One of my favorite parts of my relationship with Marco is I can’t tell you how it happened. I don’t know how we got from the day 3 ½ years ago when we met, to a few weeks ago when we celebrated a year of dating. I love how every part of our story points subtly but surly to the sweet, sweet hand of our Savior.
We had very, very little contact for the entire first year after we met. I knew he liked the Packers, didn’t drink coffee (freak) and was a movie buff. I knew he had a sister, but only because her birthday was during my week long trip to Honduras when we had originally met. And honestly, outside of that, he was a stranger to me.
Don’t get me wrong- I wasn’t not attracted to Marco when we met. It’s just, he didn’t fit into my plan. When we met, I had no intentions of returning to Honduras, and I wasn’t shy about it. I told God I wouldn’t go back either, too.
The year after we met, I had to spend the summer overseas for my college major, and technically returning to Honduras would have fulfilled that requirement. But I didn’t want to. Because it wasn’t MY plan. I had a few other options that did fit though, and I told God that was what I was going to do, and I would only go back to Honduras if the other options fell through. Joke was on Him though, because the other options had already been guaranteed to me, so I knew that they wouldn’t fall through.
They did fall through, so I agreed to go back to Honduras and be Marco’s assistant for 8 weeks.
That too, was canceled.
Bottom line, if I had wanted to force a relationship with Marco (and there were times when that sounded tempting, because again, I wasn’t not attracted to him) it wouldn’t have worked out.
Five months after my summer as his assistant was canceled, he was sent on a business trip. To my hometown. He stayed with a family five miles away.
This is where we said goodbye that week, at the start of a footpath in the public park in my little tiny town. We didn’t know when we would see each other again. And because of that, this picture, though one of my favorites, is still bittersweet. I still don’t know how we got from there to here. But one thing I do know, with absolute certainty, is the one who holds yesterday, today, and tomorrow is rich in mercy, gives only good gifts, and lavishes us with Grace.
I guess my point is that by pursuing Jesus individually, we were led to each other. And for that, I will forever be thankful.
Bring a winter coat. I didn’t, and it was the biggest packing mistake I made. You’ll need it. Trust me.
Don’t have any expectations for your classroom or your students. The reality is, your students will never reach them, and will simultaneously far exceed even the most impossible goals you have set for them. I can’t explain exactly how these two realities can coexist, but they do. And they will. You will understand when you get here.
This job is easily the hardest you have ever had. Your day doesn’t start at 7:15 when students arrive and it certainly won’t end at 2:30 when they go home. Expect to work longer and harder than you ever have before.
Expect to lock yourself in your classroom over lunch and turn on Netflix at least once. Sometimes you just need to see Ross invent a g rated way to give the finger. Missionary teaching is HARD, and sometimes, you’re just gonna need you time.
Pack waterproof shoes. Its muddy here, and wet tennis shoes are possibly the most uncomfortable things on the planet.
Root yourself in who you are in Christ. Create a network of people who will pray for you and who will remind you that you are His. You need people who will speak truth into your life, and who will pray truth over your life. Never before have I questioned myself more. I have never struggled with constant feelings of inadequacy or doubted my calling quite like I have this year. But I have never been so refreshed, so renewed, or so sweetly reminded by Jesus just who he created me to be.
Your students will break your heart in ways you never knew it could break. You will hear about their brother with a tumor on his head and about their mom who almost died in a car accident last week. And they will come up to you and say “want to hear something sad? My parents separated yesterday.” Not taking work home with you is impossible. Be prepared to cry with them and for them. Bring knee pads. You will be driven to constant and fervent prayer because there simply is nowhere better to turn.
Your students will love you fiercely- especially on the days when you feel like you don’t deserve it. They will give you their last cookie and the last bite of their chocolate bar. They will invite you to their birthday party, and when you show up, you will be treated as the guest of honor. Your walls will be wallpapered over in handwritten letters, hand drawn pictures, and construction paper hearts that were made just for you. They will give you their last fruit snack because “Miss! Its food from the United States its food you like!” They will make you belly laugh and cry and question your sanity and you will forget how you ever lived without them.
You will have parents crying because their child failed but they are just so thankful for everything you’ve done to help them. You will have parents scream at you because their child has a 94% and “why do you hate her? Why would you fail her?”.
Life will stop making sense, but for the first time, you will understand.
This job is such a beautiful paradox, much like the Christian life should be. You will feel defeated yet invigorated. You will simultaneously celebrate failures and victories. You will work harder than you ever have before yet feel like you haven’t done enough. You will be exhausted yet refreshed. You feel alone- so painfully alone, yet enveloped in the sweetest community you can imagine. Everything will feel odd and out of place, but you will click into the role for which you were created in a seamless transition. Never before have such opposites comingled so sweetly. But they will.
It’s the best job you will ever have. It’s hard. But easy things are rarely worth doing.
Welcome aboard. It’s going to be the ride of your life.
A first year Missionary Teacher
On Sunday an historic election took place here in Honduras. Reelection is against the Honduran Constitution. And on Sunday, for the first time in the nation’s history, there was an incumbent on the ballot.
Usually preliminary results come out a few hours after the polls close. This time, it took over 10 hours. They showed the opposition to be in the lead. This was around 3 am. Three hours later, the results had flip-flopped, and the news was saying that the incumbent was likely to win.
Both parties claimed victory.
Since then, because of the fear of fraud, there has been no news. Both parties are claiming victory that isn’t officially theirs to claim. Results were supposed to be released formally yesterday. Still, the organization in charge of the results- the ultimate authority in this case- has remained silent.
I remember my high school history teacher saying “it is not what is real or true that is important, but rather what people perceive to be real or true that matters.” And right now, justified or not, the public perception is corruption. And there is outrage.
There have been violent protests and riots in the two major cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. In those places, schools have been closed for most of the week. The major highways have been closed all over the country by the protestors in some places, and in efforts to stop them by the police in others, since Thursday morning. There are several road blocks within the major cities.
In my town, protests have been peaceful, with just a little property damage. But as a precaution, the school I work at was closed today too. I am safe, but staying put for the time being.
I received an email earlier today from the US Embassy cautioning against unnecessary traveling within the country. In the major cities, the riots are incredibly violent. However, I am safe. And no one expects that to change.
As a foreigner in this country, it is not my place nor my desire to take a stand politically or to voice my presidential preference. It is however my earnest plea that you join me, and the rest of the country, in praying fervently for Honduras.
Pray for peace. Right now, Honduras is a powder keg, and there are sparks everywhere.
Pray for the results to be released to the public. The quicker the results come, the quicker speculation can end. Rumors are running rampant, and that is a very dangerous thing.
When the results do come, pray the nation will accept them. Regardless of what is announced, a large part of the country will be upset and want to see the capital burn.
Pray against corruption. Pray against the appearance of corruption, because that can be just as dangerous.
Tonight I am resting in the truth that the God we serve is the Prince of Peace. None of this is a surprise to Him. We are called in scripture to honor our leaders, and to pray for them. That is what I will continue to do.
I will send a personal update soon, but for now, pray for Honduras. Please.
The country needs it.
I need a new goal, and I don’t think that drinking my weight in coffee on a weekly basis is going to count. That’s certainly the plan, but that’s not the kind of goal I need. For as long as I can remember, I have been working towards moving to and getting a ministry job in Latin America. Well, I did that a week ago, but now that I’m here I feel like I’m drifting a little bit.
I’m up to my eyeballs in lesson planning and classroom decorating. I am trying to learn my way around a town that has very few named roads. I have plenty to do and even more to think about. It is not the inability to keep myself occupied that is leading to this “drift”.
I want to give my students excellence. I want to teach how to resist temptation by hiding the word of the Lord in their heart, in addition to teaching proper sentence structure and diction (More about this in a future post). I want them to know that they are loved with a love everlasting and irrevocable, and from that place they have the freedom to be themselves, to make mistakes, and to ask for help. I want them to really, truly believe that education is a blessing and not a burden, and I want them to strive to live up to their God given potential.
The absence of a goal itself isn’t my issue either.
I can’t stop asking myself “now what?”. For so long I have been working towards this moment, and now that it is here…
I studied hard in high school to get into a good college so I could continue to study Spanish and become a missionary. I studied hard at Liberty learning Spanish so I could become a missionary.
Everything I did for years led to this moment.
Now I have a job as a missionary teacher. That first year on the field started a week ago. And for the first time in my life, there isn’t a next step to achieving this huge dream of mine.
It’s here. I’m living it. And I don’t know what comes next.
Patrick Curtis is the Middle School director at my home church. He taught about Psalm 119:105, and even though I wasn’t there that day- I only heard his message second hand through my mother, it has stuck with me, and has deeply impacted my life this week.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. ~Psalm 119:105
When I think about that verse, I think of a flashlight, or a car’s headlights when I am driving after dark. I think of the whole path being illuminated, but Patrick pointed out that the psalmist intended something far different.
Because when the psalmist was writing, they didn’t have flashlights or cars with headlights. They had little hand held lanterns, and they only cast enough light to illuminate the ground immediately under the lantern. The next several yards, or even feet, weren’t illuminated. Only the next step was.
And honestly, that is so indicative of my life right now.
Everyone keeps asking me how long I will be living here in Sigua, and the truth is, I have absolutely no idea. I don’t really expect this to be a short term thing, even though I am only committed to a year right now. I do know that this year is going to stretch me in ways I didn’t know were possible, and the school year hasn’t even started yet. I don’t know if I am strong enough to live here long term, and the idea of never living close to my family again tears me apart inside.
I was talking to a friend last night about timelines and for the first time in my life, I don’t have one. And I think that’s okay.
When I started writing this post a few days ago I felt aimless- like I was drifting. But the more I prayed over it, the more I realized that I can only see the step that is directly ahead of me because right now, that is all I can handle. It is by the grace of God alone that I can’t see anymore.
I love this life I am living, and I can’t believe I can call a place as beautiful as this ‘home’. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit I’m terrified of the challenges that the coming weeks and months will bring.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Not being able to see what is coming as a first year teacher, a first year missionary, and beyond, is God’s prevision, not a lack there of.
I do know though, without a shadow of a doubt, the God has me here for a reason. Out of his goodness, he has chosen to use parrots time and time and time again to reaffirm his calling and remind me he has a perfect plan for my life. This is on the stairwell leading to my classroom.
Everything perfect (not just good enough) in His time.
Our God is so kind and so sweet. And I will keep walking in that, one illuminated step at a time.
I’ve been on the mission field for about 72 hours now, and it still doesn’t feel real. It feels like in 5 more days, I will board a plane and head back home. Except this is home now. (My first day here someone even gave me a welcome home present?????) That hasn’t really sunk in yet. I don’t know when it will, but I’ll keep you posted.
Anyways, work started yesterday, and I’m starting to get a little overwhelmed with all the planning that goes into being a first year teacher. This morning I thought “how did I get myself into this?” And I really think it all starts with Mrs. Wyman.
Mrs. Wyman was my next door neighbor. She has a daughter my age named Melanie, and we were best friends growing up (with the exception of 3rd grade). I met them I was 4 years old. Mrs. Wyman grew up as a missionary kid in Nigeria. She is also the one who first got me interested in language.
I remember when we were really good (or she didn’t wanna hear us beg), she would speak in a Nigerian accent. That was super cool. It was so…. foreign. She also used a video series to teach her girls French, and it always fascinated me. Being able to communicate with a whole other group of people seemed like a super power. Honestly it still does.
Melanie and I ate dinner at each others house’s a lot, but I always ate over there when Mrs. Wyman made orange chicken. Chinese food was my favorite, still is for the most part. They took my to a Chinese buffet once after church. Later that year, I had my 8th birthday party there. (They still mock me for that, and I still stand by it.)
Mrs. Wyman is the first one I remember taking me to see a movie in theaters (Tarzan). She had a “secret” stash of candy that Melanie and I regularly broke into (hello Razzels!) and last time I visited she made crack cauliflower and even though I have NEVER liked cauliflower, I wanted to bathe in the stuff. Never underestimate the power of BBQ sauce, let me tell you.
I also remember eating pizza with them at our neighborhood pool. In all reality, it probably only happened a few times, but in my mind it was an all the time thing because it was the best pizza in the world. They ordered the kind with stuffed crust and with bacon on top from Pizza Hut. My family NEVER did that (we were a faithful Dominos and Ledos family since day one). Now every time I eat stuffed crust pizza, I think of them.
My goal for the summer was to read and journal my way through the New Testament. I read through it, but never actually got around the writing part. That might have been a good thing. Writing my way through Scripture may be good for my first year teaching and my first year on the mission field. So instead of wanting to do it in just a few weeks, my new goal is to write my way through the New Testament this school year. That sounds doable.
I was reading in John this morning, and I had written in the margins of John 4 “my story matters”.
Jesus healed a Samaritan woman at a well. He told her of living water and eternal life. He then told he was the foretold, long awaited Messiah. And to prove it, he told her what was hidden in heart, and she knew what he said to be true. And then it says something incredible:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
Samaritans meant nothing in Jewish culture, and women meant even less. But Jesus chose to use a Samaritan Woman, of ALL people, to reach a town for his glory. It was SO countercultural at the time. He used even her story- no one would have expected that.
Our stories matter, and God can use them to reach others for his glory, even when we don’t anticipate it. If he could use a Samaritan Woman’s, I know he can use mine.
God used Mrs. Wyman to spark an interest in my heart when I was 4 years old, and now I am a missionary teacher in Central America (which even I didn’t see coming).
I have been thinking about Mrs. Wyman a lot throughout this entire process. Because the fact of the matter is, her missionary experience wasn’t the focus of her being. She talked about it, and we knew about it, but she didn’t let that become her identity. She lived a normal life. She was an aerobics teacher. She cooked her kids Orange Chicken and mashed potatoes and peas with the little pearl onions, and she always invited her next door neighbor over because that was her favorite meal. But she was faithful with the story that God had given her, and she lived like he called her to live. She was never abrasive with her testimony, but she was unapologetic. She lived out the Great Commission and the Gospel in the way she ran her household, interacted with friends and neighbors, and served in her church. I saw it in my own mother too, and it was reinforced every time I played next door. And little 4 year old me took notice of that. I didn’t know what I was seeing, but it left a lasting impact on my life.
3 days ago I moved to Honduras to become a missionary teacher. And the very first meal I had in my new country was stuffed crust pizza from Pizza Hut. It wasn’t my decision to order the pizza, but it was the perfect first meal. The only thing that would have made it better would have been Orange Chicken with peas and pearl onions.
I remember where I was the moment I told my dad I wanted to
be a missionary. We still lived in Virginia, and were at my brother’s football practice. They were playing on one of the fields, and Dad and I were walking around the other one. 11 years ago, there weren’t portables. But this is where we were at.
At the time, that calling seemed like it would never happen. I was weeks away from starting middle school. My Spanish vocabulary was limited to the words “uno, dos, tres, hola, adios, taco, hablar, fajita, Chihuahua” and “enchilada”.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 18:19-20
January of 2015:
I pleaded with God for direction. I so desperately felt called to go into vocational, overseas ministry, but I was staying. The hours I spent studying Spanish seemed a waste when I only used what I learned inside the walls of an isolated classroom writing about Isabel Allende’s use of figurative language.
As I was praying and pleading, I painted. I have a special Bible that I use for things like this, and I painted through my prayer. I was praying to be sent. And I was praying for very clear direction in my life.
For six months, I prayed. And I prayed for a Burning Bush. Something, anything, to reaffirm my calling and to show where I was called to be.
I don’t know why I painted a bird. I feel called to Latin America and I wanted to paint something that represented that I guess. Knowing me, painting a taco or flowers would have made so much more sense. I had never painted an animal before that January day, I haven’t painted one since then.
Soon after, I was asked to go on a trip to a Honduran Orphanage with some of my cousins. They knew my heart, and they knew I could speak Spanish. The trip was tentatively set for the end of July.
I was going. Or so I thought.
In April, they called again. The trip had been canceled. I remember going into my friends’ dorm room and fighting back frustrated tears. If I was called to go, why wasn’t I? I felt called to go into missions since I was 11. Was I just being stubborn by holding onto some childhood fantasy? Maybe I missed something along the way. Maybe I was off on the whole missions thing. Maybe I shouldn’t be studying Spanish. Maybe… Maybe… Maybe…
They cut me off. The self pity had given way to me doubting the Sovereignty of God, but more specifically, doubting his perfect timing. And that had to stop.
After lots of prayer, conversation, and Bible reading, I finished the semester and moved home for the summer. The next day, I started interning with my youth group. My prayers to be sent hadn’t stopped, nor had my pleading for clear direction. But The Lord was teaching me how to wait, and to wait well.
On Friday, May 22, 2015, my Youth Pastor pulled me aside.
I have an opportunity for you, and I think you will be really excited about it. Will you go to Honduras with us?
I’m fairly confident I told him to shut up. And If I wasn’t crying, I wanted to. Agreeing to go was the easiest decision I made that summer. Going to Honduras felt as natural as breathing, but leaving the country after a 7 day visit brought all the pain that having the wind knocked out you brings. While there, I continued to beg God for my Burning Bush and give me direction for life after college.
There was a zoo at our hotel, and these birds were some of the first things that I saw. when we got there. How precious it was to see them, the same kind that I had painted into my Bible many months prior. Those birds were like salve to my my impatient, wounded soul. Time heals some wounds, but for me, the passing years were painful. Seeing them served as the reminder that I so desperately needed. God knew I was in Honduras. He always knew that I was going to be in Honduras, even when it looked like I wasn’t. The Lord had purposed for me to go long before.
On our first full day in the country, we were driving around when a mural caught my eye. //Jehova Jireh// The Lord Provides. Very quickly the brightly colored feathers of these birds came to represent something far greater than the tropical fantasies that they are so often associated with. It was my own personal flying rainbow, a reminder of God’s promise to provide.
For the past few years, I had my life all planned out. When I would graduate, what organization I would work with, and what Latin American country I would move to. And let me tell you… NONE of that happened the way I thought it would.
During my trip two years ago, I was praying for God to confirm MY plans. You see, I had my 10 year plan. And I was praying that he would make it his. Going into Honduras, I knew what I wanted. I wanted God to want that same thing.
But that’s not how faith works. That actually isn’t faith at all. My prayer wasn’t “Let your will be done”, but rather, “Let my will be done.” And in doing so, I was treating God less and less like the Creating Lord that he is and more and more like an ambivalent genie. (I’m pretty sure Patrick Curtis said that.)
Looking back on my journal from that week, it’s apparent to me the turmoil my soul was in. It slowly, painfully, became clear: my plan was just that- my plan. God had a different one. I spent my week in Honduras, and several months after, fighting that. Dying to self was painful. And watching my dream die was painful. What I wanted, it didn’t happen. And that’s okay. Because what He had in store for me was SO much better.
He has promised to provide. His plan is better than mine. His timing is perfect. He’s a good, good father.
One more thing. That bird I painted long ago while praying to be sent and for direction? Before a trip to Honduras was planned, canceled, and then another one was planned last minute?
It’s the Honduran national bird. And I didn’t know that until a few weeks after I got home.
God has a plan. He promised to provide. And he always, always, always, keeps his promises.
And now, 2 years later, I am going back. This time for much, much longer than 7 days. I am going to be a missionary teacher at a Christian bilingual school. I’m moving to the same town I visited last minute two summers ago. And I couldn’t be more thankful, more terrified, more excited, or more confident that this is exactly where God wants me to be.
Remember when that New Yorker named Julie decided to cook through Julia Child’s cookbook in a year, and blog her way through it? Well, I decided to read through the New Testament this summer, and blog my way through that. Here’s why.
The first time I tried coffee, I hated it. It was bitter and it upset my stomach and I couldn’t understand the people who couldn’t make it through the day without such a terrible drink. Now, ironically enough, I am one of those people, but worse. I need a second cup by 2 o clock every afternoon. Without coffee, I can’t focus, can’t stay awake, and get killer headaches. The two a half year old twins I used to nanny knew not to touch my coffee. The didn’t know not to run out in the middle of the road, but they did know not to touch my coffee.
Obviously that change didn’t happen over night. I started small, with Frapachinos and Lattes every time I was out shopping… drinks that consisted of mostly sugar and creamer with just a little bit of coffee added at the end for good measure. That became coffee on early mornings or days I had AP exams. I took an old 4 cup coffee maker with me to college… I had to buy a new 12 cup maker, a French Press, and a tea kettle by sophomore year… poor thing got worn out. Now I usually drink two cups a day, and for the past week, I haven’t even added creamer or sugar. (This is a major personal accomplishment.)
But there was a progression. Continuous exposure led to what can only be described as an addiction. It made me cringe at first, but now I can’t live without it.
I think that is how most people are. At first, coffee is bitter. But the more time you sit with a cup of coffee in your hand, the more you realize you don’t want to sit any other way.
Over the past year, I have gone through some pretty drastic changes in my life. And I’ve noticed that I’ve fallen out of love with scripture. I gave myself permission to skip one day of my quiet time, and that seemed to pave the way for months without it. And my soul grew numb, and I fell into a routine of pretending to be the first Christian in history who didn’t need her Bible.
I don’t want to be that person anymore.
I need time with people. I need communication with people. Without it I wither. I wilt in isolation. I know this about myself, but for some reason I still decided to isolate myself from the King who loves me.
I can’t keep doing that anymore. So I decided to do something about it. By intentionally carving out time to spend with Jesus, and then setting aside even more time to process through what wanted to teach me, I am going to make time for my neglected soul, and let Jesus heal my hurt.
The more time I sit with a cup of coffee in my hand, the more I realize I don’t want to sit any other way. And the more time I spend with Jesus, the more I realize that there is no better way I could spend it.
To be completely honest, this started as a joke. I was working with a middle school student, attempting to instill the art of essay writing. I wrote a basic, generic outline for him to follow in the future, and a sample essay for him as well. Needless to say, I clearly am the only one who enjoyed myself. I think he is still trying to come up with his thesis statement.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the magic beans from Jack and the Beanstalk? Well, I know what happened. The Giant hid them in plain sight, and I can prove it. Magic beans still exist because they turn sleep deprived zombies into fully functioning, productive adults every single morning. They exist all over the world, and are distinct in every region. Like only magic and magnets can, they bring people together to congregate around them. Life giving properties, a world-wide presence, and a magnetic draw prove that magic beans still exist.
Magic beans are brewed into a magical potion that can make even the most sleep deprived alive and well again. College kids can pull all-nighters. Truck drivers can drive cross country and deliver everything from fresh shrimp to new flat screen TV’s. Soccer moms can clean the house, prepare a snack and help with homework, get the kids to practice, and then dinner, bath, and bed without blinking. Business men can get the red eye back to New York so they can seal the deal. A normal bean without magical properties could not be able to do this.
These beans have a worldwide presence and define the regions in which they grow, proving their resilient, powerful, magical nature. Hawaii is known for its specialty blend called Kona. Colombian blends are also quite popular. Italian espresso, dark French Roasts, and the Turkish variety are not only vastly different, but a crucial part of their individual cultures. These magic beans have permeated the culture, taking over the breakfast hour and became the remedy for the 3 o’clock crash. There are entire shops in every country dedicated to this magical bean. Nothing normal has the ability to be this global.
Nothing else has the magnetic draw that these magic beans do. People congregate over them, go on first dates over its aromatic brew, and bring it with them into important board meetings. Friends gather to catch up with a potion brewed from these magical beans. Buildings dedicated to serving these magic beans and its powerful potion serve as a modern day watering hole or town square- a place where people gather to discuss everything from politics to ponies. Tensions fade and stressors melt away as people gather around steaming hot mugs of magical goodness.
The energizing and life giving properties of these beans, their global presence and prominence, and their ability to bring people together is proof positive that they are indeed magical. Nothing else can make the sleep deprived awake and excited. Nothing else is this noteworthy worldwide, or helps define the region in which it is found. Nothing else encourages congregation and conversation. Jack’s magic beans still exist and are hidden in plain sight. And I know, because I have a stash in my pantry.
During this “in between” season of my life, I take care of a nine month old little girl. She loves music, avocados, venison, and the swing in the back yard. She gets mad when there are people in the room who aren’t looking at her, and feels betrayed if you try to feed her normal baby food.
I call her Peaches. I really can’t remember where that came from, but I’ve called her that since the beginning and I suppose it’s better than Tater Tot or Munchkin or Gum Drop. (I blame my southern roots for all the food related nick names.)
Usually the mornings are filled with giggles and couch cuddles and jingle bell toys and one last snack before her nap.
But not today.
This morning, she absolutely broke my heart. I can’t remember ever seeing someone in so much pain. Nap time came and went. She was exhausted, but couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep. I watched her face contort in uncomfortable sobs as her cheeks seemed to become permanently tear stained. You could see the little vein in her forehead bulge as she cried.
And I felt helpless.
Her dad- a dad who would move mountains and pass through hell or high water for her- came home and gave her the medicine she so desperately needed.
He knew the medicine would make her even more upset. It would sting and burn and increase her discomfort, but 20 minutes later it would kick in and all her pain would be alleviated. She would be able to sleep peacefully and play comfortably.
But how do you explain that to a nine month old? How do you tell a baby that her strong and kind and loving and much wiser father, motivated by his fierce love for her, gave her this thing that hurts worse than before?
You can’t. So he held her close as she screamed angry, agonized screams and rocked her as her tears flowed fast and freely. He knew what she is far too young to understand- what he just did is the most loving thing he possibly could have done for his little girl. He knew the medicine would work in 20 short minutes, even though the Little Peach could never have understood that.
So I sat back and watched. I watched as a father cared for his daughter in a way she didn’t want and didn’t understand but oh so desperately needed.
I think that is how God loves us. A God who created parakeets and pollen and phytoplankton, geysers and gorillas and gemstones-clearly is going to understand our soul’s deepest needs better than we ever could. Sometimes, like Peaches, we don’t recognize why we are hurting. We only notice the painful symptoms that make us cry and lay awake uncomfortably. But how could we know the real reason? He is Creator, Conquering King, Savior. And we are his dearly loved Children.
It reminds me of pruning- cutting and clipping off the old to make room for new growth and new life. The pruning process is never without pain, but He does it because it is what is best for us. He is a good, good father, and he gives us what we need, even when it hurts us in the moment.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
He sees the root cause of our heartache, the thing that is keeping us from producing fruit and abiding in our Risen Savior. Motivated by His fierce love for us, He prunes.
I suppose that process looks different every time. Sometimes he gives us something we need but don’t want in the moment because it hurts and we think our finite minds know best. Sometimes he takes something away that we have fought to keep firmly in our grasp.
Looking back on the past few years of my life, I can see how closed doors, missed opportunities, and broken hearts lead to beauty and abundance. What was the end of MY plans and felt like the end of the world turned out to be an incredibly gracious beginning, and opened the door to the thing I had always yearned for. What he does he does because he loves us. He wants us to abide in him, and produce fruit indicative of the abundant life He wants us to lead in Him.
The Little Peach is sleeping peacefully now- going on three hours, which makes sense because she missed her morning nap, poor thing. I’m watching her on the monitor as I write this. Her father-a broken, fallen, human father, knew what was best for her this morning. How much better must our Heavenly Father know what is best for us?
Thank God for grace.
I absolutely love this time of year.
It’s the only time of year when ugly sweaters are fashionable and grown women can get away with wearing a onesie to a party. There are lights everywhere, the air always smells fresh, of evergreen and snow, and people are generally so much happier than usual. This is the month of Christmas, of Sugar Cookie Coffee and mistletoe and ginger snaps.
I love Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas movies (the Beauty and the Beast Christmas special, Elf, and Christmas Vacation are some of my favorites) and pretty much the whole dang season.
But this year it’s different. There will be some people who are missing from around the tree. And no amount of laughter, family anecdotes, or carols could cover up the silence that their absence brings. And it doesn’t matter how many people we jam into the room or around the dinner table, because it will still feel empty. And it doesn’t matter how many traditions we partake in this year, because they will still feel lopsided and just… wrong. No matter how many “normal” things we do to celebrate the birth of our Savior, it’ll be different. And not in a good way.
As wonderful as the Christmas season can be, it’s starting to remind me that an empty chair is filled with pain. It doesn’t matter why the chair is empty- deployment, divorce, discord, death- at the end of the day, regardless of the reason, someone you love very dearly isn’t sitting there. And the holiday season just doesn’t feel as cheery because of it.
Have you ever felt that way?
I find myself wondering what Christmas will look like this year. Will it be sad? Will we cry? Will the absence be awkwardly ignored, too painful to talk about? Or will it be all we can talk about?
I don’t know what to think. Or what to expect, and I know I’m not the only one. So instead of focusing on the things that I don’t know, I have decided instead to lean on something that I know with absolute certainty: There is a God, and He is here.
There are lots of names of God, and each one reveals something different about his character, and is a way for us to better know and understand the Almighty.
In Genesis 17, when Abraham was 99 years old and childless, God promised him a son. But right before He did that, He introduced himself as “El Shaddai”, which means God our supplier.
Years later, after that promise had been fulfilled through the birth of Isaac, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son. After the altar had been built and the fire prepared, God stopped him by introducing himself as “Jehovah-Jireh”, meaning God who provides. God provided a lamb to save Isaac then, and Jesus, years later, to save us.
And it is that saving that this season celebrates. Jesus was born to die, to save the world of our sins. And while that may sound grave, and death isn’t something most people speak of when celebrating birth, that is exactly what happened in scripture. In every Nativity scene, you see Mary and Joseph, the Baby Jesus, some animals, angles, and wisemen.
Jesus was offered three gifts from the wise men. Gold represented that he was King. Frankincense, an incense used in burnt offerings, represented that He was God. And myrrh, an embalming oil, represented his death.
Death has been a topic of discussion at Christmas ever since it began. But so has something else.
There is a name of God that was first used when Jesus’ birth was prophesied in Isaiah, and used again in Matthew when Joseph was told that his young bride was pregnant. “Emmanuel”. God is with us. It’s in songs, on decorations that my mother has hanging around our home, and more importantly, it’s in the Bible passages that talk about the Birth of Jesus, mingled sweetly with foreshadowings of his death.
Christmas will feel empty this year. Emptier than it ever has before, and there is no way around that. And even though there are loved ones who won’t be here, we are celebrating the birth of our King, of God with us. The one who promised never to leave, forsake, or abandon us, even in the midst of dealing with the pain of separation that death brings.
I understand that now, more clearly than I ever have before. All my loved ones aren’t with us, but our God is. And that’s what we’re celebrating. He is with us.