voice

I know God’s love. I know the freedom and acceptance that comes with God’s love. I like to think I know his heart…not just for me, but for others, especially when I make life choices based on where I am called to love others for him. But sometimes we need to know his anger, his utter disbelief and how much his heart truly breaks at the sin surrounding his beloved children.

Recently I was in church being used as a jungle gym. Schnider would not sit still. We had already gotten a drink of ‘dlo’ before I sat down in church, and his frustration at my not taking him again, when he knew I could understand what he was asking for in Creole, was very real. But he didn’t want to go alone. Instead, he sat. He pouted. He shifted. He stood on me. He stood at my side. He laid his head on the bench in front of us. He put his head on my shoulder. He moved my water bottle. He flipped through the pages in my Bible. He sat again. Then he stood on me.

There’s a pattern here. He did not want to be alone. He wanted someone with him. And he was not ready to sleep…yet…

In the midst of all this shifting, I found myself getting annoyed that he couldn’t get comfortable. Relax already, friend. I am here for you.

But also in that exact thought was this awareness that someone had left him. For whatever reason…reasonable or wholly unreasonable…Schnider had been abandoned through whatever situation had landed him at the village. And that awareness flooded me with pain that this was not right. This wasn’t how it was meant to be.

As much as my heart broke in that moment for this little guy, as much as it breaks for all of the orphans God has placed in my path over the last ten years in a myriad of places, I find that God’s heart breaks a million times a million more times for those who are abandoned. For all children, adults, anyone…God’s heart breaks for the ways they have been abandoned and made to feel they are unwanted, unworthy and unloved.

It is absolutely beyond my comprehension how anyone could choose to leave a child, and this is coming from someone who does not even have children. I am profoundly sad for who the world calls orphans. Parents die, or cannot provide for them. Grandparents, aunts, uncles…no relatives to choose to take care of them. I think God shares in my disbelief. I think God feels that utter disbelief when the connection created through birth is ripped to shreds when a parent, through death or stripped of dignity for whatever reason, leaves their child as an orphan.

God did not create us for this. He created us as whole beings, meant for his Kingdom and to live as Kingdom walkers. He created us for love, and the sin of this world breaks love.

In Isaiah 58, God is calling out his people for fasting and not meaning it.

‘For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God…you cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.’ [Isaiah 58:2, 4]

I have been seized by this passage for four years this month. Obsessed is probably not even a strong enough word for what hold this passage has on me. It starts calling everyone out on how they say they know God, but only for set apart times and not with their lives. Then moves into what God does want them to be doing…that they are not actually doing.

‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?’ [Isaiah 58:6-7]

I remember asking a friend what he thought the beginning meant, ‘Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.’ His response has stuck with me, ‘Be loud. Talk about what God has been opening your eyes to in these verses.’ With those words, he ignited something in me. I realized I had a voice and I wasn’t using it the way God wanted me to be using it.

Granted, with that advice, over the last four years my voice has been met with resistance, anger and disrespect, yet also love, camaraderie, understanding, awakening and more than anything else a trueness that many of us are speaking the same Kingdom language.

But we need to be speaking that language louder. We need to be calling out the things in this world that fight against the heart of God.

Our silence is our acceptance.

I adamantly refuse to accept that God wants children to be abandoned by their parents or left alone in this world after their parents are gone, but that is my voice and my calling, and consequently where I find myself living. Refusing to be silent is part of what landed me in Haiti, allowing God to use me to love his kids and journey with others being ignited to the same.

What are the things you show you accept through your silence?

God has given us a voice for the abandoned, lost, lonely, broken and outcast. Where your voice takes you is between you and the Savior you serve. It will make you cross paths with people you never thought you could meet. It will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge your status quo. It will transform you. It will also draw criticism from others who profess to believe what you believe. But the bottom line is God is calling on you to use your voice.

‘Shout it aloud. Raise your voice like a trumpet.’

I am called to use my voice for the orphan, and I will be shouting that from the rooftops while annoying all within my shouting distance. I refuse to let the world tell orphans they are worthless, no one wants them and they deserve to be an orphan. God’s heart is for the orphan. God’s heart is for them to be made whole by being a part of his Kingdom family. I choose to be used as a jungle gym, then a soft place to land and sleep. I choose to love with abandon. I choose to love with whatever amount of God’s love I have flowing through me. I choose to go deeper, and I choose to know God’s heart…even when it breaks me.

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presence

Presence is a powerful thing. Absence is heartbreaking. But in order for the reality of presence to be the most powerful, absence in some form has to be realized.

In mid-March I stepped off of a plane onto foreign soil, and into a new normal full of presence, love and a consistent outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is overwhelming at times. A good overwhelming…one I have been aching for over the past several years.

On my first weekend in Haiti, I got out of the van at Leogane and there was a small fellow that chose me. It is an intense emotion to be chosen, and I’ve been honored to experience it before in other places where I have been stepping into the world of an orphan. The first time was 10 years ago when it changed me, and I thought it would never happen again. It did, and it has again…a few times over.

I wasn’t expecting it so soon. I thought it would take time, since I’ve got nothing but time to invest and love over the next year or so.

But this little guy stood out like God had placed a neon sign over his head…just for me.

We colored, we put stickers on a foam sheet and we were present. He was content to just sit in my lap or climb in my arms, and I was content to let him.

God marked that moment…my first village, my first weekend on the ground, my first experience with Global Orphan Project in Haiti as well as the amazing realization that I get to come back to this place and these kids every other week, if not every week. God marked all of those moments with the presence of Chales.

The next week as I accompanied another team out to Leogane, I didn’t see him and other kids were pulling on me. I had given myself a pep talk that morning, “It’s not about forcing relationships. He might not remember you. This isn’t about me, it about supporting local church who are giving these kids what they need.”

I had no expectations, which meant when I walked out of the bus last Friday at the same village…I had no expectations when Chales was the one who hopped into my arms first.

Honestly, I had the humorous conversation in my head of “Is this is the kid I think it is? I’ve met A LOT of kids…”

IMG_3152Then I pulled out my phone and brought up the photos from the first weekend of the two of us when he was making faces in my mirrored aviators and making himself laugh. Chales looked at the phone, looked at me, looked back at the phone and exclaimed, ‘Me! Me!’ quickly followed by ‘You! You!

He never left my side the whole time our team was there. He wanted to be held. He kept touching my arms to make sure I was still there. He played with the other photos on the phone. He was so excited when he saw himself from 3 weeks earlier and kept wanting to see that first photo. That day was a blessing. A huge blessing…the blessing that is the tangible touch of God on us.

Last Monday found me dropping one team off at the airport, and joining another for their day…to Leogane.

I had one foot on the ground and wasn’t even out of the bus before he was in front of me with his arms up begging to be held. We walked the property with him on my hip, on my back, back on my hip before I was told to ‘Sit down.’ in Creole, at which point he climbed into my lap.

Just to be clear, when the kids want to be held then fall asleep in our arms, it is HOT in Haiti, and the kids start sweating when they sleep. That’s right, go for the mental image of how sweaty we are combined with how sweaty they get…mmhuh…there, you got it.

I am in Haiti, because God’s story intersects with my own. I am here because God’s presence in my life give me opportunities to make choices to obey his calling. God’s story is massive. He is the God who reigns over the entire universe. We get to be present within God’s story and live in God’s truth. My story gets to claim a piece of God’s story, and God grafts it into his overall story. Each person that travels down here gets to claim their part of God’s story in Haiti. These kids transform lives. Haiti transforms lives, and sends teams back to tell the story in their home congregations and groups.

God calls us all to be story tellers wherever he might have us in the world. It is exactly how Jesus sent the disciples out to bear witness to what they had seen. If the disciples had not been story tellers…we would not be believers.

IMG_3392Our world is beautiful, but it is most beautiful in the moments that God graces us with a picture of his Kingdom. His Kingdom was alive and present when my story and the story of an orphan named Chales collided as he fell asleep in my arms in the exact place he was in my arms 4 weeks earlier. And then God brought the revelation that I would be back in that place…soon. It was not a 5 day trip, or a 10 day visit to some amazing kids for me. I get to come back, and that is something I have been felt called to for a long time.

As I was leaving I was thanking the pastor for allowing us to come, when his immediate response was, ‘We wait for you to bring more friends to us!’

Then I asked, ‘Pastor, what is Chales’ story?’

Pastor responded with, “Oh! That boy there? He is from a village far, far away on the coast of Haiti. Water came in, and took his whole family out and he was the only one left. A pastor friend of mine called and said, ‘Can you take this boy?’ and I could not refuse even though it was so far, far away.”

As Chales slept, combining a gargantuan amount of his sweat with my own, he would startle in his sleep and his little hand would tighten around my neck to make sure someone was still there. Holding him that close all day made me very aware of the smell of urine on him. Nightmares? Bullying? Only God knows. I will never forget that tight grip of a boy who saw his family taken away, lost everything he knew and found himself in a place with 80 other kids far away from home.

It is the telling of the moments when our stories collide in this world, when God marks us and allows us to see glimpses of his Kingdom, that further the Kingdom of God more than a sermon (sorry, Shawn!), a worship song (sorry, Jules!) or conference. In the absence of God through our sin, we find the presence of something powerful through story telling that brings us face to face with salvation which always pushes us back to the heart of God and into his presence.

It is in your willingness to be present, and not distracted by the things of this world, when God is showing up that finds your story to colliding with his. It is being obedient to God. It is loving him so much that it physically pains you to be separated from him. It is believing that God shows up in relationships and community.

Be a story teller. Be willing to share yourself with others. Be open to loving unconditionally. Be a risk taker. Be a Kingdom walker. Be present.

calling

When I was in college, before I left for China for the summer, a friend wrote a scripture out for me on a piece of paper the size of a fortune that would be in a fortune cookie.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28]

I’ve been reminded of this verse many times over the last 13 years since she gave it to me and I taped it into the front of the smaller Bible I take on mission trips.

I was reminded again when I randomly found this verse crafted into metal art at a store a week ago when I accompanied a friend who was buying items for the souvenir shop at Jumecourt. Obviously, I bought it. Worth every penny.

But reminders are not enough when it comes to a word imbedded into the verse.

More specifically…

Called according to his purpose for them.

I love this word and I love this verse, but for a lot of people that is intimidating. It could be because they haven’t invested the time with God to know what their calling is in his Kingdom. It could be that they are in denial of something God has called them to in his Kingdom. Or even that they know what God is calling them to, but it seems too risky and difficult to do while living comfortably with a good job that takes care of a family.

Acknowledging your calling from God requires a massive amount of faith, even more self-awareness and most of all a strong commitment to prayer and discernment consistently.

And those things take time and deep trust with the one who created us.

Although having that answer of what your calling is doesn’t make everything complete and your  life easy. There have been a multitude of times that I have questioned that everything was actually going to work together for the good of my calling. There are always people who will question your calling, and even tell you that you are not good at what you are called to do. Then others who don’t approve of choices you make within your calling, and heap negativity onto it. In those moments, the only voice you need to hear is the one who has called you. I have many failures under my belt, along with a pretty healthy amount of bad habits and people I have offended with my words and actions. I am the farthest from perfect you can get…but it is within those imperfections that God has not only affirmed my calling, but sharpened it to a specific area.

Since I became a believer there was a strong pull to God’s mission. It was never separate for me. Always hand and hand. It wasn’t until a few years ago I realized that wasn’t true for everyone.

After a decade of living a calling to global mission, God moved me into a place of learning and trusting him through massive amounts of surrender. It was hard. It was painful. But it was worth it. Through that time, God showed me a specific area of brokenness that he wanted me to focus on in his Kingdom.

He chose me to fight for those that have no voice. For those that have been abandoned. For those that cannot trust or love easily, because they have been hurt by broken people living in a broken world. For those that have no one to champion them.

He chose me to be passionate about orphans in a global context.

The most thrilling part of all this is that he also landed me in an organization whose sole focus is orphan care through the local church. It is what brought me to Haiti, and it is what will sustain me on the days that living here is hard.

Only the God I serve with everything in me could have orchestrated this amazing timing, place and people I get to work with to be so specific to my calling in his Kingdom.

It’s more than exciting…it is life giving. When you experience living in the middle of what God has called you to, it is the most incredible feeling in the world, which makes every single word of Romans 8:28 the very breath of God to a soul that is craving their piece of God’s Kingdom life.

stories

I love stories! I love telling them, but more often I love hearing them. I have random stories that like to pop up in conversation, then I have the stories that are a bit deeper and are more likely to share when I am asked.

Stories of the places I have been in the world are one of those that I typically get asked questions. Several months ago, I had a student that asked about my last trip to Russia. She asked at a point in time where student ministry chaos was abounding, so my response to her was ‘I would love to tell you, let’s get together and talk about it!’

The next month I get a text from her: ‘I want to get coffee, and just sit and talk.’

First…I do that really well. Coffee and talking. Talking and coffee. Second, though, in the many years I’ve done student ministry…this is a loaded text. Let me assure you that those conversations can range anywhere from ‘I got a bad haircut and my life is ending.’ to struggles with suicide.

But this time, it was story time! We sit down and she says to me, ‘Tell me everything about your last Russia trip!’

Obviously, I could never pass up that invitation…and the conversation carried on for almost 3 hours. Get me started on the things I am passionate about and this is what happens! I would say one thing and she would ask five questions about it, I would head into a different story and she would again ask me several questions.

One of the things I love about students is their curiosity, and their ability soak so much in and work to digest it. They ache to see God’s at work. They desire to know what it feels like to have the Holy Spirit leading them. They are thirsty for God’s word to be real in their lives. They want truth, and if you try to BS them…they will call you out. They scream out at the injustices in the world. They are a passionate bunch, and they are seeking relationships around them that are loyal, trusting and PRESENT.

A few weeks later, I was walking into the Student Ministry Building and my friend jumped up off the floor and ran to be yelling, ‘Steph! Steph! I have to share something with you!’

She had led a group at school in a devotion, and had used my stories about orphans in Russia to open the eyes of other students to the ways God is at work in our world and how the Kingdom is alive around us. She was so excited that she was able to share the stories that I had shared with her in order to push the truth of the Gospel forward.

Jesus told stories. A lot of them actually. After his death…how did the Gospel spread? How was God’s truth carried forward? A ton of Holy Spirit…but by stories being told. Witnesses actually baring witness to what they saw.

Too often we contain the ways God is working in us so that it is only ours.

That makes me incredibly sad, because stories are still worth their weight in the Gospel. I see it every day, as well as the impact of a story being told.

Stories are a beautiful thing, but the beauty of a story cannot be realized unless someone is willing to give it a voice.

justice

IMG_2445It is impossible to read the Bible and not see that justice is a theme from start to finish. It is even in the birth of Jesus. Was it fair his parents had to travel? Was it fair that he was born in a barn? Was it fair Herod wanted the baby dead, so he had all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem killed?

In Luke 1, we find an often unnoticed piece of scripture referred to as Mary’s song. Even in the midst of a sudden pregnancy, dealing with the real fear of being an outcast and knowing that Joseph would not reasonably be allowed to marry her now…Mary sings of God’s justice:

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. [Luke 1:50-53]

If we perceive ourselves as believers, we cannot ignore the things God and his people in the Bible cared about. God created an entire year to forgive debts of each other. God freed slaves. The prophets continually pointed God’s people down paths of fighting against injustice. And the ultimate action…sent his son in the form of a baby to grow up and die on a cross so that we could be freed from the bondage of sin. As believers we have the gift of grace, and as believers we have the opportunity to fight for the things that will work to set things right.

What would happen if we stopped adamantly arguing about whether it is Christian to cuss, and started fighting for the things that God wants us to actually fight for…would we discover we are stronger as a whole community? Would we be stronger as a body of believers? Would we be better at making God’s Kingdom look like something everyone wants to be a part of?

It turns my stomach the litany of things that believers choose to fight with each other about. I could take up paragraphs upon paragraphs of examples, and honestly, that makes me sick, too.

If we stopped fighting among believers, would we actually make those that have turned from God and embraced a world of atheism reconsider the truth and love of God?

If we stopped arguing about petty things, and focused on core salvation issues…would we be seen as a community that would be a reflection of God’s acceptance?

We can be strong together. But we have to choose it. We have to stop judging and tearing each other down as believers. This behavior isn’t new. It happened all of the time in the communities Paul was traveling to in the New Testament. He had to write whole letters to correct behavior, so that the community would be seen as an extension and good example of God’s love.

Who is writing us letters? Who is holding us accountable? Where are the prophets to call us out on the things we are doing to distract people from the goodness and truth of God? Where are the people with a message of reconciliation? Where are those that bring hope instead of destruction? Where are those that fight against injustice in our world?

We can be stronger together fighting for justice…for the things that break God’s heart, but will we claim the courage to choose it?

awake

I strongly dislike mornings. If I am awake early, it is purely strong black sludge in a mug that makes me appear human.

Which means I am a night owl. I love the quiet of night, and if you look at the time stamps of when I post you will notice a pattern of time of day when I get my inspiration to write.

There are times that I have the best intentions of going to bed early, then the next thing I know I am still awake past midnight.

I watch TV. I listen to music. I read. I pray. I write. I ponder…a lot.

My brain tries to process the day and who I was with, who did I not see that I need to check in with, what needs to be done tomorrow…the list goes on and on.

But one of the last things that play through my mind while I am still awake are the places that have made a mark on my soul, and changed me.

They take turns. China. Russia. Haiti. Liberia. College. Friendships. Arguments.

Tonight I find myself doing the math as to what time it is in Russia. Right now, the kids are probably studying and it’s almost lunch time. How was their morning? How much snow did they get last night? (This thought is normally followed by a quick check of the weather, which is a snowy 17 and feels like 7 during the day while it is 11 and feels like -3 in KC overnight.) Did they wear the hats and gloves they were so excited about last month? It’s banya (bath) day, who will try to skip and not get caught by caregivers? Sergei is the best bet or maybe Dima S. Is Valya still in the hospital with pneumonia? Has Danil decided to not be as psycho today? Did someone tease Lena and make her sad? Who made Gera smile today? What has Vika drawn? Was Larisa more of a kid or mama today? What new poem has Stas memorized and did the superhero cape get pulled out and worn? Have the boys seen the soccer world cup groupings that came out? Has Dima kept control of his anger issues? Which Americans wrote a letter that might get delivered today by Yulia, our discipler?

These are orphans I know by name. They struggle with most of the same things our kids struggle with, but with the added scars of not being accepted by their culture and living with abandonment issues.

I was being obedient in my calling to international mission when God woke up a huge part of my soul in a small village orphanage with 50 kids, and he’s kept my passion alive for justice ever since.

One of my favorite songs is ‘Wake Up’ by All Sons and Daughters, and it always reminds me of this verse in Ephesians:

‘Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”‘ [Ephesians 5:14]

The chorus of the song is ‘Wake up all you sleepers. Stand up all you dreamers. Hands up all believers. Take up your cross…’

When you lie awake at night, what are you thinking about? What has God made you awake for?

Or better yet…what is God trying to wake you up to…or have you been choosing to press snooze?

The truth is this world is waiting for a lot of believers to wake up. Whether you have believed in the truth of the universal reign of God for an hour, a day, a month or 50 years…too many believers are asleep to the mission impulse God put in each one of us.

It’s there. Dig deep. Maybe chisel down to lay some of your scars bare to find it.

Because this world desperately needs your compassion, discerned words, unconditional love and faith in the world beyond this one.

Choose to be awake.

This post is part of a blog series using the Rethink Church Advent photo-a-day word. If you use Instagram follow #rethinkchurch or #rethinkchristmas.

flood

There are many things in our lives that there is no physical action we can take. And that is not only a horrible helpless feeling, but also a feeling of frustration when there is nothing we can do to make something change.

When we find ourselves limited we turn to the only thing we have left as believers…prayer.

Today as I’ve been thinking about the Rethink Church word of the day for advent, I keep having prayers pour out as I think of the word ‘flood.’ So today, my offering to you is a prayer…

Flood us with your wisdom so we would use filters on our words to others.

Flood us with your creativity so that we would point you out through art and imagination.

Flood us with your discernment so we would know the difference between right and wrong, and where you are in the choices we make.

Flood us with compassion to reach out to those hurting and alone this Christmas season.

Flood us with humility so we wouldn’t make things about ourselves.

Flood us with patience for those around us when we are tired and burnt out.

Flood us with a strong sense of justice to fight to right the wrongs in our world.

Flood us with purpose to be the person you call us to be.

Flood our souls with rest so we would be energized and ready to pour into relationships you place around us.

Flood us with your love so that we will always be an extension of you.

Amen.