Friday, April 8, 2011

Making Ourselves Vulnerable

I was a rotten kid.  From...say the age of 10-25?  I was haughty, proud, selfish, hypocritical, hateful...where do I end?  What's worse is that I have lived in the same small town for my entire life.  It's one of those towns in the middle of nowhere, with lots of cows and cornfields and where everyone knows your business before you do.

The really bad thing is that for most of those years, I lived a lie.  It's a lie I wasn't even aware that I was living.  I confessed Jesus Christ was my Saviour and although I changed many outward behaviors, I was still so full of sin inside.

I was a false convert and wasn't even aware of it.  Jesus spoke many times of the false convert inside of the church...

The parables of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:25),
the good fish, and bad fish (Matthew 13:48),
the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46)

I was the tare.  I was the bad fish.  I was the goat.

I served in the nursery, then went onto the toddler ministry, the bus ministry and later onto the youth where I was the drama leader for awhile.  All the while thinking I had salvation under my belt and fooling others to believe the same.

I think the reason that it was so easy for me to believe is that because of some of the bad events in my childhood I desperately wanted to feel clean- like I was a good person. 

So when the minister made the altar call and I went forward at the age of 13, he told me I was saved and I believed him.  I tried, from then on, to do what I saw other christian people doing.  When you surround yourself in that "church culture" it's quite easy to do.  I did it all so much and so well that I was completely convinced that the Lord had done a work in me.  For awhile everything seemed new, fresh and yes clean.  But by and by, the sin- the bad sin, came back and brought some friends along.  But no worries right?  I just needed to repent and RE-dedicate my life to Jesus and all would be well again.  I think I did that two or three times in that age span.  Ever notice how "re-dedication" is never talked about in the Bible?  Think on that for awhile.

Somewhere along the way the Lord decided the time was right to call out to me and save me.  I didn't know that I wasn't born again until that moment when suddenly... I truly was.  It wasn't in church or in some huge tent meeting.  I sat alone in the house one day, so completely broken over my latest sin-a BIG one- that I felt utterly discarded by the Lord.  I couldn't sense Him at all while I prayed for forgiveness and I cried out to Him.  I really had one of those moments where I took a long hard look at my life and saw the enormity of the sin I had engaged in.  It was no longer about the one, but about all of them...all of my life.

"LORD even if you will never have me, I will still follow you."  It was said with sorrow and determination.  "I will follow you until death even if you throw me into Hell at the end of my life."  I wept and wept, completely broken now. 

A contrite spirit is what He always desired.  Now he could work with me.  He came to me slowly and tenderly over the next weeks and months.

I have been challenged by a wonderful group of ladies to begin to show others my underbelly.  In most animals, you'll notice that most species will never show their belly to anyone that they don't's a vulnerable place- one of the most vulnerable in fact.  It's a soft place where all of the vital organs could easilty be ripped to shreds by a predator. 

One thing that I've learned of late is that we, as christians, must let the world into our lives...into our vital organ areas.  They have to see hurts, our challenges, our "protected" areas, in order to see how Christ is able to work in and through us.  Through our imperfections is where Christ is truly glorified.

I have been guilty of protecting all of that- OVER-protecting it in fact.  Like I said above, it's hard living in a small town.  People may or may not forgive and they never forget.  When I see people on the street or in the grocery store, I so want to shine forth the new creation, but too often, I see that pseudo reflection in their eyes of the old, dead, Brenda and immediately, somehow I'm back there- in that old skin and I don't know what to say, how to act.  And I'm full of shame and regret over that past life.  Eyes lower to the ground and my fortress wall comes Fort Knox.  It can be very irrational...I know this, but there it is.

My mind knows that my sin has been thrown as far as the east is from the west, but my heart cannot wrap around it.  It's hard to see that reflection in their eyes and forget that person.  And it hurts to see the scorn in others eyes toward a person who used to be me, but is now gone forevermore.  So I curl up inside and retract a little more.

So, after much pondering I've decided to show my belly (figuratively remember?).  This is not about trusting the people out there, because I don't- not very many of them anyway.  But I do trust my Saviour and want nothing more than to glorify Him however I can with my very quiet, humble and uneventful life. 

I don't have it all together.  I have struggles.  I have sin that needs repenting of daily.  I often mess up the victory that could be my life.

But when I'm weak, YOU make me strong. 

Here's to putting ourselves out there for the sake of the Cross-imperfections and all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spoiled and Fat.

I fast.
24 hours, 36, 48, on to the goal of 3 days or 72 hours without solid food.  I drink water, protein shakes, juice, tea, coffee and take my vitamins...and still it's more than some people in the world will be consuming in 72 hours. 

I read this recently over at the Compassion Internation blog and have thought about it much while on my fast.

"Every morning when the sun rises in Brazil, thousands of children don’t have any breakfast. To stave off hunger, they usually drink weak coffee mixed with toasted cassava flour – this mixture without nutrition fills the stomach for some hours. It isn’t rare that this breakfast is the only meal they have during the day.

“If you ask them at night if they have eaten during the day, they will say certainly they have. For them, the coffee was a meal,” says Acilâine, director of Bom Samaritano (Good Samaritan) Child Development Center. “They are used to starving. Unfortunately, it is normal here.”

Read More Here.  (Courtesy of Compassion International)

My fast is voluntary and can be cancelled at any moment.  My pantry runs over and even when I make those loose comments about not having any food in the house, it's not really true.  There is always a box of macaroni, or a can of soup, a little peanut butter.  I can run to the store when it get's really bare and buy more with my money.  I can step out of my back door and shoot a deer, a squirrel, a rabbit.  And if my money were to run out I could get food stamps, welfare, go to the food bank and in times of real desperation I could go raid the dumpster behind Hardees and feast on unpurchased sandwiches still in the wrapper.  I could even steal if I had to.  You see we live in the land of plenty.  There's always food to be found....somewhere.

But we complain.
We complain about not having enough benefits, or too high taxes, cell phone reception and tv's that are too small or without the highest definition.  Meanwhile people...children...are starving.  I can admit, it's much easier to pretend it doesn't exist.  It's so easy in America to pretend because we don't see it.  Even the homeless are fat in America.

I had a disagreement recently with a woman who wanted to defend the extravagance of her church.  Perhaps I was too harsh with her... but it seems so senseless to see this waste that happens in the church of America-  "After all", she said, "Jesus told us, the poor we would always have with us".   What does that mean?

I wonder why we will always have the poor with us?  Could it be found in the story of the rich man found here in Matthew 19?

I believe my "shining" moment came after she made the argument of the woman who poured the expensive perfume on Christ's feet and I retaliated saying there was a slight difference between the act of the woman who anointed the Saviour of the world for his impending death and the expense spoiled, fat Americans enjoy to be entertained at church.  Then one of her friends chimed in and the both of them were highly offended at the "fat, spoiled" comment I had made.  One said she was proud to be a spoiled oxymoron of sorts don't you think?

But she must go somewhere that she can be FED she exclaimed. 

Fed what? I wondered to myself....I decided to let the conversation end there although I did apologize for my "passionate" response.

Only God can show us how fat and spoiled we are in America.  I guess they didn't know I was talking about myself as much as anyone else in that dialogue.

He's shown me and I'm embarrassed by what I have sometimes.  Guilt racks me when I realize that even in a state that I consider "fasting", I'm consuming more than so many people in the world...especially the children. 
I consume ALL of the basic human needs and more everyday without so much as thinking- without so much as thanking.

Have you ever thought about your kids not having as much as they want to eat everyday? 

As I fix 18 month old Anna a slice of toast for breakfast slathered with butter and our homegrown strawberry freezer jam, I mourn the thought of waking up in the morning with the knowledge that there is a mother somewhere in the world who has nothing for her baby to eat.  The child cries out of hunger, bewilderment written in her confused eyes that her mother cannot soothe the pain of her hunger.  Can you imagine it?

I know that God desires to bless His children and He wants us to receive our blessings with the utmost of thanksgiving, gratitude and enthusiasm-  just like when we give our own children gifts.  What fun would there be in thinking of the perfect gift, with the perfect attributes, the right color, the right fit...and then making it with your own hands only to have the child reject it, saying they were embarrassed by it because others had nothing as good?  What if it isn't that God blesses us monetarily so that we can use that gain for extravagant cars, and houses, and furniture? What if His blessings come to us as a test? He meets our basic human needs and the overflow is for us to share with others as a witness of our love of the Giver and our understanding of His kingdom?

Would I pass the test? Would you?

How do we reconcile being so tremendously blessed in this nation with food, jobs, goods with the reality that much of the rest of the world is living in poverty?  I've known poverty as defined by the IRS income bracket, but there is a vast difference between American poverty and poverty in a place like Indonesia (seen below).
Don't the majority of us in this country have enough? 

Some Indonesian Children in the city dump.
We have to stop ignoring the poor, the ugly, the undesirable in our world.  It is uncomfortable, it hurts our pride, it is smelly and so unattractive that it stops our heart and makes us more like Him to know it, to look upon it, to experience it.

How can we ever truly know thankful if we've never truly faced hunger?
How can we know thankful if we've never known lack?

How can we say we are His and look away?

Friends, we have to realize when we have enough and not look away or be unwilling to share with those who do not have anything. 

What is enough?  That is a relative question for every individual and family I suppose.  One that may require some prayer, maybe a little biblical guidance? 

Think about it.  Ask your families to do the same, then ask your church to do it too. 
We have needs and we have wants.  We just need to separate the two.
Maybe we could skip some of the wants to bless someone else with a need in their life?
Imagine the effect you can have. 

It is a daunting task to try to take on something like world hunger but you can make a difference.  I support one child through Compassion International right now.  It seems small in the whole scope of things but to a little girl named Corina in the land of Bolivia it is EVERYTHING!  She will go to bed every night with a full tummy thanks to my meager sponsorship.  She will get medicine when she needs it.  She will get vitamins and supplements to keep her healthy.  She gets to attend school now and hears the gospel of Jesus Christ...all because of my pizza money.

One pizza per month in America does ALL of this and more for one child.  So much for so little.

Obviously Compassion International is one program that I support so I mention it a lot.  It can be found here.  I will be putting some more organizations I support up soon.

There are so many that have life saving ministries all over the globe.  Do a little research to make sure which ones are on the up and up and take your pick.  It's never hard to find someone in need if you will only look and listen.

I know I've talked a lot about the poverty outside of America but I'm not unaware of serious situations right here at home.  It's time for all of us in the family of God who have "enough" to begin to live out Matthew 25:34-40.

Whether we do it within our families, or with those in our churches, towns or half way across the world let us live it. 

Most of us fat Americans could use a slim down.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

2010. A year not to be forgotten

All roads have brought me to this place.  This place I sit right now.  Looking back over 3 1/2 decades (plus a few) I marvel and cringe with the memories of different roads that I have taken.  Roads that I have been led down, roads I've taken willfully, roads I found seemingly by accident (were they accidental?)...

2010 was a difficult, exciting, humbling, painful, joyous year.  Our family has gone through some painful events, I've had children with a potentially serious illness, we moved away from the farm that we love to a place that we're learning to love, I had a health scare myself, I was attacked by an old enemy and I've grown.  And we've drawn nearer to Him who was with us through it all.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  Genesis 50:20

So many times over the last year, I could have been tempted to question Him.  It's the beauty of understanding and believing wholly in the sovereignty of God that prevented the questioning.  I didn't get here overnight.  All the roads -the good, the bad and the ugly brought me to this place.

One of these roads has brought me to a wonderful writer, poet, artist by the name of Ann Voskamp.  Remember the story of Ann of Green Gables?  Well this Ann also hails from Canada and although I will likely never meet her, I have found her to be MY kindred spirit.

She has encouraged her readers and friends to go on the journey with her of marking 1000 (or more) gifts of gratitude to our Lord.  So Ann, I'm jumping in :) 

And it begins...#1-10

1.  A husband who loves me despite me being me.
2.  Three healthy, smart, beautiful children who make me smile everyday.
3.  A roof over our heads.
4.  Food in our cupboards.
5.  Hot water.
6.  The soft cheeks of a baby to kiss.
7.  The ability to work with my hands.
8.  For placing me and mine in such a safe, stable place...the land of Illinois.
9.  For the roads taken (good, bad, ugly) that have led me to this place that I'm at in my life spiritually.
10. For the roads not yet taken that will complete the work that you've begun in me.