God isn’t your Grandma

grandmatroutWhen you’re a child, and mom and dad say, “No,” who is likely to say, “Yes”? Grandma.

Mom doesn’t let you have ice cream for breakfast. But grandma probably would. Dad won’t let you jump on the sofa, but grandma might.

So, you start to learn that it’s easiest to just ask grandma first. Do whatever it takes- bat your eyes, maybe even shed a few tears, and beg if you have to. Grandma will give in. That’s why grandmas are awesome!

And while God is awesome, too, He’s not your grandma.

God isn’t there to say, “Yes!” to everything you ask Him for.

There’s this belief with many Christians that if you just pray “hard” enough, God will answer your prayers in the way that you like. If you BELIEVE enough, if you just have enough FAITH, God won’t let anything painful happen to you or those you love.

I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. And it’s not Biblical.

The notion that God will grant you your every wish if you have enough faith is preposterous.

In case you forgot, there’s a story in the Bible of a man who prayed to God about a tough situation. His name was Jesus.

Jesus prayed, to God, three times, that if it was God’s will, He not be crucified. (Matthew 26:36-44)

Again, with emphasis.

JESUS prayed to GOD, THREE TIMES, that if it’s God’s will, He not be crucified.

JESUS. Son of God. The only perfect being to walk this earth, PRAYED for God to take away the task of Him taking on the sin of the world on a cross in an agonizing death.

And God said, “No.”

God. Told. JESUS. No.

And yet there are people who believe that if they just pray hard enough, they will get what they want from God.

It didn’t work for Jesus. Why would it work for you?

Why do people even believe that it would work in the first place?

It’s because we don’t understand what prayer really is. It’s not about begging God for things. It’s not about getting our way. It’s about telling God that we trust Him, and that we want to be in the center of His will, because we know that His will is what’s best.

“Prayer does not change God; it changes me.” 
– C.S. Lewis

True faith isn’t just believing that God can cure your friend of cancer. True faith is believing God is still good after she dies.

Jesus told us how to pray. His example was all about trusting God’s will, forgiving people, and asking God for strength to resist temptation.

God isn’t your grandma. You can’t talk Him into or out of anything. You can’t bat your eyes, shed a few tears, and hope that just maybe He’ll change His mind about something. God’s will is God’s will. Sometimes it’s not what we want, but THAT is where faith steps in. We still believe He is good.

This Easter, I encourage you to remember that the only perfect and flawless person to walk this earth asked God to take the pain away, and God said, “No.” Was there ever anyone who had more faith than Jesus? Jesus’ true faith was ultimately revealed when He accepted God’s will and died on the cross for our sins.

It’s not wrong to let the desires of your heart be made known to the Lord, but remember that no amount of “believing” is going to change His mind and make your will, His.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Coffee with Jesus: He wants to listen!

I was pretty irritated and upset at what I was seeing on my screen. I almost turned off the DVR and deleted the episode. But I held on. Something told me to keep watching.20150426_182458-1

I was watching the latest episode of Mom, a CBS comedy about a recovering gambler/alcoholic woman, Christy, living with her mother, Bonnie, who is also a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. A friend of theirs “found God” while in prison, and now that she was out, she was trying to “drag” them into her Christianity.

While Christy started attending church with their friend, her mother was outrageously annoyed by all of the God and Jesus talk. A good portion of the episode was mocking the Christian woman and her beliefs. Bonnie wanted no part of Jesus because she was suffering so much after the death of her ex-husband, who she was still very much in love with.

But then there was the final scene.

Bonnie walks into the kitchen in the middle of the night to find Jesus sitting at the table drinking a cup of coffee.

I was worried where this was about to go.

“Good morning, Bonnie,” Jesus says. “Sleep well?”

“Not really,” Bonnie responds. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard you were looking for me,” Jesus says.

20150426_182543-1“As a matter of fact, I am,” Bonnie says, and Jesus motions for her to sit down beside Him.

After grabbing some coffee, and topping off Jesus’ cup after He asks for more, Bonnie sits down.

Jesus says to her, “So what’s up?”

The audience erupted with laughter.

Bonnie says, “I want to know why you took Alvin?”

Jesus goes on to explain that it was Alvin’s time, that Alvin’s work on earth had been done.

Bonnie then says to Jesus what so many of us often ask Him when we’re in pain, “When does it stop hurting?”

He responds, “When you wake up.”

Bonnie then wakes up in her bed, smiles, looks to the ceiling and breathes a sigh of relief.

I was nearly moved to tears. Why? Because I believe that this scene beautifully portrays what our relationship with Christ can and should be like and the comfort He can offer us.

When we talk to God, it can be like having coffee with a friend. He literally wants to know, “What’s up?” So tell Him.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7 The Message

In the most recent episode of Mom, Bonnie is struggling after relapsing into drug and alcohol addiction. She is in bed and yells out, “I give up! Somebody help me, please! God! Anybody!”

And Jesus emerges from the bathroom.20150426_182403-1

He sits next to Bonnie, grabs her hand and says, “It’s OK. We can do this.”

Is there anything more beautiful than that? I don’t know the motives of the writers or producers of the show or where they might take things in the future, but the light in which they’ve presented Jesus in these two episodes makes my heart so happy!

Give your worries to Jesus. He wants to hear them. He wants to sit down next to you, grab your hand, and say, “It’s OK. We can do this.”

“Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7

A change of plans…

I’ve been quiet, haven’t I? I haven’t blogged since Valentine’s Day.

That’s not true.

I live in a land of infinite beauty here in Africa...
I live in a land of infinite beauty here in Africa…

I did blog, but was asked to take it down after a reminder that I do not live in a country that embraces freedom of speech.

And then, life just got in the way. Boy did life get in the way. So much has happened in the past month that I can’t even begin to describe it. Horrible things. Wonderful things. So many things happened.

I’ve said all along that God uses us wherever we are. I’ve also said that whatever I decide about my future, it is ultimately between me and God. And in February I made the big decision – I would stay in Africa for a second year. I didn’t feel God calling me to one specific place, and I believed He was leaving the choice up to me.

“The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

While I still feel that I can’t go wrong with my choice, things have changed. I started to feel uneasy. Some things started to unravel. My heart wasn’t at peace. My health started getting worse. Some things were revealed to me that I never imagined would be revealed.

I finally broke down one night while saying my prayers before bed.

God, I can’t make this decision. I need you like I’ve never needed you before. I need you to make it clear. I need to it to be crystal clear, spelled-out-in-the-sky clear. God, I am begging you. I need guidance and wisdom, and I need to know for sure what I am supposed to do.

I also live in a land of infinite chaos...
I also live in a land of infinite chaos…

The next day, God did just that. He revealed everything to me. He showed me things I hadn’t seen before, and He made it clear, just like I had asked Him to.

“Answer my prayers, O Lord, for your unfailing love is wonderful.” Psalm 69:16

It’s time to go home.

I know some people believe I’ve been “under attack” from Satan, but as long as I walk this earth, he will always be there looking to stop me from doing God’s work. That will happen in America as well as Africa. I’ve had enough conversations with God to know the difference, and I know that He is closing the door on my time in Uganda.

Yes, my heart is broken. I wanted to come here and fall in love with life in Africa. I wanted to find my lifelong calling and serve God here for years and years. But what we want doesn’t always line up with the plans God has for us. His plans, though, are always best.

I had to take a leap of faith before coming to Africa, but to be honest, I feel like it’s an even bigger leap of faith to go home. I will be unemployed, living at home, and trying to fit back into a society that was once normal to me but now seems so incredibly strange. I’ll have hundreds of stories to tell, but will anyone want to hear them? I’ll have so many memories, but will anyone even understand them?

I am faithful that God will work it all out. He has given me peace with my decision.

“Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you.” Job 22:21

I am overjoyed at the support I’ve received this year from friends and family, and even a few strangers. Whether it’s been financially or through prayer, so many people have given their love and support. But I need one last thing from you all: accountability.

Don’t let me come home and be the same person I was before I left.

I am at peace with my decision. USA bound in 71 days!
I am at peace with my decision. USA bound in 71 days!

Don’t let me forget Africa.

Don’t let me stop serving the Lord because I’m comfortable in my home country.

I will volunteer. I will fundraise for worthy causes. I will support missions. I need you to help remind me to do so.

I have 71 days left in Uganda. There will be no second year. God has big plans for me in America. I can’t wait to see what’s in store…

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised.” Hebrews 10:36

America or Africa? The big decision…

“I’ve been praying, but I am not seeing any results. I don’t feel any guidance or that I’m receiving any direction.”IMG_3406

A good friend of mine who isn’t very religious or spiritual decided that maybe it was time to try prayer, but she felt like it wasn’t getting her anywhere.

My responses were all the things good Christians should say:

“God is listening! It’s apparently just not the right time to give you any answers or direction.”

“Don’t give up!”

“Keep praying!”

But now, even as a lifelong Christian who loves God with all her heart, I find myself asking, “God, are you listening? What should I do?”

And I’m not getting any response.

IMG_4872About a year ago I committed to two years as a high school English teacher at an international school in Uganda. I moved here in August, and about five months in, I decided that I missed home too much and that maybe this just wasn’t for me. International schools have a lot of work to do when it comes to finding teachers, so we had to give the school our intentions on January 9.

I didn’t tell many people back in America, but I gave the school my intentions on January 9: I wouldn’t be returning for a second year.

Then God stirred my heart. Or did He? All of a sudden, I regretted my decision to leave and felt like I not only COULD handle another year, but that I WANTED to do another year here.

And then I realized that maybe I couldn’t. So I did what everyone said to do, which is what I knew I needed to do: pray. I prayed. I continue to pray. I feel nothing. I hear nothing. I have no answers. I have no direction.

I understood why my friend was so frustrated with God as well. All my “good Christian answers” I tried to throw back at myself weren’t doing much for me. I wanted to hear something, anything, from God.

I pray.

Silence.

More prayer.

More silence.

It’s like I tap the microphone and say, “Is this thing on?” and God is in the sound booth just looking at me.

Then a horrifying thought hit me. What if this one’s on me? What if God’s leaving it up to me? One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past ten months is that God wants us to serve Him and spread His love no matter where we are located.

So maybe since God knows I’ll do that no matter where I am, He’s leaving it up to me. Where do I WANT to serve Him? Africa? Or America? There’s no right or wrong choice here.

I hate making decisions. I overthink every decision I’ve ever had to make in my entire life, except one. The one decision that was easy, the one decision in which I recall God literally speaking to my heart, was when I came to Uganda in the first place. This time around, He’s putting it in my hands.

The list of reasons to leave and go home is long. I’ve had terrible sinus and allergy problems that cause me to spit up blood some mornings. I am 33 and single, and staying another year would yet again prolong my chances of meeting someone and getting married. I miss my family so much that hurts. I long for the company of my best friends like a lost kitten missing its mother. Financially it makes no sense to stay another year. There’s always the chance of political unrest in a country like Uganda. The list goes on and on.

The list of reasons to stay another year is short. But the items on that list are important: I should honor my 1800357_10203260749505265_2087202430_n (2)commitment of staying for two years. I love my job, and my students are the most amazing kids on the planet. I’ve also made some new friends here who I really don’t want to say goodbye to. I learn so much from them, and we spiritually uplift one another.

Many of us are facing the same decision- to go, or to stay? I really think that if I were to stay, next year would be a lot easier. The transition period would be over, I’d know the ins and outs of living in Uganda, and I could focus even more on my students and other volunteer opportunities. If I were to go home, sure I’d be happy to be around my friends and family, but as one of my best friends asked me yesterday, “But would you end up regretting it? Would you end up wishing you had stayed that second year?”

And I think I would.

God trusts me enough to allow me to make the decision. America, or Africa?

And I choose Africa.

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CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT MY SECOND YEAR IN UGANDA!

It’s all in the details…

Captain Samson scooped up a small sea urchin out of the water and showed it to me, and then he placed it in my open hand.

“It will move slowly slowly,” he said in his Kenyan accent.IMG_20140103_120818

Then he flipped it over and showed me the mouth and explained how it eats. Its prickly exterior began to tickle my hand and I laughed.

“Hakuna Matata!” he said with a laugh as he returned the sea urchin to its home in the Indian Ocean.

Captain Samson, a Rasta with dreadlocks probably in his mid-20’s, showed me many more living creatures around the shore and in the water. He explained in great detail how the creatures move, eat, and defend themselves.

I was in Mombasa, Kenya for our mission’s annual retreat. At one of our prayer meetings, we read Psalm 139 “The All-Knowing, Ever-Present God.” It talks about how God knows everything we do and think, even before we do it or think it. God knows all the details of our lives.

IMG_20140103_121521It reminded me that God orchestrated everything. He even took the time to perfectly create the creatures of the sea, each and every detail of their existence. If God took that much pride in creating sea creatures, think of how much He cares about the details of your life!

I’m guilty of sometimes thinking I can’t go to God with the silly details of my life. I figure He has more important things to tend to. But the truth is, God does care. He does want me to talk to Him. God does care about the details.

This paradise in Mombasa is a stunning reminder of some of the most beautiful things God put on this planet. The details in the seashells, monkeys on the shore, and towering baobab trees were made perfect by Him. He took the time to care about the details of creating such things, and He cares about the details of our lives. There’s nothing He considers insignificant, so turn to Him with whatever is on your mind and heart.

 “For it was You (God) who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.”
Psalm 139: 13-14

IMG_5209

Think I’ll stop drinking rat poison…

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”
– Anne Lamott

574986_poisonI have to be honest. I’ve been drinking a glass of rat poison every day for the past year or so. I’ve been waiting for the rat to die, but instead I’ve only been killing myself.

My spiritual gift is mercy, and I’m quick to forgive. We’ve all had to forgive people for hurtful, heartbreaking things they’ve done to us. But for some reason, there’s someone I just can’t bring myself to forgive.

It’s not the guy who broke my heart a few years ago after he claimed to love me and wanted to make me his wife someday. I’ve forgiven him. It’s not the guy who ripped my heart out of my chest repeatedly in most of 2012 and kicked it around, stomped on it and tore it to shreds. I’ve forgiven him.

It’s an ex-friend who deliberately deceived me for the year or so that we were close, close friends. It wasn’t one event that ended our friendship, it was more of a situation of, “I saw the light.” Others had warned me repeatedly that her motives are never, ever pure at heart. There’s always something in it for her. I didn’t see it at the time, but now I look back and see how incredibly manipulative she was with me- how our entire friendship was a lie.

Guys can be jerks. They break our hearts, that’s what they do. Our best girl friends? They are not supposed to break our hearts, but she broke mine. Once I learned many of the lies she had told me throughout our friendship, and the lies she told other people about me, I felt stupid. I felt like a fool.

Is it obvious yet that I am holding on to a lot of hate? I’ll be honest. I am. I couldn’t tell you anyone else on this planet who gets me more worked up than she does. I haven’t been able to forgive her. I can’t let go of that hate.

We are studying Joseph in the book of Genesis at Bible Study Fellowship. Last week we studied how Joseph forgave his brothers even after they tried to kill him, threw him in a pit, and eventually sold him into slavery. He forgave them because it was the right thing to do. It was what God wanted him to do.

941127_chained_loveI’ve felt chained up and trapped since the friendship ended. I read stories of people who forgave those who killed their family members or abused them. There’s no reason I should be holding on to this hate. No reason to not forgive her, even if she can’t see that she did anything wrong. I’m drinking the rat poison day after day expecting it to kill the rat, but it’s only killing me.

After Bible study I talked to one of the leaders about my situation. She suggested I pray for the ex-friend I can’t forgive.

Wait. What?

I flat-out told her, “I don’t want to pray for her.” 754548_lamb_of_god_1

She told me it’s not a matter of what I want to do. It’s a matter of obedience and what God REQUIRES me to do. If I pray for her, maybe I can eventually forgive her.

And it makes sense. Why on earth should God forgive me of my sins if I haven’t forgiven this person?

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.” – Mark 11:25

I’m done drinking the rat poison. I know I don’t have to like her, I don’t have to be friends with her or even talk to her, but I do have to forgive her. Hopefully I’ll reach that point by praying for her instead of holding on to all this hate.

Life Without a Home

We were there to help, to lend a hand, to show God’s love. But before we could do any of that, I was approached by a boy who looked to be about 10 years old.

“Can I pray for you, ma’am?” he said to me.

I was caught totally off guard.homeless

“Uh… of course we can pray,” I said.

“I’ll find you later,” he said and went to hang out with some of the other boys at the center.

About a dozen of us from my church went to Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) to serve a meal and spend time with some of the residents this evening. I think it’s safe to say they probably touched our lives more than we touched theirs.

The families there were homeless without the help of IHN. But IHN gave them a place to live while they looked for jobs and went out on their own again. I can’t imagine life without a home. Having a place to stay is something we take for granted. We just assume we’ll always have a home.

There were about seven families there, different races and different ages. They were all so appreciative of the giant Pizza Hut pizzas we brought, and the smiles on the children’s faces were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

One family in particular really stood out. It was a mother and a father, a few sons and a daughter. The daughter looked to be about 13, but she was severely handicapped. She would repeatedly slap herself, make strange noises and could barely walk, even with the help of leg braces. Her mom and dad’s faces told a story of great struggle and of pure exhaustion.

I wondered what their story was. Could they have been made homeless because of medical bills? Was their darling daughter like this from birth or was she in an accident? I didn’t know the specifics, but I do know that it broke my heart, and I will be praying for them.

After we served dinner, some of the kids asked me to play Ninja with them. It’s basically the hand-slap game where you try to move your hands before someone else slaps them. We had a great time, and of course, I was almost always the first one out. Need to work on my reflexes I guess!

I spent some time with a little girl named Peyton who insisted that I wear one of her rainbow-colored beaded necklaces she had made at school.

I talked to one teenage boy who is finishing high school by taking night classes and plans to attend Ball State next year. He’s not sure what he’s majoring in, but his face lit up when I told him how cool it was that he wanted to go to college.

Eventually I ended up with a beautiful two-year-old girl in my arms. Her hair was beaded in pink, purple and white and her big brown eyes made me want to never have to put her down. She loved my jewelry and played with my earrings and rings for as long as she could.

21215_10151432841121705_1159337011_n
Pastor took some pics at IHN. Here I am, ready to serve some pizza!

The little boy who wanted to pray for me ended up having to leave early, but the fact that he wanted to pray for me at all was enough to make my night totally worth it. We were supposed to be there for them, for the homeless, and here was a boy who wanted to pray for me.

Jesus said we’re supposed to help the poor, and that when we do, we have served Jesus. But what about those who are poor? Who are they supposed to help? I saw tonight that they can help those of us who aren’t poor by asking to pray for us, or simply allowing us to come and serve them a meal.

I’ll be praying for the people at IHN, and as I learned tonight, at least one of them will probably be praying for me.