count the cost

it seems no matter where i turn these days, i can’t get away from three little words:: “count the cost.”

it all started a couple weeks ago, after i read through the gospel of luke. in 14.25-33. Jesus speaks of building a tower and a king going to war, of carrying one’s cross and the act of sacrifice to follow after him. count the cost. 

since then, i’ve been wrestling with this passage, these hard but holy words, chewing on them deliberately, holding them up to the light. in just a few short months, i’ll be taking a trip, the first since the epic unraveling that led to me leaving the missions field. this trip, it’s a big deal for me, in so many ways. missions, Liberia, orphan care: these things, for me, are what following after Jesus looks like. getting my hands dirty and my heart broken–this is the stuff discipleship is made of. it’s grossly uncomfortable and nowhere near easy. count the cost.

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Photo by Harry Doyle // Creative Commons // Flickr

yes, i can confidently say i’ve counted the cost. i know what it takes. it’s giving up hot showers and consistent electricity. it’s sleepless nights tossing and turning under a mosquito net. it’s sweat gushing from my pores and feet that never get clean. it’s frequent headaches and an upset stomach and very little in the way of comforts. it’s sensory overload, which is overwhelming for someone like me. it’s being a source of constant scrutiny, of having my every move watched. it’s standing out when i just want to blend in. 

it’s kids who die too soon and no one who mourns them once they’re gone. it’s unfair systems, instability and oppression, and people who deserve so much more. it’s long, tedious days full of overwhelming needs; it’s constantly wondering if what i’m doing makes any difference at all. it’s guilt and shame as my white privilege stares me in the face.

it’s homesickness and loneliness and sometimes feeling like an ancient Israelite, banished to exile. it’s losing friendships due to time and distance. it’s once-promising relationships that don’t work out because i never stay in one place long enough. it’s the fear of being forever single. it’s coming “home” only to discover how different it feels and how i’m not even sure where “home” is anymore. it’s worrying that i don’t measure up to other women my age who seem to have achieved more than i. it’s saying goodbye to financial security; it’s living on faith and the generosity of others. it’s seeing things i’ll never find the words for, and feeling like no one else will ever understand me as a result.

count the cost.

still, even with all this, i can’t help but wonder. maybe following Jesus looks less like keeping with the status quo and more like “a long obedience in the same direction”. maybe it’s less of a ‘normal’ life and more of an upside-down kingdom. maybe it’s heart-wrenchingly hard. but i’m willing to bet it’s worth it.

because this–missions, life, faith, discipleship, struggle, tension, overcoming; it’s the stuff of Jesus’ heart. yes, it’s costly, and yes, the price is high. but me? i’m counting it all joy–for the sake of knowing and loving the One who paid it all anyway.

be careful, little mouth, what you say

i recently read through the book of Job, one i tend to shy away from due to its weighty content. i mean, it’s heavy stuff, the book of Job–laments and suffering, the age-old question of ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’

this time, when i read it, there was one little verse, right near the end, that stood out to me. i’ve been wrestling with it ever since, mulling it over, holding it up to the light, trying to figure out why it hits me with such force::
After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7)

here’s what i notice: God was angry, angry at three men who seemingly spoke truth. i mean, read back through the chapters; what they say to Job is right along the lines of what so many Christians say today. “suffering is God’s punishment for sin; repent and be saved!” we say these things because it seems and sounds like the correct answer, how a Christian should respond.

but God got angry–because they we have not spoken of him what was right.

ohmygoodness. how many times have i done the very same thing, spoken of things which i did not understand?

it saddens me, deeply, and ignites a fire within me at the same time. because honestly, i love the Church, messy and imperfect as we may be. and i think there are a lot of things we’re doing right, things that are beautiful and worthy, like sending out missionaries and caring for the poor and taking communion and 24/7 prayer and worship.

but i also think there are a lot of things we do that shouldn’t be done, things like judging and criticizing and being insensitive to others’ sufferings (even if they are “sinners”.) we’re quick to speak and slow to listen even when the scriptures clearly tell us to do the opposite. at times we hurt instead of heal with our words, and we talk about things that nobody really understands as if ours is the final say. we wield Bible verses as weapons without taking time to dissect the content. we act as if we’re God’s mouthpiece, which is all well and good except what if sometimes what we say is wrong, and we do more damage than good? what if what we’re speaking of God is not right?

do i believe that sin bears consequence and punishment is real? yes, i do. do i believe that true repentance must happen in the hearts of men so that they may be saved? yes, i do. and do i believe that we’re sometimes asked to call out the wrong that needs to be made right? yes, i do.
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                                          [Photo by Mustafa Khayat, Creative Commons]

but when we do so, we need to be careful that we’re speaking truth in love, that our conversation is seasoned with grace, and that our speech is pure. we must be careful to avoid “thus saith the Lord” when in all actuality, we’re not sure that is what the Lord is really saying. we must strive to speak of him what is right–and if we don’t know the answer, then it’s okay to admit that. there is humility and grace in swallowing our pride and choosing to say nothing at all.

when saturday actually means something

as a Christian, this past weekend was full of significance for me. on friday, i joined with countless believers worldwide as we remembered the sacrifice of the God-man on the tree. on sunday, we celebrated with one another the miracle of his resurrection + his victory over death forevermore.

what i noticed, though, is that little was said about saturday. the in-between day. the day of which we don’t know much about. the day that didn’t appear to mean anything at all. on friday, we mourn, and on sunday, we celebrate. but what about saturday?

as someone who has become well acquainted with life in the in-between, i believe saturday has to mean something. Jesus could have died on that friday and risen the next day if he wanted to. but God waited. saturday was that day of waiting, the day of silence. all of heaven held its breath, anticipating the grand finale, but earth knew nothing of what was to come. all it could see was a dead body, buried in the tomb. it saw unmet expectations, dreams that would never be realized, hopes that had been brutally dashed. heaven knew the miracle was coming, but what of those who couldn’t see past the despair and the questions, all those questions which appeared would never be answered?

thousands of years later, so many of us are still living in saturday. i know; i’m there, too. saturday’s the day when nothing makes sense, the day when we fall on our faces and scream with our fists to the sky, “why, God? why?” saturday’s the aftermath of cancer and divorce, of accidents and job losses, of breakdowns and breakups. it’s the tension of a life lived between the tragedy and the miracle, the problem and its solution. it’s when things appear that they couldn’t get any worse, but that’s only because we’re seeing things with the wrong set of eyes. if we could get just a glimpse of what’s beyond ourselves, we’d see that Redemption was coming.

so if you’re living in a saturday like me, i pray your heart is encouraged and your faith bolstered. there is something sacred and holy and ancient in the waiting, in the in-between, in the way you ache for the miracle. saturday actually means something, even if we don’t understand it yet. but one day, we’ll look back, and it will make sense, and we will see what the saturday has taught us. we will see that nothing in this life is wasted — even the tears, the disappointment, the hope that was lost somewhere along the way.

after all, we can never get to sunday unless we first go through our saturday.

the sarah in me

i was reading through genesis 16 + 21 this morning, the story of God’s seemingly impossible promise and the years it took for it to be fulfilled. truth be told, i see so much of myself in sarah. i often grow impatient while waiting on God + i try to twist his arm into giving me what i want. i figure if i pray the right prayer, do the right thing, confess the right sin, he’ll give in and bless me. and when that doesn’t work, i turn my back on him and go about it my own way. i try to take matters into my own hands, getting things done on my timeline, how want them.

BUT.
genesis 21.1. “now the Lord was gracious to sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for sarah what he had promised.”

what a reflection of God’s character, his steadfast faithfulness. though i try to get in the middle of what he is doing, though i muddy the waters + make things way more complicated than they need to be, he is still gracious and true to his word.

i know this to be true, deep in my heart and soul, in the part of me that houses truth. but the sarah in me is often a petulant child, pouting impatiently + stamping her feet when things don’t go her way. she clenches her hopes + dreams tightly in her fists, scared to let them go. she believes, and then she doubts, and then she laughs, bitterly at what seems so impossible.

BUT.
genesis 21.1.

and so i know. the sarah in me will laugh again one day. though it will no longer be bitter, but instead the laughter of joy, of dreams come true, of she who can scarcely believe the goodness of he who promised.

you are good

since i’ve been back in Liberia, i’ve had a song that keeps running through my head and resounding in my heart. i wake up in the morning humming its tune, and the lyrics course through my thoughts all day, like blood flowing through veins.

it’s called you are good, and it has become a sort of anthem for me, a reminder, a psalm, a prayer. you are good. it’s not just a song. it is truth, and my soul has anchored itself to those three little words. you. are. good.

“your goodness knows no bounds; your goodness never stops.” he is altogether good, good beyond my comprehension, good beyond any explanation. he can be nothing other than good; goodness is his nature, and it surpasses any limitation that my finite self places on him. i give him boundaries because that’s what i do with things i cannot explain, things that are far greater than i. but he doesn’t stay there. his goodness knows no bounds, and it never, ever stops.

“your mercy follows me.”  his mercy is good, and it endures forever. when i’m in the States, his mercy is with me. when i’m in Liberia, his mercy is with me. when i am teaching or talking or praying or sinning or leading or laughing, his mercy is with me. there truly is no place that i can go in which i am not in his presence. his mercy follows me, and it is so, so good.

“your kindness fills my life; your love amazes me.” in every area of my life–the good and the bad, the joy and pain, the beautiful and the messy–His lovingkindness is there. and yes, it truly amazes me. when i think about the life i’ve lived, the choices i’ve made, the person i was, i can hardly believe that holy Love pursued me. but it did, and it won me over. and i stand in awe, until the weight of His great kindness is so heavy that it draws me to my knees.

and so there i stay. and i pray, and i sing, and He is good, still good, always, always good.

the light

earlier this morning, i was finishing up the monthly newsletter that i send out to all of my supporters and those interested in learning more about my ministry. (ps: if you want to be signed up for regular updates, holla, and i’ll put you on the list!) in it, i was sharing recent updates i’ve received from Liberia, both good and bad. i wrote about Lamie and Gifty, and shared about a recent phone call i had with Mercy, who insisted that i come back to Liberia as soon as possible instead of in January (umm, melt. my. heart.)

through recounting the stories, i realized how many different emotions were floating to the surface. sadness and mourning. excitement. worry. happiness. relief. i need to be honest:: sometimes, doing what i do, it’s so difficult to stay positive. to stay hopeful. for every Mercy, there’s a Lamie. lives are changed, but lives are also lost. reality has a way of crashing down–hard!– and, if i’m not careful, i can suffocate beneath it.

it’s not true just in Liberia, but no matter where one lives in the world. life is beautiful, but it can also be messy. there is a time for rejoicing, but also a time for pain. joy can be tinged with sadness, and the Lord both gives and takes away.

but i know the end of the Story. i know this is not how it will always be. a day will come in which every wrong will be made right and every tear wiped away.

in the meantime, i choose to find the Light. it’s there, even if my weak eyes must strain to see it. no matter how dark the situation, there is always, always Light. there are tears, yes, and hurting hearts and sick bodies and doubts and confusions and questions and the ache, always the ache.

but there is Light.

there is beauty and transformation and smiles and kisses. there is peace and promises and the sweet whispers of the One who soothes my heart.

there is Light.
and i know–oh, how i know!–that the darkness can never overcome it.

saying goodbye to Lamie

today, i write to honor the life of a friend. i met Lamie around Easter of
this year, while i was still in Liberia. he was sick and listless, unable to move (presumably because  of a stroke he had suffered.) he was sleeping on the ground, in a pile of garbage, directly across from a dumpster. during the day, he was there, baking in the hot sun. at night, he was there, exposed to the elements. he was starving; he was thirsty; he was homeless. he had been abandoned and left to die. upon investigating, some friends and i were able to find out more of his story, and our hearts were broken for this man who had suffered so greatly. we knew we had to help. nobody deserved to have to live as he did.

fast forward a few months. Lamie was off the streets, had a roof over his head, and seemed to be improving. it had been a rough go, both for he and those of us involved in helping him. he’d gone from sleeping in the garbage heap to sleeping in his own room to sleeping on my front porch to sleeping in a Liberian-run facility for the elderly. poor Lamie had been tossed around from place to place, and my heart broke as i imagined how badly he ached for home.

then, it was all of sudden august. it was nearing the end of my stay in Liberia, and i knew that i had to walk away from Lamie. i knew i had to entrust him to the care (and i use that term loosely, unfortunately) of the people running the home he was staying in. more importantly, i knew i had to entrust him to God. i had to be okay with walking away, not knowing what would happen, but knowing i had done all i could to love Lamie and care for him as Jesus would have.

this is the last photo i have of Lamie, taken only a week or so before i left Liberia. this is how i always want to remember him:: fat cheeks, bright eyes, and a tender spirit. he never once complained about his situation or all that he had gone through. he would smile wistfully as he remembered his younger years, when he had been a tailor and had a family. he’d get this dreamy look on his face, and i knew he was longing to go back to that time. yet he also accepted the cards life had dealt him, and i believe he really did try to make the best of them.

unfortunately, Lamie died last month (and i just found out about it today.) i have no idea what happened, other than he had been sick. i don’t know what he was feeling when he passed away, if he was lonely, if there was anyone at all by his side. and if i let it, the not-knowing will shatter my heart and crush my spirit.

so instead, i choose to join my friend Ashley in seeking the joy in an otherwise terribly sad situation. she says it best in her tribute to our dear friend::
Lamie’s body is whole again. Lamie died knowing that those crazy white people loved him. We fed, clothed and gave cold water. We fought for truth, justice and for what was right. It didn’t matter that we were different or that he was from a certain tribe or that he was a stranger. It didn’t matter that he was physically disabled–his heart was gold! He brought laughter and unity and compassion. He was an example, and a reminder. There is no happily-ever-after for this story and this morning, Lamie’s story came to a close. But, I know that his story and his life weren’t told and lived to be forgotten. He lived his story so that he could be remembered. He faced insurmountable obstacles, but he kept that spark in his eye. [He had] joy in his smile, despite his circumstances. [He was a] literal example for us to be the Good Samaritan. Lamie was my friend–my beautiful, laughter-filled, sweet-spirited (unless he wanted a haircut from Momo) friend. At one point, Lamie had taken everything out of me, but I pressed on because Jesus filled me and equipped me to keep going. Lamie was and is a part of my story…and a reason why I just can’t walk away from Liberia.

Lamie was–and is–a lesson to me to love others. to love freely, wildly, without holding back. to love with my whole heart. even when it hurts. even when i think i have nothing left to give. he taught me to love others because sometimes, my love is the only Jesus they will ever know.

in the waiting

ever had your hopes up only to have them disappointed? yeah, me too.

ever felt like it was God who let you down? yeah. me too.

i’ve had Him promise some wild and crazy things to me, things that my logical and rational mind dismiss. “there is no way,” it says. “impossible.” 
but my faith and hope have grown strong over the years. they say yes, even to that which seems to make no sense.

then comes the waiting. it’s easy at first. firm faith, high hopes. the wait is filled with expectancy and anticipation.

and then…time goes on. i’m still waiting. faith wavers, hope disappears. doubt creeps in.
“maybe i heard Him wrong.”
“maybe it really is impossible.”
“maybe. … but maybe not.”

lately, i’ve been in this place. i’ve waited such a long time, and my heart has all but given up hope.

but today, as i spent some time in worship and prayer, i heard Him. He promised–again.

“[I’m] giving you  new vision, renewed hope. I didn’t tell you to lay that down. I didn’t tell you you had to give it up. I didn’t tell you it was impossible. Behold, nothing is impossible for me. No promise that I have made shall ever turn up void, for my words are true. [I am] reviving that dream in your heart. Believe it. Receive it.”

He promised. again. and so the waiting begins. again.
i don’t know how long this wait will be. i don’t know how long i’ll have my strong faith, my eager hope. i don’t know how long.

but i know Him.
i know He is faithful.

what about you? what dreams has He placed in your heart that have been laid to rest? how long has it been?

perhaps you’ve grown weary in the waiting, as i have. perhaps it seems too good to be true, too big to be possible.
but perhaps, just maybe, you can pause for a minute and hear Him promise…again. He who can do all things, who makes everything new, who can simply breathe on dry bones and have them raised up–He is the one who promises.

“He gives life to the dead, and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17)

believe it. receive it.
just as He promised me, He has promised you.

wait with me. and we will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.
He promised.

eat the mystery

a few weeks back, i found myself re-reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. Spirit-filled and poetic, her words were like water for my thirsty soul.

and recently, i find myself going back to a particular passage, one i have underlined in ink and even copied into the pages of my own journal::

“when we are despairing, we can choose to live as Israelites gathering manna. for forty long years, God’s people daily eat manna–a substance whose name literally means ‘what is it?’ hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. they fill on that which has no meaning. more than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don’t comprehend. they find soul-filling in the inexplicable. they eat the mystery…and it is ‘like wafers of honey’ on the lips.” (page 22)

they eat the mystery. they choose to trust even when they do not understand. they open their mouths and let Him fill them with what He sees fit.

oh, that my faith were as deep! i so often resent the mystery because it doesn’t fit into my neat little boxes. i strain to understand and, if i cannot, i push it aside, choosing to gobble up instead that which i can explain–even though i know it will not satisfy.

but what if i welcome the mystery? what if i stop asking why and how and when and instead let Him fill me?
i may not always understand that which God gives me. i may not be able to explain ache and the pain, the longing, the discontent. i may not have answers for the things i have seen and experienced and walked through.

but if i trust that He is good, i can trust that what comes from His hand is as well. if i choose to see His goodness and His grace instead of the circumstance or feeling, i too could eat the mystery. and it shall taste sweet. 

in the book of Ezekiel, God gives him the mystery, feeds him the manna::
then i looked, and i saw a hand stretched out to me. in it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. on both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.
and he said to me, “son of man, eat what is before you…” (2:9 – 3:1)

Ezekiel’s manna came in the form of a scroll. it took on the shape of lament and mourning and woe. and God still asked him to eat of it.

so i ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey in my mouth. (3:3)

Ezekiel trusted that God was good, and so he decided that what came from Him was good as well. even a scroll filled with sorrow.
Ezekiel chose to eat the mystery, digest what he did not understand.
and God made it good.

so much of this life is mystery. we walk through days and circumstance and emotion, and some of it hurts, and we cry out “why, Lord, why?”
and though i believe He has compassion, and He understands our human hearts,
i also believe there are times when the only answer He gives is to hold out His hand, offering us the scroll, the manna, that which seems to make no sense.

and if we listen closely, i believe we will hear Him saying, “eat the mystery, child. trust me. i make all things good.

in the desert

o God, you are my God, earnestly i seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (psalm 63.1)

yes. i am thirsty.
yes. i am needy.
yes. i am weary.
yes. i know this ache.
i’ve inhabited this dry and weary land for so, so long.

please don’t let me die in the desert.

open your eyes, child.
see the well.
there IS a well.
drink.

then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. (genesis 21.19)

i drink.
and my new eyes begin to focus.
i see.
the desert is not exile.
the desert is not a place for the cast-off, the rejected, the abandoned, the forgotten.
just as He met Hagar here
and she saw the well,
He meets me here, too.

the woman herself escaped to the desert to a place of safety prepared by God. (revelation 12.6)

the desert.
here.
this.
me.
a place of safety.
refuge.
prepared by God.
i am taken care of.
i am held
and gently led to the water,
to the well.

He sees. He knows. He provides. He protects.

i will not die in the desert.