Thursday, March 28, 2013

He was thankful for this?!

Today is a special Thankful Thursday.  To me, it is just as, if not more holy than Thanksgiving Thursday in November.  It wasn't until I moved to a predominately-Catholic region that I learned the sacredness of Maundy Thursday, but the past few years have brought a wonderful joy to my heart on this day of the year. To remember with gratitude what He did.  Is that not what every ordinance celebration of Communion should be too?

"He took the cup and gave thanks ..." -Matthew 26:27 (NLV)

Really?  He was thankful for this -

Knowing it would mean this - 

Today, again - His gratitude stuns me.

Can I have that kind of thankfulness?  What did He ask me to remember?

"These are the things we are never to forget. The love of Jesus, with its constraining power, is to be kept fresh in our memory. Christ has instituted this service that it may speak to our senses of the love of God that has been expressed in our behalf. There can be no union between our souls and God except through Christ. The union and love between brother and brother must be cemented and rendered eternal but the love of Jesus. And nothing less than the death of Christ could make His love efficacious for us. It is only because of His death that we can look with joy to His second coming. His sacrifice is the center of our hope. Upon this we must fix our faith."   -Ellen G. White in The Desire of Ages

On most Thursdays, I list several items from my gratitude journal recorded throughout the week.  Today I want to list just one.  I want to remember, like He did so many years ago - above all - gratitude for the New Deal.  He got pain, suffering, and death. I get eternity with Him and hope for today.

Oh, God - I'm so very thankful!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

is there any hope? {Anna's Story - conclusion}

Injustice makes me mad.  I can't help it - I care.  It's what I do. It's who I am.  Even who I am in Christ.  Because the injustice of slavery made Him mad too.

“‘And now, you—what have you done? First you turned back to the right way and did the right thing, decreeing freedom for your brothers and sisters—and you made it official in a solemn covenant in my Temple. And then you turned right around and broke your word, making a mockery of both me and the covenant, and made them all slaves again, these men and women you’d just set free. You forced them back into slavery.
“‘So here is what I, God, have to say: You have not obeyed me and set your brothers and sisters free. Here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to set you free—God’s Decree—free to get killed in war or by disease or by starvation. I’ll make you a spectacle of horror. People all over the world will take one look at you and shudder. Everyone who violated my covenant, who didn’t do what was solemnly promised in the covenant ceremony when they split the young bull into two halves and walked between them, all those people that day who walked between the two halves of the bull—leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, palace officials, priests, and all the rest of the people—I’m handing the lot of them over to their enemies who are out to kill them. Their dead bodies will be carrion food for vultures and stray dogs.'"
            -Jeremiah 34:15-20 (Msg) [emphasis mine]

Today we conclude with the final installment of Anna's Story. For previous portions click: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


When Anna woke up the next afternoon, the same dull ache enveloped her body and thoughts.  She had been dreaming of her brother and sisters just moments before.  They were running to school together, dodging traffic and laughing at one another's folly, lightly teasing her youngest sister as she struggled to catch up.  To wake from that to the dim flickering of the bare bulb over her head was a fresh wave of pain as her life dawned once again from her dreams.  She would never laugh that way again; never see those precious siblings. 

But then, she recalled the man named Carl from yesterday and her heart skipped with a prick of hope.  What if he really did come for her today?

Shoving that thought back down with a shake of her head, she said to herself aloud, "He won't."  She began to eat the bowl of cold noodles on her table, sipping the broth as it cooled her throat.

Later, when shouts of voiced and sounds of tables and doors came from the floor below, it was truly a shock of terror and not hope that swept over her.  Grabbing her jeans and sweatshirt, she quickly dressed and hid in the corner by the bedpost.

When a local police officer barged into the room, followed closely by Carl, Anna didn't believe her own eyes.  He had kept his word?  Was this hope?  Would Kristof and Rurik chase her and her family down?  Would she ever be truly safe, even if Carl could take her away?

As the men in uniforms ushered her and several other girls into the police van, her mind protectively went blank.  All she could see were the raindrops on the window as they drove through streets and highways.  When they arrived at the safehouse an hour later and Anna met the eyes of a kind woman in a habit, she finally let the tears of hope well up.

"Welcome to Hope Haven," she said, opening her arms.

After a couple days of rest, Anna asked to make a call home to her family.  To her surprise, she was immediately handed a phone.  Dialing the number carefully, she shakily brought the receiver to her ear.  When her little sister, Tatyana, answered, Anna could not speak through her tears.

"Hello?" Tatyana said again.
"Taty?" Anna finally managed.
"Yes. Who's there?"
"It's me, Anna."
"What! Anna! Where are you?" Tatyana screamed on the line. "Ma - it's Anna - she's calling!"
When Anna's mother got on the other end of the phone, she sounded frantic also.
"Ma - I'm alright," Anna calmed.
"Where are you?"
"I was taken. I think I'm somewhere in Asia - maybe Bangkok.  I'm safe now. The police came to get me out."
"Darling - what did they do to you? How will I ever get you home from Bangkok?"  Her mother flooded the line with question after question, not waiting for an answer.  When she finally stopped, Anna realized she wasn't yet ready to tell her the whole thing.  
"I have to stay here for a few weeks, Ma.  They need my testimony against the kidnappers.  I don't know how I will get the money to get home, but I will call soon, alright?"
"I don't understand - " her mother pressed.
But Anna quietly promised again to call soon and said good-bye.

She missed her family more than ever, after hearing their voices.  If she ever got home, she vowed never to leave them again.

Over the next few weeks, Anna told her story to more people than she thought possible.  It grew easier to do so as her words were met with compassion and tears, but her shame held like a scar and it took huge amounts of courage every time an investigator or counselor asked again to hear how she had been kidnapped and sold.  A nurse named Holly was among the caring staff at the rescue home of Hope Haven, and Anna surrendered to her treatment every day as she cared for her cuts, bruises, and ravaged body.  On one particularly difficult day, Holly had a pained expression as she entered Anna's room.  The news she delivered about Anna's test results was devastating.  

"You have both gonorrhea and HIV, I'm sorry."

While Anna cried in Holly's arms, Holly explained the treatments and offered what little hope she could.  While far from a death sentence, Anna knew the effects of her horror would never really be over.  She might always be afraid of men who stood behind her, and it was possible her night terrors might never fully pass.  Though she was safe and healing, Anna knew her journey back to life was far from finished.

After two months at the safe house, Anna felt strong enough to accept the offer from a representative from a Non-Government Organization who helped victims of human trafficking to return back to her home in Russia. With reassurance from the police that her captors were imprisoned indefinitely and could not harm her or her family, she began to pack her meager belongings in preparation to return to her mother, grandmother, and siblings.  She only wished she could pack the pieces of her heart as easily as her clothes.  Fear still haunted her every waking hour and terrorized her dreams every night, but at least she had her hope back. The pain in her abdomen and pelvis had waned to a dull ache, and she began to finally want to dream about her future.  When a representative named Sue, who was from the same NGO that offered to pay her flight home and accompany her back in safety, also gave her a substantial financial gift, Anna could't believe people could be so kind.

Funny, she thought, some humans can be so cruel and horrid, and others can show such love.

With courage she didn't know she had, Anna asked Sue what made her show kindness that way.

Sue replied with a faint smile, "Let me tell you about my God. His name is Jesus ..."

Today Anna owns a bakery of her own in her home town.  With the money she received from Sue's NGO, she made an investment, and the assistance from her own government through an anti-trafficking initiative has allowed her to pursue an education in business.  On the week-ends Anna attends a church with her family and does what she can to tell everyone she meets about the horrors of human trafficking and the hope that people can offer, if only they will see and give.

Click here to learn more about the hope of real-life rescues in Southeast Asia

Thursday, March 21, 2013

a pinch of gratitude

Like a pinch, gratitude can wake me up from this weary slumber.

Ever have those kind of hours or days or even months when you're just trying to make it through?  I have. I do.  The times I have to keep going because to stop is to fail. To rest is to lose ground. To break is to admit you're broken.

It has taken a while, but I can recognize those lies as the devil's.  Because the truth is that God has given me every moment.  To see this one as just another hurdle is to do a great disservice of ingratitude, taking it for granted.  Wasting moments has never been my life's goal, but it has often been what I do.  Trying to get the the next hour instead of really holding onto the gift of this one.

I've learned what it is to hold a moment, and [though I despise formulas] the way to hold a moment is the same way you hold any gift. With gratitude to the giver. Every time I rush a moment I become an ingrate. But every time I thank Him for a moment I become His smile.  For what else happens to a giver when he or she is thanked?

I really only want my life to ever be His reason to smile.  And so I wonder - could I thank Him for every moment without pausing my gratitude?  Would I ever see His smile over me then?

It's worth a try.  And so I thank.  Since it is Thursday, I get to share some of my Father-smiling moments with you again.  What a privilege, Dear Reader. What an amazing privilege.

- an enormous bird of prey, soaring high over bare trees

- writing prompt about rest and the courage to tell a part of my story ... at last the courage

- finishing Soul Detox [Groeschel], and feeling empowered to live this life purified

- hard eucharisteo of these Daddy memories that re-open like scabs

- for my great-grandmother's long life of 95 years, and for Your strength in us to let her go - I know it will be soon and I trust You

- twenty 9-year-olds all quietly engrossed in pleasure reading during library class, and Mr. B's bliss of it

- Anthem by Jake Hamilton [Jesus Culture] ... "I am royalty. I have destiny. I have been set free. I'm gonna shake history!" A glorious reminder of how my identity in You changes everything

- another amazing testimony from prison church service - of souls redeemed, hearts restored, and minds renewed

- watching The Bible on the History Channel with my Guy on the couch

- the hope that You are with me. You are really with me.

- praying with N and R after school, and the miraculous way hearts who are hungry for more of You can connect with one another

- a long day to myself at Starbucks to finish my manuscript - You are truly the Author and Finisher of my faith ... may I be more like You

Jesus, You amaze me.  This moment is full of Your goodness, and it's a gift. What won't stop shocking me is that You have another -both the same in that it is a gift, and different in that it is new - coming for me next.  Help me to keep walking into each moment looking for what You're giving me.  Give me the strength to thank You for Your gifts, even when they are hard to hold or seem bristling at first.  I trust You again today, God.  My hands are ready to praise You.  Thank You for this never-ending love.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

care to fight too?

It has been a busy week for me, but I still wanted to share some "fighting words" with you all, in regard to the injustice of Human Trafficking.  Since my time has been used in prayer and research this week, that's what I'd like to give you today...

First: I sent for this video, and since it came in the mail so quickly, I'll probably watch it soon.  It was recommended by a friend - perhaps some education you would appreciate too? Nefarious: Merchant of Souls 

Second: I found this site just yesterday - and it's so inspiring! Women at Risk (WAR) International

I hope you'll take a few moments to check it out. I especially like the dozens of practical ways they offer people like you and me to get involved in the rescue and restoration of women and girls, and also the individual faces and stories they show.  Trust me- it is so much hope (and we all need hope as we look into this diabolical darkness).

And now - for a prayer - because sometimes (always?), the only thing we have left - is all He wants.

Jesus, tonight I pray Psalm 35 for the victims of bondage tonight:
Lord, would You come down to oppose those who oppose innocent women and children?  Please, Holy Spirit, fight those who fight against these victims who must be in unimaginable terror.

Oh, God of Angel Armies, put on Your armor, and take up Your shield against our enemy, who lies and connives for souls, using the lost and broken to break others.
Prepare for battle, and come quickly to the aid of victims all over the world. 

Lift up Your spear and javelin - these powerful spiritual weapons against evil and against those who pursue the innocent to enslave them.  Let individual girls and women hear You say, “I will give you victory - don't give up hope!  I am on the way to help.”

Jesus, please bring shame and disgrace on those trying to destroy the lives, hearts, bodies, and souls of these who are vulnerable, only because of their gender and their age.  
Lord, this was not what You designed when You created femininity and childhood; turn them back and humiliate those who want to harm these women and children.

Blow these oppressors away like chaff in the wind—
    a wind sent by the angel of the Lord.
 Make their path dark and slippery, straight into the path of prison that they may find justice, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

These innocent souls have done no wrong, but a trap has been laid for them, nonetheless. They have been scammed, tricked, conned, and snared.  They have been kidnapped and stolen away in the secret darkness of night

So let sudden ruin come upon the kidnappers and traffickers!
    Let them be caught in the trap they set for victims!
    Let them be destroyed in the pit they dug for Your children. And in that pit, may they also find You and turn back in repentance. 
Then I will rejoice in You, Lord.
    I will be glad because You have rescue me from my own darkness and sin, and You rescue these slaves from their hopeless nightmare. With every bone in my body I will praise You, Spirit:
    Lord, who can compare with You?
Who else rescues the helpless from the strong?
    Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them? Oh, Lord- You alone can change this horror.  No other force, no other power but You are able to rescue, restore, renew, and revive.  Oh, how we need You, Father! 
Malicious witnesses testify against these victims - lies to protect the guilty.  And this You despise.
    They accuse their own victims of crimes I know nothing about.  Though they have been manipulated and beaten and raped and stolen, they sit in corrupt courts and make the accusations of the very ones they abused.  We cry out "injustice!"They repay evil for good.
We are sick with despair.
 Yet when they were poor and ill, we grieved for them. Their victims have denied themselves by fasting for them,
    but their prayers returned unanswered.

I am sad tonight, Lord, as though these women and children were my friends or family,
 as if I were grieving for my own mother. My heart breaks and I cry, tears of sorrow and mourning.
But these traffickers are glad now that their victims are in trouble;
    they gleefully join together against the broken, innocent slaves.
These beautiful girls are attacked by people they don’t even know; strange men rape them every night over and over,
    they slander the innocent and treat them like garbage constantly.
 They mock women and call them names;
    they snarl curses and degrade the ones You call precious.
 How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing?
    Rescue them from their fierce attacks.
    Protect their lives from these vicious lions!

 When You do, Father, we promise to thank you in front of the great assembly, and around the world.
    I will praise You before all the people, even shout Your victory from the mountains.
 Don’t let the treacherous enemies rejoice over our defeat.
    Don’t let those who hate Your children without cause boast and brag over our sorrow.

They don’t talk of peace; 
they plot against innocent people who mind their own business.
 They shout, “Aha! Aha!
    With our own eyes we saw him do it!”  
This is absolutely ridiculous!
 Lord, you know all about this.
    Do not stay silent.
    Do not abandon us now, O Lord, even though we have at times abandoned You.
 Wake up! Rise to the defense of the defenseless!
    Take up their case, our God and our Lord.
 Declare the innocent women and children of this travesty not guilty, O Lord my God, for we trust You alone to give justice.
    Don’t let these enemies laugh about their victims in their troubles.
 Don’t let them say, “Look, we got what we wanted!
    Now we will eat him alive!”
Oh, Lord - the thought of them getting away with their lewd and detestable crimes outrages me!
 May those who rejoice at the troubles of innocent children and women
    be humiliated and disgraced.
May those who triumph over them
    be covered with shame and dishonor, that they may turn toward You.

But give great joy to those who came to the defense of these modern slaves.  Please prosper the advocates, rescuers, ministers of restoration, and healing organizations with Your glorious riches, Jesus.
    Let them continually say, “Great is the Lord,
    who delights in blessing His servants with peace!”
 Then we promise to proclaim your justice, giving constant testimony,
    and we will praise you all day long.

[Adapted from the NLT version of Psalm 35]

... In Your precious Name, Jesus - Amen

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review Monday - "Soul Detox" by Craig Groeschel

Hi, Reader!  Thanks for joining me here in the nest for another book review on this bright and snowy morning.  When God provides nasty weather ... read!  Today, I've got another wonderful Christian non-fiction by Craig Groeschel - Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World (Zondervan).

This was a recommendation from my husband, and I'm so thankful he found it for me.  Pastor Craig is the Lead pastor of Life Church in Oklahoma, and a dynamic speaker and writer.  He did a sermon series along with the book, which you can find here. I listened to them and wanted to also read the book. I'm so glad I did.  

Because my soul has been poisoned.

This book was deeply personal, as intended - a deep-reaching mirror.  The author begins with an introduction of his past with what contaminated his life, detailing how easily we all can be deceived and unaware of just how permeating the toxins have been.  He continues the book in three parts : Toxic Behaviors (self-lies, skeptical thoughts, lethal language, and hidden sin); Toxic Emotions (bitterness, envy, rage, and fear); and Toxic Influences (materialism, culture infection, unhealthy relationships, and bad religion).  What all of these topics have in common is a poisonous effect on our lives and our relationship with God, but Pastor Craig effectively dissects each in unique thoroughness.  I found myself laughing at his light satire of heavy and serious subject matter, as well as stopping mid-page to ponder for long moments in my own soul.  In addition to exploring the problems of these poisons all of humankind has been exposed to, the author successfully spells out the solutions to each and every one- all found in the gracious love of Jesus Christ.  The message repeatedly demonstrates the Gospel lived out in our culture, which is probably why I appreciated it so much.  This book is not just pointing at the contaminates, but it truly illustrates Jesus's power to cleanse and purify all of us.  

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"One of the greatest stumbling blocks to spiritual growth emerges when we get stuck in our negative, untrue, and impure thoughts instead of making the translation to God's Word."

"Any one of these thoughts can be deadly, and cumulatively they can imprison us in a hellish well of toxic waste. If we want to break free into the exhilarating freedom of God's truth, then we much begin by accurately diagnosing our problem."

"As Christians, we have stronger weapons than knives, guns, and grenades. We have faith, prayer, and God's Word. God wants us to use His weapons to win the battle of the mind. God's truth releases us from the prison of lies."

"If you choose to continue hiding, your sin may take you farther than you wanted to go and cost you more than you ever thought you'd pay. If you're willing to seek God's mercy and face the consequences with the people affected by your sin, you will experience more liberating joy than you ever thought imaginable. It's time to stop hiding and start seeking." 

"The big deal is that allowing envy into your heart is like planting nuclear waste in your flowerbed."

"When we look at other people comparatively and competitively, we're not seeing them as our brothers and sisters. We're not loving them more than we love ourselves, and we're definitely not seeing them as God sees them."

"The "bad" kind of anger, on the other hand, usually results when we lose control of our emotions and take matters into our own hands. Sinful anger is getting angry at something - maybe even something legitimate, something angers God - but then allowing that anger to lead us to do the wrong thing. ... If you open the door to the devil though your anger, you're offering him a guest room inside your heart. Talk about sleeping with the enemy!"

"The way I see it, fear actually relies on faith - it's simply faith in the wrong things. Fear is placing your faith in "what-ifs" rather than in "God is." It's allowing your imagination to wander down a long and dark alley of possibilities and get mugged every couple of steps. Almost everyone who allows themselves to be taken hostage by what-ifs discovers that the only thing binding them is their own imagination."

... I have plenty more, but you'll have to get it for yourself, because I've run out of time today.

I like how the author of Hebrews states: 

"Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many." (12:15 -NLT)

When we look after ourselves and one another, we will be able to receive God's grace and stop every poisonous root - in our hearts, in our churches, and in our communities.

After reading Soul Detox, I have a new vision and useful tools so that I can reach for the pure holiness of God in my life and for the lives of others around me.  I pray that as you read it also, you will find the same.

Happy reading, Friends!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fridays are for writing!

I'm linking up today with Lisa-Jo, who does writing prompts on Fridays too - how fun!

Five Minute Friday

Let's do this - freewrite for five minutes about: Rest

Today I learned a new lesson about resting in the Father's arms.  For many years I've been estranged from my father.  I can't find him, though I've looked with all of the diligence a heart can bear. And I've had to surrender that God will allow my dad to find me when the time is right because a good dad always finds his kids.  That one sentence took a full two years to yield to, and, if I'm honest - I'm still not done learning how to do that.  I miss him.  His arms, his rough machinist hands, his kisses on my head, his lap, his voice, his guitar, his amazing blue eyes that held nothing but unconditional adoration for me ... [this prompt is gonna take more than 5 minutes because I need to stop here to cry]  When I think of times in my life when rest was sweet - it's memories of falling asleep in my daddy's arms.  When the clock says 10:22 I pray for him.  That's his birthday.  I long for the rest of being in his arms.  

But I know an even better rest, and it's only from traveling down a dark path in a deep valley that I was able to find it.  It's the rest in my Heavenly Father's arms.  As good as my dad was and still is in my heart - my Daddy in Heaven is even greater.

Last week I lost my kindle.  Left at the school theater after my daughter's play.  And I was so angry at myself.  I fought every day against the negative self-talk that is so perpetuating. "You're so irresponsible - just like a forgetful little kid!  When are you going to learn to take care of your stuff?! How old are you any way?"  Oh how the chiding hurts.  I back my heart into a corner and scream silent wrath to her.  And oh how she cowers ...

And then I was crying this morning in the car, pleading like a little girl for my daddy.  Asking God to comfort me again in the loss of him.  Praying that again He would be all that I need.  Because I know He is, but I need to feel it too.  Over and over, again and again, a new bandage today on an old wound, but if it's still hurting, then He still cares. Though those pleading tears I get a phone call ...

"Hi, this is J. from the Middle School. Is this Robyn?" yes... "We found your kindle."

And it's a flood of racing blood and breath through my cells. I can't keep the words in over the phone - "Oh thank You, Lord!"

And I know it's just a device, but it's more. It's my Daddy. Finding my lost toy and drying my tears, and of course there's still a little girl inside.  Of course she still needs her Daddy, and of course He will always be faithful.  I retrieve my hand-held book that has at least 70 titles in one, including the best - His Word, run back to my car and sob in His arms.  It is there, as always, I find my best rest.

[okay - I cheated. That was longer than 5 minutes.  But such good therapy to declare His goodness in gratitude.]

Feel free to write your response in the comments here, on your own blog with a link back here, or back to Lisa-Jo.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

the other side of the coin

If prayer were a coin, one side would be the asking and the other would be the thanking. Odds are, I should be doing one as much as the other when I'm talking to Jesus.  Heads or tails ... 50-50 chance.  There lies in my minutes plenty more time for gratitude.  I request so much from God ... but do I thank Him just as much?

Found this treasure from a classic tonight - The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White (pub. 1898)

"Our confession of His faithfulness is Heaven's chosen agency for revealing Christ to the world.  We are to acknowledge His grace as made known through the holy men of old; but that which will be most effectual is the testimony of our own experience.  We are witnesses for God as we reveal in ourselves the working of a power that is divine ... These precious acknowledgements to the praise of the glory of His grace, when supported by a Christlike life, have an irresistible power that works for the salvation of souls.
When the ten lepers came to Jesus for healing, He bade them go and show themselves to the priest. On the way they were cleansed, but only one of them returned to give Him glory. The others went their way, forgetting Him who had made them whole.  How many are still doing the same thing! The Lord works continually to benefit mankind. He is ever imparting His bounties. He raises up the sick from beds of languishing He delivers men from peril which they do not see, He commissions heavenly angels to save them from calamity, to guard them from "the pestilence that walketh in darkness" and "the destruction that wasteth at noonday" (Ps. 91:6); but their hearts are unimpressed. He has given all the riches of heaven to redeem them, and yet they are unmindful of His great love.  By their ingratitude they close their hearts against the grace of God. Like the heath in the desert they know not when good cometh, and their souls inhabit the parched places of the wilderness. 
It is for our own benefit to keep every gift of God fresh in our memory. Thus faith is strengthened to claim and to receive more and more. There is greater encouragement for us in the least blessing we ourselves receive from God than in all the accounts we can read of the faith and experience of others. The soul that responds to the grace of God shall be like a watered garden. His health shall spring forth speedily; his light shall rise in obscurity, and the glory of the Lord shall be seen upon him. Let us then remember the loving-kindness of the Lord, and the multitude of His tender mercies. Like the people of Israel, let us set up our stones of witness, and inscribe upon them the precious story of what God has wrought for us. And as we review His dealings with us in our pilgrimage, let us, out of hearts melted with gratitude, declare, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all His people." (Ps. 116:12-14) "     [emphasis mine]

Again, I'm amazed at the power of gratitude.  Today I share a few of my "multitude of His tender mercies":

- the gift of compassion for my daughter, like a cool breeze to blow away the heat of my anger

- the promise of Your Spirit's powerful presence if we will lift You high, and this anticipation to feel You during corporate worship ... I feel like doing back flips!

 - "When I don't understand, I will choose You" (I breathe You in by Kim Walker-Smith)

- a new morning to choose You, Your ways, Your vision, Your gifts to me

-red roses opening wide with such brilliant glory

-the way you make a boy's shoulders to grow into a man's - and the significance of what they will bear

- the favor You give me to work 1/2 day at my kids' school, and talking about it with LC in the copy room

- vulnerable email from a friend, and the privilege to pray for her

- encouraging call from H, and the hope she'll get a job soon

- laughing with R at Panera, and the way you've brought her this far

- a good Life Group, and thinking deeply about being fully present in the now - "The only place I can meet Him is here." -Ann Voskamp

- snowflakes

- students reading and cheering for one another's rewards

- the way my Guy's arms are always open to me

- powerful tears and prayers and dreams

- "You will find that the [bad] habit absolutely dominates you because you willingly yielded to it ... But yielding to Jesus will break every kind of slavery in any person's life." -Oswald Chambers 

When all our enemies heard the news and all the surrounding nations saw it, our enemies totally lost their nerve. They knew that God was behind this work. - Nehemiah 6:16 (Msg) 
Lord, once again, my gratitude rises to You in praise.  Forgive me for the countless days I close my heart against Your grace by allowing it to be unimpressed by Your gifts and permitting my thoughts to be unmindful of Your great love. That is not the way I want to honor You, because that is no way to honor You.  What I do have is an awareness of Your constant shower of goodness over me.  Goodness as You define it.  Gifts - constant and ever-present.  And, Oh Lord - I'm so thankful!  My soul knows what it is to drink of Your faithfulness because gratitude is the vessel of my noting. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.  Over and over I declare it because ... Jesus I know I don't deserve this astonishing loving-kindness.  Here now are my stones of witness.  These frail letters and lines - written for all who will give eye as I proclaim.  You are good to me.  You do love me.  Here, oh here - is proof and may I ever be mindful.  My heart is melted with my gratitude for Your benefits.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

when the fight comes

"What is this history of Fantine? It is society buying a slave.
     From Whom? From misery.
     From hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from abandonment, from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a bit of bread. Misery makes the offer, society accepts.
    The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not yet permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists, but it weighs now only upon woman, and it is called prostitution.
    It weighs upon woman, that is to say, upon grace, upon feebleness, upon beauty, upon maternity. This is not one of the least of man's shames." Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

It is this end to which poverty leads.  And we wonder if it's really that crucial to help the poor.

I'm not saying poverty is the only root of prostitution and sex trafficking, but I will claim it is one.  That when a girl or a mother get so hungry and cold, she might see one of two choices: starve or let myself be sold.  But could there be another option?  Is God whispering to our hearts that His people might hold a key to offering this soul a third path: generosity.

Today I share part 4 of Anna's Story. You can find the previous portions here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 ... This is a fictionalized story of what could be true this very day.  Though it did not happen in exactly this way, it very well could have.  I tell it not to scare us or shame us, but to ask our hearts to really look at this through the eyes of a person and not just a statistic.  Statistics are important - they make our action urgent.  But individuals are what Jesus sees.  And we could all use more of His vision as we fight.

[...part 4]

Anna crossed the room and sat down on the bed to wait for the man to proceed.  He wrung his hands and sighed, clearly searching for what he wanted to say or do.  His eyes held a compassion unfamiliar to her, and a concern more confusing than his hesitance. She looked out the tiny window at the gray sky above.  It had been so long since she'd seen the sunshine.

Finally the man spoke again in broken Russian.  His deep brown eyes reflected her own fear. "I bought time with you, but not to hurt you."

She swallowed, uneasy.  "Then ... what?"

"I know you are trapped.  I know there are goons and madaams who will hurt you if you try to run.  But I want to get you out. I want to get you home."

"You're insane.  I can't leave." Her hope had died. For this reason his words made no sense.

"No, please - trust me, Sarah," he pleaded, using the false name she had told him.

"Why would I?" Anna could only imagine him a liar.  He was probably just trying to steal her away so he could sell her in his brothel instead. Lies, only lies. She forced her heart to kill the shred of hope rising up again when she looked into his honest eyes.

"Because I know this is evil.  Wrong on every count.  I know a God who cares.  He sent me.  And here I am.  I will help you get out.  I promise."

"God?! There is no god!  Why would a god let this happen to me? Who are you to - " but she stopped herself short.  She had revealed too much. Given her despair and vulnerability a voice.

"Get out before I call Kristof!" she shouted. She grabbed his arm and began shoving him toward the door

"No - please!  Believe me.  I won't hurt you. I won't.  I only want to help!"  And it wasn't until his hand took hers that she did believe him.  Because his touch wasn't rough or demanding or taking.  His touch was only to give.  And for a moment all hope rose to the surface and the tears could not be stopped.

"How? How could you help me?  There is no way out!"

His careful lips continued to move and his eyes stayed on hers ... and for the first time in months she saw another way out than death.  He explained that he was a member of a coalition to help trafficked girls and that he knew an honest policeman and a government official who were willing to help in the raid.  If she would trust him and cooperate, they would return the next day to get her out.  She could go to a rescue home in a nearby town to receive help, and then they would find a way to get her home safely. He had come to take covert photographs of the girls and their conditions for proof.

With only slightly more trust than hesitation, Anna agreed with a simple nod of her head.  The man introduced himself as Carl, and promised to come back the next day.  Anna cautiously revealed her true name, in case he could retrieve her paperwork when he came back with the police.  Though she was more afraid of this rising hope than she was of a beating, Anna let him go with a guarantee of only his handshake.  When he walked away she realized he had left a small piece of paper with a phone number in her hand.

It was more light than she had seen since she arrived in this horrible nightmare of a place ...

In light of the magnitude of 27 million slaves plodding this spinning globe, I don't know of an abolitionist not aiming for solutions.  The truth of the matter is that solution-oriented action must be multifaceted and nothing if not long-term.  With this in mind, I see no greater change-agent than Jesus's Church. Why?

Trafficking in humans is unfortunately not a new problem.  Les Miserables was published in 1862, but how about this ancient source from the 7th century BC:

"Yet here we are having to sell our children off as slaves—some of our daughters have already been sold—and we can’t do anything about it because our fields and vineyards are owned by somebody else.” - Nehemiah 5:5 (Msg)

Due to circumstantial poverty, the Israelites were selling their children (daughters first - I wonder why ... ?) to pay off the debt they owed for basic survival.  When the governor, Nehemiah, heard about the human trafficking, he was outraged and demanded his citizens come to grips with morality.

“What you’re doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you? Don’t you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you?  I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money. But this gouging them with interest has to stop. Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.” -Nehemiah 5:9-11 (Msg)

His solution: share. As fellow members of one race, don't allow the disparity of poverty and wealth.  Permit this evil no longer. It reminds me of what the early Church of Jesus did after He ascended. 

"And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met." -Acts 2:43 (Msg)

Another thing Nehemiah voluntarily initiated: the laying down of his entitlement

"Even so, I didn’t use the food allowance provided for the governor—the people had it hard enough as it was." -Nehemiah 5:18 (Msg)

The riches rightfully his - rendered for the sake of others. 

Modern translation: are there any Nehemiah's among us, who might lay down our rights to at least some of this life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for the sake of our brothers and sisters enslaved?  Could we surrender this entitlement to wealth we've inherited for the benefit of this oppressed portion of our family?

Alright, before you throw tomatoes for my seemingly anti-patriotic ideas, let's just all take a deep breath and imagine ...

What if - we as one human race (no Jew or Gentile, remember?), or for argument's sake, one American melting pot - what if we could share? Be willing to pool our resources to stop the gouging and the trafficking? Provide for our own family - the human family.  I know - it's a far-fetched vision of revival, but ... every revival starts somewhere. Today let it be here in me.

Lord, I plead for freedom.  Please show us how.  You have called Your Church to be change-agents and freedom fighters.  You have called us to fight injustice and to give of everything we have for the benefit of the oppressed.  Help us now.  Bring a freedom revival.  And let it begin with me.

To start your own giving revival, please consider giving to one of these organizations who do the intense work of rescue and restoration of trafficking victims:

The Exodus Road

F.R.E.E International

Friday, March 8, 2013

if only I could really see

I've been pondering the word perspective.  A word I've studied for a while.  It's often a matter of known need, and also a matter quite elusive.  So often I find myself crying out to God, "Show me how to look at this!"  And His often- response is, "In light of forever, does this qualify your reaction?" 

And isn't it like our Lord to answer with another question?

Of course not, Father.  Once again, I'm blowing this out of proportion like blowing up a cockroach with a grenade.

"Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.

Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
The body is put back in the same ground it came from.
The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it." 
                   -Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (Msg)

I'm learning every day how gratitude on purpose can change my perspective to really see that life is indeed a lovely series of gifts.  And also learning how this deliberate seeing, looking can help me hold the moment for all it is.  I'm nothing more than a broken vessel needing His filling regardless of what circumstance invades.  And yet ...

As big as this moment is, it's still only dust in the wind of eternity.

What matters. What really matters ... It's only what He's doing in me, through me, around me that extends like an invisible, internal scar invading into eternity.  It's only that which lasts.

"So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever." -2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (Msg)

Where is His presence? His eternal Self, come into my being?  And what is He doing there in me?  Can I use these spiritual eyes, awakened now to see?  Yes - I can and I do.  When I sing. When I slow.  When I listen.  When I thank.

Here are a few of my forever lines - that by which God has reached through time to show me His love, and in which I am filled and touched and drawn into more of His grace:

- Your comfort and healing for when my body and cells are sick, infected, sore ... and for when my heart is too

- a starry night, and reminder of Your power there in the sky

- sunlight and blue skies today and this gift of the calm before the storm

- Ecclesiastes 11:7 - yes, Your light is sweet

- "For those who can see, the world's beauty outweighs its burdens, its grace greater than its grime." -Ann Voskamp

- pure white untouched beauty of the snowfall

- that this physical pain is causing me to depend on You more today

- that You care about my feelings but You don't hold them against me

- for blessing me with such a talented daughter, and for blessing her with such confidence

- this song "Gracious fury - written in my Savior's scars.  Mercy, mercy - now engraved upon my heart."

- the family together and echoing laughter 

Lord - I'm so thankful for vision.  Your sight to see as it really is.  What is fleeting to be known by my heart as fleeting.  What is eternal - realized as such.  Why do I get them so turned around?  Confession.  I've been wrong.  My trials - not meant for focus, but blurred background.  My gifts of grace - these are what deserves the crispness of my heart's lens.  Jesus, please make it so.  Here is my focus knob - You may keep it.  Show me today once again how to really see.

And, since it is technically Friday - how about a vocabulary word and writing prompt?

emanant - emanating or issuing from or as if from a source

Freewrite for 15 minutes about a time you were mistaken about what you saw, or a time when you observed another person react from a mistaken perspective.

Happy writing, and I hope your weekend is full of His presence and the realization of His many gifts of love!