Sunday, December 29, 2013

10 Life Lessons Learned in 2013

"The unexamined life is not worth living".  Socrates

As 2013 ends, I think it is fitting to take the time to reflect on the ups and downs of the year.  And to also reflect on some of the lessons learned throughout the year that we will take with us unto the next year and beyond.

These are the lessons I've learned throughout the year of 2013:

1) Grief does not have to be your end.  After losing my dad at the end of last year, I really thought I didn't have anything else to give to the world and my family but little by little, I started emerging.

2) Don't ever, ever give up on your dreams and life.  Man everything that could go wrong, went wrong in these past few years; financial problems, marital problems, family problems...and every time something else happened a part of me wanted to give up but there was an even stronger part of me that would not allow me to.  Listen to that stronger part and don't ever, ever give up.

3) God is real.  So I vacillate back and forth from doubt to faith but this year God reminded me once again that he is real and present in our day to day life.  Only God could allow me to interview for a job at the airport on my way to Haiti and getting the job that very night while I was in Haiti.  God is real even when he is silent.

4) Letting go of past pains and hurts is something that must be done over and over again.  I have heard many people say that "letting go is an act of obedience and once you let go it's done"; maybe for some it is; for me it has not.  For me it has been a daily process of letting go bit by bit. There are days of revisiting anger, sadness and the pain of loss. The key is to commit yourself to letting go even if it takes a while.  There is nothing wrong with one day at a time.

5) Don't be Afraid of Detours.  So I'm still processing this one but sometimes in life you know exactly where you want to go, God has revealed it to you, you have the skills for it and for whatever reason God says "not yet I want you to spend sometime here first". At first I wanted to fight God and challenge him on that decision but I've learned over the years that God makes no mistakes and to just go with it.  So I'm learning to go with it while at the same time not forgetting my passion and vision.  To Be Continued on this detour.    

6) Preparation is an important part of the process.  Do not skip over this step.  Whether you're an associate, assistant, apprentice, mentee; you're in preparation mode.  Learn as much as you can because you will be called to step up eventually.

7) Perfection is not the goal, stepping out and entering the journey is.  Golly, I tell you, I had it all wrong and this backward thinking held me back for too many years.  If you're trying to complete everything perfectly before you enter the journey, sorry to disappoint you, it will not happen.  The journey will help you hone in on skills and teach you the lessons you lack.

8) You do not need permission from others to do what God has already given you the green light to accomplish. No words needed here.  I'm so ashamed to admit this, but I waited and waited for the "right" people to say good job that I almost ruined God's calling on my life.  Needless to say, I got tired of waiting; I stopped serving for the applaud of people and started serving because I was created to do so; I became a much happier person.

9) The best way to leave a legacy is by investing on other people.  I know I may be late on realizing this truth but I'm here.  The legacy I want to leave on this earth is by investing on the lives of others.  To Be Continued; God is still working on me.

10) REST IS IMPORTANT: I love serving others but serving others can sometimes be a depleting task which is why when I'm home resting, I fully enjoy myself.  I work hard but I also rest and party hard.  It's only right.

Examine your life, learn from it, grow from it and live, holding nothing back.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

We Were Afraid of Them

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

I can't believe I was so afraid.  I've done many fearful things throughout my life; I've served in post earthquake Haiti, the DR Congo, one of the rape capitals of the world, in India where a dark skinned woman isn't always safe, in post war Kenyan mountains and even behind bars in Dallas prison, so I was surprised of the depth of my fear handing out sandwiches to the homeless in downtown Dallas. 

Our plan for Christmas this year was to travel to downtown Dallas and serve the homeless. We would pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a drink and dessert and find the homeless to hand them out. 

We got in the car, prayed and with great excitement we headed downtown. The first homeless person was a man under a bridge, we asked him his name and if he wanted something to eat, he said yes, we handed him the bag and drink and took off to the next next bridge or person without a home. Simple enough. Our plan was in place. 

The one thing we had not anticipated was our fear. Our car was heavy with fear, thanks to too many episodes of Law and order and Criminal Minds. At the stop of every bridge and homeless person, a negotiation would take place; whether my husband would go out alone, me and my husband, my husband and my oldest or the twins and my husband. We were pitiful. At one negotiation, my husband ended up going alone. We spotted a man under a cold bridge; we weren't sure if he was sleeping or dead. We called out to him and he neither moved nor responded. We were all scared to approach him. We parked the car and my husband approached him. Come to find out, he was asleep, hungry and cold. He was beyond grateful by my husband's presence. Their gratitudes were humbling. 

Besides our cowardice fear, the other thing that surprised me was the homeless's need for touch. The smell of urine and body odor, missing teeth, unkept appearance and visible intoxication were undeniable but in the midst of all the externals they would reach out for us to touch them. One man went around and hugged every last one of us. Another would not let go of my husband's hand from the driver's seat. And another asked for us to take a picture with him, mind you he had no camera (pure comedy). Their need for touch reminds me of a lesson The Lord has been teaching me over and over again: we need each other, we need community, we were created to be known, to be loved and to be touched both physically and emotionally. 

I can't say we're over our fear of the homeless but we have taken a first step towards conquering those fears.

Needless to say, We have experienced an unbelievable Christmas this year. I believe if Jesus were to be born in this day and age, we would find him under one of those cold bridges. Let us continue to serve the least of these as if we were serving Jesus himself. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas Prayer For You

On this great Christmas season I bow my heart to the God of the universe to say a prayer for You.

I pray that God may shower you with his very best and may look upon you with favor.

I pray that he may open Your eyes to see the miracles he daily performs. 

I pray that lack of answers will not cause you to renounce faith in God but will cause you to call on Him to sit with you in the obscurity.  

I pray that daily you may be awed by the mysterious presence of God even if in a gentle breeze.

I pray you may sense that there is something greater than us at play in this world; this may be the beginning of you embracing God.

I pray your Christmas has a lot to do with serving others; there you will realize how full you truly are.
I pray for peace; that even when your world seems to be surrounded by turbulent waters, the peace of God will sustain you.

I pray for joy, even when circumstances are not ideal that you can find joy in something greater than your circumstances.

Please join me in praying for these women that I've met along the way, their faces are forever etched in my mind, they help me be a better follower of Christ.

  • Ashley who wept by the mere thought that we were created to be known on a deeper level and for more than sex; I will forever remember her smile.  I have no idea why she was in prison but she seemed to rejoice over the kind of love Christ has to offer.
  • Red is what I called her because of her hair color but she had a passion to know Christ and to also teach the other women in her pod about him.
  • Bluette the woman I met in Haiti after the earthquake; she suffered greatly but her faith in God helped me believe just a little more.
  • Karen the homeless woman I met by Ross who wept when I prayed that Jesus understands her more than any human can since he too was often homeless.
  • The little old woman I met in India who in her frailty shook my hand to thank me for preaching.  I don't think she had ever heard a woman preach before.
  • The sexually abused women in Congo-two years ago I met a group of women in Congo who caused me to ask God "where were you when these women were being abused?" I promised them that I would return.  Please join me in praying for these women and for us to be courageous to stand up for justice for the women in the DR Congo.
  • The precious women of Kenya, we met on a mountain marked by violence-your strength inspire me daily. Your worship in the midst of lack reminds me that we can have life in spite of chaos.
Let our hearts continue to break for what breaks the heart of God.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More Than One Christmas Story

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 1:21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Every year around this time of the year I find myself struggling. I'm not a Scrooge who hates the holidays or cynical by the commercialism of Christmas (well maybe a little) nor do I feel guilty by how much we have and how little the rest of the world has. I mostly struggle because I feel like I'm missing the point of why we celebrate Christmas. I mean really. Over 2 thousand years ago there was a birth of a baby born of a virgin which many prophets foretold and this baby was to be the savior of the world for all eternity.  And every year we try our best to celebrate this miracle. How do we often celebrate?? By trying to give gifts we think others need.

I mean really, don't you feel like you're missing the point?

So at the beginning of the season my stress level usually heightens just a little bit by how much we're going to spend to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our children always make asinine gift requests, that could possibly put us in debt if we give in. Then there's the pressure to spend thousands on airfare to visit family (I love my family but shouldn't we show them we love them throughout the year and not just Christmas?). Then there's the holiday parties that require your house to look a certain way; instead of friends coming together celebrating a mysterious happening that is much greater than ourselves; greater than our little minds can fathom. Do you see why I dread the season? It's not Christmas I dread, it's all the required stuff we create around Christmas I dread.

And there's nothing wrong with exchanging gifts, nothing wrong with gathering the family together, nothing wrong with buying your children expensive gifts, nothing wrong with beautifully decorated homes and nothing wrong with Christmas traditions that create fond memories.  My only concern: don't miss the point; don't miss the mystery.

Christmas is probably one of my favorite "holy-days" to celebrate. During Christmas there's a sense of excitement, a sense of preparation for something major getting ready to happen. It's like waiting to see your favorite musician perform live for the first time. You plan months ahead. You purchase your ticket to ensure a good yet affordable seat. You get dressed in clothing that resembles them. You get your voice ready to sing along. You get your dance moves ready to dance along. You get your cameras ready for pictures. Well, that's Christmas for me; Christmas is the waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah to grace us with his presence and to step on that stage. That's huge! For hundreds of years stories had been told about him, people have been waiting in Hope and Christmas is the celebration that He came!!!!!

So how should we celebrate?? To me, a brand new iPhone 5 does not quite do it. To me we need to use Mary, Joseph, and the Magi as examples of how to bring on a celebration only fit for a King. They brought their best: not just presents but their presence. They showed up, they celebrated right there in that smelly old barn.

I can only imagine how disgusting that "barn" had to be and the unwelcoming smells had to be everywhere.

I have a thing for smells. I smell everything.  And that's not always a good thing because I drive my family crazy; candles and air fresheners everywhere.  When serving in Prison, I can't stand the smell of food trays mixed with body order. When I travel internationally, the smell of animals and human waist is everywhere and this OCD woman with a bionic nose is usually greatly challenged.

Why can't we allow our sense of smell to be challenged to remember the birth of Jesus?

Why hasn't the smelly and unpleasant part of the birth of Jesus caught on as we celebrate?

Do we realize the chaos that was taking place during the time of Jesus birth?

Why can't we choose to be where Jesus was born and sit in the unpleasant smells and unpleasant circumstances and just be present and worship?

Mary, Joseph, the Magi chose to celebrate right then and there giving their presence and giving up their right for comfort.

This Christmas will we choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus in an unconventional way? Will we choose to go to those places we just know no one will show up on Christmas Day to celebrate? Will we go to the prisons? Homeless shelters? Broken homes? Bars? The hated in-laws? And just be present?

I have to tell you, the thought of breaking traditions and going counter culture really makes me anxious. However, I believe sometimes it's necessary in order to fully engage in the mystery of the Virgin Birth.  Sometimes it is necessary in order to see how big of a sacrifice it had to be for God to give up his only, perfect Son to be born in a humble place and circumstance. Sometimes it is necessary because when we look at the mess of our lives thinking "nothing good can come out of it, there can be no hope out of this situation", we should remember that Jesus was born in a very messy condition and out of the messy birth came hope for the entire world. 

So Go for it and break the mold this Christmas and sit in the mystery of hope out of the messy and hopefully you will get a sense that you did not miss it.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mutual Love and Respect

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Ephesians 5:21

In prison ministry I get to hear stories of how the church is really doing spiritually; in teaching the world about Jesus and how to love our neighbors. I work with a group of women who desperately want to know how to follow Christ and get on the right track. These precious women are not just rebels with a plan to go against the morals of society; in fact they try their best to fit in and follow the rules.  Surprisingly many of these women grew up in the church.  And in their quest to follow the rules and blend in, they often hold on to the strict religious rules we often hear in the church. And it makes sense, for these women boundaries have been crossed countless times and family rules were often blurred and inconsistent.  So in their quest to fit in to mainstream society and find normalcy they gravitate towards the strict religious standards as a way of maintaining control over something in their lives. 

Every week as I sit among the women to teach, I am often interrupted by several of them trying to teach the rest of the group about some rule they've learned to aid in their quest to following Christ.

"You know if you pray this way God will answer all of your prayers".
"The reason I got more jail time is because I did not read my bible that morning".
"If you keep failing, God will give up on you".
"Homosexuality is an abomination and all homosexuals will go to Hell".
"God is too pure to be among us".

Without fail, every time these kinds of statements are shared, all heads turn to me as a way of saying "is that true? What do you have to say?"

A few weeks ago one of the women made a similar statement "the bible said the husband is the head of the wife and wives have to submit to their husbands" and another woman chimed in telling us of how husband once beat her so bad that she had a broken rib as she was trying to submit to him.  At this point every last one of them had a story and they all sat at the edge of their seats waiting for me to share what the bible really meant by those passages where it said for wives to submit to their husbands.

I quietly prayed and said "all relationships should be based on mutual submission and mutual love and respect".  There was one woman in the class who seem to have never heard that statement before.  She asked for me to "repeat that again", I repeated "all relationships should be based on mutual submission and mutual love and respect".  And questions went flying all over the place, "so who is my head?"  I answered: Jesus.  "Can a husband rape his wife?" I answered: Yes, if she said no.  "Do I have to have sex with my husband whenever he wants?"  I answered: All relationships should be based on love and respect; as long as you're not withholding sex from him to manipulate him or punish him. 

Needless to say, we did not finish going over all of our bible study questions for that night.  But their faces looked exactly like mine when several years ago I heard at a conference that Jesus was my head: bewilderment.  They had smiles on their faces, there seemed to be a collective relief by the thought that Jesus Christ, who is perfect in every way, is our head.

I've seen the above picture floating around on the internet and I really don't understand how this picture explains Ephesians 5:21 "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". The picture seems to be promoting a hierarchy when the bible preaches equality and mutuality: "submit to one another". I really don't know how I could explain and teach this picture to women who have found themselves bound by addictions and abused by the hands of those who professed to love them and "cover" them as the umbrella asserts.  I really don't understand what the picture means.  The picture is assuming many things about the family and not taking into account the diversity of the family.  It is also assuming that every woman will have a husband and if every woman does not marry, then who will be her head? This picture seems to produce more questions than answers.

Church, please teach the bible in context; I mean the context in which it was written not in ours.  Teach the freedom found in Christ not oppression found by the hands of man.  Teach mutual love, respect and submission not a one direction submission. Teach us how to love our neighbors and see them as equals not to engage in any forms of oppression; remember our spouses are also our neighbors.  Teach us how to serve each other with love.  Teach us how to breathe life and dignity into the souls of our brothers and sisters not to suck the life out of each other by dictating a hierarchy that Christ never prescribed.  Above all, teach us to love God as seen by the love we have for one another. 

Church we need you to help us see Jesus!

I pray for my sisters who are in relationships built on power and control not love and respect; God hears your cries for help and he loves you; you are enough.  I pray for my brothers who society dictates you must assert your leadership over your family through power and control, God hears your cries for help; he loves you and you are enough. God teach us to love like you; freely, openly, with compassion and dignity.