Thursday, July 25, 2013

A True Servant

Our youth group walked into the children's center where we would be spending every morning of our week while in L.A.  We were greeted with children singing "nothing but the blood of Jesus".  I was thrilled to hear their voices singing such a powerful song.  But disappointment awaited as we found out they already had a leader for Bible time.  Instead, we would be tutoring their math and reading.  God was revealing to us the true nature of a servant.

The servant does not get to choose how he serves, but simply does whatever his master asks of him.  He does the task assigned to the best of his ability.

And so in this manner we served, but not without creativity.  We used the reading books to launch us into discussions about God.  Who knew that I would connect with Sherris while learning of cartilage in sharks and be able to talk about the power of God as our Creator. 

Rodrigo was delighted with the manner in which my husband taught math as well as Javier and Keely.  Connections were made in relationships.  At the end of the week they left on their field trip, and we were sad to see them leave.  We were left behind to clean the classrooms for them.  Again, serving in a way that was needed, not in what we would choose. 

I told you of "The Midnight Mission" in my last post.  While Jason was giving his testimony another volunteer group showed up and "stole" our spot serving food on the line.  Instead, we were put to work in the back kitchen, making hundreds of sack lunches . . .

                                                                                                   and dicing 80 pounds of onions.

Secretly we fussed a little, wanting the contact with the people.  But once we accepted the situation, we had a ball!  What fun to interact with the cooks and be part of the action behind the scene.  I was so proud of our students serving in ways they had not expected and taking it in stride. 

One afternoon we helped out at a Bible club.  This was my favorite.  The gospel was presented clearly as a believer scientist came in to talk about heat and light.  We helped with lighters, magnifying glasses, rubber bands, erasers, and playdough volcanoes.  All illustrating God as our source of light and love.

It was here that I was drawn to a woman who demonstrated service like it was truly meant to be.  I meandered to the back kitchen and she was cooking a snack for the children.  (It was more like a dinner)  I call her the orange lady since she scarcely spoke and I failed to get her name.  In spite of a warm kitchen, she was cooking hot food, delight written all over her face.  She was not paid, but simply served from the depths of her heart. 

One of the children had a birthday that day and when the orange lady walked into the room bearing cakes with candles, you would have thought it was her own birthday.  She was beaming from ear to ear.  I was not fast enough to capture it on camera, but it is a picture that will stand out in my mind forever. 

So often I serve reluctantly, grudgingly, or bitterly.  I fuss about how inconvenient it is for me or how I am doing more than my share.  But God pin pricked my conscience by her example.  When I want to serve in my own way, on my own time, and in my own comfort, I am not truly serving.   The orange lady gave me a model of the true nature of a servant.  Serving in this way displays genuine surrender to the one being served and to the task given. 

Praying I can better serve my own family as well as the family of God in this manner.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Recently returned from a week in L.A., I feel a little culture shocked.  The inner city seemed an intricate maze of buildings, graffiti walls, coiled wire, and dirty concrete. . . never ending.  With scarcely a blade of grass in sight, my eyes longed to rest on something green.  At times I felt claustrophobic, trapped in the clutter of oppression. 

I prayed for God to teach me something from the homeless.  Looking back, I don't think I really meant it, but God did.  The homeless opened my eyes to the value of dignity on a life.

How does a person gain confidence when their personal bathroom is at the city park, and their only shower is at the drinking fountain?  How can they apply for a job when they have no home address and no access to social networking?  How does a woman maintain respect when she has nothing clean to wear and does not own a bra or a brush.  No wonder these people continue to seek their addictions at great cost.  It is their escape from loss of dignity.

God showed me that I am not that much different.  When I get depressed or lose my confidence, much of it is because I feel ikky about my clothes, my hair, or my weight.  I know, we are not to focus on outward appearances, but there is something to say for taking care of oneself to establish a healthy self-image.

When I saw these people with a total loss of respect, yet still daring to hope, I was amazed and humbled.  I am not surrounded by concrete and filth, but I have days where I feel trapped in overwhelming responsibility, expectation, or schedule.  On those days, I'm praying God reminds me of Jason, a man who holds tenaciously to hope and chose to do the hard thing. . . make the committment to change.

Jason was our tour guide at "The Midnight Mission".  Well dressed and sharply groomed, he was witty and fun, possessing great talent in people skills.  We all assumed he was 'one of us', when in actuality, he was 'one of them'.  As he proceeded to give his testimony, my heart wept.

A business man from Denver, CO, he held great wealth and prestige in the community.  But social drinking led him into alcoholism, and later drugs.  He soon lost everything and ended up on skid row, one of  'them.'  None of us would have guessed that being a tour guide was part of his rehab.   

The Midnight Mission not only feeds over 700 homeless three meals a day, but they provide a way out for anyone who commits to the conditions.  The goal is to make it to the third floor where they begin paying a fee for their living quarters to practice life on their own.  The ground level is the feeding program and in between they provide dignity and rehab programs:  hair dressers, a home address along with a mailbox, showers, access to social networking, etc.  Yet, some choose to remain in their homeless condition.  They have decided not to try. 

Jason took us to the third floor where we were brought to a half wall that overlooked skid row.  It was a sorry sight.  At first I thought the view was for us, the outsiders looking in.  But then I realized it was for these homeless who had made it to the third floor. What a motivator for them to look down on that street and see where they once were and realize how far they had come!  It was a sacred moment.  (Sorry, I was not allowed to take pictures) 

As I thought about the radical change displayed in Jason, I thought of God choosing us before the creation of the world to be His own. (Eph. 1:4)  He called us out of our filth and clothed us with His righteousness.  I was drawn to this man's testimony because it had a familiar ring to it. . . in some ways like my husband's.   I do not speak much of my husband's BC days, (before Christ), because he is ashamed of them.  But my eyes well up every time I think about how God had his hand on his life and snatched him out of a road leading the wrong way . . . chosen in Christ before the world began. 

It is God who gives me value and respect.  Except for His grace which redeems and holds me fast, I would be right there along with the homeless on skid row.  There is nothing good in me except for the life and breath of the Spirit of God who gives me strength to live in righteousness and the blood of Jesus which cleanses me from all sin. My heart is forever grateful for such a great salvation.

My week in L.A. has caused me to see the homeless as real people, having the same desire for dignity as myself, looking to walk in confidence.  Because one has money that can buy nice clothes and shampoo does not make them more valuable.  The homeless often seem trapped in their condition, but Jason's testimony gave me great hope to see that there is a way out.  It confirmed the power of Christ to change a life.  God is in control.  He is sovereign, even on skid row. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Inner City Diving

I felt as though I were transported back in time.  Moms were lined up on the deep end of the pool, cameras ready, waiting to capture the moment when their child took that leap off the diving board.  But now, with my children much older, this event is no big deal, scarcely even camera worthy.

As I heard the encouragement, the clapping, and cheering of those moms, I could not help but think of our growth in Christ.  As new believers, we receive much coaching and applause.  But then time passes and there is a lot less cheering and more expectation because we are grown up and what was once terrifying becomes common place.

I fear apathy.  Never do I want to become stagnant in my relationship with God.  This is why I often deliberately place myself in challenging situations, so that I might be forced to depend upon the power of Christ in me.

I've been to the inner city many times before.  But one thing I've noticed over the years is that God never lets me get comfortable with His work through me.  Yet, I like everything to be neat and tidy.  I prayed for God to give me some lesson plans and He did.  But then I found out they would not be needed.  Why would God answer my prayer for no purpose?

I was disappointed that this neat little package of lessons would not be used in the way I had intended.  After some churning and mulling, I suddenly realized these truths were not necessarily for the children on the streets, but for my own heart.  I needed to be reassured that "My Life Matters", and I needed to have the confidence that "I Have What It Takes to Overcome".  I was beginning to think I was alone and God was telling me that "I Am Not Alone", and that God could indeed use me to "Be A Peacemaker". 

Our team going to Los Angeles may still be teaching these lessons to children.  I really don't know how God will use them.   But I do know that they now run far deeper as they are being incorporated into my own life.  God is removing the "me" from the equation as He increases and I decrease.  Sometimes in order for God to work through me, I have to get out of the way.  Okay, so that is the case every time.  And maybe these lessons are meant for our team rather than the people out there.

As I sat at the pool behind these moms snapping pictures of their brave ones, little did they know it was my daughter their children clung to.  She was the lifeguard peeling little fingers from her legs and coaxing terrified bodies into the water.  Okay, so sometimes she had to push them off the end of the board.  Some of the kids came up sputtering, screaming their little heads off and others seemed shocked that it was such a pleasant experience.   

God is peeling my hands from what I thought was my own and asking me to plunge into trust, confidence, and delight.  Often my planning is overkill and simply a desire to play it safe.  I cannot throw preparation to the wind.  There is a balance.  But in this case, I believe God would have me splash into his surprises, knowing He has everything under control.  And maybe I can be the mom who cheers on these young people to do the same. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Divine Appointments

July 4th marks mid-summer for my neck of the woods. 

About this time, I yearn for schedule.  Oh for that walk to school every day in the early morning light!   There is a strange sort of comfort in routine.   I tell myself every May that it won't happen.  We will stay on schedule and keep brushed up on our school work.  But in reality, the idea always falls through.

I like to think that I have a say in what happens in my life, but "many are the plans of a man's heart, but the Lord directs His steps." (Prov. 16:9)  Sure, there is sowing and reaping.  Yet, we do not know what a day will bring.

My idea of a 'lazy summer day' is but a vapor.  The closest I've come to it is drawing faces on my daughter's toes waiting for swim lessons to start.

I'm reminded that God never takes a vacation from shaping us into His image, but rather continues steadfast and persistent in our personal growth and impact on those around us.  

My husband and I have had some contacts lately that we did not plan. We did not know that the death of our neighbor would lead to so many 'across the driveway' conversations with her relatives.  Nor did we plan to be praying with them around our dining room table arranging a memorial service.  

The alley was not where I expected to gain a friend.   Every time I run into 'the cat lady', we call her, I am at my worst.  She seems most comfortable when I am most vulnerable . . . hair disheveled, wearing clothes of which I'd never wear in public, and delivering weeds to the dumpster.  There we talk.  And each encounter shortens the distance between hearts.   All these things sound very random, but to God they are ordained . . . divine appointments.   They have always been part of His plan.

Yet these encounters with people are not the only agenda God planned for my summer.  He also prepared some tailor made trials.  These too are ordained, set in my path for personal growth.   They are not what I would have chosen, but what God knows I need.  When I see these circumstances as prepared by God, it gives me a better perspective and helps me respond with more grace.  These troubles are called "light and momentary", because they "are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."  (2 Cor. 4:17)

I'm about to embark on an inner city ministry with our youth group.  I had planned to stay home and chill with my family.  I had hoped to complete a writing project.  But God has overridden my plans and here I am, fulfilling His agenda.  This gets me excited because when God so obviously ordains my schedule I know He has a great work in mind for surely, "His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts higher than my thoughts."  (Isa. 55:9)  Though the summer is not turning out how I'd planned, I know the One who has all things in control, even the details of my life.

And God can be trusted, for He is good and His love endures forever.