Returning to Afghanistan…

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…celebrating and talking with 2 women who completed a community health education program to help restore their village…

 

This coming April, I’ll be returning to Afghanistan. I couldn’t be more excited to visit again the courageous, resilient, strong, and hopeful people that gripped my heart the day I landed in Kabul almost 3 years ago.

In case your only source of information about the country and people of Afghanistan comes from the news reports, let me be the first to tell you that God is most definitely at work. So many of the people there are marked by the hope of Jesus. He is at work in a country where few people know His grace, kindness, and love. This is incredibly humbling. God is so big.

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…the sweet, young face of an Afghan girl…

The Afghans possess a strength so persistent it’s challenging. The hospitality they offer is seeped with kindness that is rare in this world, no matter where you grow up. Yes, there is darkness that I’ve never witnessed before. There is sadness and destruction. There are broken, hurting people. But there is light and hope. There is joy. There are great things happening, and greater things are still to come – I’m sure of it. Because I’m sure of the One who is restoring this beautiful country and the amazing people within it.

At the schools, in the streets, in the simple homes of the Afghan people – this is where God will work. Through humble, genuine relationships where trust is born and grace is shown – this is where God will work. Open hearts and listening ears give God room to do what He does best. God is an expert at restoring brokenness and shining light into darkness. I’m thankful to be a tiny part of the great and wonderful work He is doing in Afghanistan.

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…it’s lunchtime at Hopeful Hearts School – a school for orphans and street children in Kabul…

If you’d like to be a part of what God is doing in Afghanistan, here are some ways:

  • Pray for my team of 6 people traveling to Kabul and the surrounding villages April 13-24.
  • Pray for the people of Afghanistan and for all God is doing in their lives and in their country.
  • And finally, if you’d like to support my trip financially, please hop online to www.flatironschurch.com/tripdonation and put my name in the recipient blank. 

Check back here in late April for more stories of the Afghan people and of the God of hope who transcends borders, speaks through language barriers, and whose grace penetrates the most contrasting religious beliefs…

Thank you!

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5 things i’ve learned (and will keep on learning) from struggle

struggle teaches dependence.

in our deepest heartache, we are forced to come face-to-face with our depravity. we never have been able to do life alone, but before we struggle, we just don’t realize that. struggle teaches us that we need each other. Jesus made us to be relational…and to be dependent on Him and His grace. in our struggle, we realize how grace-dependent we really are, and our eyes are opened to the truth that the fullness of God’s grace has been with us all along.

struggle deepens joy.

struggle is painful. it is certainly not enJOYable, but it enriches our joy. why? because when we struggle, the little things become sweeter. the smaller blessings that seem to fall off the plate when life is smooth sailing are suddenly so obvious. the God who provides for our daily needs sustains us, not the good things He gives, and we become more keenly aware of this in the midst of struggle.

struggle turns our superficial sympathy into genuine empathy.

i don’t like this one. i’d rather sympathize with other people’s difficulties than experience them myself. sympathy is comfortable. empathy requires that we walk through discomfort and pain. why is this good? every relationship we have in our lives benefits from us becoming more empathetic, more relatable. God uses the struggle He writes into our stories to allow us to relate to each other in genuine ways. we realize that while we may walk through different things, our stories have common threads: loss, shattered dreams, sickness, and addiction to name a few. we have a choice when we face hard things. we can become bitter, resentful, and angry. or we can allow God to soften and open our hearts. the latter takes a TON of grace and it’s really, really hard. but soft and open hearts stand out in a harsh and closed-off world. as humans, we are drawn to people who have genuinely struggled. struggle moves us from our untouchable island of perceived perfection to a place of authentic humility, and we become more aware of others and their unique story. the hard things in our lives allow us to genuinely enter into other people’s pain and walk through the struggle together. that’s empathy.

struggle makes us Christ-like. 

Jesus struggled. and He showed us how to walk through pain with courage and humility. it’s impossible to respond well to hard things in our life without becoming more like Christ because God promises that. period. and if there is one thing we can be sure of, it’s that God keeps His promises. He doesn’t waste any chapter of our lives. not even the hard ones. in fact, it’s the hardest chapters in our lives that require us to find our only hope in Jesus, our Savior.

“…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts…” -Romans 5:3-5  

there is nothing i can or should add to that, because that’s an amazing truth.

struggle sweetens victory.

when we find our hope in Jesus, when we grab hold of Him, we realize that we have taken hold of victory. the cliche saying that we have to walk through the desert to enjoy the garden; that we have to experience darkness to appreciate the light; that the mountain tops aren’t as breathtaking unless we’ve pressed on through the valleys; whatever way you want to say it, it’s true. our victory in Jesus is so very sweet when we realize we can’t win by any other means. like i said before, struggle reveals our weakness. but thankfully Jesus says to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Thank God. In our weakness, in our pain, in our struggle, we don’t have to crumble. Instead, we can let Christ take over. We can see His strength move in on our weakness. We can see that our struggle ends in His victory. And that is incredibly sweet.

i know that there will be millions more struggles, probably harder ones, in my life, luke’s life, and our life together. i know that God will write many more hard chapters in our story. but i also know that His story is beautiful and it ends in victory. i am confident that God wastes nothing. that He gives endless amounts of grace. i am thankful that in our struggle, God has shown us more of His love…so good and sweet and like no other thing on this earth. it is beautiful. and it never gives up on us.

so struggle on, friends. there is much to learn. you are not alone. the end is sweet.

Come…closer.

“‘Come to me…’ When you hear those words, you will know that something must happen in you before you can come. The Holy Spirit will show you what you have to do, and it will involve anything that will uproot whatever is preventing you from getting through to Jesus.” -Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest) 

At first I read this, and it was frustrating. It felt like it was saying that in order to come to Jesus, we have to get it all together. But I think what it’s actually saying that as long as we think we either have it all together or have to keep trying harder to work our way to getting it all together, we’ll never be able to come to Jesus. Because as long as I’m trying to be good enough, my heart isn’t open and vulnerable and moldable, and my own efforts will stand between me and Jesus. 

 
The picture that came to my mind was when I was little and I was in trouble. I’d get spanked, go to my room, and sit there, feeling so sad and sorry. The last thing I wanted was for my dad to walk in and sit by me and love me because I felt so much shame. I felt like I’d have to apologize 100 times, pull myself together, and do 10000 things right before I’d feel comfortable or “good enough” again to simply sit with him.
 
But that isn’t truth. I think that what this is saying is that all God wants is for me to just sit with Him, but it’s my pride in trying to be good enough and my shame in feeling so bad about what I’ve done that are standing between me and Jesus, not the mess itself….because He’s already paid for that. I just need to admit to myself that I’ve made a mess, that I am a mess, and that Jesus wants me anywaysThe devotion says, “God has stood with His hands outstretched not only to take you but also for you to take Him. Just think of the invincibleunconquerable, and untiring patience of Jesus, who lovingly says, ‘Come to Me…” -Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest)
 
So, back to my picture. I picture myself sitting in my room with a ton of space between me and Jesus. I picture myself frustrated and trapped in my thoughts of rehearsing all the “should haves” and “could haves”, and Jesus just sits there, patiently. He doesn’t try and get me to stop, He just lets me wrestle through it until finally, I scoot closely next to Him and just sit there and let Him love me. And when I finally believe that His love is big enough to cover my mess, He can change me. I think that’s what what Jesus wants when He says, “Come…”

Be still.

Have you ever had that moment? That moment when about all you can do is sit, stare at your feet, and wonder what’s next. We have. In this moment, the world we knew took a confusing and quite painful turn. So we sat, we cried, we stared at our feet…and what I felt was that it was just me and Luke and somehow we had to figure it all out. Somehow.

And wow, that’s an enormous amount of pressure to put on yourself…especially in a moment when you can barely pick up the scattered pieces of what you thought you were running after off the ground. It’s crushing.

Thank the good Lord that is not what He asks of us. Any voice that tells us we must figure it out ourselves is not the voice of Jesus.

God says, “I, your GOD, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go. I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)

God says, “The Lord will fight for you, and you need only to be still. (Exodus 14:14)

God says, “I’ll give you strength…I’ll hold you steady.” (Isaiah 41:10)

God says, “Don’t be afraid…I’m transforming you.” (Isaiah 41:14-15)

Did you catch it? The Lord will fight FOR you. He is right here to HELP YOU. Thank God. When tears and questions are the only things we can muster, God is there. He gives us strength when we have none. He holds us steady when change and questions rock our world. He has a firm grip on us, reminding us that He was and is and always will be the only One we can count on.

He may not change our circumstances, but He will change us. He’ll help us learn the lesson that He really is all that we need. And just like He did when He split the Red Sea, God will make a way for us where we don’t see one.

He will rescue us.

He will restore us.

He will redeem our pain.

In doing these things, He writes a beautiful story. This story always points to Him. In the chapters of defeat, He’s still the Creator, the Author, the Hero.

The God of victory is indeed fighting for us…We need only to be still.

just a girl…just a guy

“But then she said something I thought was wise. She said she had married a guy, and he was just a guy. He wasn’t going to make all her problems go away, because he was just a guy. And that freed her to love him as a guy, not an ultimate problem solver. And because her husband believed she was just a girl, he was free to really love her too. Neither needed the other to make everything okay. They were simply content to have good company through life’s conflicts. I thought that was beautiful…When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can love them for who they are.

-Donald Miller

 Expectations: we all have them. I think especially when you enter into a new stage of life, you have all these expectations for how it’s going to go, what it will look like, how you’ll handle it.  You don’t realize it at the time, but you have created these impossible standards, and subconsciously you expect everyone in your life to perform at this unattainable level.

Since I’m writing this, I’m going to personalize it.  Let’s take marriage as an example… I marry a man I see as perfect, at least the perfect man for me.  He never smells, he always looks nice, his breath is kissable every time.  Now I’m kinda just joking, Luke is an amazing man.  I love him in every way.  And the more I get to know him, the deeper I love him.  But when he comes home from the gym, it’s just true that he stinks. When I get home from a run, I’m nasty and sweaty.  When we wake up in the morning, we both have bad breath.  When we are exhausted and haven’t spent enough time together, we fight.  What I’m saying is that life isn’t picture perfect all the time. There seems to be a lot of pressure to have a perfect life, or at least a life that looks better than the next person.  But the truth is that everyone’s life has conflict and messes. Everyone who is married, fights. That’s ok. That’s real!  What isn’t okay is settling with that mess, or not giving every piece of energy you have to clean up a fight that’s in the way of loving each other.

While I knew that Luke wasn’t perfect when we got married, it’s hard not to have expectations. Unfair ones.  I’m learning.  And so is he.  When real life comes, I realize where I went wrong.  Usually it’s that the performance I expected from Luke is impossible.  Nobody is perfect.  Nobody does it right all the time.  Maybe it’s just me, but when you date, there is a lot of pressure to find this perfect “Prince Charming”.  Now, I’m not saying that in any way we should settle for man who is anyone less than someone who fights to protect, provide, cherish, and care for us.  What I am saying is that we cannot be expected to find a man who will never let us down.  The real truth is that the only Man who does it perfect every time is Jesus.  He alone is able to fulfill us perfectly and completely, and He alone will never let us down.  When we expect the significant man in our life to do this FOR us, we set him up to fail by holding him to a standard he will never, hear me- NEVER, be able to attain.  Then we become critical, cynical, and disappointed.

There are certain expectations you ought to have when defining the kind of man you want to marry. But I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about something different, and it’s more about who I’m called to be as Luke’s wife.  A man is called to lead his wife.  He is called to serve her as Jesus served.  This is a high and difficult calling.  My husband needs my encouragement to do this.  My calling as his wife is to believe in him 100%, all the time.  He needs my grace when he falls, not my cold words of disappointment. He needs me to pray for him. He needs my love.  He needs my listening ears, my friendship, and my support. What I’m saying is that my husband truly feels the pressure of the call to marriage.  He feels the weight of the responsibility to be my godly husband.  The last thing he needs from me is the unfair expectation that he can take the place of Jesus in my life.  When Luke and I give each other the grace and the room to fail, we can both learn from our mistakes.  We can help each other to not get stuck in that same mistake.  We can learn where each other needs a little extra encouragement or a little more of “spurring one another along”.  The Donald Miller quote says it so well! When I realize that Luke is just a guy, I am free to love him AS HE IS.  I don’t expect him to complete me, to fulfill me, to meet my every need, or to solve all of my problems.  I also find it a whole lot easier to love him through his weaknesses and to share with him my own shortcomings when I do not expect him to be perfect.

Luke is the man of my dreams, but he is not God.  God has given me the most amazing blessing in my husband, but His greatest gift to me was the sacrifice of His only Son: the perfect payment of a debt I could never and can’t ever repay. Because I believe in a perfect God who is my Ultimate everything, I do not have to expect this from my husband. Because I have been given so much grace, I cannot withhold grace from the most important person in my life.

I can love my husband for who He is, and I can learn to love him better through God’s example of perfect love…  

So here’s to my imperfect, yet handsome and incredible husband: Thank you for loving me with humility and for leading us with courage. I love you forever.

credit to Chris Coleman for the picture.

 

Enough.

 

This post is just a step in my journey of knowing Jesus…

Today, I’m just really thankful for a Savior who loves me.  In spite of my selfishness, ugliness, pride, and shame, He pursues me with relentless love and redeeming grace.  His mercy seeps to every secret corner of my selfish heart.  I feel safe in knowing Jesus. All the things I want to hide and exhaust myself hiding from others, He sees it all and He still loves me the same.  He loves me enough not to leave me in a mess, and He makes me uncomfortable enough with who I am to remind me that I have to continue to lean into Him.  When I have no ounce of confidence left- even in who He is and His intentions towards me, still He loves me.  My trust in Him has no effect on His love for me.  That’s humbling.  Though He may feel so far away, distant and impersonal, He is faithful to remind me of His goodness.  He reminds me that He’s already given me every reason to trust His love for me.  And He shows me again that He is actually a deeply relational God.  A God who desires to know me, and for me to be honest with Him.  Though I question Him, doubt Him, yell at Him, get mad at Him, He waits for me.  He waits for me to be quiet. Then, He affirms His love for me.  I know He loves me because He’s the only way I can make sense of some of the things in my life.  I know He’s real because I feel His love in friendships, in good conversation, in “me too” moments, in laughter, in surprise notes, hugs, and smiles, in sunrises.  In moments when I realize that I’m a small part of something huge, I’m thankful to know a God who is unimaginably big, good, awesome, wonderful, and worth leaning my life on.

 

So, in the things I’m walking through right now: struggling with confidence, direction, and purpose for my life, I guess I’m just learning and realizing more each day that Jesus is enough.  Jesus period.  I don’t need to strive, to worry, or to exhaust myself trying to be perfect.  In fact, when I try to be perfect, I expect perfection out of others, which I realize is especially damaging to those closest to me. I become so critical.  When I attempt the impossibility of perfection all on my own, I find out that it is all meaningless, and only leads to discouragement and despair.  But when I define myself by the grace of Jesus alone, I’m set free from those unrealistic expectations to perform perfectly all the time. And I’m free to love others for exactly who they are too.  Instead of striving, I can run freely into my Father’s arms, be overwhelmed by His grace and love, and find all that I need.  In Him, I am who I am.  In Him, I am enough.

 

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency, in all things, at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

abound: “to be abundant, be numerous, or overflow with, to be alive with...”

 

Grace…

Whether you’ve been married for 5 days or 50 years, you’ve probably experienced enough life together that you realize Grace is fundamental, absolutely essential, to your relationship.  Life together is messy.  It’s beautiful, but it’s messy.  And I honestly don’t understand how it can work without the grace of Jesus… I’ve been thinking a lot about this thing called grace lately. I’ve grown up hearing about it, but I think you’ve got to experience some messy parts of life (at least my stubborn heart has needed that) before you begin to understand what it really means to be “caught up in grace like an avalanche” (Hillsong United).  Luke and I have had a good number of conversations about giving each other a ton of grace as we enter this new stage of life together.  It doesn’t come as the first choice, usually.  But gradually, in His grace (again), God continues to mold our hearts… towards each other, and above all, towards Him.  We can’t expect each other to be perfect, but we can hold each other to a standard of holiness, one that we can only hope to be defined by through the extravagant grace of Jesus….It’s humbling.

On our honeymoon we found these letters to spell GRACE.  We framed them, and now they are hanging in our home -a constant reminder of the gift of grace we have from a good, an incredibly, indescribably good God.

from a quiet time a week or so ago…

Life makes sense because of grace.

Marriage works because of grace.

Friendship lasts because of grace.

Wounds can heal because of grace.

But scars exist because of the cost of grace.

Deep joy exists because of grace.

Because of grace, we experience genuine love.

Because of grace, we find purpose.

Because of grace, we can be free.

Because of grace, we have life -full and meaningful.

Because of grace, we know Jesus.