LEAVING PIECES OF ME
It takes a day to live an experience. It takes 30-60 minutes to write about it. It takes you 3-5 minutes to read about it. It takes you even less time to forget about it. Even I will forget in time. I forget what I read. I forget what i wrote. I forget what I lived. But whether or not I remember, I am shaped. I am impacted. I am transformed.
I would do well to duplicate the dandelion plant. One seed grows in the most difficult of places – even in the cracks of sidewalks – yet when the time is right, it has produced countless seeds. Those seeds grow into new dandelion plants, which produce more seeds, which produce more plants, and the cycle continues. It is much like the saying, “You can count the seeds in an apple, but you cannot count the apples within a seed.” What am I sowing?
Pieces of me. That is all. But those pieces of me, blessed by God Almighty, can grow for the glory of the Kingdom. I have no idea of the impact that I had or can continue to have in Honduras. What comes from chopping down tall grass so that mosquitoes have less vegetation to inhabit at the orphanage? Or how can I tell what it will help that we improved the drainage from their laundry area and bath? Will someone want to do what I do because I shared with them in their classroom? Who is impacted by my testimony at the Bible study? Will the devotions that I shared with the team have any lasting impact? Or what about my day with Alexa (well, the rest of the third graders were there also) and her sister offering me the chance to keep in touch? What happens now that I told some of those in Honduras that I will return, even though I said “Adios” this time?
Trust in The Lord in all your ways and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5,6) My understanding is so broken, so limited, so small. Because of the nature of my work with children, I did learn long ago that I will never truly know the impact of my work. I will never know if a particular word of advice was helpful or pivotal for someone who needed direction. Nor will I know what happens because of my failures, my mistakes, and my inadequacy. Thank goodness it’s not my plan. Better yet, thank God.
In one of my earlier posts on Honduras I referenced the book The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias. The book offers a perspective of a life well-lived and one that can look back upon the ways that God took some of the events that seemed to be the least significant and used them in mighty ways. We hear stories like that, like being the person that taught the person that taught the person who taught Billy Graham. How can you know at that point what God will choose to do with your actions, your words, your hands and feet? We cannot, but God does. God does us not ask us to understand, only to trust in all our ways.
I’m getting better at that. Still not great, but better. According to life expectancy predictions, I have reached the approximate half-way point. That sounds like a somber reflection in some ways, but it does not have to be. I am enjoying it. I have started to be able to reflect upon the ways that God has used different experiences to bring me to the point that I am at now. God has used seasons of preparation to place me in this season of preparation for this time of sowing seeds. Whether dandelion or fruit tree, we are meant to bring forth seeds that will multiply life. That was God’s command in the beginning; it is God’s command now.
As part of the way to bless the new mission house where we stayed, we were asked if we could bring down a sheet set and a blanket if possible. I chose to bring and leave a blue jean quilt made by my mother. I have no way of knowing if any of the patches came from jeans that I wore, but if I were to guess – knowing my mother’s resourcefulness – I would say it is pretty lucky. I thought it would be appropriate to leave “pieces of me” in Honduras, because that is exactly what I did. I left hugs, smiles, songs, words of encouragement, lights and – hopefully – Light. In exchange, I was given all of that back and more. That is the beautiful thing about God’s multiplication plan. God never asks for an equal exchange because we could never attain that. Instead, God simply asks that we leave what we have – our pieces, our seeds – and trust the creation of life to Him.
To God be the glory.
The Day the Gringos Came to Church
Tu eres mi amigo fiel
Tu eres mi amigo fiel
Tu eres mi amigo fiel
You might not recognize the words, but you would probably recognize the tune if you heard it. You might sing it as, “I am a friend of God.” Today in Honduras, in the city of La Era, there was a birth of worship. Hondurans and Americans gathered together to worship and praise God. They gathered together to break down barriers through hugs and blessings. They gathered together to sing in Spanish and English, declaring that God is our faithful friend. Indeed.
There is much that keeps us apart, especially on Sunday mornings. When I say “us,” I am referring to God’s children. I am referring to you. I am referring to me. Worship styles, people who look like us, language, comfort levels – all are factors that serve more to divide than to unite. Now how is it that those things given to us by God, for God, can keep us from God? Perhaps they keep us from God when we decide that they are not for God. When a worship style becomes for us, it is no longer for God. When our comfort level is important, it is no longer for God.
You know who gets this right? The ones who get this right, this worship without motives, is children. That was also evident today. When a song is placed before them, no matter the language, children will sing. Children will hug. Children see differently than us. It can be uncomfortable to be in a worship experience unlike your “normal” experience. It can be uncomfortable, but it can be good. It is good. You could use the excuse of saying, “I’ve never done this before.” But guess what? No one else has either. Worship is a dynamic experience. It is not like your favorite movie that you have seen six times and can quote the lines. At least it shouldn’t be. So when you gather with others to worship, you are entering a new experience which means that it should not have a predictable outcome.
To worship God is to pour out your heart and to enter into God’s. This mystery of God living in us and us living in God is rarely more wonderful than when we intentionally gather together in worship. And what then, can be more wonderful than to seek to press deeper into the heart of God? How do we do that? By living out, intentionally, this act of reconciliation. We sing songs of praise, of worship, of confession, of adoration, to be more fully reconciled to God. We greet one another in love, as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, to be more fully reconciled to each other. We listen to the truth of God’s word to allow for deep, transformational impact to come alive inside of us. So let me ask you, how are you doing with that?
As the team reflected upon the day, most commented on the beauty of worshipping together in Spanish and in English. Person after person was struck by the warmth that could take place in greeting one another, though most of us had never met before. Still others commented on the sincerity of worship within everyone else. Where else could you find that but in worship? The first answer that comes to mind for my own question is a sporting event. People who do not know each other can gather together, greet each other, and share an experience with another person who was a stranger just hours before. The question is not whether or not we worship, the question is who receives our worship.
A good friend of mine points out that worship is happening everywhere. My good friend is right. Whether it is the musician, the athlete, the political figure, the actor, or the material possession we wish to have; worship is happening everywhere. No wonder we are divided. We have fallen in love with the created rather than the Creator. We have fallen in love with what we can hold rather than what we can never grasp. We have fallen in love with what we can earn rather than what we cannot afford. We have fallen in love with ourselves.
Again we must look to children as our example. Children understand receiving. Children understand dependence. Children understand comfort in a way that we, as adults have long since forgotten. Comfort is not about what we can control, but it is all about knowing who is in control. When I step into apparent discomfort in my worship, I allow for God, through the Holy Spirit, to surround me with peace, with love, with comfort. The comfort of knowing that I am not my own. The comfort in knowing that God will provide for me when I trust in him. The comfort of knowing that I not only have a faithful friend, but an Almighty God. An Almighty God worthy of worship in any language.
I remember sharing with a friend that I did not think the “old me” would be coming back from Honduras. I had no idea how accurate that was.
The last four, nearly five, months have been an interesting adventure. Interesting in that I stepped away from a full-time position and maintained only a part-time position where I presently work. I had no other plank in the bridge to step on, only faith. And surprisingly, I had peace. I am not one for high-risk adventures. If you know me at all, you know that well. I prefer my risks to be calculated, thank you. But this time I did a different calculation and started drawing upon the reservoirs of grace and provision that God makes available.
Far too often, we find it strangely comforting to be self-reliant. Our pride and sense of accomplishment draws us in like inviting ocean waters. So, pride in hand, we swim out to say, “Look how far I have come!” No sooner do we raise our hand in exclamation than the powerful riptide of pride pulls us under. I know that has happened to me. If it has not happened to you, it will.
One thing that I had to let go of was my grasp of a title. When I stepped away from the full-time role, I was left with only one title, that of chaplain. As I applied for and didn’t receive positions that I felt qualified to fill, an interesting thought dawned on me. Four of the last five positions, or titles, that I have held have been positions that I was directly asked to seek. There was only one that I applied for and received without being asked – the ministry role. “Oh!” I exclaimed in awareness, “You’ve been making this clear all along.” I just was not looking.
It has taken me time to accept the role that I hold. In my second interview for the position, I shoved off the possibility that kids might call me “pastor.” In the form of Moses, I gave a “surely-not-me” type of response. But then the kids did start to call me that, as did the staff. What’s going on here? But I continued to do the work, and I held firmly to this place where God had brought me. I knew that he had placed me there for a reason, and to leave it would only bring me frustration.
About two weeks before I left for Honduras, I was finally able to tell my supervisor that I see myself as a pastor now, a pastor without a building. Whether by “pastor” or “minister,” I humbly accept this calling upon my life. There is a reason that I was born into a Christian family. There is a reason that my parents sacrificed to give me a Christian education. There is a reason I have felt called to serve others. There is a reason that God has allowed me to have the experiences that I have had, and that is to stop, turn around, and pour back out all of the love that has been given to me.
When I first traveled abroad it was to Nicaragua. I came back excited about what I had been able to experience. That was in 2009. I had paid it little mind until recently. There was something about the mention of a trip to Honduras that grabbed my attention. And, at the same time that I was stepping away from a title, I was stepping forward in faith that God wanted me to go to Honduras.
What I did not see, however, was just how strong the pull would be for me to return. I have not been an especially pleasant person this week. I have been irritable, frustrated, tired, and grumpy. (And yes, mom, I am eating and taking naps.) The problem lies in my “now what?” How do I mesh my experience in Honduras with my experience here?
People have differing perspectives on mission trips. Some will say, “Why would you spend money to go there when there is so much need here?” I hear you, but I don’t believe that the view has to be mutually exclusive. Going abroad and serving at home are mutually beneficial, not mutually exclusive.
Everything that I have learned here, in ministry, work, and education, helped me to be the person that I was when I was in Honduras. Everything that I learned in Honduras and in Nicaragua helps me to be the person that serves here in Grand Rapids. One shapes the other, but you cannot shape the one without the other. The truth is that my home is not here in Grand Rapids. I have never felt that. But the truth is that neither is my home in Honduras. This world is not our home, right?
So if my home is in heaven, the place that God is preparing for me, what am I to do here? Love God and love people. Going abroad reminds us of the universal truth of human brokenness. And it is also true that, universally, people need grace. And people give grace. In my two weeks abroad, I would venture to say that I gave and received more hugs than in all of the length of time in-between. Why? Partly due to culture and partly due to a recognized common love for the Lord.
There is brokenness here too, and a need for grace. Unfortunately the culture in which I am living has become very good at covering it up. We sell artificial grace, things that will make it seem like we are not broken. But, at the end of the day, we always have to take off our artificial grace. We are exposed. It is tiring. Wearisome. And unnecessary.
There is no grace substitute, and it would serve us well to stop searching. And there is no right nor wrong place to serve the Lord. We must serve where we are. One of the genuine difficulties for me this week was in leaving Honduras. It felt more like home than home. But God also reminded me that I am not ready for that step. Some day, Lord willing, I will be. But I cannot fast forward his plan for me. There is love to give here. Grace to give here. And grace to receive, much grace to receive, before the next place comes.
The only time that Jesus really began to speak about his future plans was when he knew his time had arrived. And even then, the disciples began to doubt and question. We do not need to see around the bend. We only need to see the road and the One who walks with us. When we see what is around the bend, it will make perfect sense. But, if we saw it now, we probably wouldn’t believe it anyway.
Keep walking, my friends.
*This ongoing list is intended to chronicle the many different ways that I see God’s grace, faithfulness, and rich blessings. It began as a practice following the form of One Thousand Gifts, but I felt convicted to go beyond. The song “10,000 Reasons” reminded me clearly that even such a number is not enough ways or times to give thanks to God
838) “Mi corazon para ti es aqui”
836) Having “some sense”
835) Walk with a view of Spring
834) Opportunities to work
833) Phone call from my daughter first day back
832) Interrupted plans
831) Flight voucher
830) Being able to communicate with Willie, David, Ana, Kellyn, Leo, Alexa, Nancy, Misael in their language
829) Not needing a translator to understand the prayer requests
828) Wiping the table
827) Cleaning the stove
826) Washing dishes
825) Holding a baby and remembering what to do
823) The generosity to build a new home for the orphanage
822) Being able to use Spanish to make others laugh
821) Perry the Platypus
820) “Hasta pronto”
819) Hug lines
818) The prayer of youth
817) Dreams that show us who we will meet one day
816) Texting on the toilet
815) “My roommates are delinquents.”
814) “If someone from Iceland marries someone from Cuba, do they have ice cubes?”
813) “Brittany laughs like Santa.”
811) Belly laughs
795) Orphan Outreach
794) The Potter’s House
793) The Oosterinks
792) David’s father
To say that I have avoided writing this is to put it mildly. Day 7 is the final day. Was the final day. The end. Todo. El fin. No mas.
Essentially a travel day, but not before we had half of the day in Honduras. At the end of the day, I felt no farther ahead in my summary of my time: confirming and confusing. Allow me to explain.
I remember sending an email to a friend that, months ago, declared I would travel to Honduras. Three minutes into the interview for the trip, I sensed a shift in the present spirit, and I knew I would go. And every step of the trip confirmed that I should be in Honduras. I was not uncomfortable. I put my limited Spanish into play and was told by Hondurans that I had the right “accent.” The ministry already there, the people, the children – everything made me feel at home. At one point I heard God say, “Mi corazon para ti es aqui.”
But the plane ticket had been purchased, and it was round-trip. And I awoke with questions. I did not like the feeling of being an “outsider.” I want to be an “insider.” Before my alarm went off, God woke me up. He sent me to the roof for devotions, devotions from Psalms. As the sun began to peek over the mountains, I read this: “Arise, O Lord!” from Psalm 3:7. Then, from Psalm 4:6, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.”
Finally, as the sun continued to rise, I read this:
“In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Psalm 5:3
Of course. All of my questions, all of my requests, belonged in one place – God’s hands. So, as I have tried to do this week, I prayed in Spanish. I asked to return to Honduras – soon. All week I refrained to say, “Adios” as we wrapped up in the school and the orphanage. I always said, “Hasta pronto.” Lord willing, I will see them soon.
But now what?
I am certain that God oversees our technology. Time and time again, there have been times when I am unable to do as I wish – to post, send or check email, to edit photos – and I must choose something else to do. This week was no exception. Instead of being able to publish a piece, I have added more. Instead of scanning social media, I have turned to the Word. This happened today on Day 7.
When the wireless connection would not connect, I turned back to my reading for the day. And never before has the Introduction of a book spoken so powerfully to me. Consider my heart’s desire, my ache to stay, my love to write, and my question of where I belong. And I read this in the introduction to 1 Peter:
“Nevertheless some claim that the idiomatic Greek of this letter is beyond Peter’s competence. But in his time Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek were used in the Holy Land, and he may well have been acquainted with more than one language. That he was not a professionally trained scribe..”
That last part caught me. For the past few month I have felt confirmed in pursuing a call to ministry. But the question has been, do I need to pursue formal training? This week and this line tell me no. No one formally trained Edith to care for fifteen orphans, she just did it. My heart desires to serve children, and I believe that is where God calls me. But where? And how?
Without an answer we flew into Atlanta. Instantly I felt heavier. Weight and responsibility began to settle on my shoulders. I did not like the feeling. Then something I had only imagined began to come into reality. I had said that if Michigan was in the championship game in Atlanta on Monday, I might have to go. Well, it just so happens that our connecting flight was oversold and they wanted people to stay back.
One of the trip members said, “Doug, I think it’s a sign. I think you should stay.” I volunteered and they needed me, so I stayed. But why stay for one night? Why not stay and try to go to the game? So I made plans to stay. And here I am – in my hotel room.
Well, the truth is that my desire to see the game has been trumped. Before the plane to Grand Rapids had even landed, there was an email from Honduras. One of the boys we met had a father who experienced a stroke and was given very little hope to survive. The mother planned to pull Jose from school since there was no clear plan for income. So as I look at the price for one ticket, for one night, for one game..I weigh it against the cost to support one boy and his family for a year.
This has been, in many ways, a difficult week for me. I weigh my privilege against their need. The pull of my heart goes to Honduras and back home. There are three handsome children who wait for me and need me. How do I mesh my two experiences? I want to know, “Now what?”
Jesus never really operated that way. He never told his disciples, “Well, tomorrow I will be raising a boy from the dead and withering a fig tree.” No, he met the need where he was at that time. The only time he began to point to the future was before his death, and even then his disciples did not believe him.
All day I have wondered why I am still here in Atlanta. If not for the game, then why? And I may never know. Just like in Honduras, you cannot measure a hug, a smile, a word, a gift. It is a love stone thrown into God’s ocean, and he directs the ripples. How can I know the impact on the person being able to return last night instead of me? How can I know the impact on the people who sought me out today and found me with the time to “be”?
We do not need to know the “what’s next?” but only the “what’s now?” We can only be where we are. My sons need me. Children around me need me. People in my community need me. As God would use me, I must be poured out where I am. I AM is where I am, which is why He told me, “Mi corazon para ti es aqui.” His heart for me IS here, wherever I am.
So I will trust. I will be. Wherever I am, and trust the Lord with the rest. Today I took a walk and the Lord told me to check my phone. There was no message. No reminder. Only the time.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
As he so often does, the Lord responded, “You’ll see.”
Yes, we will.
Daddy, do you see me?
Do you know that I am here?
Will you step forth to hold my hand
And wipe away my tears?
To live within your love
Is my heart’s only desire,
To feel your love consume me
As a never-ending fire.
Your love, my heart; my heart, your love,
Naught else satisfies.
Your love my love; my heart your heart,
My heartbreak is your cry.
As son of God, I pray that you
Would rise up and take a stand.
As child of God, you know that you
Should come and take my hand.
Help me color, feed and clothe me –
Know I wait for you.
Show me love and show me God
And prove his Word is true.
You’ve seen my smile and now I know
You’ve heard your daughter’s voice.
And now my final question is,
“Daddy, what’s your choice?”
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. Romans 8:19
One possible response to brokenness and injustice is to feel pity. How terrible, that’s awful..the I’m-sorry-I-saw-that response. But pity does not move us beyond ourself.
There is compassion as another response. Compassion drives us to activity, to do something. Compassion is good, but then what? Did your activity change the life of the receiver, or did it make your own broken heart feel better? Compassion is not bad – don’t get me wrong – but this is an honest question I must ask to myself.
Compassion seems like enough until it is held up to a higher standard. That standard is love. Today we had the opportunity to visit San Jose orphanage in La Paz. The orphanage exists because God found a willing vessel. A vessel empty of all but love. Edith was once a nun, teaching in a school. But as she taught in a privileged area, she felt God telling her there was more. There was.
She left the ministry and, therefore, all of her means of support. While staying with her parents, she continued to pray. One day a mother dropped off two children, asking Edith to care for them, and left. Edith did. What may have begun as compassion grew into more. Word spread of Edith and more children were left with her. Her only means of support was daily dependence upon God. When the mayor’s office forced her from her apartment, she was offered the use of an abandoned high school. Fitting, perhaps, that abandoned children would be given an abandoned building.
Edith thanked the Lord and her compassion spilled over into love. Tonight as I rest comfortably, Edith is sharing a bed with at least two, if not three, small children. Daily she cares for at least fifteen children, and sometimes even more. With the help of one woman that prepares lunches, she labors on.
But look at what the Lord does – he provides. There is always food. The kids are safe. The kids are loved. We often forget that there is a difference between our wants and our needs. My list of blessings has grown longer this week while I am farther removed from my comforts. We experience the complete fullness of God when we are empty.
The verse in Romans cries out for sons and daughters of God to be revealed. And how will the world know we are God’s children? By our love. I shared with others today that I do not like the feeling of being an outsider. All three girls in this picture are special for me in my experience of Honduras. Two of them became my playground partners as I took off the safety net and waded up into their world. I put my limited Spanish into practice, and they were thrilled that I understood. Because I understood, they asked me to do more and more. One in particular talked to me all afternoon at the park, even though she knew I could not understand everything. The third girl is one that I met at the orphanage and I helped her color a picture. With fierce intensity she colored and then asked for the next color to add. And that is what I had to stop experiencing when it was time to leave.
Which all points back to my honest assessment: when have I been completely empty? How do I reconcile my experience with theirs? I know that such questions are common at he conclusion of a mission trip, but still I ask, “Now what?”
I intentionally chose not to say good-bye to the children this week. Instead I thanked them for the hugs and said, “Hasta pronto,” our equivalent to “See you soon.” I know God confirmed my steps in this journey. I also know there is more. But to experience more, I must move forward in the process of emptying myself. Only then will I see where God is leading.