All posts by grace

i call it breathing

i started this when i was living in niger, and i’ve come to finish it on a day where i very much feel all of this.

 

a long time ago, a friend told me that they knew i “feel love like a weight,”  and it took me a little while for that to settle in. not because i didn’t believe it, but because i could physically feel it hurting in my chest. the moment i heard the words, i thought of things going on in the lives of people i knew, in the world around me, and i could feel it in my chest.

it isn’t the feeling of anxiety, i knew that feeling very well and hadn’t experienced it since my early days of trusting Jesus. it is just a physical feeling of sadness, empathy, i suppose. but it is overwhelming sometimes, paralyzing on the worst days.

and i feel it often.

i feel it now, it has been heavy in my chest  and i can’t shake it and i don’t want to. because it’s the only way i feel human.

i’ve been telling my new friends here about my amazing ability to cry. at movies, a photo, a glance at a stranger. some might call it being “overly sensitive,” but i believe it’s a gift. it’s a gift because it’s an outward showing of what i can best describe as the spirit moving within me. even that sounds fairly trite. because how can i possibly understand or even quantify what that truly means or feels for anyone? i only know that for me it feels like a weight.

i’m sitting at a table thinking about the people i know around the world who feel pain from physical malady. those who own scars from the wounds of life that no one asks for nor deserves. i’m thinking about all the children i know who don’t have fathers or mothers. who can’t go to school. who only feel daily human contact by way of violence or abuse.

i’m thinking about women who yearn for children but can’t have them. men who want to provide for their families but feel shame because they’re unemployed.  people who are battling cancer, chronic illness, unexpected traumas. i’m thinking of people who are trapped in brains or bodies that we don’t fully, medically understand and may never.

i’m thinking of the people who carry heavy emotional burdens on their backs for their family, friends, children, and lovers. i’m thinking of the brokenness.

and i feel it like a weight as i sit here in my own broken body. this body and brain and soul that i don’t understand on my best days and curse on my worst days. this body and brain and soul that feels broken on their best days and phony on their worst.

fake. phony. an illusionist.

and i have to believe that being a broken, fake, phony illusionist is normal and even ok. because on my worst days i feel like the weight is crushing me.

but on my best days,

on my best days, i believe.  i believe that loving people works. i believe that hugging someone works. i believe that crying next to someone works. i believe that telling someone that they did a good job or that they are kind, i believe that works. i believe that breathing through the crushing weight of other people’s pain, breathing through the selfish ambition to walk away and stay safer in ignorance, pushing through as a broken person sitting next to broken people, i believe that works.

on my worst days i hide and i listen to sad music and i let the weight crush me until i have no tears left to cry.  and that’s ok.

but on my best days i admit my own brokenness, i don’t pretend, i don’t feel phony. i look all of that in the face and i love the broken person next to me.  and that’s better.

to me, that’s what this life is about.

that’s breathing.

 

 

(sleeping at last, accidental light)

i repent of parading my liberty

i had been working on another piece before the events of this weekend unfolded. that’s on hold for now, but it’s supremely relevant even though it has to take back burner for today’s story. we’ll get there, though, soon enough.

(one other note, the titles of my posts are all song lyrics. at the bottom of the post you’ll see the artist and song used in the title. the option is yours to listen to the song or read the lyrics for another take on the topic at hand.)

 

logic. reasoning.

for some, those are paramount for human existence. there is a desire to understand.

how things work.
action and reaction.
where those lost socks go.
how we exist.
why humans do the things we do.

we’ve been talking a lot about logic over the weekend. because for all intent and purpose, what is happening in our corner of the world is illogical.

my american, college educated mind finds it very easy to disconnect truth from opinion, facts from hearsay. i find it easy to use discernment and logic in discussing the events of the past few weeks:

– secular, satirical magazine in a country that supports freedom of speech and religion lawfully publishes cartoons that negatively depict the prophet of millions of followers around the world, many of whom live in countries where there is no separation of church and state, nor is there encouragement to speak out against, poke fun at, or malign a supreme personage.

– secular, satirical magazine is targeted and people are senselessly killed, global headlines appear. global support for freedom of speech appears.

– muslims in former french colonies catch wind. people are angry that the person they most revere is continually being defamed.

– they gather at their place of worship to demonstrate their anger. the police tell them to stop. now their anger is kindled.

– they begin to act irrationally, mob mentality takes over, they take advantage of the situation to make clear their feelings against christians by burning churches, homes, christian schools, things get maliciously out of hand.

 

it is irrational for churches in africa to be burnt because of a secular magazine in france. it is irrational for muslims to think nigerien christians had anything to do with that magazine. it is irrational for people to burn homes simply because other people are doing it. it is irrational to forcibly and physically remove the livelihood of fellow neighbors simply out of anger or hurt. it is irrational to use this situation to show disdain for the government.  it is not logical.

 

but i, too, am illogical. i trust and follow people who have acted irrationally.

paul and barnabus’ missionary journeys do not make rational sense.  upon preaching the message of grace and redemption in certain cities, they were threatened and stoned, left for dead. it does not make rational sense for them to return and continue encouraging people. but they did. they risked their lives because they knew their message was truth.

it doesn’t make rational sense to be in a foreign country, contracting weird bacterias and being eaten by malarial mosquitoes. it doesn’t make rational sense to stay here after our churches have burnt and believers in Jesus are being threatened. but we stay because we know the message we share is about love, redemption, forgiveness and God’s grace. and the people here desperately need to know that. so we stay.  it doesn’t make sense because it is illogical.

 

Jesus is illogical. following Jesus goes against limited human logic. He who tells me to love and pray for my enemy and for those who persecute me, to turn my right cheek when my left cheek is hit, to give my shirt when my jacket has been taken… He who tells me to forgive someone 70 times 7… He who died bearing my sins and the sins of the world to reconcile us to God… He is not logical. His word goes against what our rational AND irrational minds think and do. His very birth and life is illogical. i can’t understand it. it doesn’t make sense.

but i am not naive. i have not been brainwashed into believing fairy tales and i do not subscribe to faith because it wraps up the world in a tidy package that makes life easier to swallow.

it is in the very essence of this irrationality that i find truth, hope, freedom, promise. i trust because Jesus is illogical. i believe because God can’t be fully explained. i have hope because even a shred of His Word brings more peace and acceptance than any logical or rational thought can prove to me.

have you lived enough years on this earth to realize the irrationality of it? have you seen enough humans make choices every day that confound and madden you? how many times have you made one of those choices, the choices that make you stop and think, “why… why did i do that. i cannot find a reason…” our minds cannot explain everything away. they can’t explain everything at all. many brilliant, brilliant people have tried to come up with an explanation for everything. and that, is illogical to me.

i don’t know the reasons for what has happened here this weekend. no one knows the whole truth and we can’t try to rationalize it. it goes against logic. but i have plenty of illogical reasons for staying here when so many think it’s unsafe. here are just a few:

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there are still threats against christians around the country right now. still demonstrations going on. so, right now, we pray. we pray that love and peace prevail. we pray that the irrationality of forgiveness is seen, felt, and heard. we meet as the Church, which no one can burn to the ground, and we help our brothers and sisters rebuild their church buildings. we continue to send a message of peace, hope, redemption, truth, and eternal life with Jesus. the most illogical of us all.

(derek webb-  i repent)

Spirit, lead me

i’m not normally one to write an obligatory “it’s a new year!” reflection piece. but since i’m back in the writing game, and because i have had ample time and space for reflection on the absurdities of the last few years of my life, i’ve gathered some words to share.

about a year ago i had just lost my new job. in fact, on new years day last year my sister and i opened up our “jar of blessings” from the year and the irony of seeing a card that read “grace got the job!” gave us a pretty hearty laugh. i had spent time last december feeling lost, confused, misguided, hurt and angry. but that only lasted a few days. i remember very clearly the peace that came over me a few days after i got the news. i had no idea what i was going to do in the coming weeks, but i wasn’t worried. not even one bit. which is a far cry to how i would have felt even 3 years ago. i just praise God for what He had done in my life those 3 years to show me how to trust Him, because if i hadn’t lived those years of heartbreak, loss, surrender, change and uneasiness, i know this speed bump could have caused a wreck in me.

but instead, this speed bump started me off on a different road. and as i look back at the road i’ve traveled this year, i can’t help but feel joyful, thankful, refreshed, renewed and blessed. it was one of the toughest years as far as personal growth, and i’m so thankful for that! but what i am most grateful for are the people God brought into and out of my life this year. He never ceased to amaze me with the love and guidance He gave me every step i took this year.

those steps took me into schools all over frederick county where i taught elementary, middle and high school students of various backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, economic status and aptitude. i opened up more juice boxes, applesauce and gogurt pouches (which i have an extreme aversion to) than i can count or even care to remember. i had chalk, crayons, toys, pencils and various small items thrown at me and successfully fooled middle schoolers into thinking i knew exactly what i was teaching them by memorizing lesson plans and speaking with authority. i traveled around the county teaching primarily special needs students and learning so much about people, humanity, and family along the way.

for a month, those steps took me into a classroom of 7 boys with autism who i loved immediately, who challenged everything i knew about education, and whose names are now written on my heart.

those steps took me to an inner-city high school with the challenge to get a suspended liberian-american senior with failing grades caught up in 3 weeks so he could get his diploma.

those steps took me into public classrooms where students, natively from all over africa, asked me about Jesus.

if God had just brought those people into my life this year, dayenu (it would have been sufficient.) but He didn’t stop there.

His steps led me around the corner from my house to spend 8 weeks teaching, disciplining, loving, feeding, hugging, bandaging, encouraging and caring for 35 precious children, each with a strong personality, separate life struggle and a distinct need to feel loved. and it was the most draining, most rewarding 8 weeks my little heart has ever lived through.

if God had stopped there, dayenu.

but those steps also led me to months of spending time with my tiny best friend, watching her grow and learn how to use utensils, how to play with other kids, how to fall, cry and get back up, how to pronounce letters correctly and how to tumble around a gym, how to make believe and how to pick up her toys. i am sure she taught me more in 2 months than i taught her.

if God had stopped there, dayenu.

but His steps also led me to months of quality time with my youth students, filled with challenges, celebrations, tough truths, sadness,  joy, laughter, learning and more hugs and love than i deserve.

dayenu.

and still….

a year ago God gave me a journey to africa. He called, He paved the way, He supplied my every need, He blessed my journey.

and He allowed me to come back.

and i spent the last half of 2014 being taught and re-taught how to love like God loves. how to rest and be still in Him. i’ve spent my time learning how to do bush medicine, how to speak 3 new languages, how to ride a bicycle in a skirt, how to make nigerien kids warm up to a strange white lady, how to discipline kids with limited vocabulary, how to make nigerien food, how to make art and create using trash and used cans. i’ve spent my time with kids, snuggling, dancing, listening to and getting peed on. i’ve spent my time surrendering and sacrificing and wondering if i’m doing enough.

in this season where God could have just brought me to another country for a “missions trip,” He instead gave me a fresh start, new eyes and new understanding and appreciation. He instead warmed up my icy heart and reminded me of who i am and what He made me to do. He has reminded me of how He asks me to love others- the way Christ loves me. He has reminded me that i don’t get to use heartbreak or fear or bitterness as an excuse to be a shut-in. He has reminded me that my joy comes from Him, and His joy is complete. He has reminded me that His faithfulness is never changing, never wavering, and that i can trust it always.

and looking back at this year, i don’t know how i could convince myself otherwise. He has given abundantly to me.

a year ago i wouldn’t have said i was thankful for losing my job, but i would have said (and did), “i trust the plan God has for me.”

today, i am so grateful for God’s providence, His sovereignty, His knowledge of me and love for me that far surpasses any of my understanding.

today i am thankful for what God did in my life and what He continues to do, even if i don’t know my next steps. looking back, i see where following his leading has taken me, and i am ready to keep walking.

(hillsong- oceans)

shepherd’s watch

before i came to niger, april and i had a conversation about how much more real the Bible became to her by her living here. she talked about sheep and goats and how she now understood why Jesus used them in His parable about those who would be His followers and those who would not. we talked about cattle because when you see 2 cattle pulling a cart here, you get to really visualize what paul meant by telling us to be equally yoked. the cattle who are not always look very pained and struggle against one another. we talked about donkeys and walking through sand.

and i was excited to get here and to experience those same things for myself because i’m a huge fan of visual learning and i knew God would speak to me in that way here.

and then Christmas came.

and my supervisor asked if i wanted to spend Christmas in her village.

secretly, i had been hoping she would suggest that. because i couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Christmas in africa.

so we made plans to spend 2 nights in the village, sharing the story of Jesus’ birth wherever we went.

Christmas Eve came and in the morning we visited patients in a few neighboring villages. we told the story in two compounds and prayed with the families. we went to a third village and shared the story with a large group of people, and it was such a joy to watch their faces react in awe when they heard of the angels appearing to mary and joseph, and baby Jesus being born in the stables (which is not very different from where babies are born in the bush).

our last stop was the one to start the waterworks for this sensitive girl. i sat in a circle with believers from various villages in the area as members of the village gathered in the compound of a man who had been baptized a few weeks prior. in fact, a group of 6 men from this village has been baptized, so there was a level of expectancy with which they listened to the words the believers shared. though i don’t understand fulfulde, i recognize words, especially biblical ones, and as the story unfolded it brought tears to my eyes to hear the passion from the men who shared, as well as to see the intensity with which the group listened.

i was immediately brought back to my own introduction to the truth in the pages of the Word. i remember the days when i would devour the Scriptures in search of Jesus and His character. i remembered sitting in my dorm rooms in college with the $5 NIV bible i bought, size 10 print, and a highlighter and pen, marking and writing and bolding and commenting. and i remembered the feeling of newness and awe and peace and excitement.

i felt it in my heart and i sensed it in the presence of these men. they were sitting on the edge of their chairs and mats, grasping at every word they heard. and i sat silently with tears rolling down my cheeks, thankful for the darkness that hid my emotions from the fulani friends who never show theirs. and as they finished retelling the story, the men continued to talk about what it means to be a brotherhood, the children of God through adoption. and my tears kept flowing. i’ll tell you why.

fulani culture operates historically through a caste system. it is still very ingrained in their prejudice and way of life, though there are no current inherent rights or privileges enacted on the slave class by the noble class. however, intermarriage is highly unlikely and the impact of years of class distinction hinders relationships between the two.

this Christmas Eve, a mixture of slave class and noble class, new believers and discipled leaders, fulani, gorma, southern and northern americans gathered together and shared fellowship in a slave class village. the men talked about building each other up and supporting each other as they press on to endure in their new faith. they thanked and prayed for our teammate who had lived among them for 3 months and had shared the truth of Christ with them. so tears rolled down my face as i witnessed this body of believers breaking down ancient historic boundaries and prejudice to celebrate the birth of our Savior. and it was beautiful and the purist sense of joy i have felt in a long time. we sang “the first noel” in english, under the starry sky for them and said our goodbyes.

 

we returned to our compound and had tea and cookies as we sang carols from the baptist hymnal by candlelight. and again the Bible became more and more vivid as we sang amidst shepherds settling in for the night in their fields with their flocks. and as the cattle lowed and the stars shone bright, the peace and joy of what that night meant and continues to mean rested sweetly in my spirit.

for the past few years i have been praying for a simple life. to de-clutter both figuratively and literally. and as we sat in the dark, in the middle of our mud-hut kitchen deep in the bush of southern niger, i thanked God for how He has provided me this season of simplicity and stillness. of pure faith that comes from both fresh beginnings and new places, and through the weathered pages of my well-traveled, life-stained Bible.

Christmas day was filled with singing and dancing and sharing of the Word with two village gatherings before we headed back to the city. and though i did miss my church and family back home, our traditional evening of carols and coffee and sweet fellowship, my heart was peaceful, because i knew that if cultural walls could be broken down to celebrate Jesus and commit to the brotherhood of believers, my heart continued to be tethered back home with the brotherhood there.  the birth of Christ. signifying God leaving all the Holiness and Glory of Heaven to be among His people. to grow and walk with them, to teach them and challenge them. to one day rescue them so that we can have adoption as sons and daughters. what a perfect reason to have peace. and simple joy.

 

 

 

 

(what child is this?)

show me, Father pt. 3

down south in the bush with new fulani friends

i will say that coming out with my supervisor who is a nurse/midwife has been one of the greatest joys and surprises since i’ve been here. i absolutely love being in villages, helping her see patients, visiting people and learning little bits of fulfulde, but the thing i’m most excited about is hearing the stories of how God is working through this team. there are people responding to the gospel and putting their faith in Christ, and it is seriously exciting to hear the stories and know the joy and peace these new believers are feeling. God is doing big things out in the bush, and i’m just grateful to get to see and hear little bits of it :o) and grateful to have spent my birthday with these beautiful people!

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show me, Father

so, i decided to update with more photos instead of words. :o) first photo update:

in and around town with zarma-hausa friends

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so many reasons to praise God for the people He created and loves. and so many reasons to see and love them the way He sees and loves them :o)

(dispatch- bridges)

thankful

 

not too many words to share, just some photos because they often tell a better story, and it’s what i love to do most. spent most of the last 2 weeks outside the city, which i’m super grateful for. i like the slow bush life much better than the crowded streets and busyness of the city. so i jumped at the chance to spend a few days in dosso with my zarma friends and then a week down south with my fulani friends. even got to celebrate my birthday in a village, which was perfect.

enjoy these faces and a little glimpse of life here. i’ll update with words soon. :o)

 

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i’m super thankful to be here. i’m thankful to be working for the Lord here. i’m thankful that He gives me ways to serve Him and others and that He has invited me on this journey. i’m thankful He has blessed me with beautiful new friends and challenges. i’m just a thankful girl.

(derek webb- thankful)

You love, love, love….

…when You know i can’t love.

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wow. today i just felt like i was the worst human ever for some reason. i actually don’t have a reason at all, i just felt like a monster part of the day and couldn’t even begin to tell you why.

so, now i have a short story that will show you how good and faithful God is and why i am so very thankful that He is sovereign and He is the only hope of goodness i have in me.

today at kids club #2 a little girl asked me what the spots on my arm were, pointing at my very numerous mosquito bites. i had to ask for the zarma word for mosquito because i had no clue. so, upon getting my answer, i told the girl (in zarma) that the mosquitoes really like to bite me. she said that was bad, and the conversation was over.

tonight, i walk outside to take pictures of the full moon and i see one of our guards, whom i see every night, and we exchange our normal pleasantries:

suuji: fofo (hello)!

hama: fofo, mate gaham (hello, how’s your self)?

suuji: samay dayno, mate goyo (i’m fine, how’s your work)?

now. normally he responds with “tali kulu si” which means, “there are no problems.” in fact, it is pretty much unheard of for you to have anything but a positive response, no matter how awful you may be. so, i expected him to proceed like routine and i would continue on my way. instead, he said this:

“tali go no. sooporo, i boobo. ni bey sooporo (there is a problem. the mosquitoes, there are many. you know mosquito (meaning, the word ‘sooporo’))?”

on any other day, i would have said, “no. i do not know. what does it mean?” and then he would begin the process of acting out the word so i would understand.

but today. today i said, “yes! i do know! do you have medicine?” (i meant bug spray, but he knew that)

and, in yet another moment of divine appointment, i remembered that the previous inhabitants of my home left a bottle of off:deep woods in the kitchen before they left.

so, today The Lord granted a time to understand and offered a gift to two people in their times of need.

hama got his bug spray and i got a reminder that my God is faithful in the little things. and remembering that has given me the gift of His promise that He is faithful in the big things.

and that’s something this monster needed to remember today.

(of monsters and men- love, love, love)

Thy power and Thine alone

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the samaritan woman at the well. you probably know the story, but we’re going to take a look at it today, because once again the Lord has opened my eyes to some truth via historical context :o) my favorite.

first, let’s read:

now when Jesus learned that the pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples that John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only His discples), He left Judea and departed again for Galilee. and He had to pass through Samaria. so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as He was from His journey, was sitting beside the well. it was about the sixth hour.

first, Jesus’ journey to Galilee. i was talking with a friend of mine here, a seminary student, about this story. he told me that the path Jesus took to Galilee was atypical of a Jew at that time. many Jews walked around Samaria to get to Galilee, so as not to associate with the Samaritans. Jesus, on the other hand, “had to” pass through Samaria. He took the direct route.

 

Map of Israel in New Testament Times with Roads

(source)

“a woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “give me a drink.” (for His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) the Samaritan woman said to Him, “how is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

everything  Jesus does hereafter is not only atypical of the times and standards, but proof that He is no ordinary man. Jesus stopped at the well and started speaking to a woman. and He didn’t stop at just any well, He stopped at Jacob’s well. and asked the solitary woman there for a drink. that may seem like nothing when you think about Jesus, because He was always doing radical things like eating and reclining with sinners. but let’s think about what is extraordinary here.

when i told you about women gathering water at the well here in Niger, i mentioned that they rarely do it alone. in the photo above, you can see a group of 3 women hauling one bucket of water up from the well. that particular well is 80+ ft deep. the well is a gathering place. it’s a place of laughter, sharing stories, but most of all it’s a place where women work together to gather their most important physical need: water.

back to John 4. we are not told that there are any other people present at this well. it’s just Jesus and this woman who approaches to draw her water. one woman. and Jesus, a Jew, has just asked her, a Samaritan, to draw water for Him. and Jesus tells her if she knew who He was, she would know that He offers living water. now, let’s keep reading.

 

the woman said to Him, ” sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. where do you get that living water? are you greater than our father Jacob? he gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” the woman said to Him, “sir, give me this water so that i will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

and now, for this first time reading this passage, i see something different than before. i always read this thinking the woman truly wanted the Living Water Jesus was talking about. but now, in the context of understanding what it truly looks and feels like to draw water from a deep well, i think i understand what she was really saying.

i don’t think this woman has truly understood who Jesus is yet. what if she is only thinking of her current physical situation? Jesus just offered her a chance not to draw water from the well anymore. that’s what she focused on in her response. she did not crave understanding of this “Living Water,” she wanted relief from the daily physical labor of drawing water from the well. she did not want to be thirsty anymore, she didn’t want to have need of returning daily to that well to draw water. we don’t know how long her trip to the well was. we don’t know how far she walked daily. we don’t know if she pulled water on her own every day. we only know she was grasping at the chance to change her plight.

***

pulling water is hard work. april and i did it by ourselves at the well pictured above. we had to be taught the proper rhythm. we alternated pulling, one pulling with all our strength from the top of the rope, the other crouched down from her previous pull, repeating motion after motion until the bucket rose to the top. after 2 buckets drawn, we felt the harshness of the work in our arms, realizing muscles that had never seen that type of toil. we talked later about what it would have been like to pull the bucket by ourselves. and our thoughts were drawn to this Samaritan woman immediately. we knew the struggle of two of us pulling water and it became clear why this woman would ask Jesus for the ability to have water abundantly, without the long walk to the well and the labor that she would feel in her arms long after her jar had been raised.

***

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we won’t finish this story yet. i want to wait here, in this thought: Jesus was offering this woman the chance to know Him. she responded by asking Him to give her water to save her from hard work.

when Jesus offers Himself to us, do we get stuck on the things He can do for us, how He can alter our physical situations, or do we truly understand that His offering simply of Himself is enough? do i seek Him alone, or do i seek what He can give me, how He can answer me the way i want Him to… can i simply hear the Word He gives and know that that Word is simply enough…

dayenu.

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(Jesus paid it all)