Redemption on a Friday

It was a Friday last December when I met Jessica.

My first grader had been telling me about a new girl in her class. She moved to our small Texas town from Ethiopia.

My interest was peeked: What was she doing in Ethiopia? Why was she here? 

My little girl sighed at all my questions. “I’m only six, Mom. You should ask her mother.”

And that’s what I did at the class Christmas party the next week. On a Friday.

Jessica was crocheting a last-minute coffee cozy to go with her teacher’s gift. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that,” I said and I introduced myself.

I learned they were missionaries, moved back home unexpectantly, temporarily living with family. They were in limbo, both feet in two worlds.

I knew exactly how that felt.

A few weeks later, on a Friday, I found myself in a room filled with displaced refugees. I was teaching loom knitting without much of a plan or skill–go ahead and laugh, it’s funny.

I started looking forward to Fridays–not because I knew what I was doing, but because it felt right. I had found a gaping need close to home, a place for me to get my hands dirty, an opportunity to obey. This little class would eventually become The Refugee Project, now led by a friend of mine.

I remembered Jessica crocheting in the corner of the classroom and I had a feeling she had some free time, so I asked her to help me help the refugees on Fridays.

On the long trips back and forth to serve these lovely refugees in our city, we became friends. Our families became friends.

I learned their story, although different than ours, it was still the same, filled with beauty and brokenness. I couldn’t believe how God allowed our paths to cross with this family who worked on the continent we loved to empower widows and single moms, the oppressed with employment in the name of Jesus.

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I don’t remember exactly where or when it happened, but I shared the nagging dream God had given me for a club for women to help women and after seeing the start of a community outreach in Kenya to young mothers, I knew it was time.

 

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And that’s when Fair Trade Friday was born.

In the past few weeks, I’ve talked to missionaries in Costa Rica who work with very poor women in the mountains who will now have a steady income. It leaves me speechless. We are partnering with women who sew in India, and soap makers in Zambia and apron makers in Rwanda to fill our Fair Trade Friday boxes with amazing product.

They have all said the same thing: this is an answer to their prayers.

And I can’t tell you how much this little idea has restored and renewed me. Rather than be constraining and confining, its felt like freedom.

On launch day, with a bulging Club Membership and hundreds on a waiting list, Jessica and I celebrated.

Sometimes you wonder if your yes matters. It always does–through success or failure–it’s not about the result, it’s about the obedience.

But then sometimes, it’s so obvious that God is in charge and you laugh at your doubts and worry and sleepless nights. “I’m amazed,” I told her.

“Yes, it’s crazy–all of it,” she agreed. I knew she was talking about much more than Fair Trade Friday. She was talking about our entwined lives, the common purpose, the opportunity to serve and help so many women.

“This is redemption. This is what God does with brokenness. He repurposes it,” The words caught in my throat.

God doesn’t waste a broken piece of our life. He uses every shattered dream, every hopeless moment for His glory.

And He does it when we least expect it.

Sometimes it gives us another reason to look forward to Friday.

 

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The Deadly Truth About Living Wild Obedience

Two nights ago I stood at a podium in front of a room full of women at the Declare Conference.

I trembled.

I’d spent the day preparing for the final keynote of the conference, but it wasn’t a bad case of nerves that made me quake.

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It was the message.

Wild obedience.

The words were splayed behind me in bold letters. Every session, every message was built around the theme, written on cute cards on the tables, temporary tattoos and across the top of my notes.

I’ve never been wild a day in my life.

I don’t have stories that would shock you.

I’m not a risk-taker.

I’m not brave.

I’ve always been a rule follower.

And safety has been my favorite.

I think that’s why my story is surprising.

Because when you understand how afraid I am, you understand just how far wild obedience can take you. I am not brave. I’m the last person in the world who should be doing what I do.

I always knew I wasn’t wild, but it’s taken me most of my life to discover I wasn’t always obedient either.

When I was 12 years old, I had been in church a decade already. I was raised there. I had every Christian t-shirt, knew every Bible story, attended every Bible study offered. I wore a rhinestone Jesus pin to high school and the campus Bible club.

From there I went to Bible College, married a pastor and attended church staff meetings-all good, but somewhere along the way, I got fat, I was full of faith, comfortable.

I started buying into the American dream and I stopped obeying God.

And the more comfortable I got, the emptier I felt.

I had everything.

I had nothing.

I woke up in a slum in Kenya. I wrote every excruciating broken piece of my journey in Rhinestone Jesus.

And for the last 5 years, I’ve been learning that wild obedience will demand that you leave the safety of the shore and push out into deeper water.

Wild obedience will take you to impossible places. It doesn’t demand experience or education.

Wild obedience will stretch you and make you uncomfortable. It will cost you more than you want to give up, but it will give your more than you’ve ever had.

Wild obedience will point you to your purpose in life and fill you with peace. It will replace your carefully planned life with audacious faith and impossible dreams.

Wild obedience will insist that you Get alone and be with God.

Wild obedience will rescue you from you.

But as I heard my own words, I couldn’t help but think about the images of children reportedly being beheaded in Iraq or recall the headlines screaming “Convert or Die” to believers on the other side of the world.

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While I’m eating chocolate cake at a Christian conference about wild obedience, there is a Christian genocide happening. While I’m worrying about first world problems at home, things that don’t matter–crimes against humanity are going on.

It’s easy to talk about it, write about it, build a conference around the bold statement–but with a gun to my head, could I live it? Would I allow my innocent child to be murdered for my wild obedience?

I don’t know.

Iraq is far away. It’s easy to turn the news off and even easier to turn away from the truth.

It’s easy to keep living like people aren’t dying.

Our yes to God could lead us into unthinkable situations, even into danger. But we are not called to be safe, we are called to be obedient.

Because obedience is safe. 

Our faith demands we do more than believe and talk about it. We cannot look away or pretend it’s not real.

We must boldly live what others are dying for.

God have mercy on the dying and the living.

That’s the truth about wild obedience.

 

 


4 Ways Serving Others Turned My Home Right Side Up

My day started long before my kids awoke.

When they stumbled down the stairs in search of breakfast, I was meeting with someone at the kitchen table, notepads out, laptops open. I asked my kiddos if they slept well and then pointed them towards a do-it-yourself breakfast.

I returned to my meeting for the next hour and they got ready for the day and entertained themselves upstairs.

The rest of the day looked much the same–a Skype session in Kenya, and a Fair Trade Friday planning meeting. I was busy and they kept themselves busy with library books, Legos, laundry and Minecraft.

Thankfully, I have a flexible schedule. This isn’t my everyday, but it’s often because I work from home.

At one point, I had a pang of guilt at my busy day, even though most of it was built around serving others. I remembered the countless summer days in the past where we spent most days doing something fun–either crafting or at the local pool with snow cone breaks and day trips in-between.

Of course, we still have those days.

But something amazing happened when we transitioned from a child-centered home to an others-centered one with Jesus as our focus: my kids stopped demanding that every day, every moment, be about them, for them.

I did, too.

My husband led Bible Study a couple of weeks ago for families in our weekly House Church. I cringed when he described how we spent the first 15 years to ourselves. We rarely invited people over to our house. We rarely reached out to others. Everything was about us. It wasn’t all bad either–we did devotions with our kids, attended church regularly, led a safe and comfortable life. But it was missing something.

We served only ourselves.

But when we refocused our home and made Christ the center, it changed everything.

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A normal day now might include rolling yarn balls during movie time that we will pass out to the refugee class we serve at on Fridays. That’s not to say we don’t have idle hours and leisure days–we do. They are a must!

But I don’t think we realized how often we served ourselves until we began serving others. It’s hard to do both–put yourself or even your family first when you’re putting someone else’s needs before your own.

Serving has changed our family. It has turned us right -side up.

We are still a messy family. But I’m learning everyday that “God wants us right in the middle of our mess because it’s the perfect place for Him to shine through our imperfections.” Rhinestone Jesus.

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4 Things Serving Will Do For Your Family:

  1. Serving will reveal our family’s ingratitude- Yeah, yikes, huh? Nothing has exposed our humanity and self-centered ways more than serving others. There have been many instances when we just didn’t want to put others before ourselves. There has been grumbling and complaining in the midst of serving. It’s revealed selfishness in my family. But we can’t improve without realizing first how hard serving actually is.
  2. Serving will get our eyes off ourselves- It’s harder to be selfish and only think about ourselves when we are exposed to those who have less and need more, it’s changes our perspective. A change of perspective is one of the best gifts we can offer our families.
  3. Serving will ignite compassion for others- Even if we don’t see it immediately, serving changes our family. We can’t always see growth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. When we make serving a part of our regular lives, it can’t help but change us.
  4. Serving will renew our family’s gratitude- Just as serving brings out our ingratitude at times, it also give us an opportunity for gratitude. It feels good to give to others and reminds us of the blessings in our lives.

 


This World Is Not About Us

It’s strange just how small you feel when you fly across this great big world.

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It’s easy to slip into the mindset and think this life is all about me.

My happiness. My comfort.

And then I see a vast sea of people without either.

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I’m reminded again what life is really about.

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If we make it about us, we aren’t really living.

Life isn’t about money or stuff. It’s not about how much we have.

Or don’t.

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This life isn’t about me.

We are small. A breath.

It’s too easy to build a life around what we want. But bigger and better often leaves us feeling like we are really missing something.

Because this is not our purpose.

We were created for more.

Life is more than work. Life is more than play. Life has one purpose.

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It is to make His glory known.

If we are not actively telling others about him or living a life that points to Jesus–

we are missing the point of life.

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. Matthew 5:13-14

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When we live our life for God and others-

that’s when we really start living.


This Is Why We Are Here

The hot June sun made the small musty apartment mustier.

The ladies were already waiting on us, in the dim room, clutching their bags, yarn spilling out. Within minutes, more than 40 women, not counting children packed into the crowded space.

I flipped on the lights and began dragging chairs around tables, the only furniture in the room, saying my good mornings to the refugee women relocated to my city from Burma, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand. They nodded and smiled, waved in return.

It was my 15th Friday to drive an hour each way to oversee an art business class for refugee women. And somehow with 6 languages in the room, vast cultural and religious differences, these ladies have become my friends.

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I sent my kids to one of the back bedrooms to help Katy with her preschool class and we started working on the purses they have been crocheting for a couple of weeks. We had the four new ladies fill out an information sheet and then took pictures of them for their name tags, a key to starting a friendship.

Each week, after we introduce the day’s project, we pass out donated yarn. Towards the end of the class, the women line up to sell some of their creations and we try to stretch a generous donation from a friend who helped us get started. We buy two items from each lady, sometimes it’s hard to choose because they have a bag full of items.  The volunteers work to sell the items during the week so there is money to buy more at the next class.

The women live below poverty level and need toiletry items and diapers for their babies. But they don’t need a hand out. Instead of giving them stuff every week, we offer them opportunity, so they can buy their own items. We’ve traded enablement for empowerment and I’m sure it’s a road that leads to Jesus for these ladies.

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Because the room was so crowded, on an impulse, I opened the door to the third bedroom of the apartment and pulled my chair to the wall and sat down with my notebook and handed my friend the bag 0f cash.  The women followed and lined up patiently. We recorded every purchase, offering praise for their hard work. The women smiled, some glowing, nodding their heads because they understood we valued not only their art, but more importantly, them.

We’ve done this for 15 weeks. But this time was different. When the room emptied down to the last lady, a woman named Sancha, I smiled, relieved we had enough money this week. She is one of two ladies that speaks a little English. She is one of two ladies I have prayed for by name. After I recorded her purchase, she asked me where my friend Suzanne was. I told her she was bringing home her new son and 5th child from Ethiopia. She said, “She likes a lot of children?” I laughed.

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“Well, she likes to help people.”

Sancha smiled. “I won’t be here next week because I’ll be in Africa, too,” I tried to explain the work of Mercy House.

“You are a good person,” she said.

“I just want to help people, too,” I responded. I tried not to think about the frustrations helping people had brought me the past week. I tried not to let my face show the worry that I struggle with, the burden that comes with empowerment when enablement would be so much easier. Again, she smiled and turned to leave.

But when she got to the door, she stopped and turned. She looked like she really wanted to ask me something, but she also looked uncertain.

I leaned in, encouraging her.

“Are you a Christian?” she asked in a hushed, holy whisper.

My throat caught. All this time, and never once had we mentioned God or Christianity.

“Yes, I am.”

Sancha’s face broke into a huge grin and she said excitedly, “I too, am a Christian. I follow Christ now.”

I was shocked. “What? When did this happen?”

Last night, she whispered and tears pooled.

I jumped from my seat and hugged her hard.

“This is why we are here. We want to show you and your friends the love of Jesus. He compels us to come. He is the only one who can heal the hurt in your heart,” I said, crying now.

“You are a Christian,” she stated again, relieved. It dawned on me that she must be terribly alone in her new faith. She confirmed it and told me that she was the only one in her family and in our class who was a follower of Jesus.

“You are not alone, Sancha. The women with me also follow Jesus, but more importantly, Jesus will always be with you.”

We hugged again and she left my friend and I in the room. We both burst into tears and hugged.

“This is why we are here,” she said. It was holy ground.

My yes is still unfolding. Last week we brought in six new pregnant girls into our new Mercy House residence. My family will be flying around the globe next week and we will get to meet them.

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Long after people read the story of my yes, I will continue to live it. I think most authors are relieved at this point that “it’s over.”

But I feel like it’s just beginning.

Because here’s the deal: Saying yes, stepping out in obedience, doing whatever God tells you—it is just the beginning.

When I fall into bed every night, I’m generally exhausted and overwhelmed. Yeses will do that to you, but I’m more content and alive and I’m giving this life everything I’ve got. That’s a combination I’ll take any day.

We don’t say yes because we are good or because we are good enough or because we know what to do next. We say yes because somehow in our meager, inadequate offering, Jesus is glorified.

People have asked me, “What do you hope people will feel or do when they finish your book?”

And I have one answer: When you’ve turned to the last page of my untidy and messy yes, I pray it isn’t the end. I hope it’s a new beginning.

A new day to live generously. A new chance to ask yourself hard questions. A new opportunity to touch another person. A new perspective on how what you do day-in-and-day-out matters so much. A new yes.

Because one refugee named Sancha from Nepal reminded me why I’ve said yes to God.

And I will remind you, it’s worth it.

Because this is why we are here.