For our good

Due to an upcoming oral procedure, Gingernut had to have some blood work done a few days ago. To say it was not fun is an understatement. She screamed and cried as soon as she saw the rubber band that would go around her arm come out. From there it was downhill…and it was a long hill. I’ll save you all the horrific details but in all the commotion there was a lot of illogical thinking going on in her 9 year old brain, such as “Mommy, if I do it then I get to punch you in the face,” and “They’re taking all my blood!!!”. After many long, painful minutes and me and one nurse holding her down while another nurse drew the very small vial of blood (not the huge one that she would lead you to believe had been taken), the deed was over. But it came with some a lot of tears, anger, confusion, and complete meltdowns – both from Gingernut and myself.

Gingernut could not see how having blood drawn is ultimately for her good. All she could see was the immediate pain it caused her. In the thick of it all, we are like that…we only see the immediate. But when we can’t see how suffering or disappointment or pain is for our good, what is our response?

I admittedly fail to respond in a way that reflects what I believe about God. “Life” happens and suddenly I forget that God is faithful and good and trustworthy. I forget He is near and present, instead ignoring Him as though He were something familiar that I pass by on the street everyday, like a lamppost or a mailbox. I forget in the midst of all that life throws at me that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light” and I try to carry heavy loads on my very weak shoulders. I become illogical believing lies about myself and God.

But what should our response be when life says, “I’m gonna draw some blood for an unknown reason that won’t be made known to you for a the unforeseeable future…or ever?” When everything is turned upside down how should we respond to God and then to our situation?

When God tells Abraham take everything he owns, pack it up, and head out to a land that He would show him later, I wonder what he thought. All we are given in Genesis 12 is, [s]o Abram went….” We are not privy to his thoughts here or even when God tells him to take his son (the son that would be his heir and make him a great nation) to the top of a mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. Thoughts, no, but words and actions, yes. His response when Isaac questions him about where the lamb is for the sacrifice is, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

Faith.

Abraham responded to God in faith. In Hebrews we learn that by faith Abraham obediently left his father’s house to go to a place that was to be his inheritance, not knowing where. By faith Abraham offered up Isaac considering “that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”

Abraham perhaps couldn’t see how going to an unknown place or sacrificing his son was for his good (and God’s glory) but he did it. He did it trusting that God is God and although his circumstances were perhaps unclear to him, God was not.

When we can’t see how something is for our good and God’s glory, it’s ok. Guess what? We don’t have to know. We aren’t even owed that knowledge. But we can rest easy. We can relax. We can breath deeply. Because the One who holds all things together…He knows and He wasn’t even surprised it happened.

Advertisements

Surrogates

Sunday night Gingernut and one of our teammates daughters had their first dance recital. It was spectacularly wonderful. Gingernut radiantly beamed as she performed the moves she had spent months rehearsing. I was filled with emotion and pride as I watched her every move across the brightly lit stage.

It is things like dance recitals and soccer games that make you miss having family around. I saw grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins…all for the other dancers. As we stood in line outside the auditorium, waiting to run like we were in Pamplona about to be trampled by bulls all in efforts to get good seats, I saw one-by-one different people from our community arrive to see two little girls dance.

And I was overwhelmed. These weren’t just teammates and friends but my community – my extended family.

I just read an article on The Gospel Coalition that addressed the number one why missionaries leave the field. In a nutshell, it’s the people they work with – their team.

I’ve seen how not having a team is not beneficial – we weren’t meant to work in silos. After all, no man is an island. Our biblical example is that we work with others. From the beginning God saw that it was not good for man to be alone.

However, being on a team does not automatically mean that you have community and will work together to achieve the same goals. Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen a sports team NOT work together? I spent an entire year watching Lil’ Paul play soccer on a team in which every kid played individualistically. They all wanted to win but they all wanted to be the one who scored, going so far as to steal the ball from their own players during games. Yes, it was sometimes quite painful to watch.

I’ve also seen and been a part of teams that not only work well together but have community, and it is a wonderfully, beautiful thing. There is the sharing of burdens and cares, laughter and fun, tears and hugs, conflict and resolution. What emerges from it all is a surrogate family.

I saw this play itself out Sunday night, as surrogate aunts and uncles gave up an evening of rest after a long day to cheer on two little ballerinas as they danced across the brightly lit stage.

Truth and Love

Truth.

Love.

Two very good things, that are very often separated.

A while back – like well over a year ago – my good friends/mentors/truth-tellers/pointers-back-to-the-Gospel, etc. Vince and Sharon clued me in on the fact that I am a glass half empty kinda gal. I was shocked and appalled. Nope. No way. I have always seen myself the other way – with the glass being half full. What they meant was that I am more of a realist than my glass-half-full-hopeful husband. I finally accepted the truth about it, acknowledging that once again Vince and Sharon were 100% correct.

What does any of this have to do with truth and love? Wait for it…I’m getting there.

Fast forward to a few months ago….After a somewhat painful conversation, I realized and truly understood for the first time that I am blunt. Shocker, I know. I am quite straightforward. But in my defense, so are all my close family members so I come by it quite honestly. To-the-pointedness, bluntness, straightforwardness – whatever you want to call it – is all fine and good unless it is done so with no kindness or love or understanding or any combination thereof.

One guess as to whether I was communicating things lovingly….

Keep fast forwarding to a few weeks ago….As I worked my way through Abide: A Study of 1, 2, & 3 John by Jen Wilkin, I was once again hit with the truth and love thing. There it was…glaring at me from the page…daring me to skip over it without reflection and prayer.

And this is what the reflection and prayer has awoken me to: because I live in a half-glass-empty realist world I can tend to communicate things in manner that does not consider the person sitting across from me. Depending on who that is, my communication can be seen as unloving and uncaring…even if it isn’t meant that way.

It’s all fine and good for me (or you) to be a truth-teller and to be to the point in that truth-telling. HOWEVER….it MUST be accompanied with LOVE. We must not only know ourselves and how we communicate but how the person across from us receives communication so that truth can be communicated clearly and LOVINGLY.

Does that mean holding my tongue sometimes? YES! Does that mean I have to think before I open my mouth all the time? YES! Does it mean that I have to have a filter? A resounding YES! Does it mean that I must actually think about the other person above myself? YES! YES! and YES!

It is in these moments that I sit in wonder and awe and gratitude for the Gospel and the grace and forgiveness I find there. I rest in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit reveals my sin in order to lead me to acknowledgement and repentance of that sin. His work does not stop there but continues to draw me closer to Him so that I look more like my Creator, in whose image I was created in and am to reflect…and I’m pretty sure He speaks in truth and love.

2 John 1:3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

 

Home

Home…

That word has become relative to me in some ways.

As a child, my home was with my parents and sisters and brother in McAdams, MS. It was a picturesque home from my point of view. The house was and still is surrounded by green fields that once housed cows and horses and the occasional goat that thought it was a cow. The house itself was filled with everything most houses with four children are filled with…laughs, yelling, games…and probably lots of clutter to my mother’s chagrin.

Even when I left home to go to college and then graduate school, the red brick house on a hill remained home. And to a degree is always will be.

After I married, home also became Ruston, Louisiana. My in-laws welcomed me into their family with open arms, as did the rest of Paul’s family. Their easy ways, huge and lingering hugs, and incredibly sweet dachshund, Abbey, endeared Paul’s parents to me from the time I first stepped into their house.

We spent the early years of our marriage bouncing around. We lived in so many different places (TX, VA, Italy), sometimes for a few weeks and sometimes for a few years. But it wasn’t until we settled in Winston-Salem, NC that I felt like we had found a place that we could make a home together and not worry about moving for a long time. We bought a three bedroom house with green siding and black shutters. There was large yard for the kids to play in and blueberry bushes lining the driveway. We opened our home and really learned what it means to live life with people. We shared meals, sipped coffee, cried and laughed with people who transitioned from people I barely knew to friends to family. And though we had put down roots and were settled in Winston, God had other plans. We were to move yet again. It almost goes without saying that leaving this home was one of the most difficult goodbyes we have made thus far in our lives.

We now live in Salerno, Italy. We have returned to the place that has held our hearts for so many years.  Over the last two years our two bedroom apartment, with its covered terrace and broken tile in the dining room and kitchen, has become home. We find ourselves living life much the same way we did in Winston – with many people coming in and out of our house, sharing meals, coffee or tea, and their lives with us.

We have spent the summer traveling to all our different homes, enjoying every single minute of it. But it isn’t the houses or towns/cities that we have been in that have made it home. It’s people. The relationships that we have with people from Texas to North Carolina will make each of those places home as long as we know them.

However, my heart longs for my home in Salerno. It longs for those people that I share my life with there. And when I am there, though I am “at home”, I will long for the people I once shared my life with on this side of the world.

He’s Still Working on Me

I spoke, when I should have been silent. It was a situation in which I had the opportunity to extend grace and understanding but instead allowed my pride and hurt to win and thus overshadow the gospel being lived out in the situation. I did not heed the Holy Spirit’s leading. I followed my own path and in doing so caused hurt to others. I paid no attention to the verses I had recently memorized…

Psalm 141:3-4 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil…”

Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

After reflected on the words I had spoken, guilt set in. I realized I had spoken words that should not have been uttered. I showed no grace, no forgiveness. And worse of all, I had memorized words but had not allowed them to penetrate my heart and transform me.

I had to examine my heart, which can be an incredibly painful process when we are honest with what we find there. What I found was ugly and dark.

One of two things could have happened at this point: 1) I could have wallowed in the guilt allowing it to eat away at my soul OR 2) I could ask God to forgive me, ask those offended and hurt to forgive me, and walk in the freedom that forgiveness and grace bring.

Honestly, I sat in the guilt for a few minutes before I cried out for forgiveness from God. And an extraordinary thing happened when I did…peace began to enter my heart and take the place of the ugliness and darkness of sin. Once I had asked forgiveness from those I hurt, peace reigned fully and relationships were restored but not to the previous status. I believe to an even higher one…one that is more grace-filled, understanding, and mindful of each other.

A childhood song came to mind during these two days and I kept singing it over and over to myself…

“He’s still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me”

Praise God that He didn’t create us and leave us alone. Instead, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:4-6)

 If my sanctification is a result of my efforts I will come up short every.single.time. I will fail. I will never look more like Jesus. But God, in his loving kindness sent Jesus to die for me and the Holy Spirit to renew me. Not only that, but we have the hope that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

That’s good news.

35 and counting

Well make me a cake and put a big ole 3 and 5 on top, ’cause today is my 35th birthday!

Please make it a cake without icing – preferably a buttermilk pound cake with a chocolate glaze. But I’d be happy with anything…as long as it is made in a bundt pan and comes with a chocolate glaze. Thanks.

Thirty-five has been looming in the darkness, just around the corner creeping ever closer, rearing its head and laughing at me every time I celebrated someone else who it had attacked.

Getting older is scary stuff. Wrinkles, cellulite, grandma hands, not being able to look at bread without gaining 5 pounds, and just the knowledge that I am getting older…it all scared me.

But that was then and this is now and I am not so scared anymore.

I’ve learned something in the last year. With age comes maturity, wisdom, not being defined by the world, and knowing who I am. I hope these things will increase with every year I gain.

I’ve been reflected on my life at different stages and how much I have changed…

The 5 year-old MacKenzie was a care-free kindergartener who spent her free time playing hide-and-seek and hanging from trees. She pestered her brother and spied on her older sister. She spent every Friday night with her grandparents watching TGIF and Baywatch and Miami Vice (apparently her grandparents left the room at some point). She loved being outside playing with her imaginary friends under the gumball tree pretending she had run away from home and “driving” the tractor with her dad. Her dad was her hero. Her mom was the most beautiful person she knew. She really had no worries in life.

The 15 year-old MacKenzie was painfully introverted. She had no idea who she was or where she belonged. She loved learning, especially science and English. She played in the band and took piano lessons. She skipped school the first day of turkey season to hunt with her dad in the morning, plant the garden after lunch and then hunt in the afternoon.  She fancied herself an athlete, although she wasn’t super great at it.She wanted to be part of the “crowd”, to fit in, although she never felt like she did, but she had a close group of friends whom she felt comfortable around. Her dad was still her hero even though she didn’t like all the rules that were handed out. She had no idea how patient her mom was with her through the painfully awkward teenage years.

The 25 year-old MacKenzie had moved away from home and was living in Texas. She was an almost seminary graduate who had fallen in love with the dreamiest guy she’d ever met and would be engaged to him a month later. She had friends who taught her many things ranging from it’s not a great idea to ride Six Flags roller coasters when you are sick to how to confront someone in loving manner. She was part of a church and small group that she loved and that changed her for the better. She had figured started figuring out who she was and began liking what she saw looking back at her in the mirror. However, she was still filled with insecurity. Her introverted ways held her back in many ways and from many things. Her tendency to think she had to be perfect led her to beat herself up every time she hurt someone, made a mistake, or failed to live up to an expectation. She was fiercely independent. Learning to dependent on her future husband would prove a challenge her first year of marriage. Learning to depend on her Savior would prove to be something she would have to learn over and over. She had begun to appreciate her parents in the way that you only can after you have grown up and entered adulthood yourself. Her father still hung the moon. Her mother began the woman she could only dare dream of being.

The 35 year-old MacKenzie has seen more of the world and is still married to the dreamiest guy she’s ever met and has two beautiful children by him. She’s learned the value of having deep, growing, mature friendships. Friendships that last. Friendships that push each other towards Christ. She has embraced her introvertness but has learned not to allow it to be an excuse not to push herself to do hard or uncomfortable things. She has found her identity in the One who gave it to her. She knows what she wants to be when she “grows up” and finally has the confidence to go for it. She has learned the value in having people in her life who don’t think like her in order to learn from them. She is learning perfection is not the goal but leaning in to Jesus is. She had learned that she doesn’t know everything and it’s ok to admit it. She appreciates all the sacrifices her father made that she doesn’t even know about. She is still trying to learn from the example her mother has set before her.

Getting older…no it does not bother me one bit. I welcome the wrinkles – it means I’ve laughed a lot and hopefully that there is some wisdom behind the lines. Grandma hands will mean I’ve worked hard and, I hope, have grandchildren to hold in them. Knowing I’m getting older means I know I’m that much closer to seeing Jesus.

But I can do without the gaining 5 pounds by just looking at bread….

Why Italy?

Today we celebrate our one-year anniversary in Salerno. The last year has seemed to have gone by faster than any I can remember. It truly has been a whirlwind.

As I reflect on our time here, I have been reminded of a question we were often asked,”Why Italy?”.

My response two years ago when we started raising support was different than it is today. Today my response is, “Why not Italy?”.

What people are really wanting to know when they ask, “Why Italy? is  “Why aren’t you going somewhere that needs the gospel?”i.e. somewhere impoverished or with no written language or in the jungle or AIDS-ridden or with no potable water.

I totally get this train of thought. Those are places we associate with missions: places that are hard to live, places that are “poor” according to American standards. Those are places I thought growing up missionaries went.

However, what I have come to understand is that people are going hell just as fast in Europe as they are in Southeast Asia. People in Europe need the hope and salvation of the Savior just as much as people in South America. What makes us think that just because there are churches in Europe, that the Reformation occurred on this continent, and that some of the theological giants in history have come from here that there is no need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I bet I could ask any of my friends serving as missionaries around the world and, while they could spout out statistics, it would all come down to the fact that the people their hearts are broken for need the hope of Jesus.

God is moving all across the world, and that includes places you might not think need to hear the Gospel. He loves the Italian just as much as He loves the tribal woman in Papua New Guinea. Jesus died for us all…and all need the opportunity to hear that message.

“But Italy is Catholic. They have the Vatican and the Pope. Why do they need missionaries?” you ask.

I ask you, “Does America have preachers? Does America have churches everywhere?” Of course it does! Does that mean everyone has heard the Gospel??? OF COURSE NOT!

Same thing applies to Italy. Just because the Pope is here, doesn’t mean that people have a relationship with Jesus. In fact, most of them could care less about the church, Jesus, the Gospel….They see no need for a Savior.

Our family has been sent to Italians because God has given us a love for them that can only be explained by saying it comes from Him.

I appreciate the question, “Why Italy?” because it gives me the opportunity to talk about a country and a people I love. So, please keep asking.

 

 

Let the Meditation of My Heart

I’m a thinker…not that I think great thoughts that become ideas which turn into some kind of invention that changes the world or anything.
I just think. Alot. About lots of different things. Sometimes the thoughts are fleeting, lasting only a moment. However, sometimes those thoughts turn into meditation, which is, according to dictionary.com, “continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation.”

I tend to meditate on worldy things, especially books, movies, and TV shows. I can discuss a good movie or book or show for a couple of hours with someone who is just as into it as I am and enjoy every second of it. I have several friends who “get into” books, movies, and shows as much or than I. One such friend is Vince Rice. You can read his musing on his website, and I highly encourage you to do as at your earliest convenience. He’s a great writer and so insightful.

I recently decided I was going to give the show “Mad Men” a try. I had heard it is well-written with great acting, and since nothing else was appealing on Netflix at the time, I gave it a go.

And I got sucked in to the world of advertising on Madison Avenue in the ’60s. The 60’s have always been a time that I have found interesting for one reason or another. Thus, I found “Mad Men” intriguing. The fashion, the food, the manner speaking, not to mention the world of advertising…all of it was intriguing. So I kept watching.

But what I ended up watching was men degrading women at every turn (which I understand for the time period is probably quite accurate and have subsequently decided that God was correct in NOT placing me in that era because I would have been revolting at every turn), men unsatisfied with their lives so they look for satisfaction in their jobs, alcohol, and the arms of women who are not their wives, and women who are ok being “the other woman.”

And these were the things I was meditating on.

Until last week.

In my morning time with the Lord I read Psalm 19:14, which says,”Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”

I read it over and over and over again. Here I was meditating on fictional characters having affairs and making sexual jokes about women. I’m gonna take a stab in dark and say that that stuff probably ain’t pleasing the Lord.

When I am meditating on things with a heavenly purpose, on things that the Lord would deem acceptable, my entire outlook on life is different. My attitude is better, and I am able to handle difficult situations in a more loving, less selfish way because I am dwelling with the One who gives me the ability to do or be those things.

But when I put garbage into my head and meditate on it, that’s exactly what will come out. Straight up garbage. My words will be unkind, my thoughts will be even more unkind, my actions will be selfish. I’ll be hard to live with. I won’t like myself, much less expect anybody else to like me.

From the beginning to the end of the Bible we are instructed to meditate on things of God. The Bible is filled with examples of people who did just that.It is also filled with examples of people who did the opposite. And what we see is when they took their eyes, then their minds, and then their hearts off of the things of God, bad things happened.

David is a great example. In 2 Samuel 11 David decided to stay in Jerusalem instead of going out to battle with the army, as he should have done. While taking an evening stroll on his roof he sees a woman bathing. Does he go inside, protecting the woman’s privacy and keeping himself from at the very least lusting after her? Nope. I’m going to guess that he watched her because he decided she was beautiful. He thinks of her and his desire for her. She is sent for and David’s desire is fulfilled. She conceives and David, after several attempts at some trickery that fail, finally has success after ordering her husband to be put on the front lines of battle, was killed.

David took his eyes off of God. He allowed himself to meditate on someone that was not his to meditate on, and in doing so, fell into sin.

This is not unlike me and I’m gonna guess many of you. Instead of meditating on things that are “good” for me, I meditate on things that aren’t so good for me. That’s not to say that thinking critically about movies, books, or shows is a bad thing. It’s not. However, when those things have questionable subject matter and I can’t NOT dwell on them…then it’s not a good thing to put in my head…and subsequently, my heart.

If my desire is for the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart to be pleasing in the sight of Lord, then what goes in must also be pleasing. For what goes in, comes out.

 

Lovely Faces From North Carolina

We received a very special package last week. It had been in transit for two months. Italy is well-known for many things, but its postal system is not one of them.

When I opened the package, I found something wrapped in red and green striped Christmas paper. I began tearing into it as I walked out of the post office, and immediately started crying…again, in the post office. Well, technically, I was on the steps leaving the post office but I was in public nonetheless.

I knew what it was as soon as I saw the first edge of the book, and instead of looking through it by  myself I waited for Paul to be with me so we could look through it together. It was so hard to not sit down on a bench and look at all the photos of friends I knew were waiting to be cried over.

We ate lunch at Mythos, a little Greek place. And yes, pasta and pizza get boring. As we waited for our gyros to arrive we slowly made our way through the pages of familiar faces that we cherish so much.

IMG_0813

Faces that came to be so much more than friends.

IMG_0817

Faces that cried and laughed with us…and sometimes at us.

IMG_0814

Faces that played with our children.

IMG_0815

Faces that we shared our lives with.

IMG_0816

Beautiful faces that are loved, cherished and missed.

Thank you Lynsey for the beautiful gift.

 

Language Learning is a Labor of Love

Last week I  listened to the 121 Community Church sermon podcast from that previous Sunday. There sermon was by the lead pastor, Ross Sawyers, who is one of the greatest pastors and preachers I have ever known.

As Ross made his way through 1 Corinthians 13:5, which say, “[Love] is not rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful,” he dug into rudeness, how it plays out in American culture and others as well, and how it relates to love. If you are interested in listening to the podcast you can find it on the 121 Community Church website. It’s so good I have listened to it twice in three hours.

There are so many good points in this sermon, but the one that made me stop and really think about my how this applies to this particular moment in my life was as Ross broke down the word “rude”, or in some translations “unbecoming,” as it applies to the environment in which we find ourselves.

He says, “Love would be to pre-study and understand whatever culture, whatever environment, whatever particular kind of occasion that you’re about to be a part of…that is actually loving someone well.”

He goes on to talk about motives. We can have very good etiquette and manners, but he says, “…is your motive to love people or is it a matter of preserving your own image so that you look good, you look right, in any particular setting. Or is there any other motive that drives it other than love because if you have good manners and good etiquette your simply a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. If it’s not motivated by love for people.”

Language learning has always, always been a struggle for me. I did horrible in Spanish in high school. I could barely count to ten in Spanish by the end of the year. Italian has not proved to be any easier. It is a language that I desperately want to master but at the same time I often feel kicked in the stomach by.

Until today, I had never considered that me learning this language well, so that I can speak without grammatical errors and with a diverse vocabulary, is loving. Diligently studying is loving. Making myself speak to people so that I can practice is loving. Sacrificing time and money in order to learn Italian better is loving.

But then I had to ask my motive. Too often my motive to learn Italian is because I am just tired of feeling left out of conversations, not being able to express myself, not wanting to look stupid. I want to be able to contribute. But why? It is because I want to be heard. This is a completely different issue that I am sure will come up with Counselor John in my next session.

If I’m am truly honest, yes, the above reasons are too often prevalent. I don’t think that they are all bad reasons. It’s a good thing to understand what is being said around you. It is a good thing to be able to accurately articulate what you want to say.It is a good thing to not feel stupid. But if these are my motives then I am nothing but a “noisy gong and a clanging cymbal”. I might as well pack my bags and go on back to where people speak my language.

But there is another prevailing reason for all these feelings that I feel. If I cannot understand and communicate clearly, then how can I ever build relationships that go beyond the superficial, speak truth into the lives of friends who are struggling,or share in their heartaches and joys. How will I ever effectively share Jesus with people if I cannot speak their language well? There has to be more motivation than just wanting to “fit in” or not “look stupid”.

However, I don’t know that it has ever been the driving force behind my desire to learn this beautiful language that surrounds me.

As I get ready to study this afternoon, I hope that I can be motivated by something different.

It is simply love.