Thursday, December 31, 2015

Closing 2015, beginning 2016

Today's the end of 2015. I'm writing from 36,000 feet in the air, and I find myself wishing I could see this year, my life, our country, and the world from the point of view like the one I'm seeing Colorado from.

This year wasn't what I wish it had been.  I wish I had received thousands of revelations. I wish I had spent hours and hours upon hours in my Bible. I wish I didn't have this feeling that I didn't do much all year but work to pay bills.

But here I am, with another year behind me, and I still want the same thing that I wanted last January... to know Him more and more and more until everything else in my life follows that.

I changed a lot this year in some ways. I am relying on His grace and mercy alone as I trust that the changes were brought out by Him alone.

God convicted me of a lot.  Pride here. Arrogance there. More pride and arrogance spread liberally everywhere.

But this is a necessary part of the transformation that He works in us.  This conviction. It is good for us, as long as we stay focused on Him.

And that is why my prayer for 2016 is for grace, mercy, and forgiveness for the pride and arrogance of the American church, of which I have been a great contributor.

Father, forgive us!

Forgive us for thinking that our land can be healed by legislating Your Word and forcing it upon those who don't know You... those whom we have not even tried to introduce to You.

Forgive us for the lack of love we so very often display.

Forgive us for our selfishness... for caring more about our own rights and privileges and less about the hurting world that Jesus surrendered everything for.

In Your goodness, grant us the grace to see the world through Your eyes... to see ourselves through Your eyes... and to see past how we think You see people so that we can understand how You really see them through Your eyes of infinite love.

Teach us to be a Light in the darkness of depression and loneliness and despair, rather than a gavel that crushes those already struggling.

Transform us into what You are calling us to be, and give us a heart that seeks You first above all things.

This is my heart's desire.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A story of tears...

For years, one of my most common prayers has been that God would allow me to see the world through His eyes... to know His heart.  One song that I wrote is all about this... "Show me Your heart that I might see the world through Your eyes."

But sometimes it's painful.  Very painful.

Because the closer I get to the Father's heart, the easier it is to feel the pain inflicted on those around me... those in my family... even on people I do not know personally.  To feel His heartbeat is to feel pain when it is inflicted on "the least of these," for He said if it's done to them, it's done to Him.  To bear His name is to feel your heart constrict in horror when that pain is inflicted in His name.

I certainly can't claim that this prayer means that I see things perfectly, because I don't think that'll happen until I reach heaven. I know this prayer has changed me, though, from the Katie I used to be.

I beg your patience while I tell a story.

Once upon a time I was part of an extremely large housing development. It was large enough to have many distinct neighborhoods within it.

This development was not full, and every year about 1,070 new people were officially admitted.  Plenty more came as visitors and sometimes people wandered in, but those applying to live there and build homes had to agree to abide by the development's rules.  You know how that goes. A development will let a slob visit, but they sure won't let one live there permanently.

There were very few shortcuts in the process, even for the 70 people per year who were in emergency situations.

Well, as the development committee was considering the 1,070 that were admitted every year, they came across a particular group of 10 that they had to consider.

Only 10 out of 1,070 who were entering already.

Five of these 10 were children - some orphans and children of widows.  Most already had family inside the development... family who had actually filled out the paperwork because they wanted to let them come live with them. Accepting those seemed a no-brainer, though the committee still went through the 29 official steps required for each person.

Two of them were elderly people whose homes had been destroyed in vandalism. They also had friends and relatives inside the development who were willing to help them get a new start.

I do not know who the last person was, but again, the 29 official steps were being carefully followed.

But then the neighborhood watch raised an alarm about this particular group of 10 people.

Some people in my neighborhood quietly stood back, waiting to see if it was a false alarm, waiting to see if the 29 official steps were really being followed for safety's sake, etc. This seemed like wisdom to me.

Some used the opportunity to voice concerns about other groups of people who needed similar kinds of help. This was understandable... there are many types of people needing help in many different ways.

Some, however, began to loudly call for the rejection of these 10. I think maybe these people did not realize that this would mean people in other neighborhoods would be forbidden from opening their own homes to their orphaned nieces and nephews...  forbidden from letting their parents and widowed sisters into their own homes. I understood their concerns, yet it grieved me that they did not ask who the 10 were or where they would stay before they called for their rejection.

Still others in my neighborhood called for their rejection because one of the children might become a gang member. There were indeed gangs in some of the development's neighborhoods, although these gang members tended to come into the development among the daily visitors. Perhaps this was understandable, though my heart still broke on behalf of the thousands who had to listen to people say that they did not want to let them help their own family and friends.

Others in my neighborhood began speaking of these widows and orphans and elderly people as though they were already gang members. It was very hard for me to see these calls coming from my own neighborhood, some from people who represented me.  I wondered, though, if maybe they had not taken the time to ask who the 10 were.

Why did my normally kind and loving neighbors do these things? 

It might have had something to do with a shooting that happened in a different development, run by a different committee with much more relaxed rules, a long ways away.  It was a shooting that wasn't all that different than some that had already happened in my development, though the shootings in my development were typically carried out by people of my own race, my own political party, and sometimes even people who claimed my own religion.

By now, you probably realize what this parable is referencing.  The development is my country, the 1,070 are the immigrants who our country accepts every year, the 70 are refugees from around the world who are already accepted every year, and the 10 are the Syrian refugees... only 0.6% of what we already take in on a yearly basis from around the world.

The numbers are accurate if you multiply them by 1,000.

Of course, this is only my view... the story as it unfolded to me. 

I realize fully that my viewpoint might not be fully accurate and definitely isn't shared by everyone, but here's why I share it... why I think even those who do not share my viewpoint might be interested.

I was raised as both a Christian and a Republican, so that's where I'm going to speak from, when I say...

Both Christian groups and Republican groups know that we are considered by many to be hateful.  Sometimes we consider ourselves simply misunderstood, and other times we think other things about such accusations.

I am receiving a deeper understanding 
of why we get a reputation for being hateful.

I wish to beg those of us who bear Christ's name to consider a little more before we speak. This is what I'm calling on myself to do.

I think we need to realize when "standing for what we believe" or "voicing our opinion" amounts to telling others things like, "No, we do not want you to be able to open your own home to your brother or sister's family who is running for their lives."

Or when it amounts to, "We honestly don't care about the safety of your nieces and nephews; our own safety is more important."

This is why we are called hateful and selfish and hypocrites.

I've done it in the past a lot, and I still find myself falling into it sometimes. But God is teaching me to more often keep my mouth shut and listen... listen particularly to those who disagree with me and ask God to show me what He thinks and sees... to admit that what I think and see might be missing a little something... or maybe missing a lot.

Listening is loving. Becoming educated before we open our mouths is loving.

We are being told that we will allow in only 10,000 out of ten million Syrians who have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed. That means we're being asked to allow in only 1 out of every thousand. Even if it does rise to 65,000, that's still less than 7 out of every thousand.

These 10,000 are just a tiny, tiny percentage of the 1,700,000 immigrants and refugees that our country already absorbs every year.  Different people might have different opinions about various types of immigrants and refugees and whether or not our country should continue its heritage of welcoming people, but that is a different issue.

10,000 is a very small number. 
Only about 0.6% of what we took in last year.
Only 0.1% of all Syrian refugees.

We're the 3rd largest country with the 3rd largest population in the world, and we're being asked to take in only 0.1% of them.

These 10,000 people are mostly women, children, and elderly. 10,000 who mostly have family and friends already here.  That's why they want to come here.

How many of us place high importance on the location of friends and relatives when we move to a new home? 

Would that change if we were forced to choose a new place to live because our previous home, workplace, and city looked like this?

What if some of them don't already have family here? Well... I strongly suspect that Americans of Syrian heritage in our country would understand very clearly a parable that began with the question, "Who is my neighbor?"  Some churches do... and I think maybe all of us should be willing to consider their viewpoint and experiences so far.

We don't have to agree to everything our president says in order to let Syrians already in our country help their family and friends. Our government sets a priority on letting refugees join family they already have living here, so they can have the help they need to become productive members of society.  I have six immigrants from six different countries in my family, not counting my great grandparents and more distant family.  They have built businesses, hired born-here Americans, saved lives, become veterans, etc.

We don't have to stop helping groups of people we care about just because other people are given the chance to help people they care about. My pastor spoke an excellent message yesterday about staying focused on what God has called us to do.  That also means allowing other people to do what God has called them to do.

If we are concerned about 1.7 million immigrants and refugees coming in each year from around the world, then by all means, we can research the many different ways they come, which are "vetted" and which are not, how they are handled, whether they help or hurt the economy, and other such things so that we can intelligently write to our politicians about it.  We all have the right and responsibility to do that.  Terrorists have so far found it much easier to get into our country by means other than the refugee process, so those of us concerned about that can certainly write our politicians and try to get involved in improving the processes that terrorists have used to get into the country.

But as for me, right now...

I weep for the 5,000 children and 2,500 elderly who were hearing loud and clear, "We don't want to let anyone in our country reach a helping hand to you in the most practical of ways."

I weep for the widows and orphans and elderly who were hearing on every television that half of the states in this country do not want to let them join their family here.

I weep for the men who are trying to provide for their wives and children in a place of safety... someplace where their sons will not be press-ganged into the army that already slaughtered their brothers and cousins and razed their homes and businesses.  My great grandparents were of this group 100 years ago, leaving Germany for the United States, and trying to make a life in a country where having a name like Rudolf Melichar was viewed with the same amount of suspicion that those with the name Mohamed are viewed with today. If my great-grandparents had not been allowed to come, then my grandfather would have been pressed into the German army rather than becoming the American WWII veteran that he was. He also probably would not have found salvation in the 1970s.

I weep for the 1,800,000 Muslims already here in the US who are being told by millions of Facebook posts that they should not be allowed to help their friends and relatives. Personally, I think those 1,800,000 should be allowed to try to help their own.  There are still another 317,000,000 of us in this country who can continue trying to address other kinds of needs in our nation.

I weep for the Syrian Christians who are too afraid to even ask for refugee status, unaware that greater numbers of them would be helped if they could only be found.

I weep for the veterans who have been ignored by their family, their neighbors, and their government.

I weep for the homeless teenagers here in the US who have grown up so lost and ignored and abandoned that they do not even know how to conduct themselves in the way necessary to hold down a job... and the Christians who hear their rudeness write them off with comments about "what this world is coming to."

I weep for the Muslims families in Africa who have had watched Christian armies slaughter their families and destroy their homes in the Central African Republic and other African nations.  Did you know that the same terrorists lists with ISIS on them also have the Lord's Resistance Army on them? This group which also called themselves the Holy Spirit Movement celebrated Christmas a few years back by attacking a concert venue, holding hundreds of people hostage, murdering 143 of them, and then going through town slaughtering as many as they could. Sound familiar? Except this was in Congo, not France. And this was a Christian army, not a Muslim one.

If there is a terrorist among the refugees of any religion who make it here, I weep for him and I pray that here, in this country, he will meet the Jesus who offers what terror can never provided. Other former terrorists have found Jesus, because that's just how powerful and amazing my God is!

I weep for the many in similar situations around the world who receive the same message... that someone else is more important.  As my pastor said yesterday, many of us are called to minister in different areas and to different people. Many of us are called to share our resources in different ways.  The problem is the number of times when, in our passion for one group of people, we inadvertently tell others that they don't matter.

Everyone matters... and so I weep for a world that frequently hears the "you don't matter" messages more loudly than "you matter, and a Savior died for you."

And finally, I also grieve for the millions around the world who watched members of my political party and religion in disbelief, for I have been hoping and praying that those millions would hear and see a different message... that a lot of us represent a God who loves the world enough to give His Son in order to save them...

...a God who chose to save the world by allowing religious zealots acting in His name to turn Jesus over to a terrorist regime for torture and death.

Yes, sometimes it is very painful to love.

And yet, when God lets me feel His heartbeat, I also feel the joy that somehow abounds even while I grieve. 

I feel the love that is pulsing and calling for people of all nations to believe that He really does love them enough to willingly walk into one court run by misled religious zealots and another court that would be called terrorist today, knowing that He was headed to a death worse than beheading.

I feel the forgiveness that prayed, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing."  A forgiveness that is extended to me when I realize that I too did not know what I was doing. That happens a lot.

He points out the stories of how Muslims are dreaming of Jesus and coming to salvation in record numbers, finding a peace and a joy that they never had before.

He moves on antagonistic regimes to allow shoeboxes carrying the gospel and more practical gifts to reach children that will hear of Jesus for the first time.

He does all things well. And I love Him. And I rejoice because I can trust that He holds this crazy, twisted, confused world in His hands.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fear vs. Love

I'm going to share something that I think a lot of people may find a little radical. I beg your grace if this is against your beliefs. It comes from love, though, and it's part of my heart, so I'm going to share. //

The terrorists activities in Paris last week have set fire to all sorts of emotions around the world. (At least for 1st world nations for whom this kind of violence is not normal.) //

Terrorists use fear to advance their agenda.  They have no fear of death. In fact they embrace it.  But they use the fear of death that most of the world has to advance their agenda.

Are there any other groups of people in this world who also have no fear of death?
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Yet a lot of us struggle with the fear of death.

I think it's natural to struggle with it, but I also believe that we discover the reality of the "gain" that Paul is talking about the more we know the God who said He is love, for His Word also says:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.

Many people right now are calling for a halt to any refugees coming because of the attacks... because of the fear that a terrorist might be among these people who themselves have been terrorized. 

(There may be other reasons for wanting to keep any refugees from coming, and I do not feel qualified to address those. Nor am I addressing the government's perspective which may have valid reasons for being different than an individual.  I am only thinking about the fear in individuals... the fear that letting refugees in might let terrorists in.)

That fear is very understandable. It's natural to not want your loved ones to not get blown up.

And yet as a Christian, I think of a parable Jesus told:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’

37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?
38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
He goes on to say:
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’

44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not [e]take care of You?’

45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
He didn't specify whether these least brothers of His were terrorists or Muslims or Christians or Jews or atheists.

I come from an international family. I have first-generation immigrants in my family, family members from almost every continent on earth (no Australians yet) and speaking multiple languages (including Arabic). I also have a very dear cousin who lives in a suburb of Paris and works near the Eiffel Tower. I can't help thinking of her precious little ones.

Maybe that has influenced my perspective. But on the other hand, perhaps the Bible has influenced my perspective.

Let's say the fearful are right.  Say that we invite Christian and Muslim refugees into our towns and cities, and one of them is a terrorist who blows himself up next to us while we're in the grocery store.

Are there any verses where God said "Depart!" to those who were killed by terrorists?

I can't find any.  Although the Bible says this:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; [a]though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And this:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it..
It seems to me that God calls His people to something greater than safety. (Again, I am speaking of individual Christians. God does call people to jobs that focus on keeping others safe, and I believe God blesses their efforts to do their jobs well.)

For the record, the same verses also apply to helping American homeless, and hungry Veterans, and many others who need help and frequently aren't getting it.

I don't know what is coming in our future.  We might very well have to learn to live with fear in a way that we have not for several generations.

My aunt stated it so eloquently:
[People] are afraid and angry. I understand that. I'm afraid too for my cherished daughter who works in Paris near the Eiffel Tower. But she believes in supporting a better life for people fleeing oppression. And I agree with her. I can live with fear and love.

God also told his people:
"You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

What choices will Christians make in the months and years ahead?

Can we dare to love in the face of terror?

Can we, like Christ, love people "even while they are yet sinners."

As for me... I'm thinking about that day when I stand before God.  I'd rather Him welcome me because I was killed by a terrorist than hear Him tell me to depart because I would not help people who needed it.  Especially when many of them are running from those same terrorists.

This is what heroes are made of... those who pause in their efforts to gain safety themselves, in order to turn around and lend a helping hand to those who are behind them.

This is love.

From Ann Voskamp if you need more encouragement from a more eloquent writer than I:

Friday, October 30, 2015

What determines your worth?

Do you have 90 seconds available?

Friday, September 04, 2015

Syria, blessed of God...

A month or two ago I happened across an spy/thriller/mystery style book. I read it and enjoyed it with only a few reservations, so I chose another from the series to read, and then another.

The third had a main character who was Syrian...a child of Hama whose city and family had been destroyed when she was a girl.

The story itself was fictional, but it led me on a short journey that was long enough to learn that the destruction of Hama and the diaspora (scattering outside of their homeland) of the Syrian people was very real. It was only days later that the BBC news began reporting on the ever-rising increase of refugees from Syria and other countries.

Coincidence?  Not to me.

340,000 refugees so far this year at EU borders.

34,000 in Hungary.

50,000 arrived in Greece in July alone.

100,000 across the Mediterranean.

500,000 Iraqis were displaced by ISIS in a matter of weeks.

60,000 have already come all the way from Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands from Africa.

7.6 million Syrians are homeless inside their own country because of the terrible civil war going on. 4 million more have been taken in by Syria's Middle Eastern neighbors, and another 100,000 are in Europe already.

And every single one of these refugees has a name. A story. Hopes and fears. Family lost in one way or another.

I think God led me to that book so that I would begin seeking Him about His perspective on this whole issue before the media began to influence my thinking... for indeed, with each day that passes, the media shares more and more... and more and more of the world gets involved in the eternal blame game.

I would like to share one small bit of the perspective that God has given me, though.

We all assume that the majority of the refugees are Muslim.  Correct?

Tell me this... while those millions of Muslims were in their homelands, what kinds of opportunities have Christians had to show them the love of Jesus?

Seriously? What could we do? 

I read an article on the BBC news that talked about why so many were fleeing to Europe instead of other Muslim countries. The article recounts conversations like this:
"How did we flee from the region of our Muslim brethren, which should take more responsibility for us than a country they describe as infidels?" Another user replied: "I swear to the Almighty God, it's the Arabs who are the infidels."
Do you see it?

Now they are coming to us. In huge numbers.

I think God is asking us how we are going to meet them.

There is a verse from the Bible that I have held close to my heart for years... wondering what it means... what the fulfillment will look like.  I honestly have no idea if the Syrian diaspora has anything to do with this or not... but I still marvel at the love shown in this verse for the Syrian people by the God who called Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob... even though these people are not the descendants of Isaac and Jacob. This is from Isaiah 19:
24 In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance."
I don't understand exactly what God is saying about the Syrians here or what it is going to look like when the prophecy is fulfilled.  But I understand that He said He would bless them and claim them.

These people are fleeing destruction and death at the hands of their own religion... and they are fleeing to nations where it is still legal for Christians to reach out to them and love them and help them. So far, the news speaks very little of them coming to the US, but that, I believe is about to change very quickly.

What is the response of Americans going to be?

Hungarians gather at the borders chanting, "Refugees welcome." (video here, see the 2:30 mark)

Greek volunteers - themselves struggling in the midst of the Greek financial crisis - are meeting refugees on the beaches with food and water, to help them over the miles they must walk to get to the abandoned hotels that are the only shelter available. (Meet “Papa Stratis” who with his network of volunteers, “Village All Together”, are often taking on the sole responsibility of caring for the refugees on the Greek islands.)

More than 11,000 Icelanders have signed a petition, each one signing their willingness to open their own home to Syrian refugees, if only their government will permit them to come. (Read the story)

What will Americans do? Those of us who live beyond a particular statue that calls:

I totally understand that there may be radical Islamist extremists hiding among them and trying to get into my country and others to do harm.  I'm thankful that there are those whose job it is to guard against that and protect us, and I pray that God will give them the supernatural ability to locate and handle those extremists who try to come for evil purposes.

But I will not allow that fear to overcome the love that I feel from the Father's heart for these people.  I believe that the love of God is more powerful than the hatred of Muslim extremists. If I did not believe this, then perhaps I might be excused for fearing who might come.

What about you?

If you're not sure, perhaps this article will encourage you.

Even if you do know what you think, still read it.

Me... I'm not afraid. I have no desire to force my religion on them or tell them their religion is wrong.  I just want to show them that an 'infidel' can love. And if they ask and want to know more about Jesus, I'll be happy to tell them. And if they don't, I'll still love them!

Quite frankly, I'm really hoping some Syrian refugees come to my town, and I know about it, so that I can help them to make a home here in any way I can... these people whom my God said would be a blessing in the midst of the earth!

If you got this far and still didn't read that last article, here's the link again.

If you are willing to do something now to help, the lovely Ann Voskamp just posted 5-ways-to-stand-up-be-the-church-in-the-worlds-worst-refugee-crisis-since-world-war-ii/.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Are we bearing fruit or weeds?

I woke up yesterday. And I pray I don't fall back to sleep... lulled by the unending cries of bills and to-do lists that disguise the prosperity and blessing of the loving middle-class American family that I was born into.  ///  

Why was I born into this? What did I do before I was born to deserve this safety and security, so disguised by stress that I barely recognize it until I read something like this, posted the day Ramadi fell.  (Does every American who knows the latest Hollywood gossip also know where Ramadi is?)    ///  

Ann writes: 
Dear North American Church,        

Go ahead — wave to a nine-year-old kid today. Sit on the edge of her bed and just watch — just watch your nine-year-old while she sleeps.

Then sit with a 9 year-old-girl on the floor of a shipping container in the middle of northern Iraq.

Except there aren’t many nine-year-old Yezidi girls here, among these families displaced and fleeing from ISIS. There are 5 year olds, 7 year olds, but — I looked for them: there are no nine year olds. ISIS sells nine year old girls in slave bazaars.

Click away, turn the other way if you want, but those girls are wild to turn and escape — and they can’t. They are categorized. Stripped. And shipped naked. Examined and distributed. Sold and passed around like meat. Livestock.

You can walk into any mall and buy a pair of NIKE running shoes for what they are buying a Christian or Yezidi girl from 1-9 years of age — $172 dollars. And she’s yours. For whatever you want, for as long as you want, to make do whatever you want. Sit with that. Yeah, we’re all done living in a world where a pair of shoes can last longer, have more worth, be treated with more value, than a fondled, raped and discarded 9 year-old-girl.

The United Nations reports this week that at least one young girl’s been “married” over 20 timesand forced at the end of each violation to undergo surgery to “restore” her virginity.

So it could be ripped open and destroyed by the next highest bidder.

Yes, it's true. This was written and experienced just a few months ago, and Ramadi is still in the hands of ISIS. So it's still happening. 

And other places around the world have the same atrocities happening. 

And girls and boys in our own American towns are being victimized in the same way. As this American girl says in another article about growing up in the American sex trade:
I was just 6 years old when I (accidentally) mentioned something about my "uncles" to a teacher -- I just said something like: "My uncles came over and we had fun," because those were the words my mom always used. If you think at this point a SWAT team raced to my house and busted everyone, you and I live in different worlds. What happened instead was the teacher called my mom, and she talked her way out of it somehow. When I got home, she beat me up, I think to block out her entire Terrible Person Bingo card.

I was a chameleon good student and industrious worker with various part-time jobs, with a secret life in forced prostitution. That first part was important to my mother -- keeping up appearances, looking like the "good girl."

My mom had a webcam, and a couple of years after the visits from the "uncles" she decided to take the "business" online. She'd go into chat rooms and talk me up, and that's how I got my work. The earliest webcam shows I remember were when I was around 6 years old, and they began to pick up after my grandmother passed when I was 8 (my grandmother being one of the last people in my life who could have put a stop to it).

No, I'm not making this stuff up.  Unfortunately, it's all too real in this messed-up-by-sin world we live in.  Both the mothers who sell their own daughters - daughters who are sitting next to our own in the classrooms - and the mothers like those among the 150,000 refuges stranded on the mountain in Iraq.

Ann writes further:
I sit with 4 Yezidi mothers in a shipping container where they sleep. Sozan leans forward and whispers to me, “Our life was normal before. Our children went to school. Our families had homes, we worked hard. ISIS takes everything. ISIS destroys our homes. We lose everything."

She points to her sister, Leyla, sitting on the ground beside me. “ISIS shot her husband. Then they shot her son.” I search Leyla’s eyes, her face deeply lined… longing. "… killed them.” Sozan pulls a blanket up around the baby. “We had to choose…” Mawra’s eyes are squeezed tight — like she’s trying to forget. “We had to choose which children we could take — and which we had to leave behind.”

It’s like the air’s sucked out of the shipping container, out of the membranes of my lungs.

When you and your people are being gunned down, you can cram 28 people into a getaway car — but where do you put the 29th? the 30th? Space is finite. There’s a hell on earth that can feel infinite.

“When we are on Sinjar Mountain,” Sozan motions to these mothers, these women, sitting on the floor of the shipping container — like you can truck humanity around like meat — “and ISIS is fighting and shooting and killing all around us — there is no water. No water anywhere — for any of our children. There is no food. Six of the children with us — six of my nieces and nephews” — she holds up her fingers — “six of them, they die. No water, no food. We have to leave their bodies on the mountain. We have to cover them with stones. We can’t get dig down, we can’t down into the mountain to bury them. Too hard.”

I think of my own three children, and my mind is unable to even contemplate having to choose between them. My heart echoes the same question Ann's does.
Why do we get to be safe…. and they get to be killed, raped, displaced, destroyed?

Does she know that after every meal at home, I water all our houseplants with the leftover water in the pitcher? That our dog gets whatever we don’t finish off our plates?

Does she know that our churches are fundraising for building expansions and plusher chairs while their children are dying?

Somebody tells me after church, right after I get back from Iraq: “It’s nice that you care about those people over there.”

And I stop. Turn. How do I make this translate?

We aren’t where we are, to just peripherally care about the people on the margins as some superfluous gesture or token nicety. The exact reason why you are where you are — is to risk everything for those being oppressed out there.

I woke up early this morning with those words going through my head.

The exact reason why you are where you are — 
is to risk everything for those being oppressed. 

Here I am working my fingers to the bone to pay off lawnmowers and medical bills and mortgages and all the trappings of what these women would call luxury.  And I'm so busy doing it that I'm not sure if I have time to answer the tug in my heart to volunteer at a woman's shelter the next town over.

Father help me.

I do not believe that I was created for the purpose of paying bills and earning enough extra to occasionally visit restaurants to eat food that makes me feel bad but tastes good. Yes, my husband and I must provide for our children... but what are we providing?  Are we passing on the ignorance of Christian American privilege along with their clearanced clothing and grilled chicken and filtered water? As we teach them to get a job and pay for their own driver's license and cars and cell phones, are we also teaching them that providing for themselves and their own is what life is all about?

If the struggle to provide was the curse of The Fall, and Jesus came to redeem us from that... and if He spoke truth when He said not to worry about what we will eat and drink... then we were created and redeemed for a greater purpose. 

Something eternal.

As I laid in bed this morning at 4am, the Lord reminded me yet again of something He showed me eight years ago... the part of the parable of the sower that applies to me. I was reading it to my kids, and right there, in the middle of the parable, I saw myself.
Jesus said: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the Word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful. He did not say that the plant died... ie: that the person loses their salvation. He said that the plant did not bear any fruit.

Did you catch that?

When we have the Word but bear no fruit, it's because our life is being choked by these weeds. It's either the worries of our privileged American life, and/or it's because we're too busy chasing after the money for MORE.  

You know... the "more" that's filling the catalogs in our mail and the junk email folder and the shelves in our malls and cluttering up our houses until we decide our house is too small.

Jesus said it.

But if you're like me, then your mind responds, but how do I pay the bills and the taxes? How do I find the extra time or money to do anything more than just survive?  It's all well and good to say that other people live on $20/day, but I have to somehow come up with $10,000/year in taxes and thousands more to pay for health insurance that my government now requires that I purchase and insurance and gas for the car I have to have just to get to work, and.... and....

I'm not saying it's easy being a middle-class American. It's not.

I'm saying that we're all-too-often cultivating those weeds instead of asking the Master Gardener to yank them out. We're not asking Him to teach us whatever it is we need so that we can rest in His promises of provision and focus our own attention on giving and loving.


For those asking, "What can we actually do?"  the answer is to ask God to point His finger toward what He knows you can do.  He knows what He's given you and what means He will provide in the future. I know this, because it's a lesson I've already learned, walked in... and which has since gotten choked by weeds.  Almost five years ago, He pointed at the nursing home around the corner and taught me a little about living a life poured out. I'm now doing three nursing homes... for three measly little hours each month. So little sacrifice, when I've been given so much. He's been whispering "more" to me for awhile now, and in response, I point to the weeds.

I cannot rush over there to stop a war and to instill love and compassion into ISIS. I cannot air-drop food and water to refugees. I cannot reverse time and bring back the virginity and innocence of the young girls being bought and sold. I cannot transform the minds of the men or shape those of the young boys.

Only the gospel can work those miracles and redeem those atrocities. If I truly believe in the power of the redemption God offers, then that is what I can help with.

OCC Web BannersI can head out tomorrow and buy school supplies and personal care items and toys to pack into as many Christmas shoeboxes as I can, knowing that those boxes -- and the Hope packed inside -- can go where I cannot... can reach the orphans and the refugee children... and their mothers.

And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 
- Romans 10:15

I can skip some restaurant meals or a visit to the movies or the sweater I want to buy and send the money to Compassion International, knowing that they have found ways into thousands of dark situations, and the money I send will help one life at a time in a way that is personal and life-changing.

And I can ask God to let me see my world through His eyes. Ask Him to point out those around me who need love. Turn over to Him the worries that are choking my life. Love the troubled kids I meet.

Ask Him to weed my life and prune me so I can become more fruitful.

And surrender more of my life to Him. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Love in 2015

The trending topics for the last two weeks have all had to do with SCOTUS and the ruling about same-sex marriages. Before that was the Vanity Fair magazine with Caitlyn Jenner, and before that was the wedding cakes.  I have people who are very, very dear to me on the extremes of both "sides" and everywhere in the middle on all of these issues. Thus, I have said very, very little.

And so I've been waiting and waiting and waiting to write or say anything.  Even now, I'm not going to say much. So many others have already said so much. A few have spoken more eloquently than I could, and many more have said things that make me wish we didn't share the same religious title.  Regardless, most people are happy to agree with those who say things they like, and happy to loudly denounce those with whom they disagree. No one has asked my opinion anyway.

Besides, this blog isn't about theology. It's about offering hope. It's about encouraging people to turn their hearts toward God and let Him do whatever He chooses in their lives and hearts and minds.

So I'm going to share a few little observations, very few of which are new, as I've known for a very long time that the court would rule as they did; the only question was when. Thus, these thoughts are more of the "where do we go from here?" type.


Human nature is to want the freedom to do whatever we want without anyone else telling us what to do. As Christians, we (are supposed to) choose to surrender that right because we (are supposed to) trust that the Bible's ideas of what we should do are better than what we would come up with on our own. Frankly, most of us have a really hard time trusting and obeying when what He asks of us is different than our natural inclination.

To me, it is entirely understandable that those who do not share our belief in the Bible would not want to be bound by what it says. And that's okay. I'd feel the same way if somebody wanted to bind me to the laws of any other religion. I can still show interest in their lives and share their joys and work to ease their pain and help them in their struggles just the same. God will choose how to shine His love through me to accomplish what He desires in me and around me.


The Christian church as a whole hasn't really been demonstrating marriages that make non-Christians say, "Tell me your secret? How do you all have such happy marriages and families? I need hope for my own." It seems that we've pretty much demonstrated that we don't know much more than anyone else about what makes a marriage successful. Generally, someone has to demonstrate success and excellence at something before others want to receive instruction from them. That's biblical, too, so we can't fault anyone for it.

Let's ask God to transform our own marriages into miracles that do cause those around us to come to us when they need hope for their own.


Finally, I'm going to offer a Katie-translation of 1 Corinthians 13. This is nothing literal that anyone should take as gospel truth, just possibilities for how love for a Christian might look in 2015. Sometimes we have a hard time relating the Bible to our practical lives.

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
So I need to make sure that my sacrifices are louder than the exercise of my spiritual gifts... especially sacrifices of love made for those who might think themselves my enemy.

2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Thus, all the truths that I know and understand are worth absolutely nothing if I cannot act and talk with kindness and grace toward people who disagree with those truths. Even if I could work miracles, they would be meaningless compared to the love and caring that I can already give... if I would only be willing to humble myself to do so.

3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
So even my sacrifices mean nothing in the eternal scheme of things if they are done from any motive other than love.

4 Love is patient,
Even when I'm caught in traffic. Even when the woman in front of me in line at the grocery store cannot find the change in the bottom of her purse and is taking a long time figuring out what to take off the bill so that her money card can cover it all. (Love will probably even pay for whatever she was forced to take off the bill.)

Love is kind...
Love is kind to the gay waiter who is serving my table, to the illegal immigrants working in the restaurant kitchens, to the man begging on the corner who might or might not really be homeless, and even to the able-bodied man receiving welfare.  Love is especially kind to those who are not at all kind themselves, for while Jesus hung on the cross, He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Love is not jealous;
It's not even jealous of the rights that other groups of people win, even if it seems like the rights of Christians appear being taken in trade... for Jesus surrendered every right He had, from the rights that came with being the Creator of the Universe down to the right to a fair trial. And He did it both for me and for those passing laws that diminish what I believe my American rights should include.

Love does not brag and is not arrogant...
Even when I am speaking what I believe to be truth. Love recognizes that my truth is often someone else's fairy tale, and it is arrogant to be angry at them because God has not given them the revelation He's given me. When I love people, I am more concerned with repenting of my own sin than I am of telling other people that I believe their A, B, and C are sins. I will be more concerned with smiling at people I disagree with and showing them kindness. I am less concerned with someone else's sexual sins and more concerned with making sure that I am not another Christian pathological liar, constantly telling people I'll do this and that and that I'll be there at such and such a time... and then blaming life and offering "something came up" excuses when I fail to let my Yes be Yes. I will think and speak as though the transvestite on the train, the drug-adict on the corner, and the teenager who made my hamburger were created by a God who places priceless gifts inside each person. I will make it my goal to think of them as the priceless people they are, even when they do not see themselves that way.

5 Love does not act unbecomingly;
Even on Facebook and the comments of blog posts and news articles. And even when the waiter mixes up the food order or forgets it completely. And even when our kids or our coworker have totally tried our patience.

Love does not seek its own.
For Jesus said that He has called me to deny myself to follow Him. Love is willing to drink water and give up dessert at the restaurant so that the unpleasant waitress who didn't keep those water glasses filled can still have a decent tip after she hands over the portion that belongs to the cook and the back of the house... just in case she's struggling to support three kids... just in case she is slow and unpleasant because she's working on only four hours of sleep. Love is willing to give up a bit of vacation fun so that the housekeeping lady at the hotel can get a tip large enough to cover both the cleaning she will do in my room and the huge mess that the previous guests rudely left behind.

Love is not provoked,
Not even when my nice dinner meal is interrupted by the person talking loudly on their cell phone or the child screaming across the restaurant. It is not provoked even when the driver three cars ahead of me hesitates so long at the light that I don't make it through before it turns red.  It is not provoked by the rudeness of a younger generation but instead recognizes that the younger generations are perhaps more starved for genuine selfless and invested love than any generation this country has known. Love knows that a gentle answer turns away wrath.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love's record doesn't even last long enough for me to plaster a mental label on the person who just __(fill in the blank)__. Love forgives, and forgives, and forgives, even if my spouse or boss do the same unfair thing to me every day of the week for seventy weeks in a row.

6 Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
But neither does it rejoice in self-righteousness my comparing myself to others. Love instead rejoices in the truth that God loves that person I'm labeling, and God still gave them gifts and talents and abilities worth rejoicing over! Love does not pick and choose which truths to celebrate.
7 Love bears all things,
For Jesus silently bore the accusations that were slung at him and responded only when He was asked to testify about who He was. He wore Himself to exhaustion because He had compassion on the crowds. And when He knew He needed strength, He went away to pray rather than deny those who came to Him. He knew where strength comes from.

Love believes all things,
Love thinks the best of people and is slow to judge.  When the child is throwing a temper tantrum in the store and the parent does nothing, Love is happy to believe that there might be extenuating circumstances and reasons such as the heart-convicting stories shared in this blogger's story. 

Love hopes all things,
Love never gives up, even when past experience makes it seem like there is no point in hoping. For the God who is Love says that nothing is impossible with Him.

Love endures all things.
Love endures slander and false accusations. Love keeps me from growing bitter if I am forced to bear the worst that the company or nation or committee or job market or family or community or weather or economy has to offer. Even when I am falsely accused and abused and have everything I have and are taken away from me, love still prays, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Because God is Love. 


And because God is love and we are not, this list is not a list of rules to follow and things I will be punished for if I do not fulfill in the correct way.

Love is a fruit of the Spirit... a natural result of the Spirit of God moving in my life.  It is something that will flow from me and overwhelm my natural tendencies as I keep myself out of the way and allow God to work in my life as He sees fit. Conviction when I fail to love is simply an indicator that I need to turn over more of my life to the God who loves me and transforms me.

Even hope comes through His love...

Wednesday, May 06, 2015


Yesterday I heard the tail end of a new-to-me song on the radio, and I thought, "Wow! I think I like this song!"  It ended, I had to get ready for my day, and it slipped my mind. //

This morning, as I was lying in bed, one song on klove ended and another began. It only took a few seconds for me to realize I was hearing a new song that I'd never heard before. The first few lines caught my attention, and I began listening very carefully... and my love for this song grew... and I realized it was the same song I had heard yesterday! /Now I see that it's been out for a year almost... and a number of my friends in other states have heard it all this time... but I never heard it before yesterday. Crazy!

But can I tell you that I have the biggest smile on my face now?  This song is fantastic!  Why? Because it takes a truth that many Christians know in our heads, and it re-phrases it in such a way that - for me at least - I have to think about on a whole new level.

Romans 8 talks about the magnitude of what Jesus did on the cross for us.  And right in the middle of it is something that's very hard for us to wrap our minds around, I think:
29 For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.
Conformed to the image of His Son
I'm glorified. Past tense.

That's what this song is talking about.  When it says "the cross" it means "what Jesus did on the cross for you."  It's talking about this amazing truth from the One who has promised to always finish what He started... the One who sees your future in past tense and says this.

This is the hope that we are given because of amazing grace, and this is how complete the redemption that Jesus purchased on the cross really is.
  • We don't lose it even though we screw up every day. 
  • It's not stolen when it feels like others are tearing our heart out. 
  • Because Jesus said, "It is finished."

Our journey here on earth is always from where we're at now, to what He he created us to be - everything that Romans 8 talks about.

In His eternal timeline, it began and ended when the Hero of the Ages laid down all He was. And it becomes ours the moment we surrender our life to the Author of Life.

I challenge you to listen to it or read the words.

Flawless - MercyMe

There's got to be more than going back and forth
From doing right to doing wrong
'Cause we were taught that's who we are
Come on get in line right behind me
You along with everybody, thinking there's worth in what you do

Then like a hero who takes the stage 
When we're on the edge of our seats saying it's too late
Well let me introduce you to amazing grace

No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises
No matter the scars, still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain, still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

Could it possibly be that we simply can't believe
That this unconditional kind of love would be enough
To take a filthy wretch like this 
And wrap him up in righteousness
But that's exactly what He did.

No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises
No matter the scars, still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain, still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

Take a breath smile and say, "Right here, right now, I'm okay
Because the cross was enough."

And like a hero who takes the stage 
When we're on the edge of our seats saying it's too late
Well let me introduce you to grace... grace...
God's grace...

No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises
No matter the scars, still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain, still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

No matter what they say or what you think you are
The day you called His name, He made you flawless
He made you flawless

No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

Read more: Mercy Me - Flawless Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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