Friday, October 18, 2013

On Setting Hope [somewhere]

It’s been quiet over here for awhile, as life has left me in an unbroken chain of go, go, going. I’m not sure how consistent these next weeks will allow me to maintain, but I’m here today putting pen to the paper [or keys to the screen I suppose] and it feels like fresh air.

The last month or two back on American soil has left me a little bit confused and a whole lot of broken. It’s been overwhelming and I am learning a lot about rest and trust. It’s not the time to write it out and I don’t know that it ever will be, but Jesus is here and I know he is fighting. So I am learning to rest and ease the script continually running through my head filled with to-do lists, failures and what nots with Truth.

There hasn’t been a day this week that the Lord hasn’t brought me to this passage. What patience and grace he has for us! Even when I doubt him and pull back, He is quick to remind me it is not of my strength or willing that the dead come back to life. Hmmm. Ouch?

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, ESV)

I’ve had to ask myself many times, even today, where is your hope set, Courtney?

And this conscious effort of warring against my hope being set anywhere else has actually provided the words I’ve been asking God to give me for several weeks now, as I am in the process of applying to nursing school and the following is part of a personal statement I was asked to submit.

I was just on the back end of those preteen years, when I started struggling with an eating disorder. It didn’t take long before I spent more time in hospitals then outside of them.

I remember laying in that hospital bed again that year; it was Christmas and underneath all the hardness, I was just a little girl. That morning was the first time I saw her, hobbling in through those big ole doors. She was from down south somewhere and she just plopped herself down on the bed beside me, like we were best friends or something. I sat up slightly taken aback and wondering if I’d seen her here before. “What are you doin’ in here sweetie? You should be out there livin’, girl!”

I had had some amazing nurses over those years. But Miss Cynthia, she sure was something. As I cried an hour or so at the sight of breakfast, she just sat there with her arms around me. At one point she turned to me and took my cheeks into her wrinkly grip. Made me look her square those big brown eyes of hers. She told me to stop this. That she knew God didn’t put me here on this earth so that I could starve myself out of it. She told me that wasn’t up to me. And I could keep wasting my days trying—or I could live life fuller then that. She babbled on about my beauty and purpose and sweet spirit.

She fed me my cheerios that morning, like a momma to a baby girl. Little by little. I ate them too. Every bite I swallowed, nourished more then those bones of mine though. She fed my spirit something and it changed me. She fed me hope.

That’s it I think—nursing is so much more then antimony, bed pans, and IV pricks. It doesn’t begin at the start of a new shift or end pulling out of the hospital parking lot. The commitment to the practice of nursing takes all of that head knowledge and practical skills and morphs it into this joy-filled giving of self for the hope of another human being to be rekindled in the midst of great pain and discouragement. It sure isn’t easy, I would imagine. Yet, I just see such an overwhelming reward that comes with the commitment to this filed of study.

We all have more hurts and heartaches then one could imagine, and we’ve all been on the other side. A nurse is the mamma hug and words of truth when you forget what they sound like. I marvel at how far medicine has come and how miraculously doctors can heal the human body. I think some nurses go right for the soul.  

Every morning Miss Cynthia came back. She gave more then her duty detailed and ten years later, I still remember everything about her. I wish she could know I am living life with hope that far exceeds myself. If only I could let her know the impact she had in my life, the way I’m here applying for nursing school because I know there are other patients that need a “Miss Cynthia” to just be that safe place and stable voice for them too.

So I continue to dream of nursing, as it’s an opportunity for me care for others and meet them where they’re at. I believe God has really given me compassion and empathy for others in painful and difficult situations. I am a relational person and sitting behind a desk all day just wasn’t for me. Moving around and interacting with many different types of people and co-workers seems like it would fit me well. I just love helping people. I enjoy learning more about the design of the human body and how it can heal so miraculously.


Someday I would love the opportunity to continue my studies in nurse-midwifery, but in the meantime the prospect of obtaining a BSN through an accelerated program, coupled with lots of much-needed experience is what I am hoping for!

I know the next twelve months will be brutal. I know my life won’t really be my own and I may often find myself on information over-load. But what an incredible opportunity it would be to spend this next year acquiring many skills and so much wisdom in how to better love, serve, and offer hope to those in need.

I am so thankful for the tough stuff I was allowed to walk through as it has led me here, to this place of knowing that hope triumphs all else. And we all need it.

We all need hope. The older I get, the more I see the need around me and inside of me. I am so thankful that the gospel isn't just a Sunday morning song. Praise the Lord He is alive and active, continually working in us and through us that we may know Him and speak of the great hope found only in Him as well. 

**And yes, I have applied to three different accelerated BSN programs. One acceptance and two in the process. For now, I just know my commitment remains to Jesus first and where He leads me, I just want to follow [even if I drag my feet all the way back to the classroom]. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the Season of Plenty

I was running with the stroller and the little graham-crakcer eating toddler the other day. He was quiet and content, for a change (these teething days are long, ya'll). There was a cool calm in the air and I saw leaves in a pile beside a bench by a pond. The wind swept across a few and they danced. Chill bumps flew up my spine and I just wanted to rest in there. In that perfect moment of tranquility and newness. I am so thankful for those moments, those glimpses of what is to come when all this hard stuff is put to an end forevermore.

The season is changing and while I couldn't much feel it as I sweated it out cleaning up our garden this morning, everything pumpkin is plastered on the wall at my favorite coffee shop and it is coming. I think that very much testifies to my life as well, in these weeks of return from India. I've pulled away--from blog world but also from community. It's been hard and needed but this week came like a wave sweeping over me. Go, go, go and lots of saying yes. I wish I would quit doing that so much. This long weekend I am coming up for some gulps of air, finally. These words decided to start writing out again, too.

Internationals are spread across this town once again and it brings me great joy. We've had a few in our Cline House already and I am blessed to see the vision which has been thought out, talked through, and prayed over these past months finally becoming something tangible. We have a big bonfire for international friends this coming Friday. It will be a packed house and Lord-willing some awesome relationships established and gospel conversations to be had. Please pray.

I finished my thesis last week, turned it in and I am submitting my application for GRADUATION in just a couple weeks. This whole college degree thing is an accomplishment I never really thought I would see come to pass in my life. After this past year of packing in those courses and often studying my life away, I am thankful and blessed to see it completed.

We're always talking about how each person you meet has more hurts and heartaches then you could ever imagine, right? And the older I get, the more I see it resonating within me. This week has been a tough one in particular for me, seeing a dear little brother wrestle through an eating disorder, a precious family from church watch their daughter disappear into a cult in Wells, TX and there is nothing they can do to rescue her from the deception of the enemy (and these men), waiting on some results of a biopsy for someone in my family, and my beloved little dog Max passed away today.

After weeping over the loss of little Max for several hours, I had to come back to life again and work in our yard with my roommates and precious man from my church who just had a desire to tidy up our yard a bit, for the big international event we are hosting next week. Our garden started off as a great, fun, save money little thing but then turned into a big, gigantic, mess of a jungle. Something I didn't realize about yard work--the lessons that arise which are also applicable to our spiritual life.

Just looking at the roots to some of the weeds we plucked out--it was unreal. Some stretched for miles it seemed, so deeply wound and growing firm, even out of straight up chunks of dirt. When I would pull one of the intricate ones out of the ground, I would just sit there and stare at it for a few moments. All I kept thinking was how unwound my roots have become. I just realize how desperately I need to be that rooted in Christ, dependent upon Him for all things.

Then we were in the garden chopping through the thick vegetation just to get our bodies through, we began to discover so many veggies and fruits! We found five watermelons we didn't even know we had hidden under all that mess. Our Okra was the size of Texas and no good to eat, but surely it could have held a few records. After filling a couple baskets with crops, I just kept thinking how plentiful this harvest had become. Without me even knowing it. It was always there--I just wasn't going out to check on it because I didn't want to get eaten by bugs or get dirty trying to climb through it.

Do you think fear, busyness, trials, pride, etc can cripple us from seeing the "harvest" before us too?

Luke 10 talks about the harvest being plentiful and the workers few, so he instructs us to pray earnestly for God send out laborers. I believe scripture is clear we all go and make disciples, yet the laboring all looks different for each of us, seasonally as well. We mustn't neglect praying, as I am often tempted to do in the midst of the doing.

When I found out my dog died this morning, as my mom is weeping into the phone with his still body in her lap, I could have stayed in my bed and cried all day. I wanted to, in fact, I still want to return there. And of course, I have every right to. After all, I have hurts and heartaches with the best of 'em.

But for those few hours this morning, I picked up the hoe and went at it because in the moment that was the cross he asked me to bear. Treasuring Mr. Mike's time and service to us in our yard, listening to him rattle on in all of his age about this and that. It was the counting even the loss of my dog joy because as I do the steadfastness thickens and I am more complete. More like Jesus and more content in Him alone. A few tears fell while plucking weeds and at some point I start laughing at my roommates talking all crazy. The sadness has come and gone throughout the day, but I chose to steer clear of my room until late, as that bed was luring me away from the hope and promise I know are already mine in Christ. I don't know where it all meets or separates, the balance of grief and rejoicing in the midst of loss, but I just know the Lord put me in that garden this morning for a purpose exceeding that of improving its appearance.

He met me there when I needed Him. And He even challenged me in the midst of a heavy harvest of international friends coming my way.

Aren't you thankful for that? Even in the midst of seasons of great trial and even loss, He ever so gently lures us more intimately towards Him and away from ourselves, even if that requires a garden full of watermelons buried away to remind us of His glory and grace.

May we continue to be filled at His feet as we labor for His glory, trusting His holy spirit to move that more may know and see. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In Which I Ask You to Pray

[I know my words in response to returning from India have been few, and that will change soon, I hope.]

But today I want to tell you a story and ask you to pray, too.

I was about a month out from graduating from this residential program where I had fallen in love with Jesus and He had begun the process of redemption in my life after an eight year battle with bulimia, among many other things. One of the steps towards graduation consists of "real-wolrd" plans. Meaning, what is next for you when you leave this bubble? For me, that meant my freshman year of college, meeting with my accountability partner, serving in my church family, and finding a job. I started applying for jobs while in treatment, any online applications I could get my hands on. I was quite familiar with a nanny website called, as I had previously worked for a family I found through that website. I decided to get on there and apply for a few nanny positions near my home.

There was one in particular that stood out and I just remember it sounding too good to be true. Their house was literally walking distance from mine, the hours were perfect and the pay quite generous. That's why it was a shock to me when the mother of these two boys replied to my application the next morning and asked for me to come over for an interview. And an even bigger surprise when I was allowed to leave the program I was in for a night to go have the interview, something that was never really done. But God had a plan it seems; I just didn't realize how overwhelmingly perfect it was until this week.

I remember driving to the interview and talking on the phone with my best friend. As reality began to creep in, I said to her, "Let's just hope they don't ask me why there's been a gap in my employment the past year or two. It's not like I could put 'resident in troubled girls home' on my application and hope they let me watch their kids, huh?" We laughed. The interview went perfectly and God really did give me a great love for their family, even through that short hour long meeting. Somehow I knew this was the job God had chosen for me, even before they offered it.

A few weeks later, of course, the offer did come and I graciously accepted. I started nannying for them late that August, picking up the boys from the bus stop, helping with homework, a few snacks, and some play time. The younger of the two beat me in basketball everyday and his victory shouts over me [yet again] never seemed to get old to him. The boys were both a little older, one pre-teen and the other just shy of it, so we got to talk a lot. About real things, you know? That was cool, since most nanny positions it's not like that.

The boys' parents, well they worked hard and loved their boys more then anything in life. In the winter I got to invite the boys' mom to a women's Christmas tea at my church. That night I finally decided it was time to share with her a little bit of my story, in hopes I wouldn't lose my job after she realized how messy my life was not too long ago, for that matter, that she would still trust me with her kids. I told her about the tough stuff growing up and the way I sought after control of just about anything in my life as a result. I told her how I just want to be good enough, pretty enough, smart enough--and how I just didn't feel loved in those early years. So, I decided to try to earn it. If I could be skinner and prettier, well, then maybe mom and dad would love me. I told about years in treatment programs and hospitals and the night I overdosed in an attempt to be free from the weight of it all. And then I told her how God saved my body from death quite miraculously that night. And how He brought me to Mercy and redeemed my life from the pit of hell. He gave me hope and that set me free after eight years of trying to find it elsewhere.

She listened to my words and cried. That night things shifted in our relationship as we continued to grow closer and to this day I am so thankful for the way their family has stood by me these past four years.

That next summer I had the boys full time as God continued to build tighter relationship between me and this family. We spent long days at the pool, the zoo, eating ice cream and riding roller coasters at Six Flags. That sort of became our weekly routine. I was pretty involved with a youth ministry called ZOE Ministries at the time, so we spent quite a few of those hot summer days up at the ZOE house that summer too. The boys met some friends and started asking more questions about this whole Jesus thing, especially the younger of the two.

We talked about how God spoke the animals, plants and us humans into existence and he soaked it up. I gave him a bible for his birthday that year and he read it a few times. We listened to worship songs in my car and they fought me on it, boy did they ever. In fact, my the volume control on my radio is still broken from a disagreement I had with one of the boys over who controls the music in my car. But then one day in the middle of that summer I looked in the rearview to see them both just singing along to one of those silly worship songs. Tears streamed quietly down my cheeks as we drove to Target.

I moved away to college in Arkansas that fall, and saying goodbye to the boys and thier parents brought as many tears for all of us as saying goodbye to my own family. I wrote the boys a lot and visited every time I came home. That Christmas when it was time for them to meet the boy I was dating, the younger of the two literally followed him around the entire evening with the whole "if you hurt her, I'll kill you" glare in his eye. When we left, I remember the guy I was dating saying that the little man scared him. Hah. That is just him, though. And I am so thankful.

The next summer I came home to nanny the boys again and they had really grown up that year. We had such sweet times and so many crazy adventures that summer. We played monopoly every single day--and I often got beat. More lazy pool days and I think we ate frozen yogurt daily that year. Through a big event at the end of the summer put on by ZOE called Hot Summer Nights, the younger of the two raised his hand to accept Christ as Lord. After two years of praying for this family and just doing life with them, getting to witness this moment was pretty incredible. I went back to college about a week later and continued to stay in touch best I could. I don't know much of what the past two years have looked like for these precious boys, apart from a few visits and photos.

Last week I found out that the younger of the two boys, the same one who beat me in basketball, often championed our monopoly marathons, and scared off the only boy I ever dated--I found out he has actually been struggling with an eating disorder. Most people might be shocked to find out that a boy could be so enslaved to a battle with food and image, but since an eating disorder is most often a whole lot of deeper issues expressed through a distorted view of ourselves and thus relationship with food, it's a shock to me more boys don't struggle with it. And they might, but be too ashamed to seek help.

  • Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
  • An estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.
  • Men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are “woman’s diseases.”
  • Significantly higher rates of eating disorders found in elite athletes (20%), than in a female control group (9%).

Looking back four years ago, I didn't know why God chose to allow me to work for this family just out of treatment. And even through those two years with the boys, there were days I wondered how the Lord brought me here, into this home with these crazy boys, days I wanted to quit! But God always seemed to draw me back to just loving them in spite of myself. He kept there and sustained us all.

I knew when I moved away two years ago I would stay in touch and was so thankful for how God used this family to provide stability and love for me as I wobbled through my first two years learning to walk in freedom from my eating disorder. But I had no idea God would allow me to testify to His faithfulness in my own life as one of these boys battles the same issue four years later. I am humbled today, to just reflect on how perfect and glorious His bigger picture plans really are, you know?

Jesus redeemed my life from the pit of hell. He can do it for this precious little brother too. Let's pray to that end, as James says "If any of you lacks wisdom He should ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith with no doubting..."

Four years later, I just know I am so unworthy, and yet He loves me still. I mess up a lot and sometimes I forget His promises, but He continues to work in my heart and teach more of my identity in Him. I am no longer a slave to an eating disorder or anything else for that matter, because His word says while my sin deserved death, He gave His son Jesus to die on a cross that I might be set free. And that, well, that's my story. It's all of our stories when we truly believe in our hearts Jesus is the way, the Truth and the life.

I am praying with great expectation for the way God is using this trial to draw this beloved family to Himself, just as He did for me. Pray for his mom, especially as she is desperate to help her son. Please join me in praying for this precious family and for their son who is currently in another state at an inpatient treatment program which specifically targets boys battling eating disorders. 

*If you know this precious boy who is struggling and would like to send him some words of encouragement, that would be an incredible blessing to him, and to me. Let me know and I will send you his address. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Celebrating 4 Years of Mercy!

Lives transformed, hope restored. 

That is their slogan.

God's unfathomable grace in my life testifies that He can indeed transform and restore, even for the one convinced her mess is beyond the sacrifice made on the cross. 

I find myself today, sitting on this hard mattress, mosquito net encamped around me, gazing out over little brown bodies running with bat and ball, cows grazing quite contentedly amidst the trash, and the rooster squawking away at the most unaccounted intervals. This place is colorful and confused, as millions of gods are plastered across most buildings covered in the bright brilliance of turquoise and purple and orange. The government turns off the power pretty much whenever they feel like it and in those hours and days, life becomes far more simple. I love these people too much to leave. And in spite of it all, God is at work in this place.

How in the world did I end up here? I cannot wrap this finite mind around such infinite grace [apart from which I am still that girl, bound and broken].

Today, I am in the middle of nowhere India and all I have is the gospel that says Christ saves and frees us captives. When I walked out of the doors of Mercy Ministries four years ago today, I never imagined this is where the Lord would bring me. Or that He really did that—bound up the captives and proclaimed liberty to the prisoners. Like forever. 

But I promise you, He does. And we need it on both sides of the world.

What a blessing to reflect upon these past four years [and even the dark ones prior] from half-way across the world in a place that the holy spirit is very much alive and the gospel very much in demand.

I actually completely forgot the four years had come and gone. It wasn’t until my teammate randomly had on my i-pod and listened to my Mercy graduation recording that I thought about it.

As I listen to graduation day, I am so incredibly thankful for the staff and my mercy sisters. I am thankful that Jesus grabbed a hold of my heart in those months and that I have not had to spend a day apart from Him since. I am also glad they didn’t make it easy for me to leave, during that very first week after I decided I didn’t want to be at Mercy [after hundreds of people had prayed me into those doors, of course].

Graduation Day [July 24, 2009

A Day In India [July 24, 2013]
God had me at Mercy for a purpose far exceeding anything I could have ever asked or imagined at the time. Like literally, I was just so hopeless and consumed by my eating disorder and abuse and kingdom of self that I didn’t even know [or care] what day of the week it was, more or less the significance of “those plans I have for you.”

I had a plan—death.

As I stood behind the pulpit (to give testimony) yesterday, no shoes on my feet and a saree wrapped around my body with my back exposed, my eyes filled to brim as I glance out over all of my brown-skinned sisters and brothers, the brokenness and the hope in the their eyes. I told them how I ran after death in pursuit of filling up the hole deep inside and how that race led me straight to the bottle of pills. I told them how God saved my body from destruction that night and how it could only have been Him alone. A few stood and all cried out praise to His holy name. I had to breathe deep just then, as even I could not praise Him enough for such a life lived in and through His grace alone.

Don't worry, sisters, I am so far from perfect I wouldn't know it if it hit me on the head! I still wrestle plenty. The lies consume here and there, and it's real. Like the way I haven't had a fresh vegetable in a month and the men that view me as a commodity to be used every time I step out in public. India presents all kinds of new challenges and I cry a lot. But I know there is a way out. I can always choose life. That kind of hope is something I never had before.

And so, four years later I love Jesus more. I know His word more intimately and I need it more then I ever knew. [After all, no matter how hard I try, I do NOT have it all together!] I am more of a hot mess then I was then, but His grace, well, it covers that too. My sin is continually being revealed and I just keep thinking one of these days He will give me a break! I guess it will all come, when we see His face, yeah?

At Mercy Ministries, I fell in love with Jesus and He continues to guide me in this messy life on earth. I have reason to rejoice, hope and testify--only because of Him. I long for the day when He makes all thins new, and yet in the meantime I am so incredibly thankful for a life that is no longer consumed in myself, a life where I have the option to choose life over death. An option to share it with others consumed by death too.

Without my time at Mercy, I am quite certain I would not be on the other side of the world, burdened for needs and confusion of this broken nation. Without the Jesus I came to know through my time at Mercy, I don’t think I would be alive today.

(Thank you to those faithful women of God who serve with this ministry. Each of you have imparted wisdom into my life that still impacts my walk with the Lord today. And of course, my family and friends still on this journey with me--I am so thankful for you. Mercy sisters, we are blessed and I pray each of you would know His grace is sufficient [so boast all the more gladly in your weaknesses] today!)
Sarah, so thankful for you!!! 

And if you feel like reminiscing with me...

On Celebrating 3 Years of Mercy! [Mercy sisters and sister in need of Mercy, this one is for you!]

On Celebrating 2 Years of Mercy!


Sunday, July 14, 2013

When All I Have is Love [India]

We sat in that little living room for hours, it had to have been. This was the first home we had visited where the conversation was fluent, minor a few snags in pronunciation of course. He is the dad to two boys attending the school where we teach, and his own duties of research and school inspection and teaching English qualify him to communicate well. His dreams of studying in America came to life in our midst, and upon the discovery Syd’s dad is indeed a teacher his grin could not stretch itself far enough. It won’t surprise me when he calls Sydney’s dad, asking for the job.

They fed us salty cake and when we’d had our fill, more cake appeared. We drank sprite and later on some Chai. We laughed a lot. And yet there was a grieving stirred inside too. This day off for us from teaching at the school was a celebration of just one of the millions of God’s worshiped by our Hindi friends; and this family had been completely sold into the deception with no glance back.

As he gawked at us, mouth open wide, when we explained that our parents are not married, our moms are re-married, our siblings are also a more complicated web to explain than English meeting Hindi can make sense of. 

Does your dad love you, sister? He kept asking, as he couldn’t reconcile the love of a man defined by leaving our moms and not supporting us completely until marriage. And in the moment, we assured him of our parents love for us, despite brokenness. But I won't forget his words. We told him that we hope to offer a different legacy to our future kids. We explained that because of Christ in our lives, there is much love we hope to offer. He nodded and smiled, yes sister, I think you will. 

Thank you friends, for your prayers. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Which I Am in India

A year ago I remember writing about the colors covering up the dirtiness of this bustling city in the heart of this nation that I love. I remember being captivated by them, in fact. I remember the beauty of the women and the promises of God to bring redemption to these people being so near to my heart, an undeniable really.

This time though, I am met with a darkness behind the colors and I feel it lingering tonight, feasting away at the light inside of me.

It’s obvious in the men that gawk and smirk my way, as if a quiet message of my belonging to them or something. Not as evident perhaps, but I see it in the women scampering along the street edges with their eyes down, quiet and out of the way. I recognize it in the little boys on either side of our taxi uttering pleas that transcend language with fingers outstretched.

Sometimes, it’s too much and sometimes I need to remember I cannot save the world—nor is it my job.

We took a walk just several blocks out from our hotel last night. It felt safe and these legs were begging to move, these eyes hungry to see. There are so many people on just this little street in this one small area of this one huge city in this growing nation. We’d made it several blocks before I saw them ahead.

Continued over here on our India Blog...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In Which the [midnight of] The Fatherless Generation Find Hope

 Long before any of us came to identify with this "fatherless generation," the prophet Malachi warned us  of the curse that would follow should fathers choose to reject their children.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. [Mal. 4:5-6] 

And then, boom, the Old Testament closes. It does seem we should heed attention to the final words that walk us into centuries of silence. And it is so interesting that these are in fact the words God chooses to close with. I don't think I have ever paid quite enough attention to them in fact, until I began reading John Sowers' The Fatherless Generation. 

Perhaps, in this twentieth century, we are in fact experiencing the harsh reality of that prophecy, says John Sowers. Can it be that we are experiencing the kind of fallout Malachi warned against some twenty-five hundred years ago? The hearts of the fathers are not turned to their children nor are the hearts of the children turned to the fathers. Can it be we now bear the full weight of this fatherless curse?

In Luke we see Jesus identifies Malachi's "Elijah" as John the Baptist. John's mission was to "make straight" and prepare the way for Christ by calling people to turn to God and by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children. So in this sense, Malachi's prophecy was specifically fulfilled in time and history in the person of John. 

At the same time, there is the over-arching backdrop of "that great and dreadful day of the Lord" offering up some end-time significance. So even though the prophecy was fulfilled, suggests Sowers, it is still of current and ongoing relevance. There is a current, divine expectation for its fulfillment, which is the reconciliation between fathers and their children. According to the prophecy, this generational reconciliation prepares the way--as John the Baptist did--for the coming day of the Lord. 

That's crazy to think about huh? That as this blackest midnight gives way to the light of day and reconciliation among fathers and children regulates back to the norm [whatever that might mean], we know the way is being more deeply paved into eternity and Christ's return coming. After all, His reconciliation to us is only manifest through love for His own Son, who has made a way for us to relate rightly to Him as Father. I am in awe of this image of fathers reconciling to sons and daughters being indicative of His coming, if that is indeed the case, because it could be starting here and now with us, the midnight fatherless bound to see the light of Christ sooner or later.

What a testimony to His glory, that He'd chose to us, the worst of the worst, the nearly 50% growing up without dad--to actually usher in His coming through the reconciliation of us to our fathers. What a picture. What grace & mercy to be found at His throne. 

Commentary on Malachi's prophecy by Gordon Dalbey says:
Healing between fathers and children is not simply a psychological exercise to bring greater peace of mind; in fact, it's the essential pre-requisite to fulfilling God's purposes on earth. When fathers are reconciled with sons and daughters, God's saving power is released among us; conversely, when fathers and children remain at odds with one another, powers of destruction are beckoned.

We are witnessing the midnight of this generation, claims Sowers. And I'd have to agree. It's both a personal tragedy for so many of us and also a widespread epidemic which in some form often effects every single one of us--a fatherless generation determined to devour itself. Prophecy being fulfilled. 

As we see, this epidemic plays out in the rage and violence of our fatherless sons and the decay and promiscuity of our fatherless daughters. The heart of this generation is being ripped out and left bleeding on the ground. Seeds of shame and despair have been sown into the gaping wound. And we are reaping a bitter harvest. 

As I hear the stats rolling through my head of the suicides and prison populations and drug use and teen pregnancy and abuse cases that are all at least two to three times (often much MORE) higher for the boy or girl growing up without a dad, it just seems such a simple solution and yet the complexity of it all is overwhelming.

I hear my own story in these numbers and I remember being one. A nameless, worthless, predestined statistic on the clipboard in their hands. My behavior fell in line flawlessly with their calculations and projections for my life. I remember one doctor telling my mom to just admit me now, as it would save her much hassle later, as my life was irreversible and the damage done. Now, simply a case to be maintained by the state, a clipboard that scribed my identity (and lack there of).

I don't have it all figured out. I see the need to raise up men that know how to be men and I am thankful to see glimpses of it around me. Then there is the rescue of the ones, like myself, upon whom the fathers have already turned away. That's one reason I am so thankful for organizations such as The Mentoring Project and the body of Christ itself, just operating in it's fulness to pull in and care for those otherwise cast out, an experience that has largely been the catalyst to Christ's redemption in my own life. I also see the need for the curse to be broken in the next generation, the ones to be raised up by the midnight of the fatherless. A bit of a scary thought, huh?

I don't fully know where the wrestling ends and the action spurs to transformation but I do know that Christ is coming and so is reconciliation, eternally for each of us who have accepted Christ as Lord.

There is of course, no promise each of us will see it in our lifetimes, but what about our babies...and theirs? That's us ya'll. That's the darkness we're in now leading into the light of day for His glory. And I don't know about you, but that is the hope in which I must be anchored. 

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son,born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

And a few stats:
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)
85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In Which We Celebrate Father's Day

I spent most of this day before the day in the midst of my friends who come to this little town from oceans far away. They study and we do life together--we talk a lot and eat even more. Several times throughout the day's festivities the topic of Father's Day has popped up. I've kept my responses simple and when asked what I will do to celebrate my dad, I found myself seeking joy from a Father that doesn't change because let's just face it--mine is always up and down.

As I graciously broke the silence that often follows my response of the fact that I actually don't have relationship with my dad at this point, I pushed these girls from Egypt, Vietnam, and Indonesia to tell me more about their traditions. Well, we actually only celebrate Mother's day in my country, the first replied. Yeah, me too. We also do not celebrate the day of the father, the second and third chimed in.

The obvious follow up--well why do they only celebrate the mother in all three of these countries?

Their answers were a bit incomplete and it's left me thinking. I guess knowing this day was coming, hasn't left me exactly looking forward to it this week. But every single time the topic comes up, God is binding up these wounds and all I can see is grace written across my wall.

A year ago, I remember weeping through this day and retreating to the privacy of four walls that separated me from any possible joy that could touch me for these twenty-four hours. Celebrating would be wrong--I should feel really bad today, really sad, I remember thinking. At the time, I was in the home of a man who I was learning to trust as father figure and the wounds were oozing steady at that point. I remember feeling like I could never see past the pain, like it would never let up. And you know what, feeling the pain made me feel like he was experiencing it too. Like my somber attitude would make him hurt, make him pay. And that was only gift I wanted to offer up to him that day. Let's just make that clear.

I remember hearing the flip of the calendar would heal and counting it rubbish. But a year later, I know so intimately the perfect Father and His love is redeeming this charred, broken one.

A powerful conversation happened this week, with the dad of the kiddos I nanny for. He spoke of his life, the journey to here and now, and I listened to him share of a road I have watched my own dad wonder on down so many years of his life. The difference between the two men so small on the surface, after all what is two years without a drink when it comes to choosing your family? I only wish my dad could have also "gotten it" when I was an infant as he has done for his boys. I told him what a blessing it is that he could be fully present and engaged with his boys, the way his decision to choose them over the bottle will set them apart from most of their peers. All day through I found myself reminding the boys every chance I got how awesome their daddy is and they soaked it up with such joy.

And now as I wrestle with this concept of only celebrating the mother's in the world abroad, my flesh longs to move to a nation where this is the norm. To not have to have a day dedicated to remembering all that my dad is not and all that I wish he were. It's like Father's Day offers the pull to remember the pain he has caused as I witness the scars rise up on my arms in the process. But today, I realize just how off I am in that mindset, unbiblical even.

In fact, I think we don't honor the father's in our culture enough--the ones that are seeing the call. They are broken and they mess up, they are humbled by their role and in continual pursuit of fulfilling it. They are the warriors that find strength in the working of Christ in their weaknesses. These are the men that gown me in redemption and crown me in grace. They are the ones through whom I know Christ is all sufficient in my life, not by their words as much as the sharpening they offer and the trust they guard well.

On this Father's day I worship with arms raised high amidst the body, because keeping them down seems to rob Him of the glory He is due and work on the cross that is setting me free to more joyfully surrender my heart to Him as abba Father. Lord, I surrender all. God has opened up my house and table to two dads [and families] that have truly fulfilled the call before their wives and kiddos, pulling me up under their arm as well. What a blessing it was to honor them today, as small and insufficient as it might have been. I see redemption this year, in the body of Christ before Jesus is even back. It is both humbling and joy-filled. A gift that not many girls in my shoes have been offered. And today, it is changing the way I interact with this day of celebration. I would do this every week, if I could, because these men in our lives, they need to be reminded. They need to be encouraged and challenged by the call.

We need not over-simplify the day with golf balls and hats [or in my case Duck Dynasty paraphernalia and ping-pong awesomeness], as these temporal items could never inscribe the greatness of a dad fulfilling His God-given role to lead his home, honor his wife, discipline his children, maintain his position as provider and protector. The way both of these men have allowed me to partake in various degrees and portions of that is an experience that words fall short of expressing. My heart is softer this year, my wounds are sealing and these men, well, God's used them in countless details of the process.

As it stands, I probably won't call dad today. It's passing by the year mark of no words spoken and I just see Jesus more. There is guilt and sadness that lingers into these later hours, and yet I don't really want to give this day to him, because when I look at the legacy implanted as of late, it's not his to celebrate. And for now, that is where God has me and by His gracious leading, I have to be okay with that. There is still a significance to the day, one that I feel I have fulfilled in honoring the men that have guarded me and graciously walked with me, both physically here in Fayetteville and lovingly, prayerfully back in St. Louis.

Friends, I know many of you can relate on various levels to the short-comings and absences of your own dads in your life. I know the pain and guilt can seen overbearing in seasons, especially on this one day each year as your every glance is met with laughter and rejoicing of those around you. And maybe, it just makes you more angry and grievous. We are a generation that wants to be found. There is a grieving anytime there is a loss. And for so many of us, Father's Day becomes symbolic of the loss. So our natural response, of course, is withdrawing into grief and shame even.

Fatherlessness creates an appetite in the soul that demands fulfillment. -Josh Sowers [The Fatherless Generation]

But today, I say the Fatherless Generation reclaims this day, so to speak. Because through the loss we are found. And in the finding there is an appetite fulfilled in Christ's perfection as Father. And my level of belonging to the man that gave birth to me is just not long-lasting enough to anchor my soul anyhow. And ya'll, I need to be anchored!

There is one hope in all of this, one promise that so far exceeds our belonging to the fatherless generation--and that is the royal priesthood, the adoption as sons and daughters, the title of co-hair, the all together beautiful, the bride, the one in whom He is well pleased. The cross should point us heavenbound, as the Perfect Father must remain set apart in our earthly yearnings and belonging unmet.  He is enough.

So let's celebrate that, on this Father's Day. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

On Why I am Rich [and What it Means for India]

I have these three kids fifty hours a week and I drive the fancy country-club car, pull up to that big ole' house beyond the gate and have money thrown my every direction for the sake of entertainment. The countless activities and new shoes and camps and often bi-weekly lunches at Chickfila. Sometimes I leave the sunglasses on even as it begins to sink behind the hills as I drive southbound in my twenty year old set a wheels.

I pull up to my little brick house and Toby [my car] squeals [quite loudly] to a stop, I lift up the shades to see a different reality. Mine. At 6pm my little dream world pauses as dinner, dishes, studying, cleaning and bills take over again. Stress always brings out the ugly. And money, well I never feel like there's enough.

I grew up with little but mom always hid the lesser reality behind gifts wrapped in bows and a purple couch centered on the living room wall. My dad always owed her ( money and some of it will never be seen. It was his job to protect and provide, neither of which he could offer. So I think at some point in teenagerdom when I walked to my first job at the ice cream store up the road while my friends hung out at the pool and went shopping at the mall, well that's about when the purple accessories began to give way to white walls and that stupid purple couch started looking pretty hollow. 

I felt entitled to more. I wanted to have it easier and I darn well deserved it, after all it wasn't as though I ever had the option of chosing that dead-beat dad or credit-card enslaved mom. I excelled in school and played hard in sports and bought my first car and have school debt and it just isn't fair. Mom taught me money meant happiness and peace, and without it, well, what a miserable life?

In recent years, by unfathomable grace alone, Christ has supplied eternal joy beyond the temporal happiness and the peace in the midst of trial and fear which transcends. I know where my riches are being stored up and yet this generational curse seeps deep. I want my store visible on earth too, most days. And I guess I still consider myself poor in the day to day, maybe even the victim?

But the ugly truth rears it's head in my textbook this week:  "On the basis of global comparisons, it might be argued that very few people in North America are poor in absolute terms--it is the relative deprivation that is morally and socially degrading." Last night I read that in India, 76% of the population lives on $2.00 a day. That's not even enough to cover a single ice cream. Something of which I have been eating several times a week , at least. [The poverty line in the US is over $30 a day for perspective, a fortune for most of the world.]

And then the holy spirit prompts:  How much of your money is going to further my Kingdom and how much is going to further your own?

I know it's all groaning and I hear it louder these days. I joke more about seeing flames and Christ all at once and the accessories in my house probably won't matter so much on that day.

I'm leaving for India in four weeks and the two dollars a day will be over-whleming. For a while. And then I'll be back in this house with these clothes and this stuff. I might sell half of it within that first week or two. And before the year's up I'll have gained it all back and then some. It's sin in my heart when I feel like I need it, when it continually furthers this kingdom of self.

I think it's more common then we admit, at least it is for me. I returned the rug and hid the credit card for a season. We have a house warming party in a week and I wish I were more excited about the gospel pouring forth. But all I can think of is that darn rug that's missing and the thrift store that has taken up residence in my living room. God is allowing me to wrestle for His glory.

And that's where I'm feeling the accuser of guilt and condemnation. But the Truth is, there's none of that in Christ. So rather then feeling worldly sorrow over the furtherance of our own kingdom, it's time we set our eyes on His Kingdom and soon enough, I think our money will follow. 

From a bible standpoint, it's virtually impossible to remember God and forget the poor. It's not about feeling guilty, though. It's about giving. It's that we have and someone else needs. It's about humbling ourselves as Christ. 

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Duet. 15:11

We see as well, from Mark's words that the poor had always been among them just as they will always be among us. And in this case, their situation was dire enough for Paul to spread the word all over the growing Christian world that the believers in Jerusalem needed help. And they gave the help!

"If scarcity of goods inherently improves ones spirituality, no biblical text would ever command us to help the poor." -Beth Moore

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. -James 1

According to Moore, "James called both extremes to take stock of what they had coming. Interestingly, one is in the long-term and the other in the short. He called the poor to look BEYOND this life toward their ultimate position in Christ. He called the rich to look TOWARD the end of this life and the futility of earthly riches."

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.    -Prov. 31:8-9

It's my job to defend and provide for the poor, and I am grateful to be sent to India. I'm grateful to flesh it out on American soil too. As much as I am to speak gospel and this is an imperative part of living it, because I am the rich one being sanded away by this house and car and silly rug as I'm yanked through that needle head with a sinful heart cleansed white and check book being scribed out to Kingdom come.

It's fading, right? Just in front of these eyes. It's all fading fast as that rug on my kitchen floor. 

And He is coming. Hallelujah! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

And the Letter Goes Out [via new India blog]

Hey Ya’ll!                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

It is hard to believe a whole year has already passed since I returned from India, and it has been a grace-filled one, to say the least. As many of you know, God led me to withdraw from classes and take a job in the business world just over a year ago. That was undoubtedly one of the biggest ways I’ve seen His provision, as this plan made no sense to me at the time. Around the same time, I moved out into the rolling hills of these Ozark Mountains with an incredible family from whom I have learned so much.

The move and job change have so flawlessly testified to God’s faithfulness in my life this year, as He has used this adopted family to show me such a tangible picture of His own love for me. Looking back, God has used this year to restore a lot of brokenness and solidify my own dependency in Him above all else. I am thankful it is a process, and certainly have not arrived, but I see a spirit of steadfastness growing.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

In Which I Move Into the Cline House & Trust Jesus More

Someone told me there were a bunch of houses for rent in this area, so I drove as the sun was sinking beyond the trees, begging God to show me just one. We had to commit in a matter hours and I just wanted something better, something a little more cookie cutter, a little more pretty, something with a dishwasher maybe? I had no idea how I would find the one, get through to the larndords, convince my roommates and get a lease signed between 8pm and 8am the next day, but somehow I knew God would show up because surely He didn't want me to have to live in this jenk one either.

Meeting the girls I would soon call roommates had been a complete God thing from the very beginning. I had been processing the coming fall and what that would mean for me. The plan had always been a fourth year of living in community and pouring into college girls through Lightbearers. God has so extensively used this ministry to encourage, challenge and equip me in my understanding of scripture and its application over these past few years, so it just seemed obvious I would now pour into "the next generation" so to speak. Wow, I feel old. As the year progressed, I began filtering much of my life through this lens of international ministry, as God has continued to require more of me all the while allowing my heart to genuinely love these students and the time I get with each of them in way only He could.

And as He would have it, around this time is when I met Kayla--at an international event of course. We only met that one time, and when I moved back into the apartments this past winter, we lived just a building away though with our schedules it might as well have been miles separating. Completely randomly, we met up and I had no clue why. She was quick and to the point, as I was baking something for an international potluck in my apartment that night. Well, I have no clue what your plans are, she said, but I have vision for a house in the fall, a house where internationals are sleeping on the couch and gathered in the living room studying the bible, after the dance parties of course.  she grinned. And I am looking for girls with the same heart that might be interested, and I thought of you.

As the words flowed from her lips, before the sentences were even formed, I knew this was why God had been interrupting my plans and allowing some doubt to linger in pursuit of the upcoming fall. Before she walked out the door, I agreed to pray for the next week, though looking back God had been preparing me for quite some time and my answer seemed pretty clear.

It wasn't easy though, as a house meant leaving this incredible apartment community that had really weaned me from milk to solid food these past three years, and walked with me close through those tough seasons, this family even bringing me into their home this year. So many who have poured into my life, who were excited to have me step into a leadership role in the fall. I had watched families grow, internationals witness the love of Christ for the first time, babies born right in those apartments and raised up in our little neighborhood. It's been where God's had me and it feels safe--so of course I've wrestled to the ground with these thoughts of leaving, of disappointing, of change, of making the wrong decision, of failing to pour out what I've recieved for the next group of girls.

There came a point where I could no longer deny the clarity God had provided in the move, so soon enough I was all in. Our third roommate, Katie, also committed and it seemed God united our hearts from day one. Then the house search began! We went to look, all three together, for the first time. We saw three houses that night and by the end of the night the first had won over my roommates. I was still convinced we could do better. With about 48 hours to decide as four other groups wanted to also pursue the same house, I had to find something quick!

Which brings me back to my mad drive around Fayetteville at dusk begging Jesus to lead me to the one. I guess someone went on ahead of me taking down every single FOR RENT sign across this darn town, because there was not one to be found--though the next day there they were once again. 

Literally. Defeated, I found myself turning onto Cline Street, the location of this silly little house that had some sort of draw on my roommates. I don't even know why I drove by. There was no magical moment in seeing it again. It hadn't grown any younger and remained dishwasher-less. I turned around at the end of the street and flipped on the radio to clear my head.

There was a song midway through and the very first words to play said "And now you're on this road that's leading you home..."

Well, okay. Okay Lord, fine, I'll just learn to wash dishes by hand. I passed that little house again with full water works, completely assured this move with these girls into this silly little brick house was exactly where God wanted me, talking to Him for hours over the sink most likely.

We called the next morning to see if we'd gotten it or if another family had won out. They said that another group offered them $100 more a month in rent then what they were asking because they really wanted that house. But, they continued, for some reason we really felt like you guys should have this house. So, we turned them down. It's yours!

And on Saturday, we moved into that silly little brick house on Cline Street.

And this morning as I was pulling out of the driveway, I couldn't help but realize how gracious the Lord has been through something so temporal--this little brick house. How He created it with TWO living rooms, a sunroom, and an awesome backyard, all of which equipped us for this vision of continually hosting international gatherings. How He provided four couches well within our budget, two of which have pull out Queen beds, as again He is bringing our vision of internationals sleeping on our couch often to fruition. How He positioned the house close to campus and within our price range. How He led this family, who aren't believers, to chose us even when offered a higher rental rate. How He provided an army to get all three of us moved in a single day or two.

It's His grace. I never imagined this silly little house could possibly teach me to ask in faith without doubting, but it already has.

And when I look back to moving day, amidst all the chaos and sweat dripping, there was a moment where I looked up and couldn't quite contain the emotion. It was when I realized our help had come from America and India, from Panama and Indonesia. Guys and girls here for this season from the nations, two I'd gotten to study the bible with this year that loved Jesus with thier whole heart, another who even offered His dad's help when I arrive in India in several weeks and didn't even know Jesus. These internationals who served us and then got to pray with us as we fellowshipped over lunch, our first little meal in this silly little dishwasher-less Cline street house where God is already at work.

All I can say is this space belongs to the Lord and so do I. Because apart from nothing is sustained and in Him is life everlasting. I am thankful for what Christ has done, what is doing, and what He is going to continue to do in and through my life, my roommates, and our little, brick, dishwasher-less house on Cline Street.

[Oh and I am learning that sometimes, it's okay to use paper plates--even if they don't match the decor.]

To the early days of the Cline House and a year of watching Christ teach us all to place more dependency upon Him, the author and perfecter, the beginning and the end, as we walk down this road that's leading us home! 
18“You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.19“You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.20“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,21so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth.

22“For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him,23then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.24“Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours; your border will be from the wilderness to Lebanon, and from the river, the river Euphrates, as far as the western sea.25“No man will be able to stand before you; the LORD your God will lay the dread of you and the fear of you on all the land on which you set foot, as He has spoken to you.  [Deut. 11]