When We Can Call Our Pain A Gift

When I got my husband’s text, I was walking thru a store and I stopped right there in the middle of the aisle and gripped the shopping cart for balance.

His caption under the picture of a dear friend we love, read, “this makes me so sad.”

It took me a second to recognize our emaciated friend in the picture. Cancer had literally changed the way he looked in just a matter of weeks.

Oh, God.

I thought of the ongoing pain his family is enduring and the fresh pain my 13 year old son would experience when he saw the picture of his mentor and hero.

And then I thought of this dear man’s strong character, unshakable faith, and death-defying love of God and others that has shined Jesus even in the worst times.

Pain. Sorrow. Joy. Healing. All mingled and mixed in our lives. We know one because of the other.

My thoughts turned to the 25th miracle baby- born against all odds- this month in Kenya.

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Margaret’s story is like so many other impoverished girls in Africa. She’s just a little girl- a pastor’s daughter, living in a remote village, in a mud one-room home with a thatched roof with her siblings.  She suffered at the hands of an abuser and got pregnant against her will. She has known more physical and emotional pain in her short life than most of us can imagine.

When we started Mercy House in 2010, we wanted to help oppressed pregnant girls. We had no idea what that would mean or where it would take us. We had no idea how hard or how amazing the journey would be.

We had no idea that the world’s pain would become our own.

When Margaret delivered her son, conceived in heartache, to this brutiful world a few weeks ago, she named him Gift.

I had to read the email message from Kenya twice to grasp it. Because if anything shows us what God can do-it’s this: He turns our brokenness into joy and makes it possible for us to name our pain a gift.

That’s when we know that our sorrow, our grief, our unknown, even our pain, can glorify God.

That’s when we’re reminded that if anything good is seen in us or happens through us, it’s because of God.

That’s when we know that our lives–how we live, how we die, and how we love people in-between– is an act of worship to God.

Nothing is wasted, nothing is lost.

He redeems it all.

Even our pain.

He makes joy, even in our deepest sorrow, our strength. And His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Standing in the store, I whispered another prayer of miraculous healing for our friend. I blinked back tears and reminded myself that God can still do the impossible, the improbable.

And when I looked closer at the picture of a man our family loves withering away in a hospital bed, it wasn’t pain I saw etched in his thin face.

It was joy.

How to Wake Up From The American Dream

You don’t always know you’re asleep—until you wake up.

And then you see the world in a completely new way.

Two years after that first life-changing trip to Kenya, I brought Maureen, Compassion-sponsored-child-turned- fearless-Kenyan-leader who rescues girls from unthinkable situations to America for strategic planning and fundraising.

I will never forget the moment we pulled into the driveway of my nice two-story brick house and I saw my home from her perspective.

I will never forget the first question she asked as the garage door opened and she got a first look at my life in America.

“Oh, do you also sell bikes?” she asked innocently after seeing the five bikes hanging from my garage for my family of five.

Y’all.

Waking up from the American Dream

That one question has haunted me.

Because sometimes we don’t always see how much we have until someone who doesn’t have as much sees into our lives.

Do we sell bicycles? Because there isn’t another reason why we would HAVE SO MANY if not. Because in her country one bike is a luxury. One bike is shared by dozens. Five bikes is a bike store.

But I think we all know this isn’t really about bikes. It’s not even about wealth and the world’s poverty.

It’s about waking up from a dream that is never satisfied. About being grateful for what we have and about sharing some of it with others.

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Hey.

I know it’s not easy to talk about waking up from the American Dream. I know reading this might be uncomfortable. I understand it’s more fun to read new recipes or how to’s on rearranging furniture or encouraging mom words.

I get that. I know clicking here requires something of you. I know buying my book about trading in safe comfortable faith for something more authentic and dangerous will cost you more than the $12 price tag.

I know because waking up has been hard for me. I still struggle.

I like the idea of the . A·mer·i·can dream

-the idea that everyone in the United States has the chance to achieve success and prosperity

What could possibly be wrong with wanting success and prosperity? We all deserve it, right? We are entitled to it.

No.

It doesn’t take more than a long look at how 3/4 of the world lives to realize, we are not the norm and the only real difference between the poorest of the poor and the guy driving the $100,000 car is where they were born.

“I think with the way we have unprecedented material blessing, with the way we have a culture built on self, self-esteem, self-confidence. All of these things we begin to twist the gospel into something that it is not. We make it look like us and fit into our lifestyle instead of adjusting our lifestyle to the gospel. In the process we make following Jesus more American than it is biblical. As a result there seems to be a major disconnect between what it means to follow Christ in the first century and what it means to follow Christ in our definition in the 21st century,” David Platt.

To be honest, for every yes I’ve said, there have been at least a hundred reasons to say no.

It is too risky.

What will people think?

I like living this way.

I deserve nice things.

I’ll give to someone in need as soon as I finish building my dream home.

“Believing in the Jesus of the Bible makes life risky on a lot of levels because it is absolute surrender of every decision we make, every dollar we spend, our lives belong to another. And so that is relinquishing control in a culture that prioritizes control and doing what you need to do in order to advance yourself.  The call of Christ is to deny ourselves and to let go of our lives. To relinquish control of our lives, to surrender everything we are, everything that we do, our direction our safety our security is no longer found in the things of this world. It is found in Christ,” David Platt.

So, how do we wake up from the American Dream? I often feel myself being lulled back to sleep by it.

  • We stop comparing ourselves to other people. I often don’t know I want something until I see someone else enjoying it. If I’m going to compare myself to someone who has something I don’t, then I also must compare myself to someone who has less than I have.
  • We commit to doing what God tells us to–when He says it. That prompting to give isn’t from you. It goes against our nature to take care of someone else’s needs before meeting our wants.
  • We become wildly generous. Give your life away. It’s easy to give when we have a lot. But when we give and it costs us something–that is true generosity. I’ll say it again: There is nothing more gratifying than giving someone something they need instead of buying something we want.

A generous person is always ready to spontaneously give to those in need. It’s usually inconvenient and unplanned. It will probably cost us comfort, even pride. It won’t be easy or bring us fame.

This is Christianity.

It’s easier to keep sleeping. Living different than the world will cost us something.

But my life is proof that waking up is an open door to living wide awake. And that’s so much better than a dream.

 

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Maybe We Are Just Spoiled

We stood in the hair care aisle and her eyes were as big as the moon.

“Go ahead, choose one,” I urged her.

She stood still- looking half afraid, half helpless. I put my hand on her shoulder and urged her to choose a shampoo.

I had mistaken bewilderment for humility.

My friend visiting America for the first time whispered with tears in her eyes, “There are so many bottles…and so many choices.”

I was ashamed of my ignorance. She was overwhelmed by the opportunity to choose.

We were standing in the first Walmart she had ever visited. I brought her there to bless her, but in my haste, I didn’t prepare her.

“Americans have so many things,” she said. “But it’s the freedom to choose I would cherish the most.”

Her words felt like a stone around my neck. For the first time, I saw the rows and rows of conditioners, sprays and creams through the eyes of someone being exposed to our first world. There are 20 brands of toothpaste, toilet paper and tissues and the freedom to choose whichever we want.

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I’ve taken this experience with me into every country and culture I’ve visited. When I help an artisan group create a fair trade product or choose a color for a fabric, I think of this story. And I try to explain what they are up against. “You see, in America, women have so many choices of earrings and tablecloths and headbands and necklaces. They can choose from an entire room of throw pillows in a hundred different colors. We have a lot of choices and so we have to create something they will buy.” And every time I say these words, and watch minds try to comprehend what I’m saying, I’m embarrassed by all we have and all we take for granted.

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Maybe we are just spoiled, the words tumble around in my mind.

It’s hard to explain freedom of choice when you have no choice at all.

It’s hard to explain picky shoppers to someone who doesn’t have enough food for their family.

It’s hard to imagine someone crying because there are so many shampoos to choose from.

Maybe that’s why when I see an email complaining about the color of a product from The Mercy Shop, I am irritated. Maybe that’s why it bothers me when someone cancels their Fair Trade Friday membership because they can’t choose what goes into their box each month. Or they don’t have anyone else to give the product away they don’t want or like…

But as soon as these emotions hit me, I’m that ignorant mom back in that hair care aisle at Walmart discovering that North Americans have the first world privilege of choice. Impoverished and marginalized women don’t.

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When we purchase something fairly traded, we trade our choice to give them a chance. More than anything, these marginalized women want us to love what they create. They want us to wear their story or give it away (if we don’t like the color). They are desperate for us to keep buying, to give them a second and third chance. They work hard, against all odds, to create beauty from nothing. They want us to look past a color that might not be our favorite or a style we might regift, and they want us to choose them. Because that’s really the gift we buy: hope.

In our culture, perspective is fleeting, while comfort and excess are much easier to cling to.   That’s why we have to work so hard to remember how the rest of the world lives.

And that’s why we have to look past the money we donate or the products we buy and remember there is a mom or dad or child, much like us, who doesn’t have the freedom to choose anything–including life.

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Yeah, so maybe we are spoiled. But we can’t stop buying and supporting women around the globe. That necklace we really don’t need and that scarf that isn’t our favorite color might just be food for another day for a family with no choice at all.

Want to donate to women in need? Click here

8 Ways We Make Parenting Harder (Than It Already Is)

There’s no doubt about it: parenting is hard.

The kind of hard that makes you want to pull the covers over your head and cry yourself to sleep an hour after you’ve fist bumped your husband and proudly declared: we rock at this parenting thing.

Yeah, that might have happened this past weekend.

And to make matters worse, we learned in the news that crayons and ibuprofen (two of our greatest parenting resources) are probably going to kill us in the end.

Awesome.

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I’m obviously no expert. But I’ve been parenting long enough to have some hindsight, retrospective thinking, afterthought and other words that are appropriate after you recognize you’ve messed up.

I’m convinced we don’t set out to make parenting harder on ourselves, but I’ve found that when I overstep or overcompensate (even out of love and concern), I often rob my kids of an important life lesson.

Here are 8 ways we make parenting harder than it already is:

1. When we try to fix all their problems

I hate seeing my kids upset. But life can be upsetting. We need to experience sadness to know true joy. We need to walk through disappointment to recognize success. My kids have experienced some disappointments in friendships and I’ve tried to step in and help (also known as making matters worse). But when I stepped back and let them work it out on their own, we’ve all been amazed at what God has done to restore relationships and deepen friendships.

2.When we don’t admit we are wrong

I’m really good at this one. I expect my kids to apologize, but find I have a hard time doing so. The other night I was standing in my kitchen in a heated moment with one of my kids and I knew I was as wrong as they were. Nothing diffuses a situation more than saying “I’m sorry.” And sometimes we need to be the first to say it.  As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the tension lifted and we were able to talk through the issue.

3. When we make small things a big deal

I’ve lost my mind over messy rooms and toy-covered floors. And I regret it. That’s not to say teaching our kids to clean up after themselves isn’t important and necessary–it is. But when we make it a constant battlefield, we do more harm than good. Let the little things stay little, so we can focus on what really matters: growing a deep love in their heart for God and others.

4. When we constantly criticize them

I have watched my children’s faces crumble at my harsh words concerning their clothes or room or whatever. I would give anything to take them back. We often lose all the ground we gain with our tone and words. Our words can speak life or death. I’m learning it’s better to say nothing than something hurtful.

5. When we don’t let them fail

My first instinct is to protect my kids from failure.  But I’m proof that God teaches us in our failure as much as he does our success. Sometimes letting them bomb that school assignment or miss out on allowance because they didn’t do what you ask them is really a gift we give them.

6. When we give them what they want when they want it

I’ve learned this one the hard way. Kids are naturally selfish and usually will take all we give them. When we meet every demand, we feed the instant gratification beast that cannot be satisfied. It’s okay for kids to wait. It’s okay for them to work for what they want. It’s important that we let them.

7. When we compare our kids to others

Recently, I’ve been guilty of this one and I’ve hurt them by making comparisons. Every family is messy–even the ones we admire, especially those. We all have problems and challenges. And I wouldn’t trade my kids for anyone else’s, but when we compare, that’s exactly the message we’re sending our children.

8. When we refuse to listen to them

I’m convinced that we talk too much. When I quietly wait (and don’t push, prod or pepper with questions), my kids talk (especially my older ones). Life isn’t a monolog where we monopolize the conversation, pass the mike. I’m always amazed and impressed with my children’s opinions and insight and confessions when I hush. I ask God to make me a better listener all the time. Because I think it will also make me a better parent.

Yeah, parenting is hard. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

P.S. When I shared the news about the crayons and ibuprofen with my husband, he said, “We will survive! Kids are resilient. When we were young, we used to break open glass thermometers so we could play with the ball of mercury. We turned out just fine!”

What I’m Loving This Week – Vol. 2

Every once in awhile, I like to share what I’m loving. I have a great list for you this week:

1. Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn. This stuff is addicting and it’s my favorite.

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2. This book (cannot put it down) and I’m pretty sure it’s one of those that I won’t stop thinking about for a long time.

3. Adorable Mercy Shop Goody/Wedding Favor Bags-These are new and they are miraculous. How can goody bags be a miracle? When my daughter and I were in Ethiopia a few months ago, we met some beautiful families who make thread by hand from sheep’s wool. Then they weave it. They are making these little bags for Fair Trade Friday (Earring of the Month) and we are turning them into goody bags. Every set of bags provides jobs for multiple families!


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4. We need to talk about these fair trade shoes:

They are Handwoven cotton fabric made by Mayan women in rural Guatemala and the handmade shoe is  constructed in the slum of La Limonada, Guatemala City. The Root Collective is sending me a pair to try out and I can’t wait to tell you more about them.

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5. Dayspring’s {Flash Sales} this week. Y’all know how I feel about fair trade. Joyn is one of my favorite artisan groups. I’m so inspired by their work in India. TODAY ONLY, get this $85 Faith and Hope Bag for only $18.75 with code THANKYOU. Seriously, y’all. What an amazing deal on a gorgeous bag that empowers marginalized women.

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6. Smores Dip. Y’all.

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I wowed my family on July 4th with this 3-ingredient dessert I saw all over Facebook. Layer Hershey’s chocolate and marshmallows in an iron skillet and bake for 10 minutes at 300 degrees (we flipped on the broiler the last couple of minutes to make the marshmallows toasty). Use graham crackers to dip.

7. Stitch Fix| I’ve been wearing clothes from StitchFix for more than two years now. I get less boxes now, but it’s still my go-to favorite for shopping. They do the work for me and even though the pieces cost more than I usually pay, I’m still wearing everything over and over again. The quality it great! (One of my favorite shirts with one of my favorite guys just home from being a counselor at kid’s camp.)

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8. This parenting book: An old friend from Bible College wrote this. He’s been a children’s pastor since we finished school and he knows what he’s talking about as he helps parents tackle some challenging issues.

Have a great weekend!

The Christian Parent Manifesto

We walked into church and my daughter grabbed my arm and whispered, “Why is it so crowded?” I looked around and she was right, every seat was filled.

“This is what happens when Christians think the world is ending,” I whispered back.

“Mom!” she said as we found our seat.

I wasn’t sure she even understand my sarcasm. It was the week of the Supreme Court decision when I wrote about love instead of fear. On the way home from church, I told my kids about the packed-out churched the Sunday after the 9/11 attack and explained that people often look to the church when they are unsure of where our world is headed or if they are afraid.

We talk a lot about cultural norms and shifts in our home because I want to teach my kids God’s standard of right and wrong, especially when issues become hot topics in our society. Because I know for a fact that their peers will be talking about what they are reading online and I’ve always wanted my kids to compare what they hear with what they’ve been taught in God’s Word, so they will know His standard in contrast to the world’s.

“Should we be afraid?” one of my kids piped up from the backseat.

We are living in uncertain times and what used to be unthinkable is now daily headlines. When I read about nearly 100 children being executed in the Middle East by ISIS lunatics because they refused to fast, I couldn’t help but want to protect my children from the evil in this world.

I understand that teaching absolute truth that sometimes contradicts cultural norms could be making life a little more challenging for them. And if the evil that is targeting Christians in the Middle East ever found its way here . . .honestly, the thought terrifies me.

But perfect love casts out fear, so we are just going to love people and hold onto Jesus.

I woke up in the middle of the night burdened for our world and these challenging times when truth becomes a battleground; hate is louder than love and children have become targets of an evil enemy. I am not a doomsday crier, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that our world has become more violent, darker and more uncertain in the past few years.  I wrote this manifesto as a reminder of what I want to teach my children about following Jesus in uncertain times:

The Christian Parent Manifesto

This world is not our final home.

Because of this, we won’t always fit in, and actually, we should strive not to conform to the world.

The Bible is our standard for holiness and guides our everyday living.

Truth may shift in our culture, but we look to God’s Word as our standard.

There will be people who choose to live differently than we do. This doesn’t affect, change or alter how we treat them.

We love people no matter what.

There are scary things in this world, but we can hold fast to the peace of God.

His peace comforts us when we don’t understand things around us.

God is in control and He sees all and knows all.

One day, He will return for us.

This is our blessed hope.

Until that day, we will stand for what we believe is right.

We will serve others who cannot serve themselves.

We will speak up for those who have been muffled by oppression and poverty.

We will give more than we take.

We will love others because He first loved us.

We will follow Jesus wherever He leads.

(Download a copy for your family here) (or print one here)

I don’t always know how to navigate this changing culture as a Christian parent.

But this is a good guide:

“Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.” Deut. 6:5-7

This Is Going to Make You Stronger

I first noticed the couple as we ate lunch at a local restaurant after church on Sunday.

They caught my eye as I looked out the booth window because they were probably one of the cutest elderly couples I’d ever seen.

Before I looked away, they leaned in for a very passionate kiss.

Yeah, I accidentally saw two 75 year olds french kiss. Oops.

I returned my attention to my meal with a goofy grin on my face and a few minutes later, they were seated at the next booth over on the same side, both facing me.

I became very focused on my fried rice. But when I did look up, it was to see them whisper into each other’s ears, feed one other bites of food and kiss occasionally.

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Looking at my little family squeezed into the booth, I tried to ignore my youngest picking microscopic “orange balls” off her piece of sushi and threatened everyone else with the evil eye not to mention the words “fish eggs.” I thought about the whining and arguing that happened on the way to church between our kids and how my husband and I ended up turning on each other because of it.

There’s nothing like a good dose of parenting to shine a light on weaknesses in your marriage.

I took a bite of rice and let my mind wander to another Sunday, when Terrell and I sat on a couch instead of a booth, fighting for our marriage. I hadn’t eaten a good meal in days. Brokenness has a way of making you lose a lot of things, including your appetite for food and life. We sat across from a marriage counselor and we were desperate. My husband wanted freedom and I wanted forgiveness and we both needed faith to keep trying at our marriage.

“This is going to make you stronger,” The counselor said tenderly. His words sounded ridiculous in our weakened state. At the time, I didn’t know he wasn’t really referring to what landed us on his couch.

He was referring to struggle.

It looks different for every couple, but every marriage struggles in some way–for power, control, gratitude, forgiveness. You name it.

I glanced at my husband working chopsticks across from my and my urge to fight faded. I thought of our imperfections, the long road we’ve struggled down and how I wouldn’t trade any of it. Because it’s made us stronger. For the past 10 months, we’ve been in transition. He leads Mercy House and there’s been a lot of redefining, renegotiating, renewing. There’s been a lot of struggle to figure out who we are and how we do this. But we keep struggling towards each other.

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We are working on 21 years of marriage and there’s been every kind of struggle along the way. But instead of tearing us apart or pushing us away from each other, when we face them head on, dig in our heels and refuse to quit, we’ve discovered the difficult times have drawn us closer.

Embrace the struggle and let it make you stronger.” -Anonymous

I don’t know what season of marriage you’re in today. You might be doing your best to complete one year or you might have decades under your belt. But I do know when life changes (parenting, careers, home life), we change too.

And that’s why we have to struggle through it together.

Because it makes us stronger.

I don’t know if that little elderly couple was honeymooning or celebrating 50 years of marriage. I don’t know if they were making up or just making out.

I don’t know who they are or what story their lives would tell, but I want to be them one day.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

I sat on the edge of her bed and she didn’t even look up. I was visiting a friend who was not okay.

It was more than a bad day, it was a sad season for her.

But I wasn’t deterred from my mission to cheer her up. And I tried everything.

I suggested fun activities, reminded her of good times, quoted inspiring Scripture and offered to play encouraging music.

I got an occasional head nod and a shrug.

As I sat there in silence, I thought back to days when I haven’t been okay. Some days I could name the pain I felt and others I couldn’t. And I remembered what I needed the most.

And so I did what I should have in the first place: I hugged her and whispered in her ear, “It’s okay to not be okay.”

She sighed in relief. Permission to not be okay is sometimes exactly what we need.

We sat in comfortable silence for a long time. I reminded her that God loved these days the best–the ones we can’t fix on our own. Because He is there with us. He doesn’t always change our circumstances and we don’t always feel something new, but we aren’t alone. Sometimes that’s all we need.

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Click to continue reading at (in)Courage . . .