To love without expectations

What COVID has taught me

A few years ago I was in a relationship with a person who, in my opinion, was difficult to love.  I prayed repeatedly that God would allow me to love them as He did, but seemed to get nowhere.  Finally, I asked God, “How would you have me love her/him?”  Immediately the answer came: “without expectation.”

I realized that much of my frustration in this relationship was that the other was not acting as I thought they should.  I had set standards for them to meet which were not mine to set.  I was not called to improve them, I was called to love them. No more, no less.

Did this realization make the relationship easier/healthier/more fulfilling? Not really. What this insight did was significantly decrease my frustration, which in turn made me more accepting and patient—more able to respond to their needs without worrying about my own needs being met.  In short, it made me more loving.

I’d love to say that the relationship blossomed into a close life long friendship, but that has not been the case.  To preserve my own spiritual and mental health I have needed to set firm boundaries, but, rather than impede the friendship, these limits have freed me to be able to respond lovingly to this individual when the need arises.

All this is only background to what God is revealing to me about my relationship with Him.  How many times am I dissatisfied with my life because it is not living up to my expectation of what it would be?  Unconsciously, I think this sometimes leads me to resent the life God has given me, since it is not what I expected. 

You see, I believe God loves me without expectations.  Before anyone says we are called to righteousness before a Holy God, let me say I agree. But to make His love dependent on my righteousness is a lie that comes straight from my enemy. Even as we sing, “Just As I Am,” we put expectations on His response to us coming to Him.  Yes, I am broken, but if You love me I will do better.  We don’t really experience His radical love for us, just as we are.  His invitation to righteousness is not to make us good enough to be loved by Him, but to lead us into the glorious life He has promised us.  His love is without expectation.

So what does this mean in light of what we are experiencing with the COVID crisis?  I believe most of my current unsettledness (frustration?) comes from the fact that I am not able to, at this point, live the life I expected to have.  We cannot travel (at least those of us in Guatemala can’t) freely. We can only drive our cars on certain days.  At my age, I can’t go into the market and I am denied entry into some of the few stores which remain open. I cannot teach or spend time in our homes, since I am the one out and about in the community, providing transportation and getting what we need. I spend much of my time alone.  I cannot live my life as I think I deserve. Life is not living up to my expectations and I struggle daily to not surrender to resentment over what I cannot do and do not have.

Visiting our women from a "safe" distance
I came to Guatemala to work at a large orphanage with children with disabilities.  Our ministry to those with additional needs has grown beyond what I had ever expected, and it is scary to be responsible for all of this.  It was more than I expected, but somehow, I managed to adapt.

Now, we once again have “retooled” our ministry to meet the most pressing needs around us.  I hadn’t planned this, and was/am not prepared for this.
Suddenly, without my asking, donations were coming in as I shared the great need for food for the poor who were suffering from the shut down of much of the country.  

Really, God?  Really?  This isn’t in our mission statement.  This isn’t what our ministry was started for.  Really, You now want me to start giving away food?  I have had no idea how to do this.  

We started “small” and “safe,” giving out food to the elderly in collaboration with the social services of the town when our women’s house is located.

We partnered with the national police in our town, asking them to take food to those we knew needed it, even after curfew hours.

Our staff took food to the people in their home communities they knew to be in the most desperate need.

And, as I shared what we were doing, more donations came in.  In the past two days, we have given out over 1000 lbs. of beans, rice, and a fortified hot drink to over 200 families from the doorway of my home.

I have had to learn how to purchase large quantities of100 lb. bags of beans and rice, (as well as manage donations of these from other ministries) and the bags to pack them in.

I have enlisted the guys from Casa de Esperanza to pack beans and rice, and the staff (along with Moises) have been pressed into service helping to give food as people come. 

I have ineptly tried to figure out how to get the food to those who need it—and God has brought so many people to the door of my home that we have had to have sign ups and assign hours to come to receive food. I am doing things I have never done and are beyond my capabilities.  

In my heart of hearts, I found myself saying to God, “This isn’t what I signed up for.  This isn’t what I expected my life serving you to be like.  This is too much.”

As I said this, I recognized that much of my unrest, discomfort and unsettled feeling was because God wasn’t living up to my expectations of Him.  My God has been too small, too safe, too comfortable.  I had not “surrendered all” because I still had expectations of what it was okay, and not okay, for Him to ask me to do.
Now, moving forward, I will love Him without expectation, and repent when I don’t.  I will surrender ALL, especially my future, to how He is working in my midst and inviting me to join Him in doing.  Since our God always does more than we can ask or imagine, I can’t wait to see what He will do when I stop limiting Him with my expectations.  Care to join me?

Heal our land. . .

Today in my prayer time (Sunday, May 24), God led me to a passage that I have often prayed over the United States and Guatemala, 2 Chron. 7:14.

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

A beautiful prayer but I fear I have misused it too often, taken it out of the context of Scripture and directed it towards others, rather than myself.  Today I was convicted that this is directed toward ME, not those “out there” who do not know Christ, and who do not recognize their sin.  Toward me, who “proudly” wears the title of Christ-follower--yet fail to recognize my personal sin and the ways in which I contribute to communal sinfulness.

I realized:

The context:  This was written when Solomon was dedicating the temple.  It was the promise of God to His people at the time of one of their greatest victories—the completion of the house of God.  It was given as the “remedy” to difficult times.  Verse 13 is important to understand the passage correctly.  It says:  “When I shut heaven so there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send plague to my people. . .”

Application:  This fits our times better than at almost any time in my life.  
The drought we have experienced for years here in Guatemala, especially in the northern part of the country, and the hunger it has produced. The pandemic, which may be on the downturn in the US, but is still spiking here in Guatemala.  The “promise” of hordes of cicadas hatching, which cannot help but affect agriculture.  Yes, this promise of God fits our situation well.

The audience: 
If my people, who are called by my name.  
This is not for those outside the body of Christ.  It is directed toward me, telling me what I must do if I want to see God heal our land.  Too often I have prayed this over those who support abortion on demand, over prostitution and human trafficking, over those who would ignore God completely.  And I was wrong.  I am to claim and pray this verse over myself and the church.  And ask God to empower us not to change society, but to change ourselves, since this is what the verse commands us to do.

The mandate:

will humble themselves 
How many times have I thanked God that I am not like “those sinners out there?”  That I am chosen by Him, dedicated to Him, serving Him—doing the “right things.”  Have I asked Him to lead them to repentance, when I should be asking Him to reveal my sinfulness to me.

Has this attitude of “we Christians are better people than those who do not follow Christ invaded my subconscious and reflected itself in the way I have treated those outside the body?  What does this say about the true condition of my heart?  IT IS PRIDEFUL.  It gives me the glory, when the glory is due to Him who saved me without my efforts.  Who does not need me to reach the fallen world, but chooses to use me to reflect His love, His compassion, and yes, His justice, to those who are far from Him.

This realization of my own sinfulness and my desperate need for His forgiveness should humble me.  Should destroy the “us/them” mentality which has invaded the church and reminds me that: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

and pray
What does it mean to pray?  Is it doing devotions, Bible study, reciting a list of petitions?  

I am not a scholar or an expert on prayer, but from observing myself and others, I fear that we have made prayer a practice rather than a pleasure.  

Think of it.  When I pray I consciously enter the presence of the Lord God, Creator of the Universe; my Creator, my Redeemer and my Sanctifier.  The fact that I can do this is incredible; should fill me with awe and excitement. I fear too often I treat it as as chore.

And what does it mean for me to pray?  The definition I learned in my childhood, from the Catholic catechism we had to memorize, still is my favorite.  Prayer is “lifting the mind and heart to God.”  However I do that.  Simple as that.  No formula, no books, no rituals, sometimes no words.  A friend of mine talks about taking time to enjoy God.  To become aware of His presence which is always around me.  To step into a holy moment when I surrender my mind and heart to the One who created it so He can heal, renew, empower and direct it.

How often do I make it an exercise rather than a relationship?  I need to consider how I pray.

and seek my face

This one is harder for me to describe, since I am not a Bible scholar.  But Jesus gives me a hint of what this is when He tells me if I pray in His name, my prayers will be answered.  This is not tacking on “in the name of Jesus” at the beginning or end of my prayer, but sincerely, humbly and fearlessly asking Him to show me HIS will, not mine.  Then surrendering my heart to that will.  

Can I disagree with His will?  Absolutely.  I think Jesus did just that in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He also showed me what to do when I disagree—to share my heart and thoughts with God.  And rarely, as in the case of granting more life to Hezekiah, God will grant my wishes.  More often, though, He will change my heart to submit to His wisdom.

Do I really seek God’s face? 

And turn from their wicked ways
I often think of the great sins of abortion, adultery, violence, racism and hatred which plague our countries when I pray this.  Today I am convicted that these are not the things which need to change for my land to be healed, but my own sinfulness, which while less dramatic, is just as wicked.

What are the idols I hold?  What are those things I strive for in place of striving to bring God glory?  I have often said that the idols of the United States are pridefulness, comfort and convenience, and I still believe this is so.  I think most of our sins can fall under one of these three headings.

What this pandemic and the restrictions it has brought has revealed to me how strongly I cling to these idols myself.  Living on the mission field, they are not as obvious as they were when I was still in the States, but oh, they are there.

Here we are under extremely stringent restrictions.  As I write this, we are under 64 hours of lockdown here in Guatemala, where all businesses are closed, and we are forbidden to leave our homes.  And how I want to rebel, because I’m not sure it will do any good in halting the spread of Covid-19.  In fact, I fear it may worsen the situation when the country once again opens on Monday morning.  But, in reality, what am I basing my opinion on?  I am not a scientist.  I am not as statistician.  I am not even someone who understand systems and how they work.  

But, living in a free country, I have a RIGHT to my opinion and to express it.  Legally I do.  Biblically, I’m not so sure.  For me, sharing my analysis based on my relative ignorance, is exhibiting my pride in my insight and intelligence.  Better than publishing my own opinion, I need to accept those situations over which I really have no control, and ask God to inspire and direct those who do.  And my objection to masks is that they are uncomfortable and inconvenient.  See how it all ties together.

(BTW, this does not mean I have to blindly submit to those things I believe are harmful.  For example, the penalty for not wearing a mask in public here is $1000.  That does not mean I have to wear a mask if I truly believe it is harmful.  I can choose to stay home.  I can go out without a mask and be willing to pay the fine.  I still have freedom.  What I don’t have is freedom from consequences).

then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin 
When we recognize our own sin—current sin, daily sin, then He will forgive us and hear our cries for help.  I’m not talking here about the issue of forgiveness for salvation.  Many believe this is once and done and I can’t disagree.  I am talking about the daily need to hear Him say that even though I fall short way too often, He still loves me, accepts me, says that I am His. This is the daily repentance and forgiveness that brings me sanctification.

and will heal their land
Today I notice that He says “their land” not “my land.” I realized God does not value the US any more than He values Guatemala or Iran. He does not place a higher value on US citizens than He does the immigrant.  It is arrogance to claim we are a chosen country, that we are more pleasing to Him than others.  We cannot say all sin is equal and cling to this deception.

We, as those who bear His name, need to meet the conditions He sets if we want healing in our land. IF we humble ourselves, pray, turn from our wicked ways and seek his face, He will heal our land.  What this “healing” looks like, I can’t predict.  It will not necessarily be economic prosperity or a return to the normal we knew prior to the pandemic.  Whether we want to admit it our not, our societies have not been healthy.   I can’t demand that He heal our lands to conform with my idea of what a healthy society will look like—there’s that pride again.  I don’t know what living in a healed land involves or requires, but I know it will be good for He who will heal it is good.

Inquiring minds want to know--how is Pat?

After completing 9 years living in Guatemala, I reflect back on my life with amazement.  When I stepped off the plane in 2010, I never would have dreamed that what started as Guatemala Grandma would have grown into the ministry we have today.

To be honest, I often feel in over my head.   I have strong earthly support from the board of Reason to Hope, my pastor(s) and my ministry friends and mentors.  They help me clarify what I need to be doing, and how the ministry should proceed.  Ultimately, though, I turn to our strategic planning team, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ask them what to do.  They haven't let me down yet.  And daily I am aware that what I do, I do in Christ's power, because mine would never be enough.

Yes, I am busy.  Busier than I thought I would be at this stage in my life. For some reason known only to the Lord, He opened the doors on two new major projects which I had not planned for in 2019, but seemed so clearly God-directed that I had to respond.

Entrance to our rental property
My door is to the left
Hijas del Rey is to the right

About a year ago I moved into my own house in Panorama.  It was previously rented by my friend, Judy Kerschner, and the owners agreed to let me rent it for the same price she had been paying for the last 16 years!  It is located just outside of Antigua, on the way to San Pedro (where the men's house is located).   I couldn't find anything else for this price.  After so many years living in the men's house, it was clear I needed a place of my own, and their house needed to be able to run without my presence 24/7.  This was a God-send.

My house is to the right in this picture.
The building you see to the left is Hijas del Rey

In December, the missionaries who lived across the driveway from me in our small "residencial" returned to the States, and the owner, who knew I had been called to open a home for women with special needs, asked if I'd like to use the house for the women.  Again, the rent for the Antigua/Panorama area was incredibly reasonable, and two young ladies from Santa Maria were desperately in need of somewhere safe to live, so I moved ahead.  We now have 4 (possibly 5) women who are with us permanently and they live where I can see them out my kitchen window!  This has enabled me to be part of starting the home, without me actually living there.  They are a delight, and so very different from the men!  Much more sociable!

I laugh that it took us 4 years to fill the men's house, and only 4 months to fill the women's but that was the case.  I think it is because we are now "known" around Guatemala and people are continually coming to us for help.  We could easily open two more houses if we had the funds available; the need is great, but God has not led us there yet.

Our first meeting in Santa Lucia/Santo Tomas
I agree to do evaluations for the clinic
and only evaluations.

About this same time I was approached by the psychologist for the city of Santa Lucia Milpas Altas (which you pass through going from Antigua to Guatemala City).  She asked if I could evaluate some special needs children who either were not in school or were not making any academic progress.  I said I would be glad to evaluate them and make recommendations, but did not think I could promise to work with them.

Well, after meeting them and seeing their needs (like a 12 year old boy, electively mute, who was in a fifth grade classroom where he is bullied on a daily basis and given work far about his mental ability which he consistently could not do) I agreed to tutor there one day a week.  

Soon, preschool kids emerged, who, if we could provide early intervention to, would hopefully be ready to enter kindergarten and succeed, rather than fall farther behind.  So, a. second afternoon a week was added.

This is our building--an interesting location
In front of it is a childcare center
Behind me (taking the picture) is the town cemetery

After a few months of this, a true "miracle" happened for Guatemala.  The mayor and the city council offered us the use of a municipal building rent free!  They pay all the utilities, and we have open access to it.  


It was in rough shape, but gradually we have been fixing it up as funds become available (nothing fancy, just paint and laying floor tile provided by the city), and our number of "clients" at the center grows each week.  I am hoping that in the future we can train and employ a Guatemalan teacher or psychologist to run this center, but again, we are praying for the funding which would run about another $500 a month.  Would you specifically pray for this?

We're not fancy with borrowed desks
and saw horse and plank tables
but it is clean and bright and inviting
--and we even have a tile floor now!

With the growth of our ministry, our financial responsibilities have grown also.  But, I fear disobeying God more than I do exceeding our budget, and am happy to take responsibility for the overages by using my retirement funds.  If I ask others to contribute to the ministry, how can I not?

Sometimes feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew, and am working harder than ever, but the rewards are great.  Yesterday, two boys, age ten and eleven, clung to me when it was time to leave because they didn't want to go. One had just been kicked out of his private school just that day because he couldn't keep up with the math work which was about 2 grade levels about him. Their moms say that while they fight not to go to school, they ask when they can again go to see "Seño Paty."  If I can be "Jesus" to these guys, how can I say no?

My health is good, and my energy level sufficient for each day.  For a while, I was covering the weekend shifts at the women's home, but as we added more women, I realized this was pushing it, and we have hired weekend staff.  I still fill in now and then when staff is sick or on vacation.

I am attending a church which doesn't "feed" me, but gives me the "appetizer" and challenges me, as an adult believer, to feed myself.  Seriously, I love Calvary Chapel Antigua, and am growing spiritually daily being a part of this fellowship of believers.

I miss my kids and my grandsons--maybe more now than in the beginning.  Their lives have gone on well without me, and I know I am missing out.  But, my grandsons lack nothing, physically, socially, educationally or emotionally.  I would be cheating them spiritually if I gave the example of disobeying God's call because I care too much for them--the height of selfishness, because it is really my heart I want to protect.  My legacy to them, I pray is one of joyful obedience and trusting God's lead.

Of course, I am over the moon when I get to see them, and as Friday drawn need, I feel the excitement building.  

At the cross--Embracing Helplessness

It's Good Friday, and once again I contemplate the scene at the cross.  My focus this year, though, is a bit different.  While usually my eyes are on Jesus as he hangs on the cross for my salvation, this year my attention is drawn to those surrounding him.

We know there were soldiers and the Centurion in charge, and two thieves, as well as the Chief Priests and members of the Sanhedrin.  Some, like the "good" thief and the Centurion, were changed by what they witnessed.  Others, in their arrogance, continued to mock and ridicule and reject Jesus to the very end.  Some, like Peter, had run away to hide in fear.

But there were a few who stood by Jesus to the end.  A number of women are mentioned, some by name, along with John whose presence is implied by his gospel.  These are those to whom my mind is drawn this year.

Why are they here?  What are they thinking?  What did it cost them to be here? What am I to learn from them?

The answer to why is simple.  They stayed out of love and loyalty.  They would not abandon their friend and son, no matter what the cost.  But how could they?  By loving another more than their own comfort, by loving until it hurt.  By dying to self so another would not suffer alone.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, had spent most of her life being prepared for this moment.  She had conceived him under the suffering of shame and reproach.  She had been warned by Simeon, at an event that was solemn and celebratory, that a sword would pierce her heart.  Later she had fled to Egypt with her husband and son to protect his life, leaving behind all that was familiar to live in a culture very different from her own.  Suffering was no stranger to the mother of Jesus, but I don't think anything could have prepared her mother's heart to hear her son cry out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Another Mary, the mother of James and John is also named as being present at the crucifixion.  Just a few days before she had asked Jesus to give her sons a privileged position in his kingdom.  All he had promised was that they would drink from the same cup from which he would drink.  As she stood watching Jesus die in agony, was she horrified as she came to the realization of what she had really requested her sons would receive--suffering and death because of the kingdom?

And Mary Magdalene, who had been saved from demons herself, looked on as the work of these same demons claimed the life of the one who had freed her.  Surely he could free himself if he wanted to.  Did she wonder why he didn't do something?  Did she feel guilt knowing that her sin and her salvation had brought him to this point?

Lastly we look at John.  Why was he, among the twelve, the only one who stood by Jesus until the end?  Did he feel anger and betrayal by the others?  Did he feel abandoned by his brethren?  All we know is that he was there, until the end.  Among those there this day, he was the only one given a role to play by Jesus, the responsibility of caring for his mother.  Did his presence there bring Jesus comfort and peace?

I think what all of these had in common was the experience of helplessness in the face of unbearable suffering.  The willingness to forsake their own comfort to be present to another.  Surrendering their self-protection to assure another knows they are not alone.

How often are we willing to do this?  So often (too often) I hear, "I could never do what you do. I'm just too soft-hearted."

While my flesh wants to sarcastically respond something like, "Yes, I'm so lucky I don't feel anything!" in my heart I hurt for those who say this.  Somehow they are trying to protect themselves from the pain of leaning into the pain of others.   They lull themselves into believing that if they don't see it,  they won't feel it.  And it's true.  They won't.  A starving child will be no more to them than a picture on the television.  The abandoned and forgotten will not even register on their radar.  And their heart, rather than being protected, will become calloused by their self-protection.

It is only when I am willing to embrace the helplessness of being present to one who suffers that my heart will grow to learn what true compassion is.  Only when I stand with those who are enduring the unspeakable will I learn to speak words of comfort, often in silence.  Only when I identify with those who suffer at the hands of another will I begin to overcome my own numbness to the evil which is all around me.

Like Peter, I can run and hide and deny that this suffering has anything to do with me.  And I will become less human.   Jesus tells me what I do, or do not do, for the least of these, I do or do not do for him.  So, when I refuse to stand with those who suffer, I am refusing to stand at the cross with Jesus.  I deny him in ignoring the suffering of my brothers and sisters every bit as much as Peter denied him that Thursday night.

So, where do I want to be as my Lord suffers in his people?  Am I willing to follow the example of my Savior as he embraced helplessness to suffer and die for me?  (Remember, he could have done something to save him self, but he chose not to.)  Am I willing to stand with those courageous women to share in the suffering of Jesus as he continues to suffer in his people?

I pray I will find myself with the women at the foot of the cross, helpless but present.  Facing suffering head on, and by my presence creating a space where hope and life and resurrection can begin.  I invite you to join me

Short Changed

When we are Christ-followers, by our decision and our religion, but we are not fully sold out to God, we are short changing ourselves.

Christ promises abundant life to those who follow Him.  Are you experiencing this life?  Is your cup overflowing with peace and joy?  Are you longing for more, because you can't get enough of Jesus?

If not, you're short changing yourself.  Go to Him.  Ask Him to show you what you are still holding onto, what you still want to control, what you are still not ready to surrender completely to Him.  He will show you.  And it will hurt.  Trust me, it might feel like a kick in the stomach, because you may not even realize you have been hold this thing back from Him.  But, as with the rich young man who went away sad because he would not surrender his riches to follow Jesus, we will never experience the fullness of joy He offers if we hold anything back.  If we let anything be more important in our lives than Him.  If we hold on to our idols.

We seem to think of idols only in terms of ancient pagan religion.  I have learned much about idolatry, living in a country where the pagan gods of the Mayans are still worshipped, sometimes right along side of Jesus Christ.   There are many definitions of idol, but my functional one is that an idol is anything which claims our loyalty and takes our devotion away from Jesus.  It might be my work, my family, my finances, or even my ministry.  For each of us it will be different, but each of us has idols in our lives.

How can you recognize them?  It's not always easy, but I find that when God tells me I need to do something (and He does) and I say to myself or others, "I would do this, but. . ." whatever comes after the but is my idol.

(Please note.  I am talking about what GOD tells me to do, not my emotions, not my desires, not my pastor or some author, but God Himself.  We often imagine doing great things God has not yet called us to do.  This desire to serve Him impressively can be an idol.)

Does it cost to surrender my idols?  You bet.

Recently God showed me that my love of sleep has been an idol, if you can imagine that.  I was using the excuse that I couldn't get up early to spend more time with Him because then I didn't have energy for the afternoon.  Quickly I realized that by watching less Netflix and going to sleep earlier I could easily solve this resistance and still care for my body.  But, oh, it stung.  I realize, though, that it's all about choices and we choose what we value most.

So today I urge you, stop short changing yourself by holding out on God.  You can trust Him to give you more than you can ask or imagine, but you have to trust first that His heart toward you is good.  Let's learn from the rich young man that we do not need to go away sad, but can embrace the fullness of joy through our obedience and surrender to God alone.