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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Year of Two Griefs

2013

2013

2 years ago I tutored a girl named Aaliyah.
1 summer ago I met a woman with 3 daughters trailing behind her.
That summer I realized that I had to have real faith or no faith at all.
I knew that it was not enough to serve people I did not know.
I knew I was cheating God to emotionally clock in and out of “ministry”.
I knew I had to care.

Then I said, ‘behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’~Hebrews 10:7

Back to the girl named Aaliyah.
I started showing up at her apartment, chatting with her mom.
I started bringing strawberries after school.
I felt awkward and unsure of everything except for one thing: God’s plan.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.~Micah 7:7

He was leading me, Little Old Me, and I was doing my best to walk in the shoes He had for me.
I searched and searched and kept coming back to apartment 119 in the projects.
Then I took three girls to the park.
Then I took three girls to the library.
Suddenly–I can’t remember when exactly–a relationship was born.

Rumor has it that other languages have words for what English speakers call “adopted family” or “fictive kin”. I wish English had a word for it. The three girls are not my sisters, they are not my kids. “Entourage” doesn’t cut it either. They are something more miraculous and unusual. We became blood-kin not by our parents but by our Savior. His love compelled me to their door. His love made sure there was a place for me in their life. God’s whimsy, His creativity, His mission brought us together and made one great year.
There were apologies and snacks by the pool. We ran spontaneously into the sprinklers at Peabody Park and we went to church together on Sunday afternoons. We danced in the talent show and we played tips with the Church’s Chicken basketball. We read books together and we watched Beatles videos until we got bored. We wrestled, we danced, we swam, we clapped, we sang, we prayed. We were humans–little girls–together. Jesus’ loving ability to meet our needs bridged the gaps between us.
There were times when I felt I was banging my head against a wall of sin and rebellion. There were times when dancing in the kitchen with them was therapy for me.
Our love for each other turned heads. I like to think that people felt an inkling of divine involvement when they saw me and three chocolate swirled girls happily packed into my truck.1452329_763019423714930_46172494_n

Now they have relocated and left a gaping hole in my life.
The anvil is on my heart again,
Like wounding a wound.

The English language falls short once more.
Suffice it to say, God’s dreams are the dreams that overwhelm and delight.

As I read Isaiah 30 I can feel God whisper to my tore up soul:

This is the way. Walk you in it.

All Praises Be

I greet my God in the morning as though I woke up beside Him.
Praises be to the One who chooses to be near me,
Praises to the One who is patient with me, and tender.
He is always doing something but it seems like I see that more tangibly when I travel, even just one hour away for 5 days. This gives me time to look at and comprehend just a string or two of the tapestry He is weaving
Here.
On this planet
With these children
And each other,
All disciples,
Of the living God,
Of our Savior Jesus.
We are claimed as His beloved
And we’re fighting for these children whose lives appear to be hanging in the balance.
I don’t know how many heads I’ve kissed.
I do not know how many weeping girls I have lifted from their beds and brought down to my bunk so that they could sleep their troubled sleep, clinging tightly to my arm.
I don’t know how much ice I have put on wounds
Or how many kids have heard me say, “You’re important.”
But I meant every single one.
All this may suffice to say,
God is here among us.
He is working.
His plan is being fulfilled in hearts and lives.
Little nuggets of knowledge we have laid in hearts we ask our Father to nurture, to protect.

I will continue it all until He points my compass elsewhere.
I need God to keep me humble,
I need Him to make me strong.
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.~Psalm 138:2-3

Be persistent in your efforts for good.

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the example in your speech, in your conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.~1 Timothy 4:12

My hope is set on the living God.
Can I shout it out?
May I cry aloud, “He is MY God! He has claimed me!”
My hands work hard to make Him known.
I ask no other portion
Than to know the One whose race I run.

Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of every value, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.~1 Timothy 4:7b-8

I still have so far to go, but my Lover is answering my prayers.
He is teaching me (in all my stubbornness) to have grace and love, and to build others up.

More grace.
More love.
More healing.
We all live in His sight.
Let us be ready and willing to take hold of that which is truly life.

Get up at 6 A.M. four days in a row this week and spend 35 minutes with God. I dare you to see what He will do in and around you.

Wildsmolder

There is a taste of what is coming in the diet of my week.

A foreshadowing lurks between
the moments when I am admiring how high the women hold their heads and eyebrows
and the moments spent wondering why hot funjuns for breakfast?

The small sacrifice of spare moments and 10% has turned into a portion of my earnings and the precious commodity of the American Sunday Afternoon. I wish I could be with my family. I wish on a grey day that I could be in PJs watching Drake & Josh with my sister. Where is the pleasure in exiting my parent’s warm house to traverse a dreary, thirsty city?
Could he ask of me any smaller task? Is there anything so precious that requires less effort?
That which I lay on the altar now is like a goat compared to Isaac under his father Abraham’s blade. (Genesis 22)
I give up hours;
He has called me to give up a lifetime.

My thoughts are cast forward to when my call will be demonstrated:
I’ll move overseas,
I’ll follow God farther than I’ve followed before.
Farther than Yakama, Washington
Much farther than Jamaica
Or Mexico.

I’ll say goodbye to home and heartland until my visa is due to expire.
I will doubt and question my decision and He will remain faithful
Amidst a myriad of scenarios beyond my most wild imaginings.

I can no more imagine the barrier of a sea between my family and I
Than I can fathom the barrier of a language between my heart and my neighbor’s.

My faith is small.
It’s a rock balancing on the tip of a formation lost in the desert. In the sun and wind it is strong and balanced. But the slightest rain, a little drizzle, and the rock falls down down, breaking into pieces of red slate.
That’s me.

Perched happily (precariously) atop my savings, my network, my job, my school,
Until the rain comes. The slightest trickle:
A hydroplaning incident (including my reaction to said incident) that may cost me my dream vehicle, a portion of my college savings, and a precious relationship.
How many of those things matter?
I would venture to say only the third.
Which of those things do I have control over?
In this scenario, only the third.
Sin is the destroyer. Not rain on the road or a swerving semi-truck, or insurance fraud or an unjust system. Sin makes the things that matter topple. My sin causes real issues. Yelling because my trust is gone. Crying because I am tired of trying (we call that a pity party). These are the problems.

Money is secondary.
Higher education is tertiary at best.
The Father’s love is primary. The Father’s glory is on level with his love.

My faith is smaller than a mustard seed, and not nearly as powerful.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the hearts of the contrite.”~Isaiah 57:15-16

Sojourner (Un)selfish

Bear with me as I indulge in a Big Bang Theory analogy. It’s not long, I promise.

In this story (life) we are more like Leonard than Sheldon. Everything Leonard does contributes to Sheldon’s joke. It’s not about Leonard. No one wants it to be about Leonard. Sheldon is funnier, so he gets the grand punch line and credit for the joke.

I try and take credit for the exceptional things the Lord does in my life. He gives me strength, and fills my life with blessings. In return, I pat myself on the back and start to think the Christian life is not so challenging after all. To put it simply: I am foolish. Nobody wants this to be about me. That would be one miserable, twisted story!

Praise Him; it is not about me! None of this is thanks to me. Were I to start believing it is so and act accordingly, God would no doubt remove His hand from under me. I would free-fall into despair.

Ever since I rededicated myself to Christ (February 23, 2010,) my life has been characterized by searching. I have looked and sought the ministry God would have me sink my hands into. For so long, everyone around me seemed fine and taken care of: not in need of help (keep in mind, I live among the wealthiest 2% of people in the world!) I felt unnecessary without work to do, listless. As I transitioned out of childhood and into the company of people who did not have such privilege, I felt my life begin to fall into place.

I am finding my place in the company of the marginalized. Children with dyslexia and ADHD and bad behavior need a servant of God to come alongside them and teach them about responsibility and walking with Jesus Christ. Their parents often need a friend. People who are barely making it financially (if your children go to a private school and/or you have never been on food stamps, do not even consider putting yourself in this category) need friends who have access to a network of human resources. I had the access, now I have the friends with tangible needs. Every relationship is a work in progress. Generally I am in the background working, thankful to be among diverse people. (By diverse I mean to hit all the bases: fiscally, ethnically, geographically, religiously, and generationally.)

It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. ~Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel

Now that I have been here, on the front line of the battle for souls in America, I am appreciative, at peace, and tired. This journey on earth is a long, hard one. I say that like I am old. I am young (in age and in Christ), but I have gotten a glimpse into the Christian life as a mission, and it has given me a deep perspective. I cannot say that my response to this perspective has been righteous or mature (“I’m just going to stop right here and do my own thing, OK, God? This is too much for me.” “No, Lydia, follow me.” Something along those lines.) but I am learning.

There are multitudes of needy souls here (as everywhere.) The work is plentiful; the fields are white (ready) for harvest.

It is not at all perfect and joyful working with poor, Bible-illiterate people. Unrestrained bad attitudes and grudges are rampant. Sexual preoccupations are entertained and discussed, making it difficult to keep my own mind and body pure. Finances are tight because I am constantly driving across town (Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing both sides of my city, there is just that whole gasoline nonsense to be dealt with.) Children distract me during church. I don’t get a moment to sing or lift my hands or listen to the voice of the local body, or look up verses in my Bible.

This is service and love: sacrifice.

Missing out on all those things is fine because–guess what–it’s not about me! This is a story about a great God who is filling up Eternity with souls. My ministry is not only how I obey God’s commandments, it is how I declare that there is a divine purpose. I work hard for others to no personal gain because there is a greater cause. Doing ministry is how I make my unsteady faith known. The best part is that He does not ask me to overcome these struggles by my own strength. God invites me to rely on Him totally (how radical!) He lets me know that I am not in this alone. He is my Comforter, King, Savior, Buddy, and Accomplice in this transcendent scheme of love. It is His show, His stage, and I am delighted to play my part (trips on stairs, poorly recited lines, smudged makeup, and all!)

Jesus says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. If the yoke you are carrying is heavy, then it is not His yoke you are carrying, but the yoke of someone else. ~Jen Hatmaker

It’s not about me=friendship with people who have nothing to offer you.
It’s not about me=long-term evangelism.
It’s not about me=working for literacy.
It’s not about me=recycling.
It’s not about me=donating to end poverty.
It’s not about me=spending more of your excess resources on others than you spend on yourself.
It’s not about me=donate your time to someone who needs a friend.
It’s not about me=participating in activities you do not necessarily enjoy in an attempt to bless other people.

It’s not about me is a concept that everyone would be better for putting into practice. Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, Consumerist, Catholic; the earth will become a more friendly place if we live for something–or someone–greater than ourselves. There is no formula for living this way, just a profound God who calls you to sojourn with Him. Enjoy today, soak in the beauty of today, but question yourself; hurt is brought about by what we don’t do as much as by what we do. Riddled with doubts, let us press on towards something higher and brighter than ourselves.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. ~Colossians 1:9-10

Father be with:

Rickaundia
Ricky Lewis
Malik
Aaliyah
DeeDee
Kiyah

…all of these kids whose lives You have given me a brief window into. Allow me to give them just a taste, just a hint, just a nudge towards You. Please, God, use me that they may know and worship the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

I do not know where I am headed
I do not know what countries I will live in
I do not know what languages I will learn to speak
I do not know exactly how much I will be called to give up (Luke 12:15)
I do know that He desires all of me.

It is a joy and privilege to give Him my everything.

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. ~Luke 14:33

Slowly, shakily, I follow You.

Glory Bound and Growing

Right now is the best moment, the blessed moment.
*corny, but I kind of like it*
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine here, in a place called “Dark Hollow.” In mid-America? Yep.
I swing on a swing-set with my two best friends (both under the age of 11). I love knowing that if not for me, they would not be at the park. And if they did not love me (even when I’m late and my truck is so messy there is barely room for them!), I would not have these sweet relationships. (Who would I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe too?!) They show me Jesus every week. The body of Christ is interconnected in a dazzling way. Praise to the Lamb!

Men sit on the park benches, dirty, next to their glitzy new cars. The skin on my legs that is exposed tingles unpleasantly as I walk by, not because of anything they have done or said, but because society has branded the word “rapist” on their foreheads. My preliminary judgment rests not on the content of their character but on their location and the way they wear their clothes. What if we look past their brands, Martin Luther King Jr. style, and invite them in to the Kingdom to worship beside us? What could people do if they were empowered by a friend who has everything (the Gospel) to offer?

I close my eyes. No guilt in life, no fear in death.

I know I’m spending my life in the right place. I am selling myself for the cause of righteousness, investing in a market with eternal dividends. Her smile, set off by the gap between her over-sized front teeth reminds me that darkness cannot hold back the light. Even when it seems we have the time and resources to undo only a fraction of the evil that exists, we know that there is hope. No soul is beyond redemption. Maybe if we take them gently by the hands, if we bid every other broken person come and worship Jesus with us, the lightness can push away the darkness. The church will grow, because we will grow. We’ll dance and sing and eagerly await the happy day when the Jesus who bids us be children comes to redeem this unimaginative world.

Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society,~Jacques Elliot

I ask the good Lord to cure me of my dry skin and my disobedience.

Let my actions speak loud enough to drown out my faulty words.

He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.~Isaiah 30:19b-21

Make Way

Walking out of the gym I hear a man ask, “you did not get a snack?” I stop him as he tries to walk back in the door. I peer into the rainy, street-light-orange night. Round heads on stick necks, all dark silhouettes with white eye balls, turn towards me. I address the first pair of eyes I see:
“Did you just straight up lie or did I not give you a snack?” I ask in a slightly too loud & accusatory tone. He shakes his head. He can’t help it, his eyes dart to the boy beside him whose head is hung. I had noticed this boy trying to get a snack from someone else earlier in the night, though I know I gave him one. I approach the little boy, full of disappointment and fear that he does not get enough to eat.
I bend over, wanting to read his eyes to discover the truth. I address him by name, “are you hungry or do you just want another snack?” He does not answer or look up. I try to raise his face to mine but his chin is glued to his chest. His mouth is set in a deep frown, certainly his eyes are full of tears. I’m afraid of squeezing his cheeks too hard. When I see that he is adamant in his resistance to my efforts, and horribly ashamed, I kiss him on the head and walk away.
Seconds after turning my back I regret not trying harder or praying for him or reminding him to ask us for food if he is ever truly hungry. I re-hash my actions all the way to my truck but I know that what I did was right. He knows that lying is wrong. I showed him a tiny glimpse of redeeming love in the face of sin (in the tangible form of a kiss on the head.) I wish nothing so deeply as for him to see that as a reflection of Christ’s loving, atoning sacrifice. Now I ask and plead that the Holy Spirit move in his little boy’s heart. That his guilt be turned into a quest for forgiveness, instead of to apathy and selfishness. I long to know that he stays up, even now, considering the futility of his sin, and recalling the Bible verses we have led him to so carefully store away in his heart.
I have done my part. I have fought against barriers and made room for revival.
There is nothing I can do to ensure a desire for forgiveness in his heart.
No card I can send,
No money I can raise,
No verse I can quote.
This is the part where I submit his oppressed soul to God,
And intercede on His behalf
The way I am sure someone interceded for me on the night I was saved.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom~Psalm 90:12

Righteousness will go before Him (the Lord) and make his footsteps a way.~Psalm 85:13

God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”~Galations 4:6

Let Me Learn By Paradox

Pain crawls up my legs
From the balls of my feet it comes,
Slowly, achingly treading its’ way up my body.
Calves, knees they shake now, hips feel out of joint.
My back aches, arches, contracts, fights against me when I try to stand. Inhale. Keep going. On and on and on. My body is telling me that it won’t go anymore, that it just won’t work right.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day ~St. Paul

Meanwhile my heart and my head and my soul are excited for all the work there is to do.
I carry a message the way my Mama carried me. Everyday it is ready, longing to come out. I want to tell! There are more people everyday who need to hear this Truth. The Good News is eager to be shared. There is so much work to be done: look at the immense fields, ready to be labored over. Souls are ready to be won for Christ!
I long to work in the “fields” from sun-up to sun-down, and I know it is what I’m supposed to do.
Until my body slows me down

And I’m quite confused.

He’s my God and He never lets me go.
He said, sing it on the mountain.
Or fight in valley low
Every man is going to see,
And everyone will know
That peace runs deep in Him.
~Josh Garrels