A Word for 2016

9 01 2016

Small

A clay jar is a made thing, imagined and crafted by its maker. He determines its capacity and purpose, and expects only that it do what it was made to do.

In Perelandra (the second book in C.S. Lewis’ amazing space trilogy), the central character, Ransom, accomplishes a magnificent feat. He travels to a world inhabited by its first man and woman, and — by speaking truth to lies and ultimately defeating a demon-possessed tempter in hand-to-hand combat — he prevents a Genesis 3-type fall and secures a curse-free existence for all future inhabitants.

Before Ransom returns to Earth, he stands before the crowned king and queen of Perelandra, and the weight of what he has just accomplished begins to sink in. What will this mean for him in the future? What kind of fame, reward, and legendary status await one who rescues a whole world from brokenness, sin, destruction, and death?

An angelic being quickly reassures him with these words:

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad.”

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Not only does Ransom return home without trophies and accolades, he takes with him a wound on his heel that will remain a painful reminder of his battle with evil for as long as he lives. In a very literal sense, he is conformed to the image of Christ.

He receives the better reward.

And in his smallness, he is comforted.

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I think it’s safe to say that the wedding guests in Cana never gathered around the six stone water pots and lavished them with praise. The pots weren’t set on pedestals, festooned with garlands, and worshiped for the miracle of water into wine. Most likely, those water pots continued to function as ordinary water pots and the servants who’d filled them as ordinary servants. Except for what they knew. Which changed everything.

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But there is something in me that wants more. Something entitled. Something desperately selfish.

I say I want my life to be hidden in Christ, but I’m quick to bask in the praise of men.

I say I want to be dead to self, alive to God, and content with the portion He chooses for me, but I still find myself comparing, competing, envying, and resenting.

I say I want to be small in my own eyes, but my heart betrays me. When I don’t get credit for something I did? When I’m overlooked or excluded? When he answers my prayer for humility by actual humbling me? Then I see how far I have to go before I’m satisfied in Him alone, no matter what.

 

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Before John the Baptist was born, he was set apart to be the forerunner for Christ, and he fully embraced that calling in spite of the fact it largely meant a life of seclusion and eccentricity. And when the multitudes actually listened to him and redirected their attention to Jesus, John’s disciples were indignant for his sake. But he said,

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

Stunning. But then? We get this glimpse at a tiny crack in John’s armor. He hears of all the miracles Jesus is performing, while he remains imprisoned in Herod’s dungeon, hidden, set aside, seemingly forgotten. So he sends messengers to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

And Jesus skips the question asked and answers the implied one.

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

Jesus said this knowing that John would remain in prison, and Herod would behead him at the request of a dancing girl and her vengeful mother.

But I believe He also said it tenderly, knowing what we don’t know and seeing what we don’t see.

We don’t know what transpired between John and his Father in the moments before and after this seemingly senseless and humiliating execution. We don’t see what he saw or hear what he heard — the “well done” and “welcome home” of the One he devoted his life to serve. Every question at last answered. Every longing finally fulfilled. His joy once and for all truly complete.

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So, my word for the year is “small.” And I want to be like these little ceramic jars, made by a potter friend to be left in random places at Christmas time, each one unique, and each with a note explaining to the finder that the jar is a free gift, given because of all Jesus has given him. Given for the joy of giving joy. No credit sought, and much gladness received.

And I pray I’ll embrace this sacramental smallness not only with words, but with my life. That I will mean it when I tell God I want to be a living sacrifice — one clay vessel among His many, cleansed, set apart, ready for Him to fill and use however He chooses, whether anyone ever notices me or not.

This is my prayer — for freedom from selfish agendas, freedom from entitlement, freedom from offense, freedom to be small.

To be comforted in my smallness.

To receive and be glad.

All for Him.





Prayer for the New Year

1 01 2016

Psalm90

As we begin a new year, may our kind Lord teach us to pray, and to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Our time is short, and our God is great. May we make much of Him, leaning into His sufficiency, rejoicing in His goodness, resting in unfailing grace and mercies that are new every morning.

Today I remembered this simple little recording (probably from the 1980’s) of George and me singing these verses from Psalm 90, and wanted to share it here as a prayer for all of us.

And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
And establish thou the work of our hands upon us,
Yea, the work of our hands, establish thou it.

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth or ever thou hadst formed the earth
From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.

And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.

Amen. Grant it, Lord, for Your glory and our good.

Happy New Year, friends. Love, joy, grace, beauty, and peace to you. Thank you for all the ways you blessed me in 2015. Here’s to loving our God and one another well in the days ahead.





Like Leaves Falling

22 12 2015

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Creation understands. Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

The leaves don’t cling to the green. When winter whispers her soon return, they explode in a colorful psalm, embrace the outstretched hand of the wind, and dance their way to decomposition. There’s no competition. No argument over which leaf left the more lasting impression or legacy. As one, they sink into the earth, and their memory vanishes.

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I need to learn from the leaves. Because I don’t want a life of “clinging to the green.” I want to be okay with Isaiah’s declaration that all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, and — as much as I believe in wisely stewarding it — this body is breaking down.

So I’ve been thinking. About how to live the autumn of my life well.

I’ve been searching for the secret of the leaves, and I believe I’ve found it.

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I’ve been thinking about Jesus, and how all power belonged to Him — how He could have had everything this world has to offer (and was tempted to take it), but was pleased to do things His Father’s upside-down way.

He was formed in the womb of a poor, unwed teenager, and born in a stable. His birth was announced to shepherds — rough, disreputable men whose testimony wasn’t allowed in courts of law. As a toddler, His life was threatened by a murderous king, and His parents fled to Egypt as refugees. As a man, he never married or had children, and had no place to lay His head. He enlisted house servants to both assist and witness His first miracle.

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He left His glory to enter His humanity and our brokenness fully.

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2

He welcomed the outcast, dined with tax collectors, healed the sick and oppressed, and fed the multitudes. He spoke in veiled parables, redefined the Sabbath, and invited the condemned to repentance. He was silent before false accusers, allowed mere men to mock and humiliate Him, and willingly absorbed the wrath of God on the cross.

All because He knew. He knew that three days later He would rise. That the grave isn’t the end. That death doesn’t win.

For the joy set before Him, He laid aside everything that was His right, and took on everything that was our due. And even now, He knows my frame. He remembers that I am dust. And when I don’t understand His ways, He gently lifts my head and asks me to look beyond this withering grass to the steadfast love that never ceases, to lay down my life and be caught up in His immeasurably more, that I might join in the triumphant song of the saints through the ages.

Birth. Life. Withering. Dying. Returning to the dust.

But that’s not the end. Because a Baby was born in Bethlehem, we rise up laughing, swept into the beautiful, dancing purposes of God, where it’s grace upon grace upon grace.

Just like leaves falling.

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Wishing you a glorious Christmas, my friends, and the freedom to soar with Him into the New Year. With much love.





Fragrance

17 10 2015

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In New Testament times, foot washing was both practical and hospitable. People wore sandals, walked on dry dusty roads, and arrived with grime clinging to their skin. Cool water on hot, dirty feet not only cleansed and refreshed, it expressed a host’s desire to honor and serve his guests.

In our day and culture, we no longer require or expect a foot washing when we enter a friend’s home. But that doesn’t mean we’re clean. We go through our day collecting the “dust” of every influence we encounter, and it clings to us every bit as much as the grime Jesus washed from His disciples’ feet.

We just don’t notice it. Until we have to.

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I first met Diana through email when Liz, a friend and minister at our church, asked if I’d be willing to encourage a sister who is isolated due to illness and craves real community. I was happy to. But once our correspondence began and I glimpsed this dear soul’s heart, I quickly discovered that Diana would be as much a gift to me as I could ever be to her.

Diana suffers from an Environmental Illness that began in 1992 and has progressively worsened since then. Her condition is controversial and misunderstood, forcing its sufferers to endure skepticism from some in the medical community, and leaving them to grope in semi-darkness for answers and help. At one point, unable to tolerate food, she dropped to 88 pounds. And no one knew how to help her. She plunged into deep depression.

Diana believed she was dying.

She and her husband, Mark, heard about available treatment and chemical-free living facilities in Dallas, and packed up to move from Indiana in 2013. Even so, her health continued on a downward spiral and her despair deepened. She took an overdose of sleeping pills, believing it was the only way to protect others from her apparently unsolvable problems. But she woke in the hospital surprised to still be alive. Perhaps God was pouring out His mercy on her? Hope flickered.

Not long after this, Diana came to faith in Christ, and her despair turned to joy. Her illness remained, with all its restrictions, but her spirit was no longer locked in its prison.

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Currently, Diana can tolerate 20 foods and owns half a dozen garments she can wear without reaction. She doesn’t go anywhere except to her doctor’s office, which is kept as “clean” as possible for patients like her. Even so, she often reacts to those visits.

I asked Diana what she experiences when she has a reaction. She said it starts in her head, which feels like her brain is swelling and pressing against her skull. The inflammation then spreads downward until, eventually, her whole body feels like it’s on fire. Her thoughts also become confused, which makes it hard to think, much less to pray and recall God’s promises. These episodes can leave her incapacitated for weeks. It’s no wonder she chooses to remain home.

Since moving to Dallas, there have been two events that motivated Diana to risk an extreme reaction. The first was her daughter’s wedding last June.

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Wedding. Rachel, Dad, Mom

And the second was her baptism.

Diana knew she could be baptized privately, even in her own bathtub if it came down to it. No one compelled her to do otherwise, and pastors from our church offered to do whatever was best to accommodate her. But after months of intense prayer, soul searching, and Bible study, she was convinced. She wanted to make a public testimony — to share with the body of Christ what He has done and is doing for her. She was willing to count a very real cost to declare to the world that she has been buried in the likeness of Christ’s death and raised to walk in newness of life with Him.

Diana knew it would be impossible for the church to detox itself. Every fabric — carpet, upholstery, clothing — is treated with chemicals. Every person is unknowingly tainted. Soap, shampoo, deodorant, lotion, make-up, hair products. They all contain fragrances, and all fragrances are taboo. But Diana had instructed Liz how to wash her clothes multiple times in fragrance-free detergent, how to best cleanse her hair and body of any contaminants, how they could at least make the person who would be entering the baptistery with Diana as clean as possible. And Liz was ready.

But then they realized Liz would be out of the country on the date Diana planned to be baptized.

So three days before the scheduled service, she asked me if I would be willing. And of course, I was delighted to say yes.

I was deeply honored. And humbled. And I was also afraid. I didn’t want to make her sick, and I only had three days to cleanse myself. Three days of purification. Three days of trying to set myself apart.

It was a three-day journey to try to eliminate every clinging aroma, and it became a three-day journey into a deeper understanding of how desperately we need God’s grace.

Because I couldn’t do it.

The aromas in my home were suddenly magnified to me. I noticed them everywhere. The essential oils I diffuse, my favorite soap, candles in almost every room — their scents permeated the furniture, my hair, everything. I capped and put away candles and stopped using oils, but I could still smell them.

I washed the clothes I would be wearing three times in fragrance-free detergent and dried them without fabric softener. But I could still smell my tee shirt. Years of exposure to who-knows-what in the environment had woven itself into the fabric.

And then there was my body. Not only would it be a challenge to eliminate fragrances, I had to battle pride as well. Stand in front of the church, my face magnified on the screen, with no make-up? No hair products to tame the crazy? No lotion or deodorant? This was a true stripping down. A laying bare. And God, as He is so very kind to do, spoke into my struggle.

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We walk through this world — maybe not in sandals gathering physical dust — but we pick up its clinging scents wherever we go. We begin to smell like the world, look like the world, and before we know it, think like the world. We’re called to be an aroma of Christ, but are we? Do we have any idea how saturated we are with the stench of the world? Or how powerless we are to remove it?

Isaiah 64: 6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

I couldn’t completely rid myself of fragrance. And, no matter how hard I try, I can’t cleanse myself spiritually either.

I’m contaminated, even sickening, and I desperately need Jesus.

As I considered these things, I thought about Diana — how she has trusted God and allowed Him to teach and sanctify her in her illness. She has been reduced to the simplest of existences and still suffers extreme pain, yet her hope remains in Him and her faith is radiant and blazing. The agonizing fire that spreads through her body has refined her to the core, and all her purposes are reduced to a single goal. She lives to give glory to the One whose mercies meet her new every morning.

And her husband, Mark, has willingly entered this world with her.

I met them both in person for the first time outside the church an hour before the baptism, and for that one hour, I had the amazing privilege of witnessing the way Christ loves His bride.

There I was, in all my no-make-up, frizzy-haired glory, but I soon forgot all about myself as I observed and listened to these two.

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Mark’s love for Diana is fierce and protective. It’s sacrificial and tender. It’s a wonder. I watched him take care of her practical needs, and I watched his eyes fill with tears more than once as he witnessed his brave wife’s joy.

We sat outside the building until almost time to enter the waters, and I felt like I’d been invited into a rare space. A sanctuary. A picture of Home. This beautiful, shining woman and the man who literally lays down his life to make her life possible.

When the time came, I stepped into the waters with Diana and listened as she shared her story with the church — a room full of people who will never get the chance to hug her like I did, or physically sit at her feet for an hour, or eye-witness the beauty of this marriage, but who are nevertheless her family — brothers and sisters who will one day see her whole and well. And the glory then? Eye has not seen nor ear heard.

Diana gave her testimony with a depth of joy that only a few present fully understood. Afterward, she plunged into symbolic death with a huge smile on her face, and rose up laughing.

She knew she would react to all the exposure, and by the time she got home, she was exhausted and in so much pain, she could only manage to shower and crawl into bed. But two days later in an email, her confession in the midst of severe suffering was still joy in obedience and gratitude for His sustaining mercies.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

The aroma of Christ to God. A fragrance from life to life.

Last Sunday I baptized Diana. And the fragrance is still clinging.





Kocho

13 10 2015

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When you meet Kocho, the first thing you notice is his deep, abiding joy. You’d never guess that, in many ways, he’s a man without a country.

Kocho is from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, which means the Sudanese government considers him a rebel. According to this June 2015 article in the New York Times, “A rebel army with many thousands of soldiers . . . governs the Nuba Mountains. The Sudanese government bombs the rebels and periodically attacks them, but the majority of its attacks seem to target civilians, apparently to make the area uninhabitable so that no one is left to support the rebels.”

The article goes on to explain, “The Nuba Mountains have no strategic value and neither the United States nor other governments have made much of an issue of the bombings, or of the lack of humanitarian access.”

Kocho’s people live in constant fear and endure unspeakable suffering, and no one seems to care. This alone would be enough to fill a man with indignation and fury.

But not Kocho.

KochoPreachingKocho preaching at the Hai Nuba Church in Doro

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Version 2Kocho in the Doro refugee camp, with Richard, a member of our team

I met Kocho last April in a refugee camp in Doro, South Sudan, and I was immediately struck by his smile, his intelligence, and his peaceful strength. He exuded radiant grace. We attended a service in the small, thatched Hai Nuba church, and Kocho not only led the joyful singing, he preached a powerful sermon in perfect English and interpreted into Arabic for himself. I remember thinking that, were he to show up in a college classroom in the US, he would fit right in. No one would guess his history.

Kocho’s father had four wives, and he has many brothers and sisters. Though his parents were both Muslims, he went to a school mixed with Muslims and Christians. When he was in 7th grade, his Kenyan teacher took him aside for Bible study. Kocho wasn’t interested, but he didn’t want to disappoint his teacher. So he studied the Bible. And, in his words, “I met Jesus.”

At the time he was living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. His father had a good position and sent money to continue his next level of education. Then he received a Lost Boys Scholarship, and in 2010 he completed high school.

After that, Kocho says, “I prayed with all my heart” for a chance to continue schooling. Many of his buddies from the refugee camp were able to go to universities in the USA and Canada. Some of them had lower scores than Kocho in school, but he was stuck. He couldn’t say he was South Sudanese, and he couldn’t apply for papers from the north because they would see he is from Nuba and brand him a rebel. He worked a bit as a teacher, then returned to South Sudan and applied for University in Juba.

His application was denied because he’s from Nuba.

From there he went to a refugee camp in Unity State where he worked for Samaritan’s Purse for about a year. Friends then told him about possible job opportunities in Doro, so he moved there to work as a nurse assistant and save money for school.

His friends ask him, “What are you doing these days? You are probably finishing up university by now?” When he tells them what he is doing, they say that he is “wasting talent,” and those who are not Christians say, “God has forgotten you.”

But he says, “God is not done with me yet,” and he looks to Biblical examples of patience. Abraham waited 25 years for his promised son, he recalls. And David waited 15 years before he became a king.

And now? It looks like Kocho’s days of waiting may be coming to an end.

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Enter Cathy and Ruth, nurse practitioners with SIM at the Grieve Memorial Clinic in Doro, who knew Kocho wanted to further his education, but weren’t sure how to help him. They approached African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF) about setting up a support page for Kocho, and then they began the process of getting him to school.

None of this is simple. Kocho has no official ID or passport, and obtaining one will not be easy. But they managed to get him to Kenya, where he is enrolled in a business school now, completing his biology requirements on a temporary visa, and praying the official papers will come through before this term ends.

Kocho’s dream is to become a doctor, but not so he can get a good job, earn money, and make a comfortable life for himself. He said, “I can see how, when God puts His love in you, it is different than just being a medic and doing a job. With God it is not about the job or about getting money. I have prayed that if any gift is a stumbling block to me in my relationship with God that He would take it away from me. I want this gift of medicine to draw me close to God not further from Him.”

When asked if he wants to return to Nuba to practice medicine and alleviate the suffering there, he answered,“That is a big ‘Yes!’ But I want to follow God’s leading and go wherever His name is not known.”

Kocho may be a man without a country or an official ID, but he knows where his true identity is found. Galatians 2:20 is one of his favorite verses:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

He also points to Ephesians 5:15-17.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Kocho’s friends couldn’t have been more wrong. What the world may see as “wasting talent,” God receives as a life laid down, waiting for His timing, delighted to do His will.

God hasn’t forgotten Kocho. On the contrary, Kocho has been swept up into His holy purposes, adopted into His family, granted citizenship in His kingdom, and sealed as His own. And no one can deny him those credentials.

Will you pray with me for Kocho? Pray that God opens doors of opportunity for this hard-working, beautiful soul. And that he will be able to get the documents he needs to proceed to medical school when his biology course is finished.

And will you pray that the funds for his education come through?  At Cathy and Ruth’s request, AMHF set up a support page, and enough money has already been raised to cover his first year of medical school. Praise God for this wonderful provision! If you know of anyone who might want to pray for Kocho or help financially, will you share his need?

For his part, Kocho isn’t worried. His beautiful faith never wavering, he presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Ruth had the opportunity to speak with Kocho last week. Even as much of his immediate future remains uncertain, she said one of his biggest prayer requests was for the Hai Nuba Church in Doro, that they would grow, be strengthened, and “eat solid food, not desire milk like babies.”

Grant it, Lord. And may we, his brothers and sisters in the land of plenty, do the same.





The Presence of Greatness: A Story and an Invitation

24 09 2015

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The Story

The first time I saw him he was walking on a treadmill. A blond starlet dressed like an old-west prostitute posed seductively in a country music video on the television screen suspended in front of him. But he wasn’t watching the video. He was looking around at whomever or whatever, not furtively, but with blatant curiosity.

When our eyes met, I understood.

Some might call the expression vacant. As the mother of a brain-injured son, I saw it more as open. Unmasked. He had dark eyes, and black hair curled around his ears, and I guessed he was probably somewhere between eighteen and twenty. A slender, silver-haired woman walked beside him. His mother.

The world has labels for people like him. Damaged. Deficient. Unproductive. More than anything I was struck with the stark contrast between his unaffected expression and the video starlet’s heavily painted facade, and I wondered with more than a hint of irony how many people in that gym would laugh at the notion that his contribution to society might be more valuable than hers.

The encounter touched a deep, knowing place inside me, but it was a seeing and moving along. I soon forgot.

Then, several months later, I spotted them again in an area used for free weights and upper body machines. There were plenty of other things going on around me. In addition to the general hustle and bustle of the gym, heart-breaking scenes of natural disaster filled a television screen nearby, and another screen a few feet away aired clips of a defiant dictator spewing threats. But my attention kept returning to mother and son. I didn’t mean to stare, but the more I watched them, the more everything else faded into the background. World events, whirring machines, even my own physical exertion. Soon I was completely enthralled with the interaction of the two.

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The mother’s long thick hair was swept back and twisted up, the ends forming a silver firework atop her head, like a diadem. Her exercise clothes revealed a lean, gracefully athletic frame. But it didn’t take long to see in her a beauty that goes much deeper than a sculpted figure. A love story played out before me, and I had front row seats.

I watched as she helped her son lie down on a bench, placed weights in his hands, then lay on the bench next to his with her own hand weights. They turned their heads to look at each other, which gave me a clear view of his face. I could tell she was speaking, and I imagined her voice as soft, calm, soothing. She seemed the embodiment of quiet strength, peaceful authority, and regal grace. I was captivated by her, and her son appeared to be as well. He never took his eyes off of her face as they raised and lowered their weights, side-by-side, him mirroring her movements, his expression a picture of cooperative concentration.

When they finished that exercise, she helped him sit up and carried their weights back to the rack — all her movements fluid elegance, purposeful and unhurried, as though completing this work out were the only event on her agenda, and she savored the sweetness of each moment with her son. When she stepped away from him for any reason, he remained in his place, quiet and still, patience personified. Even a casual observer could see there was a lifetime of knowing between them. He had no reason to doubt her return, so he waited, fully present in his waiting.

And again, I understood.

People who’ve heard or read our story often ask me what Jacob is like today. Does he grieve what he’s lost or have goals for the future? For a long time I wasn’t sure how to answer. I’d tell them that nothing seems to upset him for long, and his default setting is happy, but — other than the mercy of God — I wasn’t sure why. Then one day when I was trying to explain Jacob to yet another person who’d asked, it all suddenly made sense.

Jacob is content because he’s fully present in whatever moment he’s living. He doesn’t mourn or regret the past, and he doesn’t anticipate the future. He lives in the now with pure, childlike faith.

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I have no idea if the young man in the gym was born with his so-called deficiency or if it was a gift of God’s severe mercy like Jacob’s, but I saw in him the same restful, trusting contentment. And, perhaps even more stunning, I saw this contentment in his mother as well.

What happened next made me catch my breath. The young man sat on a weight bench, staring out at the central part of the gym. As his mother walked past to adjust a machine behind him, neither turned to look at the other, but she placed a hand on his shoulder in a gesture that was like a benediction — intimate and so full of grace and tenderness, I almost felt I should avert my eyes. But I couldn’t. I was mesmerized. Awed by beauty. And deeply convicted.

I’m ashamed to admit how often I get frustrated with Jacob’s pace or resentful of the impact his limitations place on our choices. Everything about this woman’s body language and behavior communicated not only peaceful acceptance but love, joy, and genuine gratitude. And her son responded. When she spoke, he listened and obeyed. When she placed her hands over his and guided him through the use of a weight machine, he submitted without resistance, his trusting eyes fixed on her face.

The whole scene was so beautiful, so stunning and other-worldly, I lost track of time and everything else, and when I pulled myself back to my own reality, my heart was full to brimming. A multitude of emotions swirled inside me — admiration, gratitude, inspiration, awe — but there was one feeling conspicuous in its utter absence.

Pity.

Talking heads and defiant dictators still paraded across TV screens, and starlets still sold their souls for digital glory. I glanced around at harried people, squeezing in a slapdash work out before rushing off to the next pressing thing, and I wondered if anyone else in that room knew they were in the presence of true greatness.

What the world calls damaged, deficient, broken, Jesus names beloved, beautiful, redeemed. What the world would throw away as useless, He honors and exalts, making the least into teachers of compassion, possessors of radiant faith, living parables of His truth. What the world considers great, isn’t. Not in the eternal scheme of things.

Become as a child. That’s what Jesus said. Do as I have done to you. Wash one another’s feet.

I shudder to think how often I miss God’s gifts — so busy am I scrambling for significance, laboring to make myself feel good about myself. But God still gives and gives, and when I’m present in the moments of my life, I see.

I watched a mother with a silver crown serve her prince of a son, and I heard a Voice whisper.

“Well done.”

This story is an edited re-post from the archives,
shared today because I want everyone who lives in
the Dallas area to know about an opportunity
this weekend to enjoy the presence of greatness.
See below!

The Invitation

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People, this is going to be so much fun! If you’ve never experienced an event like this, you’re missing a big treat. In addition to viewing (and potentially purchasing) original art, and watching a talent show like nothing else imaginable, there will be food and drink, conversation and laughter. And more love than any one heart can contain.

I understand that some people feel awkward or uncomfortable around the disabled. Maybe she can’t speak or walk, or he looks different? Maybe their smiles are too quick, their hugs too exuberant, their joy too boldly emblazoned on their sleeves?

I get it. I really do. We’re socially sophisticated, and we like things tidy and predictable. And we’re busy, like those people in the gym, rushing about our days, trying to stay one step ahead of our all-important deadlines, because how else will we ever be someone in the eyes of all the other someones clawing their way to Someone-dom?

But if life with Jacob has taught me anything, it’s taught me to see greatness in a brand new way. And I’m pretty sure, when we get to heaven, we’re going to be amazed by the ones Jesus seats in the places of honor.

So, if you’re a Dallas type, come party with us Saturday night.

And if you’re lucky, you might even get your picture taken with a star.





Seek Peace

25 08 2015

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In April I spent some time in Doro, South Sudan, in a refugee camp that is home to 135,000 displaced people. In that place, God both exposed and broke my heart, and I returned home tender, repentant, and eager to do whatever He might ask of me.

We landed back in Dallas on a Saturday, and the next morning, Alysa was in the lobby of our church, recruiting volunteers to participate in a reading program for refugee children.

I went straight to the table and signed up.

DSC_0009Alysa preparing materials for Reading Circle

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Fact: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 50 million refugees around the world, half of which are women and children.

Fact: Less than 1% of the 50 million people seeking refuge are selected for the UN Resettlement Program.

Fact: Texas has led the nation in refugee resettlement for the past four years.

Fact: More than 10,000 refugees have been placed in the Vickery Meadow Neighborhood in Dallas.

Fact: I also live in Dallas.

The nations are at my doorstep.

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Sometimes I feel pretty good about myself. After all, I try to be kind to everyone (at least out loud), to take good care of my family, to practice hospitality, to pray for and encourage struggling, disheartened, or grieving friends. I serve my church and community in some useful and respectable ways. To be honest, sometimes I even feel a bit smug in my having-it-all-togetherness.

But then God invites me to witness what real love looks like. And I’m back at exposed and broken again.

When an expert in the law asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus threw the question back at him. What did the law require? And the man was ready. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Good job, Jesus said. Do this and you will live.

But the man wanted clarification. He was pretty sure he was already doing enough, but he wanted Jesus to sign off on his efforts. So he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” And, as Jesus often did, He told him a story.

A man was attacked by robbers on the road and left half dead. A priest saw him, but passed by on the other side. A Levite did the same. No doubt they had their reasons — didn’t want to touch what they supposed was a dead body and become unclean? Had full agendas and no time for interruptions? But a Samaritan — a man both the priest and Levite would have despised —  came upon the man, too. And he did not pass by.  He saw the man and took pity.

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The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

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He put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he paid he innkeeper and promised to reimburse any additional expenses for the man’s care.

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Jesus asked the lawyer which man was a neighbor to the wounded man. The lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

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SEEK (short for “Seek the Peace”) is a non-profit organization operating within the refugee community in Dallas. The people who work at SEEK are like that Samaritan. They’ve heard the call to love their neighbor, and they’re willing to count the cost to follow through. They know these refugees have suffered unspeakable losses and extreme trauma, but they aren’t there to provide charity. The focus of their work is equipping the refugees to live purposeful, peaceful, reconciled lives right now, right where they are — as individuals, families, and a community.

SEEK pursues their goals through several programs, including the Reading Circle, which exists to equip refugee students for success through literacy. Three Saturday mornings a month, volunteer mentors gather the enrolled elementary-aged students from their apartments and walk them to the SEEK office, where each student receives personal instruction based on an initial assessment and his on-going progress. It’s all very organized, intentional, and a lot of fun.

The kids do improve in their reading and writing skills. But more than that, they build relationships with people who offer them presence, acceptance, encouragement, respect, and hope. And they soak it up.

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So, why am I telling you all this? Because I want to encourage you in three ways.

First, I want to encourage you to live with your eyes and heart open. I could have walked past that Reading Circle sign-up table and easily justified the reasons why I didn’t have time for one more ministry in my life. And I would have missed out in a huge way. Maybe the nations are at your doorstep, too? Or the homeless, the poor, the orphan, the widow? Neighbors have many different faces.

Second, I want to encourage you to pray. Pray for the 50 million people who’ve been driven from their homes by war, persecution, natural disaster, disease, economic collapse, and other traumatic events. Pray for their healing, comfort, and thriving. Pray against the greed, pride, hatred, brokenness, and evil that is forcing many of them to flee. Pray that Jesus will meet them in their suffering and make all things new.

There’s a lie that says you can spread your heart too thin. I know, because I’ve listened to it before. But this is what I’ve learned. When you love your neighbor — with your time, your presence, your creativity, and your resources — your heart doesn’t empty. It fills. Again and again and again.

So I have one more word of encouragement. This one is only for those whose hearts move them to respond. It’s not even a request. It’s an opportunity, with absolutely no pressure. SEEK is currently trying to raise funds for the next year — operating expenses, like rent money so they can stay in their office in the refugee apartment complex. They aren’t asking for big commitments. In fact, the specific request sent to their volunteers was to give $10.00 a month for a year, and to ask ten other people to do the same. And of course, any amount is deeply appreciated.

So, some of you reading this? You’re my ten. My fellow Samaritans on this particular road. And for others, maybe this isn’t an opportunity God has for you. That’s perfectly fine. My prayer for you is the same as my prayer for me — that we’ll go through life with open eyes and hearts, willing to recognize our part, and entering joyfully when we do. Because I believe with all my heart that the gifts we find waiting for us there far surpass any giving we may do.

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Fact: There are more than 50 million refugees around the world.

But facts don’t move us. Neighbors do. Here’s to loving them well.

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If you’d like to donate or learn more about SEEK the Peace, click here. Thank you!

 

 








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