You Know You're a Guatemala Missionary When. . .

This is from the team I served with last July.  Just found it and thought I'd post it as an encouragement to the group I'm taking down this week:

You know you're a Guatemala missionary when. . .
  • air conditioning is an open window
  • you automatically use bottled water to brush your teeth
  • you look for a trash can in the restroom for the used TP
  • you are surprised when there's actually hot water in the shower
  • you can get out of the van to buy ice cream in the middle of a traffic jam
  • you use bug spray instead of hair spray each morning
  • you count the number of beds in your hotel room, 'cuz you never know when the count might change
  • 7 women can ride together in a van all day without complaining/fighting
  • you learn to like bartering when you shop
  • you begin to think of black plastic garbage bags and corn stalks as building materials
  • you wake up not sure what language to speak
  • you can't understand a word anyone says, but are still powerfully touched by the strength of their prayers
  • you think you have no more tears to cry, and discover that somehow there are always more
  • you go to bed so tired you can sleep through anything--and are looking forward to getting up the next day and doing it all again!
Thanks to Katheryn, Lorrie, Shannon, Kristen, Kristin, Rachel, and John for a most memorable trip!

Handling My Desire

Last August I wrote:

And it seems easier right now to kill the dream [of moving to Guatemala] than to wait.  To wait, invest more of me in this crazy dream, and maybe be disappointed seems like a slap in the face from God.  I guess I don't know how to wait with hope.  Only with dread.  I guess deep inside I don't believe God would give me what I want so much. "God, why is it so hard to trust that you want my good?  Why can't we be on the same page at the same time, just this once."

Seems I've been thinking a lot about the role desire deferred plays in my life, especially the life of my spirit.  The traditional teaching I've received is that I should desire nothing except God.  Easier said than done.  I've tried and tried, and continued to fail. I still have my "God gimme list."

I still struggle to believe that God could want to honor or use my desires for His purpose.  In fact, I guess I've gone to the other extreme--secretly believing that if it's something I want, then it CAN'T be God's will.  So I do all kinds of weird things with my desire(s).  Ignore it.  Disown it. Deny it. Avoid it. Abandon it. And finally try to kill it, often under the guise of "duty."

And nothing seems to work.  Despite my best efforts, it keeps breaking through.  Usually at the most inopportune times:  when I'm tired, discouraged, lonely or hungry.  When I'm at my weakest. Least able to handle it.  Most vulnerable to deception.

So I push, strive, try to "make it happen" on my own.  I refuse to believe that what God wants for me could ever be as good as what I want for myself.  To live life on my own terms. And I distort my God-given desire into self-centered wants.  I settle for small, false fulfillments of great desires.  I sin.

This is when I get into trouble.  But what DO I do with my desire? In trying to figure this out, I look once again to my model, Jesus.  How did He handle His desire, even when it was contrary to the will of the Father?

Wait a minute.  Isn't that sacriledge?  Jesus not wanting to honor the Father's will?  Is that even possible?

But isn't that exactly what happened in Gethsemane?  "Abba. . .Take this cup from me." (Mark 14:36).  Sounds a little like me.  "Father, I don' want to have to do this."  "Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."  (Matt. 26:42b)  "Okay, Father I'll do it if I have to, but do I really  have to?"

And, looking at Jesus, I discover that He did not try to deny, ignore, or kill His desire.  He surrendered it.    (Don't I often hear, "Let go and let God!"  Makes me want to scream, "I'd do that if I just knew HOW.)  Jesus shows me how.  He honestly and directly tells the Father what His desire is, even grieves not getting His desire fulfilled.  Then he make a conscious decision to ruthlessly trust Abba.  At no time does it seem He pretends, but is painfully real with the Father.  This is what I believe He'd have me do.

Father, help me to open my heart to you.  Not just to receive Your love, but to honestly and trustingly share what's in my heart with you.  Even when it doesn't seem acceptable.  Even when it's not pretty.  Transform my little desires into the great desire You have written in my heart.  Jesus, I want more of you.  Jesus, I want to be more like You.  When You are my desire, I can rest assured You will give me the desire of my heart.

Lessons from a March Snow

When I got up this morning it was raining. I sighed to myself, “Finally! Spring!” I sat down to do my Bible Study at the kitchen table (10 feet from the doors leading to my balcony) and was astonished when I finished. I turned around to find the entire landscape covered, once again, in white.

Immediately I was faced with a choice: resentment at God’s interference with what I thought SHOULD be, or joy and acceptance of the beauty before me, even if it was not what I wanted or expected. And for once I chose joy. It really WAS beautiful, and I let myself stand there and watch the big, beautiful flakes as they fell softly to the ground. And remembered His promise: “I will wash you white as snow.”

I thought back to a few days earlier when I was so excited that all the snow was melted from my yard (first time since October) and at the same time was disappointed at how matted and brown and ugly my grass was. How often am I like that? One layer is washed clean, only to reveal a dryness beneath that still needs renewal.

I didn’t think much more about it until I was driving to work. The grass was covered in a pure white blanket—and the street was a dirty, slushy mess. I pondered how much that was like my life. God washes me pure white, and the traffic of life runs me over. Takes what is beautiful and turns it ugly. So ugly that I don’t even want to deal with it. So more “snow” falls on my life. . .

Eventually, though, I know the snow will give way to green grass, renewed life. I claim that promise for me as well as the city of Omaha.

My Heart Sings

I talked with Mari, the mother of the household where we will stay in April when we travel down.  I was looking forward to going down, but after talking with her, I can't wait to get there! (Probably why I can't sleep.)  She always has this effect on me, and I'm a little ashamed to say that some of it is due to the way she treats me.  She calls me her "muneca linda" (beautiful doll).  I can't really remember anyone ever having such a marvelous nickname for me, and I have to admit that I love the way she and the whole family have welcomed me in.  And I can't wait for the kids going down with me to experience this embrace. My heart sings at the mere thought of being there.

Unfortunately, talking with her always makes me FEEL how much I desire, how I long to be in Guatemala.  And I don't always like this feeling.  I'd much rather "look forward" to something, "feel called" to do something, than experience this aching, longing, for what I hope to come.

So it got me thinking about the whole idea of  "desire."  What it means, if it's good for us, if we can desire too much. . .Can God possibly want me in Guatemala when I want to be there so much?  Is my desire to go just self-centered and self-seeking?  Do I have a "hidden agenda" in all this?

It just so happens that God has taken me back to re-reading the book, The Journey of Desire (subtitle: "Searching for the Life We've Only Dreamed Of") by John Eldredge.  And I wonder if I ever really read it the first time.  It reminds me that Jesus told us He came to bring us life to the full (John 10:10).  And it convicts me of how often I've settled for "life to the mediocre."  For getting by.  For surviving.  For being afraid to ask for more.

Can I really believe that the "desires of my heart" were planted there by God? He tells me that in Ps. 37:  

"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." (v. 4)

Do I really believe that He can use my heart's desires to lead me to His plan and purpose for my life?  That God will make all things (even my desires) work together for my good because I  love him? That I have been called according to his purpose? (Rom. 8:28)

And what do I do with the aching of unfulfilled desire?  Isn't it often this aching that leads me to sin?  

There's my answer.  It's not the desire that's wrong.  It's the counterfeit way I try to fulfill this desire myself, on my own terms. By-passing God, if you will.  Rather than taking each desire to Him for fulfillment.  Rather than trusting that He will fulfill them--in His time, in His way.  Trusting that His way will be better than anything I can imagine. 

I need to rest there for a while.  To soak in the truth of His word:

However, as it is written: 
   "No eye has seen,  no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"— 10but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit
                                                          1 Cor. 2: 9-10

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
                                                          Eph. 3:17b-20

And I realize that maybe the whole reason that we do desire is that our desires were meant to draw us to Him!

And the God Surprises Keep Coming (March 2, 2010)

When I wrote "Unexpected Blessings" I was excited to see God moving, but inwardly was resigning myself to "this is as good as it gets."  Today I know that to be a lie.  Cuz it keeps getting better.

My heart has been longing to visit Guatemala again, to see my families and friends there, but most especially the children at Hermano Pedro.  I'd thought of all the reasons why I shouldn't waste money and time to go there when I'll be moving soon.  But every time I had contact with someone down there, I'd walk away sad for hours afterwards.  (So much for learning to listen to my heart!)  I just couldn't believe God would want me to go just because I longed to be there.  (Do I REALLY believe He is good?)  I even had a young woman from church almost begging me to take her down over Easter, and I managed to convince myself this was frivolous.  (Sure, I asked God about this, and immediately would begin telling Him why this was NOT a good idea.) I keep talking about learning to live from my heart, and then I do everything I can, usually unconsiously, to disconnect from my desires. Calling them selfish, unholy, frivolous, I could go on and on. . . 

Oh, but how I have a God who pursues my heart! 

Last Friday I met with a young man from church, a junior at a private high school here in Omaha, who I'd kinda known as he was growing up, but really hadn't talked to in years. (~Isn't it sad we worship in the same church each Sunday?~)  His mom had contacted me because he'd been assigned a topic in his social justice class that he thought maybe I might know something about: the effect of poverty on children in Guatemala!  Sure, when I got the email, I did thank God for this little surprise, but little did I know what He had in store. 

As we talked, Cameron shared that he had to do service hours relating to this topic as part of his project.  After giving him a couple of ideas (which I inwardly thought were pretty lame) I said, without really thinking, "Too bad we can't go to Guatemala over Easter.  Then you could meet and serve the kids directly."  His face lit up, and I found myself telling him how Kristen wanted to go, too, over her break. That if he was really  interested, why didn't he talk to his folks about it and get back to me.  Inwardly I'm thinking, "not gonna happen," but the words kept coming out of my mouth. (Okay, friends, no sarcasm here.  This time I think it might have been the Holy Spirit rather than my own foolishness.)

I really wasn't expecting anything to come of this, but was pleasantly surprised to find an email from him Sunday morning saying, "My parents said okay.  What do we do next?"  So we were off and running, and I still am. . .Called Kristen to let her know we were going, and see what her parents thought about her coming with us.  Contacted our travel agent re. fares.  Finally started praying, asking God what He might be doing here.  (Tara, if you're reading this, it feel so much like when God "told" you to join me on my "vacation" to Guatemala a couple years ago!)

So, as it stands now, Cameron and I are going.  Kristen and her parents are praying.  Another young lady (who I've longed to take with me on a trip down there for years) is prayerfully considering going.  And I'm sitting worrying about plane fares going up, the congestion in Antigua during Holy Week, and anything else that can distract my ungrateful mind and heart from the joy of the gift God is giving me here. 

It just so happens that each of these kids already has a passport.  It just so happens that if I could have hand-picked 3 young people to travel with, I couldn't have found any better.  It just so happened that the same day I met with Cameron, I received an email from Mari, the mother of  "my" Guatemalan family, asking if there was any way I could come down for Holy Week.  It just so happened that a young girl I know in Guatemala just joined facebook Sunday, and managed to find me on there an contact me.  It just so happens that maybe God is in this, and had to work really hard to get through to me this time.

My excitement is building, my anticipation is growing:  just what is God up to here?  And as I write this, I realize He is always up to something, I just don't look for it very often.  I forget about Him being with me in the midst of my routine and responsibility!  Oh, Father forgive me for trying to live life on my own.  Forgive me for settling for surviving when you, Jesus, offer me life abundantly. Forgive me, Holy Spirit, for making you work so hard to get my attention. Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a will to respond, and a heart that is open to receiving EVERYTHING you offer me. 

Unexpected Blessings

Yesterday I got flowers! And not just any flowers. Probably the most beautiful bouquet I’ve ever received. When Cindy, our receptionist, called to tell me they’d arrive, I really couldn’t imagine who would have sent ME flowers. I couldn’t think of any reason why anyone would. . .

Then I remembered that just a few days ago I’d thought, “Boy, I wish I had someone in my life who’d send me flowers.” God’s response to this idea was to remind me, “You have me.” My reaction, “Yes, but. . .you don’t send flowers.” I pondered this while walking to the reception area, thinking, “That’s silly. God doesn’t send flowers!”

With growing curiosity I opened the card, and found a beautiful note from a sister in the church who I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with weekly for the past few months. I was moved to tears by her sweet words of encouragement. And the flowers. . .a most beautiful arrangement of purple irises (my favorite flower) and purple and violet roses, which I’ve never seen before. Their beauty gripped my heart, even as I was thinking, “She didn’t need to do this.” Fleetingly I wondered how she could know about my love of the purple iris, and mildly enjoyed this coincidence.

Only later did another lady in the church point out to me that the flowers looked just like the photos of irises I had hanging on my office wall. Mystery explained. . .or was it just the beginning of the explanation. These photos had been given to me by another church member very dear to my heart, only because we’d talked earlier about my love of irises.

As I reflected on these events last night, I thought again of how alone I’ve been feeling. How I’ve been struggling to feel what I know to be true, that my Father cares for me; that truly I am not alone. Especially as I deal with my illness, and look forward to the move to Guatemala, I am increasingly aware of being a single woman, alone in making decisions, and alone in facing the future. And I’ve been whining to Him about this. . . sure, God, I want You to be enough for me, but I could use someone with skin on to walk with me. Or at least could you give me some sign You’re in this with me?

And I began to inventory the signs He’s given me in the last week while I’ve been processing this with Him. Some seem downright silly—easily explained by chance.

Last Friday we got take-out Chinese. As I was about to open my fortune cookie, I thought, “God, I really need to hear from you. Too bad you don’t write fortune cookies.” You can imagine how taken aback I was when I opened mine to read, “God will bless your ways,” or something like that. Actually, after being startled to see the work “God” I’d quickly thrown it away in fear of being superstitious—after all, God does NOT write fortune cookies, just like He doesn’t send flowers.

I could quickly come up with about ten explainable “miracles” in the last week—including tonight when a friend gave me two tickets to a concert (which I’d forgotten to get tickets for!). So, there’s the question. Is a blessing any less a gift from Him, just because it comes by way of a human being? I’m grateful for the those who care enough to bless me, but I’m even more grateful for their willingness to be used by Him, even if they didn’t know it!