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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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.

peace

I struggle with peace. I think it is because I crave it so much.

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A cross cut out of a bullet from the wars in Liberia, West Africa.

Everywhere I look and every situation that blocks my path is conflict, selfishness, gossiping, people hurting people, and then expanding into countries fighting countries and the injustices around the world. My heart breaks for those struggling with thoughts so plagued with being alone that their mind convinces them they should end their life in this world. There is so much pain in this world.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just what comes up every year at Christmas. This is not a guilt complex I get once a year. This is what I think about, and the things I have to yell at to be quiet so I can fall asleep at night. Things are happening to people I love that shreds the fabric of my soul.

I don’t just say I am passionate about orphan ministry in our world. I know the names of orphans in our world. They are real to me. They have personalities and characteristics…they like to make me laugh and trust me with their words. But it is not them I worry about, because I know they know we love them and they are not alone. My mind drifts to orphans in all countries who have no family to guide them, or worse…abandoned by family because they think that is the best way for them to survive. No child should ever face those issues. Where is their peace?

I have held children with discolored hair due to malnutrition. It is impossible to walk away from those moments unchanged…doing your best to not punch someone in the throat with the anger that bubbles up. There is plenty of food in our world to sustain our population, and we have children and whole families going hungry. Where is the peace in hunger?

I get nauseous when I think about the young girls that are sold into sex-trafficking. Doesn’t anyone realize that if the industry demanding those girls ended…they would no longer be sold? Is it really that hard to keep it in your pants, so these girls would never know that pain and could stay with their families? It seems so simple, yet in a world plagued and suffering under the temptations and realities of sin…this is our world and where is the peace?

Peace on earth is unrealistic until the day all evil is wiped out. Anyone else ready for that day?

Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ He knew that belief in him would cause division, and he knew it would come at a price. He was more aware than anyone at the evil in this world as he hung on a cross, put there by the religious people of that time.

But he also knew what belief in his father’s Kingdom meant…

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.” [Revelation 21:3-5]

Jesus himself knew the struggle we would have, so he points us toward the coming Kingdom. He says a day will come that this will all be cleaned up, and while I am gone you can do something about it. Hear that, because we are not meant to sit on our asses and do nothing until that day comes.

I see peace in beautiful sunsets, mountains, oceans and lakes…because I see a reflection of the beauty of God. The same reflection we are supposed to be as believers.

I see peace in the laughter of orphans.

I see peace in the smile of a child holding a bottle of juice as though it is liquid gold.

I see peace in a community that is committed to fighting together for injustice…setting aside their differences and arguments to fight side-by-side for God’s Kingdom.

I see peace in messages from International Justice Mission when they have rescued more girls out of brothels.

I sense peace in the quiet moments God knows I need to rest…even when it is forced rest.

But I will never be at peace in this world. No one will. It’s impossible. There is too much war, suffering and indifference at both to bring peace. God is the only one who will bring real peace. But there are so few in the world who are willing to stand for change…real change. God-directed, Kingdom-focused change that will transform this world. I ache for the peace of that transformation. We all should, because too much is not right in this world…which is why each of us needs to figure out where God has called us individually and as a community to make things right where it has gone so very wrong. Let us be agents fighting for peace, so that we are seen as a reflection of the one we serve.

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.

fire

Fire fall down
Fire fall down
On us we pray
As we seek
Fire fall down
Your fire fall down
On us we pray 

Show me your heart
Show me your way
Show me your glory 

Several months ago I was with some students on a mission retreat. Our students love mission trips. And they are greatly impacted by serving others so we had planned a low key service and worship retreat. What that meant was our worship was a djembe drum and one guitar. The students had learned a new song a few months before, and I hadn’t heard it yet.

I will never forget my reaction to their deafening praise on what we like to think of the ‘jam’ at the end.

As they worshipped all I could think was…they have no idea what they are asking in these words, because it they did, then they wouldn’t be worshipping like this to these lyrics. They can’t possible know what that means. They can’t possibly be ready for that. They don’t know what they will be igniting among themselves. They aren’t prepared for that…

That thought has stuck with me for months…through our mission trips with both age groups. Then through worship and though seeing their favorite worship verses posted on social media.

In the back of my mind, when we sing those words, the thought keeps nagging me that they have no idea what they are asking of God…but it keeps colliding with a second thought.

That they do know.

They know that God’s power is infinite. They know that the Spirit of God cannot be contained. They know how strong their community is, and that God is fiercely among them. They know that the Holy Spirit is empowering and flowing through people all around them. They know that they are being called to incredible purposes in the Kingdom of God. They know he is igniting them to be change. They know he has set his people apart to be his heart for the world in all contexts, not just checking off ‘doing good’ on a list each week. They know that through their praise to the God who reigns…the God over the universe…that his definition of who they are at the core of their soul is the only one that matters.

Fire fall down…on us we pray.

Last Sunday on my birthday, the Worship Center set list had ‘The Stand’ at the end. One of my greatest gifts on Sunday was waiting for the chorus to come, looking toward where the students sit…and seeing their hands fly up in the air as they sang:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

My prayer is that fire does fall down on them, and in ways they cannot even imagine, because they do know what they are asking.

They know because on Sunday nights the Holy Spirit is so thick it is actually tangible in the room. You can feel it when you walk in. It’s electric. It’s God present to those worshipping with their entire hearts. The whole reason they worship is their craving of connection to their Father, because they know they need that connection wherever they go. Especially when at the core of their worship is an undeniable thirst to be a force for good against injustice, and to live as God’s sent people.

Their service fuels their worship. Their worship fuels their service. It is a beautiful cycle with God’s word woven through both.

So God, bring that fire down, because I know this generation is capable of doing great things for the Kingdom. Honestly, it’s an honor to know them and pour what I’ve been taught into their hearts. But the injustice happening to the students right now is that there is a minority of people that are committed to pouring into them as disciples of Jesus. There is much to learn from our students, but there is also much that could be given in relationships from a community of believers. Holy Spirit, move in the hearts of your people and let your fire fall down on all of us.

*Fire Fall Down and The Stand, both by Hillsong United*

 

reasons

IMG_4520It’s too expensive.

It takes too long to get there.

You have to use translators.

The money would be better spent on helping orphans than sending you to travel there for a week.

You name it, I’ve heard it regarding the reasons NOT to travel to Russia, and spend time with our kids over the last 10 years. And yes, it’s been that long, insane…I know.

But what happens when the discernment of calling, self-examination through prayer and the need of the kids to have a physical presence far outweigh the price tag?

You cannot put a price on relationship.

You cannot put a price on encouragement.

You cannot put a price on a hug.

You cannot put a price on giving a child hope because someone is supporting them and choosing to believe in their future.

You cannot put a price on family.

The orphans in Russia are put into a category that places a stigma on them as worthless and inferior to all other Russians. Simply because their parents either got in trouble with the law, abandoned them or died. They are told that they deserve to be in that orphanage by their culture…because no one wanted them.

They are considered broken.

It’s not fair, and it ignites God’s sense of justice in me.

It puts innocent kids in situations they are not equipped to navigate. It creates a mistrust of everything and everyone in each of those kids. It makes them feel alone, and unloved. How can anyone expect them to trust a loving God they cannot see when each person around them has broken their concept of love and trust?

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That it not God’s heart for them…and it is wrong, very wrong.

I have had the privilege of a front row seat for the change in the kids as they grow closer to their American friends. I’ve grown those relationships myself with two incredible gentlemen. I’ve experienced the change in them as they are poured into by someone who genuinely cares for them and wants nothing in return. I’ve seen students push themselves harder in school while encouraged by the love of another. I’ve seen them develop a sense of family with someone who is thousands of miles away.

I’ve seen God ignite a passion for his children in so many people that choose to make a difference in the lives of some phenomenal kids.

Mission is about God’s heart for the world. It is about righting the wrongs of this world, and believing that each of the wrongs that get righted moves us closer to God’s Kingdom.

I passionately believe God has called each one of us to a specific purpose, and within that purpose we find ourselves as the best we can humanly be in his image.

Some God has called to their neighbors. Some God is calling to the urban core. Others God calls to disaster areas. And yet others are called to the crazy world of global mission. We don’t choose our calling…but we get to choose to live it.

Many times over the last 10 years I have found myself examining my heart for the orphans of Russia. It is expensive. It is far away. The language is hard. It is a completely back-ass-ward country.

Yet every time I return to God and ask, ‘Still?’ the answer is consistently a resounding ‘Yes!’ with an aside of ‘Please stop asking!’

I’ve learned over time  it’s not worth it to argue with God…therefore I choose to live in my calling, and choose to love and support kids that are stronger because of God’s love  flowing through his people.

*If you feel pulled to help me live in my calling, consider checking out my photography at sojourner4jesusphotography.com. I am currently fundraising for the next opportunity to serve God in Russia this November.*

dresses

I hate dresses. Really. Huge hatred for dresses. I don’t have good mobility. I have to cross my legs…the list could go on. I’m just a jeans and fleece girl. I remember when I was a kid, my mom and aunt were trying to get me to like a particular one that was white with big huge flowers on it, I think I was about 9 and it was for a wedding…ugh, bad memories!

I didn’t like them as a kid, and I only wear them as an adult for other people. About 1-3 times a year I succumb to ‘a dress would be best in this situation.’ Easter being one of them, and several people tried to catch photos on their phones. Now what are they going to do with that?

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In high school I didn’t go to prom as a junior, and my friends talked me into going as a senior. The last thing I wanted to do was find a prom dress…or ask a guy to go with me! But it was what was expected. I did have fun, and actually had a date who was a good dancer. But it wasn’t about the dress or how I looked, it was the friends I was with instead…

As much as I hate dresses, there are a million girls who love them, and a million girls who cannot wait to go to prom and live out the fairy tale. I’m just not a fairy tale girl. I’d prefer to watch Duke play over The Bachelor, and action/superheroes over chick flicks. When a friend was talking about the price of engagement rings yesterday, I actually said, ‘I think I’d want a big-ass TV instead of huge bling.’ I’m ‘girly’ in other ways…I’m just not a ‘frilly’ girl. I love to cook (and yes, I know boys cook, too), and don’t even get me started on my art side.

Yesterday I saw our church turn into a community center, and it was beautiful. Bus loads of girls came in to our Prom Boutique held for the first time in our Worship Center. They have been doing it for 9 years, many of those years in our gym. In one day of the 5 day boutique, they had over 400 dresses given away.

Girls were everywhere trying on dresses. The Worship Center had been turned into a actual store with several dressing rooms set up. But there still wasn’t enough space for the hundreds of girls here to find the perfect Prom dress.

Girls were in bathrooms. Girls were in the Lecture Hall. Boys bathrooms where turned into dressing rooms. Our bride’s room was a satellite dressing room, perfect with the mirrors on the walls.

IMG_9472And all of the seating areas around the WCC Café? They became waiting areas for dads, bothers and boyfriends.

Yesterday afternoon there was so much life in our church building that it was as though you could touch the energy itself with your fingers.

I cannot even imagine this week how many young ladies will come through our doors that have had a bad experience with ‘church.’  Who have been outcast for their sexual orientation, rule breaking, ‘sinful’ living or *gasp* teen pregnancy. Just because you have made a bad choice does not outcast from you a group of believers that follow a Lord who served the prostitutes, adulteresses, tax collectors, broken and poor. That should give you an engraved invitation to be loved and brought into the family.

IMG_9452The ladies serving in the Prom Boutique have a beautiful opportunity to not only provide a dress, some jewelry, shoes and perhaps a handbag…they have a opportunity to touch the life of a young teenager.

To show the love, compassion, kindness and grace that Christ desperately wants these ladies to know personally. Because the truth is you never know what a kind word or a quick smile, in a room where 825 worshipped that Jesus had risen last Sunday, will mean to someone. I guarantee you there is some Holy Spirit in that room.

Join me in praying for these servants and the lives they will be touching this week. That they may be renewed and refreshed by King Jesus, and that they would be discerning of interactions God has prepared for them to be a physical piece of Him.

I may hate dresses, but there are over 400 girls just yesterday that say I am the minority…and that’s ok because the mission of God is progressing while I’m whining about wearing heels.