I’ve spent the better part of the past year learning about the global orphan crisis, and I’ve never felt more antsy in all my life. The thing about knowledge is more often than not, it spurs action. But shouldn’t certain kinds of knowledge spur certain kinds of action? One would think.
Just like one would think that knowledge of a command would spur obedience. But far too often, it doesn’t. And I know that, because in my life, it didn’t.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Y’all… that’s a command. And for almost 21 years I lived like it was just a really good suggestion. Some people adopted, and that was cool. But what could a young, unmarried coed actually do in way of taking care of orphans? (Because I was sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting to get hitched and let me tell you… that got old real quick.)
Well, it turns out a lot. For years I thought adoption was the only answer, and it isn’t. In fact, a large portion of the world’s orphaned and vulnerable children aren’t even elidgable for adoption. So what then?
Tim Keller said it this way:
“When people ask me, ‘How do you want to be introduced?’ I usually propose they say ‘This is Tim Keller, minister of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.’ Of course, I am many things, but that is the main thing I spend my time doing in public life. Realize then, how significant it is that the Biblical writers introduce God as a ‘father to the fatherless, a defender of widows’ (Psalms 68:4-5). This is one of the main things he does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause.”
If we are called to emulate the person, work, and character of Christ, and indeed we are, then shouldn’t we emulate this as well? Shouldn’t that be one of the main things we do in this world- identify with the powerless, and take up their cause? Because y’all it is ALL over scripture.
The third annual Liberty Shoebox Blitz started this morning and I stand humbled and amazed at the work of our Global God, and how He once again chose to use our feeble efforts to reach the fatherless and powerless of this world.
Before lunch on the first day of the week-long event, there were 232 packed shoebox gifts on the truck. (For context, we didn’t hit the hundred mark until Wednesday last year).
232 Gospel Opportunities. 232 opportunities for an orphan to meet their perfect and adoring and loving Father- a father who is involved in their everyday lives and wants a thriving relationship with them.
232 children who will get more than a tooth brush and a notebook and a soccer ball this Christmas season. 232 children who will receive a Bible in their language, and the chance to be enrolled in a 12 week discipleship program.
Refugees will be introduced to their Prince of Peace, the sick will be hear of their Great Physician, and the lost will hear a God who not only left heaven, but died to find them, and to keep them in perfect communion with Him forever in paradise.
Because the God we serve is the Father to the Fatherless, and for some reason that I will never understand but forever be grateful for, he chose to use us to reach them.
232. And y’all… the week has just barely started.
I’m done with twiddling my thumbs. And I have 232 reasons why I’ll never do it again.
When I planned to intern at an orphanage in Honduras this summer I knew my life would change forever. I just didn’t know how much. I knew I would be stretched, my faith tested, my comfort zone shattered, and the trajectory of my life dramatically altered. And even though I expected all of these things to happen, y’all… I didn’t see this coming.
So often we brag about the power of our God and how He brought us through great and mighty trials. We joyfully boast in His faithfulness, in stories of redemption, restoration, healing, and the end to particularly gruesome seasons. We proudly show off our scars because they point to our perfect healer.
But when the waters are still raging, the wounds still bleeding, and the heart break still so real it hurts to breath, we remain oddly silent, as if somehow the goodness of our God is contingent on the goodness of our circumstances.
We talk about battles won, but never acknowledge those still being fought.
For the past year and a half, I have begged God for very clear direction in my life. I know He has called me overseas and into ministry, but the who/where/what/when/why/how part was still foggy. And over and over again, He gave me a very clear answer for this summer: Honduras.
I knew I was called to spend the summer of 2016 in Honduras, long before I even applied for a position. I didn’t particularly want to apply, because it pushed me farther out of my comfort zone than I was willing to go and it left me more vulnerable than I ever care to be. I wanted to go, and knew I was called to go, but it scared me silly and when my other options were so much easier, avoiding the hard thing, even though it was the right thing, seemed so much more appealing.
So, I pulled a Gideon. I told God I would only go if X and Y didn’t happen (even though they already had), and if He would promise me that Z one day would. Within days, X and Y were taken away. The internship at La Providencia was the answer to easily the boldest, most dramatic, and most impossible prayer I have ever prayed.
God had confirmed it, time and time and time again. Through His word, through my time with Him, through other people. God had called me to Honduras, at least for this season.
As I was preparing to spend the summer serving one of the most Gospel minded ministries I have ever heard of, the Lord taught me two very important things: one about trials, and one about joy.
He reminded me of all the trials I have ever walked through, and I realized, I wouldn’t change a single one. I’m not a tragic person, but I have been to Hell and back on more than one occasion. Oh but how easy it is to boast in victories won by our Conquering King. I never knew Jesus as the Prince of Peace until my life was in chaos. I never knew Him to be Healer until I felt ugly, battered, and broken beyond repair. Through the trials He had revealed His character to me, and had glorified himself through the victory He had won in my life. Yes, I have walked through some painful, painful things- things I would never wish upon anyone- but I have seen how He used those hard parts to bring others to Him. I would never, ever want to trade that for an easy, cushy, comfy life. My RA this year had a painting hanging outside her door with a Charles Spurgeon quote that read “Easy roads make sleepy travelers.” And as I was preparing for what I knew would be a challenging summer, I rejoiced. Somehow, miraculously, he brought me to a place where I could honestly say “I wouldn’t change it” because I knew He was good, I knew He had been glorified, and He had brought me, and others, closer to Himself through it all.
He also taught me of the importance of joy. 10 days before I was to leave for Honduras, I wrote this:
“Joy in the waiting. Joy in the unknown. Joy in the unanswered questions. ‘Joy is not optional, and the final weight of it falls not on our weak backs, but on the almighty shoulders of God.’”
So I was ready to go. I was so willing. And the ways the Lord had confirmed that He was indeed calling me to spend the summer in Honduras were undeniable.
And then 36 hours before I was to board the plane, He shut the door. And my life changed forever. My faith tested, my comfort zone shattered, and the trajectory of my life dramatically altered.
I knew those things would happen this summer. I just thought they would happen in the country that holds the most dangerous city in the world, the one with the highest homicide rate outside of a war zone… not from the comfort of my parents’ suburban home. I thought it would happen as He used me, not as He didn’t use me. I didn’t think every plan I had ever made would be ruined. And I didn’t think it would hurt so damn much.
I’m so confused
I know I heard you loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here
The clear direction I had been praying for for so long had been given, confirmed, fought against, and then confirmed again so clearly it might as well had been posted on a billboard was suddenly taken away.
I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words
Thy will be done
And I was wrecked. Every plan I have ever had for my life, my major, my university, my summer, were all suddenly, painfully changed.
I know you’re good
But this don’t feel good right now
And I know you think
Of things I could never think about
When the waters are still raging, the wounds still bleeding, and the heart break still so real it hurts to breath, we remain oddly silent, as if somehow the goodness of our God is contingent on the goodness of our circumstances.
And I know why. Being in this place is hard, and talking about it even harder. Admitting we are broken and confused and a little bit lost takes a vulnerability we avoid like the plague.
It’s hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all your promises
Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that you’re God
And I am not
Thy will be done
But I will say, now, in the midst of picking up the pieces of everything I had ever planned for my life, I have never felt such peace. Nothing is the way I thought it would be. And it hurts. Oh it hurts. No one would ever call my circumstances today “good”. But I know He is good. He does good. And He has a plan.
I know you see me
I know you hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness you have in store
And even though I can’t see it, I’m okay. Because His goodness isn’t contingent upon my circumstances. He is still God and He is still good and His plan is still perfect and so is His timing. His peace is still freely given and so is his joy. If easy roads make sleepy travelers, I don’t want them. I want to be wide awake, able to dance in His presence, filled with a peace so unexplainable and a joy so divine that shattered dreams and ruined plans and closed doors can’t damper.
So, as it turns out, my summer in Honduras never actually happened. But it taught me more than I ever expected. It taught me how to live in joy despite my circumstances, how to experience peace when nothing makes sense, and how to surrender my plans when controlling them in my first instinct.
It still hurts. It’s still raw, and answering questions about it still isn’t easy, because, well, I don’t have the answers. I don’t know that anyone could ask me something that I haven’t asked myself a million times already.
I don’t know what He is doing, or where He is taking me, or why any of this happened. If He was going to take it away I don’t know why it was given in the first place.
But He is good. He does good. Joy in the waiting. Joy in the unknown. Joy in the unanswered questions.
And most importantly,
Thy will be done.
Hillary Scott – Thy Will Lyrics
There are lots of things about the current political climate that scare me. We live in a land that is governed by laws that are unbiblical and by leaders who alienate allies while befriending dangerous enemies. It reminds me of a game I used to play as a kid called “Opposite Day”.
“Ellen unload the dishwasher”
“Sorry mom, I can’t. It’s Opposite Day!”
Except this time it isn’t me trying to get out of chores. Now, it’s a very dangerous reality. It seems everything I think to be wrong and sinful and unwise is suddenly the law of the land that I love. When I hear of mass shootings in schools or movie theaters, racial protests or prolife advocates being prosecuted… I’m not surprised anymore. And mercy do I wish I was. Was there ever a time when terrorism wasn’t prevalent in culture? I can’t remember anymore. For those of us growing up post 9/11, there really hasn’t been.
But as upsetting and unsettling and unnerving as all of this is, it’s not unprecedented. And in that I rest.
Nero was the leader of the known world, the most powerful man of his time. Oh but he was evil. He burned people on sticks to light his private gardens, just because they loved my Jesus.
Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Attila the Hun, and countless other evil, evil people have ruled, all throughout human history. And even though I’m by no means comparing the current administration or leading presidential candidates to those mentioned, they do all share two things in common: I wouldn’t have voted them. But more importantly, and more to my point, they can’t thwart God’s plan to bring the world back to himself.
If the grave couldn’t hold Him, He certainly can’t be bound by bureaucracy. Even though I don’t like the way things look right now, I know the One who holds all things. And even though it looks like everything is falling apart, I know He holds all things together.
In Matthew Jesus promises “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail.”
No election season can change that. He is good. And He is God. No ballot will change that, and no government will diminish that. If the gates of Hell can not prevail against the will of God, then why oh why do I worry that the leader of the free world possibly could?
“Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” ~Thomas Jefferson
Yes, so much of today’s legislation scares the fire out of me. Those leading in writing the legislation are oh so misguided. How anyone could feel comfortable writing sin into law is something I pray I never understand. But right there, where morality and policy meet, isn’t that where we should identify their need for the Gospel?
If you are unwilling to also pray for the politician you’re speaking against, then your efforts are in vein. If we want to air our political misgivings out on social media, we must be first driven to our knees. There is no means of action that is more effective, and no driving force more influential. What if the names of politicians were not mentioned just in mocking memes, but in our true, honest, and fervent prayers as well? We need to be on our knees for our country and her leaders. Because y’all, they have it coming.
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
Yes, we are called to advocate, and advocate unashamedly and unapologetically for the things of God. But sprinkle with salt and season with grace. Be a voice for the voiceless. Millions upon millions of fellow Image Bearers have been murdered in the name of convenience, and we will be held accountable if we chose to stand by and say nothing. Attack the policy with everything you are. But leave the policy maker alone. Because y’all they need Jesus. Maybe more now than ever before. I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just. And His justice will not sleep forever.
Maybe I’m biased, but my favorite coffee is the stuff I’ve brought back from Honduras. But then again, I usually prefer Latin American coffee anyways. Everyone has a different opinion though. Colombian coffee, Blue Mountain Coffee from the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica, Kona Coffee from Hawaii, coffee from Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and parts of Africa. Before it became slang, Java referred to coffee from the Java region of Indonesia. Any coffee connoisseur would be able to tell you that there is a very big difference between each of these. Some are sweeter, some are bolder, some taste nutty and some have floral or even chocolate undertones.
Here’s the thing though, and it’s something I’ve never thought about before. The soil makes a difference. Without it, the coffee can’t grow. But more than that, the different soils in the different regions give incredibly different flavors.
Even Michael and Dwight, employees from Dunder Mifflin Scranton understand how important soil it. Dwight is a farmer, and uses soil as a metaphor to explain success in business.
Michael: What is that thing that Dwight always says? Paper is the soil in which the seeds of business grow?
Dwight: It’s not the soil! It’s the manure! Paper is the manure! On-time delivery is the soil! Aah!
Back to coffee. The soil that it grows in gives a very distinct flavor. The coffee that I drink from Honduras sure tastes a lot different than the Kona Coffee my dad gets as a Christmas present every year.
In the same way, the way a believer is raised, and the community that they chose to immerse themselves in, will come to define a person’s character.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Y’all I’ve grown up hearing this parable. But never before have I heard it applied in this way. Jesus continues and explains it to his disciples.
When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Did you ever think that maybe “the evil one” comes disguised as your closest friends? People who scoff at your so called Savior, who convince you to forget him before you ever truly understand him?
Imagine going on a retreat, and coming back changed, or wanting to change. But then what if “the trouble and persecution” of this world comes from your friends? Your boyfriend, who is frustrated you decided to stop sleeping with him and getting drunk with him, and who threatens to leave you unless you resume? What if “the trouble and persecution” of this world comes when you realize there is no possible way for you to pass the class unless you cheat on next week’s exam? What if you finally made varsity, but you know the captain won’t give you any playing time unless you go to the team party, the one with lots of alcohol, girls, and weed? And what if you decide that all this “Jesus stuff” just isn’t worth it?
1 Corinthians says this:
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”
So wouldn’t the opposite then be true? If bad company corrupts good character, then wouldn’t good company cause good character? Or at the very least, encourage it?
What if good soil referred to good friends, good company, good community? You know, I think it does, at least in part.
We aren’t created to be alone. We need community, to be surrounded by likeminded people. That need for community is part of the Image of God imparted onto us, we can’t get away from it. But when it comes to picking that community, we must be vigilant. Because if we aren’t, if we surround ourselves with poor soil, y’all the results could be disastrous.
Jesus talks about the seeds that fell on poor soil being being eaten up by birds, being scorched by the sun, and killed by weeds. How painful that could be in our lives.
But the seed that fell on good soil “where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Y’all, that’s what I want my life to look like. A disciple making disciple.
Good coffee. Good soil.
And it’s what I want your life to look like too.
(If you want to join me in drinking the greatest coffee ever, here is the link 🙂 An orphanage in Honduras grows and sells it, and all proceeds go to Christ-centered orphan care.)
My grandfather is one of the wisest men I know. He was a preacher for over 50 years. Now, even though he is retired, he goes back to churches… broken, fallen and failing, sick churches, and shepherds them as they find a new pastor and get back on their feet. He is over 80 years old. Last Thanksgiving we went on a 6 mile hike.
He is a hiker. A carpenter. A pastor. My first born child will bear his name. He visited Liberty last year and he said “I remember preaching with Dr. Falwell. He was a good man.”
He fashioned the wooden bowl that sits on my desk and holds my earrings. He made the chair rail that was in my little brother’s childhood room. He made our shelves. When we moved from that house, and had to leave the shelves behind, I cried. I’m rather sentimental.
He has cooked some of my favorite meals. We used to have fish fry’s in the summers. He smokes Texas brisket. His southern breakfasts are something I look forward to every year. You just have to grab your food quickly though, because he puts hot sauce on everything and I am apparently missing the gene that enables me to enjoy spicy food. (I like to think that I will get over that before I move to Latin America, but I’m not hopeful). He always used to have a jar of jelly beans on his desk. I bought him Tabasco flavored ones once, and I don’t think I have ever been more proud of a gift.
Together with my grandmother, he took me on some of my favorite trips that became my very favorite memories. Because of them, I know how the Tabasco factory harvests its peppers. I’ve climbed more lighthouses than I can count, have run the length of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first three flights in Kitty Hawk, seen Air Force One, learned about the three different kinds of fences, and camped in some of the prettiest mountains this side of the Mississippi. I’ve waded in the Gulf of Mexico, eaten the world’s best ice cream straight from the carton, eaten astronaut ice-cream, and I know that alligator tastes delicious. I’ve visited Indian villages, seen the Natural Bridge, and toured Gettysburg and Amish country and seen shows at The Sight and Sound Theater and at The Dixie Stampede. We called them “Special Trips’ because parents weren’t allowed to go, only the grand kids. Looking back, I wonder if they knew that the memories would be something I would grow to cherish. Those Special Trips certainly lived up to their name.
His hands. One of his fingers is crooked from when he almost cut it off with a saw a few years back. After years of using walking sticks while hiking, carpentry, and study, his hands are callused and work worn. But so are his books. A whole library: commentaries, Bibles, books on the Gospel’s and the apocalypse and spiritual gifts and Creation and grace.
So much grace.
And this room, his study, is where I stay when we visit.
Granddady was THE preacher. Everyone knew him. Loved him. Revered him. They still do.
I love my grandfather. I call him with every Bible question and theology concept I don’t understand. And he always answers. And if he doesn’t have the answer, he researches and studies until he finds it. I have a manila folder in my dorm room with some of his sermons printed out inside. He will email them to me sometimes. They are my favorite things to ever show up in my inbox.
Sometimes, life is just hard. Studying scripture is the best therapy. And his exposition makes it that much easier.
I don’t know why God saw fit to bless me with someone like this, but he did. Had my Grandfather not raised my mother at the foot of the Cross, I highly doubt I would have been raised there myself. Had he not exhibited Godly headship in the family and in the home, I doubt my mother would have sought after that for her own family. Because my Grandfather was a Godly, loving, involved spiritual leader in her family, my mom married a man who is all of that and more for me and my brothers. I have resolved not to settle for anything less in my life, and it would be settling.
Every time Grandaddy introduces us to his friends or to a church from the pulpit, he beams. He brags on each of us, each of our different accomplishments. Al and Ethan’s latest sports stats, Katherine’s grades and internship and involvement at The University of Tennessee, my volunteer work with Operation Christmas Child. But there is a part of these introductions that he never sees. His friends, people in church he pastors- they all come up to us and say the same thing.
“We just love your grandfather”
And oh, so do we. Whatever pride he feels for us- I doubt will ever compare to the love, pride, and admiration we have for him. There is something beautiful about all the ways The Lord has blessed people through my grandfather.
And I am oh so thankful to know him.
Well, here it is. Today is the day you’ve dreamed of since you met him. And you have no idea. In a few hours, you’ll have a diamond on your left hand. It’s beautiful. I saw it last night, you’re going to love it. He did a good job. A great job actually.
We are throwing you a party tonight after the proposal. You don’t know yet. Your family will be there. You don’t know about that part either. And it was all his idea.
We bought sparkling cider for a toast tonight. Which means I have to write a toast. And for one of the first times in my life, I’m speechless. Because what is happening tonight far surpasses a diamond ring and a dozen roses.
I don’t know how he does it, but it’s beautiful. He passionately, purposefully pursues you. But at the exact same time, he leads you to the Cross of Christ. The man does not have an easy job. He is called to live out this God-glorifying, dying-to-self-daily paradox. Pursue. Lead. Sacrificially. All at once. And he can’t lead you somewhere he doesn’t go himself. So that says something beautiful about him.
I know that we- broken, fallen, failing humans- should not be the example. But your relationship is beautiful, and it reminds me what I myself am waiting for. But more than that, it reflects Christ and his love for us and I’m overwhelmed.
I know he seems perfect, and watching him love you seems perfect. But the truth of the matter is that it was his sins that held Jesus to a tree. So if his love for you is broken, imperfect, but so ready to promise forever, how much more must The Father love us? And he already promised us forever.
By the time you read this tonight, I will have already hidden behind a rock. Waiting. You’ll have had your picnic, given him your birthday gift, enjoyed a date that you think you planned. Because what you don’t know is that at sunset, on a mountain peak overlooking fall’s fiery valley, he will get down on one knee, and ask you for forever. And you’ll have said yes. Promising not only forever, but a lifelong display of the Gospel.
“Marriage is meant by God to put that gospel reality on display in the world. That is why we are married. That is why all married people are married, even when they don’t know and embrace this gospel.” —John and Noël Piper
“The most foundational thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing. And the ultimate thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is for God’s glory. Those are the two points I have to make. Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. And ultimately, marriage is the display of God.” —John and Noël Piper
“Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. “Till death do us part” or “As long as we both shall live” is a sacred covenant promise – the same kind Jesus made with His bride when He died for her.” – John Piper
“In Ephesians 5 husbands are compared to Christ; wives are compared to the church. Husbands are compared to the head; wives are compared to the body. Husbands are commanded to love as Christ loves; wives are commanded to submit as the church is to submit to Christ.” -John Piper
The images and stories that are flooding out of Honduras are breaking me. Waist high water, stories of destruction, destitution, and death. And while the city of Siguatepeque is starting to resemble an ocean, I’m an ocean away. In a dorm room. Incapable of helping. Unable to do anything but pray. And that feeling is one of the loneliest, most painful that has ever flooded my body.
But it is also a lie straight from the pit of Hell.
Last night I found myself screaming out to God “why is the only thing I can do pray? I can only pray! Why can’t I do anything!?”
I was feeling helpless. But I shouldn’t have. “Only praying” is one of the lies that The Enemy continues to throw at me, and one I continually believe. For there is nothing insignificant about freely entering into The Throne Room of the Creator God.
I know The Lord has called me to learn Spanish, and He has been so faithful to reveal Himself to me in that. One of the things I have learned is the value of prayer. In Spanish, the word for “I pray” and “gold” is the same: oro. There is nothing insignificant about prayer. It is worth far more than gold, and how privileged I am to have the ability to commune and communicate with The One who knit me together in my mother’s womb. Who knit the people of Siguatepeque together in their mothers’ wombs.
Last night as I was spending time with my Jesus, I felt lead to 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.
At first glance, this story has nothing to do with the flooding in Honduras, and I was confused. But like always, God met me right where I was, and taught me something new from this story that I have been familiar with since I was a toddler.
David was a teenaged shepherd, so incredibly unqualified to be fighting a war that Israel’s armies were too afraid to fight themselves. But oh how faithful is our God. The problem was giant, but even it disappeared in comparison.
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
The battle isn’t going to be won the way we think it should be. It makes sense to win a war with weaponry. But that wasn’t God’s plan. In my head, in order to bring relief, it makes sense to do relief work in an area that has been so devastated by a natural disaster. Things aren’t going to happen the way I think they should though. For the battle is The Lord’s, and that means that the battle plan belongs to Him too, not to me.
Yes. My flesh aches to get muddy, to comfort the broken, the begin the slow, painful process of restoration and reconstruction. But it’s not my help that anyone needs. It’s His.
Carrying these people before The Father is the best help I could ever offer. And even though I could do it on a washed out road in Honduras, surrounded by debris that whispers of a life lost, I can do it from my dorm room too. And you know what? God can hear me just as clearly as he would if I were there. And He can use me just as effectively.
For the battle does not belong to me, or to the Honduran Government, or to any relief organization. The battle is the Lord’s. And so is the victory.
I love letters. Birthday cards, thank you cards, love letters, I’m-praying-for-you-hang-in-there cards, sticky notes on my dorm room door. There is something beautiful, nostalgic, and romantic about stamps, stationary, and hand written words. In my desk, I have a folder of thank you letters and pictures, and every time I look at them I cry. You see, they aren’t normal thank you cards. No one is thanking me for the cookies I baked them last week or the coffee I bought them on their off-day. They actually weren’t written to me at all. They aren’t written in english, and they aren’t written on fancy, monogramed stationary.
Most are written in crayon, or almost dried out marker. There are pictures accompanying most of the letters. Both the hand drawn kind and headshot of their 9 year old authors.
They are thank you letters written by Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box recipients. And they break my heart. Every. Single. Time.
The stories that these pages hold are enough to leave me breathless, even though I know what they say and I have read them hundreds of times.
Stories of the sick, who received a box with medicine in it, and with it, knowledge of a healing, sovereign God.
Stories of the lost, who for the first time, realized they were found. Stories of the faceless, who found out that they were known. Pursued. Wanted. And loved.
Stories of orphans, learning for the first time that there is a Perfect Father who loves them relentlessly and unendingly and who calls them “beloved child”.
Hola… mi nombre es Sharick, tengo 12 años, mi papá un día se fue y no sabia que Dios me amaba tanto. Recibí la cajita con muchos detalles… Hoy recibí el mejor regalo de mi vida, Cristo esta ahora en mi corazón…”.
Hello… My name is Sharick, and I am 12 years old. One day, my dad left us. I didn’t know that God loved me. I received the shoebox and all of it’s and all of its thoughtful gifts… But today I got the best gift of my life, Christ is living in my heart.
This is why I do what I do. This is why I pack shoeboxes. The Gospel is transformative and beautiful and perfect. God pursues us. He loves His children, and He is the Perfect Father. Being able to help children all across the world learn of these things is one of the greatest honors I could ever imagine.
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
I pleaded with God for direction. I so desperately felt called to go into missions, 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.
As I was praying and pleading, I painted. I have a special Bible that I use for things like this, and I painted though my prayer. I was praying to be sent. And I was praying for very clear direction in my life.
This was in January. For six months, I prayed. And I prayed for a Burning Bush. Something, anything, to reaffirm my calling and to show me at least the next step of the roadmap.
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 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 when I was 12. 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 to Honduras was the easiest decision I made all summer. Going felt as natural as breathing, but leaving brought all the pain that having the wind knocked out you brings. While there, I continued to beg God for my Burning Bush, but stopped to praise Him for the embers that He provided throughout the week.
There was a zoo at our hotel, and these birds were some of the first things that I saw. 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 have 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. I am still waiting for God to get on board with that one though, because up until now, He hasn’t.
During my trip, I was praying for him to confirm my plans. You see, I have 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 private musings from that time, it’s apparent to me the turmoil my soul was in. It’s slowly, painfully, becoming clear: my plan is just that- my plan. God has a different one. I spent my week in Honduras, and almost every second since then, fighting that. Dying to self is painful. And watching my dream die is painful. What I wanted, it’s not going to happen. And that’s okay. Or so I’m learning.
A few years ago I was struggling with giving up my plans, and a very precious friend pointed me to scripture, as all precious friends should. Paul had plans to go to Rome, the center of the known world, and to bring the Gospel with him. On paper, it was the perfect, God glorifying plan. But God sent him to prison instead. By no means am I saying that I am being sent to prison, but I am being sent somewhere other than where I thought I could best glorify God. Slowly, sometimes submissively, sometimes rebelliously, but always painfully, I watch my plans crumble. And every day He teaches me how to be okay with that.
Because 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.
He is a sold out Steeler’s fan, which I suppose is pretty gutsy to be living this close to Baltimore. He can’t function without coffee, he loves Mexican food (which I would never fault anyone for), and he washes his face with a loofah (freak).
Going into the summer, I already knew some of these things about our youth pastor. (The loofah thing was new.) But you see, serving you as summer intern meant that I also had the opportunity to serve Pastor Steve, Patrick, Lenor, and Stefani. Basically, I spent the summer working behind the scenes in the youth ministry. I say that because SOS and WOW combined only made up about 25% of my hours, so the majority of the work that Leah, Ervin and I did, you never saw. But that also means that the majority of the work that your youth staff, primarily Pastor Steve, does, you never see either.
So I decided to tell you what I got to see.
For starters, Pastor Steve’s job does not begin at 6:30 Sunday nights and end at 8:45 when family groups let out. His job is so much more than SOS, more than I even realize. The hours that it takes to plan SOS alone could make up an entire job (and they practically did for Ervin this summer… just ask him if you don’t believe me). But in reality, that’s maybe only 10% of his job. Retreats, student leadership teams, special events, missions trips, adult leaders, relationships with students, weddings, church staff meetings, the occasional sermon… y’all, I could keep listing things off, but I think you get the idea. Now, you should know that I made up that whole 10% figure. I could be way off, but based on what I have seen, I really don’t think I am. But its not just that Pastor Steve wears many hats. He does all these things, and he does them better than anyone I know.
I’m sure if he knew that I was writing this (notice I’m publishing it after my internship ended and I moved out of the state) he would want me to mention that he works on a team of dedicated, loving, prayerful believers who work really hard to make sure that your experiences in the youth group are excellent. But, I’m not writing about that team (even though it is critical and deserves recognition too). This is the one about Pastor Steve, remember?
I have heard nothing but wonderful things about The Fall Retreat. Students go on missions trips every summer, experience God, and come back changed. I’ve not only gone on those trips, but I have helped lead three of them. I know I’m right, I’ve lived it every summer since I was 16! I worked a Senior Banquet my junior year, attended it when I graduated myself, and then I went as a guest this year when my brother graduated. I’ve seen it. I know how special it is, but that is only because Pastor Steve makes it that way. I saw my next door neighbor, someone who hated the very name of Jesus come to a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. He hated church, until he came one Sunday and heard Pastor Steve preach. Now, I will tell you he wasn’t saved that day. But I do believe, and he will tell you this himself, that had Steve not preached that day, he wouldn’t have continued to come back to Mountain View.
Y’all, you have an incredible, godly man as your youth pastor, and you are so blessed to be able to sit under his wisdom and teaching. The work, love, and prayer that he puts into everything that he does is hard to even imagine. And yet, so much of it goes unnoticed. Because what The Lord is using Pastor Steve to do is something that even the American church, in general, is not doing.
According to surveys conducted by Barna and USA Today, between 70 and 75% of Christian youth leave the church after high school. But, over half of students (that I know of) who were involved in The View Student Ministries at Mountain View either go to a Christian college or university when they graduate, or, become actively involved in an on-campus Christian Ministry such as Cru and at a local church. Out of the 12 students who were at the 2015 Senior Banquet, 5 are going to Christian schools. In a culture that continues to see young people leave the church in swarms after graduation, Mountain View sees the opposite, and that should be celebrated. Whatever Pastor Steve is doing, he is doing it right. And that right there is the proof. He is creating disciples who make disciples. He is raising up and equipping students and student leaders who know Jesus and want to make Him known. And even though I know Steve wouldn’t agree with this, you, as his students, deserve to have that pointed out. The Lord has blessed Mountain View and it’s youth through Pastor Steve.
There are lots of weird things in his office, like an orange with a face and a baby doll head. But there is also a sign that hangs above his desk and it says “given enough coffee, I could rule the world.” And I believe that. God is already using him to change this generation. I know he changed me.
All my love,
your summer intern,