Kwagala

Sometimes I get it so wrong. I think that in order for me to love people they need to be as easy to love as God is. I think that MY love is the love that keeps things going. I think that love on my terms is real love. Then I wind up running out of love. Because, well, my love has an end. True LOVE doesn’t. In reality, God’s love is the game changer. Not mine. Hey, check it out, the Bible is right again: Real love isn’t our love for God, but His love for us. (1 John 4:10)
So it’s His Never-Changing, Never-Wavering, Constant, Forgiving Love that should shape my life. My paltry mimicry of this love is not the standard. The standard gets down in the dirt with us. It sees our ugliness. It sees blisters oozing puss on our hearts. It sees wounds that wound others. It gets snapped at & accused & still.loves.on. We turn our back on Love & love still covers us.

Finally I visited Africa. 8 years since God brought the first memoir of a child soldier into my hands. 8 years of pinning maps to my wall & clipping Nat Geo articles about “the motherland”. I thought I would visit South Sudan, but God took my hands & walked with me into Uganda. Into dust clouds. Into papyrus marshes. Into tiny stores selling only eggs (unrefrigerated!), coca cola, & motor bike tires. Into shouts of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Into wide Ugandan smiles. Into culture stress & outrage at male-dominate culture. Into deeper love, but not as I expected.

Having read piles of blog posts about the experiences of other “Mzungus” (white people/Westerners) in this country, I expected to fall in love. I expected a fresh awakening that left me hungry to stay & do MORE. I expected to look into Ugandan eyes & experience a kind of love I had never known before. By day 4 I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I was disappointed until I realized: you can’t be awakened to something for the first time…twice! I’m awake! Since 2009 I’ve been living a love story (His love moving us forward, remember, not mine) that started in the hills of Jamaica (“Little Africa”–go figure!) where the Holy Spirit hands clasped both my shoulders & shook me alive. Alive to love. Alive to poverty & pain. Alive to everywhere that is not comfy, plush, white middle class America. Alive to REAL life. Life that risks everything, that scurries down a dark shaft in search of one lost miner, that searches the couch cushions for one coin some might call worthless.
I expected Africa to be a first chapter in my life. But that’s not the order of my story (guess what? Lydia’s not writing it…). Uganda is not the first or last chapter, it’s simply a sweet & difficult plot twist.
It’s another deep gash in my heart bleeding the same blood that poured from the side of Christ as He gasped his last breath. The wounds with no Neosporin. The women whose necks are graced with 50 pound loads instead of pearl necklaces. White-collared corruption that kills as many as the HIV stigma & condom-less sex. Those with homosexual tendencies thrown gracelessly into prison & labeled MISFIT.

Trips like this don’t come with closure. There’s no tidy bow to put on the end of something so confusing, so beyond me. There’s just a tiny faith plant in the garden of my heart that is weather beaten by the tragedies. Weather beaten, but somehow stronger. Somehow more green, somehow growing bigger & more vivacious against the odds. Because there’s this paradox. This belief that’s sometimes a rainbow over my soul & sometimes just a tender whisper in the dead of night {Housefires, Good Good Father}. That the worse things get, the more good God is. That His goodness is His identity, & not at all relative to what I see or feel, eat or don’t eat. Whether I accumulate cancerous cells, or millions of dollars, goodness is of God. The deeper the badness goes, the better the goodness gets. I’m a mango & somehow tragedies are scoops taken out of yellow flesh, making room for love & hope. Do I understand it? HA! No. But that little faith tree in my heart reacts to what is beyond me. It feeds on a food that I can’t articulate.

For the past 6 years my playground & battle ground has been the uncultivated love of God. Traveling, I expected to see something new, big, wide. I saw new things, but no new rest for my soul. There is only one green pasture where my soul-feet can stumble to for real rejuvenation. The world is big & wide but never bigger or wider than His love. Seeing more places may show me more physical reflections of who He is but nothing is so sweet & expansive as the wilderness of His love.

May we fall in love every time we open up our eyes. ~Sleeping At Last

Telling Jesus stories through a Ugandan translator!

Telling Jesus stories through a Ugandan translator!

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Occupied By Joy

There is no better place to consider the status of your life goals & dreams than in the line for a roller coaster at a theme park. I created that statement 2 blinks ago yet….I think it’s mostly bogus. But, for good or bad, I have done this “soul searching” in the winding, stinking lines of thrill-seekers multiple times. Yesterday, as well as years ago, when I was a bruised teenager who did not know where she ended & where others started. I gazed glossy eyes at thin women in small bathing suits or tank tops, wearing confidence I never dreamed of having. My heart bled all over my family (foul words & festering attitudes) as I searched & searched the crowd for something to make me happy. What missing piece did others have that made them happy & left me empty? I saw teenagers too close, mouthing each other here & there & felt pangs of loneliness I was sure no one else had ever experienced. I thought that a man’s physical touch would make me happy. Month after month I swung between feeling that my diet was the only thing I could control–and restricting my intake severely–to feeling I had no control & was stuck swelling larger & larger. When I needed to say “yes”, I was powerless. When I needed to say “no”, well, I was unaware of the power my “no” had so I neglected it (until I broke down in burned-out, teary exhaustion). Certainly, I thought, I am the most unhappy girl in the world, with the sorriest life. I didn’t just think it, I believed it, deep into my bones. Everyone else has it all, and God has left me with nothing.
These agreements with the Enemy, this despair that he spun into a sticky web stuck against the walls of my heart caused pain for years. Resolution after broken resolution led me to the end of myself time & again. There was emptiness, hollowness, & desperation that culminated in many gooey, dirty encounters with people who seemed more concerned about keeping themselves clean than trying to understand my agony.
The aching made me long for life to speed by. I wanted the painful moments to rush away towards–where?–I didn’t know or care to think.
Yet all that time, something inside me wouldn’t give up. Settling for this pained existence wasn’t an option. Even in my despair, a whisper graced the atmosphere around my mind: Why would God make life purely for desperation & no joy? Why would He create a world only to make it suffer? Why would he bless everyone else but not me? Why would He make me hollow without filling me up?
So I plunged deeper & deeper into his Word. Even when I hated it, I read it. I wrote it on my wrist & on my mirror. I engaged people who did not know Christ & encountered messes that made the hair on my arms stand up. I believed from the center of my chest that there was hope. And when I did not believe, He believed for me.
A transition began with no bells or whistles at the turning point. No altar call. More nights alone feeling abandoned & empty than nights with friends or at a church. I went from crying to weeping, from agony to relief (& eventually expectancy), from flicking ash off the end of cigarettes to showing children of poverty how smoke leaves our lungs dark & shriveled. I took the route of prayer, the role of seeker, the process of making room within myself. I went from determination not to break, to embracing my brokenness.

As indeed He says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’~Romans 9:25

The contrast between my thoughts this weekend & my thoughts years ago shocked me. I stood in the line to ride a gravity defying machine yesterday & as I looked around, concern for the wellbeing of the poor souls around me flooded my spirit. I wanted them to know Jesus. I wanted my life for them, the teens too close as well as the women whose veil of shallow confidence I could now see through. Now that the blinders have been lifted from my eyes I see that everyone else is not blissfully happy. We’re all broken. Fearful. Desperate. Rebellious. Hurting. Addicts. Lonely. Hungry. By a wonder bigger than this universe I have gone from one extreme to the other. I’m deeply in love; I’m deeply loved. Each morning is a priceless gift instead of drudgery. Even on bad days, I know I have purpose. When I am angry, I know that there is power available to help me overcome it. When people revile & wound & ignore me, I am seen & nurtured & blessed. I am truly the most fortunate woman alive; I went from believing that God had given me nothing, to believing He has spared no expense on my life. None of my worst fears will ever come true. He lavishes gifts on me from season to season.

For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps me occupied with joy in his heart.~Ecclesiastes 5:20

If I could change one thing about my life, I wouldn’t. The pain, the tears, the sorrow…it’s all leading me home, intensifying the ache for a beautiful & secure tomorrow. I could gush on & on, but truly it comes down to this: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness & transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son. ~Colossians 1:13-14
How did I come this far? What car carried this heart from waste land to Promised Land?
I offer no A,B, C formula for how to get from one to the other. It wasn’t my mentor–though she helped. It wasn’t being involved in ministry–though it got me headed in the right direction. It wasn’t my church. It wasn’t my location or my school or my job.
It was simply the One who says: When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. ~Isaiah 43:1b, Message
He threw me a rope, and by his mercy & Jesus’ blood, I grabbed it.

For thus says the One who is high & lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high & holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite & lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’~Isaiah 57:15

We’re broken, whether we like it or not. Low & dirty is our natural state, but it doesn’t have to be anyone’s final state. Seek Him & be healed tonight, sweet friends. He makes masterpieces of our mud pies.

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

Joyous Juncture

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

Fall has come. In less than 32 hours my entire world has changed, has flipped.

Dad once told me that fall reminded him of Papaw’s death and the slow, steady cycle of time. The fall I experience is much more young and merciful.
I breath the steely, unclouded air. The light is yellow but in a less harsh way than it has been. This sky is feeling, growing, expanding. It’s a yellow that gently turns corners and peeks through dirty fiberglass doggy doors.
A thought, a déjà vu, lurks in the corners of my mind: love. But I’ve never fallen in love in the fall. In another life I must have loved someone for an autumn. It seems right. More right, at least, than dismissing the thought entirely.
The mystery in the cold air seems to whisper the word adventure. It bids no thought be spent on yesterday. It says, “This moment! This moment is now!”
Even my fatigued body perks up, willing exploits to take place, and daring me to knock on Danger’s ingress.
Don your flannel and let us be off. Up trees, near rivers, Tolkien-fashion, let us create a world in which to feast and bivouac.
You see, it’s not just a drop in temperature. More than that has happened to be sure. The whole world has changed. It readies itself for the gray death of winter.
I look forward to spring and its sunny charm, but the joy I enter into now is perfectly scheduled. A shadowy, breathy thoughtfulness reshapes my reflections. Liturgy seems more appropriate now, as the bold sun retreats for greater rest. Christmas lights are to come, leading to the turn of a 12-month era. I soak in Halloween and Harvest festivities but dare not peek around the bend to thoughts of holly and carols. We war with the urge to bury ourselves in blankets and contemplation, wishing all the best to those outside our threshold.

All of this is self-confessed by a whisp of air that blissfully tugs my bangs from their place against my skin. Magically the earth communicates with us more clearly than it has since last fall.

Real Talk

Living counter-culturally is going to be harder than I thought. Because the American church  is blending in so well with the culture (and forfeiting the ideals of Jesus) it is hard to say what really should be going on in a Christian’s life. And it is oh-so difficult to live with a Heavenly mindset in a culture obsessed with being comfortable right now! Less sinning should not be the only thing that’s different between the life of any given Christian and any given Unbeliever. There’s so much more to being a Christ follower. Hear it from the lips of Jesus Himself:

…Come you who are blessed by my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer Him saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? and when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”~Matthew 25:34-40

 

It’s difficult! Living the way Jesus did is super hard. It is hard to do lots of good things (sans earthly reward) and not begin thinking to highly of yourself. Dying to self is just that…dying. It is hard to know where to start in a world as wide & wild & wrecked as this, It’s challenging, grueling, difficult.

But wait.

God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are. ~Ephesians 2:10

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.~Matthew 11:29

He’s got a plan. And a promise. If you believe in God and all the words of Jesus above…then why do you hesitate to let it all go? Forget temporary “comforts,” go for gold, and find rest for your soul! Ask Him to send His Good Spirit to lead you on level ground (Psalm 143.) Follow Him like a sheep, not turning away for the sake of earthly desires or security. Step into your new life.

Enjoy the wild ride.