When we don’t recognize the answers to our prayers

11 11 2016

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To state the obvious, there’s a lot of pain, confusion, fear, and disappointment in the aftermath of the election. We’re all processing what happened and trying to predict what it might mean for the future. Tensions are high and words are often harsh and accusatory. And I’m not even referring to the general populace. I’m talking about those who identify as believers in Christ.

So, I thought it might be good to preach a little gospel to myself and anyone else who wants to listen in. Feel free to grab a cup of tea and get cozy.

Our culture may be saying a lot of things about us, and we may be saying a lot of things about each other, but God has also said some very specific things about His people. Here are a few of them:

We are created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, created for His pleasure and glory, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, taught by the Holy Spirit, known, protected, shielded, shepherded, disciplined as beloved children, grafted into the vine, loved, cherished, set apart, adopted, His workmanship created for good works that He has foreordained for us to walk in.

Exhale.

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One good thing I already see happening post-election is that Christians in America are distancing themselves from political affiliations and reexamining their identity. As believers, we’re called to be in this world, but not of it. We may be citizens of a nation, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom. No earthly ruler is responsible for accomplishing what God has commanded His church to do.

God is calling His people to deep, meaningful, and powerful community. Can you imagine what would happen if we really believed all the truths God has spoken over us — if we walked into our inheritance and united our hearts, our creativity, and our energies in loving this broken world?

We need to own our identity as God’s sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ, because the kingdom we live in determines the lenses through which we see all things, including the promises of God.

Consider Psalm 84:11-12. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

When you read the words, “the Lord bestows favor and honor,” what comes to mind? Or what about the phrase, “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”? If we view this promise through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, we remember that “favor” from God may look like loving discipline of His child, and “honor” may look like bearing reproach for His Name, and the “good thing” He won’t withhold may be the suffering or persecution He knows we need to be conformed to the image of His Son.

The more we look through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, the less God’s Word becomes about our personal or social agenda and the more it becomes about His glory and His kingdom.

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The only way to accurately see God’s promises and commands is through the right lenses, and when we do see clearly, life becomes a glorious adventure with Him. When we don’t get our way, we can still give thanks, because we believe in His sovereign plans and purposes and power. We trust that, whatever He chooses for us, it is an indication of our Father’s favor and His faithfulness to give good and perfect gifts to His children.

God is always only good in what He gives, and always only good in what He forbids. Therefore, the only true freedom is found in absolute submission to Him.

So, how do we live in submission to this King? What are the principles and laws of this upside-down kingdom?

They’re the exact opposites of the principles of the world or the so-called law of the jungle.

Jungle law says it’s every man for himself.
Kingdom law says consider others as more important than yourself, and the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

Jungle law says might makes right.
Kingdom law says the weak confound the mighty.

Jungle law says kill or be killed.
Kingdom law says turn the other cheek, go the second mile, if someone asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well.

Jungle law claims that only the fittest will survive.
But kingdom law says become as a little child, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.

And here’s the secret to freedom and the unexplainable joy of God’s children. We know that the best gifts He gives are actually the ones that bow us the lowest, because God resists the proud and draws near to the humble.

God’s ways are higher than ours. He knows what we actually need (as opposed to what we think we want), and He is willing to crush us if that’s the way to resurrection. We see this imagery again and again in scriptural word pictures.

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Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener. He prunes us according to His wisdom. To us it may look like He has cut away what was most beautiful in our lives, but He always prunes with purpose, that we might abide more deeply in Him and that we might bear much fruit.

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He is the potter and we are the clay. We feel the pressure and we want to squirm out of his grasp, but He is shaping us, molding us for His purposes. We can trust God’s love to be behind every painful stroke of His hand.

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He is the refiner and we are His gold. Left to ourselves, we would remain dingy lumps of metal with dirt clinging to our surface. His fire cleanses, purifies, strengthens. He knows exactly how hot the fire needs to be to burn away all our dross until He can see His face reflected in our lives.

We want these things in theory. We may even ask Him to prune our dead branches, to shape us into useful vessels, to burn away our dross. But when it happens in real life — when the sheers cut deep and the pressure feels unbearable and the fire burns hot, we can easily lose sight of God’s purpose and forget that the suffering is not only for our good and His glory, it’s the answer to our prayers.

Have you noticed that we never fathom the fullness of God’s ways? There’s always more than we can see. We look for physical healing and God heals our hearts. We ask for blessing and He sends pain that splits us wide open, because He knows that’s the only way our souls will ever learn to breathe.

Right now the people of God in America have an opportunity to be salt and light for such a time as this. May we welcome His working in us and trust His ways. And may we recognize the answers to our own prayers, even when they come disguised in the most surprising and unexpected packages.





Aroma of Peace

20 06 2016

Today is World Refugee Day — the perfect opportunity to share about a beautiful project I’ve been involved in for a while. This powerful video was created by Joshua Smith of Visual Peace Media for Seek the Peace, a non-profit working with refugees in Dallas, Texas.

Please take five minutes and watch?

To say it’s an honor to be a part of this falls far too short. Being friends with Safia and Hema, hearing their stories, loving on their children, and working side by side to create something beautiful? I’m forever changed.

Thank you, Seek the Peace, for entrusting this priceless gift to me.

And thank you, friends, for watching and for all you’re doing to welcome strangers and love your neighbors, no matter how vulnerable it may make you feel.

We get one life and one shot at love. Let’s get it right.


If you’d like to buy a candle handmade by
Safia, Hema, and me,
visit Seek the Peace’s shop.
Thanks!

 





Kocho, Part II

16 06 2016


One of my all-time favorite stories is the account of Joseph’s life, beginning in Genesis 37 when he was seventeen years old, and ending with his death in Genesis 50. The subtitles alone give an intriguing glimpse of the drama, conflict, betrayal, injustice, cunning, and ultimate triumph of his remarkable life. Check it out (with my mini synopses):

  • Joseph’s Dreams (in which he foolishly brags to his brothers about his dreams of future greatness)
  • Joseph Sold by His Brothers (in which their jealousy gets the best of them, Joseph is sold as a slave, and he gets his first taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (in which he determines to be the best slave ever, gains favor and trust with his master only to be thrown in prison for the very thing he refuses to do, and gets his second taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Two Prisoners’ Dreams (in which he determines to be the best prisoner ever, gains favor and trust with the warden, gives good news to one of Pharaoh’s servants and asks for a returned favor, is forgotten for two more years, and gets his third, all-too-familiar taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams (in which thirteen years after he was first sold as a slave, he stands before the most powerful man in the world, calmly gives God credit for his gifts, interprets cosmically important dreams, and hatches a plan to save the known world from starvation)
  • Joseph Rises to Power (in which he gains favor and trust with Pharaoh and basically runs Egypt; no biggie)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt (in which his brothers come to buy food and don’t recognize him, so he messes with them a little bit)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Return to Egypt (in which they come back for more food and he messes with them again)
  • Joseph Tests His Brothers (in which the brothers humble themselves, and Judah confesses their sins and offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin)
  • Joseph Provides for His Brothers and Family (in which Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers and says, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” BOOM!)
  • Joseph Brings His Family to Egypt (and then . . .)
  • Jacob and Joseph Reunited (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Family Settles in Goshen (and then . . .)
  • Joseph and the Famine (in which he exchanges grain for land and buys the whole world for Pharaoh, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (aka, Joseph’s sons, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses His Sons (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Death and Burial (and then . . .)
  • God’s Good Purposes (“. . . you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” MEMORIZE THAT and then . . .)
  • The Death of Joseph. (The End.)

Only not The End, really. Because there are ripples through history and will be until Jesus comes back again.

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And all that to say . . . Kocho. When I think about Kocho, I think of Joseph. How sometimes life doesn’t seem to make sense, and injustice is real. And in those times, we have a choice. We can whine, complain, and give up. Or we can believe that the God who sent Joseph to Egypt and meant it for good is the same God at work in our lives today.

Last October I shared Kocho’s story. (You can read it here if you missed it.) Kocho is from the Nuba Mountains, lives in a refugee camp in Doro, South Sudan, and works as a nurse assistant for Doctor’s Without Borders — both to help others and to try to save money to pay his way through school. And it seems like every single step he tries to take into his future dreams is met with roadblocks, setbacks, and miles of pointless red tape.

He’s been trying to get a medical degree to return to the Nuba Mountains and help his people, who for years have been caught in the crossfire between the government of Sudan and the rebels occupying their territory. But, as I explained in my previous post, Kocho is a man without an official ID. He has no papers and can’t obtain them, because anyone from the Nuba Mountains is considered a rebel by association. And without papers, it’s hard to be accepted anywhere for study, or even to cross borders, for that matter.

Kocho is brilliant, gifted, and eager, but one after another, doors slam in his face. Just when it looks like a way has opened, rules change for one program, or random requirements are added for another one. And what does he do? Wherever he finds himself, he determines to be the best he can. Just like Joseph.

He smiles. He serves. And when you ask him how he feels about the delays, he says God must want to teach him patience. He also says that he prays he will never achieve any success that would shift his focus away from Christ and onto himself. And he means it.

So, Kocho is content. He continues to work as a nurse assistant. He also pastors youth, teaches and leads singing in his church, and is currently studying business — partly because it was the only program he could get into for now, and partly to pave the way for entrance into medical school in the future.

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Kocho’s grades in business school last fall

And even as he smiles and serves and works hard at whatever his hand finds to do, he has no idea how he will pay for the education he needs to be able to eventually return to help his suffering people in the Nuba Mountains.

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Cathy and Ruth in Doro, South Sudan

So his friends (and mine), Ruth and Cathy, set up a fund. And you’re invited to give. And to pray. You’re also invited to share Kocho’s story, because the only way anyone will know about this fund is if people like you and me help spread the word.

And someday? When all God means for good in Kocho’s life bears its fullest fruit, we will have the joy of knowing we were part of this Joseph story — a story setting ripples in motion that I believe will continue to spread, bringing salvation and healing and hope to many, until Jesus comes back again.

Because it wasn’t a government or a war or rebels or armies or chance that sent him here.

It was God.

 

P.S. Whatever you choose to do,
Thank You, friends.
You always amaze.

 





Open Letter to Jordan Spieth: An Update and an Invitation!

13 04 2016

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Can I just say, you people blew me away? Never did I suspect my crazy idea would capture the imaginations of thousands of good-hearted people who’d go the extra mile to bring it to Jordan’s attention. You scattered that little digital dream far and wide, and I thank you again and again with all my heart!

I’m happy to report that I not only received a reply, the letter was delivered to Jordan’s parents within a few hours of my publishing it. As it turns out, my cousin is close friends with Jordan’s mom. (Who knew? Apparently I need to get better acquainted with my own relatives!) A friend also forwarded the post to his dad. They both sent gracious replies — just the sort you would expect from people who raised a son like Jordan. Though they didn’t go so far as to say my imaginary golf tournament can’t become a reality someday, they did say that Jordan is currently overwhelmed with commitments, and their family also has their own beautiful foundation that benefits organizations serving people with special needs. Jordan’s first obligation is to those organizations.

So, the answer is . . . maybe. Someday. But meanwhile, one of my goals has already been accomplished! Like I said in the letter, “Dallas is an affluent city with lots of beautiful, generous souls living in it, but most of them don’t even know Young Life Capernaum exists.” Well now — thanks to all of you who shared the letter — many more people DO know Young Life Capernaum exists! And while we can still hope for a possible golf tournament in the future, there are fantastic opportunities already on the table and plenty of ways to bless the beautiful souls served by this ministry.

Which brings me to an exciting invitation.

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If you live in the Dallas area (or would like to come pay us a visit), Young Life Capernaum is hosting a benefit concert on Saturday, April 30, at The Village Church Dallas. And guess who’s performing, y’all? Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray, and Christopher Williams! Seriously!

You can get all the details and buy your tickets here. You can also get tickets at the door, but I wouldn’t wait and risk the concert selling out. If I were you, I’d go buy my tickets right now.

And if you don’t live in Dallas? You can still give a donation, or get involved with Young Life Capernaum in your own community.

Learn the secret Jordan Spieth and so many of us know so well — that people with special needs are one of God’s best gifts to any family, community, or church.

Our dream golf tournament may have to wait, but our celebration doesn’t have to! There’s gonna be a party in Dallas on April 30, with great music and great friends for a great cause. If you come, look for me. I’ll be the one dancing with Jacob in the aisles.

Hope to see you there!





An Open Letter to Jordan Spieth

14 03 2016

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(Thanks so much for spreading this letter far and wide. Read an update and invitation here!)

Hi, Jordan.

I should probably confess right out of the gate that I’m not really a golf aficionado. I’ve never played the game (except the miniature version, and that poorly), and I only watch it on TV because my sweet, 85-year-old daddy loves it, and I love him.

To my untrained eye, golf consists of men in colorful pants whacking small white balls with long metal sticks, vying to see who can plunk their ball in a series of holes using the fewest number of whacks. All the while, a team of volume-challenged commentators share their analysis of the whole process in the sort of hushed tones one might use if a baby were sleeping nearby. Go, team!

I admit I don’t know much about golf, but there are a few things I do know. I know it requires finely tuned physical skills, extreme precision in both strategy and execution, and the mental calmness and acuity of a Jedi master.

I also know that you are an exceptionally good golfer. Anyone who has given the sport even a passing glance lately knows that. But that’s not what interests me most about you.

I may not be a golf aficionado, but I’m intensely interested in what makes people tick. I’m fascinated by human nature and character development and the fact that some people make this world more beautiful by the way they engage with their fellow men, while others seem only interested in achieving their own ends at any expense.

So, whenever the announcers whisper about you, I listen. And I love it when they puzzle over your maturity — how nothing seems to rattle you, and how your interview answers are uniformly gracious and unassuming. They obviously admire you, but in some ways, you’re a mystery to them.

It makes me smile. Because I think I understand at least part of the reason behind that mystery.

I think it’s your sister, Ellie.

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Norman, Oklahoma--05/19/12--Jordan Spieth of Texas gets a hug from his sister, Ellie, 10 after the final round of the Southwest Regional Championship at Jimmie Austin Golf Club in Norman, Oklahoma.--(Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK)

Jordan and Ellie Spieth

You see, Jordan, I have a son with special needs. His name is Jacob. And though plenty of people will tell us that Ellie and Jacob contribute nothing to society, we know better.

We know that people with special needs serve immensely important purposes. They are our best teachers of compassion, models of unflinching loyalty, and overcomers of countless challenges, often without complaint. Their joy is infectious, and their gratitude abundant, even for the simplest gifts. They love unconditionally, and they inspire us to do the same. And they ground us in what matters most.

I believe your secret is that you know life ultimately doesn’t revolve around you, or golf, or how you rank against anyone else.

Oh sure, you take your sport seriously, and obviously you work very hard to be your very best. But at the end of the day, your fans aren’t the ones hugging you and gazing at you with adoring eyes, whether you won or lost.

Ellie is.

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Chicken hats? You are more awesome than I realized.

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Jordan, Ellie, and Steven Spieth

So, why am I writing this letter to you?

I’m glad you asked. Because I have a dream. You and I are from the same home town, and there are some people here I’d love for you and Ellie to know.

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YLCapernaum2North Texas Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum is a ministry that serves teens and young adults with special needs. It’s an international organization, but each local branch is responsible for its own club meetings, outreaches, and fund raising.

I serve on a committee that meets monthly to discuss the club’s needs, and as we’ve been looking for ways to spread the word about what we do, I’ve been dreaming big.

Dallas is an affluent city with lots of beautiful, generous souls living in it, but most of them don’t even know Young Life Capernaum exists. What if we were to host a golf tournament, inviting local golfers to form teams, play some golf, and then attend a reception where someone who’s really, really well known and respected in the golf world (hint: this would be you) would also be present? Do you have any idea how many people in this area would LOVE to pay a small entrance fee benefiting a worthy organization for the chance to have fun and hobnob with the world’s number one golfer? (hint: a lot)

But that’s not all. In my dream, your sister Ellie would be the star of this event. We would call it the First Annual (remember, I’m dreaming big) Ellie Spieth Golf Tournament, and she would get to introduce her beloved brother to all our Young Life Capernaum friends, who would be invited to attend a mini putting clinic, coached by that same really, really well known and respected number one golfer. (You.)

If you were to catch this vision, I have no doubt all the other pieces would fall into place. Date, venue, caterers, golfers, prize donations, you name it. We really just need two things to make this happen.

You and Ellie.

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Thanks for reading this, Jordan. (Assuming you ever actually read it, but I’ve already said I’m operating in dream mode on this one, so I’m running with it.) If you’re willing to even consider what this might look like, you can reach the Young Life Capernaum office at 214-862-5544. (Additional contact info here.) We’d be beyond delighted to hear from you.

And, no matter what you decide about this, I want to thank you with all my heart for loving your sweet sister in front of a watching world. Long after you’ve hung up your clubs, you can know for certain that you made a difference where it mattered most.

With deep gratitude for you,
Jeanne

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Me and Jacob





The View From . . . There

12 02 2016

Hello, friends! I realize I’ve been largely absent from this little corner of the bloggerhood lately. Partly because I’m feeling increasingly called to physical, emotional, spiritual, and creative presence in real life relationships. And partly because I’ve had the delightful and solemn honor of sharing my heart on various other blogs hosted by people and ministries I deeply love and respect. In case you missed any of these and would like to read them, here are a few links:

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In January, the remarkably gracious and gifted Ann Voskamp invited me to speak to an issue that is heavy on both of our hearts: “In a World of Increasing Terrorism, What is the Biggest Threat to the Church?”

“Politicians may leverage fear for their own purposes, but the church doesn’t trade in that currency. If we claim to be a people of love, then we need to embrace Jesus’ definition of that word. Because our churches don’t belong to us in the first place and were never meant to be comfortable or tidy. If the gospel is anything, it’s messy.”

I know many of us are aching to understand and embrace God’s will for His church in the face of rising terrorism and the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Will you join me at A Holy Experience?

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“This is the kind of beauty that turns mourning to dancing and weeping to laughter.”

Last week I wrote a post for The Lulu Tree, a ministry very dear to my heart that was founded by my beautiful and compassionate friend, Emily Wierenga. This one is about two mamas — a Ugandan woman and me. It’s also about life, and death, and redemption. I will tell you up front, this is raw truth, but it’s also stunning beauty. We can’t fix the brokenness of the world, but we can enter it. And when we do, the words of Jesus come to life. I hope you’ll join me there as well.

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“And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

And finally, this week I wrote a piece for the fun and lovely Diane Bailey’s group blog, The Consilium. Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, what better to write about than Christmas gifts?

Actually, the post isn’t as much about what I got for Christmas as it is about marriage, the fickleness of passion apart from covenant (no matter what purveyors of flowers, candy, and jewelry want you to believe), and God’s redemptive power to soften even the stoniest of hearts.

Join me again?

Whether you click over to these posts or not, thank you for welcoming my words into your life. It’s such a humbling gift. I do have some stories burning on my heart to share here and plan to do that soon. Until then, God’s best blessings on your journey. Thank you for being a part of mine.

 





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.








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