Transition

27 01 2017

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Today I realized something for the first time.

Roughly nine months after abortion-on-demand became the law in America, in the autumn of 1973, I was born for the second time.

During those months when many women were embracing their new-found reproductive freedom, God was forming me in the womb of faith, preparing me to become His child.

I could say a lot more about what happened that day, when my sixteen-year-old self first felt the irresistible urgency — unseen forces from without and within pressing me toward my emergence from the dark womb of spiritual sleep into the dazzling radiance of faith.

But the one thought that demands my profound awe in this moment is simply this: God is a redeemer.

Always, in every place and at every time, God is making all things new.

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A few years later, when I was in my early twenties, I was reading Malachi 4 and was inspired to write a song. This morning, when George read the same passage, he reminded me of it and said we should revive it. Maybe so. But meanwhile, I can share the words with you here.

The Day is Coming

The day is coming, burning like a furnace,
And all the wicked will be chaff.
The day is coming when the righteous will rejoice
And leap from the stall like a calf.
The day is coming when the Sun of Righteousness
Will rise with healing in His wings.
And all the holy ones will be before Him
And crown Him King of kings,

Alleluia.

Come, Lord Jesus; come, Lord Jesus,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”
Come and bring us the day of our deliverance
When we will be revealed as sons.
For creation is anxiously longing,
And we ourselves grown within.
But the day is coming, the end of our suffering
Because we’ll be found in Him.

Alleluia
Alleluia
Alleluia
Jesus, Come.

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Romans 8 says God subjected the creation to futility on purpose — that all this groaning we see, hear, and feel is the pains of childbirth, meant to assure us that deliverance will indeed come.

I had the holy and awesome privilege of watching my daughter and my daughter-in-law give birth — one at home, and one at a birthing center — both without the use of any drugs.

I watched and prayed as they entered fully into their labor, breathing into the pain, working with the contractions.

As the hours dragged on, I watched them battle through the dark and awful fear that deliverance would never come — that strength would fail, and life would be swallowed up in death.

And I watched as they entered the phase called transition — that sacred and solemn space, where the world disappears and the whole body, soul, and spirit is consumed with bringing forth life.

Watching was like catching a glimpse into eternal mysteries — the hope that the creation itself  will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The hope of redemption that contracts the soul of every believer with prayers that are groanings too deep for words.

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When I consider the brokenness of the world today — the desperation of refugees torn from their homes yet feared and rejected by many in the world, the immensity of modern day slavery and human trafficking, the selfish demands of the privileged, and the ignored oppression of the poor, the orphan, and the widow — I feel exhausted and tempted to despair. Perhaps deliverance will never come. Perhaps strength will fail, and life will be swallowed up in death.

But then I remember Who subjected creation to this prolonged ordeal, and hope rises. Perhaps we’re on the edge of transition — that holy and solemn space where the soul gives itself to a higher purpose.

Perhaps the church will shake off her anesthesia, enter fully into her labor, breathe into the pain, and work with the contractions, and perhaps new life will come forth from all this agony.

This is my hope.

And my prayer?

It hasn’t changed.

It’s still the same aching, exquisite cry that belongs to the Spirit and the Bride.

“Jesus, Come.”

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The Stories: In which He comes as the Author of our Days (Part II)

22 07 2013

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{Continued from the previous post . . .}

As I wrote in Part I, “Grace included one other thing in the padded envelope. A CD. And it opens another subplot that involves other characters, and evokes other joys, and reveals more layers this divine Author wrote into His intricately scripted, interwoven tale — a whole new chapter for another day.”

Well, friends, today is that day, and this is that new chapter. But first, a bit of back story.

Before I left for Kazakhstan, I wrote a series of posts introducing some of the special friends who would be attending camp. One of those posts featured Baxa. In case you missed it, here’s the brief bio he wrote about himself (emphasis mine):

Name:  Baxhtiar  Jigalov
Birthday:  March 10, 1988
I love: my mom, my dad, my sister.
I know: a lot.
I do: daily exercises.
I collect:  material about the Native American peoples.
I eat: everything.
I know how to: ride on a horse.
I read: the Dalai Lama.
I watch: educational programs.
I dream: of going to America.

Baxa is a big fan of America in general and Native Americans in particular. And when he says he knows “a lot,” it’s no empty boast. Using mostly online resources, he has taught himself to speak English. And he loves to practice it.

So, when Baxa found out his camp buddy would be Jason from America, you can imagine how excited he was.

IMG_0764I snapped the above photo with my phone right after they met for the first time. As you can see, Baxa is already talking up a storm. And check out his hair — an intentional tribute to his Native American heroes.

IMG_0963My friend Catherine captured this shot, most likely during one of their many “Jason, we make conversation” moments. Note the FBI cap and Native American motif on Baxa’s t-shirt. He means serious business.

Okay, back story over. Here we go.

It was the day camp ended, and our team had just returned by bus to Almaty. We decided to walk a couple of miles to a shopping center, and on the way, Jason told me about his time with Baxa. Over the course of their four days together, Baxa had repeatedly expressed a desire to come to America and become a permanent resident, and he’d asked Jason to help him. For a number of reasons, this is not something Jason can do, but he does want to maintain a friendship with Baxa and to encourage him, especially in his understanding of the gospel. He wondered aloud how to strike a healthy balance — to let Baxa know that he really does love him, but not to make promises or raise hopes he can’t fulfill.

As I listened, I felt Jason’s frustration and genuine concern. There are only so many ways to be a true and present friend from across the ocean. As we pondered his options, I suddenly had an idea.

“My daughter and her husband are professional musicians,” I said. ” I wish I had a copy of their band’s most recent CD for Baxa. The cover art depicts Native Americans, and on the actual CD there’s a stylized drawing of a hummingbird by a talented Native American artist.”

“Oh, wow! That would be perfect,” Jason said. “Too bad we can’t buy it here. I’ll definitely mail one to him. Can I get it online?”

“I’ll send you one,” I said. “But I wish there were some way you could give it to him in person!”

He agreed, but there was nothing to be done. I told him I’d be sure to get a copy to him once we were back in the states.

But God had other plans.

The next morning I opened my padded envelope, and looked inside to retrieve my note for June 29. And I saw it. Taped to the card for June 30. A JUBILEE CD.

I was stunned. Excited. Amazed. All of the above. I sat there on the edge of the bed, just staring. And then I broke the rules.

I opened the June 30 card a day early. And this is what it said:

IMG_1529“Choose someone special”? I laughed out loud. The choice had been made for me. Now we just needed to figure out how to get the CD to Baxa.

That afternoon I was scheduled to speak at Almagul Church in Almaty, at a gathering of local believers. When our team arrived, two of the moms from camp had also showed up. They missed us too much to stay away, they said. One of them was Baxa’s mom.

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We told her the story behind the CD, and the amazement on her face mirrored our own. Though we didn’t get to experience Baxa’s reaction first-hand, he emailed Jason that he loves it, and that he’s still practicing his English. I imagine him listening carefully to the lyrics, hearing and understanding subtle truths and beauties, being drawn to the Inspiration behind it all. Always, in so many unseen ways, the Author is working, moving, orchestrating, choreographing. And sometimes? He gives glimpses.

Typing this post, the sense of awe I felt at the time has returned just as strong. Could there possibly be any adventure more exciting than this life of faith? Oh, for eyes that remain focused on Him and ears attentive to His voice! Whether it’s serving in foreign lands, washing another dish, or passing along a CD, nothing is insignificant to Him.

It’s all part of the story. The one story, in which He increases and we decrease — in which we are given “the incredible gift of LIFE” to lay it down again and again, only to see Him bless, break, and distribute in ways we never would have asked or imagined. And we discover the extravagant joy of receiving every moment with wide-awake gratitude and pouring it back out as priceless ointment on His feet.

It’s the story in which suffering becomes blessing, and our children become our teachers, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy Birthday, Grace. Thank you for being the gift.

* * *

It’s not too late to donate to this beautiful
and worthy work in Kazakhstan.

Gifts received before September will help
cover summer projects.
Donations can be made by check or credit card.
Please send checks to:

Orphanos
P.O. Box 1057
Cordova, TN 38088
901.458.9500 ext 223

Include a separate note indicating the gift is for
“A Friend at All Times, Kazakhstan Young Life”
This category is not available for online giving at Orphanos,
but you can give by credit card at the phone number provided above.

Any amount is greatly appreciated.
Your gifts are tax deductible.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.

Thank you!
(With all my heart.)





The Justice Conference (an emzee’s eye view)

25 02 2013

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If you read my last post, you already know I attended the Justice Conference in Philadelphia this past weekend. Here’s my official conference bag that contained schedules, maps, bios of speakers, and other important items, including my personal badge which alerted the gate keepers to my level of access. Check it out:

IMG_0179Yes. That says All-Access VIP. Sounds very ooh-la-la, doesn’t it? Of course it had nothing whatsoever to do with me. As part of Arts Aftercare and Jubilee’s entourage, I received the same badge and access they gave Curtis and Grace and the rest of their band. All the same, I felt pretty cool wearing it. And I did have a very important job to do. In addition to all the ordinary care-giving responsibilities of an Emzee (that’s my grandma name), I was the official escort of the Bee for Justice.

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I guess I should explain that the whole Bee for Justice thing wasn’t premeditated. I gave Harper the bee costume as a late Valentine’s present, and the rest happened spontaneously. When you walk around a huge exhibition hall with an adorable little bee, conversations stop, and people point and smile, and the thought pops into your head, why not call her “Bee for Justice,” snap her photo with various justice-doing folk, and post on instagram and twitter? (At least that thought pops into the head of a self-amusing grandmother.) So that’s what we did.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Bee for Justice with . . .

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Food for the Hungry. I stopped by this booth originally to meet Lindsey Nobles (at the suggestion of my good friend, Mary DeMuth). I did meet Lindsey, and it turns out she’s awesome just like Mary said.  We enjoyed several nice chats throughout the weekend, but she wasn’t at the booth when I snapped this shot. One of her lucky colleagues gladly accepted the honor.

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Anna Del Vecchio, a young woman I met online years ago through Anna Carson’s photo-blogging community, and met in person for the first time in Philly. Such a fun, unexpected treat! She and the bee hit it off right away.

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Mike Hogan, Director of Church Mobilization, Northwest, for International Justice Mission (IJM). Mike was so excited about this photo, he whipped out his cell phone to alert IJM’s social media person, “I just had my picture taken with the Justice Bee!” No doubt said SMP shared Mike’s enthusiasm. I mean, sure, you can always tweet an endless stream of inspiring quotes from phenomenal speakers, but a photo op like this doesn’t happen every day. (I should probably divulge that Mike and the bee do have a history. Curtis and Grace are IJM Justice Advocates in his jurisdiction, personal friends of his, and also played at his wedding.)

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Sidney of YWAM San Jose, Costa Rica. She and her husband are missionaries working with YWAM’s Freedom Street Ministries, reaching out to victims of human trafficking and others involved in prostitution. Her husband is a music therapist. After this photo op with the Bee for Justice, I told her about Arts Aftercare, and she was excited about the possibility of their bringing the Healing Arts Toolkit to Costa Rica. She later came by the Arts Aftercare booth to talk with Curtis and Grace. This kind of networking is one of the best things about the Justice Conference.

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Kristin, wife of Jubilee lead guitarist, Jonny, music therapy intern at Arts Aftercare, and tireless booth host throughout the conference. She’s also way too much fun. What a precious little family, this band!

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Wendy Sale, a lovely friend who hosted a church home group we attended years ago, when our kids were teens and hers were tiny. Their family moved to Michigan (maybe ten years ago?), and though we’ve been in touch off and on since, I hadn’t seen her again until this happy reunion. (It was so great hanging with you, Wendy! Thanks for all your help with Bee control!)

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Curtis and Grace Romjue of Jubilee (aka, mommy and daddy) and an official conference photographer. This was right before Jubilee’s first performance in the cavernous main hall.

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Jubilee on stage. They were so good!

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Jumbo-tron shot mid-fade. (Grace is playing keyboard on Curtis’s face. hee hee. Good place to mention that the camera work and sound mixing for this conference were super impressive.) Before their second song, Curtis spoke briefly and, among other things, shared their band’s motto: “Do what you love to undo what you hate.” After the conference I checked the #justice2013 feed on twitter and found these:

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How fun is that? Made my heart swell with joy! Other happy Emzee moments:

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Curtis and Grace in a side hallway warming up their voices. (I don’t think they realized their gorgeous harmonies echoed out into the exhibition hall. Our gain.)

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Band members chatting with attendees at the Arts Aftercare booth.

Oh, and Friday night?

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A screening of Arts Aftercare’s documentary, Do What You Love to End What You Hate, kicked off the Film Festival. Then Curtis spoke briefly about their work, right before Gungor took the stage. (Yes, that Gungor.) Grace, the kids, and I left early, though. The Bee for Justice and her baby sister needed to go night-night. (You may or may not have noticed that babies are generally unimpressed by how many hits your song has on YouTube. But a hotel swimming pool on the seventh floor? Now that’s cool.)

As official conference Emzee, I heard only a few snippets of the amazing conference speakers’ sessions, but I did get to connect with some wonderful people, spend precious time with beloveds, color with an adorable bee . . .

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and snuggle a cuddly little bear . . .

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and I’m already making plans to join Jubilee and Arts Aftercare in L.A. for Justice Conference 2014. Maybe I’ll even set up a Bee for Justice photo booth? Anything for the cause.

Hope to see you there!

Giving thanks in community for (#695 – 714)

safe travels
doers of the Word
meeting God’s people everywhere
Curtis
Grace
Steven
Peter
Jonny
Kristin
Harper Sparrow
Malia Eden
music
art
healing
enduring friendship
warm welcome home from George
Mom not recognizing me, and yet . . .
grace to embrace the hard, hard gift of Alzheimer’s
a new heart, an eternal hope





what is good

18 02 2013

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Lately it seems I’ve been running up against the same truth over and over again. Basically, it’s this:

God really is working out plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness, but if we want to see and enter into what He’s doing, we’re going to have to flip a lot of our worldly values on their heads.

The world says climb the ladder to success.
God says the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

The world celebrates intellect, beauty, and talent.
God looks for a heart after Him.

The world applauds power and wealth.
God says become as a little child.

The world wears a mask of painted-on perfection.
God says knowing you’re broken is the first step on the path to redemption and wholeness.

The world idolizes celebrity, but God never lurks at backstage doors, hoping the haughty will toss a bit of their coveted attention His way. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

In God’s upside-down kingdom, the weak confound the mighty, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.
And the best gifts? They’re the ones that bow us the lowest, because God draws near to the humble.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man. Yes, you (ahem, me) — pulled in a thousand directions by your dreams and ambitions, your envy and competitiveness, your insatiable appetite for self-actualization. You’re looking for life and meaning in all the wrong places. He has told you what is good.

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.

Sounds so simple. But, oh, how desperately I fail. And that’s one reason I’m looking forward to this weekend.

Thursday evening I’m heading to Philadelphia for The Justice Conference. Thousands of people will gather in the spirit of Micah 6:8, to listen to front-line pioneers and battle-scarred warriors in the fight against human trafficking, and I actually have an official role. I suppose I could pretend I’m going because I’m a mover and shaker in this worthy cause, but that would be false representation.

My job is to take care of these two:

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Not to brag or anything (because that would totally defeat the tone of this post), but I’m the official “conference nanny” for JUBILEE and Arts Aftercare, which, in layman’s terms, means I get to play with my grandchildren and enjoy the company of their justice-doing, kindness-loving, humbly-walking-with-God parents.

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Curtis and Grace’s band, JUBILEE, will perform during the conference, and Arts Aftercare will host an exhibitor’s booth, sharing their vision for the healing power of the arts and how attendees can partner with them to “do what they love to undo what they hate.”

As Curtis recently wrote on JUBILEE’s blog:

“We are thrilled to be performing at The Justice Conference again this year, this time in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center FEB 22 & 23. In addition to sharing the stage with heroes like Gary Haugen (IJM) and John Perkins, we’ll be joining Gungor for a VIP premiere event where Arts Aftercare and our documentary “Do What You Love to End What You Hate” will be featured.”

I am thrilled, too. Thrilled to come alongside this beautiful army in a small way. Thrilled to learn kingdom ways from speakers, artists, and other passionate souls who are living Micah 6:8, standing up for the widow and the orphan, rescuing the prisoner and the oppressed, pouring their gifts and resources into serving the least.

These folks are heroes in the upside-down kingdom, but the last thing they want is for people to put them on a pedestal. They want comrades-in-arms, not compliments. Fellow soldiers, not fans.

He has told you, O man, what is good. Am I listening?

Are you?

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#678 – 694)

a God who shows up
the women of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas
brokenness redeemed
Naomi’s “Hey, you!”
traveling mercies
moment-by-moment grace with Mom
conversations with Dad
Sarah and Eliot at 36 weeks
the delightful chaos of skyping with Harper, Grace, and Malia
color, texture, pattern: visual happiness
daffodils and sage in a blue vase
The Village Church
confession of sin
the body of Christ
glimpses into the realer Real
a big God who uses small people





Masterpiece

24 11 2012

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16





A little child shall lead them

27 08 2012

We grown ups have it going on, don’t we?

I mean, look at us! We’ve lived through childhood, adolescence, high school, college, and beyond. (Some of us quite a bit beyond.) We’ve read the books and earned the degrees, and we have all kinds of experience informing our perspective. Little kids are cute and all, but when it comes to the big issues, what of substance can they possibly bring to the conversation? How much can a toddler perceive about the mysteries of life and faith?

Apparently a lot.

On August 24, our daughter Grace posted this update on Facebook:

I had the following conversation in the car this morning with Harper (who is two years & four months old today!). There were no pauses between these questions…

H: Do you love me?
Me: Yes, I love you.
H: Do you love Daddy?
Me: Yes, I love Daddy.
H: Do you love God?
Me: Yes, I love God.
H: Can we pray to Jesus to ask him for help?
Me: Yes, anytime we want.
H: Is Jesus praying for us? (!!!!!)
Me: Yes, Jesus is always praying for us.
H: Is God great?
Me: Yes, God is very great.
H: Is God happy?
Me: Yes, God is happy.
H: Does God love us?
Me: Yes, God loves everything He made.
H: Okay!

Amazed. Absolutely amazed. I’ve never heard her ask any of these questions before. Never underestimate what is happening in the mind and spirit of a child.

I’m absolutely amazed, too. And grateful. And humbled. And I haven’t stopped thinking about this exchange, partly because it brings me so much joy, and partly because, in one brief discourse, this baby (who hasn’t even been speaking in complete sentences very long) covered everything that matters most. At twenty-eight months old, she identified all our best gifts:

  • Loving, secure relationships with the people who form our community
  • Love for God
  • Our blood-bought, unlimited access to Jesus for help
  • Christ’s never-ceasing intercession for us (because, even with our unlimited access, we don’t know what to ask for)
  • God’s unfathomable greatness
  • God’s unruffled, unshakable, all-things-under-control happiness
  • God’s perfect, abiding, undeserved-yet-unchanging love for His children and His creation
  • Resounding faith that these things are so

It’s beyond amazing, really. As one of Grace’s friends commented, “Wow, that one conversation just set her identity for life!”

Yes, Lord. May it be.

And may we, your grown-up children, with all our grown-up sophistication — our bookshelves full of theological books and our five-pound study Bibles and our grasp of big words that symbolize even bigger concepts — may we, too, find our identity in these core truths.

May we bring all our questions to Your infallible Word, not arguing or twisting or trying to conform eternal truths to human logic or popular culture or politically correct thought. May we simply hear and receive and then, like Harper, utter that one astounding, peace-ushering, grace-raining, angel-rejoicing, “Okay!”

May we love You and others well, lean hard on You for all we need, abide quiet under the sheltering wing of our all-sufficient High Priest, and know that we know that we know that You are great, You are happy, and You are perfect love.

Yep. We grown ups have it going on.

When we become like children.

* * *
Giving thanks in community for (#555 – 575):
Chris and Tanilia’s testimonies
Chris and Tanilia’s wedding
Amy and John
Shelly and Aaron
sharing our story and remembering
the word behind saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
conviction of sin and repentance
forgiveness
restored relationships
Arts Aftercare’s Triple Door Event tonight!
the scent of fresh basil
neighborhood brunch
hot tea with cream and sugar
conversation with Sarah
encouragement in Christ
Abigail’s beautiful faith
Tabitha
Priscilla
the hope of heaven





beautiful sparrow feet

18 03 2012

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace,
who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns.”

~ Isaiah 52:7 ESV

Curtis, Grace, and Harper Sparrow have been in SE Asia for almost three weeks, bringing good news and publishing peace to survivors of human trafficking and those who serve them. They are due to return to Seattle this Wednesday. Please pray their tired-but-beautiful feet make it all the way home safe and sound. Thank you.

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