Saturday, August 30, 2014

On Saying Good-bye

Sometimes I wonder why God allowed my friend to wander back into my life after fourteen long, silent years only to say good-bye one quick year later.  Though best friends since the age of ten, our relationship was torn apart by the time we both turned 19. Only because of what Jesus has done in my heart and in hers was forgiveness given, accepted, and our friendship restoredOnly because of Jesus.

Yesterday I cried big, sloppy tears in a parking lot and hugged her good-bye.  We will stay connected through computer speakers and tiny i-phone screens, but it will be a while before I can hug her again. She has prayed for this baby I'm carrying, yet she won't get to hold her when she's born. I know she needs to be where Jesus has called her to go. There are people He wants to reach through her story and her love for Him.

This past year was a gift- an unexpected one to cherish. Because when you say good-bye and it costs something, isn't that proof you've loved well? If it's hard, doesn't that mean it matters? If it hurts, doesn't that mean it was worth it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Beauty in Starting Small

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. 
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

I shook my head hoping to erase the words that had been imprinted in my mind.  But unlike an Etch-A-Sketch screen that can be cleared with ease of motion, I could not undo what I had just learned. I sat stunned as each devastating statistic traveled from my head all the way to the guarded parts of my heart. 

I knew it would change everything.

Forty percent of the world lacks basic water sanitation, resulting in disease, death, waste water for drinking, and loss of immunity; Americans spent $16 billion on bottled water in 2008.

We spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half the world spends on all goods combined.

Four out of five children worldwide work every day instead of going to school; four out of five Americans are high school graduates.

Eight percent of the rest of the world owns a car; one-third of all American families own three cars.

Roughly 40 million people (about seven Jewish Holocausts) die annually from starvation, disease, and malnutrition; 65 percent of U.S. adults and 15 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

The U.S. makes us five percent of the global population, but we consume 25 percent of the world’s oil, 20 million barrels of oil a day; next is China at just 6.9 million a day.

When a group of leaders from developing nations begged U.S. government leaders to explore intervention options for their countries in crisis, a U.S. official was quoted as saying: “The American lifestyle is not up for negotiation.”

(From Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted, p.23)

Doing nothing was no longer an option for me.  I was aware now… and a deep concern was welling up from that place of new knowledge. 

But I’ll be honest. Sometimes doing the right thing can feel a bit overwhelming.  First there is the daunting task of figuring out which thing is the right thing.  Then it can seem improbable that my one small something could make any sort of impact.

It reminds me of dropping a tiny pebble into the ocean. But one person reaching out to another person does count for something, because even a small stone creates a ripple. And a ripple can cause a wave and a wave can move water with determination and strength.

The first step is picking up something to throw.

Poverty is as far-reaching as the ocean, and quite honestly, I have no capacity to even understand it. The effects extend far beyond the physical realm.  Emotional, social, and spiritual scars are often invisible, but we serve a God who sees and hears and cares.

Looking through the lens of God’s Word brings it all into perspective. Micah 6:8 says that God requires this from me and from you: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Sure, I want justice.  But this verse indicates action.  A response is required. A different translation spells it out like this: “Do justice.” This is more than a way of thinking; it’s a matter of doing… something.

Loving mercy is the fire that God sparks inside us when we choose to believe that our one, small something is not insignificant but required obedience instead.  It’s a heart change that is born out of knowing and not wanting to ever forget.  It’s deciding to keep our eyes open to know more.

Walking humbly is the beautiful result of watching God love the poor, the lost, and the broken,  because He usually has a way of showing us how we, too, are poor without Him, lost without Him, and broken without Him.

So I made a list that day of ways I could act justly. I picked something. And the first something on my list was sponsoring a child through Compassion International. I've learned so much about who God is just by picking up this very, very small stone. 

He has taught me that in order bring comfort to another heart I must allow my own heart to become uncomfortable.

Some of you are just like me. You read these statistics and everything in you is fighting the urge to look away, forget what you’ve read, and go about the rest of your day like nothing has changed. But that’s impossible because now you know. Now you’re aware. Resist the urge to pull away and instead let the Father draw you to His heart. 

Let Him pick your something and watch Him use it to change everything.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Words God Uses

I exited the room unnoticed and let the door close slowly behind me.  The speaker continued her presentation as the baby sprawled across my bladder convinced me another trip to the restroom was overdue.
I flew across the country to attend a writing conference, fully expecting God to speak to me through some carefully crafted message or in a dialogue with a new acquaintance.  But Jesus has a habit of moving in unexpected ways and speaking in unexpected places. He spoke loud and clear, but it wasn’t through a course on writing or a list of tips to go home and practice.

God spoke to me in the bathroom.

It wasn’t the first time God had used a public restroom to deliver a powerful message.  My name was found on a bathroom wall by my grandma who worked as a custodian at a community college. That was the story I've known since I was little. I’ve spent most of my life thinking I was just meaningless, insignificant graffiti.

Three decades later, my grandma shared the true version of the story I thought I knew so well.

She spoke of walls covered with inspirational quotes in students’ handwriting and my name written underneath the words of a beautiful poem.  God used this story to give me eyes to see myself the way He sees me. My name wasn't written in a dirty place, hidden and unapproved; it had purpose and was carefully chosen by Jesus Himself.  

As I recalled the way He had used the words of a stranger in my own life, Jesus gently whispered to me in the middle of a restroom five states away from home:

Are you willing to write your words in the place I’ve chosen… even if it’s on a bathroom wall… for the purpose of changing one life?

I’ve been through so much with Jesus.  One thing I’ve learned (perhaps the hard way) is that I can trust Him… even when it doesn’t make sense… especially when it doesn’t make sense. So my prayer back to Him became one I've never prayed before. 

Show me my bathroom wall.

I’ve read a story in John chapter 8 at least fifty times this week. It’s dawn and Jesus is teaching in front of a crowd in the temple when the religious leaders drag in a woman they’ve caught in the act of adultery. 
These men have one thing on their agenda: trap Jesus and find a way to accuse Him.  I’ve wondered why only one party is brought before Jesus. I want to know why the guilty man isn’t present. Or maybe he is.
It’s very possible that this woman, though clearly she had sinned, was used as a pawn in the carefully thought-out scheme of these men who hated Jesus.  So add to the condemnation and judgment and pure embarrassment of the whole ordeal a heap of betrayal, worthlessness and shame. This kind of brokenness I can’t imagine. 
In this raw and tension-filled moment, Jesus does something so unexpected.  Rather than use His authority to address the crowd, He writes on the ground with His finger.  It’s the only place in scripture that records Jesus writing.

When they continue with their accusations, Jesus invites the one who has never sinned to throw the first stone, knowing full well that He is the only sinless one present.  Eventually every last one of the woman’s accusers leaves the scene. 

It was just a broken woman and Jesus standing in the dirt staring at words that would change everything.

Show me my bathroom wall.

This summer Jesus asked my friend to add something to her morning prayer walk.  It was something so unexpected, but she knew without a doubt He had called her to this.  So she set out every morning on her same prayer path armed with a box of chalk.  

She didn’t realize that this path was holy ground. 

She didn’t know that God was using her words written in brightly colored chalk on the hot, Texas pavement to save a life.  A message written on the bridge one day told of a broken heart and a dead end that was nothing but hopeless.  Until Jesus stepped in and took the words of a stranger and made them personal to the one who was reading them.  And He gave this girl a reason to live.  

Show me my bathroom wall.

My friend will probably never meet the girl who signed her name Anonymous on the bridge. I’ll never know the words that were strung together on that bathroom wall thirty five years ago or what it was that made a fifty year old custodian stop one day to them.  But I know this:  Jesus knows my name.  He knows my friend who walked with chalk all summer.  He knows Anonymous

Jesus stooped down low to write in the dust and He's called us to do the same.  Bending low, it becomes less about us and more about what He wants to accomplish through us. 
The only name I want people to remember when they read my words is Jesus- the name that saves.

For the rest of the conference, I took notes.  I wrote down methods for building a writing and speaking platform, but I realized by the last night that I’d rather write for one than a platform of five thousand or five hundred thousand.  Because the One I write for can use words scribbled on a bathroom wall or chalked along a gravel path to change lives, redeem lives, and save lives one tiny step of obedience at a time.
I invite you to make my prayer yours too.  Ask God to show you your bathroom wall. Then do whatever He tells you.