A long, long time ago, a little boy brought his lunch to a crowd gathering to hear Jesus. Some bread, some fish, just enough for him. Someone had loved him enough to provide him lunch that day, only to have Jesus ask him to give all he had, to give wholeheartedly, with joy, and with love... and because he loved Jesus, he gave all he had.
When a gift is given in such a way, God loves to stretch it and make it grow in order to bless others beyond measure.
Last summer, a friend of mine was preparing for her mother to move in with her. She needed help to clean the downstairs apartment in her home.
She considered hiring a cleaning service -- $200 for 3 hours.
What she chose instead changed the life of three families in Africa.
There is, however, a question that can't be answered during such a trip.
I love them as a Christian, but I also love them as a mother! When they rejoice, I rejoice, when they hurt, I hurt. I would sacrifice for each and every one of them. There's an incredible strength in the relationship that we've built over time.
It feels to be as though I have precious children all over the world... Honduras, Bolivia, Thailand, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Ecuador and Indonesia!
I recently received the most amazing letter from Ato Sam, my precious Compassion son from Ghana.
I believe the country of Ghana may very well have the most delightful letter writing habits I've seen so far. It has been so beautiful to see Ato Sam's letters to us develop in the short time we've had him in our family. He started out very quiet and reserved, perhaps doubting that we were really there for him and that we truly loved him, but as we began to write to him and pour our love onto him every month, his responses have changed to longer letters full of his personality.
His latest letter to us was fantastic... It made me want to reach through the geographical distance between us and squeeze him, hear him laugh and love on him and his family!
He gave us brief updates... asked a few questions about our pets and our church. He told me that his prayer for me was that I would live long -- he has no idea how much of an impact those prayers have right now, and how blessed I am by his prayers.
He asked me to pray for him to look healthy and go to school. I love that in Ghana, a person should "look healthy" :) He also shared a scripture, Romans 3:23 -- "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Then, using a plain piece of Compassion stationary, he proceeded to write two very long, handwritten pages from his heart. It was the most beautiful letter to read, it made me laugh, it brought tears to my eyes, and it made me love him even more.
"I am happy to inform you that I have received your letter that you wrote to me." (I love the formality of his letters, that he "informs" us about the arrival of our letter!)
"In response to your questions, I wish to tell you that by God's grace, I and my family are all fine and we are all looking good by your prayers." (I love this! I also love that in Ghana, health is refered to as "looking well/good/healthy".)
"I was very happy to learn that your children always wish to hear from me and this really shows that they all love me and also care for me." This had me nearly coming undone... yes, yes we do all love him and care for him, beyond measure.
"Please may I know if Tia your best friend [has arrived] and how is she? I can see you really love your best friend very much, and what is your secret about your friendship? Please extend my greetings to her." I had explained to him that my best friend Tia was coming home to spend two weeks with us, and he could sense from my letter how much this meant to me. It just so happens that I just mailed Ato Sam a very long letter detailing our vacation with Tia, along with 20-30 photos. I think he will enjoy that!
"I am very happy to know that you and your mother are sponsoring another [in] Honduras! I want to know where Honduras can be located on the map?.... When you went to Honduras, how was Bessy?" Until my Compassion trip to Honduras in June, I had always wondered how Compassion children felt about sharing their sponsors with other Compassion kids, but I learned that they are very excited about this and love to hear about the other children we sponsor, where they are from, and they pray for these children.
"I also learned from your letter that your friend Tia has visited Africa before and she fell in love with Africa and that was true." (o: This gave me an idea... When Tia comes to spend the Christmas holidays with us, I'd love for her to write a note to Ato Sam, telling him about her experiences in Africa. That would be pretty special to her, to myself, and especially to Ato Sam.
"You said in your letter you would one day come with her [to Africa] and I wish to know if you will visit me too in Ghana?" Oh love, I wish this more than you know... more than ever!
The letter went on to write much about the country of Ghana (he would make a fantastic Ghana tourism spokesperson!!). I love that he ended this with "The people of Ghana are always ready to welcome any stranger who comes in as a visitor!... the country of Ghana is a lovely country of which many people visit!" He is adorable, I love him so! I can only imagine the look on his face someday when I do surprise him with a visit. We'll both be a mess :D
"You also ask me about my health and I wish to tell you that I am very well. Any of my family members too is looking good." I giggled... and then teared up at the words that followed... "I also pray that the good health he gave Caleb may He also grant you the double portion of it." I look forward to delivering the news to him that his prayers have been heard and answered. I can't begin to tell him how much his prayers mean to me... he is a powerful prayer warrior, my sweet Sam Sam!
He talked about his responsibilities at home, and explained that "the major work of my parents is farming and it is subsistence farming. I always feel happy to help them at the farm by fetching them water and anything that will help them in their work." I think I need to bring my son Joshua to Ghana with me so that he can learn to work joyfully like Ato Sam. What a wonderful young man of God Ato Sam is. I am so proud of him, and I may ask him to pray for Joshua, who is grounded right now because he refuses to be accountable to any of his responsibilities. Heartbreaking, the contrast...
Last but not least, his final words in the letter warmed my heart all the more... "Please extend my greetings to Mr. Terry your husband, Brandon, Joshua and Jillian, and to your best friend Tia too. I love you all... Your sponsor child, "Sam Sam", End of Message."
When I saw that he wrote "Sam Sam", I came undone. Months ago, I wrote him a letter telling him that he was very special to me, and as such, I had given him the nickname of "Sam Sam", and in his next letter, he included that Sam was the formal name used only in special occasions like school. Given how formal he is in his letters, I hoped that I hadn't offended him. Seeing him bless me by using this nickname today helped know that to him, these letters are just as much of a "special occasion" as they are to me. He knows how much I love him, and he is celebrating it through these letters.
Writing to him and receiving letters from him is most definitely a special occasion. His letters are celebrated in this household, and I look forward to writing the next one!
I can't imagine everything I would have missed out on if I hadn't taken the time to write to my sponsored children. It breaks my heart for all the sponsors who are missing out by not writing... not to mention all the children who aren't receiving this kind of love.
Write a letter to your sponsored child today... and if you don't yet have a sponsor child -- why not start now?
Click here for more info!
My mom was always up at the crack of dawn. To this day, she isn't capable of sleeping in. In order to make the best of the sunshine, she would set out to hang a load of clothes up on the clothesline early in the morning. The sun rose on the front side of the house, and as the clothes were hung one by one, the backyard seemed to stay suspended in shaded slumber, waiting for the second sunrise. The laundry would be ready and waiting when the sun peeked over the roof line and warmed up the world that stood waiting behind our house.
I'd wander outside with her, usually wearing my threadbare nightgown. If she was late getting the laundry out, you'd usually find me in my beloved blue jean overalls with the Pink Panther patch, and a pale butter cream yellow zip up hoodie. Barefoot, always. Sometimes, I'd tiptoe in the grass still heavy with dew, and crouch down to closely examine the patterns of the spiderwebs and the way the dew would highlight the silk threads with tiny dots. The rest of the time, I would perch myself on the deck and hand my mom the clothespins while she hung the clothes.
I remember the smell of the clean, wet laundry as it was lifted out of the basket and onto the clothesline. Tide. She always used Tide, and still does. I preferred the way it smelled once the sun had finished drying it au naturel... I can close my eyes right now and hear the sound of the crisp sheets flapping in the breeze and the rusty squeak of the clothesline reel as it bore the weight of the clothes. In my mind, I can still feel the stiffness of the clothes and towels as they were dropped back into the waiting basket. I loved that even though I was too small to carry the basket of wet laundry out to the clothesline, I could always help carry it back into the house once it was dry.
It always seemed neat to me that the original pile was heavier and smaller, but the final outcome was lighter and seemed to take up more room.
I used to imagine that it was the volume of the sunlight and love pouring into the laundry that made it expand that way.
Kind of like when the Son pours into us, we feel lighter, and life becomes more full.
Nothing from these memories compares to snuggling up to my mom on the clothesline deck and inhaling the scent of her flannel pajamas... the smell of fabric softener on her pajamas was intoxicating. I couldn't get enough, and I couldn't resist sinking my face into her pajamas as I hugged her for as long as I could. Sometimes, I'd just hug her leg as she hung laundry. I remember hugging her leg as she tried to walk around the house and do her chores. If I could have, I would have breathed her in so that I could carry her around within me all day long.
I don't think I could have possibly loved my mom more.
Although we don't use fabric softener now because I've grown an intolerance to scented products, I can perfectly describe the scent to you. It has a Hug scent to it. I'll never grow an intolerance to that. The hug scent is permanently engraved in the memory of my heart.
It might be the little things, but in the math of life, it's the little things that aren't so little.
A little is much.
It was my love for her that modeled my love for God. It is now my love for God that models my love for my mother.
My love for her even then, pales in comparison to my love for God today. In my childhood, she was the center of my world, even though I had an awareness of God. Now, He is the center of my world even though I have an awareness of her.
Let's rewind back to my childhood, and adapt that memory to how I feel today...
I loved every season as a little girl, but especially summer. God was always there, but in the summers, He would provided me with some of my favorite ways to spend time with Him. The sun would rise early, and He'd be there, waiting for me to shadow Him as He led me through my day.
God was always there to greet me every morning. Even though sometimes I didn't want to sleep for fear that I will miss some time with Him, He would stand guard at night and there was never a lapse of time without Him present. God never slept in order to make the best of every opportunity. Our faith should also never sleep.
As I followed my mother outside as she prepared to hang the laundry, I was greeted with another glorious sunrise that warmed my face as I wondered how He felt when He painted the skies with hues of pinks and blues in various intensities... never making the same morning sky twice. Every work of His was an original.
The backyard seemed to stay suspended in shaded slumber, slowly unfolding as the earth warmed up in worship to the Creator. I would look over the backyard and imagine it breaking out into praise as the Son rose to shine upon it.
I'd wander outside with my mother, eagerly anticipating to discover the world in a whole new way. My clothing would still be plain, familiar, well worn and threadbare, but it still wouldn't matter to me. Barefoot, always. I'd walk softly through the grass still heavy with dew, and I'd lean closer to examine the way God used His imagination to create a creature so small that could weave such masterpieces so intricately... each one unique and special. I would smile as I imagined God creating dew each night as jewels to decorate the webs with... each drop perched perfectly on the thinnest of silk threads. I would struggle to keep from exploring more of His creations, eventually perching myself on the deck and marveling with my mother that the same God who invented everything around us, loves us even more than a mother loves her child, or a child loves her mother.
I'd watch her hang clothes on the clothesline, remarking the differences between the wet, limp clothes, heavy with weight, smelling strongly of something man-made... and the end process, something so light, fresh, clean, full of joyful sounds and textures, the traces of man-made cleanliness replaced with something pure and natural to the senses... In my mind, I'd compare it to our Christian walk... heavy and clumsy at first, so full of our human thoughts and human nature... but as our journey progresses, the more we soak in the Son's Light, the better the harvest He reaps. Faith in Him carries our burdens so lightly, the entire world is seen through fresh eyes, sounds of prayer and worship to Him can be heard and felt, our hearts cleansed and purified by a process no man could ever have orchestrated, and our senses are overwhelmed by it all.
What I would have tried to carry at the beginning, I now give over to God and place it in His hands. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light", says the Lord.
He has indeed increased my faith to where it can no longer be contained... faith, once stretched, can never return to it's original size.
It is in the process of emptying ourselves that we can let God pour Himself into our empty vessels that changes the weight and fullness of our lives.
Nothing I experienced that day, or any day, compares to spending time in His presence and inhaling Him deeply. It's an intoxicating love, a real, relentless and relevant love. I can't get enough of Him, and I can't resist spending time in His presence. If I could, I'd breathe Him in so that I could carry Him with me all day long, because although He is with me with every breath I take, I still want more of Him, want to know Him more, want to crawl into His lap and hang on to His every Word.
Just when I think I couldn't possibly love Him more... I do.
Although I still love my mom very much and always will, life around me has lost the feeling it had long ago. The things of the world are passing away in my heart, I am growing an intolerance to them over time as God becomes the center of the focus. I'll never grow an intolerance to Him. His presence is permanently etched into my heart.
It may not make sense, but it makes perfect sense just the same. We learn that human love can fade into an illusion of hate when compared to the ultimate Love (Luke 14:25-27)
A little is much, but God is so much more.
(journal, Feb 26, 2010)
I have a confession to make. Science just isn’t my “thing”.
Chemistry was not elective in 9th grade, and in hindsight, I think I had better chances of becoming fluent in Chinese in 10 months. Seriously. I'm also certain that speaking Chinese would have been more practical than being fluent in... "elements and things that go "oops" in the lab..." just saying..
I wasn't completely hopeless... I knew something. (Notice the singular quantity of that word?) Uh-huh. I knew that H2O meant water (even if I didn't understand why) but the question never came up on a test. When you also consider that they never gave me any credit for writing my name on each blank piece of paper I handed in... yeah, about that big fat 0 at the end of the term... oops. ComBUSTED?
I needed one science credit in high school to graduate (insert panic!), but God had mercy on me and made it possible for “Canadian Geography” to count as a science credit. Oh Canada!
Even when the children ask science related questions, I will often respond with an apologetic “I’m sorry, guys, that seems to fall under the science category... so, uhm, call Tia.”
I have another confession to make.
Theology seems just as daunting to me.
Both are such vast, complex subjects, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed. My saving grace is that I have a passion for God and it keeps me motivated to learn more about Him. Science? Notsomuch.
I don't consider myself to be very intelligent. I learn by simply experiencing and seeing life through analogies, and then acting on what I learn through the power of choice. Teachers whose teaching methods match my learning style are rare. What I lack in intelligence I pray I can make up for in faith. And wisdom. And on a good day, maybe humor. Or something.
So imagine my excitement for a moment when I recently stumbled upon a stirring analogy that mixed physics and theology!
Jesus told the disciples just before his death that soon, He would no longer be among them, but that they would be better off with the gift of a counselor that He would give to them upon His death. (John 14:16)
What could possibly be better than having Jesus physically by your side, in the flesh? Isn't He the ultimate counselor? So could anything be better than walking side by side with Jesus?
Being filled with the Holy Spirit.
As Christians, the Holy Spirit is a gift we're all given, so why is it that not every life shows evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within?
It all points to Spiritual Physics.
The only thing I know about physics is that two things can’t occupy the same space at the same time. I think there is one exception, something to do with light or something – you’d have to ask someone much smarter than me about that... I vote for Tia. She qualifies for MENSA. I'm really not kidding. She's that smart, and somehow, she manages to put up with me!
It dawned on me that the same is true spiritually within our own bodies -- our lives --our spiritual lives. As Christians, we receive the Holy Spirit, but it only FILLS us in direct proportion to how EMPTY we are. We can not be filled with ourselves and also be full of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual physics!
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate gentleman, He has to be invited in, and won’t take full control unless our control is first surrendered.
Our kids have a game of holding their breath when we cross a bridge. Only one of the kids has made it across the Miramichi Bridge while holding their breath, and none have made it across the Confederation Bridge, thank the Lord! (The Confederation Bridge is over 8 miles long...) I know that they'll come up for air at some point, just the thought of them not breathing oxygen in grieves me. Even though I'm driving and can't see the kids while they're holding their breath, I can tell who gave up first because I hear them gasp for air as they become desperate for oxygen.
I imagine God feels the same way about us. He's waiting for us to breathe in the Holy Spirit and let it fill us and sustain us... but when we're refusing to breathe, it grieves Him deeply. He knows we'll eventually "come up for air", but every moment without the Holy Spirit is like a moment without vital oxygen -- it's detrimental.
If the Holy Spirit is as important to Christians as the air we breathe, why aren't we filling our lives with the Holy Spirit? What does it take for us to be desperate for the Holy Spirit? Where is our hunger, our thirst, our need to breathe the Holy Spirit in? Why aren't we breathing every breath for Him, and if we're not breathing for Him, are we really living?
The reason we aren't filled with Him can normally be summed up with a four letter word.
We only want to give the Holy Spirit control if we know what it will cost us, what it will require of us, what His plan or His will is for us... but why? What are we afraid of? Do we not trust His truths, do we not trust that He is Who He says He is? Do we not believe in Him and what He is capable of? Why not? Were we not there the 360+ times His Word told us "do not fear"?
We have every reason to trust Him, and absolutely NO reason not to.
And yet, so many of us are paralyzed by fear.
If there is one thing I understand about fear, it's that the author of fear is satan -- he holds us prisoner to fear when he wants to rob us of what God can do through us. He distracts us from our focus on God because as long as we're distracted by satan, we're not serving God -- that is exactly what satan hopes to achieve. We need to remember that we can not serve two masters. We can not serve ourselves and God, just as we can't serve satan and God.
By giving in to fear, by giving in to satan, we are robbing ourselves.
So instead of reaping a full harvest, we decide that perhaps we only want a tiny little bit of Holy Spirit -- "Just a little Holy Spirit appetizer, on the side, please? Hold the dressing... Fat free, calorie free, oh and risk free too while you're at it, eh?"
What are we trying to do, find a size zero Jesus?
By not giving Him all of us, we're telling Him that we don't want all of Him.
Do we realize at all that this also means that we're also not benefiting from all He has to offer?
By avoiding what may require effort, faith, cost... we're missing out on supernatural blessings and gifts that can't even be measured...
Our unwillingness to surrender all to Him costs us an abundant harvest, a fruitful life. It has eternal consequences. Beyond that, without being filled with the Holy Spirit, an outsider could mistake us for a non-believer... the evidence that points to God just wouldn't shine through, since it is the Holy Spirit who is vital to producing genuine fruit of the spirit.
Fruit of the Spirit?
How do we know we're not filled with the Holy Spirit? Lack of spirit, lack of fruit. That's why The Word says "fruit of the spirit"! I know, it seems like such a basic, elementary thing to you all, but I'm just cluing in, so
If I needed to determine whether or not my life was bearing fruit of the spirit, I would simply ask myself some questions such as:
- Do I love all others, even those who hurt me, with the love Christ extends to me?
- Does my life radiate intentional joy at all times rather than circumstantial joy?
- Do I have inner peace?
- Do I exude patience in all circumstances?
- Am I kind to others at all times in my thoughts, words, actions, even behind closed doors?
- Does my life reflect the goodness of God to others?
- Is my life ruled by faith or by fear?
- Am I gentle with my thoughts, words and actions, or am I angry, bitter, careless or indifferent?
- Do I have self-control over my flesh, or does it control me?
Remember my learning style? Analogy and
The emptying isn't going to happen on it's own, it has to be our conscious, intentional, free will choice.
Like me, there are likely some things on the list of 9 questions that you can't say "yes" to confidently... I believe that my two biggest struggles are with patience and self-control. Although if you were to compare my patience to what it was 2 years ago, the contrast is so ridiculous, you could say that I'm doing well... but I know there is much room for improvement -- ask my kids about my patience when they get up from their beds for the 10th time, for example. I get a little sour -- hey, you could call it sour grapes :) Either way, lack of patience is either rotten fruit or no fruit at all, and it's an area that needs Holy Spirit intervention. As for the self-control, why don't I exert some self-control right now and NOT go there? Ahem.
So by some perspectives maybe I'm doing "ok"... but am I?
By whose standards do we measure our success? Is it good enough to be a "good person", to be popular, to have a great job or to be nice to others? Is it enough to throw some money at a good charity once in a while to ensure that we're "kind" in the eyes of others and that we've done our share? Is it good enough to show up for church on Sunday? Is it good enough to say all the right things? Is it good enough to have all the right excuses for not doing the right things?
Is it good enough to simply call ourselves believers or Christians? Even Adolph Hitler claimed to follow Christ... did his life bear fruit of the spirit? In the mirror of life, did he reflect Jesus? Do we?
We can all easily succeed in this world by the world's standards, believers and unbelievers alike... but is that the standards by which we, as Christians, are called to live? Doesn't Jesus require more of us than that? Shouldn't our life have an eternal impact by producing a fruitful harvest for His kingdom?
Anyone can be a "good" person... so what sets us apart? What does our life sing that says "I am Yours and You are mine!"?
It's our choice.
Spiritual Physics: Being completely empty of ourselves so as to give the Holy Spirit complete freedom to fill us and bear abundant Christ-like fruit through us, for Him.
Author: Anne Jackson
As a reader of Anne Jackson's blog, www.flowerdust.net, I had heard of this book, but did not know much about it. I had expected it to be a collection of people's confessions based on her timeless post in which she asked her readers "What do you feel you can not say in church?"... I assumed it would be a book perhaps a la "Post Secrets" style, but it was so much more.
In true Anne Jackson style, this book combined a beautifully written, transparent and honest autobiography with the purpose of examining what went wrong, and what we, as a church, are called to be to one another. The truth spoken in the pages of this book, along with the impact of the colorful, poignant artwork sent in by contributors, remind us in a very real way that we're not alone in our struggles, that we all have a responsibility to love one another with Christian love, and that there is healing in shedding light into darkness by not only speaking up, but by allowing (and encouraging) others to do so. It helped illustrate how crucial confession and forgiveness is in life.
I appreciated that the author went outside the typical "autobiography box". This wasn't an "all about me" soapbox, it was written in a refreshingly unique and inspiring way, with the focus and purpose being knowledge, insight and wisdom. Quite fitting that a book about speaking up and speaking freely also thoughtfully and respectfully included the opportunity for others to speak up freely too.
As an abuse survivor, this book really resonated with me. I feel an even stronger calling to help His church become a safe haven for those outside the "slightly broken" category. After all, in Jesus' time on earth, who did He spend time with the most? Those who were perfect and unstained? How many times did He show us that He had a special place in His heart for the completely broken, the unloved, unwanted, the "least of these", and yet we're still missing His example. Where are we, His hands and feet, when it comes to reaching out to the lost and the broken, and loving them with His love?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Author: Andy Andrews
Illustrator: Philip Hurst
The title of this book captured my attention, as did the illustrations. It's just the kind of children's book that I like to read with my three kids.
We loved the way the author weaved the story of the main character, a boy named Norman, together with the stories of other key people whose roles and influences affected the impact that Norman made on the world.
It's inspiring to think that one person can change the world, but even more so when that person is a child. It reminded me of my post from Honduras describing how it takes a child to raise a village.
Initially, I had thought that the book was simply about one person and the impact he made, but the surprise was the butterfly effect and the lesson on how we all have the potential to change the world by our impact on other people's lives. The children and I are still discussing this book weeks later, and is one we will re-read and discuss many times, not only for the story, but for the beautiful illustrations, the inspiration and the discussions.
I recommend this book for ages 4 & up (a little long for the younger readers).
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
My folks never called me using my middle name... because I was such an angelic, obedient child. *cough*cough* Alright -- I wasn't given a middle name at birth.
It was especially painful when friends overheard the adults calling out that long string of names. I think the parents knew this; it couldn't be a coincidence that a friend was usually within earshot! Either that, or the friends were horrible influences that constantly got us in trouble? Kidding! The friends would stand by as we would "march to our punishment", chuckling and making fun of the embarrassing middle names while we, the ones summoned, trembled in anticipation of the wrath sure to come. OK, so maybe I wasn't kidding about the friends getting us into trouble.
In a way, it all reminds me of when I'm called upon to ask my husband to please not yell my Savior's first and last name when he's angry. As the one who hears the name being called out in frustration and anger, I feel as though I'm the one walking the plank. Let's face it, when he uses both names, he means business... and as his wife, it can be unnerving to know that it's my duty to both diffuse the anger and yet anger him by delivering the message that his words hurt and offend me. It's not pleasant to deliver a message to an angry man who should be crying out to the One who can deliver him from his anger -- the very One he curses!
It helps bring home the importance of teaching the third commandment to my children. I'll be honest -- living in a world where the Lord's name is often taken in vain without thought, the influences on them are strong. I need to be stronger.
There are three words sometimes heard at home that put a lump in my throat and make me skip a breath -- you know the ones... "Oh My G_d!". I have called the kids on it every time I have heard it, correcting, teaching and guiding them not to take the Lord's name in vain. They understand that it's offensive to me, but they also hear this and worse from their father and it makes the heartbreaking habit harder to break.
The children are caught between two worlds, with one parent heartbroken, and another indifferent. They have asked me why, what "the big deal is", why it's wrong... I told them the only thing I knew... it's offensive, and as one of the ten commandments, it's important to honor God by not using His name this way.
Sitting in church studying scripture last Sunday, listening to the Sermon on The Mount series, I received a new perspective and understanding on this commandment. I've been letting it soak in for a few days, hoping the thoughts would form and the words would come.
As a Christian, I am a member of His family, carrying on the family name. I am also a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker... even a blogger, a writer and photographer (sometimes simply in my dreams). I am a work in progress, human, but above all else I am a Christian.
I am a Christian within every role in my life, and with that name a responsibility is carried -- the responsibility of being His ambassador, His servant, His representative.
Even though I am in the middle of two worlds much like my children, I still have a responsibility to eschew the worldly ways and follow only His voice at any cost.
My life, my thoughts, my actions, the example I lead... all have the potential to break the third commandment without speaking one single word.
Even in complete silence, even without anger, I could still break that commandment by not laying my life down for Him, because it goes so much further than not saying His name in a heated moment of frustration.
When my actions don't bring glory and honor to Him, I am making a choice to treat His name casually and without the reverence it deserves, to treat my Christian responsibilities lightly. The consequences impact my spiritual walk and impact me on an eternal level.
Studying this scripture on Sunday led me to look up the meaning of "vain / in vain":
1. Not yielding the desired outcome; fruitless; a vain attempt.
2. Lacking substance or worth: vain talk.
3. Excessively proud of one's appearance or accomplishments; conceited
4. Archaic Foolish.
1. To no avail; without success: Our labor was in vain.
2. In an irreverent or disrespectful manner: took the Lord's name in vain
I couldn't help but see the spiritual perspective...
"Not honoring God will not yield the desired outcome, it will be fruitless, a vain attempt. Our spiritual life will lack substance and worth. When we are excessively proud of how things look or the things WE accomplish, our conceitedness does not honor Him -- it is indeed foolish. Not honoring His name, not honoring Him, will be to no avail, it will not succeed. Our labor will be in vain."
I thought of the words "in vain" many times of the course of the following few days, and it dawned on me that there is another way to see it, an analogy and a play on words all wrapped up into one.
My heart needs to be filled with Him to the point where it is His blood carried through my veins. He needs to be the lifeblood of my existence. If I do not allow Him control of my heart, if He isn't carried in my veins... He is carried in vain.
I want my Christian life to have weight in this world for His glory. I want my life to point to Him, sing to Him... but the cross is heavy. This is serious stuff. Jesus can't be an accessory to the outfit I wear, can't be the side dish or the afterthought. He's not someone I casually follow on Twitter, I'm more than a follower or a fan. He needs to be my lifeblood, the center of my life.
By nature, we're all torn between two worlds, but we must expect more of ourselves than the world standards, the "norm". It's required of us. It may make our faith seem extreme by comparison, but perhaps it's only because the world's moral decay has lowered the bar. We can't let that discourage us or stop us from seeking His face. We are called to be set apart for Him.
It all comes down to surrender.
Complete, relentless surrender.
Surrendering, dying to self, and replacing the blood in my veins with His blood, His life. The eternal transfusion of Him into my heart, flowing through my veins... so that I do not carry His name in vain.
Years ago, Clara would pick up her little grandson on Sunday mornings and bring him to church with her. The little boy's parents did not attend church or associate themselves with the church, so for several years, she was the main Christian influence in his life, making sure that he had an opportunity to learn about God. She led him with gentleness but with purpose, leading by example, teaching him to tithe, sharing scriptures, talking, listening, and letting him know that God loved him and longed to know him.
He remembers her very fondly as someone who helped promote peace within the family and who never hesitated to help those in need; a woman of integrity and Godly character. She loved him very much, and cared enough to spend time with him... she was a role model, a positive influence in his early childhood. The salt of the earth.
In his early teens, Clara passed away leaving no one to guide him in his spiritual life. This boy's older cousin stormed in, sized up the boy's life, and decided that he could do a better job than Clara. He'd burst into the boy's home filled with anger, negativity and bitterness, preaching fire and brimstone in the presence of this very impressionable boy. This boy became traumatized by this so-called Christian who claimed to follow God and yet showed no trace of the character of Christ. Years of "you're going to hell, you're a filthy piece of dirt, repent, I'm praying for your soul, you're going to die, you're all going to die, you're listening to the devil's music, you're going straight to hell, do you hear me?" took their toll. He slammed the door shut on his spiritual life, vowing to never speak of God again and to distance himself from those who did.
Through this cousin, that boy saw a whole other side to "Christianity" and swore he'd never become "one of those, you know, Christians... those hate filled, intolerant, holier than thou, judgmental hypocrites." The Christians whose salt had lost its flavor and purpose.
13"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
In church this morning as part of the 12 week Sermon On The Mount series, our Pastor spoke of the importance of being the salt of the earth. He shared a few characteristic of salt so that we'd understand why Jesus referred to it specifically, but it left me wanting to dig deeper and find out more.
While I wasn't surprised that Jesus didn't use the word salt without purpose and meaning, I was amazed by what I learned! Our bodies contain a specific amount of salt, and any significant imbalance can make us ill or even cause death. Ask someone with Addison's disease, and you'll have a perfect example of the influence of salt in someone's life. What about someone with blood pressure issues... what's the first thing that comes to mind? Watch the salt!
On a spiritual level, the characteristics of salt are also of great importance.
- Being the salt of the earth will help us preserve the Christian walk of others through positive influence and leadership, which enables us to effectively fight against the world's moral decay.
- Salt is a very influential substance that can not easily be separated from its surroundings, effectively changing everything it touches, just as we have the ability to influence our surroundings by our behaviors. Are we the change we want to see in the world?
- Salt leads to purification, cleansing and healing, just as it does in a Christian who has died to self and lives for God.
- Salt adds flavor and seasoning, bringing forth the best of the flavors, just as our lives should bring out the best in others, rather than seeking and bringing forth the worst.
- Salt has the potential to harm... ever pour salt on a slug? Nasty! (Thank you, Elizabeth!) Even in Biblical times, it was used to prevent the growth of crops and thrown on paths to kill weeds. Spiritually, being the salt of the earth helps put to death the sinful nature of man.
- Salt promotes thirst... have you ever tried to eat salty foods without a drink to quench the thirst created by the salt? When we're the salt of the earth and living above reproach, it creates a thirst in ourselves and in others to know the source of our peace, our joy, our salvation, and that thirst should point to Jesus. Jesus will provide for the salt of the earth living waters that will cause them never to thirst again.
Remember the reference to Christians whose salt loses its saltiness and in doing so, loses purpose and usefulness? If we're looking at salt from today's perspective, it's hard to understand what Jesus meant by salt losing its saltiness, since today's salt is chemically engineered and can not lose its qualities. In Biblical times, salt was mined from cliffs that bordered the Dead Sea or evaporated from the Dead Sea itself -- it was a very different substance than it is today. When ancient salt became exposed to the elements or came in contact with the earth, it lost its saltiness.
Ironically, that's how Christians lose saltiness too, by becoming one with the world rather than becoming one with the source of the salt -- Jesus.
Even though salt had the potential to be very valuable, salt that lost its saltiness was completely useless and either thrown away or used underfoot as gravel. I'm trying to imagine God looking at my life, and finding that my salt has lost it's saltiness and that my Christian life has therefore become useless to Him. Please, Jesus... let it not be so.
I don't know what became of that boy's cousin, but I know what became of Clara's grandson.
He grew up to become my husband.
The damage that was done by this "well meaning cousin" has deeply affected our marriage. For years Terry felt threatened by my faith and rebelled against it, still traumatized by the character of this cousin, and fearful that I would become "one of those, you know, Christians... those hate filled, intolerant, holier than thou, judgmental hypocrites." I pray I never have that kind of impact and influence on anyone, and that this is never said of me.
If Clara was still alive today, I would have appreciated the opportunity to thank her for the seed she planted years ago.
"Train up a child in the way he should go,She trained him up.
Even when he is old he will not depart from it."
Her priceless gift is what gives me hope that her influence is still deeply rooted somewhere under the layers of pain, deeply rooted enough that his faith will come back to life with just the right amount of salt. Along with her gift, I wonder... I pray for my children's future spouses... did she pray for the woman that little boy would grow up to marry? Did Clara, years before I even met Terry, pray for me?
More than ever, it has become all too real to me how important it is to be focused on the influence we have on others, to be focused on becoming Christ like, letting go of the anger, bitterness, hostility and intolerance, and clothing ourselves with patience, compassion, humility, forgiveness, love, and joy.
We may never know in this lifetime the difference it will make in someone's life and in His kingdom.
While in Honduras with Compassion, there was something that I noticed right away about the children attending the Compassion programs...
Even though their home environments were unlike any we'd ever seen or experienced...
Children living in shacks built along landfills...
Homes without running water...
Barefooted babies and toddlers running around barefoot in garbage stewn neighborhoods...
The children supported by Compassion were not only smiling and laughing, with bright and happy faces... but they were also very clean and well kept.
Along with everything else, Compassion helps the children learn the importance of hygiene, and many times, we could tell which children were Compassion kids simply by how squeaky clean they were.
Compassion leaves no stone unturned in their holistic approach to breaking the cycle of poverty.
I've tried hard to teach the importance of hygiene to my kids, and still they grumble... "What do you mean I have to wash my hands, I washed them last week!" (Seriously. Seriously!)
Not these kids!
They were thankful for the opportunity.
She just wrote a post that really touched my heart. I pray it touches yours too.
So hard to believe that I am home and so far away from where a part of my heart still beats...
It seems like just yesterday, I was playing with this sweet little girl...
And hanging out with this little guy...
Witnessing the extreme poverty that creeps into communities...
...and threatens the spirit of His precious lambs.
I have photos of kitchens inthe homes we saw...
...But none of bathrooms, for there were none.
My feet long to be on the dirt floor of their homes...
...face to face with those most precious to Him
I miss the people of Honduras.
I'm hungry for my heart to be broken even more.
What will I do with what God has shown me?
How will it change my life?
How will it change how I live the Gospel?
How will He use me to make a difference?
Now that I know, I am responsible.
I am responsible.
To carry their stories, to give of myself, to make a difference in this world... for Him.
To never forget these places... these faces.
There will be more stories to share from my time in Honduras, as my heart continues to reflect upon what the gospel now looks like to me in terms of what we’re called to do for the least of these.
To my Compassion Honduras team, Advocates, Leaders, Honduran Friends & Guides... to friends and family...
While the rest of the stories settle and wait to be released, I want to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude for the support you have given me so abundantly in the months prior to the trip, the time spent in Honduras, and the weeks since. Your prayers, financial contributions, words of encouragement, your decision to sponsor children through Compassion, your commitment to writing to your sponsored children, your comments and emails, your prayers for my health, your love... your love of Christ... all had an important role in making this trip one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
Thank you! Gracias! Merci!
This is only the beginning. I’m hungry for more, on fire for more, challenged to continue to pursue Him to the ends of the earth.
I look forward to hearing how this experience has impacted your life, and about your own journey as you follow Him to where ever He calls you, where ever He leads.
In addition to helping with school fees, supplies, uniforms and shoes when necessary, Compassion provides extra-curricular tutoring to children in the Compassion programs.
This is a small classroom I saw at the first project we visited, in the village of Pueblo Nuevos (HO311). There's something so warm and inviting about this classroom, I love the way the daylight softly falls on the walls from the window up above.
I kept closing my eyes and seeing it full of children eager to learn and stretch their minds to their dreams.
Can you see those children in your minds too? Can you hear them?
As a Canadian, I don't bat an eyelash when I hear of temperatures dropping to the freezing point. It's pretty typical for the temps in our corner of the world to go further below the freezing point than it ever reaches above it. Summers are mild, winters are ridiculous -- that's life in Canada.
One of the first questions that is communicated back and forth between our family and our sponsored children's families are weather related... it's something we all have in common, and something we're curious about when it comes to other countries. It's a conversation starter, it breaks the ice, so to speak.
Last week, I received a letter from Lizbeth's family in Bolivia. Her mother, Sonia, explained that as of April, it was very "hot!" in Bolivia. I grinned... I had just returned from Honduras, and from what I understand, Honduras is not quite as hot as Bolivia. If it was "very hot" in Honduras for us Canadians, and it seemed mild to the locals... I can't even imagine what someone from Bolivia would consider "Hot!". Perhaps to us Canadians, it would classify as "lava activity?" Would they find our low 70's summer temps "cold"?
I didn't give it much thought until this morning, when I happened to glance at CNN's news headlines, one of which immediately concerned me:
"Cold Temps Cause Deaths in Bolivia"
(CNN) -- An intense cold front in southern Latin America continues to blanket the region, causing deaths, school and highway closures, and other woes.
A total of 18 people have died in Bolivia as a direct or indirect consequence of low temperatures, the Peruvian state-run Andina news agency reported. The deaths were spread out throughout the country.
On Monday, Bolivian officials said temperatures in the major city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra would reach 3 C (37 F), the lowest in 29 years, and in other regions the mercury dropped below freezing, Andina reported.
As a precaution, Bolivian authorities canceled school from Monday to Wednesday, the official Bolivian news agency ABI reported.
I immediately thought of Lizbeth, her family, and all the Compassion families in Bolivia living in extreme poverty. Would they have the resources to keep their families warm during this unseasonably cold weather? Were they safe?
All morning, I prayed for Lizbeth's family, praying for God to provide a way to keep them warm.
Little did I know that God had answered my prayer months ago... in MARCH!
I learned about His provision early this afternoon when I received another letter in the mail from Lizbeth's family.
When I read the letter and saw the photo that accompanied it, I knew it was His way of saying "I Have Already Provided". It was a letter thanking us for the family gift we had sent to them back in March in order to provide for the most urgent needs of the entire family, above and beyond the needs covered by sponsorship. They explained that they had bought items that they really needed, the majority of which was:
Clothes and blankets.
When God prompted me to give in March, I had no idea that this is what He had in mind, I didn't know what their needs were, or what their needs would be.
I didn't need to know...
... I just needed to trust and obey.
Hard not to trust a God who answers prayers before you even bring them to Him!
If you'd like more information on providing a family gift to your sponsored child's family, please consult your country's Compassion Office for more information, or click here:
For more information on what your contribution will provide depending on the country your child lives in, check out this awesome link -- Country Specific Gift Giving and Letter Writing Info
Click on the appropriate country, and then click on the bottom right hand side link "View Letter Writing and Gift Giving Tips". Did you know, for example, that in Bolivia, a $100 family gift can buy a bicycle, a cow or a sewing machine? The bicycle can provide transportation, the cow can provide milk and income, and the sewing machine can provided a way for the family to increase their income.
My heart knows nothing quite like being a witness to the passionate prayers of another Christian... it stirs my heart in ways I struggle to describe.
I didn't grow up in an evangelical church / household and as such, prayers were rarely heard out loud and even reading the Bible was not openly practiced nor encouraged. This left me feeling as though spirituality was something privately shared between an individual and God, and to be honest, it left me with more questions than answers.
Years later when I began to see people praying out loud, I was surprised. People did this? And not just out of a book or a text in front of the church?
I fell in love with hearing others pray, especially my friend Michelle, with her prayers so tender, eloquently simple and beautiful. Being witness to someone's prayer seems like an intimate glimpse into their passionate love for Christ, and it often left me feeling overwhelmed but also in awe.
Even though I loved to hear others pray out loud, I dreaded being asked to do the same. I felt completely inadequate! Up to that point, my prayer life took the most direct path, from my heart to God's. I was quite comfortable with the status quo, feeling free to pray intensely, gently, joyfully, tearfully, gently, brokenly and every way in between, every prayer wrapped in passion and love for the Lord who would receive those prayers. Sometimes my prayers were felt, prayers I couldn't describe or put words to. I knew that regardless of how I prayed, God would stand in the gap of whatever I failed to express... that even without words, He would hear what my heart brought to Him.
I felt it wouldn't be the same if I prayed in front of someone else, someone who'd simply hear my meager words and offerings for Him. My gift is for the written word; speaking comes less naturally. Someone may be disappointed by the little I had to offer when they asked me to speak up. It felt more like a stage than an altar when prayer had an audience of more than One, and that left me very uncomfortable.
Then last November while visiting with two of my best friends, Tia and Elizabeth, Tia asked me to pray out loud with her. I knew this was important to her, so I braved it and did the best I could. She took it a step further and encouraged me to continue doing so daily. She has heard me pray countless times since and keeps encouraging me.
Tia's lessons reminded me of a gift I'd been given long ago. Elizabeth had prayed out loud for me back on February 18th, 2005, at a time of critical need. It was one of the very few things I remembered from being in the hospital that week, and it left an indelible imprint on my heart. Beyond that, her prayers had led to an unforgettable and humanly inexplicable healing that very night. What if she had not been willing to pray out loud? What if my reluctance to pray out loud robbed someone else of the same gift she had given me?
God brought it all together in His perfect time. Our week in Honduras was filled with prayer time and I knew that praying out loud would be inevitable. Still, in the presence of those whose prayers seemed like a sacred spiritual symphony, I felt as though mine were meager and weak. I'll never forget holding hands with Damary and Maria while Bessy and I listened to their powerful, passionate, intense time of prayer, and feeling as though I had been witness to a sacred, intimate moment between these women and God... which both left me in awe and unsure of my own prayers.
Why couldn't I pray out loud the same way I pray when it's just Jesus and I? Why won't the words and the passion flow the same way they're felt? Is that an indication of my prayer life, my faith and my relationship with God? The enemy wanted nothing more than to let the doubt creep in.
Not wanting the enemy to continue to whisper this uncertainty to me and to take away from my time with the people of Honduras, I came home asking myself "what should a prayer sound like, look like, feel like?" It wasn't about learning to pray exactly like them, or being "good enough", it was about understanding what God expected from me personally. I've spent the last few weeks seeking answers and refocusing on what prayer means to me.
Prayer means conversation -- it isn't necessarily something one sided! Imagine your child coming to you, pouring their heart out in a passionate prayer of gratefulness and of heartfelt cries, and not being given the opportunity to respond to your child? Imagine how God feels when we do this!? What if it's not that God isn't responding to our prayers, it's that we're getting in the way of His attempts to respond to us? Are we truly listening to Him?
Prayers shouldn't be put in a box, forced into a peg hole, nor are they one size fits all. They are unique to the individual, to the circumstances, to the emotion, and to the relationship between God and the person praying. If a certain level of prayer had to be attained in order for God to take note of our prayers, if prayers were measured and put on a scale... we'd all be in serious trouble because the responses may be pro-rated in accordance with our proficiency. What a fine mess that would be. In reality, God hears them all, from the unabashed prayer of a young child to the bold prayers for the "sun to stand still" (Joshua 10:12)... from the awkward and simple prayers of the inexperienced to the intense and passionate prayer of the broken hearted... the quiet prayerful meditation spent in silence.... even the prayers without words.
What the enemy wanted to steal from me, he inadvertently made stronger through this introspective experience. Does he realize how counterproductive that is for him? Shhhh!
Whether out loud or inaudible, prayer is as personal and individual as we are.
In the wise words of my friend Tia:
"When God created the mouse, He didn't expect it to roar like a lion... and when He created the lion, He didn't expect it to squeak like a mouse."
It's perfectly OK if I feel more like a mouse when I pray out loud than a majestic lion... I'm going to
In the end, what matters to Him is that I continue to pray intentionally from the heart in a way that's personal and meaningful, and that I grow in my prayer life, always giving Him my best and never settling for just squeaking by.