Thursday, August 20, 2020

Be Held- the practice of lament

Most days I am fine. I can feed the kids, cope with life, make it to the end of the day in one piece. And then there are some days I feel like I'm suffocating- like it's all too much- stuck. Unfortunately, our culture encourages us to suck it up, to numb the pain, to put on a happy face. None of that serves us; it keeps us broken instead of inviting healing. 

So what do we do with the pain? How do we survive in this world full of suffering? K.J. Ramsey has been teaching me that the psalms are the prayer book of the people of God, and that in the psalms we find words to give voice to our deep grief. The jewish people were well acquainted with grief and suffering, which then gave birth the practice of lament. Ramsey writes:
"The psalms offer a conversational means of uniting mind and heart, honesty and truth, despair and hope, humans and their Maker. We struggle to dwell in the tension between our pain and our need to praise, but the psalms hold us in a conversational traction."

I love that imagery: conversational traction. I can picture myself in a hospital bed with my leg suspended from some contraption intended to hold me in the right position to heal properly. Let that sink in. And then we can make the shift in our minds from "I feel stuck" to "I'm in traction". That's powerful. 

The psalms of lament give us words when we feel speechless. It's like when my girls are spiraling out of control and losing their minds and I invite them to climb into my lap and I hold them till they are calm enough to tell me what's going on. And sometimes I have to help them find words for the big feelings inside them- they are still learning. So am I. And the psalms help me find words.  

"O God, You have cast us off; You have broken us down. You have been displeased; Oh, restore us again! You have made the earth tremble, You have broken it; heal its breaches for it is shaking. You have shown Your people hard things; You have made us drink the wine of confusion." -Psalm 60:1-3

I don't know about you- but my heart echoes these feelings sometimes! And it's only as we come to God with honesty, revealing our hurting hearts in transparency (and finding Him kind and trustworthy) that we find healing. One more Ramsey quote: 

"The psalms show us how to acknowledge our pain with honesty. They teach us to approach God from the place of being undone instead of the prison of pretending we are self-sufficient and invulnerable. And in expressing our spitting frustration, derelict desperation and arresting anguish, we mysteriously experience being heard. Relating to God as needy, moody, exhausted children forms hope, praise and trust. Without vulnerability, the truth that God's love is steadfast remains abstract. Tears, groans, and sighs create the relational atmosphere where we can allow God to parent us. Weakness acknowledged and expressed forms trust." -K.J. Ramsey, This Too Shall Last

Just this week I found myself suffocating and stuck again. Thankfully, Josh whisked the kids off to the park so I could fall apart. So I wrapped myself in my Ugandan kikoy, climbed into the Father's lap and wept. I listened to Christy Nockels album: Be Held and it was just the thing I needed. In pouring out my heart to God, knowing my feelings were welcome, seen and cared for, I was able to take one more step towards wholeness. He is so gentle and kind. It's my prayer that you would find some time to do the same. We are all walking through a lot of loss and grief is a natural response. So let's turn to the psalms and find our way to the Father's heart where we can be held.

For more information on lament check out:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

{Hesed} love

I want to share this morning a word that has become so precious to me in this season. I don’t know about you- but the past 5 months have been some of the hardest months I’ve ever faced. Not only are we dealing with a global pandemic, and racial tensions, but in the middle of all of that my family relocated back to New Jersey unexpectedly. We are still WGM missionaries, and are seeking the Lord for what He may be calling us to next. I read recently in the Titus Women’s Minsitry e-news an incredible call to prayer because many missionaries have returned to the USA this year unexpectedly and for various reasons- it feels as though God is amassing a huge missionary force here in America and I’m curious to see His purposes in these days! All that to say- these have been days of global grief and massive stress and anxiety, and as we look to the Psalms we see a word we can grasp hold of that may be just the anchor we need in this storm. 

 The Hebrew word hesed occurs 246 times in the OT. I heard Dr. John Oswalt teach on it last summer, and it has come to life this year for me. Some English translations use “kindness” “mercy” “steadfast love” “lovingkindness” “favor” “unfailing love” “devotion” but none of these are sufficient by themselves. It is a deep, rich word that doesn’t have a single, perfect translation in English.  A couple more definitions “faithful love in action” and “undeserved love from a superior to an inferior” “unmerited kindness that seeks to actively intervene to help a loved one”. 

Ralph Davis says, “The order is: love gives itself, in covenant, and gladly promises devoted love in that covenant; the covenant partner then rests in the security of that promise and may appeal to it.” Think of a faithful marriage, and a parent-child relationship all rolled into one (but don’t take this too far it gets weird). Or even faithful marriage and master and servant combined. The idea is God has pledged Himself to us in faithful love, but He is also in authority over us- He owes us nothing. Michael Card translated hesed as “when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

Understanding this word is not just important to us because it appears well over 100 times in the Psalms. This word is important because it is one of the words God uses to describe himself, as in Exodus 34:6-7, when he says to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in hesed and faithfulness, maintaining hesed to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” 

These have been the hardest days I have ever walked through. We hadn’t planned on being back in the USA indefinitely. Saying goodbye to the only life our little family has known was painful. And then comes the memory of this little five letter word “hesed”.  So I had to dig into why this word was so important.


Adrian Van Breda helped me understand “God’s hesed is experienced particularly when we are in the midst of adversity. Psalm 94:18 says, “When I said, My foot is slipping, Your hesed love, O Lord, supported me.” The sense here is that God’s hesed is grasped at while we are still in the adversity. Hesed does not necessarily remove the adversity or even the distress and anxiety that adversity evokes. Within each situation we have to seek out again God’s hesed and rediscover what it means to be loved while we struggle with life. Hesed becomes a lifeline or an anchor onto which we hold for dear life. While we struggle, someone may reassure us that God loves us, but actually that knowledge is something we have to find for ourselves.” 


I needed to not only know God loved me in this season- I needed to experience it. I experienced His hesed when Josh collected letters from people who love me for my birthday. I received His hesed when my brother drove to DC to pick us up from the airport, and when we arrived at an empty parsonage gifted to us from a church to quarantine in. I saw His love in action when people delivered meals to us while we were in quarantine. And I sensed His hesed every morning when I sat on the deck as the sun warmed my face and I spent time with the Lord. 


Psalm 103 gives us a beautiful illustration of hesed: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me; bless His holy name (can I pause here and say that bringing our whole selves- not just the pretty bits- but the hurt, the worry, the delight, the wonder is what blesses the Lord but that is another topic for another day)! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed, He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy {hesed}. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy {hesed} toward those who fear Him… “ 


Now what? How will I live differently because of God’s hesed towards me this week??


“I will give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His hesed endures forever” –Psalm 136:1

            Make a list of His love notes, His hesed towards you- every day!


I will remember the times He showed hesed towards me, unlike the Israelites “they did not remember the multitude of Your hesed but rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.” –Psalm 106:7

Could you write a timeline of the ways God intervened in your life and saved you or rescued you or people you love? I can’t wait to get to heaven and find out all the things He rescued me from that I had no idea were about to happen!


I will call out to God in my distress “But You, O God the Lord, deal with me for Your name’s sake; because Your hesed is good, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded with me… Help me, O Lord my God! Oh, save me according to Your hesed, that they may know that this is Your hand- that You, Lord have done it!” –Psalm 109:21-22, 26

Our lives don’t just become rosy and easy when we walk with the Lord- His hesed isn’t a magic wand to wave over our lives. However- I have found that His hesed shines on our darkest days. Because it is a covenant term, He has promised never to leave us or forsake us, He has chosen us as His people, His reputation is on the line- we can call out to Him and appeal to His hesed and trust Him to come through for us.


I will share my story with someone. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His hesed endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…” –Psalm 107:1-2

Could you share your testimony with someone who needs to hear it this week? Or share how God has met a need in your life recently with someone feeling hopeless?


I will be glad. “Oh, satisfy us early with Your hesed, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. And establish the work of our hands for us, yes, establish the works of our hands.” –Psalm 90:14, 17

It’s easy to complain these days. This is not the story I would have written for 2020. But I can be glad- because He is my God. I can choose to start my day with Him- let Him fill and satisfy me and I won’t be looking for the world, or my circumstances or other people to satisfy me. He will satisfy my deepest needs as I meet with Him and I can be glad. And then I walk away from that time looking more like Him because Jesus Himself has filled me and is living His life in me- extending hesed love, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, compassion to those around me! When God’s people know they are loved- He is able to use them to love the world around them!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Letters to the Church

Beloved Home Fellowship and AGC, we are writing because we miss being with you.

Home Fellowship: we miss seeing your faces, miss popping popcorn on Thursday nights, miss ladder ball in the yard, miss opening the word with you, and miss praying together. 

AGC: we miss driving out to your churches, we miss the drums, we miss the smiling faces, we miss the warm greetings, we miss the matooke!

And so, like Paul, we decided to start writing you letters and posting them here on our blog. We will also continue writing family updates and other thoughts- but we wanted to share this space with you so you know we have not forgotten you!

Today I was reading Psalm 84 and was so encouraged!

"Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
they will still be praising You.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca*
they make it a spring, the rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength...
For the LORD God is a sun and a shield,
The LORD will give grace and. glory;
No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You!"

Blessed are those who dwell in God's house- they will still be praising You. It doesn't matter where our two feet land when we are in Him. He can take us where He wants us; we will still be praising Him. Can you find a reason to praise Him today right where you are?

Blessed is the one whose strength is in Him- whose heart is set on pilgrimage. I don't have strength enough for this journey. There are days when all I can do is grieve. Most nights I must force myself to stay awake until 8pm. My jet-lagged girls wake at 5am and want my attention. I find the GPS directing me toward a toll road and I have no coins for the toll. It's all too hard; but my strength is in Him. And I must stay the course, keep journeying towards His heart.

As they pass through the valley of weeping they make it a spring... they go from strength to strength. We must pass through the suffering and pain- we cannot go around it, cannot stuff it or ignore it, cannot pretend it doesn't exist. In order to process pain and grief in a healthy way, we must feel it, acknowledge it, ask it what needs to teach us and then we pass through it to the other side. Lament is a vital discipline as we pass through the valley of weeping (read more here). In the process, we become more of who God created us to be, and not less. In My Utmost for His Highest it says:

"Suffering either gives me to myself or it destroys me. You cannot find or receive yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot receive yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give in to complaining. The only way to find yourself is in the fires of sorrow... You can always recognize who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, and you know that you can go to him in your moment of trouble and find that he has plenty of time for you... if you will receive yourself  in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people." -Oswald Chambers

As I pass through the valley of weeping, and allow the pain to transform me into the image of Jesus- I become a source of comfort and encouragement for fellow pilgrims on the journey toward the heart of God.

Blessed is the one who trusts in Him! Oh, friends, He is trustworthy. He is a sun and a shield. He gives grace and glory. He is good. We can trust Him, even when we don't quite understand what He is doing. Keep trusting Him today!

*The Valley of Weeping

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

End of an Era

The world is in a state of chaos and uncertainty- challenging everything we have clung to for stability. COVID-19 has brought many communities around the world to their knees. We feel the weight here in Uganda as well. In addition to the weight of a global pandemic, just before Easter this year we were informed by WGM Uganda leadership that this would be our final term with WGM Uganda.

This chapter of our lives in Uganda has been one of the sweetest and one of the hardest. We have seen God draw our children closer to Himself. Our marriage has withstood the challenges of cross-cultural ministry and only gotten stronger. Students at Heritage are walking closer to Jesus, asking great questions, and giving testimony to His work in their lives. Our home fellowship is flourishing even during this quarantine (mostly on WhatsApp right now). Watching our home fellowship leadership team step into more responsibility and take ownership has been beautiful. We strongly believe God isn’t done with this home fellowship and can’t wait to see how He uses these men and women. 

There are many questions.  There are even more unknowns.  But through all of this, we know that God is still good, and God is certainly not done with us yet.  Once we return to the states, we will begin exploring with WGM leadership and seeking the Lord as to what our next assignment might be.  Right now, we are focusing on leaving Uganda well, saying necessary goodbyes, and leaning on His strength to do so during a global pandemic. We currently have flights scheduled for June 2nd; however, our airline has canceled all flights through May 31st.  We have no way of knowing if we will be able to leave on June 2nd or whether that will be pushed to a future date. Would you pray over that? Once we are able to return to New Jersey, we will begin the healing process needed after this sudden change and begin looking at what could be next.  We appreciate your prayers over us, continued financial support, and patience as we wait on God to reveal our next steps. 

We as a family are finding a lot of comfort in the story of Abraham these days.  During our family home church, we have begun walking through Abraham’s journey.  In Genesis 12 we read of God’s call to Abram to “Go…to the land I will show you.”  Abram obeyed God and left behind everything he knew, everything that gave him an identity, and trusted God to lead him.  Our family feels a lot like Abram.  While we may be returning to our “father’s land” in New Jersey as our next step, we don’t know how long that will be or what ministry will look like a year from now. But God knows and we can trust Him.  Thank you for standing with us for 9 years of fruitful ministry here in Uganda.  This is not the ending we would have written, but we are grateful for the privilege of being part of God’s work here in Uganda. We trust God to continue what He started, both here in Uganda and within our family.
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