Do Not Be Afraid : Disappointment Doesn’t Mean You Got it Wrong

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Overlooking LA before we knew COVID-19 was a thing but it totally was!

I was walking inside of a mall just days before Christmas when a call came in. The window displays were chalk full of twinkling lights and all things red when my phone screen lit up. I looked at the friend beside me and stated with certainty that I had to take this.

I was a late adapter to all things cell phone. I abhorred the way that any one, at any moment, could pull you out of where you were or who you were with. I vividly remember the day I realized that I had become a slave to the google ‘ding’ when I had mail. I saw my tendencies to fall headlong into the trap of the immediate. Immediate contact. Immediate praise. Immediate everything.

I fought these things by always leaving my phone on silent and trying to never interrupt a real life moment for one that was virtual and could wait. But as the call came in on this particular day I had my phone in hand checking the time when the name flashed across the screen. Within 2 seconds my mind ran through every possibility as to the reason for the call. She never calls, always texts. Something must be wrong. It’s my husband. Answer now.

And so I did.

Nothing was wrong, at least in my world. But that day I learned that there were devastatingly horrible things going on in the lives of two little girls. Unthinkable. Heartbreaking. The sorts of moments when you look to the Lord and ask why. Why so much for these two? Why does this have to be their set of circumstances? Tragedy after tragedy befalling little lives makes my heart ache.

We speak against fair in our house. It’s long been a tagline for us to challenge our children with, “You want fair?” We nearly always ask it with a side glance and eyebrow raise. Because we know that what we’ve received from Christ is anything but fair. Fair is me paying the penalty for all of the ways I’ve rebelled against a Holy God. I don’t want fair. I want grace.

But on this day the words came to my lips. It’s just not fair.

Then came the reason for the call, as Christmas music played its nauseatingly jolly tones on repeat and the rhythm of bells rang out in the distance, “Would you consider adopting them?”

My words came quick and easy. Yes, of course. But let me talk with my husband. 

Ladies, these are always things that are better decided together. We get that, right? Even if it’s Christmas and this may just feel like your miracle.

The next moments, the next days and the subsequent months felt a bit like a blur but one thing rang constantly true in our hearts and our heads.

Do not be afraid. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go, with however many children you have, with the finances He’s provided, with the house you live in, with the employment you have. (Additional phrases mine)

There were so many questions, so many what-if’s, so many moments of wondering if this was truly what the Lord had for us. And, if this was what He had for us, then we hope He understood that He would have to do the sustaining and the providing and the detail-figuring all along the way.

In the book of Numbers the Lord gave very specific details to Moses and Aaron about the ordering of things and how they should exactly be arranged. There were ways for the camps to be set up and directions each should face. There were various duties and roles given out based on tribes and ways to do, well, practically everything. There didn’t seem to be much left up for debate. Instructions were given clearly and directly.

In Numbers 8 there are even distinct directives for lamps and how they give light and where the lamp stands will be and the exact workmanship of them. Scripture says, “according to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lamp stand.” (Numbers 8:4)

According to the pattern, and not just any pattern, but the pattern the Lord had shown. The divine pattern. The pattern given directly from the Lord. This is how they were to go about things.

The Lord has given us a clear pattern, too. We can see it as we read scripture and I’ve seen it in the working out of our life. It goes something like this. God lays something before us and stirs our heart to it. We say yes. God tells us not to be afraid. Then it’s usually followed by some time of me actually being afraid and Him reminding me of the pattern as to why I don’t need to be and the whole cycle begins again.

Of course, there are times this has been easier than others. Sometimes it brings tears. Sometimes there are big questions in the dark of the night. Sometimes we wonder if we’ve heard wrong.

But the pattern and the faithfulness show without fail that when God asks things of us and we answer Him with our yes, He will take care of the details. Those are never ours to worry about or even plot very far down the road.

A current family photo reveals instantly that we do not have two little girls in the mix. We walked the journey, we followed the stirring, but the answer apart from our yes, was a no. 

This isn’t failure. This wasn’t our lack. This simply was not to be ours.

How important it is to grasp that we don’t always get what our mind desires when we follow what God lays before us. Just because there’s disappointment or grief or things end up horribly different than the expectation does not mean our yes was the wrong word. 

We can get married and have a spouse that brings hurt. Pursue adoption and have every door closed. We can raise children in the instruction of the Lord only for them to follow a different path. We can get pregnant and lose babies. We can move countries only to be met with loneliness. All of this in answer to giving our yes.

This isn’t where we question the pattern or wonder if we’d heard wrong. This is the place we allow God to be who He is and decide the outcomes no matter how far into the future we had planned just exactly how it would all play out. My guess is even Moses may have had some design ideas about the lamps.

The answers are not ours. They never have been. It is a simple following of the pattern that is ours to obey. Moses and Aaron followed according to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, and in turn the lamp stand was a constant source of light to the Holy Place. As we follow the pattern that God has placed in our lives, the same thing happens as we illuminate the Holy One through obedience in our lives and He gets to decide where we shine.

“You are the light of the world…in the same way, let you light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14a & 16

A life characterized not by willfulness.

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It was never our plan to become missionaries.

In fact, looking in from the outside it still resembles complete lunacy that God chose an animator and a storyteller who don’t speak more than 5 words of Spanish to move to Mexico to serve.

It’s the way of the Lord, though, isn’t it? Remember the walls and the trumpets. The whole ark ordeal.

He says look. I can see you aren’t amazing. I made you. I know your weaknesses, your sin patterns, the places you try and hide. I know all of them.

There have been so many times,  as a family, that we have looked at one another and thought, why us? Why would He have brought us? Here?

We’re slow to learn but we’ve picked up on a few things. He didn’t bring us here so that we could shine in all our glory and giftedness, that’s for sure. Ask us how it really feels to be sitting in a discipleship group where you’re catching only every 5th word.

So often we leave asking the Lord why.

Would we not be more effective in a land where we could actually speak with eloquence all the amazing things we know?

Time and time again the Lord has made it abundantly clear that we are exactly where He wants us to be and our mandate in this season is to just keep showing up.

We’re learning the power of sitting with people unable to speak big words, but hug and cry and pray.

We’re learning that there is nothing in us that can do the work, though so often we feel there is. We feel we can help. We can step in, with all our great ideas and logic and smarts. But what we’re really learning is that it’s the Lord. every. single. time.

We are learning the difference between willfulness and willingness.

Willfulness is deliberate and intentional. It’s headstrong and stubborn. Qualities we aren’t proud of but lie deep in us when we take on things we’re extremely capable of. Things we know we can do. We set out, sure with the Lord at our side, but with an understanding that we really know the in’s and out’s and surely we can accomplish what we set our mind too.

What God has shown us by taking us to a land where we haven’t been able to do the things we’re used to, the things we think we’re good at, is that willingness is all He requires.

Willingness is different because it has nothing to do with a plan or a great idea. Rather it’s a consent to going along with a plan. It’s a cheerful readiness, all self-perceived gifting aside.

This Easter week as I pondered what our Saviour, Jesus Christ, did on the cross for my wickedness and sin, I realized it wasn’t willfulness. It wasn’t a steadfast decision on Jesus part to say, “You know, I have a great idea. Why don’t you place the weight of the entire world on my shoulders while dying the most brutal death imaginable.” Of course it wasn’t that. It wasn’t a headstrong decision to play the martyr because that would gain accolades from followers and they would be praising Him for this great act.

No. It wasn’t any of those things. For He pleaded that if it was possible this cup would be taken from Him.

What we see in Jesus obedience is willingness.

What I want my life to be characterized by is the same.

Not my will, Lord, but yours. Not the things I perceive as glorious, but whatever you have for me. Not my agenda. Not my thoughts. Not my ways or opinions, arrogance or self-righteous lineup of all the amazing ways I can show up for God.

I’m learning how small I am in comparison to the greatness of His plan for my life.

I’m learning that comparison is truly a faith killer, not just a contentment killer.

I’m learning that while what God has called me to feels strange and I feel so unable, He is capable of all of it.

He uses the weak and it turns out that’s where He’s brought us these days. In turn we get to see the bounty of His work apart from us.

When we first planned a one week long trip to Mexico my prayer was that God would bring us to the end of ourselves. I feel like it’s the most gracious thing a loving God could do. That He would strip us of all we think we are and show us exactly who He is in us.

Before that week we never imagined this would be our reality.  Living, working, grocery shopping, serving and muddling our way through this Mexican life. It doesn’t make any sense but I’m learning the very best things never seem to. He doesn’t give us what we think we want or what we conspire we deserve. In His loving-kindness the Lord gives us exactly what we need.

And so, here we are. Tiny town in Mexico in the middle of a global pandemic feeling small all the while God is showing Himself as so so big.

I can’t imagine anything better.

Edit: Undo

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My new look. Does CJLA make masks yet?

As we all leaned on kitchen counters last night, rummaging for snacks and chatting about the day I had a question. If you know me, this is what I do. Ask questions.

“If you could choose one computer control for this pandemic, what would it be?”

Mine. Edit: Undo

I’m sure I’m not alone in those feelings, wanting to transport back a few weeks and carry on with life as we had predicted it would play out. We love the feeling of being in control of our circumstances, our days, our time off, where we buy our groceries.

I can’t buy cream anywhere and while it might seem a trite thing, I’m currently opting for no coffee over coffee without cream. It’s just not the same. (and perhaps my COVID  temper tantrum. Take that! If I can’t have cream, I won’t have coffee! Pray for my family.)

We know that the Lord could edit: undo this whole thing. We know that he could control x: and then paste and transfer our plans forward to the next chapter. But instead it’s as though He’s cleared the formatting and we’re not quite sure what to do about that.

Romans 8: 5 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

If we’re honest our flesh gets the better of us a lot of the time, doesn’t it? Our mind playing what we wish was happening right now, how much better our plans were. We’re annoyed. I get it. I want my coffee with cream!

The only problem with this is that I believe in a Sovereign God who does not operate out of confusion or chaos but with plans and purposes. We don’t have a God fiddling with a keyboard who just can’t seem to get the right combo of keys to change this. So, what do we do with that?

All I can think is that God has something in this for us.

He has something for me and He has something for you and those two things are going to look vastly different, I imagine.

Mama with small kids at home, what does He have for you today?

Employee who is slammed right now with so much work, what does He have for you?

Boss whose business is closed, today what does He have for you?

I can’t list all the various categories of people but if you’re human – He has something for you today.

If we move past the flesh part and get on with the things of the Spirit we see amazing things.

I’ve seen friends walk into hospitals afraid and yet willing, because they are walking in what the Lord has for them right now.

I’ve seen Mamas pick up their babies and just hug them when everyone is at the end of their rope, because this is the Spirit in them and what the Lord is asking of them right now.

I’ve seen missionaries head out masked and armed with the gospel sharing the hope of Jesus with the homeless because they have set their mind on the things of the Spirit.

I’ve seen people give generously amidst their own financial instability because their mind is on others and not their own flesh. This is a mind set on the Spirit.

I don’t know about you but I know that I don’t want to miss what God has for me. I don’t want to be so focused on my flesh that I miss what the Spirit is doing.

As I look back at the journey of my life there are so many places that, in the moment, I wish I could have used the Edit: Undo button. I would have used it thousands of times by now for every stupid thing I said out loud, every action I’ve done that hurt others and every time I made myself the most important. But looking back I can see the work that God did in me through the very hardest times. Through the tears, the anger, the confusion and the doubt, He was working in me. And while I grieve the actions, I praise God for the work He did through the most difficult spaces of  my life.

I’m not calling us not to be sad for what’s happening. I’m not saying don’t grieve for the lives lost.  I’m not saying to have zero trepidation or concern for what we are walking in.  I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a serious weight to all that’s happening across the world. I am saying don’t miss what the Lord has for us today.  Just today.

With eyes and minds focused on things of the Spirit, we will be changed.

Romans 8:6, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

 

 

Poverty and Pandemics

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I wish I could take you on a walk down the streets of Primo Tapia. I wish together we could see the realities of one room concrete spaces housing families. I wish you could smell the mold on the bricks of a family’s home after the rainy season. I wish you could see the mats that are pulled out at night so that everyone has a sleeping spot on the floor.

In underdeveloped countries, we often rely on statistics to tell us about the welfare of the people. So I can read online that 46.2 percent of people living in Mexico are operating below the poverty line. In a country with 129 million people – that’s a lot.

But numbers feel distant and cold.

I contend that if you could walk with me through our streets in Primo Tapia and were then asked to come up with a number as to how many people lived in poverty here, you would say it’s much higher.

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Poverty is a tricky word that means more than just how much you lack in money, though it is that. It also accounts for educational lag, access to health services, access to food, housing quality, space and basic housing services like running water. 

In this season where the world is in a pandemic, I challenge you to think about who will lose and just how much.

Underdeveloped countries like Mexico and so many others have a fragile health care system on the very best day. If you walked into a government run hospital here for treatment, my guess is you would turn right back out and walk away. Sure, there are private hospitals in major cities, but those living in poverty don’t have access to that. 

So what will happen in Mexico over the next few weeks? To say we are concerned would be an understatement. 

If you look out my window you would see business as usual today. The small shop on the corner is open. The woman who hangs second hand clothes on the chain link fence is out at her usual post and people are stopping to browse. Taxis are lined up on the corner and the smell of meat grilling at the taco stands is in the air. On the weekend, produce tables lined the streets as people came to sell their wares and others to buy their provisions. There was no social distancing. No isolation. 

You can get mad for that. Call people uneducated or fret about how they aren’t taking it seriously, but that’s not it.  Because here’s what I know;

If I’m a single mom with 3 kids barely making enough to cover the rent on my one room “home” where I bathe my children in a plastic tub with cold water I got from a hose  outside, barely scraping enough together to buy my children second hand uniforms so they can go to school, and relying on tortillas and rice and beans to fill their bellies each day, I assure you I won’t stop selling mangos at my small stand because there’s a virus.

Why? Because I have no back up plan. No savings fund. No government that will step in and defer my food purchase payments.

I have three little mouths to feed and if I don’t work today, they don’t eat today. That’s the reality for the marginalized.

Am I concerned that my children, neighbour or aging parent who lives with us will get the virus? Of course. But I’ve never had access to proper medical care and I know I won’t should they get this, so what are my options?

  1. I can work today and feed my children today.
  2. I can not work today, not feed my children today, wait for a virus to most definitely hit our family, and sit at home praying they make it through. 

This isn’t strange for Mamas living in poverty. This is everyday. This is normal life. It’s called survival.

The struggle to survive is always before families here and so in some ways, this is just another Tuesday.

The question can hardly be, what are the poor doing to flatten the curve, but rather what are those in the developed world doing to help those living in poverty to make it through this, alive on the other side, with their children by their side and a roof over their heads that is somewhat sufficient. Unless, of course, it rains. 

Social distancing, unfortunately, is a privilege of those who have access to credit cards.

Here, many live with multiple families in a house or ‘compound’ for lack of a better word. Picture a myriad of rooms all behind one common fence. The poor don’t own cars but rely on crowded public transit to get anywhere, even to the market to buy food. Markets are tent upon tent, altogether in a row. Oh, and did I mention the city water went out yesterday? So that whole hand washing thing is out the window now, too.

The measures needed to be taken to protect from this pandemic are simply not the reality for those we look around and see in our neighbourhood.

So, what do we do? For now, we pray for an increased measure of wisdom, for  provision in the days to come, and we ask the Lord to give us the ability to live out what we believe and the strength to love our neighbour as ourselves. Because let’s be honest – we love ourselves well.

There are many amazing organizations to give to in this time.  Find one and do what you can.  If you don’t have one you already love, I suggest the link below.

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Prayers over Pick Axes

We live in a world that feels very strange to us currently. It’s not a ‘strange town’, per se. But rather unusual if you compare it directly with what we’re use to.

We’ve caught ourselves biting our tongues as we’re about to call this place weird or odd or crazy. It’s not fair, really. It’s what so many people call normal. Just because that word isn’t a perfect fit for us doesn’t make it not true for all of the people who have grown up here.

All in one moment you can look to the right and see an old man in a hat and boots heading to the store on his horse, but a quick head turn to the left and there will be a group of 20-somethings with their Honda Civics all lowered with darkened windows, Spanish words emblazoned across the back.

The moments of seeming progress in the form of lowered cars halted by the reality that most people don’t have running water into their homes.

It can be easy to get a bit discombobulated when you come from a land of milk and honey into one where bathing your kids in a plastic tub is the norm.

Most houses are cinder block or brick with concrete, if not dirt floors. Protection from the elements? Yes, I suppose. Warm and cozy? Not exactly. Multiple family members will share a small bed while clothes are washed in that same bathing tub and hung to dry. Not a drop of food is wasted. Ever. We have so much to learn from this town and the people in this place.

But there are some pieces we’d rather forget, or at the very least turn a blind eye too if only that were possible. Crime is a way of life. Drugs pave the way out of misery. Of course, all the while leading down darker paths that only seem glorious for a time.

Leave your child’s sweater hanging on a fence post while they play and you’d better believe someone will make off with it. Leave your car outside the gates at night and you’ll awake to an empty tank and broken windows. True story – a mama leaves her child’s wheelchair outside her tiny apartment at night and someone will run with it. There doesn’t seem to be an ultimate low. Just when we think we’ve seen it, something else comes along.

Depravity is real wherever you go. Darkness is luring, beckoning in each corner of our world. Here it’s just unveiled and obvious.

It rained here a few weeks ago. The first real rain in well over a year some might say. Buckets and buckets in a torrential sideways downpour. Even us pacific northwester’s covered our heads, looked down to the ground and ran with purpose to the next covering – and believe me, it’s hard to impress us folk with rainfall.

We hunkered inside and listened to the familiar pelting against our windows but without the luxury of heat in our home to warm up by. The river it created ran down the dirt hills forging cracks and crevices making it impossible for people higher up the hills to even leave their home.

But within a day it was gone and the earth dried up to its crusty, clay like form and life went back to ‘normal’.

It wasn’t until 2 days later that something happened. Driving along the dirt roads, where brown and dust cover the land like a blanket, we spotted green. Green!

Hardened soil was given a few hours of water and suddenly tiny blades of green were emerging from the landscape. Green; the color of life and renewal.

The green is why we’re here in this hard and broken land. The landscape became a vivid picture to me of our call as messengers of the good news of Christ.

The spiritual landscape here can look much like the hard packed roads filled with cracks and holes. I could take a shovel to it and barely scratch the surface. It’s compacted layers making it impenetrable. The faces of the people we see walking our streets can look much the same. Deep lines. Hardened and tough. Hearts that are impenetrable no matter how much force we come at them with.

But the God-sent rain from heaven on our dusty town became a clear picture of hope and an affirmation as to why we’re here. With our very human selves we can do nothing. I can’t crack the hearts of the people coming and going from the drug dens surrounding us. No matter how vigorous my methods, impenetrable hearts can’t be softened by human hands, in the same way I can’t force the blades of grass to emerge from the hardened soil.

But right underneath that hard shell there is green waiting to come forth. There is life and renewal and restoration that only the rain from heaven can bring. So we’re here and we continue in our work with our human hands and feet and we serve and proclaim and are messengers of the love of the Lord, but the work is not ours. So we press into the Lord and plead with Him to bring the rain on our town that He would reign in the hearts of the people here. He is the only one who can penetrate hearts, renew minds, soften the hardened, restore lives. So we leave that work to Him and pray that in time we would look out over our town and see the green, the life and the renewal, begin to emerge from the people here.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6-7

 

A letter to my teens this year.

Hey Guys,

We’re on the verge of a new year. The long summer days have looked a bit different this year, not all beaches and lazy days but packing up and moving countries and figuring out how to live and breathe and just be here in this new place.

It hasn’t been easy, I know. Living out of suitcases for a time, not having normal groceries in the cupboard and a general state of upheaval was looming wherever you looked. But we’ve come so far in 4 weeks. Your clothes have a home, you have your very own sheets on your beds and the quick snacks that make anywhere feel like home have been stocked and restocked.

You aren’t heading back to school this year but no matter, the last long weekend of the summer is fading to black and that means a new season begins. One that will involve online logins and classes taught by teachers so many miles away but in the same way we do every year we’ll sit and we’ll set goals and we’ll dream and hope for the year to come.

My dreams for you this year involve so much more than what you’ll learn in those classes though. My hopes for you won’t involve letter grade achievements or making the sports teams of choice. No, this year my heart is yearning for something different.

The thing about moving, be it across provincial lines or country borders or vast oceans is you take all of you right along with you. We take the very best parts of who we are, we carry our insecurities and fears and we take the hidden places of our hearts that we want to hide away. We take our weaknesses, our idols, our bents towards ease and we package those right up with our luggage and they arrive exactly wherever we do, front and center.

It’s easy to think just because we’ve moved countries so much will change but the truer part is we can be exactly who we were before in any country. If we don’t stop to think about it we can wake up next year, or ten years from now,  in the exact same heart space with the exact same mind set.

But I’m your mom and I will never stop fighting for you in every way. This year I’m fighting for you to have eyes that see things you’ve never seen before. I’m praying for hearts to crack open and soften a smidge more than they were this time last year. I’m praying  you’ll learn what it means to be right where you are without the pull of distraction because let me tell you, distraction is our greatest enemy to living a full and beautiful life.

For some strange reason I thought parenting would be different at this stage of the game. Easier, maybe. Like it would take less time, less intention, less – well, everything. But this is my lie, my distraction, my bent towards the selfishness of my time. Because you’re older now and the things we’re tackling on a daily basis have so much higher stakes. This isn’t about making it to the potty on time or cleaning up your toys (though sometimes there’s still a bit of that!)

This time of life is about discovering who you are and who you want to be, even when Dad and I aren’t around. It’s about learning where your own convictions lie when no one is watching. It’s figuring out the sort of life you want to pursue and where on the globe you might want to do that. It’s learning to nurture the hearts of those you’re in relationship with. The stakes are higher because when we mess these things up it’s so much bigger than when you stole a toy from that other kid before he was done with it.

But also – not really. The things you learned in those moments are the same today. Pay attention. Treat others with respect. Hold fast to what you believe. Be quick to say you’re sorry. These will still get you far.

This year I pray we’ll push the boundaries. I pray the things we’ve talked endlessly about late into the night, we’ll be able to put into action. I pray your idea of ‘needs’ would be challenged. I pray your contentment would grow. I pray the borders around your heart defining family would spread wider. I pray your eyes would see temptation coming from so far away and you would have strength to turn and run. I pray the word compassion would not just be a word but a deep understanding. I pray your eyes would see needs and your hands would be swift to fill them. I pray your hearts wouldn’t know an us and them but deep relationships where we serve each other because that’s what friends do.

Boys, we didn’t move countries to stare at phones in a new location. We didn’t bring you here because the internet connection is stronger so you can get a faster game of fort nite. We didn’t pack everything up so we could stay the exact same people.

We packed up because we believe in obedience and we believe it for you, too. We packed up because we think the Lord has big things for you here if you have the courage to keep walking forward in what he calls you to. We packed up because sometimes God calls us to see things from a new perspective and to be challenged in big ways for our faith to grow. Trust isn’t something that just happens but something built over time. For our family, from our comfy couches and stable jobs it was harder to build. We needed to step out into unfamiliar waters. In these waters we can continue to trust in ourselves or come to a deeper reliance on Him. I’m praying for the latter.

It was right before we visited this place for the first time just over one year ago God laid a prayer on my heart.

Bring us closer to the end of ourselves so we can see more of you.

That’s my continual prayer for this next year for you, boys, and for me too. That God would continue to grow you, to shape you, to mould you into His own. That He would lavish his grace upon you, that you would know His love in deep and profound ways. That your hearts would become tethered to Him because to whom else will you turn?

This has always been my prayer for you, but often coupled with extras. This year I’m coming in with no extras.  I pray to your faith would be added goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, affection; and to affection, love.

I pray you would have minds that are alert and that your hope would be set on the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

These are my prayers for you this year, kiddos.

Always praying, forever advocating, and continually laughing at your nonsense,

Mom

 

Where is home?

I don’t know about you but I’m not super great at listening. It turns out I need to hear things an average of 3.7 times in order for me to actually hear it. And when it comes to implementation of actual words being heard, I  assure you the number is much higher than that.

I use to think I could read the bible and have it. Like, get it, know it, understand it. Because words are just words and I can comprehend words, I would store all of those little truth nuggets somewhere in that inside pocket of my backpack – the one that was protected from could-be thieves. If it was in that pocket, all zippered in, I assumed it was safe.

Turns out our hearts and minds aren’t like that pocket at all. Instead words go in and distractions come and these words that meant so much just vanish. Gone. Never to be recalled.

How is it that what we can deem so important in a moment can disappear so quickly?

I don’t have the answer but I do know this is why we need to keep coming back to scripture. Lest you think otherwise, we are no different than the Israelites who walked across parted waters one day and were grumbling just a few later. We are the same. Quick forgetters. Easily distracted. Unfocused. Not to mention a target of one who wants to steal all of the thoughts which we vow to take captive.

And so I’ve learned that scripture needs to be constant in my life. In making it so I’ve learned a great many things, not the least of which is the Holy Spirit illuminates for us the very things we need in certain seasons. Not always, of course. Sometimes we just come back to it for our dose of daily bread, our time of communion with the One who inspired every word. It’s not always fireworks and grand aha moments but it is always good. (Tell yourself that as you’re slogging through the Levitical laws!)

In this season of life where we’ve listened to the Lord and packed up our family and moved to a foreign land the Holy Spirit has been so gracious as to pad my days with a theme so I can not forget.

We sat around last night, the 5 of us, talking through our first weeks here. We let everyone whine a bit about what isn’t working, we brainstormed solutions on how we could make these better or help to smooth things out. We shared from our hearts about what’s been hard and what we miss about home. We never want our teenagers to think  uprooting is easier for us than it is for them. We don’t want to plaster on our constantly smiley face and tell them this is what the Lord wanted and so it’s all rainbows and unicorns. Of course we believe it is what the Lord wanted and so it is good but that doesn’t mean ease.

Familiarity is what everyone is missing most. Knowing the neighbourhood and the streets and bumping into people we know in the grocery store. Being able to worship in a language we know and being surrounded by people who love us and want to lunch together after church. Understanding what the label on the meat says and knowing how it’s seasoned. Having a rhythm to life that means we know what to expect of a Tuesday evening or a Sunday afternoon. All of the things we just knew and operated in are now different and unfamiliar. They aren’t bad or worse. Just not our usual. And we will never tell our kids this should be simple or to suck it up cause it could be worse.

Transition is rarely easy for us human-folk. We tend to fight it with all we’ve got. We long for words like safe and stable and comfortable. We like familiar and easy. Order and routine. Or at least I do!

It’s not shocking to me that the Lord has given me a theme in this season. It’s come up in the words I hear, the scripture I’m reading, the podcasts I’m listening to and it’s resonating with every fibre of my being.

This world is not my home. We are not citizens of this earth. We are named as sojourners and exiles who are not to be conformed to the patterns of this world.

Right.

I have a new perspective as to what those words mean. It’s easy for me to say – oh yeah, I’m not a citizen here – when I live in the land of my birth and I speak the same language, watch the same tv shows, and can navigate 6 different routes to the same place because I truly don’t grasp what not being a citizen looks like. I’ve been a citizen of Canada my entire life. I’ve barely ventured outside of it for vacations. I couldn’t possibly have grasped the concept of not fitting in, not belonging, not conforming.

The Lord knew this in me and thankfully chose to pluck our family out of the familiar to teach us truths about Him and His word.

In just a few short weeks I understand so much more clearly that this world is not my home because right now I don’t know where home is. Someone asked me on the weekend where I was from and my answer was, “I don’t know!” I’m a Canadian living in Mexico but was currently in the United States. I have no idea where I’m from. But I have a grasp in a new way that it doesn’t matter where I’m from or where I am because my citizenship is not determined by what the cover of my passport says but by what God says.

I am a citizen of heaven. This world shouldn’t feel altogether familiar or altogether comfortable. I shouldn’t have a fear of leaving one place for another because it should all feel somewhat strange. We are not to fit in here. We are not to assimilate to such a degree that we aren’t longing for heaven because we quite like it right where we are with our expensive couches and espresso machines.

I’ve never felt like a sojourner before. The word is simple – it means a temporary stay. In our culture we talk about putting down roots and building community and these are good things but let’s never forget that our roots aren’t to be pulled down deep into this earth but are to be grounded deeply in our heavenly home. If we lose the focus that our grounding is in Christ, our roots sinking deep into the soil of His word and our eyes cast in the direction of our permanent home, we so easily make our time on this earth about us. What are my needs? What makes me feel comfortable? What can I acquire that will make me happy?

When we understand we are just stopping by here and our time is but a vanishing vapour, does it not give a sense of urgency as to why we’re here that we may not otherwise have if we feel like we’re pouring concrete in this land and building a home that is forever.

We are exiles here. Banished from our home for but a time. But our citizenship remains there. Our hearts are to dwell there. Our eyes are to be fixed there because it’s where our home will be forever!

Canada or Mexico or wherever we are – it doesn’t really matter. We’re sojourners just passing through eating a whole lot of chips and salsa along the way.

Let’s Walk Alongside Actual People, Not Just a News Story

There are a million things going on in the world just now. There always has been and I suspect there always will be.

If we think back over the decades, over the centuries – there are injustices, atrocities, divides, splits, anger, backlash – multiple times over in every generation.

In every country there are massive issues. In each city, atrocious events. In schools, constant contraversy. In homes, hurt. In our hearts, tension.

We can ask smart sounding questions. We can argue over social media. We can highlight one particular area of devastation for a time. We can get riled up, and rightly so, but where does that leave us?

Right now in our area, in our social media feeds, in all of the news it’s children at borders. Also right now there are children wearing numbers being chosen from a menu to be bought for sex. And women having their genitalia mutilated because of  cultural tradition. And there is genocide. And civil wars. And millions displaced. And bloodshed over drug turf. And earthquake devastation. And contaminated water. And corrupt leaders. And nuclear weapons. And guns in schools. And scars left on skin and hearts.

It’s all too much.

Devastation and hurt has been a part of our world since the beginning which tells my heart it isn’t going away anytime soon. We can lobby for change (and we should!), we can give our money, we can raise awareness but at the end of the day there will only be more – so what then?

My heart hurts with the weight. My cheeks soaked from the tears.

What are we called to in it all?

So far this morning I’ve read slander and name calling, condemnation and vindication, I’ve heard threats of justice being taken into human hands. Mud-slinging, intimidation, aggression, defence, excuses and accusations on every side.

Where are our hearts? How are we operating? What in the name of it all do we even do?

My faith is tested in massive ways in moments like this. Who do I believe in and what does that mean? I think it’s a question we should all ask ourselves in times like this.

How are we to behave in the face of all tragedy, not just close tragedy? How are we to use our voice and not add to the chaos? How are we to gain knowledge that is true? Whom are we to trust? How do we process things we disagree with? Are we arrogant? Opinionated? Right? Are we lazy? Out of touch? Complacent? Ignorant? Do we trust the Holy Spirit? Do we believe in a sovereign God? Are we making use of our time? Are we using our talents for the good of those around us? Are we lining our pocket books? Are we sharing what we have? Are we being merciful to all? Are we praying for those who harm us? Are we seeking truth? Do we know what freedom even is? Are we walking with the Lord? Are we easily swayed? What is worthy of our stake in the ground? Where have we found our roots? When pressed on every side what comes out? Do we even care?

My heart wrestles with all of these. I’ve seen battered faces with my own eyes. I’ve sat with girls weeping as they remember hiding every time cops came to the door. I’ve brushed the hair of one who couldn’t do it herself – the trauma so deep this simple task an impossibility. I’ve seen the flinches at touch. Heard the weeping of loss. Seen the fear deep set in eyes. Heard the wavers in voices as memories of regretful choices bubble to the surface.

I’ve seen pupils so dilated from all of the drugs taken trying to numb the pain, dull the noise. I’ve seen the cut marks on arms. The vacant stare of loss. The sobs from fear. The withdrawn looks from betrayal. I’ve sat in prisons, held orphans, and cried with both. I’ve sat across kitchen tables with both the harmed and the harmer and agonized with both.

Trauma isn’t a new word.

I promise you one thing, when we really care life gets confusing and hard.

When we walk alongside actual people, not just a news story, there’s no forgetting.

When we look into eyes it changes us.

When we recognize we are no different, that’s when the whole story changes.

When we can say:

Yes, I’ve been hurt and also I’ve been the reason for much hurt.

Yes, I’ve been betrayed, and I’ve also been the betrayer.

Yes, I’ve been hurt by arrogance and also I’ve been arrogant.

This is where our posture changes. This is where it goes from not just accusations on “them” but becomes also about us. This is where our voice becomes one that can be heard, our hearts begin to operate from the places they ought and it’s when our hearts and our voice and our story and our understanding intersect that we can even begin to think about becoming a place of help.

And so I plead with you, seek faces to look into that challenge the very core of what you believe. Sit with people who disagree completely with everything you know to be right and good. Advocate for people right in your neighbourhood. Allow really hard questions to be raised without thinking you have to know all of the answers. Listen and listen well. Stop judging without being willing to enter into the story. Ignore the rumours. Get into lives. Share stories. Look into eyes. Stop thinking you know everything. Believe there is hope. Remember every single person was made in the image of God. Repeat that as you sit across a diner table and listen to what they’ve endured. Repeat it a thousand times as you look into the eyes of someone you think is completely wrong. Now go and care and care big. Because you have a heart and a mind and a voice and beliefs and you’re willing to listen and actually enter into the journey with your time, money, and talents.

It probably means you’re going to be tired. It definitely means you must sacrifice. And I one hundred percent assure you that you’re going to want to walk away a thousand times because it’s hard. Do it anyway. Because what else are we even here for?

 

 

Getting In On The Secret.

There have been a handful of people I’ve met over the years who have something I can’t quite put my finger on – but I know I want it. The kind of people who when I meet them I somehow have this longing to be nearer to them, to learn from them. There’s something about them that’s contagious and it draws me in instantly. It’s a bit like they’re always in on some sort of secret just on the cusp of being revealed. There is a joy, an understanding and a twinkle in their eye.

I want it. I want in on the secret.

As I’ve met these people along my path of life I ask them one question, “How?” How is there a constant bubble of joy just right there at the surface. How is there time to look each person you meet straight in the eye and make them know that you see them and value them. How did you come to this place?

It’s far more than just a bubbly personality or an over the top greeting. It’s a way of life that these precious people know.

Each time I’ve asked I’ve received the same answer.

The mode of our heart is a choice each day.

Each of these people know something I often forget. They know every single day they can let self-pity creep in. They can let pride take over. They can give their hearts over to self importance, which makes us so inwardly focused we become haughty, unable to see those around us or just plain rude. They know anger is a real emotion which can overtake. They know belittling words flow off the tongue much easier than words of praise and encouragement. They know if we don’t make a choice for something different, our hearts will so easily wander and lead us astray, down paths that are destructive and dangerous.

So, each day they choose Jesus. They choose a heart mode that says you above me. Service over self pity. They realize playing the victim because life is hard leads to wallowing, bitterness and blame, and these are not the ways of joy.

I’ve learned time after time, the people who seem to know the greatest joy, have walked the most difficult roads. These aren’t happy people because life has shown them an easy ride. They are joyful people because amidst the trials, the loss, the grief, they’ve sought a different way. They’ve made a deliberate choice to say Lord, if this is what you have for me today, help me walk through it with my eyes on you.

The thing about people who make this choice, who walk through their life this way, is they make me cry. Every dang time they look at me. And if they pray for me? I’m a puddle on the floor.

It’s been on my heart lately to consider how I receive people. When they’re near to me do they feel valued and respected and seen? It doesn’t really matter the who of it all. I’m talking the mail carrier who knocks on my door with a package I have to sign for, or the person bagging my groceries, or the family sitting behind me at church that I don’t know. The kid kicking the back of my seat all through the movie, or the person I pull up to at border patrol or my best friend in all the land.

I’ve asked myself the question on repeat – am I a receiver of people or a pusher of what I want – my will, my way, my agenda. I have to admit, the latter is often true.

As I’ve spent the last week amongst the most amazing receiver of people I think I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help but want what he has. Each time he looked at me, straight into my eyes and asked if I was okay, my eyes began to well with tears. It started to feel silly after a time, to say I was good – great, in fact – with glossy eyes but it was true. The way I was received only made me teary because I felt like I had never been so close to Jesus as I was when I was with this person modelling His care.

How would Jesus receive the people we pass by each day? I think it’s worthy of our time to consider. Would He rush by in the manner we do or would He sit right down, look straight into each ones eyes and say, “Are you good? Because I really care if you are or not.”

Having someone near who loves the way Jesus loves means you can’t help but want to love that way too. Being cared for by humans who care like Jesus cares shows me how I want to care for the people around me better. Being received by someone who makes you feel like you’re being received into the arms of Jesus, and to realize this is but a glimmer of the goodness of God right here on earth – well, it just about changes everything about how I want to live my days.

I want to receive people in the way Jesus would. I want them to feel His love through me. I don’t know how to accomplish this on my own but I’m willing to ask Him to do it in me. If the people who love Jesus loved like Jesus and each person we encountered felt received in love the way we feel received by the grace of God, no matter how much of a mess we are, I really believe we could change the world.

Let’s change the world. Not because we’re smart enough or made really wise choices. But because we love in such an extravagant way people can’t help but see Jesus. I want the world to see Him – don’t you?

 

 

 

To Live Out Multi-faceted Kindness

It’s so exhausting to think about where all of our products come from.

It’s tiresome to even try and have a conscience about all of it.

We can’t know everything, so why bother at all.

The alternative is women not having a job and that’s even worse.

Is it?

All of these statements arise every single time I open up a dialogue about the fashion industry. Or the harvesting of chocolate. Or talk about how watching pornography is linking you to sex trafficking.

I wonder how many other things we would say this about?  

If we’re buying a car would we be exhausted by the research it takes to know which one is our best spent dollar?

When planting a garden do we stop ourselves from putting carrot seeds in the ground because we don’t know the mechanics of how a tractor works?

We get a bit uncomfortable when our choices are challenged, defensive even.

So we’re not here to tell you where to shop and where not to (though we do have some super cute links at the end that you should definitely check out) what we’re here to talk to you about is kindness.

Rarely do people get up in arms about kindness. Guilt and shame don’t get piled on when we speak simply about the basics of how we should treat one another. We learned these things from our mama’s long before we ever stepped foot into a school and decades before we made a purchase from a clothing company.

So let’s start there, as we should, with kindness and see where it takes us. A journey of kindness isn’t scary, or exhausting or elusive, right?

We’re Jena and Rhonda – Jesus lovers, wives and mamas, bloggers and a million more things – including kindness advocates! Below is simply a conversation we want to bring you into. We hope you join in the dialogue!

When did you first give more thought to the things you were purchasing?

Jena: I don’t remember when I started waking up to the reality that my purchases impact other people across the globe. A few years ago the term ‘fast fashion’ caught my attention and conscience. Maybe it was sitting at a friend’s Noonday Party watching a video on how their goods are handmade by artisans in developing countries receiving fair wages for bettering their families and communities. Perhaps it was news of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 where over 1100 people lost their lives working in unsafe conditions in a garment factory. It could be because most employees in the garment industry are women, and I’m raising three daughters of my own.

Rhonda: It all started for me when I ‘accidentally’ watched a BBC documentary on the chocolate industry and the harvesting of cocoa beans. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I clicked ‘play’ but after watching, I knew a great shift had occurred in my heart and my perspective. I could no longer close my eyes and just consume. I had a desire to know what the effects my personal wants had on others. What I found was that my choices didn’t align with what I had long been teaching my kids – be kind to others, always.

How do we balance owning our part of the responsibility?

Jena: Over time, it’s all added up to an evolving belief about purchase power. How we spend our money matters. Is it my fault that women are suffering in oppressive work conditions in countries thousands of miles away from my billing address? No. Do I have a responsibility to educate myself and daughters on the realities of a broken supply chain so we can support people working to fix this cycle of oppression? Yes. Do I have a responsibility to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 ESV) as it applies to people sewing my t-shirts? Yes and more yes.

Rhonda: I’ve wrestled with this for over a decade. The place I’ve landed is one step at a time. In so many areas of my life I’ve made choices to change just one thing. Whether it’s eating healthy and exercising or making changes to the chemicals that come into our home – I can’t know everything all at once but that doesn’t mean I should just sit back and do nothing. If we simply commit to learning, to researching what we can instead of living in ignorance, and make small adjustments bit by bit – it’s truly amazing how far we can go and the differences we can make over the years.

Start where you are and do what you can is a brilliant slogan. So you can’t shop exclusively at fair trade shops? Start with t-shirts. Commit to that. A year later it will be so normal you won’t even blink at it. And once that’s in place, maybe tackle jewelry.

It’s the small consistent changes over time that have massive repercussions in our world!

Where do we even start?

Jena: I have to be honest with myself. I’m not a front line pioneer of labor reform practices. I’m a elementary homeschooling/ public high school mom of three daughters. I’m wife to a corporate road warrior. I don’t shop often, but when I do I’d like it to be enjoyable and uncomplicated. I prefer quality over quantity in my closet. Cost per wear is something we talk about often in our family. In light of all that, evolving into a more conscientious shopper comes down to three key elements for our family:

  1. Know what we believe – What does the Bible say about how we’re to treat others? Are our actions consistent with our beliefs?
  2. Get informed – What are current industry standards for the companies we’re supporting? Are they transparent about their sourcing and labor agreements?
  3. Compile a list – Find companies selling what we need and like. In an age of convenience where it’s tempting to shop in one-stop-shop box stores, having a list of go-to companies can prevent compulsive buying of fast fashion ‘sale’ items. Many online stores offer free shipping and returns, so take advantage of planned shopping from the convenience of home.

Rhonda: We can overwhelm ourselves with all the questions of where to start and how to research and give up before we’ve even begun. I think the most important step towards kindness in the fashion industry is to just start. Find one company whose mission is to care for their employees from harvesting to your closet. Choose one item to change in your closet. Rarely is anything in life sustainable if we feel overwhelmed from the start. But like I say to my kids when I drop them off at school each morning, “I love you. Be kind to someone today.” If we simply adopt that approach in our consumption, of being kind to someone today, just one person – it will be the tiny bit of momentum we need to make the changes we want.

We think this is an important conversation and we don’t want it to end with just one blog post. What are your thoughts? We’ll be honest and say that $4 t-shirts at certain shops are enticing and we’re not saying we will never fall prey to it. But we do commit to loving the Lord by loving our neighbour insomuch as it depends on us – knowing who we’re buying from is just another way to do that!

And now – onto the good stuff! We’re here to help! Check out these amazing shops with clothes you’ll want to wear! And some are just as affordable as where you’re shopping now. Check them out!

Brands we love:

Everlane

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At Everlane, we’re not big on trends. We want you to wear our pieces for years, even decades, to come.

Each factory is given a compliance audit to evaluate factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and environment. Our goal? A score of 90 or above for every factory.

We believe our customers have a right to know how much their clothes cost to make. We reveal the true costs behind all of our products—from materials to labor to transportation—then offer 
them to you, minus the traditional retail markup.

Krochet Kids

Our products, our non-profit partner, and our community work in unison to help people break the cycle of poverty.

We provide life-changing job opportunities to women in need. With each purchase you make we introduce you to the woman who made your product and invite you to visit her online profile to learn more about her.

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People Tree

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ABLE

The goal was to provide an alternative that would provide these women with the opportunity to earn a living, empowering them to end the cycle of poverty that kept them trapped. Armed with multiple studies illustrating how the employment of women benefits and strengthens an entire community, the ABLE team set out on a mission to end generational poverty, one job at a time.

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DL1961

We’re on a mission to rewrite the way denim is made. It’s no secret that traditional denim production is considered to be one of the most polluting processes – but we don’t believe it has to be that way.

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And a few more:

PACT Apparel

Patagonia

Fair Indigo

Raven and Lily