Made for another world

"If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." C. S. Lewis

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I didn't see it coming. All of a sudden right in the midst of lights and Christmas carols, shopping and a busy calendar my path has taken a sharp curve. Not a detour. I don't believe in that. God doesn't detour his servants, he leads them, and I'm no less led now than I was before. But goodness, what a jolt.

The dreaded C word has stretched out it's stinking shadow and touched our lives. I found out yesterday that intestinal and liver cancer are stalking my Mom and my heart. Unfortunately it's so severe I'm on my way. I've already started thinking of this year as "The Year of Tears". I don't say that to be morbid. I think it's the reality. Pain comes and it won't be avoided some times.

How do you ever prepare to hear such words? It's a kick in the gut and I'm still reeling. Not because I don't trust God, not because I fear he's looked away, not because I doubt his goodness. I'm reeling because I love her so much and this journey isn't what I would have chosen for her.

There is so much I don't know. But I know enough to know it's serious. I know enough to know that it's time to leave and hope she makes it until I get there. I know enough that even in this grief it is right and good to praise God, so I will. She's at the Emergency Room now and I'm working to get there as fast as I can. Won't you pray with me for her comfort, for God's glory, and our strength. Thank you friends!
“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.

    I will be honored throughout the world.”
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
   the God of Israel is our fortress. 
Psalm 46

Monday, November 26, 2012

Join In

For the last couple of months our church has been talking about Vintage Faith. We've taken the passage in Hebrews 11 and drawn out some of the stories of faithful men and women. Their lives have given us a picture of what faith in the living God looks like. For me it's been a powerful time. I don't think I will quickly forget these messages.

Right in the middle of the series some pretty major things happened in my life, things that could have left me drained, confused, and overwhelmed. But instead I feel energized and excited. Why is that?

I believe it's because I've recognized that the men and women of faith we've been studying, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Peter, etc., were all invited into the establishment of God's kingdom. Their success was based solely on the power and devotion of God to accomplish his plan. And I believe that is true in my life as well. 

I believe God has called me to be a part of the establishment of his kingdom in my corner of Alabama and in Serbia. He's called all of us who follow him to seek and extend his mercy and live in his reign wherever we are. Being present in God's kingdom, and drawing others in, is what it's all about.

That life doesn't come without opposition and hardship, but it also doesn't come without power. Were Rahab and Gideon, Abraham and Joseph exceptional in and of themselves, were they something all together different than we are? I don't think so, but they did have exceptional faith, faith God honored. The hardships they overcame and victories accomplished were all through God's power.

When we step out in faith to express mercy, to live holy lives set apart to God's glory, to live in a way that joins in the spread of God's kingdom, there is power to obey. God is already working to advance his reign and his glory, the display of his mercy to all mankind, it's our responsibility to ask him where and join him.

When I got back from Serbia my sister asked me a question I've been thinking about for a while. She wanted to know if the workers at the institution, and I imagine even myself, questioned where God was in a place like that, in the midst of the suffering.

I didn't encounter anyone at the institution who identified themselves as a follower of Jesus. But I saw God's presence in a way I didn't expect. I saw his image in people. Men and women who knew to be compassionate and merciful to those in need were bearing him in their DNA.

And I saw in the suffering a hope to hang on to life even in difficult circumstances and limited capacity. God was there. 

I believe more now than ever before that even though many of these people live rejected by society and on the fringe of life that God desires to establish his kingdom there. A refuge of his mercy in the storm of this life. I also believe he has graciously drawn me into that plan, he's already doing it, it's his work but he's invited me to join in.

Where is God working around you? Where can you see God stretching out his kingdom, offering people mercy? Are you joining in? There will be struggle in the journey but there will also be power, because it's all for his glory.

"And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him." Hebrews 11:6

Friday, November 23, 2012

Present

Today I have the privilege to kick off the Christmas season by sharing at Stephanie Page's blog. This Christmas she's hosting a series of posts on  how to Live Simply during the holiday season. I love Steph's desire to remember what is important amid the crazy distractions of this life. And what more distracting and hectic time of the year is there than Christmas. Today I'm sharing my thoughts on being present. Won't you hop on over to Steph's blog and join me there as we talk about being present.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give Thanks!


I woke up with a song on my heart today "Give thanks to the Lord our God and King for he is good his love endures forever", scripture set to music. Everyday is a day to give thanks but I think it's right and good to set time aside to corporately and intentionally acknowledge God's goodness reigning over our lives.

And while I'll eat too much stuffing and my favorite tradition is watching the parade, I pray that in the hard moments of the coming year I'll hearken back to the bounty of today and my soul will feast.

Let the trees of the forest sing,
let them sing for joy before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior;
gather us and deliver us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
and glory in your praise.”
1 Chronicles 16:33-35

I trust today that your cup will overflow as you look back over the year and marvel at God's faithfulness and look ahead in trust to the coming year! What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Maggie of Scotland

I'm thankful for imagination and for family heritage, these two thing prompted this short story as part of a writing competition. My mother's family settled in South Carolina 250 years ago. I like to imagine what motivated them to leave their wild Scottish homeland for a new world. Who were they, how did they live, what did they feel, I've always wanted to know...
Once upon a time. Isn't that how all good stories begin? There was a girl with cascading auburn curls, emerald eyes, and a smile that flashed wild. Maggie had insighted the hearts of many a lad. But it had always been Alan who held her fancy.

Today she whistled as she made her way home; adventure sparkling in her heart. Maggie's bare feet had memorized the winding dirt path like a familiar friend from childhood. Her dark blue skirts swished around her thin ankles as she skipped up the grassy brae to the white cottage she shared with her little sister, brothers and Da'. After dinner she was meeting Alan by the stream beyond the cow pasture to say goodbye.

Banging into the snug cottage where crates stood ready she called out, "Da', where are ye?" No answer. He must be driving the cows home. Angus McKay was purchasing the lot this evening to add to his great herd. The cottage stood silent with a mantel of stillness draped over it's solid walls. Matthew, John, and Alice were most likely off saying goodbye to their playmates. 

Leaving Scottland was hard on the younger ones. They didn't understand the difficulties Da' faced nor the promise of hope in the new world. For many of her countrymen the promise of a better life in the American colonies stood in stark contrast to the economic hardship at home. The sorrow of leaving Scotland, where she and decades of Bankheads had lived in the same whitewashed cottage, was tempered by the fact that many of her towns people and relatives would be seeking their fortune in the colonies as well. Her father's cousins James and Matthew had promised to settle with Da'. Many farmer's leases from Lord Doneagal expired this summer and tenants would no longer be able to afford the increasing rent. It was a matter of survival. 

Maggie started a fire in the low hearth to cook her family's supper one last time. She had ladled piping hot stew into tin bowls and placed a large, round crusty bread in the center of the table by the time her siblings came tumbling through the door. A smile spread across her fair face at the racket of her younger brother's good natured argument and Alice's sing-song mocking of the two. 

"All right ye daft bunch, settle down! Why are ye carrying on so?"

"The foolish boys are fighting over who will get the top birth on the boat. I told them they will likely sleep on the floor," piped Alice.

"Ye will sleep where there's room for ye, that's what. Mind Da' boys and see yer no trouble to him." Maggie ruffled fifteen year old Matthew's ruddy head. He was growing as tall as their father but he still needed reminding of his responsibilities. The new world would hold a great deal of promise for a growing boy like Matthew. 

Maggie ate her stew listening to her sibling's chatter. Excitedly they talked about the ocean passage and what life would be like in their new home. Father and his two cousins had secured land grants in the Carolina's from the crown. Their Da' had been successful with his herd, expanding the barns and cottage. He had laid enough by to purchase passage to America. It was a good thing too because despite his success with the cows, and respect in the village, it still wouldn't be enough to pay the increased rent and taxes on their land.

As soon as dinner was done and the young ones were set to their chores Maggie went tripping down the brae to see Alan. She called out a soft cooey as she shimmied over the low rock wall and then picked her way across the stepping stones of the small brook. Alan emerge from behind the stand of alder. 

A lump rose in her throat as his tawny hair caught the late gleam of sunshine above his broad shoulders. Running to catch his hand she took off with Alan through the gloaming. One last chase through the heather of her homeland. As they laughed and ran past the hills of green, Maggie let the beauty sink into her soul, becoming a part of her very pulse. Flinging themselves breathless on the springy turf, the mist of the evening rolling in, she drank in Scotland as the evening wrapped them in a shroud of soft sorrow. 

Turning her head she looked into his eyes, blue as the sea that would take her from him. "I'll be coming for ye, Maggie lass. America is a braw land and good. Father says that in a year we'll have the passage. I'll come to ye then." 

Her hand reached out to touch his strong jaw, aching at the parting, thrilling in his nearness. How she hoped he would come. Her heart would cling to that hope and believe, it was the only way she could say goodbye. It was late when she crept to the cottage. She watched Alan melt away into the darkness, his hand stretched out in a last farewell. 

After two day's travel James, Maggie, Matthew, John and Alice Bankhead set foot on The Edinburgh bound for Cape Fear, North Carolina. As the ship pulled away from the quay and headed out to the open sea Maggie turned away from the green coastline of Scotland and set her face to America. Salty tears stung her eyes. The scent of adventure rose around her, bracing her heart.

The voyage passed slowly; adventure wore thin. After a few weeks at sea they were nearing America and a desperate fear had wound around Maggie's heart. The silent reality of meeting a new world with a new life growing inside of her cast a shadow of worry across her brow. Her cousin Bess had noticed the thin lines growing around Maggie's mouth and taut shoulders. 

Asking her about it on deck one evening Bess pressed her to confide. The truth slipped out in a gush of relief and a sob, "Bess, what shall I do? How can I face Da' and this new world with my shame."

"Oh, dear, hush yer fretting. Yer Da' loves ye and maybe this new world is the place for a fresh beginning. It's not the first time a sorrowful parting has born regret and it'll not be the last. Take the sorrow as a gift to remember yer Alan. A wee bairn is always welcome no matter the grief that has born it here."

"Thank ye Bess." A comforted Maggie set her face to a new life and adventure once more. Before she new it they were landing in America. Several weeks later they were settling in South Carolina, rolling and green, not unlike the home they had left behind. A crude cabin was quickly constructed and earth turned for planting. Home was taking shape. By spring little James Alan Bankead, born from a dream of love into a land of freedom, was in Maggie's arms. Bess had been right, there was always room in a family.

Many, many years later on a spring evening, after a continent had been tamed, a mother with emerald eyes tucks another Maggie into her bed. "Hush", she whispers as she smooths auburn curls back from her toddlers brow. And in the whoosh of her pulse and the beat of her heart the untamed whisper of Scotland echoes strong and brave. 

Has your family heritage ever inspired you? Tell us how!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Steps

Steps up Petravaradin Fortress
Last week I wrestled between God's leading and my dreaming as I worked out a response, a vision, to the needs of Dom Veternik's institutionalized. He brought me to a place of quiet and trust, of waiting, that I thought could last for days, even weeks. Unexpectedly, I love how he surprises us, that time of quiet lasted much shorter than I thought. 

I'm catching a new vision, a new excitement, as God continues to soften my heart to people he loves. Beautifully he used a blog friend to confirm and solidify his plans. I never could have envisioned it but I'm so thankful how one step leads to another. All I have to do is take each step before me, in his power and grace. Sounds simple, feels like a mountain some days. 

This weekend I took a step that may appear small but felt monumental, and was accompanied by that momentary tremor of fear. But it's what's before me, the next step. I submitted a request of name for a non-profit organization. The name has been reserved by Alabama's State Department and I have 120 days to file paperwork to form a non-profit corporation. I had just enough money left from what was given for the trip to apply for the name. So I used it as a seed.

That's one of those moments that grab you by the heart and squeezes your insides. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do a happy dance or grab my head and panic. What have I done? I believe I've listened and trusted and risked. I'm expecting that the God who has given the love for the task will also give the power.

There is a lot to do. I'm trusting God will continue to call people into his love for Serbia as partners. Whether it's in giving or going or praying. I trust God will continue to raise people up to be a part of the ministry's board, he's already started putting together a team! I trust God will continue to supply the resources. Most importantly I trust God will cause our obedience to bear fruit, that people will come to know his mercy and his name will be made famous in Serbia.

If you feel drawn to be a part of the work God is doing in Serbia contact me and we can see what that looks like. I hope in the near future to send out an email and launch a website to keep you better informed and to spread the word to get others involved. Stay tuned for those exciting developments and of course for the unveiling of our new name!

In the meantime would you continue to pray?
Pray for God's continued leading and provision.

Pray for the seed of love that was planted at Dom Veternik to take root and draw people to Jesus.
Pray for the local church in Novi Sad to continue to grow in love and size.

Thank you friends for your continued support and interest. I'm thankful for the encouragement you provide and your hearts that celebrate with me the spread of God's glorious mercy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blue Eyed Boy





His blonde hair had been stroked by a mother, once. That was before the virus had come and stripped his body of it's memory. After the meningitis had had it's way with his brain it then stripped him of what was left; relationship, hope, a future.
The burden of his care had reduced him to the status of orphan. I wonder if his mother cried when he was taken to the institution. Did she go with him and watch as he was placed into the white metal crib that is now the extent of his world? I hope she didn't.
His innocent blue eyes still hold hope, lighting up whenever anyone gets close enough to notice. Little hands reach out through bars, grasping, looking for what's been lost.
He had five healthy years before the sentence fell. His body is still flexible, able to sit with supportive hands, able to reach. Unlike some of the others on his floor. 

They could tell stories, if they could speak. Once they could move and smile, but slowly, over time, they've turned to wood. Like real boys gone unloved turning back into the block of wood they came from. But this isn't a fairy tale, no good fairy coming to break the spell, just day after day of the same bars.
Of course there is one nurse, Lubitza, meaning violet, maybe she is a bit of a fairy, singing and kissing as she tends to needs. But the hands are so few and the needs so great it's not enough to stem the tide, not enough to make up for what was lost.
Blue eyed boy with the golden smile. I'll hope with you for a while and pray this isn't the end of your story. The saddest thing is, I can't remember his name. It bothers me that I can't.  Just one of hundreds of little lives, all who deserve hearing. I think the least we can do is lean in close and listen.

My husband would say I'm obsessed. I have to confess, he's right. I also have to confess, I don't care. I would rather be obsessed with redemption than anything else I can think of. What else is adoption, seeking out the lonely, praying for restoration, than redemption at a human level?

I'm messy at it, and I'm okay with that too.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. Hebrews 9:14-15a

Will you join in praying with me for this little one? That God will set him in a family and restore his hope. If you want to know how you can be a part of helping the residents of Dom Veternik please feel free to contact me.

{Update: I returned this summer to the mental institution, Dom Veternik, where blue eyed boy lives. I learned his name is Cedo. He is not available for adoption because his parents still have custody of him. They are unable to care for him due to financial limitations and poor social infrastructure for people with disability.}

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Eyes on Jesus

Old church steeple, Novi Sad
Ever since I left Serbia words have clogged near the surface refusing to get in line and pour out, refusing to be ordered and typed. I've written posts but not one of them has satisfied me, each one has felt incomplete.

Perhaps it's because my foot stepped onto American soil and my mind started racing and I was ready to act. But every idea, every plan, and I have lots of them, has felt forced, like picking an apple while it's green.

So this weekend I stopped, turned around and faced God and re-prayed the prayer that started it all. "I went and saw God, I obeyed, now remind me what you love, what breaks your heart, what moves you? What are you doing about it? Give me a taste, let me be a part of your plan."

I wear Serbia like a wound in my heart, like a wedding band, she's an altar for me to lay down and die on. Her people live at the forefront of my mind. When I sing of God's redemption and power I raise my hands and they're full, full of beating hearts, full of lonely lives, full of broken dreams, Serbia's children.

Today God reminded me it's his work to do. I've spun my wheels and my dreams in the last couple of weeks wanting to save, to not disappoint. But when has salvation ever disappointed and salvation doesn't belong to me. I'm reminded I went to see God's glory, his mercy on display, and I did.

I hope. One day I hope I will go back, I hope to be a part of real action to meet need with ongoing love and support, I hope to speak truth and see a harvest, I hope to be a part of the story of God's love for a nation, I hope to be engaged in relationship.

Regardless of what role God allows me to play one thing I'm confident of is God's action. He is loving people around the world, stretching out his banner of mercy, calling out come home. I link hands across the ocean with my brothers and sisters in Serbia in worship to our Father and we intercede for the lost to be saved.

It will take real restraint not to make plans yet, I have so many ideas, but I'm laying it all down at Jesus feet and looking to him for direction. I have no doubt he will lead me, just like he has before, who would ever have thought I would travel to Serbia in the first place! But I'm not going to step out ahead of him. I'm still waiting to hear the voice of Mercy. In the meantime I'll be interceding, listening, staying in contact with my new friends, and funneling monetary support through the right channels as it's offered. But I'm waiting in a posture of prayer for direction before I commit to any permanent action.

I also feel like it's time to finish my novel and publish it before I make new plans. So you may hear less about Serbia as I pray, or you may hear more, it's hard to say! If you are led to do so will you join with me in praying? Pray that God will make his plan clear to those of us who are called to act, pray for the church of Serbia to grow in influence and love, pray for the little ones who wait, pray for the people of Serbia to respond to God's mercy. As I wait I'll turn my eyes to Jesus and watch for what he's about to do. 
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—

    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, 
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous. 
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Psalm 146:5-9

Friday, November 9, 2012

Waiting on Mercy

I feel a little frustrated, an ache of longing has settled into my heart, the weariness of life has slipped around my shoulders like an unwelcome friend. I miss the children of Dom Veternik and the people who care for them. I miss the Christians I met so briefly but love already. And I feel a little helpless.
Sweet friend
What does one woman, who already has her hands full raising her own children, writing a book, loving a husband, serving at church, loving my neighbor, growing a garden, what does one woman do? How could she possibly matter?

Last week at church we studied the story of Rahab as a part of our series called Vintage Faith. Her story is compelling, highlighting God's plan of mercy and his faithfulness to his own character. Whenever he judges people for sin he always provides a refuge of Mercy. 
Amazing architecture of a Catholic church in Novi Sad
When Rahab acknowledged God's supreme rule and submitted to him God didn't remove her from danger, he protected her in it. As the walls fell she was hidden in a refuge of God's mercy. When he destroyed the earth with a flood he didn't remove Noah, he mercifully protected him in it, in a refuge. Jonah deserved judgement but God protected him, essentially in a watery grave, a merciful refuge. The children of Israel hid in their homes under lamb's blood, a refuge of mercy. Ultimately Jesus' tomb was a refuge of mercy, protecting us all if we will come, offering us mercy. God reminded me that's what he wants for the Serbian people, to choose mercy, to come into his refuge, out of judgement and into life. 

This week at church we're studying Gideon. I've been feeling like Gideon, as I said, a little helpless, kind of small. But then God reminds me he has called his servants mighty men (and women) of valor. If it's God's plan of mercy for the nations I've been drawn into then it rests on him to accomplish it. I get to participate. But it takes faith, maybe a little failure, sometimes looking foolish, waiting, and trust. I'm not always good at those things, but when glory peaks out and God's mercy breaks in I'm finding it's worth it.

So even though I'm a little overwhelmed by the task, little faces burned into my memory compel me to action. Even if it's the small act of remembering and praying, telling their story, or collecting even just a few resources I'll remember that it's God's mercy I'm under and he uses small people to accomplish his plan! I'm waiting on Mercy and trusting for it to be enough.
Sculpture in the courtyard of Dom Veternik
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

This I declare about the Lord:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

    he is my God, and I trust him. Psalm 91:1-2

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Same


I'm disappointed in the outcome of the election, but I'm not disheartened because a presidential candidate isn't who my faith is in. If I look at man, at life circumstances, at money, or unrest around the globe I could easily become fearful. But God ruled yesterday, he's ruling today, and he will rule tomorrow. It's God that gives freedom, who provides for the earth, who is faithful to his promises. I'm trusting him for my life in America, and I'm trusting him for the fatherless of Serbia. He establishes his plan of mercy and he will accomplish it. Yesterday a wise friend shared this passage with me and it's where I'm resting my gaze today.


Psalm 146
Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;

    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
 
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,

    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous. 
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever,

    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.


Today I will praise him because he is good and is my hope. Won't you join me?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Spontaneous Hallelujah!

I feel the need today to shout out a Hallelujah to the God who makes zinnias grow in November, who doesn't laugh at a girl who wants to go to Serbia, who gives out gifts like every day is Christmas, who makes flesh and blood strangers sisters of the heart, who causes four year old laughter to sound like sunshine, who lets us rest our faith on his ability to be faithful. To that God, the living one, I have to give a shout out!
I'm thankful for a husband who has gotten used to my idiosyncrasies and doesn't make me feel bad for them but doesn't feel the need to follow suit either, he just lets me be me.
I'm thankful for color. That instead of black and white, or shades of blue, God splashed the world with a pallet that defies description. For orange butterflies sipping nectar daintily in the November sun.
I'm thankful for a little boy filled with curiosity, wearing a coon skin cap. For a little boy who's sensitive and sorry when he does what's wrong. Who loves his little sister and thinks she's cute, and mostly not annoying.

I'm thankful that when I need mercy and call out for it that it's never lacking. That knowledge gives me courage to go big and not be afraid to fail because mercy is what I'll get every time!

It's good to say thank you, to shout out praise, and name some gifts! How about you what's got your heart jumping and your face smiling lately?