Do Not Fear What They Fear

 

photo credit: pepe50 via photopin cc
photo credit: pepe50 via photopin cc

We just returned from spending several days together with 2,500 people in line with our hearts. The Christian Alliance for Orphans gathers every year to discuss/plan/pray/act on behalf of the orphan and foster care crisis during their annual Summit. We were blessed to be there for the second year in a row–a tradition I now cherish.

These people gathered shoulder to shoulder with us in Nashville and we all but sang our throats dry and wept a little and held hands up to the sky. We attended seminars and heard speakers, soaked in scripture and furiously scribbled notes on paper. Many of us tweeted snippets of wisdom, blogged from pews, looked around at each other in awe of what was happening in that space. We heard story after story after story. We heard about victories. Many, many victories. We mourned setbacks. Stories that break your heart. Stories that mend them up again. Ones that penetrate your heart with beauty that can only come from a redemptive Savior. Ones that remind us never to stop listening to the stories.

We were rubbed raw with reality. In a good way. My husband and I kept looking at one another and without needing to utter words, we confirmed that we were called. We were refilled and refueled. Commissioned and convicted. Energized to continue, one foot in front of the other until our family’s open arms contain a child or children that need them.

But even when you know what God is calling you to do, it does not make it easy. The unknown is frightening. Internalizing stories–the sad, the brutal, the tell-me-it-isn’t-true stories–it’s enough to make anyone stumble or become afraid.

But our God, our God, knows the skin we wear. It’s no surprise He speaks to our fears throughout His Word.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:14)

Do not fear what they fear.

Do not fear what they fear.

Do not be frightened.

We are blessed.

This life–it is blessed but it’s not necessarily easy. But none of us are called to easy. We are called to a life that requires sacrifice and hard work. Not always fitting in or going with the flow. Sometimes limping. Sometimes being carried. Sometimes carrying others.

To whatever ministry we are called (the orphan, the needy, the widow, the foreigner, the stranger, the angry, the hurt, the unlovable, the frightened, the children, the elderly, our brothers, our sisters, all), we must be bold and courageous and unashamed by the blood and the muck and the dirtiness this world offers.

We must look into the eyes of those whom God loves, one at a time, and respond to the pain in this world. Run straight into it. 

This conference? A beautiful, stunning, heaven-sent reminder of a call. A call to all of us on this journey of showing Christ’s love to others. It takes on many forms but the result? It’s the same.

We are all called.

So, let’s remind each other. Let’s clasp hands with each other. Let’s run into it together with the end in mind. And respond to the pain, help others through it, help them learn to live again and love and be loved.

Let’s not fear what they fear. Let’s not. Let’s be a blessing and be blessed.

When the Warm, Fuzzy Feelings are MIA

photo credit: Felixe via photopin cc

photo credit: Felixe via photopin cc

I watched her from the carpool line as she walked out of the church, a bag of food in her arms. She put it in the back of the pickup truck that looked as if it held all of her worldly belongings. She didn’t seem to notice the long line of minivans and SUVs that were snaking their way around to pick up little ones from school. She noticed none of that. She just bent her head over the back of her truck, hands clasped in desperate prayer and cried.

I had been watching the truck before I even saw her because inside was a grandmother bouncing a curly-haired baby boy in her lap. I have a curly-haired boy. They were sitting in that truck a long time. Baby bouncing, occasionally honking the horn. I kept my eyes on them. I wondered.

Ever since my boot incident and not responding to God’s call to me, I’ve been looking around and thinking, “are you asking anything of me here, God?” And, quite frankly, that’s a really silly prayer because of course He is. Always. He wants me to follow Him in every moment–not just the ones that happen in Goodwill in the shoe aisle with my polka dot rain boots.

So when I saw this truck and the curly-haired baby and the grandmother and the sobbing young woman, I realized something. Time to get interrupted. Act now.

I remembered that a friend had given me several bags of baby clothing to donate where I saw fit. I had been driving those bags around town, often forgetting they were there. I quickly jumped out of the car and looked in my trunk. There were three bags–all boy clothes, all things that looked like it would fit a certain curly-haired child not even 100 feet from my car.

I quickly called into the office of our church where I knew the desperate woman was waiting again and spoke to the person who would become my “sister-in-mission” on this project. I asked if she thought the woman needed clothes for the baby; my sister-in-mission started to cry. She saw what the young woman needed right in front of her. At least the clothes would help.

As we met and I passed the bags over, I was able to hear slices of the young woman’s story and saw her entire life–plastic garbage bags–filling the back of her pickup truck. I knew she was a believer as we discussed that mornings’ devotional from “Jesus Calling”. She asked if I had read it. I had.

“I shower blessings on you daily, but sometimes you don’t perceive them. When your mind is stuck on a negative focus, you see neither Me nor My gifts. In faith, thank Me for whatever is preoccupying your mind. This will clear the blockage so that you can find me.”

She wiped tears from her eyes as she explained that the reading told her to thank God in this circumstance and she was doing it, but still not knowing how her story would end. It was a strong possibility that it would end with her sleeping in her truck that night.

I know God set up an appointment for us that day. My sister-in-mission and I looked at each other, a cry in our hearts, and we knew God had placed her in our path. We were willing to be interrupted. Phone calls were made for over an hour trying to find help, make connections, seek assistance. We invited the young woman back to church, to get involved, to be surrounded by community. Some help was found. But not enough to fix it all.

But here’s the thing: even when we have divine appointments, and actually respond to them, they do not always end up wrapped nice and neat with a bow. It’s not always problem solved, feel good, life changed, fixed.

I pray life was changed. I pray that the woman and her mom and the curly-haired boy left with a hope. We handed her a gift card to a grocery store and she thanked us. Sincerely. But she turned and walked away, silently sobbing, no less desperate than when she arrived. We couldn’t fix everything. We couldn’t fix her life in those brief moments.

What good is helping when it doesn’t feel good? Or if we feel like we’re even helping at all? What happens when it feels like we are emptying the ocean with an eyedropper. Is there a point?

Yes. Yes.

God calls each of us to do our part. It’s not MY story. It’s His story. If he calls me to give a woman clothes and a gift card, I need to do it. Just because I’m not the final person in this woman’s journey–the one who gets to see the victory or the smile or the sigh of relief as she turns the corner–so be it.

Here’s what Paul said to the believers in Corinth about the work God asked of him and Apollos: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

We need to plant seeds. We need to water them. We need to trust that God is at work.

This family is now in my head. Planted, watered, growing. And while I will probably never see them again, I’m praying for them.

My sister-in-mission stood next to me, watching the woman disappear from our sight. I turned to her and said, “Listen, I need to tell you about a pair of boots.” I needed her to know how I had messed up and how I carry that regret. I needed her to realize that even though our work that day did not end up making us feel warm and fuzzy, that she and I were made for that moment. I wanted her to know I felt privileged to have partnered with her on that random Wednesday afternoon.

What amazed me was that she actually already knew about the boots. A divine appointment, indeed. Such is the small, small world in which God has planted us. An important reminder that the ground we walk on (whether a paved church parking lot or the dusty floors of a Goodwill) is holy.

These Boots Were Made for Teaching

IMG_2650I wish this story ended better. I want to say I wish it ended more gracefully but that’s not right. There was plenty of grace. I just wish ended better.

So. I have these boots.

They are cute. Brown with pink polka dots. Fit for the rain, functional. But sassy. I get compliments on them whenever I wear them.

I put them on yesterday morning because it was rainy and I just didn’t feel like having my jeans drag along in puddles, wetness creeping up my legs. That would be uncomfortable. Boy, if I only knew . . .

Despite the weather, my mom, who is in town for a few days, and I decided to hit a couple of stores. My pick–Goodwill. For some reason it’s one of my favorite places. I love how you never know what you’re going to find. So we went, in the rain. Me, in the boots.

We split off, each of us having our own mission in mind, and I found myself lingering around the shoes. Nothing for me but something kept me there.

That’s when they walked in. A mother and teenage daughter. Nothing was super unusual about this pair other than the girl was dressed kind of eccentrically. Something, something, started humming inside me about these two. They were talking about boots and I got the impression that regardless of fit, they were leaving with something. The girl tried some on. Too small. She tried another pair. Maybe. There weren’t many choices and from what I gathered, something was going to have to work. I couldn’t tell if they were homeless–I thought perhaps. Or not. But a desperation–not from them, but from me–pulsed in the air.

The humming wouldn’t stop. Oh, I know that feeling. That’s when God wants me to do something. And do it now. I sensed God saying to me clearly, “Give her your boots.”

“That’s ridiculous. My boots?” I stopped in my tracks. “I don’t think so,” I argued in my head.

Now just so you know, I cannot recall a time ever in my life when I have felt prompted by God to give someone an article of clothing off my back. This is not a regular occurrence.  And for the record, I also do not feel so much love for my boots that I could not bear to part with them. This was just an all-around strange request that threw me for a loop. The truth was I did not want to look stupid.

“Give her your boots.”

“Oh, no. No, no, no. That is so weird! They’ll think I’m crazy! Why would you ask me to do something so weird? And crazy?”

“Your obedience will be a blessing to them. And to you.”

I paced the aisles, keeping my eyes discreetly on them. I thought of a devotion I had read recently. And by recently, I mean I read it THAT morning.

“As soon as the priests . . . set foot in the Jordan, its waters . . . will be cut off.” The Israelites were called to step IN before the waters would part. They couldn’t walk up to the water and then watch the water part before they stepped in. It took a major step of faith. That’s some serious business. It takes guts.

We must learn to take God at His word and walk straight ahead in obedience, even when we can see no way to go forward. The reason we are so often sidetracked by difficulties is that we expect to see barriers removed before we even try to pass through them. If we would only move straight ahead in faith, the path would be opened for us. But we stand still, waiting for the obstacle to be removed, when we ought to go forward as if there were no obstacles at all. (Streams in the Desert)

So there I was, in Goodwill, wearing my boots. Arguing with God about giving them away.

I lingered. I listened. I continued to argue. I said “no” over and over in my head. I really am so stubborn.

Finally, I watched them leave. They had purchased a pair of light blue boots–whether they fit, I don’t know. All I know is that the girl didn’t leave in mine.

We left not long after. I started the car, windshield wipers furiously working at clearing my field of vision. I felt weary from energy wasted from wrestling in the clothing aisles. It reminded me of a story I heard from Beth Moore and the time God asked her to do something crazy. God asked her to brush a man’s hair at the airport and it’s probably one of the most awe-inspiring stories of stepping out in faith I’ve ever heard. God allowed her moment to become an incredible witness. She obeyed. Oh, how I wish I had too.

It took about 30 seconds before I spewed the whole story out to my mom–probably one of the few people who could understand my grief for something so bizarre. She listened and didn’t stop me or try to convince me I shouldn’t be upset. She simply told me it probably was not even about the boots. It was probably a lesson to teach me that I’m not quite there yet in obedience–the same place all of us are dwelling, in fact. She reminded me that God forgives us of those moments. Forgiveness is immediate with repentance. And you better believe I was repenting even as I watched those two women in front of me. Especially as I watched them walk out the door.

My sweet little polka dot boots. I have no idea if the girl would’ve taken them. Or if they would’ve looked at me like I was insane. I don’t think it matters. But I will look at those boots in a new way. They are now a reminder for next time. A lesson. A rebuke. A promise. A hope. I’m on a journey in those boots. I may be asked to do something strange for God. Actually, I will be asked to do something strange or crazy or out of the ordinary for God. I’ve been asked before and I’ve obeyed. I’ve been asked before and I’ve failed. It will happen again.

Off we went into our day. Onto another store, other moments. I walked the aisles, feeling lighter because of grace, but heavier because of experience. A woman walked past me and called back, “hey, I love your boots!”

I thanked her and thought, “oh, you don’t even know how much I love them now too.”