What Would I Sing of Nicaragua?

Image

Our trip to Nicaragua is finished, and now I’m left to wonder how to describe it all.  We were based at a home for girls that have been rescued from an area where thousands of families lived off the city dump. Called “La Chureca,” that dump has now been cleared, but the problems weren’t eliminated–they were just moved. We visited an area called Cristo Rey, where as many as 4,000 families live off the dumpsite there. Of course, all the children are at risk for disease, lack of health care, and malnutrition, but the girls are especially at risk for trafficking.  That’s why Villa Esperanza was created. It is a group home designed to rescue girls from these extremely high-risk areas, and it served as our home base.

We also spent a great deal of time in Motastepe, a small barrio near Villa Esperanza. I can hardly describe how loving and generous these people were with us.  They stole our hearts with their kindness, beauty, and warm welcome towards us, and we will surely never be the same.

If I were going to write a song about Nicaragua and its people, I may have to enlist my songwriter hubby’s help, but a few ideas come to mind that should somehow be included.

Enchanting

2013-08-02 01.05.48

Beautiful Tereza

DSC_0183

Heartbreaking

2013-08-02 05.04.19-2

Destitute

2013-08-02 01.12.06

Courageous Eliezar and Garnet

2013-08-02 06.41.48

Heart-stealing Ixsell2013-08-02 06.20.05-1

Family loving

DSC_0169

Joyful

2013-08-02 01.10.03

2013-08-02 01.10.09

Precocious

DSC_0027

Precious

2013-08-02 01.45.03

Redeemed

2013-08-02 09.55.12

2013-08-02 09.54.32

It will take me a very long time to process all that we saw and experienced.  I’ll post here as I can, but if you would like to learn more in the meantime about the work that is being done in Nicaragua at a special place called “Villa Esperanza,” I encourage you to click here to learn more.

If I could just be like my dog…

Standard

Each week, I get these little gems in my inbox called Wednesday Words from Leigh McLeroy, a gifted writer. Leigh is author of numerous insightful and poignant books such as The Sacred Ordinary and The Beautiful Ache.  She graciously agreed to let me share this week’s post with you. Check her out at www.leighmcleroy.com where you can also sign up for her weekly Wednesday Word.

(By the way, Leigh’s dog is the most adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Owen. I didn’t have a picture of Owen, so I substituted one of my dog Shorty, who I think is pretty handsome too.)

Along for the Ride

Owen likes road trips. He does. His crate fits perfectly in the back of my car, and he’s always ready to hop in. He never begs to see an itenerary. He never questions my route. He doesn’t ask if we’re “there yet,” or whine for a rest stop, or water, or a toy. He gets settled in his crate, I get behind the wheel, and off we go. I’m in charge of the driving – and my sweet, four-legged friend is along for the ride.

I usually put something interesting in the crate to occupy his attention – a chewie rawhide or a beat up toy – but before long Owen’s lying down, his eyes drooping closed and his breathing even and slow. He’s not afraid to sleep while I navigate; he trusts me to get us where we’re going.

If the trip is long and I stop for a bit, I’ll open the back and take Owen out for a break: a turn on the leash, sniffing and exploring, and a drink and a bit of a treat to eat. I don’t leave him unattended; I never forget he’s there. When it’s time to crate up again he doesn’t balk; he goes in easy and settles down quickly. He’s along for the ride.

You see where this is going, right?

My dog’s faith puts mine to shame. In contrast to Owen, I wonder often what the driver (let’s call him God) is up to; question the route he uses to take me where he means for me to go; feel the need for frequent updates to reassure me that we are, in fact, making good progress. And in no way do I relish being “loaded in” for travel facing backward, with no visibility and no control over the trip.

He means to get me from point A to point B, and to mature me in the process. I find it difficult to give myself to this “going” without seeing – to say “yes” to the journey and say nothing more. I struggle to relax, and fear that if I close my eyes we may veer hopelessly off track.

Even writing these words I feel ashamed. I’ve followed him long enough that I should be more confident with his way-finding skills. I should enjoy the trip, and be relieved to not be minding the map. I should feel free to sigh and sleep – to snore even – knowing he is getting us where we need to be. After all, he is the navigator. And I’m just along for the ride.

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake,so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27, NIV)

© Leigh McLeroy, 2012

http://www.leighmcleroy.com
“Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.”

Manoah’s Wife

Standard

Sometimes God’s complete disregard for human customs is amusing.  In the story of Manoah’s wife, we’re dealing with a time when, according to custom, women were property–generally useful for sex, having babies, keeping house or working the fields. Companionship was optional.

The story of Manoah and his wife offers many delicious, God-initiated ironies. First, God sends his messenger to whom? A nameless woman! Second, where Manoah is determined to discover God’s name and take control of the situation, isn’t it ironic that God, instead, only re-emphasizes that Manoah’s wife has all the pertinent details?

As Manoah presses for a name, God only responds that his name is “wonderful,” beyond knowing. Ironically, at the same time, God is making himself known to them in a truly personal and marvelous way. But it is all on God’s terms–not Manoah’s. The story also shows how God sees us, even when we are invisible and nameless to the rest of the world, and, even better, he includes us in his story.  Manoah’s wife became an important part, indeed, of God’s story.  Centuries later, another unknown, invisible girl likewise became pivotal to God’s story.  Perhaps the wonder of our relationship with God is that even though his name is “wonderful” and beyond understanding, he still draws near, reveals himself to us, and invites us, just like these people, into his story.

Not Safe. But Good.

Standard

Not Safe. But Good. (Photo by dogrando.)

Lesson Three was one of my favorites because, to tell the truth, I find great comfort in a God I can’t control.  Oh sure, I sometimes try to treat God like my personal Santa Claus, but of course that never works. Years ago, Barry and I attended a church that emphasized asking God for all kinds of things–healing, jobs, marriage restoration, financial help. While it’s true that God is our source for life itself, I don’t like it when the focus is all about me.  Look, I have NO TROUBLE focusing on me. My trouble is focusing on God who is SO MUCH BIGGER than me. I don’t need help worshiping myself.  I need help remembering that God is a holy, awe-inducing, incomprehensible, uncontrollable God who is worthy of every ounce of devotion I can give.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, when the children first learn about the great lion Aslan, they ask if he is “safe,” being a lion and all. Their friend replies, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

That’s the kind of God I want to worship.  Not a safe God. A God who challenges and stretches me, but who simultaneously fills the new spaces created by the stretching. A God I cannot tame but who is so good I have nothing to fear. Jesus said of his own life that he had the power to lay it down at will and the power take it back up again. That he chose to do so proves his wild and fierce devotion to us. Why would I not return love like that?

“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”  John 10:18

Where is your brother?

Standard

As I re-read Lesson Two this week (Why are you angry?), this time I landed on God’s 2nd question to Cain:  Where is your brother?  The first part of the story focuses on Cain challenging God’s right to be God and to, therefore, make the rules. Cain essentially challenges what later becomes the first commandment to love God with our whole being, putting no idols before him–not even ourselves. Maybe especially not ourselves. God, in turn, confronts Cain on that issue.

But God’s 2nd question confronts our responsibility towards others as do most of the rest of the 10 commandments. In the story of Cain and Abel, as in the commandments, God equates true worship with, first and foremost, wholehearted, unabashed devotion to himself, followed by a commitment to one another. No lying, cheating, murder, slander, even jealousy. It all starts, though, with devotion to God. Without worship of God as our starting point, are we capable of true devotion to one another? What is the impetus? If I am the source of my own moral decisions, when someone else gets in the way of something I want, be it an object, a goal, an idea, or even a perceived right, my only responsibility is to do what “feels” right. But if God is the object of my worship versus my own ego’s demands, my decision points are derived from God’s ideas of how to treat people versus mine.  I’ll just be honest. In my case, this is so much safer for myself and for those who have to live with me!

Trust what you see

Standard

Several years ago, I got stuck between two team members in a confrontation. Call them Joe and Steve.  A coffee date was set for the purpose of working things out. Steve apologized right away, admitting he had screwed up.  Joe wasn’t having it. An apology didn’t give him a chance plunge the knife and twist it hard. Steve tried to apologize again—several times, but he got nowhere.  Finally, in frustration, he said, “I don’t know what else to do. I’ve said I’m sorry.”  Joe leaned in, narrowed his eyes with a sadistic glint, and with a twisted grin he said, “Why don’t you say it again?”

I knew in that moment that I no longer wanted to work with Joe. It wasn’t a matter of forgiveness. I’m not perfect. Lord knows I’ve said stupid things. I just knew that I didn’t ever want to inflict that kind of behavior on my clients or other teammates.  Still, in the ensuing weeks, I wondered if I should let bygones be bygones.  One morning, I was reading in the Proverbs, a treasure trove of wisdom and always a good place to find insight. These words practically jumped off the page at me:

Don’t make friends with an angry man, and don’t be a companion of a hot-tempered man. Proverbs 22:24

I took comfort in those words. I know I’m required to treat others as I wish to be treated, but these words reminded me that I’m not required to befriend everyone. Wisdom offers protection. But how do you discern between the person who simply needs that extra measure of kindness and mercy versus the person you should avoid?

Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruit.” Unfortunately, we have all become adept at the fine art of putting on our best “Facebook” for the public. So how can we distinguish the authentic person versus the fake? Whether it’s the newscasters, the politicians, or the scandel-ridden public figure, we’ve seen the best of the best make mud look like diamonds. Jesus warns us not to be fooled though. Just look at the person’s life, he says. You can’t get fruit from a weed. If you see goodness, faithfulness, or kindness, you are looking at the real deal. If, though, you see someone talks one way but consistently lives another way, Jesus teaches us to trust our eyes.

Do you trust what you see?  Or do you second-guess, think you’re being “too hard” on someone, and backtrack from believing what is right in front of you?

Is God Holding out on You?

Standard

I have a friend who was so hurt over a broken relationship that she became obsessed with the offending party’s wrongs. In fact, she looked for new offenses, each new one a confirmation of her own “rightness.” In doing so, she was blind to her own ungracious heart, and by focusing all of her attention on the matter, she made it an idol.  I’d like to say I don’t get it, but I do. There are times I’d rather be vindicated than obey God’s command to worship him only and to love others. After all, “worship” literally means to “ascribe worth.” How many pointless arguments and vain pursuits do we attribute worth by giving them attention and energy, and what lengths do we take to justify ourselves in the process?

The temptation of Adam and Eve began in their minds, as all temptation does. Did you catch the subtle, slimy tactics that the serpent used? At first, the serpent hints that God’s instructions aren’t reliable. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Then the suggestion that God is actually holding out on them is served up like a delicious dessert:

“God knows that when you eat of [this tree], your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Shadows are thrown on God’s character and motives. This divide and conquer tactic is extremely effective. You are off the hook for your own bad behavior, while doubts are thrown on the other person or on God. All you have to do is hint at someone’s shortcomings or failures, and you come out smelling like a rose. Commonly known as throwing someone under the bus, it ain’t pretty. The ensuing division is the loose thread that unravels the entire garment of community and friendships. Sometimes, we even throw God under the bus, rather than do the right thing.

I am most tempted in this way when I’ve been offended or wronged. Those are the times when that “love your neighbor” rule goes out the window, and I’m ready to drop-kick someone under the bus!  I put more importance then on being justified versus trusting God to grow me past the offense.

What about you?  Can you think of situations where it has been easier to blame and cast aspersions on others versus obeying the command to forgive, to trust, and to honor God first with our attention and energy?

On a side note: If you find yourself tripping up over whether or not there was a real serpent, a real garden, or a real Adam and Eve, can I just offer a suggestion?  Get past that argument and remember that the accounts in the Bible are given to point us to God and tell his story.  They teach us about God’s character, God’s relationship to us, and how we can and should relate to God and to one another. So rather than getting all hung up in the “literal or not” argument, just ask yourself, “What can I learn about God in this story?”

When God Questions Us

Standard

I admit it. I’m a bad blogger. Mea culpa and all that.  However, I have been writing like crazy to finish a portion of a book that has been in the works for way too long. My last post was a glimpse into the first chapter. For the month of June, an amazing group of women will read a few chapters and discuss them. I’m using this blog as a place to interact with them in the coming weeks, and I’m inviting everyone to come along for the ride.

pensive womanThe book is called When God Questions Us.  Together with a group of about 50 women, we’ll explore just four chapters in June. The lessons and related posts are available here.  You are free to participate online or in person. (See below for location/time info.) You can add comments here on this blog, or you can also visit the Facebook page of Covenant Life, the church hosting the study. I will post at least once weekly both here and on Covenant Life’s Women’s Ministry Facebook page, so feel free to participate either way.

The title of the book suggests its content. We all fantasize at some point or another about the list of questions we plan to hand to God one day. And, boy oh boy, he better have some good answers, right?  Is it possible, though, that God has a few questions of his own? Truthfully, God does have questions, and he has been asking them for centuries.  I invite you to join us as we dig into the questions God poses to man throughout the Bible.  I welcome you to chime in as you read and as you think of “God questions” that challenge, inspire, or bring you insight.  Maybe together, we can learn to be quicker to listen to the things God is asking of us rather than the things we are asking of God.

Where are you?

Standard

Can I just let you in on a little secret? I have never liked women’s events, whether at work or at church.  Girl’s night out? Not a big priority. Honestly, Barry and I such great friends that I never saw girl time as an urgent need. Besides, women can just be so…complicated. Am I right?

Lately, though, I’ve come to see how important girlfriends are. There are some things, for instance, that my girlfriends understand instantly, while I could spend hours trying to explain the same thing to Barry—and he still might not get it. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m crazy about this guy. But, let’s face it, he can’t be my girlfriend, and it isn’t fair to expect him to be.)

But friendships are costly. I have to be real, let someone see my warts, and open my heart to risk. I have to deal with other people’s stuff too. Truthfully, I’d rather sit on my couch!

But friendship is worth the price of undignified pursuit. In the story of the garden, God shares a perfect friendship with Adam and Eve until they betray him and hide. But God leaves all sense of personal pride behind and bolts after them, searching through the garden, calling “Where are you?”  It is a picture of loss. The trust, ease of friendship, and sweet companionship enjoyed between man and God is gone, replaced by shame, awkwardness, division, mistrust, and fear. Anyone who has suffered a divorce or even a falling out between friends can relate. We say to ourselves, “It wasn’t mean to be this way.”

And we’re right. It wasn’t! We were designed to share friendship with God and one another. After all, God himself declared of’ Adam’s solitary state, “It is not good.” Barring those momentary times when hiding under the covers sounds perfect, we all know that we need friends. We need family. We need soul mates.

Ecclesiastes puts it this way:

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up…And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.   Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

If friendship is such a good thing, why do we sometimes avoid the effort? Could it be that our ability to give and receive is in direct proportion to our ability to trust God? Is is possible that if we trust God completely to be all we need, we free those around us from the tyranny of our expectations, and free ourselves to just love people where they are and receive whatever they have to give?

The Faces across a Table

Standard

There are few things more satisfying than scanning a dinner table or looking across my kitchen counter to see the faces of people I love.  Even when it includes those oddball characters no one quite knows what to do with (you know who you are).

You know the ones. They have a real knack for artfully–almost poetically–saying exactly the wrong thing.

Yeah, even them.  Maybe especially them.

In fact, those are the very people who usually make things more interesting. Like the other night when one of my son’s friends went off on a rant about anti-depressants. He said, “Not to be graphic” (so we braced ourselves), and then he went on to describe scientifically (and graphically) why antidepressants take all the umph out of orgasms.

Really?  Hmm.  Didn’t know that.  “Coffee anyone?”

Or there was the recent dinner when my nephew was home from college with two friends. I overheard one family member  talking about the politics of homosexuality with one of the friends. (To his credit, the young man maintained a remarkable poker face. Didn’t even flinch.)

I sat for a moment that night taking it all in. I scanned the table, watching everyone joke and gesticulate, while they stuffed faces full with pizza and somehow still managed to share stories, tall tales, gross exaggerations, good-natured ribbing, and belly laughs—all without bringing soda up their noses.

Somehow it was all so….glorious.  So wonderfully and beautifully imperfect. No matter what is being served or where, if I can look across a table or a room into the eyes of someone I love, it is all so very, very good.

Thorny nests, Dips, and Cul-de-Sacs

Standard
thorny nests

photo by Mr. T in DC

I once read that birds actually build thorns deep into their nests. Apparently, it’s a parenting issue. When Mama bird finds herself with a too-comfortable fledgling, reluctant to spread wings and fly, she says, “I’ll fix this” and begins removing downy layers, one by one, to expose those thorns. Baby bird says, “Hey–ow! That hurts! Ma! What’re you doing?!”

Suddenly, the nest is not so cozy. The idea of leaving seems more inviting.

Is it possible that God himself builds thorns into our nest?  When we find ourselves in thorny circumstances, are we being prodded to leave because the nest has become too comfortable or, at least, too familiar? We refuse to budge, so God lovingly removes the cushioning, making it harder and harder to stay.

Maybe God just wants us to fly. Without exposure to those prickly barbs, though, we might never know the joy.

Over the years, when I’ve found myself in difficult situations, I’ve wondered, “Are these thorns? Is it time to go? Or do I still have things to learn here?”  Very often, I knew the answer deep down. Admitting it…well, that often takes time…and more thorns.

In his excellent little book The Dip, Seth Godin reasons that times of conflict represent either a dip or a cul-de-sac.  Every job, relationship, and circumstance has ups and downs. Sometimes, we’re just in a dip, and the right thing to do is to push through and grow from the adversity. But sometimes we’re in a cul-de-sac, doomed to endless driving in circles…unless we leave.

Dips. Thorns. Cul de Sacs. It takes time and a little cold, hard honesty for me to know when my struggle is a simple dip or a nasty thorn–poking me in such confounded ways that the idea of leaping off the edge sounds infinitely better than staying put. Seen in this light, I can let go of the struggle and come to a place of grace. No need to find someone to blame (though I admit I try).  Truth is, the thorns were probably always there. They were just covered by God’s protective grace for a time. But he sometimes he removes that protection so that I will have no choice but to brave right up to the edge and take a flying leap.

And I suspect that looking back is not a good idea when in flight.

A Time to Walk Away

Standard
cast away

Photo by Beni Ishaque Luthor

Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” isn’t exactly a pensive song. At first glance, it seems like nothing more than a celebration of a perpetual drunk fest on some Mexican beach. But tucked in the lyrics is a slow, somewhat poignant, realization: As he considers his Margaritavile demise, the singer first claims it was “nobody’s fault,” then “…it could be my fault.” And finally, the epiphany, “It’s my own damn fault.”

Oi vay. I can relate this slow grind to humility, especially when it comes to knowing when to walk away. When I was a young teacher, I was surprised to so readily see among my colleagues the ones who had stayed too long. I remember telling Barry, “Please remind me to quit when I don’t like the kids anymore!”

But sometimes we are the last to see when it’s time to go, aren’t we? Ecclesiastes says, “There’s a time to keep and a time to cast away.”

Wisdom is about knowing when.

When is it right to let go of whatever we are holding onto? A job? A person? A dream? A grudge? A personal war?  I don’t always know, do you?

I do know this: Hang on too long, and the misery that ensues is often my own fault because I’m only hanging on out of fear, comfort…even laziness. I may even have legitimate grievances to pin my frustrations to, but the truth is that I have outstayed the grace I was given to deal with them. Without that grace, the weeds in any human interaction eventually wind round our necks and choke the living daylights out of us.

Knowing the “when” is hard, though.  I’m often too close, too tangled in the weeds to see. I do know this much. It’s time to walk away if–

1) My only reason for remaining involves fear, laziness, or the desire to be comfortable

2) My “round” self just no longer fits the ever-tightening square hole of my circumstances

3) I’ve made a god of the thing or person I’m clinging to–and I’m trying to squeeze life, or affirmation, or provision from it, when I should be trusting God for those things instead.  Ugh.

I’d love to know how others deal with this question, though. As you think about letting go, what determines your “when”?

Standard

My friend Angela really captures a glimpse of what it means to be grateful for the little things…for everything, really…and in doing so, to really live.

Photos in a Jar

My breakfast ideas use to be bigger than this.  My hopes of an authentic being were barely formed.  Though, breakfast was always a delightful break in the bullshit of a day that I knew was coming like a semi down I-75.  What happened to my taking pleasure in beginning my day?  Is it my ill-tolerance for bread that shot me down?  Perhaps I began valuing sleep more than culinary creative expression.  If I just gained more sleep I would…I would…eventually feel more tired and fatigued throughout the day (blah).  Let’s be real.  If I can no longer find excitement in my breakfast, then what will the rest of my day be like?

I’m reading my Simple Abundance almost religiously.  I’ve noticed I read it, set it down and barely think about its meditations or contemplations.  How can I focus when I have so many other useless things scratching at my…

View original post 228 more words

A Better Story

Standard

Love this post from Tom Basson about the need for story and the power of story in our lives.

tom.basson

There is something wonderfully powerful about STORIES.

Stories are universal – crossing boundaries of language, culture and age. We can all relate to stories, and it is in the context of narrative that the human heart truly responds. In fact, people have been telling and responding to stories since the beginning of time. It’s how most cultures pass on information from generation to generation.

Interestingly, recent evidence from neurology and psychology is confirming that humans think in narrative structures. Concepts conveyed in story form – more than ideas explained with logic and analysis – imprint themselves naturally into human minds.

It’s why we can remember a book or a film from years back, but can’t remember the PowerPoint we saw 10 minutes ago.

There is something about story (especially a good story) that is able to capture our hearts, our minds, and our imagination.

Now, I believe inside each of…

View original post 407 more words

Do What You Love. Or Maybe Not

Standard
Love Never Fails

photo by Jhon Alfa Tumbelaka

Is it really best to do what you love? Or is it better to just get a job? What if you want your passion to remain your passion and not your job?  If you’ve ever actually tried to make money doing what you love (art, music, writing, teaching–whatever), you know that your passion can be sucked dry by the pressures and sticky details of actually earning a living. Even worse, that thing you love, that thing that was once a joy and release from the every day, has become part of the every day, so now you no longer even have your fun escape valve.

A friend of mine built a business around a passion of hers. After 14 years of running a successful but demanding business, she advocates keeping your creative passions for yourself versus wrapping your sustenance around them. Others say, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I don’t know, though. I’ve been doing what I love for a long time, but writing as a business is a whole different animal from writing for the sheer joy of it.  It involves nasty unpleasant things like taxes, bookkeeping, billing, negotiating, and contracts.  I know. I know. This is all just reality. I get that. But is there wisdom in hiding a little piece of your creative soul away from your paycheck?

So, I’m curious. I’m really curious how others who work within their passions or creative gifts address this issue.  What do you do?