Thursday, November 5, 2015

God's Love for Us

Yesterday was, I am afraid, another one of "those days."

Jill is back in the office with me starting Tuesday, which is wonderful! And I'm going home two weeks from today, which is also wonderful!! But yesterday, thanks to a few other things as well, the emotions started snowballing quickly and early.

I'm so thankful that God reminded me to lean on Him in that moment, because if He hadn't, I am not sure if I would have made it through the day. Without Him, I am so weak!

But I did make it through, all by His Grace.

When we got to our weekly staff fellowship in the evening, one of our staff members came to share with us what she had recently learned at a conference about how to counsel people. But instead of jumping in to a list of things we should do, she went back to the beginning: reminding us that love is the goal of counseling others, and that "We cannot do that unless we are receiving God's love into our hearts regularly."

So instead of talking at us about how to help others, she gave us verses to meditate on as we opened up our hearts to God's love for us. Afterwards, this is what I wrote:

I am a child of God--Beloved and Precious. The child of a Prodigal God,* One who will spare NO expense in redeeming His people. He did it at the time of the Exodus (Deut. 7:7-8), He pursued His people through generations (Jer. 31:3), and He did it again through Jesus (Rom. 5:8).

God spared no expense. He poured out the most precious thing in the entire Universe: the blood of His Son (John 3;16). Because He loved us, because He loved me. Not because of any righteousness I had done or could ever do---my father's father's father's father for generations existed only in God's foreknowledge when Christ chose & pledged to make that ultimate sacrifice (Eph. 2:4-5). It is ALL by grace, all by His lavished love (1 John 3:1).

Lord, open the floodgates of my soul to Your love. Saturate me with You--mind, heart, body & soul--so that when life squeezes me and jostles me, it is Your love which overflows.

*This idea comes from Tim Keller's book of the same name, in which he points out that the real meaning of "prodigal" is extravagant, although the "parable of the prodigal son" often makes us think of it in terms of wandering from home. In that book, Tim Keller shows how the parable is really about the Prodigal Father (God) who rejoices so much in us.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Of Mango Juice & Broom Trees

Today was one of “those days” – days when one feels overloaded & overwhelmed.

I travelled back on Tuesday from a week of vacationing out at Musana Camps, NHU’s beautiful property on the shores of Lake Victoria. But by this afternoon, any rest during that week seemed hardly worth the piles of work I came back to.

So many things to do, chiefly reading & processing 300ish letters from our primary & senior students to their sponsors. But so many other things too, pressing things that I just can’t seem to make time for. Budgets & emails & new sponsorships, and a pile of Christmas packages for kids just waiting to be opened & checked.

I was tired and frustrated and on edge this afternoon. One of my friends had stopped by several times to do various things at the admin offices. So we had greeted & chatted a bit, and she could see I was tired.

Trying to get some of the letters read, I could just feel my frustration building. A class where the teacher had written a letter and just had all the students copy it (true, it’s a young class, but they should still be able to answer simple questions for themselves). Other things that hadn’t gone quite like I expected.

I was about ready to throw in the towel and go for a run to vent my pent up feelings, even though it was 3 p.m. and I was nearly sweating just sitting still in my office.

Then my friend showed up again. She handed me a manila envelope, strangely shaped. Inside was a box of cold mango juice she had bought for me.

Such a seemingly small thing – but to me it was not a small thing: it was a big thing.

Because as she turned and left before I had even finished opening it and thanking her, my mind flew back to Tuesday night.

That night, we women here at Kasana had started a video-based Bible study: “Walking with God in the Desert,” by Ray Vander Laan. He’s a Bible teacher who takes people out to the Holy Land and creates studies about Christian history & heritage and lessons to be learned from that.

There have definitely been times in the past year and in the past months when I have felt the blasting heat of a metaphorical desert wind. Moving & living half way around the world from everything familiar isn’t easy. Carrying a lot of responsibility for months can be a draining challenge.

But, as Ray reminded us, it’s in the desert we often are reminded that it is God who is faithful and sufficient, and it is in the desert times that we can learn to fall in love with Him all over again.

In the second video lesson we watched, Ray talked about the concept in the Bible of God being the shade at our right hand. He said the Hebrew word refers to what we call a broom tree. It’s more like a shrub or a bush: something which can give relief from the heat, but not like an oak tree that more completely blocks out the burning sunlight.

God doesn’t promise us that He will magically make all of our problems disappear! But He does promise us that He will give us the shade and relief at all times when we need Him. And His grace is sufficient for us to take the next step, to make it through the next challenge. What’s more, God often uses the community of His people to bring that shade to one another.

This afternoon, God used my friend to remind me about what I had already so quickly forgotten. That box of mango juice was my broom tree for the afternoon. I thank God for my friends here, including this one who’s “small” act of kindness honestly turned around my whole frame of mind.

The only way to explain it is God. A box of mango juice doesn’t really turn me from someone who’s frustrated and fed up into someone who can take the next step and the next step and make progress in reading letters. It was just a practical object lesson & reminder that God is enough and He will provide the strength I need. I had written those same words just a couple hours before, because I knew with my head they were true. But God in His grace sent my friend with a box of mango juice because He knew I needed to remember and feel it with my heart this afternoon.

Because of what my friend did for me, I was also able to reach out to other friends and hopefully be a bit of God’s shade for them too. That’s how God’s grace works. It’s not just something I take and keep for myself. It’s something that I receive in order to pass it on to others – for the glory of our loving Father.

So as you go about your day, maybe think about how you can be God’s broom tree for others in their struggles. And don’t forget that God is always there for you in your desert, no farther away than you can reach your right hand.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


I know this is a few months early for my fellow Americans….. But here at New Hope Uganda, tomorrow we will be having our annual Thanksgiving Sunday service. And so in that spirit, I wanted to share some of the things I am so very thankful for in this season of my life.

First of all, I am incredibly thankful for our Abba, Father – the fact that He is present and active in the lives of His children is an incomprehensible gift!

I am thankful for our Savior, for His patience and undying love for us. Words utterly fail to describe what He has done and continues to do for the glory of God, of which we are beneficiaries!
“This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”  2 Timothy 2:11-13

I’m also thankful for Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who lives within God’s beloved sons & daughters and continues working and interceding for our sanctification.

I’m so thankful that I am never alone, for this is the Triune God who is ever-present with us.

I’m thankful for my biological family, especially my parents. Their constant love and care and prayers and support mean more to me than I can ever say.

I am also thankful for my massive spiritual family – literally located around the globe. So many names I could mention here – names of prayer supporters and encouragers, names of friends. Many of whom I have not seen in recent months, but who I know care nonetheless.

I’m thankful for my New Hope family too – again, so many names I could pull out of people who have invested in me in ways small and large. People who have opened their hearts and homes to me; people I have been able to stand with and work alongside. People who, while not perfect, seek to serve God through loving His “least of these.”

I am thankful for the gift of fellowshipping for a week in person with a friend & apartment-mate from college days. Her presence was such a gift and she is part of the reason I am writing this right now!

I’m thankful for the beauty of God’s creation! For the birds, the flowers, the stars my friend and I enjoyed during a dark night power out. This world is so amazing in its variety and ingenious design.

This list could go on and on…..
When I choose gratitude and thankfulness as my glasses, I see so much that is good and blessing in my life. Yes, there are hardships and challenges. But I – we! – are called to give thanks in all things. And so this evening, I praise God for the many gifts He has given me…..above them all, Himself in relationship.

To God be the Glory, great things He has done!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Boasting in My Weakness

I’ve got to say, it’s not easy for me to think about writing this post. Even simply typing the title made me pause.

I’m the kind of person who likes to be right—who needs to be right (or at least I think I do). I want to be the one who’s dependable and got it all together.

But, truth is, I’m not – and I don’t.

God is at work in my heart and life. Often I wish He would hurry up and finish so that I would just be good to go. But then I wouldn’t need Him as desperately, would I?

In the past weeks and months, I’ve been wrestling with apathy. Well, actually, a more accurate description would be that I’ve been giving in to apathy without putting up a lot of fight.

I’ve been battling discouragement, hypocrisy, etc. You name one of those inner struggles that’s so easy to put a mask over, I’ve probably been dealing with it to some extent.

But God – He sees right through my masks. Jesus Christ sees my heart with His eyes of blazing fire that our teacher talked about this morning in church (from Revelations 2:18). And yet this same God doesn’t only see in me what I so often focus on, the sin & failures, the guilt. God the Father sees in me the righteousness of His Son, our Savior.

That’s what He reminded me of this afternoon as I knelt on my bed, crying for shame & guilt of my shortcomings. And to my heart, three simple words, yet so profound that it will take eternity to understand: He loves me.

Yes, in myself I am weak – so very prone to give into the temptation of the easy, selfish path. But in my weakness is the opportunity for His strength to be displayed, for His glory.

Because if living the Christian life—a life that pleases God—is something that I could work up to do in my own strength, there would have been no need for Christ to come.

I need Him, He who has fought the war and won the victory; He who has defeated the enemies of sin and Satan and death. The balance is there: The war has been won, and yet I am called to fight the daily battles by the power of the Victor flowing in and through me.

Yesterday as I worked on laundry, some of these same thoughts which have been common these past weeks were already circling in my mind. I shut off the podcast I was listening to, and prayed seeking to listen to my God instead. And in that, I was reminded of the need to put to death my old man, my fleshly desires, each day. But I can’t even crucify my own flesh – that can only be done through the Spirit who brings life in the place of death (Romans 8:13).

Thanks be to God, it is not that I must struggle against my flesh in order to win God’s acceptance and approval. On the contrary, He has adopted me as His daughter through Christ’s death – thereby giving the only reason I have hope of choosing life over the sin and death which form our natural, fallen state (Romans 8:12-17).

And yesterday, as He called me to the beginning of this memory, my mind flew back to a little something I had started in March and finished in June:

I say I started it in March. That’s not strictly true. March is when I pulled some images of crosses from the Internet and selected a font, all of which I began to combine and trace to make this image. But the story of this picture started almost four years ago, on my 21st birthday at JBU’s Sunday night chapel service. It was there that the words “I am Thine” (referring to myself in relationship to my heavenly Lord, obviously) became emblazoned on my mind. They’ve been there ever since, and often my heart has repeated that cry.

The cross was added to the mental image later, in Northern Ireland. That’s a story of its own, perhaps for another day. But over these past two years since that trip, I’ve been wanting to draw this. Last month, the image was finally completed. And yesterday, it suddenly took on even deeper significance. Not only is the cross the symbol of Christ’s redemption of our souls, it is also the symbol of what we are called to: To take up our cross each day – not to earn our salvation, but because we have it (Luke 9:23-25, Philippians 3:7-11).

These words, this symbol – they are far beyond anything I can accomplish in and of myself. It is all Christ. Therefore, I will gladly boast in my weakness, that through me the strength of His grace may be seen (2 Corinthians 12:9). For His glory alone.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fresh Love

{I’ve stolen/borrowed this title, as you’ll see later – so I can’t take credit for it!}

This past Thursday evening, I hit a slump of discouragement. There are several probable factors that created it, but in the end God used it to once again remind me how constantly and desperately I need Him. He is all-sufficient, if only I would have the faith to trust and rely on Him rather than myself.

Since then, I have spent some time reading Nehemiah 8 and 9. Those two chapters focus on the reading of the law to the Jews who had returned after exile, and of their response to it. The people were grieved when the law was read and explained by the Levites – and though they were encouraged to not grieve because “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10), they later returned to pour their hearts out in confession before God.

During this gathering, the Levites stood up before the people and recounted the history of Israel poetically – but what I found most interesting as I read it this morning is that they started off by blessing God and worshipping Him. The tale they told was one of Israelite rebellion and unfaithfulness, but it was framed and laced throughout with the mercy of God and His worthiness to be obeyed and praised.

As I closed my Bible and prepared to get ready for church, a thought flitted through my mind; something about feeling as though I was just slogging through, trying to do what I knew I should, but often without my heart fully into it. Little did I know then how that very thought would tie into church.

I arrived at church a little early. While sitting there listening to the choir finishing their practice for the service, I watched as a couple of our church leaders brought out the elements for communion. Somehow, that simple sight awakened emotion in me, and a tear had to be wiped from my cheek.

A little later in the service, the Scripture passage for the day’s sermon was read, Revelations 2:1-7. The meat of those verses hit me right between the eyes. Christ, speaking to the church in Ephesus, says:
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: have forsaken the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:2-4).

Yes, I thought. Yes, that’s exactly it. That could nearly just as well be speaking about me.

My mind flashed back to a recent group discussion in which I was simultaneously frustrated and prideful. I found myself unduly frustrated with others for not having a working understanding of theological principles which I’ve had something of a grasp on for almost as long as I can remember. And thus the pride came into play as well.

I try to work hard and perform well, often for the sake of giving glory to Christ. I make an effort to hold fast to Scripture, making it my foundation, learning so that I may I understand truth and discern the lie. I do my best to press through times of discouragement.

But where is the love in my heart?

Do I do all these things merely because I am supposed to? Or because my heart is on fire with a love and passion for God and His glory?

While I desire the latter, the former is often more accurate. Just trying to slog through life, to get through one more day.

I don’t want to live like that.

I want to return to the first love of Christ. The love that came, not because of anything I had done but because of what He did. The fresh love, as the preacher put it, that flows from Him through me—of which I am merely a channel, not a creator.

During the sermon, the pastor for the day clarified and reechoed many of these thoughts which had recently been swirling, half-formed, in my mind. In his conclusion, he read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a. Reminding us that without love, we are nothing. Reminding us of just what kind of love Christ has for us.

As we took communion, our worship leader played a song that had really struck me in church a couple weeks ago. I munched my small square of bread and drank my small cup of juice, remembering what Christ has done for me; remembering that all is by grace.

And so a new day continues, a new hour lies before me. May it be filled with a fresh love for Christ and for others, by His grace.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


It’s a normal Saturday for Esther in Uganda: laundry, pancakes, Institute homework, thinking about trying to catch up on emails. The day always flies by too fast.

I went outside to get Internet and check to see if my new laptop had arrived at its Stateside destination for a returning staff member to bring it to Uganda early next week. And that’s when it happened.

As I checked Facebook, I found out about a major earthquake earlier in the day, outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. A friend who was awakened by an early morning call from her son to let her know he and his family were ok. A post from a non-profit in the midst of building competitions and Stateside concerns.

And I had just posted about being annoyed that mosquitoes were biting me because I had forgotten to apply bug spray before going outside.

A minor inconvenience to the trauma and tragedy hundreds of thousands of people are dealing with right now in Nepal. The death toll, already nearing 900, will undoubtedly rise. People, many injured, are/were scared to go back inside because aftershocks continue rocking the buildings.

Somehow, this time it’s sinking in further. So often, it’s easy to read about disasters and just go about my life. But today, it hit home. As I went back inside, thinking about how to spend the rest of my day, the incongruity and unfairness of it all swept over me.

This moment, there are probably people trapped in collapsed buildings, fighting for their lives. There are thousands whose homes were destroyed, who will spend the night outside in the cold. And I was debating what to have for dinner and whether or not to watch a movie.


It is only by the Lord’s mercy that I am not suffering the same (Lamentations 3:22). That I am instead enjoying innumerable comforts I still take for granted and resent when I don’t have, even here in the bush of Uganda. Why them? Why not me? Why suffering?

We were talking about the sovereignty of God and the role of Satan in class last week. And then this morning, hours before I became aware of all this, I read the part of Romans 9 talking about how God prepares some for destruction and some for mercy (vs. 14-29).

God could have prevented this earthquake. He could have prevented all earthquakes, all natural disasters. But He chooses not to – and the reason is always His plan and His glory. Because He takes things meant for evil and turns them into good. My brain can’t comprehend that, because for those hundreds and hundreds of people who died it doesn’t seem like there can be ANY good in it. But God knows. God loved and cared about every single one of those people, each one as a unique and special creation of His.

It blows my mind to try and think about this. Which is why God is the one in charge and not me! And I am so thankful He is. As I sat on my bed trying to digest the discrepancy between my “challenges” and the life-and-death situation of my fellow humanity right now in Nepal, the tears came. How could I go on about my normal life in the face of this disaster?

Thoughts and ideas flitted through my mind, but the problem is so beyond anything I can really do to affect it. Even prayer feels so small and helpless when looking at things from the perspective of thousands wounded and/or homeless. But prayer is the tool God has given us – and so I prayed. And I will keep on praying. Won’t you join me?

Thankfully, God also uses organizations and individuals to do things both small and big which can help alleviate the hardship of some of these survivors in the coming days and weeks. And just as it is the thought of the individuals who died which makes this feel so overwhelming, so it is the thought of the individuals who will be helped and sustained which brings hope and comfort.

Please pray for Nepal. And please give to help with the relief efforts which will be taking place. Samaritan’s Purse is one organization. I know there are others as well. Don’t forget our fellow humanity in Nepal tomorrow, next week, even in the coming months. They will still need your prayers and support.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Trusting God, Once Again

On Friday afternoon, I received two pieces of news: one that I had assumed for months was coming eventually and one that caught me totally off guard. The latter was the conclusion of several weeks of my choices in interactions with others. I should probably have been expecting things to come to the point that they did. But I was being optimistic and so wasn’t considering the potential “worst” outcome. The news left me hurting and a bit shaken.

This week in Institute class has been all about “Veritas,” a Bible study method. As I moved about our office block, trying to let the news sink in and trying to adjust to the new reality thrust upon me, a verse we had been looking at just before lunch came back to mind: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Col. 3:15).

“All right, God,” I prayed, “This situation is what You have allowed to happen. And You have called me to peace. Please teach my heart to trust You and rest in peace today, right now.” And He did! I went about finishing my day in the office, and on my way home talked to my mentor a bit about it all, since she’d been walking with me through the situation the past month.

Last night, some of the young people put on a concert. In the greeting and fellowshipping afterward, God allowed me to have a special interaction with a friend. It gave me a glimpse of good things He is doing through the situation, even though part of the outcome is not what I would have chosen.

As I continued thinking about it back at my house, I was reminded that peace is not “everything going my way” – and trust is likewise not “God doing things my way.” Peace and trust are both choosing to rest in God’s goodness, knowing that He loves everyone involved so much more than I do! And that He is working out His plan, even when to my human view it seems like things are falling apart rather than being renewed. As my mentor reminded me, “sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.” And God is the one directing that process in light of His sovereignty and omniscience! That is where hope and peace and trust find their truest, deepest roots.

This morning, I woke up earlier than I intended to—so even after spending a chunk of time directly in God’s Word it was too early to get ready and go to church. I thought about writing this post, but was feeling a bit under the weather so didn’t want to yet. I ended up deciding to pull out my Kindle version of a women’s devotional, because I remembered I had one more chapter I hadn’t read yet.

Guess what it was about??? Yep, trusting God. I took one look at the title (“Does God Deserve Our Trust?”) and almost laughed. Several things in the chapter—discussing trying to put God in a box, and God as the Potter from Romans 9, for example—have been on my mind already the past year-plus. So many good quotes I could put in here from this chapter! But here’s just a couple:

“The reality is that we often don’t want to trust God until we’ve tried to fix the problem ourselves first….We really don’t give God a second thought until something big comes up” (pg. 153).

“I believe that sometimes we are a little cautious about trusting God because we’re afraid of what He may bring into our lives in order to teach us something or to test us” (pg. 155).

“Does trusting God mean that everything will work out just the way we want it to and that we’ll live happily ever after? No, it doesn’t. That’s a God-box…..Whether you trust God with your life does not change the fact that you still really have no control over your circumstances” (pg. 158).

The authors (Beverly LaHaye and her daughter Lori Scheck) went on to talk about how we must have both a proper view of ourselves and a proper view of God if we are to grow in our trust for Him. It was all such a good reminder, especially in light of everything this weekend! Praise the Lord for His leading and timing :)

So there are no easy answers. I still wish, and I am still tempted to hope, that things turn out differently in the situation that instigated this whole post. But God is using these circumstances that are mostly out of my control to remind me of what trust really means: Resting in His plan, not because it is the same as mine but because He is good.

To God be the glory.

The quotes come from the last chapter of A Woman and Her God, edited by Beth Moore.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why Cast Your Burdens?

Last year about this time, I wrote a couple of posts about the idea of bearing one another’s burdens and casting one’s burdens onto Christ. I had more posts on my mind, but they never reached the stage of being written.

In the past couple months, that theme has been repeating itself in a couple different areas of my life….and so I may write some of those posts I was mulling on last year.

But first, I wanted to mention something else Uncle Jonnes talked about earlier this month after leading us on a journey to the cross, which I talked about in my previous post.

He used a term (Rutegga Mubegga) in his native language, which refers to someone who helps carry someone else’s burden. And he told a story of a man who used this term as a name for Jesus. When he faced troubles and challenges, he taught his daughter how to pray, bringing the burdens to Rutegga Mubegga.

After entrusting them to the shoulder of Jesus, this man was able to live out Christ’s grace and love because he was no longer carrying the weight of the injury done to him. He had entrusted it to the one who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23), and thus was able to serve as a channel of His love and grace.

I really appreciated that imagery, it struck a chord with me. And as I think about it again tonight, I’m reminded of what I wrote in one of my posts last year. We don’t carry our burdens to Christ so that we can have an easy life. No, we are called to surrender the burdens of our sin and our self-protection so that we can take up the burden of loving and caring for others.

Last year, I was going to write a whole post about the song “Let It Go” from Frozen. It resonated with me, because I identified with Elsa’s seeking to find safety by hiding her true self: “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” But as I’ve thought about it more since then, I can see how misplaced her solution (running away to isolation in an ice castle) to that self-oppression was.

While that song is the one that went viral overnight, it’s not the high point of the movie. In fact, it’s closer to the low point. Elsa was indulging herself, not considering others and the effect her choices were having on them.

Her being bound by fear for all of those years, trying to control her powers herself had not worked, but neither did giving in and carrying out her whims with a wild abandon. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I see in the story a parallel to the Christian life. Isolation is never the answer. If you compare Elsa’s powers to humanity’s flesh, we can see the futility of both trying to stuff our desires and wantonly carrying them out.

Both lead to fear and bondage, not freedom.

So where is freedom found? The movie points in the right direction, but can’t give the full answer. Freedom is found in love – more specifically, the love of Christ. In Him removing our burdens as we choose to surrender to Him, by His grace and strength.

Once we have been transformed and released from fear by the self-sacrificial love of our Savior, then we can be truly free to use the gifts which He has given us: not for our selfish-gratification, but rather for the good of others.

Christ takes our burdens that we may be His servants in leading others to Him to have their burdens also lightened, and all for His glory. That is our mission in and through Him.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I Am Free

This morning, I rode a boda from Kasana all the way to Luwero (about a 30 minute trip) for the first time. It was still early, and so the wind was cold. But all the way, there was a song ringing through my mind as the wind whipped my friend’s hair into my face:

“I am free to run,
I am free to dance,
I am free to live for You,
Yes, I am free."
{from the Newsboys’ “I am Free}
We sang this song and another similar one at Envisioning in January, and I loved both songs immediately because they parallel what God has been speaking into my heart the past couple months. I talked about it in an internal way in a blog post early last month.
On the last day of Envisioning, our New Hope staff had communion together. After we finished, the pastor who had led asked the worship band to play “Jailbreak” again. He called on one of the men to carry a medium-sized cross displayed in our church around the outside perimeter of our meeting area. And he encouraged all of us to parade after it, celebrating the freedom we have in Christ because of His finished work.

Because of the work God had been doing in my life that week, I was eager for an opportunity to express my thankfulness. I tried dancing and singing at the same time, which just made me breathless. For the first time in my life, I worshipped with true abandon….not caring if I made a fool of myself. The memory almost brings tears of joy to my eyes :)
So why do I write all of this now, almost two months later? Because God, in His faithfulness, is continuing to bring home the application of these glorious truths in my life. A big tool for that has been the Institute – it is an amazing, challenging, soul-searching journey rightly compared to heart surgery :) And the past week has been another big step in that process.

Uncle Jonnes, the Ugandan cofounder of New Hope Uganda, did most of the teaching this week about heart wounds, what causes them, and how to deal with them. He has been teaching from Isaiah 53 and Mark 15 about how Christ came to bear and set us free from our sorrows and grief as well as our sin. Yesterday, the week culminated in a journey to the cross.
During an hour of reflection, we each read through some Scripture passages Uncle Jonnes had given us and then spent time thinking about some of the things which have hurt us, the wounds of which we were still carrying. He told us to write them down, then bring them and nail them to the same cross I mentioned earlier.

“Don’t keep a copy!” he instructed. “We’re going to write on each of these papers Jesus’ words: ‘It is finished,’ and then we are going to do with them what needs to be done.” The hour flew by too fast, probably because I was writing more detail than he intended us to. Forgiving a boy for an act of immaturity that I have been subconsciously letting define me for nearly two decades. Losses that I have never grieved properly. Wounds which, though I have been processing them, have still been affecting me. I went onto a second page and was late going back to class. The tears flowed, sometimes at surprising moments.
Finally I made my way back, and with the others nailed the folded paper onto a representation of our Savior’s cross. Uncle Jonnes reminded us that if we keep on carrying these things which Jesus came to put to death with Himself, then we are acting out a belief that His work is not sufficient. A word of prayer, and then the papers were removed.

Uncle Jonnes carried them outside, to where a sigiri waited with hot charcoal on it. And there, as we watched, the papers burned—a sweet smelling offering to the Lord. Those things do not define us: Christ’s righteousness and wholeness does. It. Is. FINISHED. And in our Savior, we are FREE.
The peace and quietness dwelling in my heart since yesterday has been a sweet blessing. Of course, I know there will obviously be more challenges in my life ahead. Even those things I wrote down may continue to haunt and shape me…..IF I LET THEM. As Uncle Jonnes reminded us, this is a journey. And yesterday was just one step of the journey.

But it was a beautiful step, and one I am still rejoicing in today :)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Story of the Bracelets

This morning, shortly after getting up, I put my laundry in basins to soak for a while before washing it by hand. But before I did, I first removed the six handmade bracelets from my right wrist so I could wash them too. Usually, I wear them 24/7 which means I have a “watch tan” on both wrists!

I’ve been meaning to write the story of these bracelets for a while, and for some reason now seems the right time to do it. I tried to look back at old blog posts and see what I had mentioned about them before, but didn’t find much. Maybe it’s been on Facebook that I’ve mentioned a bit about them.
Anyway, here’s the story. I hope it encourages those who read it somehow.

It started almost two years ago in April of 2013.

No, actually it started before that: in September of 2011 (my junior year of college). We had a visiting chapel speaker who was talking about being a slave of Christ, and the Holy Spirit was really challenging me and convicting me through his sessions. That same month, someone was selling handmade beaded jewelry on campus to help raise money for people in Africa. I had bought a simple black and white choker necklace.

As I thought and prayed about what God was reminding me of through the chapel speaker, I wanted to wear some physical reminder of Christ’s call on my life. So I started wearing the necklace each day, and it helped keep the choice to live my life as Christ’s slave in the forefront of my mind. But within a couple months, I had lost the necklace. I would guess it slipped off as I was walking across campus. I was disappointed at the loss, but life went on.

God had been teaching me and reminding me of so many things in college, following the spiritual revival He worked in my life in my third semester. Ever since August of 2011, one of those lessons had been about His love—especially in light of 1 John 4. You can read more about it here.

Fast forward to April 2013, my last semester of college. One of our campus ministries hosted an even featuring ballet dancing and some testimonies to help raise awareness about sexual trafficking. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it took me back to the lesson of love, and I felt God calling me to live my life post-graduation intentionally loving others. Again, there was jewelry for sale, and so I bought a woven bracelet with pink and yellow flowers on a blue background as a reminder. I prayed that I would be a vessel of God’s love to those around me.

Bracelet #1: LOVE, 1 John 4 (esp. vs. 18) & John 13:34-35 – April 2013

After graduation, I had a couple of weeks at home before heading back up to Arkansas to join a missions trip from JBU to Northern Ireland. While there, we partnered with the local Youth for Christ in a small town running a VBS for the kids and doing other kid-focused ministry. We had a great team, and I still look back on that month as a special time. God knit our hearts together and to the kids in a unique way, and it was a blessing to be a part of that. I could see the seed of love growing and bearing fruit—certainly not perfectly, but it was there.

During our time there, we gals on the team twice invited the girls from the area to come hang out with us. In our preparation ahead of time, we had decided to make friendship bracelets with the girls. Trying to get 10 girls simultaneously set up for that activity was rather trying for my personality, and I ended up allowing it to put me in a bad mood. Later that night as I sat outside praying through some things, God reminded me that the character trait we had been teaching at VBS that morning was humility. The evening had clearly shown me that I needed the Holy Spirit to work the things we were covering with the kids in my life as well.

Later, possibly all the way in September after my summer internship, I took some of the extra threads from one of the girls’ bracelet that I had saved and braided a new bracelet. {Just this year I had to replace it, because it was a small braid and it wore out. But the colors are the same :)}

Bracelet #2: HUMILITY, Philippians 2:3 – June/Sept 2013

Things didn’t go the way I had expected between June and September. The internship I had thought I would love proved a lot more challenging; the job offer I assumed I would want didn’t come through after all. So I found myself back home with no definite prospects….until a door opened to come to Uganda for a short-term opportunity that could turn into something more permanent.

I liked wearing my bracelets as reminders. It made me think of the altars that God instructed the Israelites to build so that they would remember God’s work in their lives. So even before departing, I looked forward to making another bracelet in Uganda.

Within a few weeks, I was at work on one – in the colors and pattern of the Ugandan flag. This time the lesson was service and sacrifice. It has not been an easy lesson at all. I say “has” because I am still learning it. It didn’t take me long to realize that I need these reminders precisely because the lessons keep coming back around in circles. I haven’t “completed” any one of these goals—but I trust God that He is continuing to work these in me.

Bracelet #3: SERVICE/SACRIFICE, John 12:24-26 – Jan/Feb 2014

My time in Uganda was hard in deeper ways that I had thought it would be. By the time my commitment ended in May, I was so ready to return home. But at the same time, I looked forward to the offered opportunity to come back in a different capacity. As I left, I sensed that my next bracelet altar would be joy, that God would give me opportunity to delight in Him.

I made the bracelet during the drive back from Colorado after my brother’s graduation, a pink and purple square knot pattern, with tan thread as the unseen center. I hadn’t planned that, but later on reflection I could see a correlation. Joy does not mean there are no disappointing/challenging/blah times (like the tan threads). But it does mean that we can choose to focus on the joy that we can have in Christ, even in the midst of the hard times.

Unfortunately, this lesson is not one I lived out well in the following months. I tried to stuff the hardships rather than dealing with them. And stuffing doesn’t bring true joy, it just delays the healing. This was a choice I made, to push God away and to try and find “joy” (the fake sort) in the gratification of my more fleshly desires. And it is something I have had to repent of these last couple months. But thanks be to God for His grace & faithfulness in spite of my weakness!

Bracelet #4: JOY, Nehemiah 8:10 and Psalm 51:12 – May/June 2014

A couple months later, as I started getting in gear to return to Uganda, I wrestled some with what I would be giving up in the process. My hungering desire for a “real job,” one in line with what I studied and one which actually provided an income, nearly stumbled me one weekend. But in the process I realized that I knew nothing of sacrifice.

It was also a renewed call to trust in God’s faithfulness. This was, like love, not something new. It has been a recurring theme for me ever since that same summer of 2011. A lot of my blog posts on here have dealt with it in one way or another. But I am learning that it is one thing to agree intellectually that God is faithful and that I can trust Him. It is another thing to live it out in the daily walk of life.

And so, I spent several hours knotting a more complicated bracelet – often praying as I did so. It features orange fish swimming in a river of various blues.

Bracelet #5: TRUST & FAITH, Psalm 73:28 – August 2014

Coming back to this beautiful country was exciting, especially getting to see again the friends I had made before! Of course, it also brought with it a fair share of challenges. The biggest one has been gaining a more God-centered perspective (in contrast to Me-centered) regarding some of the events of my life—especially because that has often meant needing to take responsibility for the me-centered choices I had made at the time.

In the process, it is easy for me to start berating myself mentally for my shortcomings and mistakes. To hold that guilt and failure over my own head. When I turn to Christ in repentance, I found myself met each time with His acceptance and love and grace. I am learning that for Him, the past is the past. He does not impute my iniquities against me (Romans 4:8).

And so, when I have placed my past sins under the blood of Christ, I am FREE from that guilt! Not always immediately freed from the results of them, but there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). Because of this, I can have hope for the future rather than being bound by the past.

These things came together into my most recent bracelet, an orange zigzag surrounded by light shades of yellow and green. As I was making it on a car ride down to Kampala, my fellow travelers were discussing the difference between guilt and conviction. I couldn’t help but smile at God’s timing!

Bracelet #6: FREEDOM & HOPE, John 8:34-36 & Romans 5:5
 – Jan/Feb 2015

So that brings my bracelet story up to date! Looking back, I can see that for much of this time (especially June 2013-May 2014) I have been trying to fulfill these lessons in my own strength. Which is rather arrogant and honestly just silly! In the last couple months, God has been reminding me that I am called to be His disciple, and to serve for His glory and His kingdom—not my own. It has been a timely lesson, and I am so thankful to know that He will continue the good work of transformation which He has begun in my life!

And so the journey continues :)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Learning to Live in Freedom

“‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free……Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32, 34-36).

It started a couple months ago when I was at Kobwin. When I was hesitant and unsure, one of the family mothers spoke words that went straight to my heart and embedded deeply there, beyond the surface details of the situation. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. “Be free.”

Be free.

Such simple words. But so easy to forget. Since that day, that same idea keeps popping up. So much so that my new bracelet became a combination of hope and freedom. (I haven’t posted the story about my bracelets. I’ll have to write that sometime soon.)

The Holy Spirit had been convicting me the past couple weeks (ever since I thought about & shared my testimony with my Institute class) that much of my life I have been bound by fear of one sort or another. Fear of failure/imperfection, fear of rejection, fear of not being in control (fear of misfortunes). And when fear is a major motivating factor in my life, it chases peace and joy.

Of course, I know with my head that I can’t keep myself from making mistakes in my own strength. I know that my identity must not be bound by what other people think of me (what “they say”). And I know that there’s no way I can prevent bad things from happening! But knowing the truth doesn’t always mean I live by it, sadly.

Almost two weeks ago, there was a situation in which I was trying to serve others out of my own strength, and probably for my own honor. But when my strength ran out, I started behaving rudely to the people around me. In those moments, I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t stop. I was exhausted, shattered by the end of it. I’ve been feeling that shattered, exhausted feeling a couple times since then….

Even as I was walking back to my house, I knew that I would need to apologize to some people. I can’t remember if I confessed it to God in prayer that night or the next morning……but as I thought about what had happened the following day, I fell into the old habit of berating myself for falling short of my own expectations. And God’s, right??

“You were behaving like such a brat!” I told myself, among other things. But as my mind thought that last word, it flew to a story in a childhood series I loved to read. At first, I wanted to ignore it as a rabbit trail, away from what I thought was important at the moment. But I felt the Spirit prompting me to remember the story.

{As a very brief explanation, the series is an allegory about God’s Story in three parts: Tales of the Kingdom, the Resistance, and the Restoration. The world is pictured in the first two as the Enchanted City, under the control of an evil emperor. The true King spends the first book living in exile, but he comes back to the city in the second book.}

In this particular chapter, young orphaned children are forced to work underground keeping the city’s massive sewage and power systems working. They are called Sewer Rats and Boiler Brats. And they live their lives bound in fear: fear that the city’s infrastructure will grind to a halt on their watch (as it often did), bringing a dreaded visit from the emperor or at least his evil henchmen. Which always brought punishment for failing what was really an impossible task.

But one night, the exiled King miraculously appears in their dark underground world. He offers them love, acceptance, and freedom—and he leads them out of the prison of fear back to his kingdom outside the borders of the Enchanted City. In his kingdom, there are no orphans. There are adopted sons and daughters.

I don’t know when I had last thought about that series—it had been a while. But God used that story, along with other things He has been reminding me of, to learn something “new” with my heart (of course, it’s not really new. Rather, it’s an old lesson. But it’s something which has often been stuck at a head knowledge level in my life).

So often, I fail. And when I fail, I mentally beat myself up over it. And I feel like God must be so disappointed in me. When I turn to Him and confess, I usually do so in an attitude of trying to humiliate myself before Him like the prodigal son tried to do. And so often, I find myself met with God’s grace and love and forgiveness and acceptance—not the condemnation I know so well I deserve. I know this is because through Christ’s finish work—wonder of wonders—God sees in me the righteousness of Christ.

That morning as I sat here thinking about my mistake, and yet the freedom I have in Christ from guilt and condemnation, God taught my heart in a deeper way than I had known before that the past is the past. It does no good to wallow in guilt and to hold onto that feeling that I have failed. I can never change the past. I can choose the present and hope for the future. But the choice is not one I am required to make in my own strength – and the hope is not an empty, wishful thinking. Both are guided and guarded by Christ. And the past? Its mistakes are wiped clean by Christ.

I don’t by any means wish to cheapen God’s grace. That is, of course, the danger with such a line of thinking. Paul felt the same tension in Romans 5:20-6:1ff. But just yesterday I was part of a conversation in which we were discussing the difference between conviction and guilt. My tendency is definitely to guilt trip myself….and it’s a habit that I can see God calling me out of.

Our Father does not want His beloved children bound by the guilt of the past. Jesus Christ has dealt with the past, IT IS FINISHED (John 19:30). We are FREE from the guilt of the past (though not always all the consequences—BUT GOD will use even them for good) because of HIS completed work.

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them” (Psalms 32:1-2, as quoted in Romans 4:8). The truth and beauty of those verses swept over my soul amidst tears just a few days ago. I’ve often been living under a cloud of guilt and fear for months and years. But thanks be to God for His patience with me! He’s never giving up, and the light of His truth and grace and FREEDOM are continuing to break through.

Because He is good, and His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.

Monday, January 26, 2015

When Life Changes in a Moment

Tuesday, January 25, 2011. It seemed like a perfectly normal day, but I will forever mark it as the day God revolutionized my life. I stood in chapel at my small, Christian college singing during the worship time. For some reason I sat further back than normal—nearly under the shelter of the upstairs balcony.

As I sang, surrounded by hundreds of my fellow students and yet feeling alone, my mind returned to the questions I had asked so often throughout high school and my first year and a half of college. “Why God? Why is it that I feel like I want a deeper relationship with You and yet nothing changes? Why do You seem so silent? I try so hard.”

There was no rending of the heavens, no vision of glorious majesty. But there was a simple Thought, sent—I believe—by the Holy Spirit at just the moment He had crafted in His infinite plan.

“What you do is not a question of earning My love. You can never earn it. Salvation is a free gift, based on nothing you do, My child. I already love you more than you know – no matter what.”

Hearing that truth and truly realizing what it meant in my life for the first time acted as a single beam of light into what had long been the dark room of my spiritual strivings. Looking back now, I can see that I have always tended toward attempting to earn assurance of others’ love and affection for me by working as a people pleaser. I naturally brought that same idea over to my relationship with God.

Yes, I knew intellectually that I could not earn my salvation. And yet as a Christian I had spent the previous years of my life trying to make myself worthy of God’s love and approval – lacking the faith that the Immanuel who came to save people from sin could truly accept me with all of my shortcomings and failings. In some ways it seems so simple and silly – it is in Scripture…I learned those verses and I should have known that receiving salvation did not suddenly mean that I must curry God’s favor (Gal. 3:1-3). Nevertheless that was how I thought, and it is still a trap I often find myself falling into.

I am still nowhere near the perfection I would love to achieve. But the embedding of that truth deep into my spiritual psyche started me on a journey of personal revival which God is still unfolding. The beauty of it all is that there was nothing special about that day – no reason from my end for the blessings I have since received. It is all Grace – God’s amazing Grace. And that’s the whole point. Yes, it is tempting to question why not sooner. But the answer goes right back to the lesson. God’s Grace is not bound by human understanding. No, I didn’t deserve what happened on January 25th any more than I had any other day. But that is the beauty of Grace.

{This was originally posted in September of 2012 on Thrive80, a Moody blog that I wrote for occasionally. It was part of a series about "Inciting Incidents"--moments which shape one's life and story--to promote a new book for them, and so this is the moment I wrote about.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the day this story is about, so I wanted to put a link on my Facebook page. But when I went back looking for this post, I discovered that the old blog, including my posts, is no longer online. So I re-post here what I wrote for them there, unedited.

Even four years after that day and almost two and a half years after writing this post, I am still learning Grace. And God has proved good and faithful and abundantly gracious during every step of that journey.}