last friday we folded our limbs into rows of funeral chairs while our pastor stood strong and shaky, remembering his dad. the whole thing was wonderfully honest and i bawled my eyeballs clean out of my head at several unsuspecting points. and in between, i thought please let them talk about me like this. don’t varnish me up; tell them i could be myopic and downright mulish, how i was allergic to being wrong, but also tell them that Jesus held on to me, and how i’d choose Him all over again because He picked me. He picks me.
He’s such a startling God.
then sunday we shared at a church todd grew up in, and it was my favorite thing. i got to hug people who poured into the teenage version of the mister, people who brought breakfast to class and adored Jesus and had todd in their living rooms and went to bat for him a time or twelve. folks who prayed big things into his life starting way back then. and all of that stuck around in his insides, pushing down roots that wouldn’t let go.
thank you, fmc.
so i’m becoming a tea drinker. rumor has it they won’t let you into kenya if you don’t know your way around chai, and anyway my coffee maker died. tea it is.
mostly i take my tea milky with a nice sludge of sugar at the bottom, which is probably cheating in multiple ways. but wow, if i’d known the stuff was this good, i’d have switched over decades ago.
we’re spinning down to our last couple months in the states. here’s our planned timeframe:
june 11: clearance.
our goal is have 100% pledged support by the 11th, so we’ll be cleared for departure in july. pledged support means that folks make a faith commitment to give monthly or yearly toward our ministry in africa. we’re about two-thirds of the way there, which snags my heart every time i think about it. thank you, friends. thank You, Jesus.
we still have room for others to team with us, and we’d love to have you join in. (also, if you’ve made a one-time gift this year and you’re planning to repeat it in the coming years, please let us know. that also counts toward our support.)
the rest of june: remain calm.
we’ll sell off or donate 99% of our stuff–furniture, vehicles, the whole works. then we’ll pack up life as we know it into 14 duffle bags. i have in my head that we are going to fit LOADS OF STUFF in those guys, but i suspect i shall have a rather rude awakening.
early july: truck out of indiana.
we’ll load up our people and our bags and head down to AIM headquarters in georgia. they’ll walk us through several days of sessions and forms and final clearance. i have just a hazy idea of what goes on in these days, so mostly i’m envisioning them handing me a map of the african continent and saying, here. don’t get lost. :)
july 11: goodbye, north america.
we’ll fly out of atlanta and hopefully wind up in nairobi some 30 hours and many airports later. then it’s three weeks of training at scott theological seminary, a move to kijabe, and we’ll dive into ministry with our students and kenyan neighbors.
where are we right now? two-parts giddy, one-part nervous, seventeen-parts amazed that God allows each one of us to join in on His redemptive work. His love is reckless and saving and uncommonly sweet, and it makes us whisper scared but sure: here am i, Lord. send me.
so many weeks i walk out of church newly illumined and itching to share in this space. but then sunday turns into monday-tuesday-wednesday, and while i’ve still got hold of broad themes, most of the details have flitted off to the never-never-land regions of my brain.
but this sunday i took notes! and didn’t lose them! so here we go, flecks of truth from pastor mark’s message.
“Is–is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Alsan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”
–CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
when we’re in a restaurant and the meal is stumbling along in a disappointing sort of way, we sometimes ask: who’s in charge here? let me speak to the manager. we want direct access to the person with the authority to change things.
at the same time, we like to box Jesus up, make him safe and explicable; we’re good with the baby swaddled in cloth and maybe even the guy who saves a party with great wine. but the man who commands all of nature with a word? who stills thrashing seas, silences gale force winds? what on earth are we supposed to do with him?
when that guy walks in, we skitter way past feeling merely unsettled. Jesus shoots us straight into the raw terror of his power, his holiness, his willingness to die. who in their right mind loves with that kind of intensity? he leaves us shaky and with hearts turned to water, and then he calls to us.
come, follow me.
how do we respond to Jesus, who speaks a word, who IS the Word through whom every galaxy and monad flashed into existence?
so often in this messy humanity we find ourselves in situations where we’re desperate for answers, healing, relief. where we’re aching for something to change.
and again we ask: who’s in charge? who’s in charge here? who has the authority to change this situation? who commands all of life, all of my life?
‘cause if it’s me, i’m clean out of options.
but if i yield my life to Jesus, everything impossible and good just stepped into the room.
-loves like a hurricane, i am a tree bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy-
this is the God who goes before us, journeys beside us, fills us up, has our back.
‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.
somehow we’ve dodged most of the season’s storms, but in the middlest part of last week, the sky bleached white above us and unleashed half a foot of snow. school was called off and the kiddos headed out to snake trenches through the yard and bucket snow into castles. oh, and swing. swinging is good year-round.
[little M is conflicted about snow. he likes it, but also it's cold. i understand the sentiment entirely.]
so good news: my parents and my aunty carol are coming to a neighborhood near me on FRIDAY. i am pumped. it’s nice to be on this end of the visit, when it’s pure anticipatory glee plus a mad dash of cleaning.
i’m already wary of the other end, the one where we probably won’t get to see them up close for another 4.5 years. boo.
but back to good news. they are bringing us rolls of maki sushi and guava juice and kauai kookies and everything i miss most from back home. (incidentally, does anyone else notice that everywhere is ‘back home’ with me? hawaii, indiana, michigan–it’s a wonder y’all can make out where i’m referencing at any given point in the conversation.)
i apologize, and at the same time i’m fairly certain the ambiguity will continue.
also. we’ve been studying the beatitudes in my connection group the past few sundays, and pastor mark talked about poverty of spirit and the blessing of recognizing our brokenness and our utter need for God. ‘…our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose’ (cs lewis, the four loves).
the leaning of this conversation brought to mind amber’s prayer: I’ve got nothing. I’ve got nothing. Only Jesus.
they’re right, those guys. i’ve got nothing to offer, i bring nothing to the table. i’m one vast, yawning need. but i have Jesus.
last up: todd’s mom sent me this video, and pretty much you need to see it.
every tribe, every tongue. He is worthy of our praise.
as you’d imagine in a five-child family, we’ve been through a landslide of valentines. we’ve sewn them, cut & pasted them, hand-drawn them, and purchased them from the supermarket aisle in all their heart-stickered glory. this year we were fresh out of bright ideas, so we went with cookie-tines.
bakery cookies wrapped in glassine with a simple tag. the end.
[incidentally, this here kid kept writing the tags to himself. i think he preferred to keep his cookies, but hopefully last thursday was an opportunity to embrace the joy of giving.]
it’s strange how my version of romance has changed over the years. in my teens, few things could top boxed flowers or truffles of vaguely european origin. but these days love seems less about someone celebrating me, and more about someone angling his heart in the same direction as mine: toward Christ. someone who will walk beside the thirsty, the parentless, the lonely, the clean-out-of-options, the unreached.
i married well.
yesterday two people who mean the world to us boarded a plane for chicago, then brussels, then kampala. they’ll spend the next couple months getting to know their son and standing before a judge with a lifelong promise to care for this young life and waiting on that visa to come on home. they’ll be first time parents in an unfamiliar country and i wish we could be close to help, but God’s there and He’s so much better company.
ps this verse. i read it last week, then again last night, and it’s stuck in my brain in a way that makes me think God’s going to bring it up later. i’m not sure whether to feel strengthened or terrified. :)
They triumphed over [the accuser]
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death. (Rev 12.11)
sunday night at the tail end of a study on suffering, our young adult small group talked about the unreached, those who are born and live and die and never once hear the gospel. and compliments of yours truly, our conversation ventured onto ground that splits my heart and kept me up long after everyone had headed home, searching scripture and sermons and trying to shake this thing out. but then this morning, i came back to a quote i’d saved eons ago:
Someone asked, will the heathen who have never heard the gospel be saved? It is more a question with me whether we — who have the gospel and fail to give it to those who have not — can be saved. [Charles Spurgeon]
so um, yeah. i’ll let God handle the fragile, tricky, heart-splitting details (or more like He’ll reign over them whether or not i ‘let’ Him), and i’ll stick with lunging headlong into the task He’s given us.
i feel so full right now, my days rich with scripture and study and sun and cold, rich with people to love and music and blankets and praise.
shane&shane’s ‘embracing accusation’ is one of my all-time favorite songs. it’s not a praise song per se, and it’s not upbeat, but it lays me out at Christ’s feet like nothing else. satan is slippery-smart, and deadly because of his alarming ability to whisper truth. he’s the father of lies, no doubt, but he knows truth up, down and sideways, and just as he quoted scripture at Jesus in the bleak dust of the desert, the words he sings into my life can be spot-on and piercing–that i’m hopeless, wrecked. a failing, flailing hypocrite, choking on self-absorption and visions of grandeur. he croons that i deserve death, and here’s the thing: he’s absolutely right.
but he’s never inclined to tell the whole story. the whole surprising, redemptive story.
so every time i hit that last line i’m shaking my head, in tears.
oh the devil’s singing over me
an age old song
that i am cursed and gone astray
singing the first verse so conveniently
he’s forgotten the refrain:
oh, how He does. Jesus saves me and also you and it’s inexplicable, beautiful, giant lungfuls of life after years of drowning in rebellion. and i want this for every last tribe and nation on the planet.
so back to sunday night’s question about the plight of those who will never hear. as rev platt wrote, ‘the tendency in our culture is to sit around debating this question, but in the end our goal is not to try to find an answer to it; our goal is to alleviate the question altogether.’ yes and yes. jump on in, my friends. let’s spend our lives to make Him known.
sometimes in spite of pulling all our weight against the reins, we sweep right on past christmas and into the coming year.
this december was strange. it was stale weeks of illness and warm(ish) weather and spirit-crushing loss both close and away. it was being laid-out flat with lungs clawing for breath, then rushing full-tilt to make up for lost time.
lather. rinse. repeat.
we’ve been pressed with the responsibility of leaving well, of doing lasts (last summer, last christmas, last school year) with careful thought and making room to say goodbye. and i get this, the import of sturdy closings and the sort of transitions where no one’s heart and health are left straddling continents.
but sometimes it takes all the grace in my life to simply make it through, one foot before the next.
and i can’t help but think that no matter where we stand in any december, the storyline remains: our family, however that looks, stilled by a God who stepped into our rebellion and our bruised humanity, who made certain we know He is With Us, who began a fixed and unwavering march to death by crucifixion. and all of this to bring us back to Him. our redemption, for His delight. His glory.
christmas or not, He’s with us still, and all the earth spins ardent with wonder. soli Deo gloria.
it was june in spain, dry enough that dust rose like a shroud on that barren soccer pitch. our new friends wanted a game with the americanos, probably to amuse themselves, and i had nothing in the way of shoes. i was in the middle of working off my sandals, but one of the girls eyed my child sized feet and then the largish shoes of one of the missionaries assigned to the other team and said, ‘no.’
i thought this meant no soccer, but she vanished for an hour and turned up with a worn pair of sneakers. she’d gone all the way home and back for me. i laced up those shoes as tight as they’d go and threw her a smile, the one that disappears my eyes. we played a hilarious, multilingual match, me fighting to stay upright in footwear four sizes too long, slipping hard in the gravely patches.
all the way home and back, for me. i’ve never forgotten it.
and sometimes grace is an hour grabbing shoes for a near-stranger, and sometimes it’s my twelve year old boy cooking omelets for dinner when i’m threadbare. and always it’s a Savior knowing my helpless claw toward death and trading me places on a long-ago cross.
o the blood, crimson love
price of life’s demand
shameful sin placed on Him
the hope of every man
thankful doesn’t quite cover it, but oh how i am.
october was rich with conversations and travel and old friends: first a trip to northern indiana, where the mister and i did college and our early years of marriage. so many of our peeps live in this area, and oh how they wear this passion for Christ and people.
then a week and a half of me in hawaii, sleeping in my old room, navigating familiar streets. sharing my heart’s weight for the folks in africa, and meeting up with dear friends and family.
speaking of framly, this is my mum and dad and brothers (and me w/my signature damp hair):
i also had a brief but mighty good thirty hours on kauai, where i got to enjoy my aunty carol. and we talked and ate and laughed with some great folks whose stories made me blink a lot. they’ve served and are serving in contexts of raw need, and again and again we see how God shows up, and just how good He is.
[my late grandpa okasako's shed. both of my grandpas were gifted farmers: handy, generous, steady. i miss those guys.]
then it was back home again, and diving in to the multiply movement. some of the best take-aways:
-the point isn’t to leave convicted. the rich young ruler heard and walked away sad. be zacchaeus instead, who hears and CHANGES on the spot.
-we’re given life so we can spend it proclaiming on the front lines of the nations: Jesus is Lord of all.
-Jesus begins and ends His ministry on earth with a call to make disciples–matthew 4.19, ‘come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and i will make you fishers of men’–to matthew 28.19, ‘therefore go and make disciples of all nations.’
-God has this whole thing rigged. :) making disciples causes us to grow and remain rooted & vibrant as well. in order to show someone how i study scripture, i have to be actively studying scripture. same with prayer.
-to be a disciple is to make disciples.
-HIS WORTH IS THE FUEL OF OUR MISSION.
and last, this song. it’s lodged sticky in my chest, and slips along in the background of most days.
holy, You are still holy
even though i don’t understand Your ways
sovereign, You will be sovereign
even when my circumstances don’t change
Lord, i don’t deserve your tender patience
when my unbelief has kept me from Your truth
i want my life to be a sweet devotion
and so i come into Your chamber
and i dance at Your feet, Lord
You are my Savior and i’m at Your mercy
all that has been in my life up till now
it belongs to You
i belong to You
You are still holy.
there’s this gal who stands sentinel just inside our neighborhood grocery store, and she’s easily one of the best parts of my day. she smiles as big as christmas when she spots me coming, asks after my kids if they’re not orbiting my cart, dances sideways when she laughs. it’s like she’s been waiting all week for me to step through those automatic doors, and though i know her just a splinter i’d shop that place solely to see her.
and i got to thinking on that, on whether or not i’m the best part of anyone’s day. it’s harder than it looks, mostly ’cause i’m snared up in preoccupation-with-self. so today? today i’m starting close to home. on my own i’m pretty useless, but i’m asking God to help me be the best part of todd’s day, of the kids’, of austin-down-the-street’s who hangs with us after school.
so this girl. she’s a buoyant one, and every time i witness her zany/crafty exuberance unleashed i see me but also Not Me, because at seven i was her but shelled up shy.
she’s got no such inhibitions. :)
last week i was reading an article about korr, kenya, and under the title stood the phrase author’s name withheld due to current ministry location. and that got my blood thrumming a bit, just thinking about the kingdom of God within grasp of a whole slew of awfully precious people.
and then i reread one of david platt’s old sermons, this one out of early exodus where God-via-flaming-bush tells moses to command a certain enslaving autocrat to let His people go. and moses is all, who am i to stand toe to toe with pharaoh? who am i?
and as dr platt points out, it’s interesting to see what God does–and doesn’t do–with this question. what He doesn’t do is answer it. He doesn’t say moses, just look at your resume: great in deserts, cut your teeth on the palace steps, a hebrew. nope, God doesn’t touch who moses is at all.
instead it goes like this.
m: who am i?
G: I will be with you.
isn’t that crazy, and beautiful? who am i to tackle this impossible thing? I will be with you. who am i to grow these kids, lead this class, put down roots in kenya? I will be with you.
In other words, “Moses, it doesn’t matter who you are, bro, I am with you. And this is not about you as much as it is about me.”
What if God – what if God actually chooses to call us to things in our lives not because of our qualifications and our abilities, but in order to lead us to a place where we are radically dependent on his presence? This is what we see all throughout scripture, isn’t it, all these heroes of the faith in the Old Testament? Joshua 1:5, “Joshua, I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Judges 6, “Gideon, I will be with you.” Jeremiah 1:8, “Jeremiah, I will be with you.”
Don’t miss it, the call to God’s service is always accompanied by the promise of God’s presence. [Platt, chapter 4: YAWEH]
you, my friends. you are called to something big today.
and He is with you.
three saturdays back we set out at a quarter till eight to apply for passports for five young owenses. we showed up early (the mister was driving, and he is the personal ambassador of punctuality), and as we camped out at the post office a rogue herd of butterflies swarmed my stomach. something about the kids’ passports clicked a cog of reality into place, like oh yes. we are, in fact, relocating with many children to the far side of Not Here.
this is maybe actually happening.
then last sunday a whole bunch of my peeps from church cut through town and spooled out into the country for a baptism in the neal’s pond. amongst the baptizees was our small-group-friend lyndsey and our ten year old son.
M was not crazy about the actual water, but he very much wanted to identify with Christ’s death and join Him in the richness of new life.
’twas one of the best evenings in recent memory: a sloping sun, heat rising from the grass, strawberries and iced coke and pockets of people washed new. i love my church family. we’re spidery-cracked and bruised, but God is at work here and He spills out beautiful.
-for safely-here babies
-for hours spent with people whose hearts thrum for the kingdom of God brought near
-for cattails and watercolor ponds
-for kids who love Jesus
-for a God who hands us impossible dreams and then shakes them into Actually Happening