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.

You Are Wealthier Than You Think

Luxury.

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On more than one occasion, that’s been my first thought as I’ve stood in a home grander than mine, taking in the massive mahogany furnishings, the ample space, the stainless steel kitchen stocked with the best, overlooking a huge yard with a pool and hot tub. From the crystal chandelier to the books on the shelves, everything was beautiful. It wasn’t just nice stuff, it was the American Dream.

And it wasn’t just the American Dream, it was the ideal picture of carefree living.

We could live like this.

I’m not so proud of my first thought.

Or my second.

And by the time we were packing our family back into our well-loved minivan, I was feeling sorry for myself.

Not just because I wanted more, but I wanted to feel less. I wanted to escape The Knowing.

But it wasn’t just a pity party, it was a guilty pity party, because I knew if I was going to compare what I had with someone who had more, I also had to compare myself to someone who had much less. And if I was going to wish for the moment that I didn’t know  how the rest of the world lives, I would also have to remember how empty and selfish that ignorance made me feel.

My husband told me just that when he heard me sigh on the drive home. He reminded me that people we love from Kenya will stay in our home again. And then he said, “Will they be able to tell the difference between our house and our carefree life and the one we just left?”

I thought of our ample space and big backyard, our life filled with conveniences, how each of my kids have their own bedroom and how we want for very little and I knew he was exactly right.

Oh, perspective. You get me every time.

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I felt guilty that once again, I looked longingly at the American Dream and even more so at being oblivious. But some days when this burden is too heavy, the responsibility and inadequacy suffocating, I wish I could unsee human suffering that keeps me awake at night. And that my friends, is an honest glimpse into my not-always-pure-heart.

I couldn’t help but think about this quote that describes me so well.

I avoided coming to visit the poor…. for a long time. I was afraid my heart would be broken by their condition. Instead, today, I found my heart broken by my condition,” Ken Davis

My heart hurts for the world, but it breaks for me. Because, yeah. I’m a mess. And I constantly need to be reminded just how rich I am. It was one of the hardest chapters to write in Rhinestone Jesus–this deeper look into my wealth and abundance I enjoy and often take for granted.

Because I will always have more than most and less than some.

We balance mortgages and car payments and try to finagle our budgets to add music lessons and unexpected broken air conditioners and we bristle when we are called rich. But the truth is, if we have enough money to access a computer that allows us to read these words, we are among the richest people in the world. Still not convinced? I dare you to take this test and discover just how rich you are.

Once we accept the truth, we have a choice. Do we keep piling it up for ourselves or do we share it? And I’ve learned for me, it’s really about how tightly I hold onto my stuff, money included. Because when I open my hands to give, I also open them to receive. We can be a conduit, standing in the middle between God and people in need, ready to give spontaneously.

“We don’t give because we have a lot. We give because we’ve been given a lot to give away.” Rhinestone Jesus

By the time I got back home that night, I didn’t feel bad about what I didn’t have or what I’d missed and I didn’t regret what we’d given away.

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill.

That’s the power of a generous life.

I saw how much I had, how wealthy I really am.

Once again, perspective was a gift to help me remember that generosity makes me far richer than luxury.

 

One of the {Good} Parts of Being a Christian

I have a coffee mug with a lovely lady smiling, dressed in her Sunday best saying, “Stop me before I volunteer again.”

I’ve never liked that mug.

Because I’m not really that great of a volunteer. And if I’m perfectly honest, I’d tell you I really don’t enjoy volunteering.

But I have the mug.

And possibly a t-shirt somewhere.

But I do love doing good work.

When we started Mercy House it was a response to a question. I left Kenya in 2010 with a burning question seared into my soul: “How will I respond to what I’ve seen?”

I essentially asked God the questions from this song, What are you going to do about all this suffering, the lost and broken girls?

He answered: I already did something. I created you. Now, what will you do?

Those words hammered in my chest. Mercy House was born four months later.

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(Some of the new girls we brought in this week-in front of our new house we moved into this month. That makes 26 mommas and babies with 6 more babies due this fall…)

And as I wrote the journey of my yes, every detail, every fear and failure of that yes, God keeps asking me to follow Him. I discovered refugees in my city– a different location, different colored skin, but still broken mothers, lost, needing someone to say yes.

The last thing I thought I’d do or felt like I had time for was another yes.

God showed me otherwise.

Yes isn’t a one time deal. It’s not always going to look like starting a non-profit or doing something the world considers “big.”

Sometimes it looks taking a cake to a neighbor.

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Sometimes it’s just filling an empty seat in our home with a new friend.

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I am not a volunteer.

I am not working my way to Heaven.

“We don’t work for our salvation. We work from it,” Jason Shepperd, my pastor.

Because salvation does a grand work in us. And good work flows from that place.

If we follow Christ, how can we not do the good things Jesus did?

He fed. He clothed. He cared. He helped. He loved with His very life.

He quenched their immediate thirst and then gave them living water, so they would never be thirsty again.

And I’m a mess wrapped up in a human and in my imperfection and inadequacy, I don’t look much like Jesus most days. 

But still–I am compelled. Because I am following Him. And He is leading me to do good.

Listen–there is good work for you to do.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph. 2:10

What good are you doing?

It isn’t good to be doing nothing. Christians follow Jesus. Good is in their wake. Because they understand something good has been done in them and they just can’t help it.

Do something today–in your neighborhood, at work, for another person. That’s one way we show those around us the beautiful face of Jesus.