men

I’ve seen countless women answering God’s call to be present within the orphan window around the world. Obvious reasons feed into why women are drawn to orphan care. Each has an innate way they nurture, love and care for others. I’ve even been surprised to see some of these qualities come out in myself. What I really wish is that social expectations for those qualities in men were higher, with much respect for what they already bring to the table.

Realistically, I would trade 5 of these phenomenal, Jesus’ lovin’ women drawn into orphan care for ONE MAN who is passionate about Jesus, willing to surrender himself and step outside his comfort zone to pour into the lives of orphans in this world and those who care for them.

No, ladies, I am not disvaluing your continual presence in the lives of orphans you care about, and it is always a joy digging deep into the mess of relationships with the kids and laugh until I cannot breathe with you. I am emphasizing the importance of men who are not afraid to show they love Jesus in the lives of kids who have been abandoned, and have few examples of the strength found in men that embrace their love for Jesus, and then their love for wife, family and friends.

If you hear one thing let it be that orphan care is not for one gender or the other. It is equal opportunity for all to be active in God’s Kingdom. Let me also clarify that orphan care is all inclusive of many different people in our world. When you define an orphan as someone who has no one to champion them…that busts open a new worldview to orphans being elderly, single moms, widows, foster kids, abandoned kids, kids with no parents, kids with parents in jail and the teenager down the street whose parents have decided they are done parenting.

Orphan care is also not just for those of us who happen to be called beyond the borders of the United States. It is for every believer living in God’s Kingdom who is a neighbor, employee, spouse, parent, sports enthusiast…the list goes on. Orphans surround you on a daily basis. Granted some are living in far more extreme situations than the neighbors of those that are reading this, but to God each orphan is equal to the next. No orphan is loved more by God based on the situation they find themselves.

IMG_1114I’ve had some unique opportunities to see men active in the lives of orphans around the world in the last month. In October, there was a group of 22 that came down to Haiti. Four in that group were women. Do the math…that’s eighteen of the male variety. What I saw in that group was the admiration on the kids’ faces as the men led games. Joy when a kid found themselves on the top of a man’s shoulders. Intense concentration as a man’s hair was braided, then pride in the result. Complete abandon as men held them and ‘hopped’ them through a potato sack race. There is great responsibility when a man steps into the life of an orphan, because that child of God is looking at how they treat the wife and kids they are traveling with, as well as the others on the team. They are watching, because they don’t see it very often.

IMG_5081The kids rarely have men play with them, and each of those interactions is a mark on a young boy or girl that has few models to look to in their life. I love the translators that work with us in Haiti. They have genuine love for the kids they see, and it’s no coincidence that the kids gravitate to these strong men who love Jesus. A few months ago one of the male social workers was at the village when a group pulled in to visit. He had a swarm of older teenage boys hanging around him as they kicked a soccer ball around. Another village we support has mamas and papas who live with the kids. The respect the kids have for the papas who are with them every day is evident. When you look around the village you see a lot of women taking care of the kids, cleaning clothes, cooking meals and male Pastor who is leading them all. What is absent from the daily life of most villages is the presence of good, strong examples of what it looks like to be men who passionately loves Jesus and choose to be present with the kids. There is definite strength in the women surrounding the kids, but God wants to use the presence of men in the kids’ lives to enrich their view of his Kingdom, too. Does it help an orphan connect with God when they see the real life example of what it is to be a man running after his Father’s heart? It was beautiful watching the kids come alive around the men on the team, but equally beautiful watching the men come alive as the kids soaked up the time they were given.

He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers; or else I will strike the land with a curse. [Malachi 4:6]

My hope is that men would inspire men to go deeper into God’s heart for the orphan, but that means time and loyal investment into the messy areas of orphan care. It means making time to walk through life with someone else. It means spending time with other men struggling through a calling to be present in the lives of orphans. It means digging deep into relationship and in the best case scenario…discipleship. And ladies, it means no guilt trips when your man is working through answering his calling. Take pride in that with him and support him, even if that means a fraction of time away from your family. He will be a better dad and husband for answering God’s calling…I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Recently I traveled with a group to visit the kids in Russia that we have known for six years. These are short visits with long-term commitment that God is richly showing up in as we gain shared memories with the kids. Kids and their American friends write letters throughout the year, and once a year we get to physically be present to connect with kids, as well as their caregivers, teachers and the man who directs them all. These relationships have taken years to develop and much patience with God laying a base of trust. It has been a hard road, but worth every messy minute to be a part of what God is doing now.

IMG_5817This year we had four people, two men and 2 women, after several years of only one man traveling on our yearly visit. Much time was spent with these fellas being goofy, leading activities and allowing themselves to simply be present in the moments God put before them. We spent a lot of time in the gym, and there was a constant line of boys challenging the American men to different athletic endeavors. But it wasn’t just about a show of strength, it was about connection. It was about how you act when you lose, and how you represent yourself in a game. It’s about taking opportunities to be on the same team. It is about a young boy looking at an older man and craving to be known by someone that cares about them. It is about the moments in conversation where life is shared. It is about respect. Men crave respect, and it is no different when you are 14 or 55. How a man respects another man in the context of a challenge shows their character, and as far as the character in the lives of the Russian kids…not many take the time to pour into it.

One of the conversations I had with the orphanage director this year was how impressed we were with the amount of college and university students he had this year. He humbly blew off the compliment with a response that they may be getting good grades, but their character is lacking. His example was how he can provide for them and they can get good enough grades to move on, but after that it is up to them while living on their own. I’m praying God will raise up Russians to help pour into his concerns, at the same time I know we will seeking God in ways we can help support him to grow character in the kids. It is God’s Kingdom community working together that dissolves language barriers and country borders.

I am blessed to know many men who are active within the orphan window and passionately love Jesus. These men have incredible character, and love for their families. I get to see every aspect of these men come alive while being present with some incredible kids. It’s in those moments I see God’s Kingdom come to life.

Many of the kids I know names and faces of throughout the world never knew their father. The fathers are the ones that, unfortunately, are more likely to not take responsibility for their families. I also know many men that are taking responsibility, whose character is strong and love for Jesus is written all over their lives. I believe God is calling these men to call out the men who have not taken responsibility for their families. I get that it’s hard. I get that you don’t think it’s your responsibility. I get that it’s easier to pretend that single mom is doing great on her own, but if you are a great father then disciple other men to be great fathers. Imagine an absentee father on his knees asking forgiveness of his children, imagine the grace possible…imagine the picture of a family restored because a community of men came around another man whose relationship with God needed restoration. A Kingdom life restored to God’s glory. Men, it’s time to be men…real men who stand up for what is good, right and just in this world. Hold fathers accountable to being present with their families, and keep their family unit whole. Embrace how God has created you and lead with confidence.

He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers; or else I will strike the land with a curse. [Malachi 4:6]

God is calling men to take seriously the spiritual role as head of their families. God is calling the men who already are to disciple those that are not leading their families. God is calling men to seek the gentleness, playfulness and compassion within the strength he has given them. God is calling men of all backgrounds to be present and pour into the orphans of this world…the real question is which of those men will have enough crazy and courage to say yes.

 

 

 

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prayer

“Stephanie, where do I go to pray for you today? I’m sitting at my table, coffee in my right hand and my Bible in my left.”

It’s not every day that you get emails that start with those words…so many emotions in those simple words. The reality that someone cares enough to intentionally sit down and pray for me is one. But also someone who cares enough to put some spiritual muscle behind sending me a Bible verse, or three because it couldn’t be narrowed down, that is only for me.

It is all a part of being known. Isn’t that one of our basic human emotional needs? To pray for me is one thing, but to know them well enough to pray for me without a litany of prayer requests to read down requires us to know one another.

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And very clearly we are friends who know one another, because she knows that I would care that she was also drinkin’ her mornin’ cup, or five, of joe. Birds of a feather and all…I’m writing this while drinking a delicious cup myself.

My precious friend ended up sending me the best Bible verses, and she wasn’t the only one last week.

A group of us participated in an experiment last week. Pray for one person each day, and send them a Bible verse. Simple enough, right? It started with a spreadsheet, because they are cool. Then some of us forgot, which meant others got two verses in one day…but it wasn’t about our crazy lives and forgetting to email, mostly because we were intentionally praying for each other every day for seven days.

Which at this point, I should also mention, that NONE of us like to pray out loud. When we are together and it is ‘time’ to pray. Crickets. Crickets. Crickets. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

Prayer is a lot of things though…a thought, a whisper, a doodle, a word, a song, a painting. We limit our connection to God when we see prayer as something only done at meal time or ‘church’ events. We also limit that connection when we think only Pastors have the ‘right’ prayers. There is no ‘right’ prayer. There are no ‘right’ words. God takes all of them, and more so, knows your heart. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth.

Despite our aversion to praying out loud, this week we found a new way to connect through prayer and it was exhilarating. One day, I got scripture that I had significantly connected to while in China about loving people that are hard to love. For whatever reason, only God knows, it led me to spending a lot of time last week praying for China, the folks I knew and the Americans I traveled with for a summer.

It was also eye opening. Without knowing prayer requests we quickly realized we were left to how well we knew each other and what was happening in our lives, especially with the added piece of giving them a part of God’s word. Prayer is a connector to God first and foremost, but we also found that prayer is a connector to each other as well.

Without our connection to our God and Holy Spirit, and without strong relationships that we can depend on…we are left alone, hopeless and cut off. That, most assuredly, is not a strong community of believers, and definitely not one that the God of the universe will use to restore His Kingdom back to wholeness.

At the start of our week of intentional prayer, I was nervous that some would ‘forget’ or worse…not get into the whole prayer every day thing. For some it pushed on the boundaries of our comfort zones, because Bibles were being opened daily and prayer life was getting a jolt. However, our God is a God of grace, love and mercy – the relationship kind, and he SHOWED up. Big time.

We ended up going above and beyond simply prayer and scripture, and found ourselves encouraging each other. Even finding God encouraging us while spending more time in His word. Some found themselves lending an ear in situations, as well as all of us thinking about each other all week. We were connected, and it was a beautiful picture of community.

Don’t be the person this week that says, “I’m praying for you!” and then make it a side thought. Be intentional. Desire a community. Be connected to God through prayer for the sake of those around you. God will show up. God will work through junk. God will make the relationships around you stronger. God will enhance your discernment. It doesn’t even matter if you know what to pray for, because I guarantee you that God knows what that person needs more than a list of prayer requests would tell you.

God worked in us so much this week that we are going to be working to fill in the holes of relationships with each other that God shed light on last week. The good news is it will involve food, conversation, and of course, coffee.

wisdom

When was the last time you had no clue as to what to say to someone? No words. No answers. No problem solving. No wisdom. Just legitimate loss for what to say.

I was having this conversation with a friend tonight when afterward I got into my car and the lyrics playing as soon as the sound came on were: “When you don’t know what to say…just say Jesus.”

Just pause for a second and let that sink into your thoughts.

Sometimes wisdom does come into play. Out of all the things God felt we needed to pass on in a written form from one generation to the next…there are books in the Bible completely focused on wisdom.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” [1 Kings 3:5-9]

First we have to acknowledge that Solomon was asleep. In a unconscious, dream state…and not only is he mature and articulate, but he is asking for wisdom and discernment.

In a dream. Where he refers to himself as a child.

God does not very often show up and give the opportunity for us to ask for anything we want, then provide it based on the fact we are ah-mazing. Many of us wish that more than anything…but then again, would we be smart enough to ask for wisdom? Or would it be something frivolous?

I know several people that would ask for a car, iPad or vacation. But I also know several teens that would ask for food for the hungry, homes for the homeless and release of the oppressed.

However, my favorite part of that scripture is that Solomon wanted a ‘discerning heart’ to ‘distinguish between right and wrong.’ That is either an incredibly wise thing to ask for…or experience talking. Discernment goes beyond wisdom. It is knowing what is of God and what is not of God. We should all be asking God for more discernment based on the world we live in.

Wisdom is not about knowing everything. No one likes a no-it-all. It’s about knowing where you end, and God begins and the difference between the two. It is also about prayer and presence. Wisdom is one thing, but it is not a replacement for talking with God and having a community around you to affirm discernment.

And when you really don’t know what to say…just say Jesus.

ready

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Just when I think I am ready for something…I quickly discover I am not, which is why I choose to live with flexibility that helps me adapt surrounded by others that believe in me and what God is doing within me.

But what makes us ready for what this world throws at us?

Is it experience? Wisdom? Education? Money?

Or maybe it is faith, hope…love?

Perhaps the people that surround us make us ready for pain, hurt, challenges and disaster?

I think if we fool ourselves into thinking we are always ready for what comes, we do a huge disservice to those around us. Part of being within a community is trusting that they have your back. And when we get thrown a curve ball…we are not alone. Allow people to wrap their arms around you, support you and fight with you. Being vulnerable and honest is hard. Well, sucks really. But it is what bonds us together as God’s people.

Don’t discount the things God can do through and in you by believing that you can do it on your own. You cannot. Stop being the stubborn human that thinks they have the strength to stand alone. This is not a competition in strength, and if you live that way you are not embracing the grace of God.

God created you, filled you with the Holy Spirit and has given you opportunities to belong in community with others. You may have chosen to not take those opportunities, but they were there. He knows you, and is not surprised that you feel you need to stand alone with an ‘I got this!’ combined with a ‘Bring it on!’ mentality…but alone is not the point of being ready. It’s in the people God has placed around you that make you ready to withstand a torrent of awful…normally with a side of humility.

 

time

There is this thing that I have to remind myself…my timing is not God’s timing.

At least that is how this post started earlier today, but when I actually went to post…God was leading me to write about something else.

Which is hard, because I had the entire thing written and I was just going to reread it before I posted tonight for my Rethink Church Advent word ‘time.’

What kept sneaking into my brain is where my time dissolves…because it does. All of the time. I get to the end of the day and cannot believe it is already time to sleep again.

I love spending time with people, and I will take that over most any other option. It honestly doesn’t even matter what we are doing. I love being around people, granted I do need my down time, but I don’t do much well on my own.

When my brother was a kid I would take him out to eat so I could get him to talk to me. He had too many distractions at home with video games, TV and playing outside. Even when I would cook a meal, when it was just us, he would want to eat in front of a TV. What conversations take place then? What relationship can form without talking?

Loving sharing stories makes me a good listener, a good friend and I think I’m pretty funny…so..there’s that, too.

I learned a long time ago to never plan lunch for an hour, because inevitably I’d look down and it will have been 2 and a half hours making me, most likely, late for something.

I don’t like to rush the time I have with someone, especially if something is going on or even we are simply sharing stories. They need to know they matter, and that I’m not counting the minutes until I have to be somewhere else. They need to know I value their words and what God is doing in their life.

It doesn’t have to be a meal. I even linger over coffee. Depending on the conversation, it literally feels like God has put a bubble around us, and time doesn’t matter.

What I love most about spending time with people is the God moments that happen there. Encouraging words, Kingdom stories, pain shared, love for mission, prayers, a bond strong enough to inspire an entire community to get behind a cause…I have too many memorable moments with people to even think about writing them all down.

I walk away from each of those conversations energized, focused and excited what God is doing in the lives of people I know.

A huge part of God’s Kingdom is our taking time with each other to form community. But if we don’t invest in that time, and allow God to work among our time shared…the strength of our community suffers. Your community may be your family, coworkers, small group, athletic team or even a neighborhood group, but whatever it looks like…what have you done with your time together lately? We are truly stronger together, and God will use us wherever we are in this world.

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go

Go. It is such a tiny little word. Only two letters…yet the use of it is far reaching.

Go get me something.

Go be something.

Go away.

Go…as in constant motion and never stopping. As are most of our American lives.

But what if we slowed down? What if we counted breaths? What if we stopped the go-go-go mentality that tears as the fabric of real community and solid relationships?

What if we slowed down enough during this advent season to not just exist during Christmas, but to live and be alive as God’s people during Christmas?

What if we were nice when we tend to be mean?

What if our words were kind and thoughtful instead of hurtful and insulting?

What if we ran our arguments through a clean filter…and stopped arguing?

What if we spend less and give more?

What if we stop to appreciate beautiful moments instead of glorifying and exalting the ugly ones?

What if we honored the birth of Jesus with our actions?

What if we reflected what the Kingdom of God should look like on earth instead of making it look unappealing?

What if in going…we lived sent?

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Big responsibility? It should be, because we’ve been given the gift of grace and unconditional love. We’ve been given the gift of Jesus.

We have been given the gift of being a sent people into a hurting world to work at correcting the wrongs we have the ability to fight against.

Go? Slow down. Appreciate. Love. Live sent. Let’s not over complicate things…just be who God created you to be.

This advent I am jumping back onto the Rethink Church train, and I will be blogging a word a day while also posting a photo to my Instagram. I hope you join me, because I have a feeling we could all use some Jesus this Christmas.

warmth

They forgive you for just about anything.

They acknowledge you hate talking on the phone, so choose other ways to communicate.

They don’t judge or explode in anger when you…ok, me…when I am late.

They ask the questions that no one else would dare to ask me. Questions that challenge me. Questions that dig into my junk. Questions that make me take a hard look at myself, then discern and pray more faithfully.

They remember things about me that I sometimes wish they would forget.

They walk with me when the road is smooth, and stick with me as gargantuan boulders get tossed in my path.

They change their plans when they know they are needed.

They pass the tissues when my eyes start leaking…however rare that might be.

They see my dorky side and like me anyway.

They know I value time spent above any other way to grow relationships.

They tease me about my obsessions, and gracefully ignore my social media through Duke basketball season.

They remind me I am called, I am held accountable to God alone and the Holy Spirit is alive and active.

They see God alive in me, and hold me accountable to living a life that points back to him.

They don’t encourage me to fight on my own, they fight besides me and even in front of me…as God gives us strength, passion and purpose to fight injustice.

I will never be able to accurately and completely put into words how much warmth it puts into my soul for the community God has placed around me. From college friends to future friends…I am greatly blessed.

Community is life. Community is loyal. Community doesn’t disband when disinterest rears its’ ugly head, or the road gets rough. God did not intend for any of us to be alone. God gives you people that just ‘get’ you…truly see you for who God has created and grown you to be. And more often than not, God uses that community to speak into his Kingdom. To be a visual reminder of how the world is supposed to be…restored, healed and whole.

Community is a beautiful reflection of God’s heart for us.

But the reflection doesn’t count unless we commit to taking his message out into the world. It doesn’t count if we just hole up as a club of people who like to hang out. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to take his message to each other. That makes God’s reflection in us look awful.

When we humbly and honestly live sent for God, he ignites his mission in not only our lives but within our community. Our lives completely surrendered to him with everything else…family, work, recreation and all the communities we exist in…pointing back to Jesus.

So to my community here’s to the adventures we’ve had, for those we will ignite in others and the ones to come…your loyalty, love, encouragement, time and honesty puts an indescribable warmth in my soul and fuel my passion to reflect God’s heart in this world.