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Stopping a Nose Bleed with a Tampon and What God had to Say

Stopping a Nose Bleed with a Tampon and What God had to Say

Shoving the third tampon up my fifteen year old son’s nose while we sat in the doctor’s office got me giggling. He wasn’t dying. We were there because we were pretty sure that he had the flu. The nurse wanted to swab his nose for an influenza test, but asked him to blow first. O.mi.word. Huge mistake! At first it seemed like a regular nose bleed, but then as the tissue box was suddenly empty, the nurse handed him a red, biohazard bag. Okay. Wow. Then she left. He held his face over the bio bag and the blood fell in at a fast drip. Blood was dripping all over the bag, his fingers were covered, smears across his face . . . I’m opening and closing cabinets, sliding out drawers, looking for something more absorbent when I remember: I have tampons! Starting with the Ultra size, we quickly realized that the capability of that huge mass of cotton was expanding at an alarming rate . . . he looks up. “Mom?” “Okay, so just pull it out with the string. Over the bag.” Upon trying, he starts yelling, “Ahhhh, ow! It hurts!” (Like a dry tampon hurts. Yikes.) “Sorry! You just have to pull it out!” I hold the bag to catch it, and immediately blood starts pouring into the bio bag. I grab my purse and push things around until I find the “light days” absorbency option. “Here, this one’s smaller.” That did the trick. He went through three tampons before it finally stopped. In the background of this mess, there was another mess, beeping at me from my phone. Throughout our four hour experience at Urgent Care, Luke, the sixteen year old who we had taken into our home two years ago, had been texting me. About two weeks ago, he had decided to cut me out of his life. Again. Even so, I answered a phone call from a lock down facility to which he’d been taken. Mine was the only number he remembered. Luke had begun to emotionally bleed out. The wounds of his wretched childhood and lack of love and care weren’t healing. He was dripping everywhere while turning into a boy-man, drowning in a puddle of his own blood. It had happened before. Each time, everyone we knew came running with their first aid kits: teachers, friends, sisters, counselors, DHS, Families First. Some only had bandaids, others had wound care bandages, while others came with expertise in stitching. I mean, if it is possible to cauterize an emotional wound of that magnitude, it had been offered. But his default was to take everything handed to him and well . . . throw it away. That way, I guess, he could convince himself he didn’t need it. All the while, though, he picked at his scabs, stuck his fingers in deep gashes around his torso, scratched his neck and face and said, “See, I can’t help what I’m doing. Help me.” But unlike my son in the doctor’s office, he didn’t want a biohazard bag or wads of tissues. He wanted to bleed. Everywhere. All over me. All over my children. All over my family. All over his friends. All over anyone who came to help. But this morning, while grabbing anything at all that I could find to soak up my son’s unending river of blood, I decided not to reply to Luke's text. He had simply said, “Hey.” He was trying to beckon me back into this story in which we have tried a thousand times, unsuccessfully, to clean up the horrid, clotted mess. Maybe he hopes I don’t notice the smears of dried flaky blood all over his face. Or maybe he believes that they will cause empathy and I’ll have to respond with a warm washcloth. But looking at this new text I wonder, “Does he need to bleed out? Does he need to get to the point where there is no strength left in him? To bleed out beyond the help of a kleenex, stitches, blood transfusions, and cauterization?” I look down into my own hands and find, for the first time, they are empty. I have nothing to offer him. I don’t even have words. I’m actually very preoccupied helping my own son clean up this other, very tangible, bloody mess. But as I wipe, wad, and dab, I ask God, “What am I responsible for?” He is quiet today. He is asking me to take my pathetic attempts to love Luke and set. them. down. As I stuff the bio bag in the trashcan (is this where I put it?), He reminds me that He has already bled out. Bled out and survived the death that came as a result of nails pounded through bones. Bled out for me. Bled out for Luke. I can only point Luke to the One who knows: “Here, broken boy. When you’re so tired and can’t go on, go to the One who sees you, who bled out for you to keep you from dying inside this shameful, defective, miserable mess. The only one who can heal your gaping wounds.” By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24c) Mark writes a story in 5: 25-29 about a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. As soon as she reached to touch Jesus, she was healed. Write a scene where you are in the crowd following Jesus, reaching out hoping to just touch his clothes. What does it feel like to be there? What are the people around you doing? Is Jesus close or far? What does it take for you to get to him? Reflect on a time when you have been so desperate that all you could do is reach out? What if you had the chance to touch Jesus—what would you be desperate for him to heal? Or write about someone else in that scenario. Place yourself or someone else at the cross, looking up and watching Jesus bleed out. What would you/they say to Him? Offer Him? What does He say to you/them? Write this as a story, a dialogue, or prayer. Are you bleeding out right now? Write a poem about this experience and about how you may be healed. Look up the lyrics to Imagine Dragons, “Bleeding Out.” Listen to it. Is there an image or picture in your mind? Write about it or sketch it out.

Wouldn't Jesus Wear Birkenstocks?

Wouldn't Jesus Wear Birkenstocks?

What if Jesus came now? Not for the LAST time, the BIG time, the RAPTURE time, but to sort of check in. Just for a little while. To the Christians. Because if he did . . . I have so. many. questions. First of all, where would he show up? And how old would he be? I mean, surely not a BABY again! And please, oh please, not a teenager, a millennial, or maybe . . . as one of my beloved, Nirvana-loving, original naval pierced Gen Xers? What kind of shoes would he wear? Nikes? Slides? Surely Birkenstocks. Surely. And where would he shop? Old Navy? Goodwill? Neiman Marcus? Um, no. What would his first language be? If not English, what kind of accent would he have? We judge intelligence by accent. We adore a good European accent. Most accents from the Middle East, however, sometimes reveal a bit of mistrust in the quiet parts of our American souls. What if he talked like a rapper from deep within the city? Oh. My. Word. Could my little, midwestern heart even hear him at all? And if he had the drawl of a country singer, I would certainly dismiss him. Seriously. Who would be his chosen twelve? Would they be limited to the place he was living? Or would it be a multi-national hodge-podge of cultures and languages? Maybe some Zoom meetings. What about their gender? Oooo la la! Now, that is a question! Would he walk down the middle of the street? (For some reason, I always imagine him walking down the middle of the street.) Would he spend his time in cities? Near an ocean? In the mountains? What about a desert? Where would he go to be alone and pray? And how long would he stay around? More than thirty-three years or less? Or would he give us just another three years of truth? Or more. Would he post pictures on social media, be the only guy on VSCO without a girlfriend, host podcasts? Would he do an interview on Al Jazeera television? MSNBC? Fox News (oh man, please no). Maybe just start his own broadcasting network? Who would he interview? Like he did for the Jewish people of the New Testament, would he re-explain some of the things we’ve been certain about: Yes, I know you think THIS, but that is not what He meant. You have it all wrong. It’s about the heart, not just the doing. It’s about the intent, not simply the actions. It’s about the journey, not only moments. Yes, you’ve followed the rules well, but that is not the point. You’ve missed the point. Where are we just simply wrong? Where would he re-interpret our books, our philosophies, our very foundations of belief and understanding? Aren’t we a little like the Jewish people at the time of his first coming? We have created systems, built schools, written books about methods, and developed processes based upon what people wrote about his life. We have established the message that we’ve heard. We have simplified his life and its meaning to sound bites, so that the masses can easily understand and commit. In so many ways, aren’t we exactly like those who we like to scorn in the New Testament? We think about how “deaf” they were to the truth literally speaking right in front of them. We say the title Pharisee like it’s a cuss word. (Pastor. Priest. Reverend.) We scoff at their ignorance and roll our eyes at their inability to “see” the Good News shining light right into their eyes. But if you don’t believe that you are lost, there is no need to be found. So, what would he say to us? And how would we respond? (Yikes.) I imagine that we would respond just exactly as we read the Pharisees responded: Aghast! Shocked! A bit of how dare you, justifying what we say, think, and what we absolutely know is true; stomping like children upon the foundations of our very faith. We would be deeply offended. One of my deepest, darkest questions (I mean, we can probably call it fear) is, “Would I recognize him?” Then there is this question, this very bold question that I am dying to know: Would he choose me? Would he look at me and know me and see me and then . . . choose me to be among his closest, dearest friends to whom he explained all the things, while sitting around a fire, laughing? Would he think I was funny? Inappropriate? Would he delight in me? Would he like my stories? Would he ask me, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Your Turn— Read Luke 4:16-21, 28-30: He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. If you could sit across a fire with Jesus today, what would you ask him? What would you want clarified? Write this dialogue. Who are you in the crowd? Are you furious? Intrigued? Are you even listening? Are you distracted? Write a paragraph from your perspective upon hearing his declaration. What is your answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Write a story in which Jesus asks you this question in a setting with which you’re familiar. Your home, your favorite trail, your favorite overlook. Have you been walking? Mountain biking? Did you just come in from a swim in the ocean? Get as detailed as possible and answer his question. Sketch a modern-day Jesus. What is he wearing, where is he at, what is the look on his face? Please sign up to send me what you've created! I'd love to hear or see it! (It's just between you and me!)

Flies, Leprosy, and a Black Night of the Soul

Flies, Leprosy, and a Black Night of the Soul

I am in the dark, curled into a ball on my neatly made bed. Arms squeezing knees tightly to my chest, eyes clamped shut. A sound escapes: an unrecognizable deep, guttural sound. Coming from me. Tears slip down into the comforter. My soul has curled my body into this strange position. It has that ability sometimes. My reality is not in that room. I am actually in a battle. My mind and soul are hovering on the rocky edge of an unimaginably deep canyon. Looking down into an absolute unknown, I am not sure that I’m going to survive this struggle. My husband and I had just returned from a six-month trip to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, where we had lived with teams of families who were working among the poorest of the poor. We had been home for a few weeks now, making our way through reverse culture shock. We got the phone call that we had been waiting for from Mission: Moving Mountains, the organization that we hoped to join! Yes, they would love to have us be part of a team! Would we accept? It was time; time to decide whether or not we would join them and permanently move to East Africa. Commitment: fifteen years. I was twenty-eight years old. Andy, my husband of one year, was glowing. He was ready. He was all in. He told me that he had found his life’s purpose. But me? I was terrified, staring down into an endless, black pit of unknowing. Or maybe I knew too much. (Even as I write these words nineteen years later, my stomach is tightening up, beads of perspiration tingling under my arms. My Fitbit says my heartrate is increasing. Well, that could be the coffee. Second cup. But still.) Every. Single. Person. In. My. Life. Expected. Me. To. Go. At twenty years old, as a baby Christian, God had made it clear that my path and purpose was to be a missionary. From that very moment, I began to redirect every choice, friendship, and decision toward that goal. I broke up with the guy that I was certain I would marry. I moved to Hungary and taught ESL as a high school teacher, leading Bible studies, sharing, sharing, sharing my faith. After that, I pursued a degree in Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School as a seminary student. I spoke at churches, I led groups, I pursued truth with all of my mind, heart, and strength. Every box checked! I was made “for a time such as this” and ready to go! Except this cliff. Now. Here I was, toes dangling off of the crumbling cliff edge of my future, rocks and pebbles echoing as they crashed their way down to the bottom of a black pit. Panic and fear overwhelming every cell of my being as I realized that I did not have the courage. The faith. To jump; jump into the life that I had been preparing for over the last eight years. I was no longer the bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed twenty-something, excited about the IDEA of being a missionary . . . I had seen things. In Addis Ababa, weaving through piles of human feces as we walked along roadsides, I had stepped over bodies and did not know if the piles of emaciated flesh and tattered clothing were alive or dead. A little girl, limbs and face eaten and destroyed by leprosy, staring at me with a huge beautiful, distorted smile. Hopping on her one good leg, she hoped I could offer something. My pale skin advertising that I was a ferenji (foreigner), and certainly that meant that I had something. Anything. Bread. Money. Friendship. A way out. The day after we arrived, Eritrea had declared war on Ethiopia and the evacuation of American citizens began. The team decided to stay. They were in the middle of their own war, fighting between themselves about which direction they would take their ministry: work within and among the Orthodox Church, or alongside the young, evangelical movement. The two churches hated one another. And so, the two sides of this team began to mirror the culture around them, taking sides, fighting among themselves. As I watched my idealized version of missionary life crumble, this team that we were supposed to join, disintegrated. When we left two months later, they also left for good. We still had four months left, three countries and three more teams to visit. I was in shock after Ethiopia. My soul was a dark cave, no light. All the years of preparing for this moment was a lie: God did not exist. I was a fool. Sitting on a stump outside of a hut in Tanzania, I watched a little boy with no pants and a tight, distended belly hanging out of his ragged, dirty shirt, crying in the dust. And the flies. So many flies . . . crawling in and out of his sloppy, hungry mouth, feasting on the dried snot flaking on his face. Round and round a dirt yard, his mother was chasing THE skinniest chicken, covered in bare patches of missing feathers. She was preparing a feast for me. Because I was “visiting.” I wasn’t sure that any of them had eaten in days. I was assured this was the cultural thing to do. Accept hospitality or they would be shamed. I was ashamed, looking down at my clean fingernails and shaved legs, my healthy skin glowing with newly applied scented lotion. And the food was awful. I scooped handfuls of sandy millet, covered in pieces of barely cooked chicken fat, gagging it down past a plastered smile, my head, nodding dumbly up and down as I made sounds indicating how much I was enjoying it. The boy was grinning at me, shoveling in his feast. Don’t get me wrong, I felt like it was a complete privilege to be there. I was in awe. But I was staring down a future with days filled with all of this. (It’s not quite the same thought process on a short-term mission trip experience. The weight of reality sits differently when you plan to stay. And have babies there.) That night, I shared a bed made of boards with Stephanie, who had been living there for years and still does. Listening to the termites crunching their way through the mud and straw, while rats scuttled across the floor, our clothes began to feel damp. We realized that we were laying on a urine soaked piece of cloth. All we could do was laugh. And we laughed and laughed until we cried. Where was I? Where was God in the middle of such wretched poverty? I could not reconcile that these places co-existed with the West County suburb of St. Louis in which I had grown up. We had taken a plane here for crying out loud! Then I remembered! Riiiiight . . . WE were the missionaries. Bringing a “message of hope” to the poorest of the poor. Well, we were definitely among the poorest of the poor. But I could not find a message of hope. The light inside of me was extinguished. I had nothing to give. And so, after six months, I was curled up in the dark bedroom of my apartment. I was certain that I could not live there. It was not in me. I was a fraud and a failure of the worst kind. Now, on my bed, swaying on the edge of the cliff in my soul, I was panicked. Poised miles above a black pit, lined with jagged rocks ready to rip me into pieces as I plummeted to my end. And God whispered, “Jump.” I almost threw up. Pushing down panic, clutching the proverbial mustard seed in my fist, shaking and crying, I screamed in terror and leaned into the all-consuming fear, preparing myself to fall. A blink of an eye later, I realized that I had only fallen two inches down from the top of the cliff. Safe. Still. I had fallen right into my Rescuer’s hands. Overwhelmed with thankfulness and wonder, the all-consuming fear began to transform into faith! “Stay or go,” He told me. “You are mine. I will love you either way.” “Really?” I was crying. “Really??” “I know you. You are fully known by Me. But, if you want to know Me, if you truly want to know the One who created you, then you will go.” Sitting in those enormous hands, there was only one choice to make. Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you. Psalm 37:4-5 Read Genesis 22:10-14 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven . . . Genesis 22:10-11 § Use as few words as possible to describe the edge of the cliff or laying upon the altar. § Write something about your life story that parallels Abraham’s story. What kind of hill have you climbed? What were the details of the process of building the alter? What or who were you required to lay upon that alter? Has there been an outcome? § Maybe you have been Isaac? Has someone placed you upon an alter? What was it like to lay there, looking up into the face of a father willing to sacrifice your life? Write about that experience. What was the ram that God provided for you? § Cliffs, alters, mustard seeds . . . create a metaphor through words or images describing a faith-building moment in your life. § Write about an experience in your life when God took your tiny mustard seed and transformed your fear into faith? Maybe a poem. § Write a prayer remembering a time when you sat in your Rescuer’s hands.

The Gym Class Mile: What I  didn't learn about Patient Endurance

The Gym Class Mile: What I didn't learn about Patient Endurance

Patient Endurance. My internal dictionary has a video next to these words, which can also be cross-referenced with other mental searches of my memory: High school gym class. Presidential Fitness Test. The dreaded mile. Epic Fail. This abominable day was the WORST day of every single school year. It required something that I did not (in any way, shape, or form) possess at the time. I needed patience because I preferred a tidy, little sprint, full of all-out intensity, push hard and stop! Give me an intense, explosive experience any day, but please do not ask me to slo o o o wly, inte n n n ntionally make my way toward something. And then call out the time at the end. Really? I needed endurance because it was four laps! Sooooooo many! This required thinking, planning, and spacing out energy for the last push when the finish line was finally in sight. Apparently. I had observed other people nearing the finish line, rounding toward the last stretch: despite pain, sweat, muscle fatigue, and lack of oxygen, those perplexing people see the finish line and, well . . . go faster! That response is a mystery to me. (Any time I try to run, even to this day, I am one step from walking. I want to stop the entire time. I think that the idea of endorphins is made up by annoying, happy joggers who make running look like a blissful frolic on a Disney movie, springs attached to their feet.) Every year on the foreboding day of the timed mile, I always ended up somewhere in the middle of the runners. Ahead of me were the over-achiever, sporty girls who were somehow finished already and decided it was a good idea to cheer on the rest of us leftovers. Smiling, they were yelling ridiculous phrases like, “You got this!” Shut. Up. Behind me were the people who didn’t even bother trying. Wearing flip-flops or overcoats to gym class that day, they were basically slinking their way to the end. Not the kind of group that makes you feel like you’re really ahead at all. My instinct at the end of the last lap, that very last curve and final straightaway only produced in me one thought: “This is good enough.” And I would . . . slow down . . . to a jog . . . then . . . walk. Let the middle stragglers pass me and feel like they were beating someone! It was my role as an encourager! The gym teacher would yell out my time and I would think, “Well, I mean, that’s not quite right. If I would’ve kept running I would’ve been here about 20 seconds earlier.” I would subtract 20-30 seconds and, in my mind, claim it as my finishing time. That is what I did every single year. Pathetic, I know. I’m being vulnerable. But something changed my junior year! For some reason that I still can’t recall, I decided I was going to run the entire way. Yes! I would! Three and a half laps in, the time I usually began to slow down, I went against my body, mind and soul and I KEPT RUNNING! Spoiler alert: There is no spiritual lesson about patient endurance paying off. We are entering the section about the utter fail. Somewhere between that fated, final curve and the finish line, I literally blacked out. I couldn’t see. But I kept running. I started yelling out between ragged intakes of air, “I can’t see!” I could hear my gym teacher (seriously, his name was Mr. Wolf) calling to me, yelling out to keep going, that I was almost there. “But I can’t see!” Don’t imagine a confident runner in this scene. At this point, I am fumbling and stumbling my way toward his voice. My own words are barely making their way out of my lips as my lungs suck in incredible amounts of oxygen. The maddening cheer from the softball girls has stopped. Sweat pouring, heart pounding, and small bursts of panicked thoughts were sending out warning signals, all insisting that I may be having an aneurism—or something else about to explode in my brain that would certainly cause my premature death. Here. Now. My stomach began churning and cramping. As I crossed the finish line, I was bent over, arms wrapped around my waist. And I kept running. . . . . . to the trash can I knew was near the stands. My vision fading in and out, I could see it; the flies buzzing around the accumulated stench inside. Falling against the hot, metal, rusty container and shoving my head down as far as I could, I puked up my guts. And simultaneously started my period. The puking continued through the ugly crying and, without asking permission (“seriously, screw this!”), I made my way through the air conditioned hallway of my high school. Sweat-crusted hair drying to my forehead, smeared mascara, disgusting, smelly gym clothes, and vomit breath. Everyone who passed me or glanced up from their desk was met with a death glare: “Don’t say a word. I will kill you. Forget what you have seen here.” I found my boyfriend’s art class and, hanging onto at the doorframe, tears still streaming, I begged him to take me home. THAT is the example of patient endurance from my early life. Life before Jesus. It is what I continued to point back to as the explanation and stubborn reason for two things: running is a horrible sport and patient endurance is simply not a part of my DNA. But because of Him, I am no longer that girl. I don’t serve a God who is limited by my original DNA, by my experience, by my nature OR my nurture. He is in the business of transforming. And I am no longer trapped in a this-is-good-enough attitude. (But honestly, I still don’t like running. Feelings border on hatred, not gonna lie.) “No . . . I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race . . .” (Philippians 3: 13-14a NLT). “. . . you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need” (Colossians 1:11a NLT). What the translations have to say: NLT: Patient Endurance NIV: Perseverance RSV, NASB: Steadfastness J.B. Phillips: the ability to endure The Message: the strength to stick it out over the long haul § Laughing matters! Write about a complete fail. Now when you look back, are there some truths that God can reveal about Himself/yourself within this story? Include them. § Write about a time you gave up. Except, insert Jesus into the exact moment you quit or gave into the struggle. Describe how he looks at you, how he approaches you, how he sits with you. What would he say to you? Maybe write this as a dialogue or a poem. § “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” (James 5:7). Where do you need this now in your life? Write a prayer and ask Him for patient endurance. What is His will for you today? Now? What do you hope to receive from Him? § Respond to this quote: “Endurance doesn’t mean the patience which sits down and accepts things, but the patience which masters them . . . it is a determination, unhurrying and undelaying which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected.” ‑William Barclay, a Professor, Theologian, Author, and Greek Scholar at the University of Glasgow in Scotland (1907-1978) § Remember who you were before you came face-to-face with Jesus and write about or draw/paint/sketch the part of you that has been transformed into something new—something that the people who know you now think is simply a part of your character. But you know the truth . . . For more prompts, to share your writing, or to just stay in touch, sign up here: Write Your Way In

An Awkward Branch

An Awkward Branch

Sometimes, after a full day of squinting in the West African sun, finding my way through the market maze, I would be startled by my own pale reflection in my bathroom mirror. Like, I would actually jump a little: my light green eyes, very pale, freckly skin, and blond hair were all so . . . bright . . . compared to the people living all around me. I was very aware that I was other. It was almost like I was from another planet. People constantly asked, “Why are you here? Are you with the CIA? Why would you leave America?” Little children would sometimes run from me, dropping everything, screaming in terror, tears and snot and fear. They had never seen a white person. I found out later that I was a real threat. Senegalese mothers sometimes told their children that if they were bad, the white people would take them away—actually devour them. Wow. Not exactly the picture of Jesus and the little children . . . Being in this tiny portion of sub-Saharan Africa, which looked nothing like the St. Louis suburbs that had developed my entire worldview, well . . . it felt really weird. How did airplanes exist in this same world where people lived in thatch huts? How could we send people to the moon, and yet, here in this place, a teenage girl was going to die because she tripped the other day and now there was an inflamed, throbbing, untreated cut on her toe? She was going septic—and she wouldn’t use the Neosporin, because her father didn’t trust the toubab medicine. She headed to the witchdoctor instead. Where was I? And who was I? Now that I had been here for five years and had two babies, I was different too. I had adopted the posture of walking behind my husband through the sandy streets, resisting the urge to reach for his hand. I didn’t look men in the eye when I spoke with them. I curtsied when I shook the hand of an elder. I carried my babies on my back. (I also used my Swiss front carrier on days when I was feeling bold and could handle the criticism from women accusing me of putting my baby in danger, all out there in front of me.) But this moment, this day, walking across the village chief’s courtyard, in the middle of the sandy village in which his ancestors had lived for 400 years, I noticed the sound of my Target flip flops slapping against the bottoms of my forever-dusty feet. In a rare moment, I was alone. I stopped under the harsh, boiling, midday sun and took note of myself. There. I looked down and saw: pale, pink toes with chipped polish, and a wax, wrap skirt lightly brushing the tops of my feet. It was purple with pink embroidery and coordinated with its matching, loose-fitting, orange top with fun fringe. The “latest fashion,” my neighbor had promised me as I handed her my money. What did I know about fashion in an African village? When I wore it, however, I received more compliments than usual, so she must’ve been right. In this unexpected moment of quiet, I was overwhelmed and in awe. I felt the great privilege of being here settle upon me, overwhelming my senses: the burnt smell of cooking fires, the sound of braying donkeys and screaming goats and women laughing and chattering in another language, the feel of sand in every crevice of my skin, big flies incessantly buzzing around my face, and the grandeur of a baobob tree having grown in that spot for generations. Being here was so utterly other. But so was I. The truth that all of my Wolof friends and neighbors understood was that if I got ill, if one of my children caught yellow fever (and of course they wouldn’t because we had all been vaccinated at the travel clinic), when a famine came, or a severe drought choked the already parched land, I could get on a plane back to the Land of Plenty: the United States that we affectionately called, Glory Land. In this way, an enormous chasm separated me from them. I would never know true poverty or depend upon the whim of the rain that only graced Senegal with eight inches a year. I would never know the fear of not knowing what to do while holding my dying child who was just dehydrated. I had never been as thirsty as a woman living near a dry well, nursing her fifth child, gathering bits of vegetables to serve over rice to feed her family their one meal that day. Never. But I was here. God had asked me to come here. What was he thinking? I felt silly wearing their clothes and wrapping a “musor” around my head like I was playing dress up. I sounded uneducated when I tried to speak their language, often hearing someone say, “She doesn’t know anything” (I could understand more than I could say). Eating out of a common bowl, trying to form little balls of oily rice to pop into my mouth sometimes inspired empathy: once, a woman made one for me, handing it to me as she had just done for her toddler. The girl inside of me was at a complete loss for how to be an effective missionary. It felt like a ridiculous task. My only hope was to move bumbling, stumbling, confused me out of the way, just enough to let His light shine in some way that they could see. And even that was proving to be hard. Being a tiny branch on the Vine sometimes felt so insignificant, so impossibly ineffective. What kind of fruit even grew in this faraway place? Despite all of this, today, I was spending the day with the chief and his family. Looking around again, I breathed in the absolute wonder of it all. Glancing down, I snapped a mental photo of my feet, walking through this sand, under this sun, carrying me to the cooking hut to help the women pluck a chicken for lunch. None of this was up to me. I just had to keep walking. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (Philippians 2:5-6). RE-WRITE part of this verse and make it about you. Here is my example: Who “being in very nature” an AMERICAN CHRISTIAN did not consider it something to be used to my own advantage. Oh, but I DO use it to my own advantage! What word would you put there? “Being in very nature _________________ and not consider it to be used to your own advantage.” No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:4b, c). WRITE about his reality in your life. What fruit do you bear? Or are you a dying vine? What does it mean to “remain in the vine?” Are you trying to bear fruit without being connected to the vine? In your life, what comes first: remaining in the vine or bearing fruit? What needs to change. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some (1 Corinthians 9:22b). ASK yourself these questions: How do I authentically love people so “other” from myself? WRITE a letter to or a journal entry about someone “other” in your life that you would like to connect with. WRITE about the real boundaries around you that may prevent you from authentically loving others. Use a short story format to create characters based on your life or a memoir format to tell a real story from your life. Therefore, my dear friends . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12b-13).

Bitterness Revealed

Bitterness Revealed

Your brazen, brash, blunt words echo through the sealed cavern, rousing ancient pain, fracturing fortified walls with a wicked whisper, bouncing through darkness. Miniscule dust storms raging, delicate stones had sealed the passage with hope, faith, determination, intentional forgiveness . . . now destroyed. Harsh words stirring the slightest bits of loosed sediment: sentiments of old. Tears of a teenager turned crystals of adulthood through which all is seen distorted, confused; carried and weighted with years, pressing layers into foundations of kingdoms built upon sins of fathers. Quaking bedrock, footing forgotten, falling . . . bracing for the bottom of black, bleak, barren spaces once safe, no longer secure. “I will remember your sins no more . . .” Willful. Deliberate. Choice. Quit remembering. Knees on stones, begging for meekness: controlled strength to seal the cavern. Once. Again. 🎚In this poem, I am processing my deepest hurt, inflicted upon me by someone else; I'm trying to explain how easily I fall back on anger, sadness, deep confusion—my demand for justice and recognition of my pain and what it has cost me. "Meekness involves bearing the sins of others and absorbing the injuries they inflict. It is the only hope we have of breaking the otherwise unending cycle of retaliation" (Colin Smith, Momentum). What is it like to bear the sins of others? Are those "others" still in your life? How does that process look? Write a poem or story about a trigger that takes you straight back to the place you're trying to heal. 🎚When Jesus said, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine," (Matt. 26:39, NLT) He did not want to follow through with the plan. He did not WANT to die. He did not want the humiliation and absolute pain coming his way. This is the most intense definition of meekness, of controlled strength, that I can see in human history. Can you see him? Bent over on the ground, begging for another option? If you were there on that damp night, in an olive grove, how would you respond to Him, knowing how your own life has been impacted by His willingness to go through with it? Describe the scene and include the dialogue between you and Him. 🎚Re-write a true story in your life where you were hurt by someone else's outburst, need to control, or abuse. Change their behavior and their character to be an example of meekness, and how that story may have changed the outcome and/or the damage that wasn't inflicted. What about you? Write about your own failure to be meek and how the outcome caused damage to people around you. 🎚Write about a personal experience when you begged God for another outcome. What was your own experience with meekness when the outcome you wanted didn't happen? 🎚Meekness is strength brought under control. Like a wild horse tamed for a higher purpose. Sketch, draw, or paint a definition of meekness.