Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When The Rooster Crows

 photo 6C0E0602-CB89-4708-B09F-8816135C38DB_zpsdkwny8ss.jpg This past weekend, I went to a Women's Conference here in the Dominican.  The theme of the conference was "Corazones de Guerreras" or "Heart of a Warrior."  I mostly went because many friends were going that I have missed over the past year and because, honestly, I needed a break from my kids.  Yes, I love them.  Yes, they have been driving me crazy lately.  Refreshment was what I needed, Freedom was what I found.

My good friend, Vicki, spoke one morning.  She has been a dear friend of mine for nine years and has always been a constant source of encouragement.  Vicki was speaking about going to battle as a warrior woman for Christ.  She gave some very simple ways that we can put on our armor, fight for Him and defeat our enemy.  The thing that got me was when she asked the question, "Who is our enemy?"  Being in the church since I was little, of course I knew the answer was Satan.  But she proposed something that I wasn't prepared for.

My entire life, I have cared way too much about what others have thought about me.  I have always had a great desire to please everyone and disappoint no one.  This desire has been one of my main causes of stress, anxiety and poor-decision making in the past.  It is something that has held me in "chains" for a long time.

Several years ago, God began to do a good work in me and He really convicted me of how sinful I was in putting other people's desires before His.  Slowly but surely, others' opinions of me and the things I felt God was calling me to do, faded to the background and I started caring only about what my Creator thought.  It was very liberating.  And it was easier to obey and make the hard decisions God was asking me to make.

I thought all of that was behind me until we decided to start Hope House.  Then, there were a lot more people who disapproved of me and the decisions our family was making.  There were people who were kind and supportive to our faces and then spoke harsh words behind our back.  There were people who expressed their excitement for this next chapter and then gossiped about our inabilities to others.  ALL of my insecurities came rushing back.  Were we making the right decision?  Were we prepared to take this on?  Were we capable of doing this?  Has that ever happened to you?  Have you ever been knocked over and blind-sided by something that you thought was gone and healed?

As I sat there in Vicki's talk, I started to cry.  Not because I was doubting the road God called us on or our abilities to accomplish this task but because God revealed exactly what "chain" had been weighing me down.


God was faithful in healing my sinful desire of putting other people's opinion above His own but in the process I allowed myself to become bitter toward those people.  I hadn't forgiven them.  I hadn't loved them unconditionally.  I was essentially doing the same type of hurtful stuff by being kind to their faces and being bitter toward them when I was alone.

Vicki said something that changed everything.  When she asked the question, "Who is our enemy?"  The correct answer is Satan but she proposed that we, in reality, make each other our enemies.  And that is Satan's most powerful weapon for us (especially women) in this war...distract us from our real enemy by fighting with each other.

When I was mulling all of this over, Jesus brought a passage to my attention.
"Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.' And he broke down and wept." -Mark 14:72
Peter was one of Jesus' best friends.  Peter would have laid down his life for Jesus.  He loved Jesus with every fiber of his being.  So much so, that he left every thing and everyone he had ever known to follow Him.  But in Jesus' hour of need, Peter didn't stand by Him.  He didn't fight for Him.  He didn't even try and stop what was happening to Him.  He denied even knowing Him.  Not once, not twice, but three times.

But here is the real kicker: just because Peter denied Jesus and abandoned Him didn't mean he loved Jesus any less.  In a tough situation, Peter's flesh won.  He was in self-preservation mode.  He wasn't thinking about the end game or the real battle.  He made a selfish decision in the heat of the moment.  You bet, if he had it to do all over again he would have done it differently.

And what's really important is how Jesus responded.  Jesus didn't disown Peter.  He didn't give him the silent treatment.  He didn't bash Peter to the other disciples.  He simply loved him.  And kept on loving Him.  And it was because he loved Him that He hung on a cross.

I am certainly not Jesus.  But I do have friends, family and supporters that I love (and who love me), that have hurt me very deeply in the past.  And instead of following Jesus' example and recognizing that the Enemy often uses those closest to us to try and distract us from the real battle - I chose bitterness.

Friends, we are not each others' enemy.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." -Ephesians 6:12
If you have been hurt by someone you love, always remember that they are human and fighting their own battles of jealousy, envy, discouragement, grief and disappointment.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.  Listen closer to His voice than to the distracting ones around you.  So that when the rooster crows and your loved ones deny you and run - rather than strapping on armor to fight the battle with you - your focus can be on the real Enemy and the victory will be yours.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Does God Want Us To Be Lonely?

In the past year I have struggled with this question: Does God want us to be lonely?  There have been times where life has felt like a series of things, and people, being taken away.  Not necessarily in an abrupt or difficult way, just little by little no longer being there.  Over the course of this year Mike and I did some kind of out-of-our-comfort-zone sort of things.  They were things that we felt were necessary and that we definitely felt God was asking us to do but inevitably the decisions we made left us feeling lonely at times.

For our first eight years on this island, we were surrounded by people that loved us, encouraged us, spurred us on and who fought the same fight we were fighting.  It was a comfort and a safe place considering the obvious difficult circumstances that sometimes surround you when you are a foreigner in a foreign land.

Leading up to making the decision to live outside your comfort zone is often unsettling and scary.  But once you make the decision to leave it, sometimes living outside of your comfort zone is kind of exciting.  Everything is new.  Everything is different.  There are new things to be learned and new options to be explored.  It's invigorating.  You feel the passion in your bones rising to the surface.  You are ready to conquer the world.  But just like the butterflies of a new love wear off, so does some of the initial invigorating feelings of stepping into this "unknown zone."  Soon the one thing you weren't expecting sinks in...loneliness.

You realize the crowd isn't going the same place you are.  You realize God is calling some of them out of a different comfort zone than yours.  You suddenly see that as you are walking down that road God is asking you to walk down, you are the only one around for miles.

Maybe you just down-sized your home and now you are in a neighborhood where you don't know anyone.  Maybe you just took a new job that serves others but the paycheck is significantly smaller.  Maybe you just started to homeschool your kids because you wanted to be able to have more of a daily influence on their lives but its a bigger sacrifice than you anticipated.

So what do you do when you look to your left and your right and there isn't anyone standing beside you?

It's these times where you have two choices: give in to your loneliness and decide you misinterpreted what God was asking you to do, or submit to God's plan and seek Him to fill your aching void.

Over the last year, I had plenty of times where I felt like we had made a mistake (just being honest here!).  Do you know when the only times were that I had those thoughts?  It was when I was feeling lonely.  Usually in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.  Almost always when my house was quiet and my thoughts were loud.  And nearly every time we were coming up on making another big decision toward stepping further out of our comfort zone.  The Enemy is sneaky.  And its no mistake that he is called the Prince of Darkness.  He is also called "the angel of the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:11)," "devourer (Mal. 3:11)," and the "father of lies (John 8:44)."  He knows one of the most effective ways to discourage a Believer who is taking risks for the Kingdom is to make them feel like they are doing it alone.

Thankfully, God has a plan for those who seek Him in their times of loneliness.  As I began to recognize my own feelings of loneliness the Holy Spirit began to show me that I really am never alone.  The lonelier I felt, the more I called upon The Lord.  The more I sought after Him, the smaller my empty void felt.
"Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones."-Isaiah 49:13
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." -Matthew 11:28 
 "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the Shadow of the Almighty." - Psalm 91:1 

"But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul." -Deuteronomy 4:29

I never realized how much more I had been depending on human relationships to comfort me than I had my Heavenly Father.  So often those relationships (friends, spouses, parents, siblings), although well-intentioned, can sometimes be a distraction from seeking Him first.  It is so much easier finding comfort in someone you can see and hug.  But God promises to make Himself known to you if you seek Him "with all your heart and with all your soul."

So does God want us to be lonely?  Never.  But sometimes loneliness is what it takes for us to hear His voice above all the others.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Weakness of Mine

A couple of months back a friend wrote me an email.  She is a good friend, an honest friend, and she constantly points me toward Jesus.  It was shortly after we lost Gilverson, an abandoned baby I had been caring for for three months.  Mike and I had finally decided that we would try and adopt him and when we went to talk with Children's Services about it, they informed us they had sent him to an orphanage in Santo Dominigo.  I was completely crushed.  I had been guarding my heart with him for the months I cared for him in the hospital, knowing full well he wasn't mine, but still wanting to love him the best I could.  I finally gave in to hope when Mike told me that he would be interested in adopting him if they would let us.  God had aligned all the signs.  Would we actually be bringing this baby I loved so much, home with us?

Some depression sank in and I felt a very deep sadness.  It actually kind of shocked me, the profound way I had grown to love a baby that didn't share a single gene of mine.  Either way, many people had been following the journey with me and I posted the sad news on Instagram.

It was shortly after that post that I received the email from my friend.  She had been approached by someone else who had seen my devastated post on Instagram, to which the person proceeded to ask, "If she was so devastated over this ONE baby that she had cared for, does she have what it takes to run an orphanage where there are hundreds more just like him?"

When I first read the words, I'll admit, I was mad.  Not at my friend who was just the messenger of the posed question, and not really even at the person who asked the question.  I was mad that I had let myself be so vulnerable to people "out there" following us on this journey.  Up until I met Gilverson, I was positive, encouraging and maybe even a little peppy on all of my posts.  I didn't want people to see the difficult parts of this road - Satan constantly tries to lead me to believe people don't support weak missionaries.  But that is who I am and have always been.  Maybe not weak in the way the dictionary describes it or the way bullies use it, but I am in fact, weak.

Since I was a small child absolutely everything bothered me.  I cried over everything from Disney movies to dead butterflies.  I could walk in on an emotional commercial and only see the very end of it and sob as if they were speaking of a dear loved one.  When friends hurt me in school, I could hardly pull myself together enough to go.  When boyfriends broke my heart, I was completely inconsolable.  It's just who I was, and am.  I always, always, always saw my tender heart as a curse.  I've had to work really hard to convince myself that being this way was the way God made me, and that my crying, weak, inconsolable soul had a purpose.

Then here I was, a grown woman, who had had her heart ripped out and somebody saw my weakness once again.  It wasn't even like they had to dig very deep to see it, either.  I put it out there, for literally the whole world to see.  What was I thinking...

A couple of mornings ago, I could feel my weakness taking hold of me again.  A plethora of circumstances over the past two weeks had finally taken a toll.  I was practically begging God to make me tougher.  To make my heart more durable.  To change it from flesh, back to stone.  And to no surprise at all, He answered me:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  -2 Corinthians 12:9-10
God's power is made perfect in my weakness.  My tender, constantly breaking heart is made perfect through God's power.  Ultimately, it doesn't change the fact that there are just some days -- some things I see, some cases I know of, some children who are suffering -- and my weak heart can't take it.  That as I sob holding a child who's mother chose to leave him in a hospital bed, God is working to transform my tears into love's redemptive power.

So if someone were to ask me, to my face, if I am "cut out" for this kind of work, my response would be simple:  No, I am not.  I am not ready to, every day, see children who have been abandoned by people they thought loved them.  I am not prepared to hold a baby who has never felt the loving arms of another human being before.  I can't fathom the hurt and pain and suffering that the kids who walk through our doors are going to know.  But that doesn't mean I don't kneel down in the trenches with them, hold them, cry with them and spend sleepless nights praying over them.  For where I am weak, He is strong.  And soon, many children will be depending on that very weakness of mine.