anticipation

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Anticipation…jitters…nervous…expectations…excitement.

In Russia, on our way to the orphanage for the first morning with the kids it is always a wide array of emotions.

It is one of my favorite moments of the trip, as those of us who have been before sit up straighter and crane our necks to see out of the front window to watch the landmarks count down until we arrive. This curve, that massive pothole, the bridge…the flatland, another curve. Worship music blasts in my ears as I beg God to fill me just a little bit more so that I am ready to pour myself out for him and his kids in the orphanage. The ‘newbies’ look around in confusion as though they are missing a very important part of this bumpy, crazy 20 minute long road. What they will soon understand is that they are missing the anticipation we carry of being back home.

But this moment is about more than just our excitement, heightened nerves or having found ourselves on the back roads of Russia.

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It is about seeing the affirmation on each others faces that today we are not individuals. We are one. One in Christ. One community. One family crossing language and cultural barriers. Family visiting family.

This is not a mission trip. You could make arguments for it being one, and I’ve called it that many times. But as God deepens my passion and understanding of his kingdom he morphs my definitions into his kingdom definitions. And one thing is certain…’mission trip’ and all of the connotations that come with it in the Christian-ese world we navigate, is not what we were bumping along that road to do. We travel to make sure our family knows we remember them, and we hug them so they know we love them. We tease and laugh to make new memories. And we get into real conversations about life issues so that we can ask how situations are going, how their grades are and what their hopes and dreams look like. It goes deeper than a surface relationship. It is about being known and being loved.

20131114-183138.jpgAs I share my passion with the kids for justice and serving I find myself horrified when I think they might see themselves as my ‘project.’ Because they are not a project. They are my little brothers and sisters, and they happen to fall into an area of injustice with no control of how they got there. Our relationships may have started because of my passion for orphans to know love and worth, but God tends to grow us together beyond our simple human definitions, and open our eyes to his global family. Making everything change.

As we landed in New York on our way home, I had a message from a friend that the kids were sad we were gone and wanted to know my secret for being able to laugh so much. They thought knowing my ‘secret’ might help them not feel as sad. Those questions are rooted in relationship. Those questions are rooted in trust. Those questions are rooted in family. And the answer is rooted in Jesus.

It truly was a little sister going to her big sister for advice, and in that moment it was affirmed that we had been on our annual visit to family.

On that first day we drive to Velikoretskoye, the last stretch of road to the kids is the longest out of all the days we drive there…because we are knee-deep in anticipation with the knowledge that God has created a community that is stronger together. A community that travels to visit a small orphanage in a small village in that is full of humor, love and relationships. Family visiting family.

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*

 

blessed

I thrive on relationships. I have a lot of friends, and the stories about how we became friends are pretty awesome. But today as I am reflecting on being blessed…I want to share one of those stories, so hang with me!

Fourteen years ago..whoa…fourteen years ago, I had just lost the friend that I’d written about in ‘water.’ Following that loss I went on my first mission trip. Three of those who happened to be going I’d been leaning on throughout my emotional turmoil. I felt safe, 3 people knew what was going on and knew I was intensely struggling, but they would help me when I needed it. I’d be ok.

Until one night while I was waiting to talk to one of the guys after his shower. I was sitting on the gym floor and one of our other teammates walked passed me.

She was funny, yet quiet and we’d found out on the drive out that when she slept, her eyes were creepishly open. It really freaked me out. No one really knew her, but looking back we were both on that trip for a reason.

As she passed me on the gym floor, she turned around and said, ‘Are you ok?’

I gave the customary, ‘Oh, yah. Just waiting for someone to get out of the shower.’

Then…she gave me this look. She is quite good at it, and still good at it because I just got it last week.

A head tilt, coupled with a long look squinting from the corner of her of her eye. ‘Are you sure?’ she said. She knew, just knew that I was definitely not ok and cared enough to push me on it. She has cared enough ever since, and now we always say to one another ‘What haven’t I asked that I should be asking?’

Somehow, I found it in me to trust her. It had to of been supernatural, because I was all trusted out at the moment…but my story flew out of my mouth. When my friend got out of the shower, he stopped and said, ‘Everything ok here?’ And when I confirmed it was good, he left us alone.

As I was gushing fountain of words and tears, she sat there…just listening and nodding and offering words of wisdom and encouragement.

Once all my words were gone, she quietly said, ‘I’m having a hard time right now, too, because it’s almost been a year since my mom died.’

My heart dropped. Partly because I knew my problems did not exceed the lost of a mother. And partly because she was the first one I’d run across at college who would know something of where I was coming from. Someone who could walk with me through the most trying time of my entire life. Someone who would be loyal and carry all of my secrets with her. Someone who would listen, and someone who would call me out in a productive way when I needed it.

For the duration of our college years it was a foundation built on a gym floor that blessed me with the most amazing friend who would drop anything if I called or showed up saying I needed to go for a car ride. Which was our code for I am completely emotionally unstable, and I need to get away from people or I’m going to lose it.

Her Ford Taurus saw a lot of tears, and a lot of happiness. I will never forget hearing when it came out on the radio, MercyMe’s song ‘I Can Only Imagine.’ We were in the car on the way back from volunteering with our church youth group. We both ended up bawling because we could imagine what it would be like to be with our friends and family members we’d lost, and wanted it more than anything. For a while when we were going on separate road trips, it was, ‘No car wrecks, and no dying because we have to be in the same car.’

We both had trust issues. We both were not your ‘normal’ girly girl. And we both were trying to do our best to walk in the path of Jesus. And still are…

We did a Bible Study one year that now results in our sharing a knowing look, and laugh when it comes up. It was on female roles in the Bible, and you could say we like to push the traditional boundaries. But we did it together, and whatever we did together we were able to make it through.

We road tripped to Montana one summer…middle of the night, screaming lyrics at the top of our lungs to stay awake.

That gym floor was holy ground. No one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. God created a friendship on that floor that has lasted 14 years, and will continue to go on and on.

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The last several years have been hard, especially since I suck at talking on the phone. I live in Missouri, and she and her husband have lived in Florida and now Utah.

But every. single. time. Every time, we are together, it is as if we have been next door neighbors the whole year long. She is one of the few people who truly know me…from the whole Jesus start through the mission call to now.

We were sitting at breakfast on Saturday morning before I left and her husband said something about ‘Steph doesn’t ever get mad.’ She burst out laughing and said, ‘What? You’ve never seen her lose her temper? It’s ugly. She’s good until people keep pushing her, but once you’ve pushed her too far…watch out.’ And she is completely right about my temper, because she knows me.

It is an absolute blessing to know and be known. I thrive in being known, because I can be myself and know others can appreciate how far God has taken me. I consider all of our adventures treasured memories, knowing that we have so many more to tuck under our belts.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. [Proverbs 18:24]

I am blessed beyond imagine for a lot of things…and I’ve hit the jackpot multiple times in the friend department. And for that I am incredibly grateful to the Lord I serve.

surround

Our father…all of heaven roars your name. Sing louder, let this place erupt with praise. Can you hear it? The sound of heaven touching earth…

God purposely creates moments of praise in places you would least expect. Sometimes surrounded by people you would least expect as well.

That is the most beautiful thing about the Holy Spirit…(whisper)…it’s everywhere…

Spirit break out. Break our walls down.

We get so comfortable when we are surrounded by other believers. We fool ourselves into thinking worship can only happen a certain way, and it has to be in our comfort zone. What we rarely think about is how worship surrounds us in so many ways throughout our day.

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I’ve been with Woods Chapel families this weekend, and tonight I listened to their stories about the places they served today. Kingdom House, Crisis Nursery and The Bridge in St. Louis all had part of our team working with them today. Each family has incredible stories! Each family served their Lord with all of their energy and strength.

And each one worshiped today surrounded by people whose lives have been transformed through the grace of Jesus.

King Jesus…your name we are lifting high…we wanna see your Kingdom here.

I pray you are surrounded by all kinds of people with a myriad of ways to worship, experiencing the fantastic power of the Holy Spirit. And in that moment your ears would be graced with the sound of Heaven touching earth.

(lyrics from Spirit Break Out by Kim Walker Smith)

hear

My eyes are closed and my soul is in conflict. So many things tackling my senses at once and my mind has trouble processing what my eyes have just seen.

When I open my eyes…it’s still there so far below me. The trash. The dump. The ants scurrying over it…wait, no…those are people. There are makeshift tents down there.

I shift closer to the edge of the cliff. I’m not going to fall, but I feel like I have to be seeing something wrong and a closer inspection will solve the confusion. My eyes try to make sense of the layers of color and shapes.

But my eyes are not deceiving me…the Guatemala City dump has families that live there, sorting through the trash to find food and items to sell for a meager amount. Grandparents, parents…children. Living in horrid conditions…how can the world exists like this?

My heart plummets as I am called by the rest of the team to go. Why is no one doing anything?

Assaulting my ears as I turn away is a musical sound that doesn’t fit the view I have been soaking in. My brain struggles to place the sound in this place where it shouldn’t logically survive. It is like the atmosphere was tickled with a sound so feathery light that allowed it to travels for miles unhindered.

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I hear the laughter of a child.

In a dump.

Sadness, anger and an intrepid sense of injustice washes over me as I turn to walk away from a moment that has marked me.

It’s been years since I first stood on that cliff, but ever since, my soul cannot escape the memory of that sound.

I could have very easily not heard the laughter. I could have ignored it. I could have decided to wall up that moment and never think of it again.

But God uses our senses to remind us that this world is not right and this is not what he intended. He uses those moments to ignite us to his mission…

God gave you ears to hear…but the next time he wants you to hear, will you listen?  How will you respond?

kryptonite

I have a problem. Actually it’s pretty big…seeing as how it includes 8 people…not just myself…

You know how Superman’s greatest weakness is kryptonite? Well…my kryptonite would be having the support, laughter and community of a team around me 24 hours a day…then losing it once we are home. What I still miss is the walks together…you never knew who you’d have a crazy, wonderful conversation with on the way. I miss talking while falling asleep through mosquito nets…quite the experience! I miss team meals…all around one table, talking, laughing, teasing and bestowing each other with nicknames! Which technically happened the entire time…but intensified around meals! Talking over shower stalls…borrowing Chap Stick, sunscreen, bug repellant…everyone had whatever you had forgotten.

Ironically, I also miss the view from the shower…crazy, I know. It was a small cinder block room with a stick over the top for a curtain that was at its’ best while fluttering in the wind. Not conducive for showering…my best MacGyver moment was on a particularly windy day the curtain wouldn’t stay tucked into the bucket of shower water. My shower buddy, who stayed on their side mind you, kept offering possibly solutions when I realized I could thread the Duke bag I’d brought my stuff in through the end. Talk about laughter…our shower times were humorous, how could they not be with a bucket of water and a bag of water hanging from a stick. But the view…lizards climbing on top of the wall…blue azure sky, white cottony clouds, bright green palm trees waving in the evening breeze. Let’s just say, that view is not in my bathroom…

I miss knowing someone will pick up where I left off if I accidentally drop the ball. Someone constantly has your back…where my weaknesses begin, another’s strengths continue. It is one of the best aspects of being a part of a team.

Truly, I thrive on being a part of a team. I don’t like being alone. I mean, I laugh at my own jokes, but it’s so much better when someone else does, right? Eventually, people look at me weird because I am laughing randomly in public places…all alone…

I thrive on the accountability that comes with being with the same people for 7-11 days on a mission trip. Praying before a meal was never ‘normal’ for me…and I am greatly blessed by our community praying together over our meals, at devotions, team meetings…wherever it may be. There is an intense bond that ties mission teams together, and a lot of things contribute to that, but one of those bonds are intensified by the intimate act of praying together as a community…even when not every one is comfortable praying out loud. And even better…we pray with humor, and wholly believe that God blessed us with a sense of humor because he has one! It’s not abnormal for me to laugh out loud while someone is praying…not because we don’t take it seriously…but more because we do take it so seriously that we leave nothing unsaid.

I also thrive on the energy of others, and when you are with a group of people in the international mission field…we are living off a lot of adrenaline, not to mention the undulated joy of serving as a whole team that gives an electric feel to a group. Ever wonder why those looking from the outside of a mission team wonder what sort of ‘stuff’ there are on? Well…the team is feelin’ the no-way-its-human, power of the Holy Spirit and that feeling is unlike any other in the world.

And this isn’t always relegated to international mission teams…it can be a community working for the Kingdom of God, too. The other night I was a part of a phenomenal conversation with some ladies that are walking a journey of mission. We talked about how you cannot truly be used by the Holy Spirit until you are ready to surrender the part of yourself that hinders it. Mission teams have no choice but to surrender that part of themselves…not only for God to use them the way he sent them, but in order to function fully as a community in mission…as does any community working in that fashion.

One of the other things I thrive on is the wisdom of those who have gone before me. And just in case you were curious…the Haiti team had it in spades. I am a believer in multi-generational teams that form a community based in mission. I know I don’t know everything, and I know not everyone would agree with my opinions on things…but I am a listener, and I crave the wisdom that God pours from the mouths of his people. There were moments that I would look at a teammate and thing to myself, ‘Whoa…that’s not them talkin’ anymore.’

It’s been almost a month since we left…so our team finds themselves in that time frame of will we let those moments of unbridled connection to God shape us or will we succumb to the American ‘normal’? Our team is trying to find a day to get together and see each other this week…and it’s difficult once we get back. I always tell teams…say what you need to say to each other before the last flight, because once we get to KC everyone is greeted by different people and heads out quickly. I miss this team…we conquered a lot together, created bonds that will last for years and did ministry in a community that had been ravaged by an earthquake through blood, sweat…I think the amount of sweat increases the bond…and tears.

As we’ve been sending emails back and forth, one of our teammates sent out at the end of a message, ‘One of the best groups I have been with.’ I’ve been a part of a lot of groups, but few have been so equal in all aspects of a mission team. People always ask me, what is your favorite trip? Who was on your favorite team? To make a choice would be wrong…but there are pieces of trips that make up my ‘perfect’ trip, and this team made some serious contributions!

God blesses his people who are forged in relationship and focused on working for his Kingdom…and our team was blessed beyond imagination and expectation. The glory all goes to our Father who not only took us to Haiti, but spoke and ignited a fire in each of us…in so many different ways.

So to my amazing Haiti team family…thanks for being my kryptonite! I love you all, dearly and challenge you to not lose sight of the clarity Haiti brought to God’s plan for us as individuals and as a team, as well as our hearts and souls. After all…if it weren’t for kryptonite how would Superman had known he was alive at all?

molding me

Sometimes I cannot help but relive things that have shaped me. Events sometimes send me in that direction and as God molds us, it can be so very painful…but in the end and looking back things have done so much to make me into the woman I am today. So…I have a story, about the first time I was ever on a mission trip.

It was 1999…crazy, right? I was a freshman at Drake University, and little did I know…I was on God’s radar. Life was new. Life was awesome. Then I got a phone call. It wasn’t a good phone call, and when I heard the person on the other end my roommate was so concerned that she ran to get our R.A. Catherine hadn’t known me long, but she knew I was never rendered speechless and I rarely cried…and I was both. The person on the other end of the phone shared that a mutual friend of ours had been in a car accident. And it was not looking good.

It’s so different when someone dies that had their entire life ahead of them. You cannot help but imagine what could have been…needless to say I was completely rocked when the next phone call was he didn’t make it.

I was in such a different place. I hadn’t bought in to the whole ‘Jesus’ thing yet, and my world was truly turned upside down. I honestly don’t remember much from that week…we sang ‘Season’s of Love’ at his funeral. We had done it our Senior year of high school, so it meant something to sing it at his funeral.

The very next week I’d been planning on going on my first mission trip. Just take a second to think about what state of mind I was in as we left, then let me say that’s when God got to work. My college friends so took care of me, we were really good at that…taking care of each other. When I think of Christian community in action, I think of every single person in our community who allowed Jesus to guide their actions.

God formed bonds on that mission trip that I hadn’t even know could exist. There is the bond between believers, and then there is the unbending, unconditional tie between those that have been on a mission trip together. Two of my very best friends were on that trip…and 9 years out of college, we still have tabs on each other. I’m actually texting with Rep as I type this.

We worked at the Denver Rescue Mission on that trip. What an amazing place. I’d never seen anything like it, and my idea of a homeless person was the stereotypical old man on a street with a beard holding a sign. God was getting ready to rock my foundation of whatever inkling I had of what ‘mission’ was in this world.

The most impactful moment of the trip was one of the days we prepared and served a meal. I don’t think I’ve even close to peeled the amount of potatoes I peeled on that trip in the years since I was there.

I was standing behind the counter and walks in a family…a parent and 2 kids. I don’t even remember if it was a mom or dad, because I was so focused on the kids. Homeless people weren’t supposed to be kids! Small people who cannot defend themselves, feed themselves or any semblance of taking care of themselves. They shouldn’t be on the street…but they were.

It was in that moment that God’s heart for the hurting in our world was brought to life in me. It was nothing to do with quoting scripture. It had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with God’s heart hurting for every single person on this earth and us ignoring those that fall under the Bible’s justice issues. Growing up in suburbia never prepared me for what true injustice exists.

I think this came to mind today because I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days how things scar us, change us and God’s unconditional love. It also came to mind because of the inhuman ties that bind us to those that we work so closely with to see God’s Kingdom on this earth.

I am so blessed to be able to point back to where God’s heart and my heart collided. It is why I am pulled to God’s kids in Russia. It is why my heart cries when I think of the kids orphaned in Africa because of AIDS and war. It is why I have felt called to Haiti. It is why I have been to Joplin 7 times since May. How can you ignore all of those things when God implores us to act when we see injustice?

I write this to honor a friend who had so much potential, and whose death pushed me the final steps to choose Jesus. I also write this to honor my God who had a good and perfect plan for me to work in missions…

//Stephanie//