Tumult & Ease

Tell me about the sunrise.
Heart pounding, not breathing.
Describe the colors of the skies.
Peach, pale green, indigo, steel blue.
Be amazed and let wonder soothe.
Tell me about that one time,
that story I never knew.
Where you lived,
How you loved,
and you ran.
How I’d love to see you run,
and when the day is done,
Tell me again about the colors by the sun.


Silence, Gravity, and Serenity

Lately, I’ve not had much to say. On the phone with a friend last night, I mostly let him talk. There came that oft’ dreaded silence… “Well… I should let you go…”

I had thoughts, but none seemed important. Or they may have seemed valuable, but my voice did not have the strength to carry them. They resided in a place more honored by my silence.

Lately, I feel the same when talking to God. I don’t have much to say. He knows my troubles, and even the thought of mentioning them exhausts me. Not that they are much more than anyone else’s woes. The more I talk with people, the more I see that they are common. And maybe that’s what makes them feel heavier. A very deep and wide weight that affects us all, like gravity.

Waking up is hard. But this morning, I had somewhere to be, though I felt like I had nothing to bring. And that’s enough. It is enough to simply bring myself. As much as I want to be worthy of eternal love on my own, Christ gives this gift to me freely. He sees my weakness and loves me completely. It’s enough to be me. And this world I try to carry was carried for me.

And in that place, I felt the sweetness of His friendship. Not detached from sorrow, but more like my feet could be planted in it while my arms reached all the higher in love and hope. My Savior loves my friendship. And this is not some irreverent thing. It is entirely holy; built on my weakness and His strength. He carries me happily. He carries me – this happy, hurting, and growing tree. I drink freely of His love as He waters me.

OneThing Recap: Wholeness and Healing

After years of feeling so broken, my Heavenly Father spoke wholeness and healing over me. Restoration. Through a stranger and through a new friend.

A stranger wrote to me: “He knows where all the broken pieces are! He wants His child whole – His mission – His heart’s desire is to gather those pieces – to mend, to make whole His child! … His great desire is to lovingly take each broken piece and restore it – under His grace – as we sit in His presence and allow Him to speak. As we allow ourselves to receive, He will heal. So simple. So hard. To rest and receive. Receive, sweet sister. The world doesn’t understand coming to a conference and crying… They don’t understand our God, our Beloved Savior weeps with us; that the tears are healing! It’s communication with Him. It’s connection with Him. It’s His great desire for tender hearts to come before Him.”

I receive that, sweet sister. Thank you stranger. For all the strangers and friends that have prayed for me this week, thank you! God hears you, and God is healing me.

To the gentleman I did not know who told me that there is purpose in pain, thank you. To the young man called me his sister and prayed for deeper healing than merely physical and shared practical wisdom with me, thank you.

To the woman in the restroom who stood and persisted in prayer over me with my friends until the warmth of healing spread from the top of my head to my toes and peaceful rest filled my soul in sweet communion with the Father, thank you. I think we stood there for 10 minutes.

To my new and old friends who persisted with me this week, giving me a place to stay, transportation, and even going with me to the hospital, thank you. I am so blessed by you all, and I pray God blesses you abundantly beyond your wildest dreams.

To the speakers and singers at the OneThing Conference, thank you. Especially Francis Chan, Matt Maher, and Audrey Assad… I was drawn into worship like I haven’t been in a long time. I am blessed by the love of Christ and His church exhibited. I understand 1 Peter 4 like never before, and I am equipped to go into this new year with the joy to embrace suffering as Christ did for me.

Even though the pain of whiplash did not entirely subside, it is dramatically better now. Even though I will have learn how to get to work without a car, I am encouraged knowing that in Christ I have everything, and I shall not want. If he did not provide one more physical comfort to me, He would still be enough. His sacrifice on the cross is still enough to prove His love.

Thank you for my little brother, who is not so little anymore, who prayed for my  health and drove me home this morning. I don’t know if you know how much that means to me.

“In my darkest hour, in humiliation, I will wait for You. I am not forsaken. Though I lose my life, though my breath be taken, I will wait for You. I am not forsaken. One thing I desire, to see You in Your beauty. You are my delight. You are my glory. You, my sacrifice, oh Your love is all consuming. You are my delight. You are my glory. You’re the lover of my soul. Even unto death, with my every breath, I will love You. Jesus, the very thought of You…”Audrey Assad

After all the good and the bad, after feeling so full and so broken, so needy… It is easy to over-emphasize what I lack. It is easy to focus on how I have disappointed myself and frustrated others… I want to focus instead on the beauty of God’s people, thankfulness, what I have in Christ, wholeness, love…

” Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2-4

I am whole. I am loved. There is nothing that I lack. I am laying to rest the past on the bosom of Christ.

 

The Proximity of Love in the Unknown

I don’t have it all together. I’ve been having a real hard time lately. In the midst of all of the not-having-it-togetherness, God has been teaching me some pretty sweet things. For that, I am glad, and blessed. I want to share it with you, not because I am amazingly brilliant with lots to share, but just because these gifts are too sweet to keep to myself. I am sure someone else needs them too.

Jesus loves you.

A whole lot. I know, I don’t always believe it either. Even as I am typing this, I struggle to believe. Jesus loves me. Why don’t I believe? Did He not do enough to prove it to me? Was it not enough that He died to save my life, to have me near? Is it not enough that He makes the sunrise every morning? Could I imagine that my flaws and sins are stronger than the blood He shed to cover them? Could it be that my lack of loveliness is enough to ward off the strength of His immense love? No, this is not so. He is enough. His love is strong enough.

He is near.

Psalm 139:7-12

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

If it were not for His great love, His nearness would be a fearful thing, but in fact, it is wonderful. It is what gives me hope and strength. His loving nearness is the power in my bones when I feel weak.

He is near and loving in the unknown.

So I am basing this section off of Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, August 5th, The Baffling Call of God. It presents the idea that we can be unsuccessful in the eyes of the people around us, and be unaware of the way in which God wants to use our lives, and still fully embrace The Baffling Call of God.

I have felt like a failure many times in my life. So you can imagine my relief when I read from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, “Jesus Christ’s life was an absolute failure from every standpoint but God’s. But what seemed failure from man’s standpoint was tremendous triumph from God’s, because God’s purpose is never man’s purpose.”

So even if my life seems like a total failure from man’s perspective, I am in good company. Better yet, there is hope that God sees it differently.

If it isn’t obvious from the previous paragraph, I am living in the blessed land of “What Am I Doing With My Life?!” Again, I could discuss this further, but that is not my intention for this blog. Suffice it to say, I don’t know. And the unknown is scary. To quote my good ol’ friend Oswald again, “It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself for His own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what he is after.”

His purpose for me is to be in relationship with Him. He knows what He is after, and I just have to trust Him. 

“A Christian is one who trusts the wits and the wisdom of God, and not his own wits. If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the leisureliness which ought to characterize the children of God.” – Oswald Chambers

Jesus, help me to trust You. To believe in Your love. To believe You are near. And to trust that You know what You are doing with my life. I love You, my Savior. I want to love You more. You are deserving of all of me. Thank You Jesus for who You are. I praise You for You are worthy of all my trust. Your love is beyond what I can comprehend, and it is real. Thank you Jesus. May my life be marked by simplicity and leisure because I trust in You.
-Amen

Not Only

I watched a movie tonight, hoping to boost my spirits. My roommate’s dog joined me, lying oddly on her back staring up at my face, paws toward the sky. It turned out to be a very sad movie. Death, disease, broken promises.

Unfortunately, it seems like that’s the way life goes.  I see news article one after another concerning awful things happening around the world. How can we keep our heads up?

I looked down at this oddly lying dog as she tries to lick my face. Barely dodging her tongue, I asked her, as if she could respond, “Why is life so sad?” And she just looked up at me with her big brown eyes, as clueless as ever. I felt an answer in my spirit.

But it’s not only sad.

I know this may sound elementary, but it’s so hard to grasp. Sometimes in the darkness, we forget that light exists. It seems like it will be dark forever. For those who cannot see the light at the proverbial end of the tunnel, I have no answers, but knowing that the darkness will end is some comfort to me. It takes faith when we cannot see it, but it will end.

Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Esiteri and the Red Earth

A few updates:

We made it safely to Bamako!

We started language classes. I am amazed at how far God has taken me. Growing up, I could barely open my mouth because of fear to talk to a stranger in my own language. Now, I am going out on a limb speaking to people, risking failure, in a language completely foreign to me.

Our hosts have a small television, and the Africa Cup (soccer precursor to the World Cup) is a big deal. Let’s just say that when the Mali team scored, I swear that I heard the whole city erupt in cheering.

We have been given our new names to make pronunciation for the Malians easier. My new name is Esther, except when they say it, it sounds like “Estare,” and they spell it like “Esiteri.” I like it quite a bit. I think I may try to study the book of Esther while I am here.

Thank you so much for your prayers! We have been very blessed so far, and the team is bonding well.

I really enjoy this way of life. Though the simple things take more effort, I feel more at peace and happier.  My emotions go up and down like a roller coaster. I suppose this is normal. To ease my aching heart, I try to be glad in having memories of family and friends to hold on to when I cannot hold on to the people themselves.

I am sure we have made plenty of cultural mistakes even in these first few days, but they are gracious with us. In a way, they have adopted us into their family while we are here. They have even given us the honor of introducing ourselves with their last names.

We went to the post office today to mail letters. It took about two or three taxis and almost two hours to complete the task. Unfortunately, it looks as though we will not make that trip too often. I wish this were not so, but such difficulties come with the territory. I will still try to write, but so much rests in uncertainty. It also looks like Skype won’t happen until the end of February most likely.

The days pass by unannounced. There are no warnings, dramatic conclusions, or credits scrolling past on a screen accompanied by some fitting theme music (though, from time to time, Valerie does play soundtracks from various films.) We are here. And though I knew it would be true, it has not hit me until now that we are here to live. This is life for us now. This is the norm.

We wake up, or at least we try to wake up at 7 or 7:30 in the morning. By this time, the Malians have most likely been awake for about two hours. While I lay in bed, I am awoken by the sound of the morning call to prayer, a rooster’s crow, or the sound of the women doing their chores.

Breakfast is generally at 8 am. Before this, one of the women will usually ask if we want to take a shower. If we answer affirmatively, they go about the work of heating water and filling our buckets. We take the bucket into a shower room and splash ourselves to our heart’s content. This room has no roof and the drain goes out through the wall.

After breakfast, we usually have class to learn Bambara. Ton ton Sako is a wonderful teacher. He says that we are learning quickly. Class is about three hours long. Then we have lunch. All the food is so good.

In the afternoon, we rest and have tea. Depending on the day, we will do different things, like go to the market or play with the children.

Stress comes without warning. It can be a culmination of things – language is one of those things. I find comfort in knowing that God knows and understands my language. He also knows and understands the Malians. I pray that when we fail, He could bring understanding to both of us.

We are all missing our loved ones, but God is faithful still. Personalities sometimes clash, but we are not in the business of giving up on being at peace with each other.

Thank you for your prayers!

Here I go!

So I am planning on going to Mali, West Africa in January 2012! I sent out my support letter a couple weeks ago, and my first deadline is coming up. I am supposed to have raised over 3,000 by now & I really don’t know what has come in so far. All I know is that 8 or 10 people have already given. Keep sending in your checks to made out to Grace University with “Edge Scholarship: Stephanie” in the memo line! You can send them to Grace University,  PO Box 3725, Omaha, NE 68103. Or you can give online at http://www.graceuniversity.edu and click on “Give to Grace” in the left-hand side bar.

Keep your prayers coming too! God knows better than anyone what we need. Pray that God moves in the hearts of people to give generously. I know that God has proven to me time and time again how much of a blessing it is to be generous! All we have belongs to God anyway!

By the way, this is a team effort, and in this adventure we will be sharing all the benefits and deficits. Therefore,  pray also that those who are hearing of our need from my other team members will respond faithfully and give generously as well.

More than money,  pray that God prepares our hearts for what lies ahead of us. I have been reading in Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion & Purity. In there she says, “If all struggles and suffering were eliminated, the spirit would no more reach maturity than would the child. The Heavenly Father wants to see us grow up.”

With that in mind, I would ask that you pray not that this journey be easy, but that through the struggles we face, we would grow and be matured in spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Pray also that we would continually offer up to God our worries, fears, anxieties, and uncertainties.

For me, this has been a test in trusting God. My momma taught me this children’s song, and I sing it to myself even now as a gentle reminder –

“One step more.
One step more.
Give me faith for one step more.
One step more.
One step more.
Faith for one step more.”

Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Ransom

Isaiah 51:11 (English Standard Version)

11And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

ran·som

–noun

1.

the redemption of a prisoner, slave, or kidnapped person, of captured goods, etc., for a price.
2.

the sum or price paid or demanded.
3.

a means of deliverance or rescue from punishment for sin, esp. the payment of a redemptive fine.
–verb (used with object)

4.

to redeem from captivity, bondage, detention, etc., by paying a demanded price.
5.

to release or restore on receipt of a ransom.
6.

to deliver or redeem from punishment for sin.