Thursday, April 25, 2013

Defining Strength

When God wants you to think about something, He allows multiple opportunities and perspectives to fill your head. I'm beginning to get a headache. It's heavy in there.

 A beautiful day at the Oregon coast. The crosses were a fun discovery!
On our recent our mini-vacation, I woke up, made breakfast, and sat down with a warm mug of coffee. I want a life defined by the health of my closest relationships. My strength lies not in what I can or cannot achieve, but in my dependence on God to order my days and embrace sabbath.

Besides engaging in a few conversations with my family and friends, a walk on the beach, and packing up to head home, I was about as unproductive as this mama can get. Strength? Maybe this is stretching it a bit, but I honestly believe the days set aside to relax, renew, and just enjoy life, build strength. In our culture being successful (strong) often means working hard, being irreplaceable, and multi-tasking. I've bought into those lies more times that I'd like to admit. The truth is - giving time and attention to my family and friends matters. This year I've struggled to create space in my life to be with and actually have friends. 

After the Boston Marathon bombing happened and the terrible explosion in West, Texas, the good ole USA was in shock. Our sense of safety was rocked as the unspoken vow we have with one another was literally blow apart...again. For all the fear that we have in this country, we're also a nation that tries to trust one another. We value life. When the bombs go off or the factory erupts, where's the strength? As Di Murphy pointed out to us as Women's Bible Fellowship, strength was found in the actions of the first responders on the scene - running toward the explosion. We continue to build those muscles when we help our neighbor. Our cites are full of people who feel vulnerable, afraid, and angry. Prayer matters. We are strong when we decide to accept our brokenness but won't be overcome by evil. We are strong when we love. We are strong when we choose Trust again.

During the week I met individually with four women who epitomize what it means to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong... even if they don't always see it this way. These women face a vast array of daily challenges. They are living proof of how reliance on God turns ashes into beauty.

Friday morning, April 19, I sat glued to the TV. SWAT teams, police cars, and a frenzy of media activity displayed another kind of strength: money, technology, information, and deadly force. We live in a country where if you want to "call in the big dogs," our dogs are HUGE. By Friday night the manhunt was over, thanks to the work of hundreds of people in dozens of law enforcement agencies and the general public working together. This kind of strength makes some of us cheer and some of us cry. I feel stuck in the middle, grateful that we have the power to capture "bad guys" and sometimes conflicted by the priorities and processes in which we do so.

 "God's Great Dance Floor!"
At the end of the week our family joined thousands of Believers at the Chris Tomlin concert. The Rose Garden Arena transformed into a sanctuary and we worshiped together for three hours. I stood hands held high and dancing with as much enthusiasm as possible in the twelve inches of space in front of my chair. The strength of the Holy Spirit filled me with gratitude. Tears streamed down my face as I joined the congregation singing about God's faithfulness. Yes, God is so completely and totally faithful! (You can't be "kinda faithful.") The tears continued as I stood behind my two daughters and my loving husband and I was reminded of my own failings. God's conviction and mercy overwhelmed me. My voice became a mere whisper as I stood in the embrace of Christ. Wrapped in love, secure in forgiveness. We celebrated. I lifted my arms above my head, they felt weightless.

It's taken five days to write this post. I'm realizing that no amount of writing and editing will capture completely what I noticed last week. There's frustration over how long it's taken me to simply say some things that I thought were simple and now feel like a big jumble. But before I give up and push "publish" I'm going to give it one last hurrah and fumble through my definition of strength.

Church inspires me. Sitting in the pew, listening to the sermon, scribbling down my thoughts, asking questions, taking notes, making to do lists. This is how I worship; this is how I work. Last Sunday I came home with this on my worship sheet:

If you can't read the chicken scratch, it says, "Changing what it means to be strong." From this one phrase boxed with a little arrow pointing to "Eternal Life." I came home with a desire to use many of the examples Gregg gave about "power coming through sacrifice and surrender" to redefine strength. The world tells me that being strong means being stoic in the midst of pain, using muscle and power to get my way, and to strive for independence and self-sufficiency. If a woman holds back her tears - she is strong. If a teenager uses his karate skills to cut down a bully, he is strong. If a family doesn't need to borrow or beg from the community they are strong. Perhaps these examples hold a measure of truth, but I believe Jesus turns these definitions upside-down in the Kingdom.

When we come undone, let it all hang-out, ball like a baby, and expose our most tender self to others, to God - we are strong. It takes strength to be vulnerable, open to attack, comparison, or ridicule. It also opens the doors to healing, help, and the power of the Holy Spirit. So I say let the cleansing messy tears flow. Allow pain to be present knowing it is temporary. Eternal life starts now and there is nothing stronger than resurrection power.

If we use physical strength to solve problems, have we really solved them? Reading the Old Testament I'm confronted with issues that are ongoing today. Fights for territory, power, control. People want to be right, to stand up for what they believe in, and to subdue "the other." For thousands of years humans have used muscles and might to dominate. Jesus shows us another way. A stronger way... submission, sacrifice. With Christ we suffer, in Christ we live.

If I don't need you and you don't need me, how do we love? Created to live in community, we deny the core of who we are when we choose separation and independence. Cheesy metaphor alert: If we compare humanity to a machine - that machine runs best when all of it's parts are properly maintained and filled with fuel. God is the master mechanic, and love is the fuel. You know...the power of love. Cue Huey Lewis. In perhaps the greatest mystery of all, love brings life. Jesus conquered the grave through love. To truly love is to serve and be served. I remember seeing this popular license plate in the 90's: He who dies with the most toys wins. How different life is in the Kingdom. If we dare to enter into eternity now, we choose life in community in which what is mine is yours, because it's not really mine in the first place. In the body of Christ we'll let each other know when we need help. We'll share our "toys." We will see love at work in one other and we'll use that power to define strength.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Long Term Impact

March 21-30, 2013 will forever be remembered in our family as the time we:
1. Left our precious dog Bella for waaaay too long.
2. Went to Mexico on our first ever short-term mission.

I'm anticipating a long term impact from Equipo (meaning "team" in Spanish). Honestly, the trip didn't shatter my world, like my first Compassion sponsor tour to the Philippines in 2010, or overwhelm me with the beauty of life-long relationships created during my visit to Honduras in 2011. But Equipo 2013 has changed me. I've seen the value of families serving together, and I can't stop thinking about how teamwork was reflected in every aspect of the trip. This incredible teamwork was a living example of the body of Christ.

From the year-round planning of the leadership team, the intense preparation work of the advance Equipo group, the skill, sweat, and dedication of the home-building teams, the adaptability of theVBS/Food gang, the faithfulness of the costura (sewing center) crew, the ingenuity of the chicken coop/rabbit hutch makers, and the dedication of the Nueva Esperanza church family, we were witnesses to the power that God creates through community. The work accomplished, the blessings experienced, and the miracles that materialized throughout Equipo were due to over 100 individuals being open to the Spirit. Out of this Love, God allowed us to see, feel, hear, taste, and touch more than we could have imagined.

From tiny trailer to a secure home!
A large group is bound to have many different "take aways" from such a complex mission. I could not begin to describe them all. I'm realizing I can't even do justice to the numbers of my personal experiences. This is what happens when you allow yourself to be placed in God's live an adventure too rich to adequately record! With tired eyes, weary from nights spent listening to the constant barking of countless dogs, I enjoyed gorgeous sunrises proclaiming God's majesty. With tears in my eyes, I held the hands of a Mexican mother in mine, as we marveled at the miracle of a home being built for her family in just a few short days. God's love and presence was evident in all things. I found joy in cleaning toilets and emptying the trash. Trust me, there is deep abiding peace ridding the church compound of piles of dirty toilet paper as often as possible! I practiced patience, learned my need for more kindness, and was a student of God's abundant goodness as I helped plan, prep, and provide Vacation Bible School for over 50 non-English speaking children. In the midst of poverty, once again hope overflows in the abundance of Christ's love.