Saturday, February 25, 2012

If I Could Be a Refuge (announcing big things)

sun appearing through clouds in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Like so many things lately, I've meant to blog about this topic since Christmas, when the enormous gift was placed into my hands. But time got away from me; I became busy, busy, busy.

But my friend, Jennifer Dukes Lee, just announced that she is going to Haiti on a missions trip.

And, well, I have a somewhat similar announcement, but it needs backstory.

Husband told me he was getting me a fabulous Christmas present and that it would be only one, but the one would be worth it. On Christmas Day, he handed me the last present. I opened it and this is what happened (dare I show myself in video?):


Long story short, Husband had begun the application process for him, 13 year old SD and myself to visit the sponsor child, "D," whom I have sponsored for the past 8 years. She is now 12 years old. "D" lives in Honduras!

And a few weeks after that video, we found out that we had been accepted.

Praise God! It was some of the best news of my life. Imagine: going to Honduras and meeting "D" and her family - people I've corresponded with for eight years. Back and forth, Spanish to English, English to Spanish, stickers sent, pictures sent, drawings sent. A little dark-haired girl growing up tall and leggy into a raven-haired pre-teen.

The journal that Husband got me in that video is proving to be a good process journal. I write in it my thoughts about going to a third-world country. That will be quite a life-changing experience.
But am I ready? I thought. Do I step so much outside of my comfort zone and step into a world I know nothing about? Wouldn't that be called presumptuous? Would "D" and her family look at us middle-class Americans and think we were uppity and rich? Suddenly, doubts plagued me. What if I contracted malaria? What if the dreaded traveler's diarrhea occurred by brushing my teeth with tap water (which can happen)?

Ah, you devil, I had to say outloud. Stop talking to me. I decided to listen to God's Word:

Isaiah 58:10 "And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."

And haven't the poor and oppressed been placed on my heart so much more in recent months? Indeed, I wrote many blog posts about the need to reach out to the needy. The least of these have tugged on my heart for a long time. 
Psalm 10:14 “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”

There are so many things I want to tell "D." I am keeping a journal I want to have translated so that I do not pour a thousand words on the translator and overwhelm the dear girl.

I want her to know how much I think about her, how we all pray for her. I want her to know about the world I live in. I want to tell her how much God looks out for her and her loved ones. I want to tell her how proud I am of her for doing well in school and participating so cheerfully in church.

I want to hold her in my arms, this girl who calls me "Madrina," which  means "Godmother."

Think about that word: Godmother. In our culture, it means a person who the biological parents have entrusted their child to should they both die. In our culture, too, I think the "God" meaning of it has been all but erased.

Not so in Honduras. "D" and her family pray for my family regularly. They write how grateful they are for my love and prayers. They are so happy to love the Lord and that delights me. They trust me with their daughter and though I know I'm not the one who will raise her should her parents both pass away, I know that they look to me to be another "mother" who teaches her about God.

This trip is not just about the three hours we will be spending with "D" and her family. We are trying to find other volunteer opportunities and we doing some traveling. Just being in a third-world country that houses so many of "the least of these" will be a life-altering experience. I won't be able to encapsulate it in one blog entry nor will I be able to sum it up in a poem or essay. I think - no, I know - that I will be talking about this experience for the rest of my life.

We leave May 1st and return May 7th. But I know the journey is not confined to those dates. The experience will change me, grow me, mold me for years to come - hopefully for the rest of my days.

Lord, make me an Isaiah 25:4 woman:

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall.”

Dog Spelled Backward is God

You know when you have to hurt someone even though you know you are doing the right thing? There will be tears and anguish in this house tonight. But as parents, Husband and I must keep things calm and reassuring.

How do you tell your kids that the dog they have come to love is leaving the next day?

I haven't talked about Sam a lot on this blog. He and God haven't really overlapped. But I find myself grieved this afternoon because I know that, tonight, we are telling the kids the news.

Husband and I have searched long and hard for a better home environment for him. Sam is a fearful dog who needs a much different home than we are able to give him.

For the past year, our home has been full of kids throwing tantrums which include throwing things, yelling, screaming, fighting, pretty scary stuff.

Sam is already an "issue" dog. Sadly, he became so much moreso after almost a year with us. He is simply not thriving with us and Husband and I see that and we finally found a wonderful couple to give him a new home. He leaves us tomorrow.

I see what is coming. I see tears, I see grief. I see anger at us and confusion.

I see a 5 year old not really getting it until later, I see an 8 year old getting it more at bedtime, and I see an already angst-ridden 13 year old completely breaking down and feeling like her whole world is being taken away from her.

How do you protect your kids from this kind of pain?

Maybe you can't at all. Maybe that's the point.

My mother tried to shelter me from any pain I didn't have to feel. In doing that, I grew up emotionally stunted and unable to take care of my emotional needs.

I can't keep pain from these children.

See? I can overlap this into God:

God does not promise us that he can remove all pain from our lives. He does not say that we will never hurt if we follow him, if we love him.

Being a Christian does not exempt us from struggle.

Christianity is not for those who claim they need no help. Who have it all together. Who are not broken and needy.

Christianity is for the broken, for the down-trodden, for the weak. For in our weakest moments, those times when we feel the most separated from God, we are actually the closest to God.

When we bow in pain
God lifts our chin
to look at him
and in God's strength,
God's promise,
we rise -
a new creation.

So in shielding these kids from the pain of what life can bring, isn't that stealing their own opportunity to bow in pain, bow to God?

I know the pain of tonight is going to happen. But Husband and I have to share the news in the right manner as well as lean on the strength of God to help us through.

Without God's hand to help us, we merely hop over obstacles; we never get through them. We hop over, we avoid, we distract.

But we never face it in the face. We never face the enemy in the face and say,
Get out of here. You do not tell me who I am; I know who I am. 

I am on God's team. 

The enemy tells us we can just hop over the tough times. We need not deal with it.

God holds our hands and urges us to walk through the obstacles...all the while knowing God's promise to never leave or forsake us.

So I say this prayer for my family tonight:

I pray that Husband and I take your hand, O God, and that you lead us through this difficult time. We know if we teach the kids to simply hop over icky emotions and situations, they will never learn that you are their ever-present companion -- during the hard times and after.
I pray that 13 year old stepdaughter does not take this as another abandonment, another reason to pull back from us, from you, God, to retreat to her own bedroom and self-destruct.
This house is so full of pain; enter into it, enter into us and create in us a clean heart.
Infuse us with your presence, your comfort.
As a nurturing parent holds his or her child and coos,
"there,'s okay....this will pass...."
bring us close to you
and say those words. 


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Praise to the Provider (hint: it's not me)

Out of control.
I think that is the scariest phrase I am grappling with lately.

It has recently become clear to me that I have been trying to get control of everything.
When I can't control something, I get crabby and snippy and obsessive.
I make lists.
I can't sleep because I'm thinking of 10,000 things that I need to get done, that I need to tell person X, person Y, and person Z.
I make myself ill.
My stuttering problem has resurfaced. Usually it is so minor, compared to childhood, and only I notice it. But since the New Year started, the awful stammer that once plagued me so horribly has returned with a vengeance.
My temper is short.
My angry words are quick.
My eyes become teary at any moment.
I'm easily triggered by past difficult events.
I forget everything.

The train wreck started with losing my keys. It was the week I was horribly sick with stomach issues and went to two emergency doctor appointments, missed two days of work and went to the ER late one Thursday night. That weekend, while recovering, I realized I had lost my entire keychain; many important keys were on that ring.

The next thing to happen was my car accident, February 10th. I drove home from work on the sunny, cold afternoon (snowing a little) and, while driving down the rural highway, I slid on a patch of ice. My car spun and slid into the ditch and flipped on the left side. The car was totaled; I was spared.

That woke me up. I knew that God was telling me something. I knew that God was showing me something, pushing my face into something that I just couldn't grasp:

I couldn't grasp the concept that I had this insatiable need to grasp control.

Couldn't I notice the obsessive list-making I did every single day? I would make lists of things I wanted to get done, no matter if I knew I would get them done or not. Just seeing it written out on a piece of paper made me able to breathe again. The obsessive list-making was a comfort. Didn't I see that it was hurting me?

I hurry, hurry, hurried through the mornings, rushing the kids through the routine because I was afraid of being late for work - another out of control feeling. What had I written about hurrying? Didn't I remember that hurrying makes us hurt?

So the accident happened. I realized I had to wake up to what really mattered. I had to see how little I needed to really be happy. I needed my God, my family, my loved ones. I couldn't control everything in my life. Bad things happen to good people. Car accidents happen on the sunniest of days. Ice can appear on the driest of roads. Lives are saved in instances where they should've died.

But who dictates the should've? I've said that a lot while describing my accident: "Oh, I should've died in that accident; it was that bad. The car flipped on its side and was totaled. I shouldn't be alive."

Really? Am I the one who decides that? Is there a person somewhere with a list of who gets to live and who should die? Who should prosper and who should suffer? Do I actually think that I would be here if I wasn't supposed to be?

Do I actually think my surviving that accident is an accident, itself?

I'm coming to this realization as I write this, folks. It's a spontaneous learning experience. I do not call those shots. You don't, either. None of us do. You can see where I'm going with this...

The Almighty Father has the control. The "God of Parting Waters....God of Falling Bread" is in control. God is the one who calls the Shoulds, the Cans and the Great Is.

And the Great Is in my life is the fact that I am alive and I now see that God wanted that and that is why it is.

I also think God wants to use that experience as a wake-up call.

Well, maybe I need a bigger alarm clock...

In the days following the accident, Husband and I found out various horrible financial facts. A dozen things came down on us at once and the fact is is that we have to dish out a heck of a lot of money in the next few months and leading up to tax time.

After the weekend "high," coming off of the accident where I felt such gratitude and joy at my life being spared, feeling my faith renewed (or so I thought), I was hit in the face with these sudden debts that threatened our "secure" existence.

Husband became very discouraged at our circumstances and I joined him in the sorrow festival. Oh Lord, we cried together, why are you doing this? Haven't we been good? Don't you love us?

All right, maybe we didn't ask those exact questions, but I know that's what our deepest heart-parts echoed.

But the first work day after the accident - that Monday - I returned to my obsessive list-making. The new financial burdens made me write out various budgets in the five or ten free minute intervals I had during the work day. My lists started getting more detailed and refined. What was once to-do things became to-say things. I felt if I didn't write it down on paper, I would forget everything. It became so severe that I had anxiety attacks over not having that "magic notebook" containing those lists. And when we figured out one financial burden, another one kept popping its ugly head up and landing in our laps.

Really, Lord? I must have cried as I hunched over my tiny notebook, scribbling away. All these financial burdens, the fact of needing a new vehicle, all the insurance hoops, plus all the stress that comes with having three traumatized stepchildren going through a very difficult adaptation to living in a more stable home. Plus trying to rehome a fearful dog whom we love and adore, but know needs to be in a different home in order to thrive.

It's too much, I sobbed into my pillow one recent night. My body clenched, my fists clenched, my toes curled.

One morning last week, I sat in a Wendy's and I decided to journal about all the struggle I felt. I felt compelled to look up what Jesus said about worry in the book of Matthew:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
    “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew: 6:25-34 NIV).

I wrote the following in my prayer journal:

"Do we add a single hour to our life by worrying? No, we take AWAY hours of our lives by worrying. Hurry makes us hurt, says Ann Voskamp. Hurry makes haste which makes waste. I waste hours of my life by worrying. How can I doubt God's provisions for me? My LIFE was spared last Friday afternoon! 
Lisa, how much more important are YOU than an automobile! 
God saved ME - He will surely provide me with reliable transportation to and from the work He has appointed me to do. 
I feel a shift since pondering those Matthew verses. I was feeling very defeated with the money and now with the car and all the items I've lost over the past weeks...and doing all this, I know God is revealing to me my insistent, sinful need to CONTROL everything and everyone. 
Lord, I'm stopping the controlling. You are the One in control. I bow to Your will. 
I turned a corner while writing this, while reading what Jesus said about worry. Yes, I've read all those verses before, but they have new meaning now. 
May I never doubt. May I never forget the transformational power of God's Word."

That afternoon, things turned around. I was put in a difficult position at work and I intentionally let go of the need to control it and I went into it happily, relying on God to assist with the difficult parts. And I got through it with flying colors.

A few items I had lost were found the following afternoon. Not my coveted keychain with very important keys, but rather a phone battery I desperately needed as well as a rosary a friend gave me to give to a very special person (a story I have yet to tell on this blog - I will, promise! The draft is in the works).

As soon as I laid the gauntlet down; as soon as I unclenched my hands and held them out empty, the struggle lessened.

Did all our financial burdens disappear? Absolutely not. We are still in serious trouble.

BUT amazing blessings happened this past Friday, the week anniversary of the accident:

The rental car company I was dealing with had exceptional customer service and I had joyful interactions with the people there, ran into a woman who also lived in my small town and we found out we both have girls in 7th grade. We had a great talk. I also discovered through friendly conversation that she was trading in the very type of car that Husband and I were looking to purchase with the insurance money. I received good advice from her. The young Vietnamese man who drove me to my auto body shop to pick up the FREE rental car the owner was giving me (because he knew me and had worked with me a lot before - quite the blessing, yes?) was exceptionally polite and kind and we shared wonderful conversation, talking about our families, his coming to the United States not long ago, my writing, how I've come to the conclusion that struggle can be beautiful...we delved into deep topics for a 25 minute car ride in rush hour. I felt blessed to have such a soulful exchange and when I arrived at the auto body shop, I felt like I was bidding a friend goodbye. The auto body shop owner, as I said, gave me a free rental until I got my new car. I was overcome with astonishment at the blessings of that day. None of the icky things disappeared, but I opened my eyes, my heart, and my hands and I saw so much beauty and goodness.

I saw God is in control and He should be. I have no business trying to control everything around me.

I'm not saying I will simply coast through life making no decisions; I am saying that I no longer rely on my own understanding.
I do not have the power I thought I had. I'm not saying I am powerless, but I know now that God is the most powerful. He is the only provider I can count on.

"And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others" (2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT).  

Lord, it seems I must give my life to You over and over for I have not learned the lessons I need to learn. They come to me and then they leave. Realizations settle in, but I return to my prideful and ego-driven ways. I know the Truth of You and then I rest and believe the world's falsities  I am human, Father, and I know that You know that and love me despite and because. You knew I would get it wrong so often; Jesus knew we would get it wrong so often - that is why He died on the Cross.

"For God so loved your broken heart 
He sent His Son to where you are 
and He died to give a reason for the world.
So lift your sorrows to the One
Whose plan for you has just begun...

Maybe the reason for the pain  
Is so we would pray for strength 
And maybe the reason for the strength 
Is so that we would not lose hope 
And maybe the reason for all hope 
Is so that we could face the world  
And the reason for the world 
Is to make us long for home "

("The Reason for the World" by Matthew West)

This long blog entry can be summed up in the following verse from 2 Corinthians 1:3: 

"All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."(NLT)

That is what I want this winding, talkative blog entry to be to you: an account of how God comforts me in my trouble so that I can comfort others, so I can spread my story, these Dove Chronicles. Read the last line of that verse: when you are troubled, I want to give you the same comfort God has given me. Because this is real. I am a real person, living a real life, having real problems, and coming face to face with my own humanity and weaknesses -- yet in my belief in the Lord, I am made whole. 

Not sure about how you fit into this concept? 
Just look to His Word:

"May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God" (Ephesians 3:19 NLT). 

What else can I possibly add to that?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Be Mine: Thoughts on a Christian Valentines Day (the day after)

I have been insanely busy; so busy that I was not able to post my Valentines Day post on the actual day, so busy that Husband and I have scarcely read the Bible of late, so busy that I almost got myself killed in a car accident as my car careened out of control and slide into a ditch, tipping on its left side. 

I was busy. Then I almost died. And I stopped the busyness enough to say Thank You to the Lord. I had come away without a scratch. It was a total miracle. My car was 95% totaled.

Now I'm back to being busy again. Isn't that an awful thing? I owe my life to God (not just in general, but quite literally last Friday afternoon) and here I am being busy again and going through the motions again and sinning again. 

Wednesdays are hard for us. I had to take my 8 year old stepdaughter to a doctor's appointment WITH her mom (Lord gave me grace) and then we had to scarf down dinner and Husband took 13 year old SD (stepdaughter) and I took SD8 and SS (stepson)5 to Awana. 

The devil loves to attack us on the days we bring the children to their religious education. We get snippy and crabby; the kids act up and I drop the younger two off at Awana and feel like the worst parent in the world.

Isn't that what the enemy wants me to think? I feel guilty that we don't read the Bible with the kids, that we don't bring God into our lives more. I know this is an area God wants us to grow in. But is God saying I am a failure as a stepmother? Absolutely not - that is the enemy talking!

God loves me. He knows I have a long way to go in the patience department. He knows I am susceptible to the devil's mocking and ruining. But the Lord is always there, speaking in my ear over and over: you are loved. You are loved. He speaks what He told His Son:

 "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11 NIV)

You are my beloved daughter, He tells me. With all your imperfections, with you I am well pleased. 

Isn't that amazing love? Love is what I want to write about now in this post. I want to post the "essay" I wrote about faith and Valentines Day. I had to get the other stuff out first, though. Below is my Valentines Day post. Enjoy. 

When I was nine years old, a boy gave me a box of candy for Valentines Day and I fell for him in my nine-year-old-way. Okay, it was more of an obsessive way. Thus started my search for the elusive “perfect love,” the idea of the prince in shining armor who would give me roses and candy every Valentines Day and save me from all distress. During my teen years, I exchanged love letters with a boy and doted on the handwriting, the smell of the paper, the whole exchange process in the school hallway. Cloud Nine seemed too low for me; I was on Cloud Twenty. I thought that was real love: being on such a high that you can’t think straight, reading those letters over and over again until I could recite them.

            Not until I was married did I receive the best Valentines gift a man can ever give me: not candy, not a rose. My husband introduced me to Jesus and the love, mercy, and forgiveness that comes with Christianity.

            My yearning for a Valentine-kind of love was not all that different from the love I found in Christ. In fact, I now know that God is the only one who can provide me with unconditional love – no strings attached, no hidden agenda. Jesus is my knight in shining armor. He is the only one I can count on because his kind of love can never fail me. Jesus’ kind of love will always surround, infuse, and ignite me. What a difference that is from my nine-year-old-love where I yearned for that boy to show me attention, to look at me in the hallway, to give me another box of candy the following year. And do you know what? He didn’t. That boy decided I was too much of a pest and “dumped” me. I was devastated, heartbroken for the first time at age nine.

            Now? Now I love Jesus who I know will never “dump” me. He made the ultimate sacrifice for me, for us, and he wants us to love him in return. God even gave us a love letter – the Bible! I do read that love letter over and over, like those letters written to me in high school.

            The Apostle Paul even calls us a “love letter from Christ” in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (NIV)

Happy Valentines Day, Lord. Be mine always.