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.

Upscale Home Front Door

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.


The True Secret to Discovering What We Are Supposed to Do Next

I used to call them my wasted years.

That season where I did nothing for anyone.

Not even myself.

I felt like I lived in circles. Doing the same thing I did the day before. And just thankful to get through it.

I was tired and life was hard.  I was stuck in a job I hated. Struggling in a broken marriage and the monotony of motherhood. I was always looking for the next “big thing” in my life, which usually meant a trip to Target alone, meandering around the store, buying things I didn’t need for a high that was temporary. Maybe you know these long, unappreciated days, too?

Now when I look back, I don’t see wasted time. I see fertile ground.

Because sometimes you have to get so sick of your life, your mess, your perspective, yourself, you risk it-step into the unknown-and say yes to God because you cannot keep living the same empty way.

But where do you start? I’ve talked a lot about saying yes lately and I hear this so often. “I know there’s a yes in me, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know where to start.”

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This might sound too simple, too easy, but here’s the answer:

Do the last thing God told you to do.

When we left full time ministry, God provided my husband with a sales rep job. We knew it was from God. We knew it was His will. But we thought and hoped it would be a short season. He’s on his 11th year. And for many of those years, he’s dreamed of a different yes.

But sometimes our yes is continued faithfulness.

And faithfulness today–right where we are–always leads to the next yes.

And the next. And before we know it, we are standing at the door that opens to more.

How do we know what God is telling us to do? I’ve discovered that when an idea is for me, it’s probably by me. It benefits me in some way. But those little thoughts and desires and ideas to do something for someone else? Those are most likely from God. When I do them, I find Him in the middle of it.

The truth is, it’s not a secret at all to discover what God wants us to do next. Because really what we are talking about here is obedience. It’s not necessarily a big yes, although it could lead to that. It’s daily, faithful obedience to do whatever God tells you.

We find the next step in the Bible: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track,” Proverbs 3:5-7

Send that note. Take that meal. Hug that child. Serve that neighbor.

When you don’t know what to do next, do the thing that’s right in front of you today.

It will open the door to tomorrow and you just never know where it will lead.


How To Wake Up From the American Dream (You Might Not Even Know You’re Sleeping Through)

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

1.  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.