I Too Am Weird

Caution: I Am Weird
I fast because I’m hungry
I run because I am thirsty
I die every day because I want to live
I lead because I follow
I give everything away to become rich
I am weak and broken so that I will be strong
I see more when my eyes are closed
I’m in love with someone I haven’t seen
I love the unlovely
I am honored when people mock me
I embrace these foolish things to become wise
I will walk whole heartedly out on any limb He requires, 
because even if He lets it break, He can teach me to fly.
-Lygon Stevens
 
I am watching a documentary of a young woman that I very much esteem. Five years ago, Lygon Stevens went on a hike with her brother and during that hike, an avalanche would take her life. That was January 10th, 2008. It wouldn’t be until 6 months later that they would recover her body from the mountain side in Colorado, after the snow finally melted away. The incredible story of Lygon’s body recovery is that when her brother and a small team of people went to recover it, they found her body perfectly preserved and surrounded by hundreds of yellow flowers. What a picture of God’s grace.
 
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His loved one” – Psalm 116:15
 
Lygon was a tremendous climber and mountaineer, even at such a young age. She summited thirty-nine 14, 000 foot peaks in Colorado alone, while adding Denali and all the highest peaks in Ecuador to her accomplishments. She had a passion for the Lord that fueled a passion for climbing. Her life accomplished much in the world’s eyes by the age of 20. What’s remarkable, she cared little about what the world thought and only delighted in knowing and loving her heavenly Father.
 
Even with all the remarkable gifting and passion she seemed to exude, even more incredible are her writings. At such a young age, she had such a unique relationship with the Lord. I love reading some of the “greats” – Tozer, Spurgeon, M. Henry,  Brother Lawrence and Guyon. Her writings touch the deep places of my heart, as many of my favorite authors do and it reminds me of a powerful truth: God longs to reveal Himself to His children and satisfy them with a richness this world cannot provide. Age does not matter.
 
“For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” – Psalm 107:9
 
If you want to be challenged to live your life to the fullest and press in with all you have for the time you have, you should take the time to read Lygon’s story and see where her source came from. You visit her website hereThe Time to Live is Now and purchase her book of writings. I promise you will be richly blessed. Also, Day of Discovery just came out with a docu-drama on her story that you can watch here: The Time to Live is Now Documentary
 
I hope and pray that we can be mutually encouraged by her life that is still speaking. I will leave you with one of my favorite pieces of her writing, because I very much identify with it, not just as a climber but also as pilgrim on her journey to her heavenly Zion.
 

Conquering Oneself

To stand on the summit is a privilege not a victory.

No one can conquer a mountain.

It is impossible and does not exist.

All people are mountain climbers but not all people will climb.

This truth does not change for any person:

The privilege of standing on the summit only lasts a few minutes –no one can linger there.

Keep pushing on and learn that victory comes in the day to day,

not the product of the day to day, not the few moments in which the pushing upward ends.

Victory and glory come from conquering oneself not the mountain.

I pray that we all would keep climbing by God’s incredible grace alone and stop believing that we were never made to or that we’ve arrived at some summit. Oh, we will know when we’ve truly arrived! So with God’s help, and some wonderful companions along the way, we will keep pressing on and taking small steps, that eventually become an ever winding journey leading to true Victory!

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like the feet of the dear, enabling me on the heights” Habakkuk 3:19

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Life Can’t Be Measured by a Year

I cannot believe this day has come. Just another day on the busy calendar of life and yet a year ago today, many lives were changed – MANY. Mine was one of them.

Around the end of 2011, my precious friend Christen started getting horrible migraines. It was not necessarily out of the usual for her to get them. But they continued on for months and she surprisingly continued on with life as normal as possible. They began to increase in intensity and from my vantage point, it became a constant matter of prayer.

I still remember the last Tuesday that I saw her at our church prayer meeting. It was in November. She was wearing a brown sweater with a blue collared shirt underneath. She met me on the platform before the prayer meeting began, her blonde hair glowing under the stage lights. I put my guitar down and gave her a big-as-usual-shelly-hug. “How are you friend?”, I asked. She began to tell me how her migraine was still there and now she was losing hearing in her ear and had vertigo. “WHAT?!”, I exclaimed. My heart was just wondering what on earth was going on in her body and when would this strange cold – because that’s what she thought it may have been – would go away. We bowed our heads to pray. I laid my hands on her ear, on her head and we cried out to the Lord. She still looked as though she was in pain – fatigued by the ongoing onslaught of the migraines – but she was there, on that platform and we sang and prayed our hearts out that night. Little did any one know she had cancer.

About a short month and a few days later, my precious sister would be in the presence of her Lord and Savior. That day was a year ago today.

I still cannot believe it.

Honestly, I haven’t written much about Christen because there is so much stored up in my heart and stirred up in my spirit. How do I describe such a wonderful friend, mother, wife and deep bond of sisterhood that I experienced with her, even if our friendship really only began deepening the last 3 years of her life? It amazes me how God can do that. It really only took 3 years for us to build a growing and iron-sharpening friendship. That’s one thing about my time with Christen that I miss the most. We would always go way too deep even for our own good! We would delve into theological topics, such as sanctification, regeneration and GRACE. We’d chat and chat, either at apartment dates at my place or at hers, with little feet scurrying around the house, as Hudson ran around in his superman undies and Audrey in her princess heels. It never deterred our talking about life and Jesus, as she folded loads of laundry, made dinner or had to discipline the running undies boy🙂. Many of our conversations would take us to dreaming about what God may have for us in the future. On one of our musing dates, she shared about a desire God had been putting in her heart to write books. Together, we dreamt about putting together, one day, a magazine for women without all the fru-fru, but it would be theologically rich, spirit-filled in breadth, global in focus and relevant to current needs of what women work through in this blessed city – from Godly parenting and home decor (of course that’s all Christen!), to living out your faith in community, within the Body and advancing the Kingdom of God in your sphere of influence. We had plans to reach all sorts of women one day – reaching young, old, single and married – that all who were broken and weary could find a community of sisters to do authentic life with. She was pretty stoked and I was game! That was last October…I will never forget that.

And that was Christen through and through. She had such an authentic relationship with the Lord and it would breathe life to my soul. She wasn’t concerned about being “godly” in other people’s eyes; She only wanted God to permeate her life. And He did. She taught me so many things, that she didn’t even realize I was picking up on, but I watched her like a hawk and picked her brain about many things.

Probably one of the sweetest moments we shared together that I will never forget was while we watched a video on discipleship for the global cause of Christ. I probably talked to Christen the most about my longing for missions other than talking to Jesus himself. She had a passion to make disciples of Christ too and had such a burden for her community. We both longed to spend our lives doing that, whether in Chicago, in her area that was a melting pot of world religions, overseas or wherever we found ourselves, that we would be committed to make true disciples of Christ! We sat, hunched around her dinosaur of a computer and watched this video as tears welled in our eyes, seeing what God can do with those committed to raising up just ONE disciple of Christ. The multiplicative implications stirred us.We cried through it as we listened to testimonies of lives being transformed by the power of the God’s Word. After the video ended, we just sat in silence for a while. Finally, she looked at me and said, “We must pray.” And pray and cry and (eventually) rejoice, we did, for the Victory in Christ would continue to permeate our souls and that incredible message would be sent out from us; that God would use us all the days of our lives for people to find Him, know Him and fall in love with Him.

Even in the midst of all that, she was still plowing away, one foot in heaven, one on earth, living to be a faithful steward of what God had entrusted to her. Perfect? No. Authentic. As much as someone can be on this side of heaven.

Her life spoke then and still speaks today.

“BELOVED, DON’T SETTLE”

I still remember we were leaving church one day and she yelled from her car, as she was putting 2 children in car seats and Joe was saying goodbye to her (since they usually had to take separate cars to church because of their involvement in various ministries), “SHELLY! Did you read my blog post from today?” We were blog encouragers. Secretly, we always wished that more people actually read our blogs but truth be told, we were part of each others fan clubs, with some other close friends and her family. In time, we came to understand that our posts were probably more for us than an audience. “No, I didn’t get a chance to!”, I yelled back. “It’s a good one”, she laughed, “and I totally thought of you and Beth Moore the way I ended it.” Well, I read it as soon as I got home, A Holiday at Sea, and let me tell you, that blog did me in. In her very simplistically-profound way of writing, her words put me at another wonderful crossroad. It was there that God planted into my heart seeds that would really awaken more fully the moment she passed into the eternal Glory. I can’t fully describe it – it is supernatural and I’m not making much of her or words, but I do know that something in my spirit came to life. Her words became the cry of my heart sent out in earnestness, joy and faith. Those very words reverberated back, in my seasons of discouragement, doubt, fatigue of the faith journey, from the mouth of my Faithful Father, “Beloved, don’t you dare settle!” It’s been my driving force ever since.

My sister ran this race, she fought the good fight and she kept the faith. She did not settle for less than God’s best: HIMSELF. And I’m realizing the more we have of Jesus, the more of His GRACE, peace, love and righteousness we possess; the more we lay hold of His ways and the surrender our wills, then the MORE we have a joy unspeakable and full of glory…for we are receiving the goal of our faith – the deepening salvation of our souls! The details of life are in His hands but what will matter at the end of the Day – that day that we will all face – is did I really know and Love Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Was that the pursuit of my life? It’s not the destination that matters, but Who is with us and those we’re seeking to gather along with us. That’s how I want to live the rest of my days, not settling in my love pursuit of God, but that I may lay hold of every sweet and precious promise availed to me through the Cross of Christ and flowing from a Father’s heart.

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”

My thought wanderings and ramblings do not do Christen Ringle justice and all the more so, they fall gravely short of what Christ can do. Her life cannot be measured by the 29 years she lived here on earth because she did not waste it. This past year cannot be measured by calendar days, because God packs so much into a moment that may not even be seen until somewhere else on the kingdom calendar of “life”. Who can fathom the ripple effect of God’s spirit and power? I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak of God’s incredible commitment and grace to His children that I’ve experienced. By that alone, which is more than enough, I have more of a tenacity and resolve to live my days knowing and loving Him.

And when I see Joe, Audrey and Hudson, I stand in awe of a faithful and merciful God, who has given every ounce of Himself, that they too may stand and testify of indescribable grace in every moment of a day, leading to today and that will go beyond. I cannot say I understand it. I still see them at times and my heart feels a physical pain from all that happened a year ago. It’s ok to not have all the answers. It’s ok to let the mysteries unfold however God desires them to because He is most assuredly still at work, my heart knows that full well. It’s bigger than you or I to figure out, but just like Christen said,

” If you can wrap your mind around it, then it’s too small.  Beloved, do not settle.”  

And by God’s grace, until we all see our Savior face to face, we dare not because if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?   

Yes, Beloved of Christ, he has given us everything we need and will ever need to finish triumphantly, joyfully and taking with us as many as possible. That is immeasurable. That is why Christen was here and we are not home yet. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

I am More than Blessed

As I think back on the past 31 years, I have come to realize that each day is truly a gift from the Lord. Not that I always see it that way, but I am trying to learn to be thankful for each and every day, for I do not hold them or number them and if by the mere fact I still have breath in my lungs, it was put there for a reason – not my own. And by reason of my own deduction I see that each day is less about me and more about Thee.

I have SO much to be grateful for that I could not even sleep last night. I just had to tell Him how much all these years have meant to me. I look at 31 and I’m not dismayed. I look at 31 and say, “Surely God has been in my midst and I am more than blessed!”

So many times our lives can be marked by the pain, hurt, scars and regrets. There are things in my life that have surely been painful, whether created by my own stubborn, foolish and wicked heart or there have been things in my life that I had no sort of control over. In a sense, they are the cards that I was dealt. I really used to get tripped-up by both scenarios, either loathing in my own regret and condemnation or sometimes wishing my life looked more like someone elses. But something has changed in all these years – a great shift of perspective both in mind and heart. This shift has changed not only the way I see but the way I think. The Word of God and the Word of Truth, Jesus, have become the standard of faith, assurance, hope and peace in this mind and heart, that it’s forever transformed. I pray the Spirit will continue to transform my lowly thoughts and raise them to their proper place – where Jesus is always exalted above feelings and His truth is the way in which I live.

I have seen – miraculously witnessed – how scripture is true: God works ALL things for the good. I am amazed how He alone does it! My life is not marked by the events of my life that were a reproach to me nor the situations that may have shaped me, but my life is marked by an Almighty, Loving and Faithful God who turns all things evil for His good. He loves to make beauty from our ashes and display His splendor through the cracked earthen-vessels we are. He alone rightfully deserves all the praise and glory, for He alone is the only one able to do such amazing things!

I look back over the last 31 years and I am so filled with awe, that I am deeply loved by a Father, Friend, Savior and Bridegroom who has always pursued my best interest. I am more than blessed!

I look back over the last 31 years and this amazing God has flipped all things for the good! Every hard place became an altar that I could build and meet with Him there. There were wrestlings like Jacob; cries like David; dungeons like Joseph; heartache and loss similar to Job’s; loss of mission like Samson; struggles and thorns like Paul; fears like Jonah; stubborn pride like Hezekiah; denial like Peter and the list could go on and on. But that has never phased the Lord. He did not ransom me from death based on a perfect record; He rescued me because I belong to Him. Truly all things that were once gain, I count as such loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus. Now, all I see is “FAITHFUL” written across every part of my life!

I am more than blessed!

In the times I did not understand why He allowed certain things to happen and I was overwhelmed with sorrow and pain, faithfully, He came down again and ministered to this heart with peace and grace. Not just once, but over and over and over until my heart and mind were transformed and I began to see things from His perspective.

When I look at my family and all that we have been through, I am so grateful that the Lord had determined before my parents were even born, the day and the hour He would come in and shake things up : ). He knew before we did that we all belonged to Him. I take such comfort in His perfect timing of all events to see to it that He became not just Savior, but Lord of our lives. I am more than blessed to be a daughter to Hector and Mary Lou Torres and have such a wonderful brother, Chris. I am so grateful to God for them and love them dearly.

I also look at my spiritual family that the Lord has given me and I am amazed. No matter where I may have traveled and lived, all throughout those places the Lord has brought such dear friends and church families at the proper moment. I think back to when I moved to Wyoming not knowing a soul, but He knew every step I would take, every place my new snow boots would land and He made sure I would be surrounded by the Body of Christ. And now fast forward 9, almost 10 years, and He hasn’t stopped. I live with an amazing family who loves the Lord with all their hearts and they love football AND the WNBA – God knew!!! I am 31 and I love the fact that this family still checks in on me to see when I’m coming home! I am blessed by their care for me…

And my friends…wow. I think about each person that God has used – every friend that has sown into my spirit and heart, and by God’s grace, I have done some sowing into them too. Truly, I am more than blessed. I have friends in Georgia and here in Chicago and around the world that I have been so blessed by. I do not know where I would be without these mighty men and women who have poured into me, corrected me and prayed over me. Again I will say, I am more than blessed.

And the mentors that God sovereignly used to shape this life, I am so incredibly grateful. They have sharpened me, challenged me deeply and their lives build within me a fighting-spirit to continue to lay-hold of the riches of the Kingdom, because there is still SOOOOO much to learn and receive! I am more than blessed for these men and women that I esteem in the faith. God is too good to me.

And then… I pause to look at Him… I scarcely can without crying tears of joy and enjoyment. Even greater than all these things or people, my past, present or future; the greatest reward and treasure of this longing heart has always been filled by knowing You more. I am thankful that every hard path truly led me to You, a closer relationship and a greater understanding of who You really are and not who I thought You to be. You’re always better than what I imagined and I experience more than what I have read about You! I am grateful that I have seen You answer some incredible and impossible prayers, that only an almighty and omnipotent God could stake claim for. I am grateful that You received the glory due to Your name in response to Your answering – at least that’s always my prayer : ). And I am even thankful for the times You did not answer my prayers. As a good and patient Father, You did not give to me what I thought was best at the time. You had such great purposes – beyond all searching out – and it created even more opportunities for me to understand Your heart towards me and for Your children. I’ve come to trust You and that far outweighs getting an answer. In the end I did receive an answer and an even greater reward: YOU. I would not want it any other way. I am more than blessed.

To anyone who may doubt God’s love and for those who are unsure that Jesus is who He says He is, I would say this, “Have you really ever met a life transformed by the love of Jesus because that would cast off any shadow of doubt of how great His love truly is.” I have the privilege of knowing so many stories that you would never be able to question the reality of the resurrection and life through Jesus today. I too am a beautiful work of His steadfast love, grace and mercy. I am more than blessed!

I’m not sure what is ahead. By God’s grace there will be another 31 years but this I know to be true: life is not always measured by what we do for the Lord but how well we love Him, know Him and glorify Him. Then the natural out-pouring will be to serve Him. But oh, how easily we forfeit the depth and riches of knowing Him by thinking our doing is greater than our time at His feet! I’m grateful that when my eyes were fixed on the wrong things, He graciously fixed me!

All I know is that I want to spend the rest of my days knowing Him more, whether 31 years, 50 or even if tomorrow is my last, because knowing Jesus is the source of all blessing in this life ’till we see Him face to face.

Thank You for these 31 years of incredible blessing! I love You so much~

Words Cannot Express…

I am verbose…maybe too much so. I was reminded of this scripture verse today, after having a lengthy conversation with a friend, where I just went on and on and on: Where words are many, sin is not far. That’s usually my problem more than anything else, although I am trying to learn to listen more than to speak – learn being the key word.

I can honestly say finding shorter ways to say things is usually my problem, not the other way around. But when I think about what God did in the last 6 months, then in the last 4, then I think about the last 2 and narrow down even to the very last few weeks, I am at a loss of words.

Nothing seems suffice.

Awe. Incredulous. Joy. absolutely humbled…

I have wanted to update my blog for MONTHS now and just have not had the time. My life flipped around in the more recent months. Now, I am back from Uganda. *oh my heart* I have been staring at pictures day after day of my time in Ggaba, Kabalagala and Namawongo, Uganda, just teary-eyed and always on the brink of break-down. There are no words. Maybe if I took each picture, one by one, I could try and capture every sight, sound, emotion, scent; causes of laughter, reasons for prayer and at times desperate cries, satisfied longings, joy-filled expectancy, awkward encounters, walls torn down, embarrassing falters and all together outright moves of God…then, and maybe only then, may I actually be able to start sharing. But for now, there just are not words.

I will say this – I am amazed. Amazed at a God who is entrenched in the details of every moment of each day. Not just the seconds, but the minutiae that culminate that second we call time. Then you multiply that by different continents, people and all their minutiae seconds, over all the years of their existence and how we all just collided together into this 2 week trip…I’M ASTOUNDED. This is no small God with small plans. He alone is the great and paramount sovereign orchestrator.

My stories of Uganda may not be verbose or even of great meaning to anyone else. But I see Him differently.

The smallest detail is now to me of greater consequence than what I always esteemed great. If we cannot see His work in the tiniest, we’ll never appreciate the full mosaic.

I hope in the days to come to post little stories here and there…I pray by God’s grace I can! But how much is just to be stored in this heart and savored, I’m not sure. I feel a bit selfish saying that but it’s true.

Forgive my ramblings but my heart is still full and I guess something written is better than nothing! So I can say this from my heart: I’m so grateful beyond words for all the love, support and prayers that surrounded me and my team. YOU made this trip happen, just as much as us going. You were intricately woven as God’s design to pour into Uganda and because of that, I cannot wait to share. We co-labored together to build and by God’s grace, strengthen our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world. Thank You! It does not seem like enough but I pray your hearts would be blessed in some measure.

Thank You – Oh my Jesus, You are beyond comprehension. I love you dearly…You are more than words. I praise your awesome and glorious Name ~ amen

When words fail, sometimes a picture satisfies…Image

Gideon and I Have Something In Common…

Fleece. Wool. I love my fleece(s). In a sense, Gideon did too…

But his probably looked more like this:

As much as I would like to believe that all Biblical characters were the first to sport a Patagonia fleece, it just simply isn’t true. And this isn’t a blog post to give Patagonia a plug either – promise. I think they are doing just fine without my help : )

My Pastor just shared a wonderful message regarding Gideon this past Sunday called “Awaken the Warrior” and I realized, he and I have many things in common. MANY. That’s why I love scripture. It really is profitable – ALL of it. It’s VERY ordinary people who make a lot of mistakes and can just be your average person. Gideon had no great pedigree. He said he came from one of the smallest tribes of Israel. Oh and by the way, he was the least in his family. Whether that means he was the youngest, scrawniest, dullest or maybe, least skilled, least able or least likely to do anything valiant. I can track with Mr. Gideon. I’ve hidden from the Lord many a-times. Maybe not in a winepress (for obvious reasons) but definitely in my apartment, behind closed doors and might have shed a few tears (or actually bawled like a baby) because of what I sensed God calling me to do.

I can go on and on, but let me get back on topic. As I have been reading through Gideon’s story in Judges 6, God first called him by what He saw him to be, not who He was in the natural: Mighty and Courageous. How? He was hiding and he was a small nobody? “The Lord is with you”. Oh, ok that’s something key to note too. The nearer we are to God, appearance and pedigree have no place. It all bows to who He says we are in Him. “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” John 15:5

Then God tells Gideon that he is the one to lead Israel to defeat the Midian army. But that sounds too easy for us just reading it. Here are the specs:

  • 7 years Midian had been oppressing Israel
  • As soon as Israel would have food or livestock, the Midianites would come and take it all. Think of every time you went grocery shopping, someone came and took it all. Every paycheck was robbed from you leaving you helpless and hopeless -for seven long years.
  • The oppression was so bad that people moved to caves. Did you catch that? They would rather live on damp, rocky, smelly (literal) holes in mountain walls rather then to deal with Midian.

Now, God is telling Gideon – YOU are going to set Israel free from their oppression. YOU are the one to defeat them ALL. Yes, YOU, hiding here.

*gulp*

Ever feel God is calling you out of hiding and into something bigger? Ever feel so incredibly ill-equipped, just threshing away in a wine press but He’s calling you out? And then allllllllll the fears, doubts, confusion, doubts, fear, doubts, confusion…and more doubts come at you?

That’s me right now. I look more at the uncertainty of the “call” ahead of me, instead of the Voice speaking to  me. I look more at myself and my inabilities and weaknesses, then Who is with me. I don’t come from a line of missionaries, pastors, evangelists, etc. I was the first Christian in my home…Who am I Lord?

So what about the Fleece? Well, Gideon had to be SURE that he was hearing God right, so he asked the Lord to confirm this crazy idea in a particular manner: if Gideon would lay the fleece out over night, could the Lord please make sure that only the fleece is damp with dew but the threshing floor completely dry. God did just that. Was it enough? Nope. So He asked God to do the same thing except now the opposite – you know, just by chance it wasn’t really the Lord, but maybe someone spilled a bowl of water directly on that fleece. Even though God didn’t need to answer Gideon’s request, He graciously did.

Man, the patience of God astounds me here. I’ll be honest…I keep laying fleece’s, but one, two, three-hundred are never enough! And God spoke something to my heart – even if He continued to answer my fleece requests, I will continue to question them.

God’s clarity is never the issue but my obedience is.

Faith is obedience, to something unseen. I’m slowly learning: faith isn’t the absence of fear; faith is stepping out despite that fear – trusting in the One who spoke is with you.

God may be calling you to do something really radical in the eyes of the world. People may be against it. Family. Friends. It could change a lot in your life – it could change the direction of things drastically. Maybe YOU are your biggest obstacle? Fear of being wrong. Fear of looking dumb. Fear of an uncertain outcome.

I’m learning in this process to trust in the One speaking because He’s the One leading. I thought I did trust, but I realized, I’m still cowering in the wine-press! Trust in the Voice of God speaking and His Word affirming. At the end of the day, we can have tons of prophetic words, “signs” and wonders, but that won’t be enough. At least not for me. I found that to be true in my life. His promise to never leave me and to go with me is the greatest answer to my fleecey-petitions.

Some take aways I’m processing through (and I graciously gleaned from Steven Furtick’s message “Jesus Told Me To”):

  • God doesn’t need me to fully understand HOW He’s going to do things first and then I’ll respond by obeying; He’s called me to completely obey FIRST, then I’ll see the HOW later.
  • When I do as Jesus has told me, then it will be as He has told me. Did Gideon defeat the Midianites and by a very specific way? Yes. Obey first, then you’ll see
  • If Jesus is calling me to do it, then it means it’s already done. 
Be prayerful and ask specifically. But if you’re like me, stop with the fleece-petitions and step-out of the comforts where you’re hiding. Then Yahweh Shalom, our Lord of Peace, will guide you as He said.

A Song in My Heart…

In my head I’ve been making up a song to the familiar tune of “Going to the Chapel and We’re Gonna Get Married”

Since I like to make-up strange words and phrases, it should seem fitting that I would take a stab at song writing : ). This is the song I’ve been singing as of late:

Going to Uganda and I’m gonna love on precious children

Going to Uganda and I’m gonna love me some or-or-or-phans

Gee, I really love them and I’m

So thankful to be goin’ 

Going to Uganda with 2 ama-zing wo-men

Going to Uganda with LOVE – yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Going to Uganda to LOVE!

Ok, so I’m not the most clever song-writer. But my heart is so full as I think about this trip the Lord has opened and I cannot help but sing silly songs like this! I’m also so amazed at how He has brought two other women (one of which is my closest friends) to join me on this trip.

I’m so blessed!

But I realize for some, this is kind of peculiar. I went out to a lunch meeting a couple of weeks ago with some clients that we work with. One of my co-worker’s shared with these men that I do “crazy” things and she brought up this trip to Uganda.

“Why on earth would you go to Uganda? And for how long?”, one asked.

Oh dear…I wasn’t even sure how to begin to answer the first question. So I answered the easy one first. “2 weeks” and then proceeded to share my heart with them. I wish I could say it was this glorious transaction that took place. But it was awkard and with every sentence, I saw their faces getting more distorted and the tension at the table could be cut with a knife. Somewhere in the talk, I shared about how Jesus had so captured my heart by His love and has changed my life. I shared how I knew what it was like to not have a parent around after my mom passed away and that I cannot fathom there are kids living on the streets without a mother or a father. I also shared that I know the need is immense but I cannot just walk by or pretend it doesn’t exist. If Jesus has given me this much love, I want to share it with those who do not have it.

*dead silence*  … awkward! My face turned blood red…

Then one of the guys spoke up, “So wait, you’re using your vacation time to do this?! Do you really think you can make a difference in that time?”

“I’m not going there as a heroine and I’m not going naively. I’m called to love as I have received love and even if it’s just one child, two weeks would not be wasted.” 

I was not a wasted pursuit. No one is.

And that’s the truth. I have seen what God’s love can do in a person’s life. When the Love of Jesus penetrates a heart, they change. I know it because I have changed. My family has changed. I’m surrounded by people who have been changed by the Lover that pursued them – even when they could care less about the Pursuer. With what I’ve received, how could I withhold?  Not here in Chicago, nor when an opportunity comes up with a trip like this. [And I’m definitely not trying to make it sound like I love others well or easily. I think this can only be grown and cultivated to the degree by which we receive God’s perfect love. But that’s another blog post!]

I don’t consider it a sacrifice to take “vacation” time and hold precious children who have not been held by their mama’s, to love them, esteem them, sing with them, clean them and get very dirty if it means they may feel and know an everlasting Love ; I consider it one of the greatest gifts the Lord could give me. 

Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans but I will come to you.” – John 14:18  He said this to his disciples! The truth is, we were all orphaned, without a Father or a home. When we believed in Jesus, we became a part of a larger Family – one that will never end. But before that – we were abandoned, starved and homeless. We don’t think in those terms, especially if we came from good homes with great parents and the average 4.5 kids. But that’s what true. Then Jesus opened our eyes to the great love of the Father. He rescued us and redeemed us. I love how John writes this verse, after he understood more fully what Jesus said to him earlier:

“How great is the love of the Father that He has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! For that is what we are!” – 1John 3:1

It’s like I can see John exclaiming this with all his heart because he understood the depth of the love that chose him, rescued him and now in turn, he has the privilege of doing the same.

David Platt said it best and I totally want to make a t-shirt that says this:

We care for orphans not because we’re rescuers. We care for orphans because we are the RESCUED.

Palabra David.

 So my heart is so full. God has blessed me with a tremendous family in Georgia that I love dearly. He’s given me a wonderful family here in Chicago as well. But even more, I know Him and His love for me. This is what makes me sing silly songs, to do things that in the natural, I would not nor could not do. I love because I was loved first.

May this world become less about us and more about Jesus. It may be a peculiar thing, but not a sacrifice. Rather a joy and privilege.

So, I will continue to sing silly songs of Uganda! And I’ll sing a song of His great love that extended to my orphaned heart, to rescue, redeem and restore so that other precious souls can sing and laugh too~

Divine Detours

It was at the end of my Sunday church service last summer. I was walking down the aisle to leave and saw this precious young lady standing in the back of the sanctuary, with her cute denim dress and beautiful brown hair. I had not seen this sweet young lady in a while, but she always brought a smile to my face, even though I hardly knew her! Silly enough, when we initially had met, we connected over 3 very important things: Our love for God, our joy of playing the guitar and that we were both from the south! She moved all the way from Alabama (deep south!) to study at Moody. Coincidence…I think not! It’s not often that I meet people from the Bible Belt in Chicago and it’s DEFINITELY not very often that they come with a thick southern drawl – but dear Sydney came, drawl and all and we soon found that we had even more in common: a love for the outdoors, Patagonia clothing (sigh!) AND a deep deep love for Chick-fil-a!! It’s easy to see why we just “connected” : D!

So, I saw sweet Sydney in the back of the sanctuary, but she looked a little sad. I went up to her and said, “Are you so excited about the new semester starting?!” She just stared at me and then began to share in her sweet, thick southern drawl, “Shelly, I’m not going back to Moody. In fact this is my last day in Chicago. God has told me to go back to Alabama…I don’t know why, but I must listen.” She shared her heart and a bit of the confusion, but she knew she needed to follow even if she did not fully understand why. My heart broke for her. I know what it is to be led somewhere, for an uncertain amount of time and wondering the purposes for it. I had no wisdom because my heart sank…”Syd, can I just pray for you?” And that’s when I saw her beautiful smile again, “YES! Please!”. We approached our God’s throne room with boldness and reassurance, asking for His wisdom, grace, peace – no matter the timing – to guide Sydney in this new season as she went home. After we finished praying I just felt from the Lord to say, “Sydney, God allows divine detours. He did it with Paul and I know, no matter how long you’re in Alabama, God is going to use that time there to prepare you for the next place.” There were hugs, maybe a few tears : ) and she was off.

Fast forward to January sometime and I received a facebook event invitation that read: SYDNEY IS MOVING TO UGANDA – Buy a T-Shirt! I saw those words and my heart lept! I immediately thought back to the last time I saw her and now to read this…WOW! And I must say, it was a lot quicker than most waiting seasons I’ve seen (or have experienced ; ) ) But I was ecstatic and OF COURSE wanted to buy a t-shirt. So Sydney and I reconnected and I couldn’t wait to hear what God had done during that time.

REWIND: Since returning from Africa last year, God made it very real to my heart to start preparing again for missions. I didn’t know what that meant or what it would look like, so I decided to “cast seeds of faith” into areas of my life that would keep me connected with missions and what’s going on around the world. If it was to support more missionaries, I would. Join prayer groups, I did. And then at the new year, I felt that I should ask if God would lead me to a short-term trip again this year. As 2012 rolled in, I had my yearly miracle prayer list ready and on it read #3. Leading of Missions Trip. What’s wild is that there is such a great need all over – how does one know where to start?

I kept praying and then out of the blue, I was asked to help plan/lead a trip to the D.R. for the spring and summer. This was not at all what I had in mind, but if this was the door that was opening, I surrendered, even though I strongly desired to return to Africa and work with orphans. I shared my heart with Him, Lord, this isn’t what I had in mind, but I want your best and this seems to be the door you’re opening. If it isn’t close it. The week that I was supposed to leave for the D.R., the door surprisingly shut.

Next day I get a random text from Sydney, “SHELLY! I’m gonna be in Chicago tomorrow! Will you be at prayer meeting?”

“YEAH I will!” or I said something to that affect and that I’d save her a seat. Well, you all can probably see where this is going…but to be honest I didn’t! It wasn’t until Tuesday morning, I was getting ready for work, remembered Sydney would be arriving and that I should probably save her a seat (since our prayer services are packed out…how AWESOME that the Prayer meeting is running 200 strong, and weekly!) As I made the mental reminder, a thought came to mind – THIS is the trip.

SHOCK then JOY. Wait, was that me? Was that the Lord? All I knew is that now I HAD to talk to Sydney.

And talk we did : ) It was so sweet to see her. One of her close friends came that night and the three of us thanked God for His leading over her life and we prayed for her upcoming move to Uganda! It was awesome to say the least. I found out that Sydney’s friends from Moody happened to fly her up to Chicago, so that they could see her one last time before she moved…

He sovereignly allowed another detour so she and I could talk. When she shared about the work she would be doing in Uganda: taking in the orphans, caring for them and the poor in Kampala…OH, my heart longed to go! But I didn’t know if I should say anything. What if it’s just emotions and it’s just me? Then Sydney shared, “Shelly, one of the other things we would like to start is a music ministry but we need guitar players who can teach the kids.” TEARS welled-up in my eyes, because for the last 2 years I have been playing for our children’s ministry.

“SHELLY! Would you come to Uganda?!?!” … Now it was Sydney’s turn to pray for me, in that same sanctuary, that I would be led by the Lord, in His perfect timing, through another divine detour

Trust NOT Clarity

I’m praying through a lot lately and my propensity is to ask God, “Show me exactly how, exactly what and exactly when…oh yeah, and if You could, just be CLEAR because that would help me out a lot right now”……silence………silence………

Silence.

Ok and it’s amazing how when I ask for the specifics, fear and anxiety are more likely to come, because I do not have the very exact answers that I am looking for and that I think I need.

I heard a story of a man who sought clarity about what to do with his life. As part of his search, he volunteered to work for three months at “The House of the Dying” in Calcutta, India, a place founded by Mother Teresa. The very first morning he was there, he met Mother Teresa. She asked him, “What can I do for you?” He paused to think and then asked that she pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she wondered. “Pray,” he said, “that I have clarity.” Her abrupt response took him aback. “No,” she told him, “I will not do that.” When he asked why not, she told him, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When he observed that she seemed to have the kind of clarity he wanted, she laughed out loud and told him, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

So, I push beyond all the fears, insecurities, doubts and get on my knees. Lord, “show me Your ways, teach me Your paths, guide me in truth and lead me. For You are my God, my Savior and my hope is in You all. day. long.” (Ps. 25:4-6)

Ahhh, that’s the secret. See, I know my propensity is to think that I deserve to know the details and that I deserve to have all the answers. And I believe that my deserving-to-know is on the basis that God has put me in this place of need, so, yes! He must show me!  Funny thing though, is that one question may get a response, but notice how 100 more pop-up right after? And then I want those answered because who else is supposed to answer my 7,890,467, 201.75 questions?! And it doesn’t help that I’m an analyzer. I can go from 0 – 6 million questions in 3 seconds flat! I think that’s all of our propensities – to think we deserve to know exactly now what God knows! That we deserve to be on par with the Creator and Orchestrator of life and history. And when He’s quiet, we may even get a little uppity in our prayers as though we were there with Him when He created the earth, sky, heavens and all the vegetation. Oh yes, and remember the behemoth, and the galaxies?

See, He sovereignly governed my life before I was created and He called me forth in this time – not my will, nor even my parents. Even when I was not thinking of Him, He set His gaze on me. And even when my eyes were so wonderfully opened to His love and plans, I still had the propensity to go and do my own thang! Over and over, He governed, planned, led, guided, whether or not I was asking Him to. And when I actually started desiring His wonderful input and leading, it was easy then to desire control over that as well. Now I want specifics, details to the minutiae degree and I need to know now of course.

But David knew the secret. Of course as a shepherd himself, he walked with his sheep daily. They had to learn to trust him. And it was while he shepherded that he learned how his Shepherd would lead him. He did not ask God for the details, but just asked to see the way God is leading, to stay on those paths and be led forth by God’s voice. He asked that God would only guide him, step by step and the path will become clearer as he went along. The questions would soon be resolved. Times of worrying and anxiousness would be done away because God would make sure to let David know what to do today, for today is what is actual. Why? Because we’re talking about David’s Savior who had led him that far and would He actually just stop?! No, but that’s what I can begin to believe.

And this is where I am today. I won’t have all the answers now, not for my personal knowing or anyone else’s. That would place my peace more so in me and that peace can only come from God. I trust that when I need to know, He will let me know. What’s more important is that I learn to walk daily with my Shepherd, not phone a friend for an answer. And if I wait for only clarity, I may wait a lot longer than if I just held His hand and followed His paths.

Opening DOORS for Uganda and an Old Friend

Much much much to write about! And this morning is the PERFECT lead to something I have been loooonging to post about.

This morning, on my way to work, I met up with an old homeless friend that I have posted about here on my blog. His name is Ralph Jordan. I met Ralph just over a year ago as I was preparing to go to Africa. If you read the blog post that I wrote about him last February, it’ll give you an idea of what God began stirring in my heart: a greater reality for the call of missions on my life and a greater realization of God’s INCREDIBLE love. After my meeting with Ralph, the gospel seared in my heart and it was a new beginning, an awakening of sorts, to go to deeper places of tangibly knowing God’s love. As I encountered this wonderful agape-love to a greater degree, my life has been changed even more so. For that encounter, I am forever grateful.

So to see Ralph this morning was such a blessing!! What’s even better is that I was able to share with him how profound his words were to me. He gave me the biggest hug and I bought him another turkey, cheese and mayo sandwich so we could talk longer. Then, I also had the joy of sharing with my friend how God is leading me back to Uganda this year and all the more John 3:16 is not some cliche verse but it is the gospel so beautifully and powerfully manifested.

He was so ecstatic and kept pouring out encouragement, telling me to make sure I am telling everyone about the Love that I have received. I told him with all sincerity, it is my life’s mission – spending my life to make others rich in Christ.

Now, I get to “formally” share with more people…I will be embarking upon a trip this summer to Uganda!!! (oh my heart is amazed at writing those words)

Since I was last in Africa, God had placed orphans on my heart so heavily. I have wanted to adopt or just go back to Africa and be a mama to the kids who did not have any mother or father. God, in His wonderful timing, kept shutting doors over this last year. I will absolutely admit that it was discouraging and disheartening. Faith and waiting are not easy. There is so much “unseen”, but I have learned a lot about surrender, trust, leaning more fully on the Lord, seeing His matchless grace abound in my weaknesses and thus enabling my course to stay steady with where He has me. I have truly fallen in love with where He has placed me. My coworkers are some of the best people I know and I could not have asked to work for a greater company. Within my church, He’s opened tremendous doors to teach children Sunday school, lead worship, mentor women and to pour into this city in various ways. It has ALL been such a blessing. One of the greatest gifts has been coming on board with our children’s ministry and teaching the youngens’ about our incredible Jesus. I started only in January, as a way of casting seed if ever God opened the door for me to work with orphans again. I had no idea how much I would love it and fall in love with these precious ones. Also, teaching children is not as easy as it sounds. It’s hard work, but He truly gives us more grace in our weaknesses and I can attest to that after every Sunday service!

And in such a wonderful fashion, in the midst of all the questions, waiting, praying, sowing and reaping the Lord brings along a divine opportunity. The story itself is just so incredible to my heart that I will save it for another post! But suffice it to say, I am in awe once again of His perfect timing; His DOORS that He opens, while others He sovereignly shuts. (By the way, the name of the organization I will be working with is called DOORS!). And who knows, but for such a time as this, that He is bringing all these things together to do something even greater than what this finite mind can conceive!

I’m in awe and expectant~

Amazing Grace

Since it’s been a while, I thought I would post a journal entry to convey my heart. God has been blowing me away, just in watching and waiting, growing and living. Grace astounds me…

March 10, 2012

I am amazed. Utterly left speechless by Grace.Grace that enables us to speak truth confidently; grace that opened my eyes to that truth when they were so darkened; grace enabled me to receive that truth and beckoned me to die; grace to let go of defenses, hurts, stubborness and the need to “be right”; grace to die even if in such pain to my pride. Grace then gathered me to Him, bound my union even more so securely as He began to untangle all that had me bound. In dying, I was set free. In dying, I surrendered the very little I had. In dying I did not just say, “I want You more, no matter the cost to me”. In dying I physically, mentally, emotionally did it – surrendered it, laid it all out there – all of me with all the faults, fears, insecurities and failures. Dead.

It is finished.

His grace accompanied me in my death, for He laid down not just with me, but He laid down first. HE who was spotless, sinless, offenseless but rather perfect and almighty surrendered first. So then, my death is always preveniently surrounded by His own grace of surrender. I am not falling into nothingness when I lay my life down; I fall into His grace, His arms, His love – for He is already there, waiting. My death is not loss then, but rather gain – I gain even more back then the very value I placed on my own life. I gain Jesus. All of Him or at least all that this earthen vessel can contain for this moment. And there is a war before that dying. There is a self agony and confusion in my life, as taunts, threats, insults and even flattery (of the worst) may surround me. But I remember these very same sort accompanied Jesus before He surrendered it all in that garden, on that cross.

In so dying into God’s grace, He has raised me with the fairest riches of all – NEW LIFE! I was resurrected into a closer union than before and from this nearer union, I can hear His Spirit more clearly thus receiving wisdom and peace. The immediacy of His love rushes in along with His unending affections. In this resurrected life, He crowns me with beauty, gladness, joy and songs of praise!

I am learning as time goes on, the pruning, refining and my choosing to die always prepares the way for me to receive the most wonderful gifts from Him. It is then good to bow and lay down this life again and again, for it is all less about me and more about knowing Him.

“For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh.”

2 Corinthians 4:11

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