Tag Archives: faithfulness

An Apology

Standard

LOTR MenI have seen the “more LOTR men, please” post shared several times, and most often it comes in form of a lament from women – young ones especially – that there are no men like this.  (I am sorry to confess that there have been moments of despair where I have mourned the same.)  Or the sharing includes derogatory comments about the character of men and their inability to meet this standard in the real world.

But as a woman, and a young one at that, I am saying that I know these men.  I know young men of such gracious honor and steady valor.  I know men whose gentle hearts are their keenest strength, whose gentleness makes others great (Ps. 18:35).  Men of strong arms, strong minds, strong convictions, and strong dreams.  Men who are faithful beyond the point of pain because they know no other way to be.  Men who are as quick to weep over deep sorrows as to step boldly to the defense of others.  Men who are humble leaders.  Men who pursue what is right over what is easy, what is just over what is safe.  Men who live out the reality of “greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13).  Men with wild hearts full of all the adventure for which they are created, that siren-call of the Wilderlove deep within them.  Students, soldiers, doctors, musicians, pilots, athletes, politicians, businessmen, waiters, leaders, engineers, educators – many titles they hold, and in many places they are found.  I have had some of these men in my life and heart for always, some I have met in the past few years, and some I met even this summer.

As a young woman, this is my apology to you, my brave hearts, for the times when women have not called out your gifts, honored your strengths, treasured your gentleness.  This is my apology for the women who were faithless and shattered your freely-given hearts.  I know you would never have let go, never left, never turned wandering eyes elsewhere.  This is my apology for the mean girls who were willing to degrade your masculinity even while feeling entitled to your best attentions.  This is my apology for the times when my self-beliefs of “too much” and “not enough” overcame my kindness and caused me to push you away.  This is my apology for the ways we knock you down or watch you in your weakest moments and turn away rather than place our hands in yours and forge ahead faithfully.  This is my apology for the toxic femininity that we at times embrace because we don’t know our own gifts – a false femininity that steals from your masculine strength to bolster our own sense of identity.  My brave hearts, of these lies and wrongs I repent on behalf of women and on behalf of my generation.

imgrumweb.com

You need never adventure alone, brave heart. Credit: imgrumweb.com

My mighty men of valor, you are seen.  I watch the paths of honor you walk, far from the public eye.  I weep with your cries of confusion when the faithfulness of humankind has failed you utterly, and I rejoice as you draw on the deepest wells of strength within you to rise again.  I see the wounds of loss that have ravaged your gentle hearts – and the healing you find beyond the pain.  I watch as you rebuild precious things that have been broken, as you wrestle with your anger over the evils you have witnessed.  I notice as you fight for peace when all around you crumbles violently, when you are shuddering with the shock.  I look on with pride as you pioneer into the unknown, compelled by the belief that the best is always yet to come.  Wild ones, you are seen.

To women, it would be an easy route to simply say that, if you do not known these men, you need to fill your life with better men.  That would be ridiculously easy to say, but I refuse to make that proclamation.  Rather, I will say this, both to women and to men needing other men of valor surrounding them:

If you do not know these men, you need to start looking at the men around you differently.

Are you expecting these men to reveal themselves upon white steeds, clad in shining armor?  Are you expecting them to find you?  Are you expecting them to offer the vulnerable wilds of their adventuresome hearts for your initial inspection?  There may be signs – there usually are – of these mighty men of valor.  But you need to learn how to see them, beyond your assumptions and expectations.  My mind conjures in an instant the gentle-hearted men of honor I know – and the people who have dismissed them, left them behind, refused to come alongside in their pursuit of the dreams burning within them, selfishly used and crushed their amazingly wild hearts.  There is scarcely a fury more fierce that I have known than that of seeing mighty men of valor ready to rise then crushed by those around them, reduced through word or deed or faithless selfishness to lost boys, stripped of the honor and strength they rightly carried.

It must be added, in the spirit of true repentance, that if women are seeking these mighty men of valor in their lives, they must become the mighty women of valor who raise these men up and stand alongside them.  My brave-hearted sisters, if you would seek Samwise, Eomer, Aragorn, Faramir, and Gandalf to stand with in this life, you must be bold enough to be Rosie; to be Arwen, Eowyn, Galadriel.  You must be the type of woman who knows and operates in your own strengths and gifts – and raises those around you to standards of excellence in all they are created to be.  If you cannot be Arwen, do not expect to see Aragorn waiting for you.  If you cannot be a mighty woman of valor, do not expect you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by mighty men of valor (or such women, for that matter).  If you cannot hold your joy in the waiting, cannot remain in faithfulness, cannot be fiercely gentle and love in kindness, cannot make any and every sacrifice on behalf of another, cannot stand in the gap where the need is greatest – if you possess not these traits, you will not be prepared to see men of such valor.  For Christian women, the ideal of being a “Proverbs 31 woman” is pressed often.  Do you know the literal translation of the idea of a virtuous woman or wife, of this amazing feminine standard of grace and glory?  In Proverbs 31 (and in 12:4), this is most correctly translated “a woman or wife of valor; a woman of excellence.”  This exemplary woman is wise and fierce, ensuring that the needs are met — and then reaches farther to meet more.  A relentless, passionate woman of strength and dignity, honor and faithfulness.  A woman who knows the worth of others because she knows her own.  Being daughters of the Most-High King, we are designed as mighty women of valor and excellence – this should be an exciting revelation and an encouraging mandate!  We are designed in this fashion to complement and sustain the mighty men – and to do the same for one another.

It is not about perfection but about truly seeing one another in the glory and excellence for which we are created.

This is my apology to you, my mighty men of valor, and here is my promise.  For my brothers by blood and by heart, for my friends, for my father and uncles and cousins and grandfathers, for my students and colleagues, for the husband I will one day marry, for the sons I will raise and all the generations of sons to come: my promise to you is that I will see you, I will speak to your strengths, and I will release your wild hearts to adventure. 

To all my brave hearts: run wild, love fiercely, hold steady in faithfulness. As sons of the Most-High King, you were created for honor and valor – this is your inheritance, your right, and your mandate.  No one can strip this identity from you, mighty men of valor.  You are free to be relentless, to be full of adventure, to be faithful, to be men of honor because you know how you are created: “Brother” by Kodaline.  Hold on, brothers, my brave hearts.

Open My Eyes

Standard
Driving to Dallas -- yes, there WERE ten of us (two people were avoiding the camera...).

Driving to Dallas — yes, there WERE ten of us (two people were avoiding the camera…).

After only two weeks back at college following Christmas break, I and nine others (the faithful few!) set out from North Dakota for Dallas, Texas, to spend a week working with Urban Plunge, doing ministry in the inner city area.  Eight girls, two guys, four days in an 11-passenger van, and four days of dawn-to-dusk ministry – you’d better believe it was interesting!

What did my team and I actually do while we were there?  Honestly, we did mostly “behind-the-scenes” service, those unpleasant and typically tedious aspects of ministry that aren’t often lauded.  We cleaned a shower house and an apartment.  We sorted and organized clothes.  I dressed the mannequins at a charity store.  We sorted and organized clothes.  We served at a soup kitchen for the homeless, tutored kids at an afterschool program, and played Bingo with the residents at an assisted living center.  And did I mention we sorted and organized clothes?! (That was kind of a theme for us; at one location, our team of ten spent four hours in a 6-by-20-foot space doing that very thing – and we did get on each other’s nerves a bit that afternoon!)

At this point, you are either thinking, “Wow!  A mission trip – how exciting!” or “So when exactly did you do ministry?”  That’s how most people view missions: either it is something exciting and enviable, or you wonder when the real ministry starts.  What is “missions,” then, and what is ministry?  What do those frequently-used “Christian-ese” words even mean?  What makes those things, those activities, authentic and impactful?  What is the standard we must meet in order for them to be “worth it”?  Do you need to travel far and preach the gospel message to people whose skin is a different shade than yours or whose language and culture are different?  Or do you need to sell everything you own and go cuddle orphans in Africa?  Perhaps – but perhaps not.

I really want to break down these questions here and share some thoughts.  Missions and ministry and kids – those are my passions (aside from writing, of course!), and I can say with full confidence that I got to experience them all during my week in Dallas.  But wait, we really only did the “dirty work” for ministries.  That’s not real ministry – right?  Not so.  You see, ministry, very simply, boils down to this:

ministry = seeing needs and meeting them

That’s it – that’s all.  It is no more complex than that.  Missions and ministry have at their core the meeting of needs.  And missions particularly seeks to meet those needs with the powerful, life-altering message of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.  Doing missions and doing ministry don’t mean you need to go far from home.  If God asks you to give up everything and move to a country in Africa, that’s awesome!  But you know what else is awesome?  God asking you to meet needs (do ministry!) right where you already are.  No matter where God takes you in your life or in this world, you are always called and always able, through God’s mighty strength, to do ministry and live missionally in the place where you are.   

I’ve already been a foreign missionary for four years of my life, and I’ve been a PK (pastor’s kid!) for all my life.  Basically, I’ve been there, done that.  I’ve done more and experienced more than many people get a chance to in an entire lifetime.  Right now I’m going to a small (but amazing!) Bible college in North Dakota; I haven’t been in Africa for a year and a half.  I love Africa, and I want to move back someday with my own family.  But even though I have left Africa for now, I’m still on the mission field – I’m still a missionary.  I am a full-time student, but I am also in full-time ministry.  How?  Because I see needs and meet them wherever I am, and I take all the simple, everyday opportunities to live missionally by sharing God’s truth and grace – praying with people, letting people cry while I hold them in my arms, baking cookies for someone, offering encouragement and a listening ear, or giving out much-needed smiles.   Ministry and missions are real and oftentimes raw — they are life.

Ministry and missions are simple – but they are not easy.  They are beautiful, but you have to first let our Heavenly Father open your eyes to the needs around you before you can begin to meet them.

So after the work was done, we decided to live it up in the big city -- group date to Krispy Kreme!

So after the work was done, we decided to live it up in the big city — group date to Krispy Kreme!

When I let five-year-old Marguerite “do” my hair at the afterschool program then cuddled her on my lap, that was ministry.  Her finger-combing was tear-jerking for me, but she was so delighted.  My whole trip was worth it for that moment.

When I chatted with a mentally handicapped man during Bingo, that was ministry.  I don’t think people usually talk with him much, but he was obviously longing for some conversation and companionship.  My whole trip was worth it for that moment.

When my team spent over twenty-some hours throughout the week “debriefing,” talking about our experiences, praying for each other, and sharing what God was doing in us, that was ministry.  It was amazing not only for my team but also our facilitator, Andrā, who was totally blessed by our passion for the Lord and our commitment to serve selflessly.  The whole trip was worth it for that.

The whole trip was worth it for the people we got to meet and pray with; it was worth it for the ministries we blessed with our labor; and it was worth it for the God-orchestrated fellowship that my team had as we served side by side (very literally in most cases!).  It was worth it for the things God did in us and through us on the trip.  But let me tell you why it was worth it.  It wasn’t actually “worth it” because of what happened – that was all always in God’s hands.  It was worth it because we stepped out in obedience to the voice of our Father and let Him open our eyes to see the needs around us.

After we returned to North Dakota and I was enjoying the manifold comforts of a warm shower and a bed (and probably experiencing withdrawal after spending so many hours in extremely close proximity to my nine team members), I was praying for the people we’d met on the trip and thanking God for all that He had done in us and through us.  I prayed (and this is word-for-word from my journal), “that lives would be changed because of our service on the trip.”  And immediately I flinched.  My motives were right, but my methods were all wrong.  God began to speak to me in that moment.  My service change lives?  Hello!  Is my name Jesus Christ?  Did I live a sinless life, die out of love for the sin of broken humanity, and rise again in victory over sin?  No.  So why pray that my service changes lives?!  I should be praying that, through my obedient actions, I was (and will continue to be) a carrier of God’s presence and a facilitator of His Holy Spirit, who is already at work in the hearts of people.

Let me share one wonderful thing that God keeps showing me:

The beautiful thing about ministry and missions is that we are only responsible to be obedient to God and meet the needs before us; the outcomes are His responsibility.

We may have experienced some culture shock. (Don't be deceived by the grain elevator posing as a tall-ish building on the Ellendale skyline!)

We may have experienced some culture shock. (Don’t be deceived by the grain elevator posing as a tall-ish building on the Ellendale skyline!)

Transforming lives is His job, not ours.  I don’t know about you, but that makes my heart feel light and free.  I can do full-time ministry and live missionally every day of my life and leave the impact in His capable hands.  I love what Paul says regarding the spread of the Gospel message:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but it is God who gives the increase….Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 3:6-7; 4:1-2)

My dear friends, let us be faithful caretakers of the priceless Gift we have been given, Jesus Christ, and live outrageously obedient to Him who first loved us and draws us near through His kindness.  May we learn to live missionally and do ministry by simply meeting the needs around us.

Father, open our eyes to see the needs; open our eyes to see as You see.  We give you all the glory and all the responsibility for outcomes; we will be faithful in obedience and extravagant in love.  We can do no less.  Amen.

Here is a brief glimpse of my team’s ministry in Dallas:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12yvFLturZA&feature=youtu.be

Timeless Trust

Standard

A very wonderful and wise lady at my church said that we wouldn’t have to say, “I trust you” if there were no question of the path.  Isn’t that so true?  “I trust you” isn’t something we randomly say to start a conversation like a “Hey, how are you doing?” sort of greeting; it is something deep and personal that we say when we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.  Real trust is always revealed in the face of uncertain circumstances.

Yet trust is a tricky thing because it makes us vulnerable.  Trust is about relying on someone or something other than yourself to come through for you, and that can feel scary – dangerous, even.  And that is where we run into trouble trusting God.  Oh, we know we are supposed to trust Him, knowing that His plans are best and that He is good.  So, like good Christians, we place our “trust” in God – but just in case He doesn’t come through on His promises, we devise a back-up plan, a Plan B to implement when Plan A just isn’t working out.

In The Princess Bride, Westley told Buttercup that he would always come for her because that is what true love does – it keeps promises and always prevails.  Always, Westley said.  Now, long story short: Westley left, Buttercup ended up engaged to the horrid Prince Humperdinck, Westley came back only to be parted from Buttercup again.  Then the prince was going to force Buttercup to marry him.  At the wedding ceremony, Buttercup waited in all the defiance of her certainty that Westley was coming.  She goaded the prince, gloating that Westley was coming to rescue her.

And then the hasty ceremony was over, and her words broke something deep inside me: “He didn’t come.”  He didn’t come.  How often do we say that about God?  We find ourselves in situations, waiting expectantly for certain, even promised outcomes, and then we hit the point where our situation becomes so hopeless, so unalterable, that we give up on trusting Him.

"He didn't come."

“He didn’t come” — Do you sometimes feel like that?

The problem is that we put limits on our trust – particularly time limits.  When things don’t happen and promises aren’t fulfilled according to our concept of a “timely manner,” our trust falters.  After the marriage ceremony, Buttercup’s trust in Westley failed.  She had gone past the point of no return, and so she jumped, in a matter of minutes, to her back-up plan.  As she prepared for suicide (a dramatic but not entirely uncommon back-up plan), Westley revealed his presence.  Of course, she is delighted to see him but is also grieved at her recent marriage to the prince.  Yet Westley announces that it wasn’t what it seemed – she isn’t really married to that cad and is free to leave with Westley instead.  You see, Westley and Buttercup had different perspectives.  Buttercup was so caught up in her disappointment that things weren’t “working out” that she failed to see circumstances as they really were.

I find that this is a very honest depiction of our relationship with God: time-bound trust, unmet expectations, uncertain outcomes – and a back-up plan to “save” us from disappointment and make us feel secure.  My dear friends, we have to give up our back-up-plan way of life.  What does that mean?  It means that you give yourself fully to what God is doing in you and through you.  It means that you don’t plot out what you will do if (insert promise here) doesn’t come to pass (even though God said it would).  It also means – and this is very important – that you don’t plan how you will be “happy” if God doesn’t come through for you. 

Now, don’t get indignant about that statement; let me explain.  I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be content with life or that we shouldn’t find joy in simply being in relationship with our King.  After all, that is more than enough because He is more than enough.  But we cannot spend our time planning on how we will be good, happy Christians if God’s promises fail because that is the same as renouncing our trust in Him; if we are thinking this way, we are basically affirming that He isn’t “coming for us.”  I have done this many times – even recently (as in yesterday): sitting and thinking about how I will decide to be “content” even if my God-dreams never become reality.  Warning bells should have been going off in my head long ago – or perhaps they were and I was too busy being a “happy Christian” to hear them.  There is a MAJOR problem here: this kind of thinking is reliant on lies about God’s goodness and faithfulness (or lack thereof).

I never considered it bad to have a back-up plan, and I never considered it incongruous to have a back-up plan even as I claim to trust God completely.  In fact, I never even realized that I had back-up plans for my life until I realized that none of them would work out.  Sometimes God has to take all other options away for us to realize that our trust needs to be in Him alone.  I’m not even out of college, and I had back-up plans for my back-up plans for the rest of my life.  I sensed the Lord smiling knowingly as He asked me this last week, “And how is that working out for you?” as I stood amidst my crumbling, last-resort plans.  Obviously it wasn’t working out so well.

Now, take note that nothing happened to break God’s promises in my life; the only thing that had a break-down was my plans for “just in case” God’s promises don’t come through.  This brings up an interesting point: not only can we follow our own plans for our lives, we can also (and perhaps more dangerously) be following God’s plan for our life in our own strength.  That is why we desperately need to listen to the heart of Proverbs 3:5-6:

The path is straight and sure, but that doesn't mean you can see its end.

The path is straight and sure, but that doesn’t mean you can see its end.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct [make smooth, make straight] your paths.”

The truth is that, in order to “trust in the Lord with all your heart,” you actually can’t lean on your own knowledge, your own strength, your own back-up plans.  Relying on your own strength will make your path confusing and fraught with worry, and when you are trusting in your own strength – even while following God’s plans – you will never be able to see the fullness of His blessing and faithfulness in your life.  According to these verses, all we are required to do is trust Him; we don’t have to strain or struggle to discern the route or try to “figure things out.”  And notice that the promise that God will direct you, making your path smooth and straight, doesn’t mean that you get to see your path beginning to end.  God calls us to take part in His adventure, and He guarantees His goodness toward us.

It is hard to give up your back-up plan when your every fear rises up to scream that you need to protect yourself and that God’s promises cannot be trusted.   But we can refute and lay aside these fears with strength and victory, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.  Know all His promises are “yes and amen” (2 Cor. 1:20) and that He is always faithful even when we are faithless because He cannot deny His nature (2 Tim. 2:13).

And so I will leave you with the words of the Lord from Isaiah 55:10-11.  May these beautiful words of life stir up a fresh hope within you as you wait for the sure promises of our Lord, who always comes for you; and may He expand your trust beyond the boundaries of time into the limitlessness of eternity:

spring buds“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may bring seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”