uncomfortable grace

The road is harder than you expected it to be and you’re struggling more than you think you should. People say you’re growing but somehow that doesn’t seem very comforting. It’s hard to see and feel God in these seasons, and fear and doubt creep closer than you like, vicious dogs snapping at your heels and making you wonder what the point of it all is.

Uncomfortable grace.

I was introduced to this idea by Paul David Tripp in his devotional New Morning Mercies:

“Yes, your life is messy and hard, but that’s not a failure of the plan; it is the plan. It’s God working to complete what he’s begun in you. … We all need to teach and encourage each other with the theology of uncomfortable grace, because on this side of eternity, God’s grace often comes to us in uncomfortable forms. It may not be what you and I want, but it is precisely what we need. God is faithful; he will use the brokenness of the world that is your present address to complete the loving work of personal transformation that he has begun.”

We know that following Jesus requires sacrifice and suffering. That this is expected, not abnormal. Yet somehow— we all do it— when the trials come we look up in consternation and ask where is God?

How can we live in such a way that to suffer is expected? To change the entitled, comfort-driven mindset that we are bequeathed by our culture at birth to a mind that can see the hand of God in the adverse circumstances, transforming us ever more into the people He wants us to be?

Adverse circumstances are not all designed by God to bring about our transformation. Many are simply the result of a fallen world and the fact that, although God has the final victory, currently the king of the earth is a violent, sadistic, evil fallen being who loves nothing more than to wreak havoc and chaos to keep us all in confusion and distrustful of the God who made us. But the fact remains that God can use even the evil of this one for His glory. He can bring good from bad and beauty from ashes. The story isn’t over yet, and God will have the last word.

So this uncomfortable grace. Uncomfortable because it isn’t the warm and fluffy word we once thought it was, but a refining fire. It’s a grace that loves us too much to allow us to stay in shallow comfort and pulls us ever deeper. It’s a grace that whispers “I’m near; you are not alone” when the crap hits the fan again and again and you feel as if surely you can’t take much more. But so often we (I mean me) are more likely to doubt God’s goodness and character and faithfulness because it doesn’t make sense to our culturally-conditioned minds. Surely, if you love someone, don’t you protect them from harm? Not always. Not if it means growth and transformation and holiness. This is hard. So very very hard. God knows about letting his children suffer to bring about a greater glory and greater good than the one’s comfort. And oh don’t you see it dear heart? When you refuse to trust and stubbornly cry against the unfairness and injustice of it all instead of trusting the God who is holding it all… you’re letting the evil one have his way. You’re letting him separate you from the one who loves you endlessly.

I’m learning this, slowly by slowly. It’s hard. I’m not a quick learner. But oh the beauty of this grace that is not fluffy and comfy but messy and muddy and real… that meets us in the hurt and says— good will come out of this yet. Keep on trusting.

Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:8-12

…being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping in the time-tested and proven character of my loving and faithful Creator God, who knows the ins and outs of this story so much better than I do. The day to day waiting isn’t so pleasant, but it’s a process. And I’m learning to be okay with the messy in-between because He hasn’t failed me yet. So very thankful today for grace, in every form that He gives it.

To the ones who want to change the world

They handed me my diploma and said, “Go change the world.” So with a heart full of dreams and a head full of nursing theory I set out to do just that. I knew I didn’t know everything, but I did know quite a lot. And moving to Africa was sure to be the biggest adventure yet.

My feet found red dirt and quickly grew calloused, and my hair became steadily more wild. Here I was, long skirts and chacos, living the dream. I found myself in a tribe of people whose language was unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and did not resemble the catchy songs in Lion King so much as deep, drum-thudding rhythms of the earth itself. My tongue twisted and stumbled over strange syllables and I couldn’t walk anywhere without the color of my skin making me stand out like some neon beacon. I told Jesus stories and found myself helping to start a clinic in the middle of the bush, something that my BSN did not begin to prepare me for. So what if living the dream doesn’t look quite so dreamy in the hard real of the daily grind? When your clothes smell like bush, no matter how many times they’re washed and meals take hours to prepare, and sometimes surviving seems to take all the energy you have for the day. When the language still is a struggle and the people are entrenched in witchcraft and tribalism that is heartbreaking to see. It doesn’t look much like I’m changing the world. It doesn’t look like I’m doing much of anything. But the talk in town about the clinic run by the muzungu (white) girls is that you leave there feeling better, not just in your body but also your soul, because they genuinely care and pray with each patient. Mother Teresa said, “we can do no great things, only small things with great love.” That was my senior quote back in the class of 2011 at DHS. I thought I understood it then, but I’m learning everyday how true it is for missionary life. So the clinic keeps rocking on, and I feel overwhelmed by my role as doctor- diagnosing and prescribing treatment, praying desperately for Jesus to help them because I really wasn’t trained for this. But it is making some kind of difference. People are still hearing the name of Jesus. It’s not earth-shattering or world-changing, but it’s me being obedient and that’s all Jesus asks of each of us anyway.

image

I came to the ends of the earth to do my part in changing the world. But I’m learning that maybe God had a different kind of plan. Maybe He brought me all this way to change me. You read that story about God going out for the lost sheep, for the one who needs to know his love, the one who has strayed from the flock… and ambitious little Amanda-girl packs her bags and hops on a plane to partner with Jesus in finding that one lost sheep. Imagine my surprise, then, when I’m covered in this red dust of Africa and tears lurk at the corners of my eyes because I really thought that I would be better at this missionary thing… and God whispers to my heart that’s wrapped in the lies of not-good-enough, “Don’t you see, my daughter? You’re the one. You’re the wandering sheep I’m after. This life season I’m changing you.” But that feels incredibly selfish and self-absorbed doesn’t it? That God would bring me all the way to Africa to change me. What about these people wandering in darkness who need Your light? And again that peaceful voice, “I’m making my light shine through you brighter because of the work I’m doing in your heart. You are not the shepherd. You are one of the sheep. You are the one whose heart I am after because you need to know me more in order to shout my love from the mountaintops. I am teaching you.” There’s peace and freedom in that. I don’t have to work harder or do more to be a better missionary. I have to do what He calls each of us to do: abide in Him. Listen and obey. Give love to our fellow humans. Tell His story of grace come down- every follower of Jesus has a story like that.

There’s still a piece of my heart that dreams of changing the world. But I now know that it looks different than what I once thought. It looks like loving the people God puts in your path today. Loving each human- the one. Because that is what He has done for me. He has seen me and known me and come after me, the one silly stubborn wandering sheep. And that changes everything. These are the steps that change the world for someone. You, with Jesus-love in your heart and an ear tuned to His voice saying “This is the way, walk in it” can do small big things. But don’t miss how He might be working on your heart too.

Souls wrapped in fragile flesh

If only I could show you. If only I could take you by the hand and walk these red dirt roads… greeting friends and strangers as goats and cows wander through the bush. I would have you come sit in the clinic and just watch as the souls pass through in frail human bodies… wracked with malaria and respiratory infections and arthritis that grips their joints like a vise. Pain and fevers as they come explaining their sickness, looking with hope at the white girls with medicine. And as I kneel before them, taking their temperature and listening to the rise and fall of breath in lungs and the steady heartbeat of another survivor, my soul cries out against the darkness. Not this one. No more. This has been a place of darkness and hopelessness for too long. I offer them medicine but point to Jesus as the hope of true healing, soul-healing that every last one of us needs. I may never know the souls who seek and find the Savior, but that makes my job even more crucial- we all need a little love and we never know when loving will cause them to look at the Source- Jesus.

Then to leave the clinic and meet with the believers as they learn Jesus-stories to tell in their villages… and the discussion of the story feels like Jesus himself came to sit among us. The story from John 11 of Lazarus and Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. And seeing the understanding dawn on their faces- that just because we face difficulty does not mean that Jesus doesn’t care, in fact, he cares deeply and he knows our fragile, fallen human tendencies, so He gives us opportunities to have faith and to show His glory. This is something they can carry with them. A story to put in their pocket and write upon their hearts- the compassion and love of our Lord is unending, but the difficult days grow our faith and point to His incomprehensible glory.

This. These people slowly by slowly finding hope and true life– truths my people have known for decades upon decades but these were dying without even knowing that there was a path to life eternal. This is why I will always choose the hard, uncomfortable, abnormal, and not exactly safe life that I am currently living. I can’t live safe and comfortable and not share this treasure- that would be the most selfish way to spend my days.

I recently had a friend tell me of a conversation he had with a guy in America who was looking at the possibility of spending a few months of his life in an uncomfortable, war-ravaged, poverty-stricken place to share the good news of Jesus. This guy’s pastor dissuaded him because it might be “needlessly dangerous.”
….. um….
To that I say– ask anyone living in a “dangerous” place… it’s worth it. The need is REAL. The easy places already know truth. What’s left? The places and people who need to see Jesus-love from souls who carry vast treasure in a jar of clay, people who love Jesus more than their own lives, and whose hearts break at the knowledge of the dying masses who simply don’t know hope because they haven’t been told. Maybe the brave faith that this life requires looks a bit too radical for you… but take it from a girl who fights the lies of fear every single day- we’re just choosing obedience and then walking in his strength. You can be that kind of brave too.

Every single one of us Jesus-followers are commanded to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)… but only you know what that looks like for your life. Jesus will show you where and who if your ears are open to listen and obey. But don’t you dare step between God and someone else’s obedience. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:3). I guarantee you that we were not saved from death and an eternity in hell to only sit in a pew on Sundays and Wednesdays. And when did Jesus or Paul or anyone in Scripture not go somewhere simply because it might be dangerous? They walked straight into danger if that’s where God was leading because they knew that obedience would lead to his glory faster than any “safe” option that they could come up with. So, dear heart, hear me say this with love in my voice: You were not created to live small and scared. You received freedom with faith to follow Jesus to the literal ends of the earth. So hear every one of us living obedience cheering you on, as well as those whose names and stories teach us much about faith in Hebrews 11… you aren’t walking alone. And my Jesus is more than enough and worth it all.

The need is real, the workers are few, and the call for obedience applies to you too.
Are you listening?

Much love.

Baggage Control

Rushing through the airport, missing a flight, waiting and waiting on a solution and to find a way back to Africa. Two day layover, needing my luggage and then waiting again for them to find it in the huge airport. And as I was sitting on that hard plastic chair in a bright white room with other people who are also just waiting, I realized something. 1. Adventures aren’t always fun. Sometimes they’re time-consuming and stressful and hard. 2.God has been growing this heart of mine. I really have changed. I’m not the same person I used to be, and this is good because it means ever so slowly I am learning to look more like Jesus.
Those of you who know me know that I am not especially patient. I like to be busy and I don’t like waiting in lines or waiting for things to happen… any form of waiting I’m typically against. But God has been ever so gently erasing my stubbornness in this area and teaching me the fruit of patience. I also have a bit of me that likes to be in control and make sure things go smoothly and efficiently and according to plan. Well, when you miss your flight and are at the mercy of airport personnel, you are definitely not in control and there will definitely be much waiting involved. So there I was. Sipping on my water and watching the people outside the glass walls collect their baggage and go on their way to explore Dubai. I just wanted the ordeal to be over, but I realized, in spite of the stress of the situation so far, I was not tapping my foot impatiently and frantically reaching for my music or book or anything to occupy my mind so I wouldn’t feel the strain of the waiting. I was sitting calmly, watching National Treasure play on the TV across the room and smiling a bit at how it reminded me of America. I was calm. I had some strange peace that in spite of everything, it was going to work out and be ok. And my heart turned to lift praise heavenward because truly this was the work of God in my life… I was waiting patiently, calmly. And maybe it seems like such a small thing to you, but let me tell you dear heart- celebrate the small victories. They matter and the work God is doing in your heart to make you more like Him is something to be celebrated. And maybe it was no coincidence that I was sitting in Baggage Control when God revealed His nearness to me. When we’re so focused on our own crap and how we don’t measure up, it’s easy to miss the ways God wants to guide us into growth. When I’m anxious and stressed and trying to hold tightly to my plan, then I’m carrying a weight I was never meant to bear. God has everything perfectly within His control. So maybe we all have a little baggage we can drop at the door, to lighten our load as we run this race of following Jesus. Maybe mine is my need to make things happen and control all the things… because God is still on the throne, and He really doesn’t need my help. So I may not ever stop making a plan, but if I can wait patiently when the plan changes and calmly trust that God’s got it handled… I think I can say I’m making progress on this following Him thing. And I did eventually get my luggage and proceeded to enjoy an unexpected 2 day layover in Dubai. So that’s a bit of my crazy life and what God is teaching me. Maybe this story will meet you where you are and bring some encouragement. Regardless, this is for those with victory in their veins who see Jesus moving and look for ways to give Him praise… because regardless of how bad it gets we still have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for you, reading this. May you find more of Jesus today than you did yesterday. Much love.

Real talk

One year ago I started a journey. Now I am sitting in a friend’s apartment in Istanbul, a friendship that was formed in the weeks of training in Virginia, preparing us for this international life. I didn’t know life would look like this. But I wouldn’t choose any other life either. It’s so hard to explain, but I am going to try. Social media catches the highlights… because who wants to scroll through their newsfeed and see “Today was a struggle…again”? But maybe that’s the real our hearts are longing for? To know that we aren’t shuffling through the hard struggle days on our own. To know that someone else knows that hard days come more often than we like to admit but the word of the day is persevere… because it is worth it. Living in the middle of where the Father has called you to be is always worth it.
My life looks like some kind of grand adventure from the outside. Many days it is a bigger adventure than I ever dreamed I would live. But it’s hard. It’s hard and not glamorous and I wouldn’t be a friend if I hid that from you. And me? I’m not perfect. Sometimes I’m too selfish and not caring and choosing comfort is easier than choosing love.
Can I tell you something though? I’m learning to give myself grace. I’m learning to be ok with the small steps of everyday. I’m learning to persevere on days when I just really don’t feel like getting out of bed. I never thought I would struggle this much. I never thought that when I was right in the middle of the life I dreamed of that I would want to run away.
But my Father knew I would stumble and struggle and brave wouldn’t be some easy thing that I woke up with everyday. He knew I would need encouragement and grace and His word to sustain me.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3

The cross was always before Jesus. He always knew the hard that was coming. But that didn’t keep him from pouring out love and offering healing and speaking grace to the people who would soon reject and crucify Him. And because He lives in me, I can love and give grace like this too. I can keep my eyes on His truth and persevere, because He truly is worth it all. AND SO CAN YOU. I don’t know what lies you have let creep in and take up residence in the dusty corners of your heart, but you, dear heart, don’t have to let them stay. Too long the enemy has stolen my joy and replaced hope with discouragement and fear. Can we all just stand up and say “no more”? We are children of light if we have a relationship with the Father… and His power is greater than any hard day or storm tossed sea. Maybe you think you could never do what I am doing, but hear me loud and clear: I am just like you. Fallen, broken, selfish, struggling to give myself grace and love others well. I simply chose to believe that God was bigger than my small dreams and said yes to the big adventure He was leading me into. Obedience. That’s the thing (combined with perseverance once you’re in the middle of it and it gets hard) that makes the difference. That’s the key to the door that unlocks God’s bigger things and life abundant that we all long for. So run your race. Throw love like confetti and let His grace be loud in your life. Let His glory shining through your smile be what you are known for… and believe Him for the big impossible things and the brave for today. Don’t let those lies weigh you down anymore. And by His grace, I’m going to believe this too. I’m going to walk in these truths and see life like the some kind of beautiful it is. It matters that you’re here on this earth. You have a purpose and I do not want fear to keep any of us from living abundantly.

Vacation is ending and I’m heading back to the bush. There’s a large part of me that wants to be anxious for the hard that I know is coming. But a larger part of me remembers that the God who put me here knows me intimately, and He is not leaving me to struggle through on my own. The people I live with are beautiful. The need is real but so is this brave spark He put in me… the spark that yearns for every person to intimately know the heartbeat of our Savior.

So let’s do this life thing. I believe in Jesus in you.

Peace and thankfulness

There is a strange expectancy in my mind these days. An expectation to have arrived already. I mean, I graduated and became a nurse a year ago. I’ve been living in this place with these people for 8 months now. Surely I would have something figured out? Surely I should feel more confident about this whole being a bush nurse in a third-world country? But I think these are just lies fed to all of us in different ways… making each of us feel incompetent or discontent in the place where life has us currently. Because I have grown a lot from a year ago. I’m a different Amanda from the one who threw that black cap in the air in May and looked with bright eyes to the adventure ahead. I’m living the adventure. So why am I tempted to become discouraged and hold my life to measure by someone else’s accomplishments? We each have our own unique journey. God is teaching me, in this season on my journey, to find joy in the small steps. My mind is busy with many things I need to do to improve, to work harder, to be more or better… and I hear Him whisper softly: Rest in me. Walk in peace. Listen. See.

Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God with thanksgiving. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

I am learning how to walk in peace. This verse has popped up during every season of my life in a different way, and I think this time God is teaching me about thanksgiving. The key to finding peace is thanksgiving. If you are thankful for where you are, right this moment, even in the middle of the confusion and chaos and busyness and hurry and worry… if you take a minute to remember what you do have to be thankful for, it leads you to remember who your God is. He is the one who can do abundantly more than you can ask or imagine. With that, comes peace. The faithful, unchanging, compassionate Savior… He is more than able to help you walk through this season. Peace.

So I’m finding reasons to be thankful, and I want to list a few here, so you can see the faithfulness of our Jesus. And I want you to know, no matter what corner of the world you find yourself in, you can have peace also. I’m still learning how to let it fill and overflow my life and my days, but Jesus wasn’t joking when He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). I think choosing to live in the peace we’re given is a daily choice, and the thing that helps us do this is seeing life through thankful eyes.

I am thankful for:
-Nachap- her quick smile and how she always has a song on her lips as she goes about her work
-that I know and can tell the story of Mary and Martha in Ngakaramojong
-rain on a tin roof
-a team to do life alongside
-the promise of peace that we have as children of God
-a day in the garden, seeing the crops grow and pulling weeds that threaten to choke out the new life
-praying with patients at the clinic
-the ability to give medicine and alleviate suffering for so many
-seeing the nationals learn bible stories and joyfully practice them and then share them with others
-harvesting squash and kale and herbs from our garden and using them to make dinner
-seeing the women jump and dance for joy at bible study
-…and lots more things but I’m trying to keep this post short so I’ll end here for now 🙂

I don’t have it all figured out. I think that “arriving” is somewhat of a perfectionist illusion that traps us into feeling discontent with the slow and steady progress we are making. So whatever season life has you in, I hope you find peace. I hope you take time to see the joyful things and praise God for them. Please do take time to feel the hurt and heartache and let it grow you. Let the rivers of tears carve out new pathways for grace to run wild in your heart. Let this season be all that it needs to be for you. You’re only human; you don’t have to figure it all out. Take that burden off your shoulders and put it where it belongs- on the shoulders of Jesus.

Praying that whoever reads this will find a bit more peace today.

when the women gather…

The sun rises in an overcast sky, for which I am thankful because it tells of the rains that are coming now almost daily. The green crops sprouting across the land breathe praise to the One who gives life and rain and growth. My morning starts with a rush because I am hurrying to the women’s bible study. Typical to African culture, the “program” started at 7, which meant women started walking to the meeting place at 7am. I arrived about 7:40 to set up the benches and greet the early ones, and then they came by the dozens. Old akumats in dresses they bought for this specific occasion- the chance to gather with women and hear the word of God and praise Him together. Mothers with their babies on their backs and small children following close alongside. The woman who bought new shoes for this morning, even though she was hungry, because she wanted to have new shoes for when she entered to worship. Their smiles were filled with such joy as we all greeted each other… and then the singing! The akumat (grandmother) in her gray suit jacket and swishy green skirt with her hair tied up in a sassy floral bandana… shuffling to the middle of the circle, with her face split wide in joy and the other ladies laughing with her as she danced and clapped and praised Jesus with her whole heart, shamelessly, for everyone to see. Then Betty started the jumping and the women left the burdens and the cares of the day behind as they sprung into the air with big smiles… jumping for Jesus. And more women kept coming in, and I left to find more benches, and there still weren’t enough seats for all the women in that room! And then the word of God was shared- Holly told of how since creation God has had a plan and the stories leading to Jesus and His gift to us of salvation (Creation to Christ).. and women still kept coming in, sitting and standing along the walls just to hear this story that has been meant for them since the dawn of time, yet has taken so long to reach their ears. The meeting continued with some discussion and ended with everyone greeting their neighbors with smiles and laughter. Whether from the town or village, all are hungry for the Word of God. They’re beautiful.When the meeting was finished we drove the ones who had walked far back to their homes, and the 15 women packed into that Land Cruiser tried to lift the roof off with their songs- singing joyful praise from grateful hearts so loudly that people we passed on the road stopped and stared after us, wondering the cause of such rejoicing. As the women returned to the work of the day– weeding their gardens and cooking for their families and caring for children, they had the Word of God in their hearts and a song of praise to Him on their lips. God is moving here. Y’all. He’s hearing our prayers. Keep praying for these strong beautiful women of Karamoja. May they know a personal relationship with the Father, this One who loves them so deeply, and is worth giving our lives in surrender to Him for the joy and life He brings. I want them all to know true joy and love, because only a few do, but their joy is contagious. For those who do know Jesus, I want them to be discipled in His truth and share that hope with others. Ain’t no party like a Jesus party. When these ladies gather, walls shake.