14 December 2013

The "L" Word

A lot of times we think of "lust" as simply something we do when we look twice, or for too long, and our thoughts start crossing boundaries.

But the greater issue behind lust is objectifying people--seeing them as minions to serve our own ends. Thinking of ourselves as deserving something from them. It takes place in our minds first, but it doesn't stay there. Objectifying people means taking advantage of them in the moment without considering the consequences of our actions. Assuming we know all we need to know about them, instead of stopping to listen and get to know them. Manipulating them to do what we want them to do, for our purposes.

Objectifying people sabotages our calling as children of God, to proclaim salvation and show the love of the Father. If we are in the habit of lusting after or objectifying people, we can't simultaneously walk in our calling to be ministers of reconciliation. We need to first be reconciled to God! If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all wickedness (1 John 1:9).

Oh, my God YHWH, help us. We can only stop objectifying and start loving, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit You have given us. So come, Lord, come. Enter into our lust, into our objectifying of others. Redeem our thoughts and our actions. Help us to see our fellow humans as they are--made in Your image, not ours. Because of that alone, they are worthy of dignity and respect. May You help us see that others are made for Your purposes and glory, not ours.

May we no longer see any man according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). May we follow the radical example of Jesus with the woman at the well, who surprised her with His pure intentions of simply speaking truth and showing love, after so many men had sought her out to serve their own ends. We deserve nothing from You God, but You lavish Your love on us. May we do the same to others, expecting nothing in return except the smile of our Heavenly Father.

Amen! Asi sea.

31 October 2013

the best battle plan: fighting to rest

Back in August, God was teaching me about trusting in Him for a certain situation out of my control. Well, actually, several situations. (They always seem to abound! Because I never have control! News flash!) 

I just randomly opened up to 2 Chroncles 20 and God started speaking to me. As you intercede for your the lost, for reconciliation, for healing, for justice, for the church, for anything at all you are going through, follow this battle plan.

It's the battle plan of a people who don't actually have a plan. The threat is too big. It's out of their control. So their lack of a plan turns into the following response. It's a pretty amazing story. 

vs. 1-2 the threat arises
 It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).

vs. 3-4: choosing to seek YHWH earnestly as a people gathered together
And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

vs. 5-9: remembering God's power, promises, and faithfulness
Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’

vs. 10-12a: making a bold request for salvation
And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. O our God, will You not judge them? 

vs 12b: admitting our total dependence on God (so beautiful)
For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.

vs. 13: waiting on God! 
Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.

vs 14-15a: God speaks 
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! 

vs. 15b: God instructs us not to fear--to look at Him instead of the circumstances 
Thus says YHWH to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

vs 16-17: Special instructions
Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battlePosition yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of YHWH, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.”

vs. 18-19: Humble worship and loud praise
And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high.

vs. 20a: The people rise up early to obey God's instructions
So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; 

vs. 20b: Faith in God precedes the success of the mission from God:
and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” 

vs. 21: Sing praise as you go out to fight the battle
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the Lord, For His mercy endures forever.”

vs. 22-25: God moves during the praises of His people to fulfill His promises
Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. 

vs. 26: The people gather to bless God in the valley (bless God in the valleys where He has given you victory!)
And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed YHWH; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah [blessing] until this day. 

vs. 27-28: The people praise God with joy and music 
Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of YHWH. 

vs. 29: The fame of YHWH's Name and His glory spread throughout the territory
And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. 

vs. 30: The people who had waited quietly in spite and in the midst of turmoil, now enjoy the blessing and rest and peace of God:
Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.

God gave him rest all around! I could use some of that rest all around. Not rest because nothing ever happens to me, or I'm never in any "impossible" battles... but rest in knowing that God is on His throne. Rest in knowing that I am His child. Rest in knowing that He has overcome the world. Rest in what I cannot see. FAITH.

Arriving at this kind of rest is not something you work up or meditate on until it pops up on your radar. That's not what Jehoshaphat and his people did. They did what the people did in 2 Chronicles 15:15, where the same phrase is used. They sought Him with all their soul: "And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around." 

True "rest all around" doesn't mean you don't fight. It means you stop fighting on your own strength. ("Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" --Galatians 3:3). By faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, you fight to seek God with everything you are. 

I have so much still to learn about rest! It all starts with admitting my insufficiency and seeking God.

"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me." (John 15:3-4)

What has God taught you about rest?

18 October 2013

on the frustrations and graces in serving

If we back up to 7 years ago, I remember when I first realized I had to act on the compassion God had given me. That I was anointed to preach good tidings to the least of these.

In the weeks after my church youth group's inner city mission trip in Charlotte, North Carolina, it was clear we were impacted by what God had shown us. We compiled our testimonies into a book, printed and bound, with home grown artwork of Jesus' hands holding the world. We called it "I See Yo' Hand!", after the loud observation we had heard during the puppet show Bible story we performed for the kids.

After that trip, I started volunteering every Sunday afternoon with the 10 - 18 year old girls in an inner city ministry center. 

A couple of memories stand out above the rest. The first is of Desirae, the defiant little girl with the matted hair who smelled like no one had cared to wash her or her clothes for weeks. She had lice crawling in her hair and mud caked on her knees, and she spoke with a raspy, hardened voice. In spite of everything, Desirae was a beautiful child. But her brown eyes were full of too much pain for her four years of life. She was fiercely independent, and, at the same time, just as fiercely loyal to her sister and brother. Something inside me told me evil had taken advantage of that beauty. During rare moments, something inside of her would snap, and she would cling to me or sit in my lap. Her tears became mine as I cried out to God to for healing and justice
I also remember the time someone I ministered with blew up at a homeless man. I only vaguely remember the reason why--I think he had shown up at the wrong time for the meal or the food pantry. But it didn't seem anything which merited disturbing the whole block with angry shouts.

Afterwards, the person I was ministering with explained that the man should have known when to come, and this kind of behavior couldn't be tolerated anymore.

To me, all I saw were moving lips, saying a lot of things, but never apologizing or expressing regret for the outburst. How could you preach the Gospel to the same people you scream at? I wondered.

It doesn't make any sense to minister full-time to people you don't really love, I reasoned. What a terrible, meaningless, way to live. 

Although I didn't put it into words, I felt that I was the compassionate one. I was the one that really cared about that homeless person's feelings, and about little girls like Desirae.

I couldn’t relate to the leader’s anger or weariness. 

But for me, the superiority I felt to my co-laborer meant that I was ultimately serving myself in the name of serving God and others. I was feeling good about myself, and critiquing others--on the inside, anyway. 

Now I’m a “grown-up.” I’m a missionary, actually, even though the word still sounds strange on my tongue. I’m not a 16-year-old volunteer anymore, or a college kid masquerading as a social critic.
Now, I am daily fighting the battle against spiritual and physical poverty.

But I’m not so different from you. You have jobs that are minefields of spiritual warfare. You have ministries, families, marriages. You have relationships that need restoration. We’re all soldiers at war, battling against the powers of darkness. And we can all get weary, just like the woman who yelled at the homeless man.

At least, I get weary. It's a good thing Jesus has a special invitation for people who are weary: Come to Me! That's exactly what I'm doing... coming to Him with my questions.

Questions I never asked myself so many years ago, now run through my head often--even though I don't work face-to-face with the microloan associates. . Usually, I am in the office supporting those who work face-to-face with those in poverty--like the loan officers who sometimes must work long hours in the scorching sun, going from house to house to collect payments from associates who are behind in their payments--but who still take time to visit and pray for sick group members. 

The point is, I'm asking questions I wasn't before. And God is answering. 

Questions and answers like:

Q: How do you both hold yourself to unattainable standards and love others without any standards at all?

A: This is the crux of the religious spirit, approval addiction, and a host of emotional and spiritual sicknesses—and it brings with it a world of weariness.
You don’t. You don’t measure up to your own standards or to anyone else’s—let alone, God’s. But that’s convenient, because neither do the people you serve!
That’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the Only One that measures up, and the grace He lavishes on us in spite of all our failures extends to the most wretched creature willing to accept it.

Q: How do you have patience with those who refuse to learn what you sacrifice so much to teach? You know, the ones who nonchalantly disregard you and all the work you’ve done?

A: That’s kind of what we do to Jesus every time we gossip, complain, or lust. We disregard all He came to teach us, and yet He keeps having patience on us. We choose to walk in the dead works of the flesh instead of in the abundant life He died for us to have. That’s gotta hurt.

But He doesn’t turn His back on us. If we return to Him, He will return to us. He is always ready to receive truly repentant hearts.

His love is not bound by our feeble incapacity to forgive ourselves or others. He never stops loving us. He always lives to intercede for us. He stood in the firing line for us, and now He’s come back to defend our cause before a righteous Judge.

That’s amazing grace and riches of mercy.

And as we accept it, we pour it out on others.

Q: How do you keep loving someone you exist to tirelessly serve, but who betrays you?

A:  In John 13:2, we read that the devil had already put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus.  In the very next sentence, Jesus stands up and begins to wash the feet of His disciples.

“And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.’” –John 13:2-5

I have to wonder, what was running through His head as he immersed the filthy feet of Judas into the washbasin, and later wiped them with the towel? How did it feel to so humbly serve the one who would soon ensure your own murder?

I’m sure it hurt like hell. Rejection hurts. Rejection by those you love and trust hurts even more. But betrayal hurts most of all.

But in the midst of all that pain, Jesus loved.

For me, this brings new meaning to Jesus’ words at the end of the episode: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

Jesus serves people who don’t measure up, people who disregard Him, and people who betray Him. People like me—and you.

Once we get that kind of crazy love into our heads, we will never be able to complain about those we serve. Instead, we will identify with them on a deep level.

I’m not the one who measures up, expecting others to measure up.
I don’t measure up.  Only Jesus’ blood washes me clean from all sin.

I’m not the one being ignored or rejected.
I have ignored and rejected Christ.  Only the Father’s grace allows me to accept and obey Christ.

I’m not the one who is betrayed.
I was a betrayer. Only in the Holy Spirit am I empowered to be faithful.

Maybe if we all pause and let Jesus wash our feet, it will help us remember that what’s really important is not the distinction between the servants and the served, or who serves the best, or whether the people we serve conform to our expectations—but just that as Christ loved us, so we love others.

That in all things He might have preeminence!

11 October 2013

You will always be the little girl of God!

This is the decal on the windshield of a guagua in the north part of Santo Domingo. I walked by it parked on the side of the street several times during the first few months of this year. The English words kind of catch you off guard in a part of the city with so few tourists. Every time I saw it, it made me smile.

In Santiago, another city I lived in for 2 months this summer, a good-looking guy told me after church that I should get married so I can have children, since I love them so much. I told him, well, God always surrounds me with wonderful friends and sisters who have children. He said, that's not the same you know! I replied, well, no it's not. But I'm not in any hurry.

"Si porque tu eres muy niña todavía," he retorted with a grin. "You're still very much a little girl." It's true. I am. And I like it that way. =)

My ministry doesn't give me more or less favor in His eyes. I'm still just His little child, the one He longs to take up on His lap and tell stories to and dream together, the one He wants to dream with and comfort and sing over.

It makes me think of this picture:

And, this song (again!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXV6TY-YWe4

Then tonight, I read this:


My heart aches inside when I'm away from my Father for too long. And ministering with people who don't take joy and comfort in His presence makes me sad for them. It makes me long for them to have the same revelation that they, too, are just little boys and little girls of God.

We are His children. Children secure in the love and care and provision of our Father. We don't operate out of fear, or obligation. We can admit when we're tired, and He lets us rest. He wants us to rest. We can admit when we're broken, and He will bandage up our wounds. We can suffer and cry and blubber everywhere and He will sit and cry with us. We can talk and talk and talk to Him about all our problems and He loves to listen. We can fall asleep in His arms and forget about our troubles and He won't always wave a magic wand and fix them, but He will help us learn from them. And He will never, ever leave us. No good parent leaves their little kids all alone! And God isn't just a good parent!
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." --Romans 8:14-17
"You will always be the little girl of God."

May we never forget to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him. I count everything as loss--even getting busy doing more things "for God"--- in light of knowing Christ.

08 October 2013

open this closed heart

On October 27, 2012, I sat in the Student House of Prayer in Beavercreek, OH, during Saturday night prayer and worship.

Jen, the director’s wife, came and prayed for me:

“The wall is coming down—the door will open,” she said.

I had my own idea of what doors I wanted open in my life at that moment. I had been without a job for 3 weeks, and I was not happy with that or with certain other situations in my life, that seemed like they were at a standstill.

I left that night hoping beyond hope I had heard what I had wanted to hear—even while wondering if that was what God really wanted to tell me.

A month later, on November 30, I wrote in my journal:

The revelation I had just today as I read back through that entry, is that literally just before Jen prayed for me, I had written,

“I need You to show me how to love You tonight. And open this closed heart.”

And that was when Jen prayed,

“The wall is coming down, the door will open.”

I never made the connection before now. What if the wall is this fortress I’ve built around my heart, closing it off to pain, to compassion, to love—deep, true love for God and fellow humans. And all these revelations God has been giving me—the stars, the pastel drawings, the Ugandan woman’s prayer for me, the deer on my run, Psalm 115 written on the crossbeam in the prayer room—they’re bringing down the wall, reestablishing communion between God and I, without any idols in the way. That’s what I had just asked God to open, and that’s what He is doing.

[He’s opening the heart I’ve closed off to him and to the least of these by surrounding it with my goals, my relationships, my performance orientation. ]

“It’s not about the job I have. It’s about me and you, we’re building a relationship again”—lyrics from a Jason Upton song, Faith.

I concluded the journal entry with 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, in Spanish. Here’s how it translates:

“And this same God of peace will sanctify me completely, and all of my being, spirit, soul, and body will be preserved blameless for the coming of my Lord, Jesus Christ! Faithful is He who calls me, who will also do it!”

I closed my journal and headed to a Bible Study and dinner for international students. I didn’t get home until 12:30AM. When I did, I decided to check my email. That afternoon, I had received an email that began,
It is with pleasure and anticipation that I send you the attached letter offering you the position of DR Operations Fellow with HOPE International.”

I wanted to scream, to cry, to tell everyone. But it was too late for any of that. I told my dad, because he was the only one still awake. Then I went to bed, with a grateful heart and a busy head. I had just been offered my dream job—working in microfinance in a Spanish-speaking country. But it would mean leaving home—again—and starting a new life—again—in a place I didn’t know. It was something I had wanted so much, but when I finally had it in my hands, I was surprised. My heart was weary and fearful.

A year later, here in the Dominican Republic, I can testify that many times my heart and my flesh have failed, but God has always been the strength of my heart and my portion. He has poured out His Spirit on me in times of loneliness and fear.

Here, I have learned the meaning of Scriptures that never before stood out to me. Scriptures like,

“I will fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23)

“you joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven” (Hebrews 10:34)

“those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8)

The farther He takes me from what was comfortable and safe, the more I have to trust in Him--and the more faithful He proves Himself. And as I let go of the worthless idols and choose to set my love on Christ, I begin to experience the grace "that could be mine." 

That grace lets me see the least of these with His eyes, not mine. 

Please God, keep that grace coming! Keep opening this heart of mine! Pour water on me, because I am thirsty! And my heart feels like dry ground. Thank You, dear Father. 

For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,
And floods on the dry ground;

(Isaiah 44:3)

29 September 2013


Do you ever just want to get a few people together in the same room, and have everyone be totally honest and humble about something that has been going on for months or years? To let your walls down and have everyone else let theirs down too? To say what has been too long unsaid? To cry together? And to leave the room better for it?

You want to. You say you do, anyway!

But you don't.

You don't let your own walls down because you're afraid the others won't let theirs budge.

You don't say the unsaid because you're afraid you'll be the only one.

The risk of being misunderstood keeps you from trying to understand.

And you try to hold back the tears, at least in public, because you're too proud to admit things matter so much to you.

Why are we like this? Why do we keep guessing what the others feel without asking? What if we all misjudged each other? What if our fear and pride are keeping us from experiencing true community and sincerity?

What if silence isn't keeping others from being hurt, but actually hurting them?

What if our good intentions of not hurting others are just fear and avoidance all dressed up?

Where do you draw the line between self control and healthy expression of your emotions and opinions?

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? --Jeremiah 17:9

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
--Psalm 139:23-24

25 August 2013

there isn't time

Yaneilis has a beautiful smile and sweet spirit. Her gentleness could melt ice cold hearts. She is a teacher by nature, and loves to laugh—which is fortunate, because she has a high-stress job.

I worked at a desk caddy-cornered to Yaneilis 4 days a week, from January to May.  She is the administrator of the branch office in northern Santo Domingo. She is always answering calls, typing up contracts, or welcoming guests. She works under tight schedules, and she rarely leaves the office before 7PM. But she doesn’t complain. Instead, she serves with a love, joy, and peace that could only come from the Holy Spirit.

At 7:30AM on Tuesday, March 12, at 7:30AM, I was still in my apartment way on the other side of the city. I had just grabbed my lunch and put it in my backpack. I was all set. Then, my phone rang.


It was Ramona, one of the loan officers at the branch office.

“Abby, did you hear?”

“Hear what? I’m on my way,” I said.

“No,” Ramona answered. “Don’t come. No one is in the office. You haven’t heard, have you?”

“Heard what???” Her voice sounded heavy.

“Yaneilis’ brother was shot and killed last night. No one knows who did it, or why.”

“Was he a believer?”

“No, we don't think so. He hadn’t been walking with God for a long time.”

I walked about in a daze at the central office that morning. I called my family. I called my brother David, even though he was at work and it went to his voicemail. Then, I took a motorcycle down to the metro station. 

In the metro station, a metalwork sculpture hung on both sides of the tracks. On one side, blue and silver shapes seemed to depict a paradise in the clouds. On the other side, flames licked towards the ceiling, several stories high. I stared at the bright shards hanging on the station walls as I waited for the train. 

Over the course of the next few days, I found out that Armando was a bus driver who would leave for work at 5AM every day. Everyone knew him as a hard worker, and a loving father to his two little girls, ages 3 years and 3 months old. On Monday, March 11, at 8PM, he was headed to the Syndicate of Transportation to turn in a portion of the fares he had earned throughout the day. The only other person in the bus was the cobrador, or the kid who calls out the route, and collects fares from the passengers. But he left the scene running after someone else jumped on the bus, fired 8 shots at Armando, and fled on foot—leaving Armando’s bleeding body and all his money in the bus.

As I stood on the platform waiting for the metro car, all I remember thinking was that the split second between a finger pulling a trigger and a bullet entering someone’s chest is not too short a time to cry for mercy. But who knew if he had cried out in that moment, like the thief on the cross? 

Who knew if he had called on Jesus, as my very own blood brother, David, cried out after he was hit by a car and suffered severe head injuries? In that moment, David screamed, “Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!”

Jesus did help my brother, David—both then, and again when he threatened suicide. Because I had suffered the pain and fear of the possibility of someone so close to me nearly dying so suddenly, and without the assurance of their acceptance of Jesus’ forgiveness of sins—because of that, my heart had already imagined the pain Yaneilis was actually facing right now.

As I rode the metro car, my heart ached. I cried, for the first time in too long, for those beyond the hope of Christ. My soul echoed Paul’s words of desperation: “I could wish I were lost, that they might be found in Him.”

When I arrived at Yaneilis’ house, there were a couple hundred people sitting in plastic chairs on the street, under a makeshift tent which consisted of a big tarp stretched from rooftop to rooftop. Neighbors, the church family, my coworkers, and friends had all gathered to be with the family. Many had stayed awake all night in a tradition called the vigilia, and would keep staying with the family until after the body was embalmed and brought to the house for one night.  

I edged my way through the crowd, into the house. I saw a couple of women who looked almost identical to Yaneilis, so I guessed they were her sisters.

I made it into Yaneilis’ bedroom. There were my coworkers, sitting on the bed.

I approached cautiously, wanting to show love but knowing I couldn’t fix anything. I will never forget the words Yaneilis said to me as we hugged for longer than 5 minutes.

Yo no voy a volver a sonreir. I will never smile again, Abby. How can I ever smile again?”

Yaneilis’ smile was famous in the office. It lit up her whole face with a tranquil joy and mature peace, imparting a soft beauty to her features. I couldn’t bear the thought that the pain would erase that smile. 

But as I saw Yaneilis’  mother engulfed in sobs, my heart ached. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. Why should someone’s whole life be at the mercy of irrational, angry hands holding a gun?

All I knew to do was pray for strength. As we drove to the funeral the next day, no one in Yaneilis’  family had eaten or slept for more than 60 hours. Her mom was struggling with high blood pressure, and Armando’s girlfriend’s sobs ripped through the air:  

Por qué lo mataron? Why did they kill him? Por qué lo mataron?

In the midst of the wild grief of those around her, Yaneilis had a strange peace. She was the one who was strengthening her two sisters and her mom. It was exactly what we had prayed for her, but it had seemed improbable that God would grant her this peace that passes all understanding, even now.

The next days and weeks at work were difficult for Yaneilis. Her eyes were often wet with tears, and shone with a determination to go forward with life, however changed it might be. She was more serious, more quiet. We all knew she was suffering. But she did volver a sonreir.  Her smile lit up the office again. We know that she has hope that her brother believed in God for mercy and salvation, in spite of the problems he had in his marriage and how he left church. She has hope that he cried out and God heard his cry. And beyond that, she has hope that there is eternal life, and no matter what we lose here on this earth, even in our own family, we ourselves have still gained Christ. It brings immeasurable pain to lose a family member, but knowing Christ really does bring immeasurable joy. And it´s a joy only people like Yaneilis might ever experience so deeply on this earth.

In the week after Armando’s death,  two people told me they would get right with God another day—that they are young, and they have time. I wanted to scream at them: ¨You don´t have time! You don´t have time! Don´t you get it, you don´t have time!¨

My heart had awakened again to the necessity of making Christ known. Of living each moment to make Him known. Of redeeming my time. Of preaching the true Gospel, the very Words of God that truly cut to through hard hearts and change lives—before it’s too late.

Every moment lost is somebody’s too late. Somebody’s daughter, husband, sister, lover.

How is the way I am living today serving to know Christ and make Him known, while there is still time?

25 July 2013

the kindness of our God

We always talk about God's grace, His mercy, love, truth, and justice. But for some reason, I don't often hear the word kind spoken to describe God.

That's a mistake. The Bible uses this word for God, and so should we: "For His merciful kindness is great toward us" (Psalm 117:2a). "For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness;" (Joel 2:13b).

What do you think of when you hear the word kindness?

I think of unexpected, undeserved goodness.

I think of a microloan associate who invites you to sit down on a chair, even if they have to remain standing--and offers you a glass of water and a snack. I think of the random person on the street in Santo Domingo who warned my roommate to let the stranger who was following pass on ahead, because he was probably a thief. I think of the girl at the retreat last weekend in Sosua, who found me sitting alone and introduced me to all of her friends, thus guaranteeing that I would have a wonderful time. I think of a coworker sharing their lunch with another loan officer who is short on money.

The women in these experiences in the Dominican Republic showed unexpected, undeserved goodness to a stranger. In a way, it came out of nowhere--but in another way, it came out of hearts willing to sacrifice to serve others.

If you think about it, we were all strangers to God: "that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:13)

But the next verse tells how God showed His goodness to perfect strangers: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:14).

But now in Christ Jesus the verse says. God's kindness is first and foremost shown in sending Jesus to save us from our wretched lives of sin. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's kindness to humankind.

Ephesians 2:4-7 "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

The word "kindness" makes me think of a smiling father, looking down on His children. The greatest kindness God has shown His children, is not any material gift. It's Jesus Christ--because it's through Jesus Christ that we are His children, and He Himself is our greatest treasure. Enjoying a Father like YHWH is what Jesus died for us to be able to do.We are His precious children, and there's nothing more comforting. If you don't know quite what I'm talking about, close your eyes and listen to this song.

I'll close with one of my favorite passages, Isaiah 54:6-10:

For the Lord has called you
Like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit,
Like a youthful wife when you were refused,”
Says your God.
“For a mere moment I have forsaken you,
But with great mercies I will gather you.
With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment;
But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,”
Says the Lord, your Redeemer.
“For this is like the waters of Noah to Me;
For as I have sworn
That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth,
So have I sworn
That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.
For the mountains shall depart
And the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,”
Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

22 July 2013

falling: what really happened

After work on July 2,  in Santiago, Dominican Republic, I went on a run. It was getting dark, and I was worrying about being out alone in a neighborhood that was still new to me, even though my host family's house was right in front of the park. I was looking at the street, not at the path in front of me. All of a sudden, I slipped on gravel and ended up on the ground.

Like every good runner, I know you can't stop in the middle--it's bad for your heart rate! There was only a little blood, on my right knee and hand. So, I got up and kept going. I would be okay.

After another kilometer, I skipped a step so I could catch a glimpse of my knee. There was blood running halfway down my leg. I wiped it with my hand and kept going.

I haven't skinned my knee like that in at least 8 years. Over the next 10 days, I would walk out onto the roof of the house I am staying in, and cut off an aloe stalk to "anoint" my knee and my hand twice a day. That stuff really smells, but it works! And hey, 23-year-old skin doesn't heal as fast as 15-year-old skin!

I resisted the urge to cover up my battle scars, preferring to wear skirts to stay cool--even if it did mean telling the story to everyone I saw.

On July 12, just 10 days later, I was running in the same park. But now, I had already run there several times, so even though it was getting dark again, I felt more comfortable. I distracted myself with thoughts about the past few days, and the meaning of the song I was listening to.

Suddenly, skiiiiiiiidddd bam! I was on the ground again--in the exact same spot. This time, I landed halfway on my right side, so I had a lighter scrape on the side of my right knee, and the wound on my hand had reopened.

Well, I know what to do, I told myself. Keep running. After a bit I checked for blood, and there was none, on my leg at least. But my hand was throbbing with pain for the rest of the run.

After 3 and a half kilometers, I stretched and went inside to wash my cuts. At first, I didn't tell anyone. How stupid! I thought. It wasn't so much that I had fallen. What got me the most was that I fell in the exact same spot as before, at the same time of the evening. I should have known.

That night, as I climbed into bed, I carefully positioned my hand palm-up so I could sleep comfortably--but to no avail. I woke up 3 times before the sun came up, each time with a throbbing pain in my hand.

The next day, we went to a clinic to get it checked and cleaned out. It hurt a lot, but I think they got some gravel out of there.

I felt stupid, again, this time because I was in the hospital for something so small.

But, God works all things out for the good. I really, truly believe that. I see it all the time.

 In this story, I saw it in two ways--one tangible, and one intangible.

The tangible: In the clinic, my host brother and co-worker made 2 contacts with potential volunteer doctors for development work here. And, the receptionist decided not to charge me a single dime, even though he had said it would be $25 (which my insurance would have paid anyway.... but that's still nice).

The intangible: As I climbed up the stairs to the house after that second fall, I couldn't help but think I was being warned, in the most loving but obvious way possible.

I fell at first because I was afraid, and fear kept me from looking at the path I was on and focusing on the race I was running.

I fell the second time because I was distracted. I wasn't afraid, and I didn't need to be. But I should have been alert. I had fallen before, in that same spot, at that same time of night. I should have been watching.

In my life, too, I fall because I am afraid and distracted. In spite of the pain, with God's help, I get up and keep running, in reckless determination to lay hold of the One who laid hold of me. I also go to see the Great Physician who heals the sick and binds up my wounds. He has some kind of crazy spiritual aloe (aka the blood of the Lamb, Jesus) which He covers our wounds with. It brings deep, lasting healing.

The fall happens in the blink of an eye. But deep, true healing takes time.

Sometimes, even before the healing is complete, I forget what I just learned. I disregard the grace of God, and I let distractions take my eyes off of Christ and the race He has called me to run. And I fall hard--in the exact same sin as before. I'm not always alert as I should be, because my adversary, the devil is roaming about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I let my eyes slip off of the goal again, and the exact same stones cause me to stumble, once again.

Just like the cuts on my hand, my emotional and spiritual wounds hurt, but re-opened wounds hurt like heck! And the healing process of digging all of that junk out of my life can hurt like heck, too. But that momentary pain in the clinic of YHWH Yireh, the God who restores, is worth it to relieve the pain that would result from trying to keep that junk inside the wound. The work He's doing in me can hurt like heck, but the healing He brings is more than worth it. As the wounds heal, if I don't try to hide them, I have plenty of chances to share how I messed up, but God corrected me and is healing me.

As I look at my hand now--another 10 days later--soft, pink skin has appeared where there used to be cuts so ugly no one wanted to shake my hand or give me a high-five. And no one has asked me about my knee in at least a week.

The healing is almost done, and if the skin that comes in it's place isn't exactly 100% as good as new, it will be a reminder of God's faithfulness to me in spite of my unfaithfulness.

I smile when I think of how God used such a situation to correct me in the face of very real struggles. He never ceases to amaze me with His gentle, creative, loving, and merciful correction!

Jeremiah 3:22
Return, you backsliding children, And I will heal your backslidings.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Jude 1:24-25
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.

15 February 2013

Red Lights

From a journal entry written on January 25th, 2013

Tonight, on the way back from a walk around the Colonial Zone with Omar and Rachel, Rachel asked Omar about all the white men with Dominican women.

“They’re paying for them,” he said.

“Well, some of them could be actual couples, right?” Rachel asked.

“80 to 90 percent are paying for it.”

“That’s sad.”

Just ahead of us, a tall, skinny hipster guy in his twenties, wearing a v-neck, salmon-colored shorts and Keds shoes, stopped in front of a pasta shop. He exchanged some brief parting words with a dark-skinned, curvy Dominican woman in bleached jeggings and a bright yellow shirt. Then, he turned left to continue his consumption—this time with pizza instead of human flesh.

The woman continued straight, her pace quickening with each step. I saw the light of a cigarette hit the ground in a sudden, angry movement. She was clutching her purse.

Rachel was asking Omar about Duarte and Trujillo, the forefathers of the Dominican Republic. But my own eyes followed the figure in yellow until she left the pedestrian street of the colonial zone, and turned right.

“Cruzamos.” Omar signaled for us to cross the street to the Parque de Independencia.

On the other side, we paused in front of the historical exhibitions for another Dominican history lesson. But my eyes wandered across the street, and settled on a public car driver, supporting himself with one foot against a wall. A woman wrapped her arms around his neck, and his hands rested on her backside. It was the same yellow shirt. She pulled away, dragging him by his hand for a few feet.

I looked back at the park and the exhibitions, but my mind couldn’t settle on old time heroes. I glanced across the street again. The driver had returned to his post next to his car, and the woman had resumed her brisk walk.

No deal.

Disappearing into La Mella (the poor neighborhood up the hill), she left me with a heavy heart.

People, Help the People” is one of the songs I had on repeat that night in my apartment, just a few blocks away.

God knows what is hiding in those weak and sunken eyes
fiery throngs of muted angels
giving love but getting nothing back
People, help the people!
And if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it. . .

God knows what is hiding, in that world of little consequence
Behind the tears, inside the lies
A thousand slowly dying sunsets
God knows what is hiding in those weak and drunken hearts
I guess the loneliness came knocking
No one needs to be alone, oh save me

I asked God that night to never let my heart be indifferent to the suffering around me. The worst possible thing is that I can see the sex trade happening in front of my eyes, and look the other way.

Years ago, God opened my heart to the tragedy of human trafficking. It’s the most nefarious, grimy, terrible corruption known to humans. And it happens in your cities and states, wherever you live. There are 27 million modern day slaves in the world. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates it's a $32 billion industry, with half coming from industrialized countries.

God answered my prayer within a week with an email from Exodus Cry, a Christian organization dedicated to the abolition of slavery through prevention, restoration, awareness, and prayer. As I read their monthly prayer update, one thing stuck out to me:

What you pray for on a regular basis, you will not stop caring about.

I am in traffic in Santo Domingo every single day, on the way to my mission work with HOPE International. And although red lights are frequently not observed here, there is plenty of commuter time to pray for this city, and the world.

This is my prayer for women and children trapped in the sex trade:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. --Ephesians 3:14-18, NLT