We are not Superheroes

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If I have learned anything over the last couple years it is that we are are not superheroes. We are not invincible. We are not immortal. And we don’t run the show like we sometimes think we do.

I’m talking about the Christian cross-cultural worker and humans in general.

Humanity

Life and health are fragile things and just when we think we have it tight in our grasp we lose our balance and it is ripped from us in a moment. It leaves us at a loss for words.

I never had reason to consider the fragility of life until recently. I took my safety and health for granted. I’ve recently been confronted with the painful reality that we have no idea what could happen tomorrow. We cannot see the future or, much less, determine it. As a cross-cultural worker I live in a region that is more dangerous than the environment in which I grew up. I’ve had to face the normality of violence and death in a way I never thought I would. Recently, I have experienced heartbreak within my own family and it leaves us feeling vulnerable. I have seen friends go through agonizing loss and face the uncertainty of grave diagnoses. We all question why. Everything was going so well. The control was in my hands!

The American value of self-sufficiency and autonomy is not necessarily a biblical one. We praise those who make it on their own with no help. The desire of self-governance is at the core of our rebellious hearts and is the retort of the atheist. Like toddlers, we push away the hand that feeds us because for a moment we stubbornly believe the delusion that we can actually make it on our own. We imagine that we are the ones in control and that we are strong and capable and independent and free. At our best, it sneaks into our self-conscious as we silently applaud ourselves, and at our worst we give in to self-aggrandizing behavior with disregard to how we belittle others.

Ironically, Webster defines humility as the freedom from pride or arrogance. To be truly humble is to be free. The constant striving to need others (or God) less is like a ball and chain.

 

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An excerpt from my devotional by Paul D. Tripp the other day said it perfectly:

Don’t fear your weaknesses. Be afraid of those moments when you think you’re independently strong.

In a world where all you have in the end is your thinking, your drive, your performance, and your achievements, weakness is a thing to be regretted.

But God’s grace makes weakness a thing to be feared no longer.

And really, the only way to accept the life-altering grace of our Savior is to admit how weak and unrighteous and not-so-know-it-all that we really are.

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How difficult it is for the prideful man to truly know God.


Christian Cross-cultural Work

I have been studying the book, Walking with the Poor, for literally, over a year. It is heavy and oh-so-good and relevant to the work we do in Honduras. Chapter 7 touches on principles and attitudes that a holistic practitioner on the field should have. Myers lists the characteristics that workers should aspire to in Christian development work:

  • Be patient
  • Be humble
  • Everyone is learning
  • Everywhere is holy
  • Love the people, not the program
  • Cultivate a repentant spirit
  • Act like dependent people – Myers says, “We need to show daily that we are a people dependent on God and not on our professional skills, our development technology, or our financial resources. People will see for themselves in whom we most truly place our trust. We need to be sure that our actions and our lives communicate that our trust is in the God of the Bible and nowhere else.

This is something that is so important for my husband and me in our poverty alleviation work. We immediately posture ourselves along with the “recipients” in giving thanks to God for His provision. We all are the receivers and our good God is the giver. No one is assuming the role of Superhero.

Humility as a cross-cultural worker also means having the vulnerability to voice certain defeats or challenges and speaking up when your health (physical, emotional, financial, etc) is spiraling. Humility is recognizing that our human bodies and emotions have limits and require rest. Humility is accepting help, like possibly going to a professional counselor or learning boundaries and when to say no. All of these can be especially challenging for someone on the mission field who has been taught that they should have unending energy and compassion, superhero characteristics.

There is something about the daily exposure to poverty and other ills of society which tends to tear away faith and make agents of change some of the most cynical people around.

– M. Maggay

Myers suggests that when our soul starts longing for the Sabbath that a “sanity escape” can protect our inner lives; this is a time to “withdraw from our work and sit back and look for what is good. [Holistic practitioners] need to be able to hear the music, listen to the silence, pray, and sit quietly before the Word. Smelling the flowers, walking on the beach, and reading a good book are essential to sustaining our humanity and spirituality.”

Rest is the best way to combat burn-out and compassion fatigue for full-time workers in difficult contexts.

Advice for a sending agency or congregation that is trying to care for workers on the field, Myers says, “We have a responsibility to help holistic practitioners free themselves in a way that allows them to make a gift of themselves, their character, and their skills, to all their relationships, beginning at home.”

In the day-to-day, we should learn to balance being driven and trusting in God’s sovereignty as described in the Serenity Prayer:

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amen

When Grown-ups [Indirectly] Hurt Your Feelings on Facebook (or in real life)

*Disclaimer: Maybe this is common sense for some of you. If so, GREAT! Unfortunately, from my Facebook newsfeed this is still an issue among people I know.* :/

Dear oblivious friend, family member, angry and bitter Facebook acquaintance,

Your comments hurt. Yeah, remember that time you thought it was funny to joke about those illegals or those violent Muslims? Or, maybe because you feel as if the government or the media is unfairly slanted toward “anti-American values” (and due to the fact that you don’t have any diversity whatsoever within your Facebook friend list) you thought it would even the playing fields by lashing out at an entire group of people by reposting a cruel meme. You justify your hate speech with scripture and make biting comments and sarcastically wish ill on “those people” all in the name of patriotism or religion or whatever twisted combination of the two you pledge allegiance to.

Those things hurt.

Personally.

And it makes me question if there are any loving Christians still out there. 😦 (I know there are because some of my best friends still represent the very best of Christianity)

I know I’m sensitive. I get emotionally involved in situations and people’s lives too easily. I feel drawn to outcasts and misunderstood people. My worldview (read: politics) is determined by my faith in Christ + personal experiences and friendships NOT by talking heads in the media who supposedly share my faith.

(I don’t want to get on the subject of politics but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, why are so many Christ-followers supporting a clearly arrogant, bitter, angry, unloving, anti-grace bigot this election season? I am appalled.)

“I see the confusion of politics and religion as one of the greatest barriers to grace. C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of UNgrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.” – Philip Yancey

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I do believe that God has given me a burden for marginalized people. I confess that I am not always the best at loving people consistently but oh, how I feel a heavy burden. I have been an advocate for immigrants for some time and just recently I have made a couple dear friends in the Muslim community not too far from where I live. I am consistently amazed at what we have in common. Why had I never noticed our common humanity before?

Maybe because most of the voices I hear paint these every-day people as a murderous, revenge-seeking caricature. That is so far from my personal experience. I choose to believe that my friends are not the exception to the rule, just as I hope they choose to believe that I am not the exception either. And I hope I’m not.

(Funny, random story: the other day I was giving some friends a ride home after the ESL class that I teach. It sounds like the start of a joke but we were… a white girl, a Latina and a Muslim lady all in one little car. A group of people was on the corner at an intersection where we stopped and they all had posters offering free hugs. I honked and waved and a black girl ran across the street and reached into my car to give us all hugs! It was hilarious! I don’t know what that group represented or if I would even personally agree with them on what they stood for but it didn’t matter, I’ll still take a free hug! All four of us had such distinct backgrounds and stories. That to me looked like such a lovely picture of diversity. I wish someone had actually taken a photo. ❤ )

Some people would rather live their lives looking at others with suspicion and fear. That doesn’t sound like a nice way to live though.

If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.” Luke 11:35-36 Message

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..unless it is actually just you because “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” …or the fingers post.

Action step: Let’s try to be more considerate with what we post online. Have a little more discernment before sharing that hilarious thing so-and-so just posted.

We can all THINK before we post. Is it…

True

Helpful

Inspiring

Necessary

Kind?

And I am certainly not saying all of this out of political correctness. Could there be a more nauseating topic of conversation?? How about we all just try not to be *rear ends* in general as we interact with one another. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being patient and kind and loving and gracious. I don’t know if Jesus would be too down with your redneck renegade rant you just posted offending half of His creation. Let’s be gentle in our speech.

For the most part, this is me while scrolling through social media…

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But sometimes I want to sit down with the person and have a good coffee (or Yemeni chai tea) and ask what kind of horrible experience they had that made them so hateful toward another person… maybe that is a conversation we should have?

Don’t doubt in the dark what you saw in the light…

For anyone who’s been doubting or feeling skeptical like I often do, I am here to tell you that the REAL God still changes hearts in REAL life.

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(free stock photo from Pexels)

[So, I am working on a Honduras update post or two but I wanted to give a quick testimony and word of praise for what I experienced yesterday at church.]

First of all, the worship team started off the service with a song I had never heard before called Covered by Israel Houghton that absolutely tore me up…

At the cross you called it finished!

All my past is covered… all my sin is covered by your grace…

No matter what I’ve done
No matter where I’ve been
No matter how I fall
You pick me up again
You have removed my shame
You take me as I am
You call me justified
Now I am covered by your grace

Without mentioning the name of the church (because God gets all the glory, not any person or physical location) I want to say how much I admire this team of ministers for creating such a welcoming atmosphere and having the spiritual discernment and anticipation to be prepared to minister when a person has some heavy crap to take care of. Let’s be real, as humans we get shocked and offended and scared at some of the real life junk that people are dealing with deep down. It is a lot easier to dress up on Sunday mornings and intentionally not think about the personal hell that our neighbor might be living in.

My heart hurts for those who think they wouldn’t be welcomed in a church building. We as Christ-followers should be the most welcoming people on the planet. Why do we screw this up so much?

Well, God isn’t offended or intimidated by our mess. He loves us so intensely that just one encounter with His presence, one taste of the REAL Living Water, is enough to quench our thirst and make us realize that we had been so foolishly drinking out of the wrong well for so long looking for something that didn’t even satisfy.

A friend of a family member whom I met for the first time yesterday got a RADICAL taste of this unconditional love and overwhelming grace. He got set free from some crazy stuff on the spot while praying with some staff members after the service. I’ve been in awe of the Lord and feeling kinda weepy ever since. God is good.

Sometimes in ministry we feel like we’re treading water, maybe we are in the “sowing seeds” stage and it feels really slow. The all of a sudden we get to participate in the “harvest” and it is so encouraging and affirming. And I was reminded again not to ever underestimate what God can and will do. He’s been using unconventional ways and unconventional people since the beginning of time. Who are we to predict or “approve” of His methods or even think we could possibly have Him figured out? (And who says ministry only happens in the church building? That might be one of the most debilitating myths of the Church’s ministry today and there are even pastors who perpetuate this mindset.) When we start recognizing the divine in the mundane and becoming aware of sacred moments in secular settings we will be much more effective in the Kingdom. Let’s not miss God-ordained opportunities because we’re too busy with our heads down shuffling through our daily routines.

God is so much bigger 🙂

“Who would name their dog ‘Tequila??'”

Who would name their dog Tequila??” Disapproval and disgust were in her voice as she wrinkled up her forehead in a snide expression, studying the little Chihuaha-mix mut on the front steps of my house.

My friend, that’s who, I thought. My neighbor. The mother of these two children who just heard you ask that question.

I wanted to snap back with something equally as snobby like, “who would wear such an ugly hat?” But then I realized that I was the 23-year-old and she was the high school student who apparently didn’t know any better. Still, I reasoned with myself, I ought to do herself a favor and teach her a lesson by bursting that little self-righteous bubble of hers.

Maybe I was more bitter than I should have been, thinking about how I wished that someone had burst my self-righteous bubble when I was that age. I know I would have asked the same question at 15-years-old.

It was day two of a summer “missions trip.” This youth group from out of town was assigned to our neighborhood for their service project as part of a summer camp being held on the campus of my alma mater. For three days in a row the group would come into this neighborhood they had never visited before and spend 3-4 hours ministering to our neighborhood kids by playing games, sharing Bible lessons, eating snacks and making crafts. Great concept. Great group of people with great intentions.

But somewhere in the midst of the lesson, sitting in the grass of our front yard on that sunny summer afternoon, in between the hushes and snaps of fingers and demands for children to pay attention and sit still, (impossible requests given the circumstances) I caught a glimpse of what many missionaries must feel when groups come to “help.” As much as I would have loved for the kids to be enthralled by a lesson given by a middle-aged man they’d never met about how scientists have not yet been able to engineer anything close to what God created such as the single blade of grass he held in his hand, chances were slim that they’d be paying attention.

I did my best to encourage listening and interest in the topic at hand but it was apparent that there was a distinct “us and them” division. Clearly unintentional on the group’s part, they had failed to relate to the kids, build any kid of foundation of friendship, trust or respect and it left the kids feeling talked at rather than talked with. I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want to choose sides. If it came down to it I know who I’d be with.

My friends and I have been building relationships with these children and their families for over four years. It is kind of strange to see new people come in and start making new rules. We don’t want to be territorial but we do feel a sense of ownership. It takes time to earn trust. It takes time to learn the people and atmosphere around you. I think it is a great disservice to march into a new place with a rigid plan and a disregard for individuals’ needs.

Honestly, the kids probably had a blast. They played with soccer balls and did parachute activities. I’m sure they enjoyed the break from summer vacation monotony. This is in no way a reprimand or diss on the part of this particular group. It is a commentary on all service projects, social ministry and short-term mission trips. I think it would be healthy to reconsider the way we have traditionally done missions.

When that young girl came into my neighborhood and judged my neighbor for naming her dog after alcohol, I felt personally offended. I didn’t feel embarrassed for my neighbor because this church girl found out the controversial name of her dog, I felt embarrassed for this church girl because she had vocalized judgment instead of grace and it was not representative of the heart of my Savior.

What if when we went on “mission trips,” instead of barging in like an army taking territory, we let grace lead the way? What if instead of coming at people we decided to just be with them? What if instead of telling them what they should consider important, we learned about what was important to them? I don’t think we will win those around us to the heart of God by suggesting they change the name of their pets… I think those around us will be drawn to the heart of God when we walk across the street and visit them on their porches; sitting and talking and laughing, accepting them for who they are, Tequila and all.

Prayer for my future children

I cannot even begin to imagine the great responsibility of being a parent… the privilege and honor of stewarding over another human being. Sometimes I think, “How can I be trusted with that??” I certainly don’t imagine that I will have it all figured out by the time that moment comes in life but here are some prayers that I have for my future children:

I pray that grace would blind your eyes to all offense and entitlement. I pray that I would help lead you to the Truth, but that the vehicle by which you arrive would never be fear or manipulation or guilt.

I pray that the home I make for you would be a safe place to dream dreams, ask tough questions and voice unpopular opinions. I pray that you would always feels respected and validated and that in return you would learn to respect and validate others.

I pray that you would see unconditional love exemplified in our home and that you would never see yourself or anyone else as too far gone for redemption. I pray that as you see those around you make mistakes or bad decisions or different choices, that you would never view them as inferior but as a human in need of grace, just like you, just like me.

Celebratory Weekend

This past weekend I attended two celebrations.

1. A girl who has been part of the mentorship program I’ve been involved in turned fifteen-years-old Saturday. As is customary in Guatemala, where her family is from, and in other Latin American countries, turning fifteen is a very important event in a young girl’s life. The quince años signifies coming into adulthood and this is usually marked by a large elaborate celebration, la fiesta de quinceañera. Oftentimes this event is as big of a deal and as expensive as a wedding. It takes months of planning and the guest list is extensive.

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La Quinceañera.

The quinceañera, birthday girl, was escorted by her cousin. One of her younger cousins asked me, “ella se va a casar con él?”

“Is she going to marry him?” It was a reasonable question and her confusion was understandable. 😉

I have heard the Perez family talk about this fiesta for at least a year. Mr. Perez and one of the quinceañera’s aunts shared with me this weekend how hard life was growing up in Guatemala. As children they weren’t even able to have toys. That is why it is so important to them that their children have better opportunities here in this country and are able to have things that they couldn’t. The love among the extended family members was evident and I knew that every small detail of that night’s celebration was a direct result of some hard sacrifices that many in her family had made. It was a dream day for sure.

2. Sunday morning, I attended a lovely wedding downtown that was held in a park. This was the most unique wedding I have been to and the most meaningful. The bride wanted to share this special day with friends, family… and strangers. I had never met her but I had heard her testimony. My grandmother has been involved in ministry with her and so I tagged along for the special occasion.

This ceremony was the most beautiful and symbolic picture of Christ’s redeeming love. I felt like I was reading the book of Hosea. The bride has an incredible story of how her broken past has been turned around and is now used to reach young girls who are in similar situations to that which she found herself years ago. She reaches out to those caught in sex trafficking and is opening a home for girls who want to get out of that lifestyle. Without even knowing her personally, I became emotional just thinking of that immense and scandalous grace.

After the ceremony, we shared soup and cake with the guests and passersby which included many who slept in that park. Each Sunday, she and her (now) husband minister to the homeless and bring them food. Times like these I sense that Jesus is more real than ever.