch the Ugandan soil once more. My life is NOW.
And those choices I’ve been making NOW to indulge, to relax?
Those have been establishing patterns and addictions.

And yes, idols.

Distractions and stumbling blocks.
I know this. I know it all too well from years of experience.
And still. Still I go back. Still I wander away from the only One who is my root & anchor.

“Abba, please rip out this selfish heart of mine.”
“I’m sorry.”

There’s nothing else to say.
I feel the weakness of my own soul. I know the promises are vain on my lips.
How long until I fall back in? Maybe a week, maybe a day.

But the answer to that first question is yes. Yes, my God is here with me. He kneels beside me in my brokenness. He reaches out to touch my heaving shoulders.

Does He perhaps cry with me in my disappointment and regret?
But He doesn’t want me to stay there.
The broken self-heart turned to Him, yes. But not being stuck in the regret of the past.

Tomorrow is a new day, the next moment is a new opportunity.
And He extends that grace to me once more. Oh, but my heart trembles and fears the thought of taking unrighteous advantage of His grace.

I can do nothing.
I am no one.
But God.
But God offers unto us the resurrection power of Christ.

His work is available to change our hearts—to change my heart.

And each moment, every breath is a new chance to say no to self and yes to His conforming, redeeming work.

Abba, I confess my weakness to You. I confess that I am undeserving of Your grace. And yet I ask for it once again—I know there is no other place to stand. Paraclete, please renew Your Spirit within me. Guide me in Your ways, let me not go down my own selfish path.

Thank You that You can and will. To You be the glory.

{When I came back to my computer from eating lunch, I found this email waiting from a dear sister:
I love you Esther Carey. I want to remind you that God's grace is enough today even in our weaknesses and mistakes. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).
"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 on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 2 Corinthians 4:7.
I'm telling this to myself too. Trust his power today.

My first thought was “wait, how did she know???” I hadn’t posted anything anywhere, but she spoke exactly the words I needed to hear. Praise the Lord J}