"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New York City Makeover

Pinky, Reesie, La La, Noica—these are some of the names of women my daughter,  Alix and I encountered last week in a New York City women’s shelter. Women broken by life and some by husbands. Women mentally ill in some cases. A group of 55 women traveled from Indiana to share the love of Jesus by washing dirty feet, massaging stressed hands, helping them choose a new outfit, styling straggly hair and putting makeup on tired faces and seeing smiles brighten once dark countenances.  As we encouraged this women with the words, “God loves you; you are valuable to Him,” we viewed visible changes. Shuffled feet became springy steps. Loud laughter replaced angry words. God visited this place where broken down, discarded women live. 

What did I learn on this trip to beautify women who feel ugly and unnoticed?

1.      Makeovers can change a person from the outside in. When you feel ugly, you act ugly. It works the same in my own life.  The day I throw on my shabby sweats and glasses sans makeup to make a quick trip to the grocery is one in which I prefer to remain incognito. Slink in and slink out because I’m feeling unkempt. These women, however, experience day upon day feeling forgotten and frumpy.  As ladies bounced from station to station, whether choosing a new outfit or sitting for someone to apply their makeup, a visible transformation like Cinderella emerging from her cinder-stained face and garments took place. Worn out, lackluster women began to believe the words each station worker voiced. “You are beautiful to Jesus; He loves you; you are not trash.”  

2.      Even homeless women desire to be heard and touched. I caressed hands and paid attention to some who had lost their identity, values and families. I listened to women speak with foreign accents and others mentally bewildered with stories a mile long. While tragic circumstances and even poor decisions had landed them in this place, my purpose lay in feeling their pain, hearing their cries and conveying that God sees them and knows their names.

3.      God doesn’t want me to be comfortable. It’s scary to step out of your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done before. Yet when I feel unqualified, He promises to equip me; I just need to be willing and available. Fear can hold us back from doing things God wants to do in and through us to impact the world around us. It’s the first step that’s the scariest! As I began to massage the first hand, heart thumping in my chest, I felt completely lost. Thoughts swirled in my brain, “What can I say that would make a difference to this wounded woman? How do I help and encourage her?” I jumped in with both feet, like Peter jumping out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus, and each conversation became easier and more comfortable, as God gave me His words and His strength.

4.      Serving brings great joy. By the end of the day, I was tired and spent, yet filled with joy because God had used me, in spite of all my fears and feelings of inadequacy. Not only had the women’s spirits brought me delight because of their physical transformations, but also the simple act of pouring out spilled gladness everywhere. Excitement and laughter filled the room as women departed in joyful thankfulness. The act of serving blessed me far more than it did these women.

5.      God is in the transformation business, not me. The word says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) My job this particular weekend was not to judge these women or force and cajole them to be different. Too often, I try to manipulate others through guilt trips or other methods. During this experience, my role was to listen, love and pray for these women and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts. After all, Jesus is the only one who can create a clean heart in anyone. How freeing it is to know that someone’s transformation is not up to me yet realize that I have a vital part in relaying the message of love and everlasting life to those living in dark and desperate circumstances.

Perhaps this last lesson hit me the hardest as I reflect on the way I treat my family, my friends and others I encounter daily. My micro-managing and manipulation of others is ineffective and a poor substitute for the mighty power of God to change a life completely.  I am to be a vessel God can use, a conduit of His love and grace to those around me, so they can infected with His Spirit. In my willingness for God to work in and through me to impact my children, my church, my community, I pray that God pours out His Spirit in magnanimous ways, that I am not a hindrance to the work He wants to do in someone’s life, and most of all, that I always give God the glory for the changes that occur!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Tween's Example

Every night when we tuck Maddie in, we take turns praying. For the past several years, on Maddie’s night to pray, she talks to God about Uncle Tim’s back. Every.single.time. One particular night, she asked me, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayer? How come Uncle Tim’s back is still hurting?”

“I don’t know, Maddie. I just know God is not like a magician. He doesn’t simply wave a magic wand and make everything the way we want it. Sometimes, He wants us to learn to trust Him in the midst of our unanswered prayers.”

Through the years of modeling prayer, we’ve prayed about school, friendships, sickness, bad attitudes and everything else in between. This little girl is grasping the importance of talking to Jesus about everything. A few weeks ago, she heard that her dear friend’s mother was experiencing some health issues. She immediately created a card, mailed it and began praying for her. Everyday, she’d ask, “Do you think she got my card yet, Mom?”

One day, I received a text from this sweet friend relaying thanks to my daughter for the card and the request she had placed in the prayer basket at church. My friend just happened to be on the 24 hour prayer chain that particular day and cried as she read Maddie’s heartfelt request for God to heal. It moved me too knowing that my daughter is realizing the importance of crying out to Jesus for every need.

I am often proud of my children for their school and sports accomplishments. But this particular day, Maddie’s developing prayer habit for those in need surpassed any champion medal she could’ve received. Her commitment to bring someone suffering before the God of the universe caused me to ponder my own passion to pray. What a beautiful reminder that God desires that our first impulse be to bring our concerns before Him, large or small.

In fact, a few days later, Maddie rattled off her own prayer request before boarding the school bus. “Hey, can you pray that I’m nice to Clay today and that I do well on my test?” How grateful I am that God hears our sincere petitions for kindness to that person who is difficult to love. Maddie’s example reminds me to bring all my concerns to my Savior who hears me whenever I call.   

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

A week ago I watched my firstborn walk across a stage, shake a few hands and receive a degree he’s worked for four years to obtain. With watery eyes and sniffles, I slipped back in time to my own passage across a platform to receive my English degree about a thousand years ago, yet I remember it like it was yesterday. Now, I’m my parents and I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the stage, sitting prouder than a peacock, watching my tall son go through his rite of passage with honors. I glance at my husband whose eyes are also brimming and red. Our eyes express our feelings. No words needed. 

We’ve watched this boy grow from child to man. And though we felt a smidgen of this ending of things four years previously at his high school graduation, it doesn’t compare to the finality of this ending. How could it? He still came and went, summer and fall, holidays and weekends. We’d play games, watch movies and he’d sleep in his bedroom in our home. But now. Now?! It’s different. He’ll be home long enough to save a few more dollars, move into his own place, marry, make his own home and eventually raise his own family. An extension of us, but nevertheless, his own. On his OWN. Without us.

Bittersweet, yet isn’t this what we as parents are supposed to do? Raise our little ones to manhood or womanhood so they can step out on their own?   Raise them to know the One who is present with them always even when Mom and Dad aren’t? Raise them to know that no matter what, no matter what, Jesus can be trusted through any situation they may face? Many times as a mom, I’ve wished for do overs. I’d have handled many situations differently, but one thing I’d never change is sharing Jesus with my son. Because the one thing I do know is that if my green-eyed boy knows the One to go to in any circumstance, it won't matter where life takes him, he’ll be fine.

So, life right now feels strange. I’m sad and happy rolled up together. I’m Jesus’ mother, treasuring all these things in my heart (Luke 2:51), holding onto that boy for just a few weeks longer, until he truly flies away. In my mind he’s still mine. Always will be. Yet, I know another has taken his heart, as it should be. Nevertheless, I carried, cuddled and corrected that kid for 22 years, and if I’m like my own mother, I’ll feel compelled to continue even when he’s 40! So, even though he’s moving out, establishing his family and career, giving his heart away to another, I will hold him close in mine forever.