Sunday, November 20, 2016

Follow the sign

I am well known for my non-existent sense of direction.  I can get lost in a closet.  It is even harder to find my way in Honduras where there are no street names or addresses.  Fortunately, I live close to the airport.  I just look for a sign to the airport  and soon, I am on my way home.

I am studying the Gospel of John right now.  John doesn't write about Jesus' miracles, instead he writes about His signs.  That got me thinking.  Signs point you somewhere.  The sign isn't the destination.  No, you follow the sign to get to the destination.

I got to thinking about situations I have called miracles, and, indeed they are.  However, I wondered how I would think about them differently if I called them signs instead.  A few days ago Suzy posted before/after picture of Alex Eduardo.  Alex was 14 mos and weighed 11 pounds when he came to us and, the doctor said, was weeks from death from malnutrician.

Before
After
He is 4 now and doesn't walk. He jumps! Everywhere! He is healthy, adorable, energetic, sometimes naughty, and full of life. The fact that we got him, how and when we did, and his recovery is a miracle. But what if we look at the same set of events as a sign?  What is this sign pointing to?  It points to life.  Jesus said, "I am the bread of life," exactly what a starving baby needed. Jesus, working through many people in Honduras and the US restored Alex's life.  Alleluia!

The other miracle that is harder for me to think about is Yarely.  We prayed for the same miracle - the restoration of life that God granted Alex.  Instead He gave her and us the miracle of resurrection surrounded by many tangible assurances that He was with us in our grief and that Yarely lives with Him forever.


Can we see Yarely's death as a sign too?  If so, where is it pointing?  Again, it is pointing to life.  This time, not physical life but, instead, spiritual life,  the life Jesus came to give us -- His physical life for our spiritual life.  Alleluia.


"Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die."   

 So, brothers and sisters in Christ, follow His signs...to life.  Everlasting life
Alleluia

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pórtate bien (Behave yourself!)


I often say to the children or even to friends as a humorous goodbye, "Pórtate bien!"  Behave yourself!"  I certainly said it to my children as they grew up.

We have a pretty clear idea of what that means when we say it to a child, but what does it mean when we say it to an adult?  The Bible tells us in the letter to Colossians, 
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." - Colossians 3:12

What does it look like to clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience?  Every Saturday, for me, it looks like the baggage guys at the Tegucigalpa airport.  These are the guys who look out for the teams as they arrive in baggage claim, "Amanda?" they ask to locate my team. So many team leaders are relieved when they see those friendly faces ready to help! They have guarded baggage, helped a team member through the airport when they travel back alone, helped me personally many times.  I trust them and depend on them for so many things.  It is wonderful to have my airport family watching over me and the people I care about.

They also care about each other.  This is a competitive business for little money, yet they operate like a family.  This includes my other friends, like Roberto, Alfredo, and Patricia who are older, disabled, and unable to work.  They come to the airport looking for help.  Recently, Roberto was in the hospital.  Every week I gave some lempira to Alfredo or one of the baggage guys to give to Roberto.  All these folks are poor and could have used the money to feed themselves and their families.  Guess what?  Roberto received the money I sent for him!  

The experience that moved me the most is one in which I did not behave well.  It was one of those Saturdays.  I was delivering a team to the airport and then picking up a new team.  The new team was coming on an early flight so I had little time to get one team settled before receiving the new one.  I was rushed and distracted.  As I left the parking lot, hurrying to meet the team vans, I passed my friend, Antony.  Antony lost both of his legs and has terrible scars from a horrible electrical accident.  As I raced by, he said, "My son needs a hat for school!"  It was National Indigeneous Week and I knew exactly what he needed and why it was important.  I raced on, not even stopping to say hi.  (Not a Honduran way to behave.)  After getting the outgoing team settled, I was hurrying downstairs to wait for the incoming team.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the perfect hat for Antony's son.  I asked the sales clerk how much it was.  "$20."  "That's too much.  Nevermind," I replied.  (Note:  What was wrong with me?  Seriously?  I was not clothed with compassion and kindness.  I was wearing selfishness and self-absorption instead.)  "It's for the guy with no legs," I added.  Immediately she replied, "You can have it for 50% off."  She looked lovely in her compassion outfit.  Sheepishly I bought the hat.  

However, when I got downstairs I couldn't see Antony.  Erick, one of my baggage friends asked me what I was looking for. I explained and he told me Antony was across the very busy intersection.  Looking at the time, and knowing how hard it is to cross streets on foot, I said, "I bought this hat for him but I don't have time to walk over there."  Not even hestitating for a moment, Erick took the hat and said, "I'll take it to him."  This occurred during prime time for baggage handlers.  All the US airlines were arriving with large teams with tons of luggage, yet he left his post to help me and Antony!  

When he returned, he found me and asked me to come to the door.  "Look!" he said, pointing to a young man with one leg on crutches.  "He has one leg!  And he has a little boy!"  Erick had seen this young man (disabled people have an extremely difficult time finding work in a country with NO safety net) and brought him back to the airport to find help!  I smiled, told him my son also has one leg, and helped him.  

I think this is a wonderful story up to this point.  The guys are helping each other, looking out for their fellow man, even at their own expense.  But that isn't the best part of the story...

Two weeks later, I was back at the airport to meet a new team.  4 of the baggage guys rushed up to me, all talking at once.  They were so excited to tell me this young man had been back and HAD A NEW LEG!  As they were telling me this, they were showing me how well he was walking with HIS NEW LEG!  Imagine, these guys struggle every day to earn enough to feed their families and yet they were celebrating this anonymous young man's victory!  A NEW LEG!  "You should have seen him walk!"

That is how we should behave.  Toss out our clothes of arrogance, selfishness, pride, judgment, and cold heartedness.  Instead, put on the clothes my airport friends wear - compassion, humility, kindness, patience, gentleness and, one more thing, joy.  

Let's all get a new wardrobe and behave ourselves from now on!

Special Note:  We all want people to work instead of depend on government or others.  So do they.  So, when you are at the airport, or at a restaurant, or at the grocery store, or anywhere else where people are trying to eke out a living, help them!  A couple bucks for a baggage handler or a bagger won't break your budget but will mean alot to them.  It doesn't matter if you can handle the suitcases/groceriers on your own, let them serve you!  A larger tip for your servers won't put a dent in your wallet but will mean a lot to them.  Support their attempts to work and be self-sufficient!


Friday, April 22, 2016

The wall

Not too long ago, I was feeling quite vexed.  Vexed and worried, angry and frustrated.  I finally figured out I need to depend on God directly rather than other people.  That helped a lot but I still had vestiges of worry and frustration. Earlier this month I attended the SAMS retreat.  SAMS (Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders) is my missionary agency.  It is full of missionaries from throughout the world, serving in fascinating and sometimes exotic places. (Madagascar!)

One of the break out sessions was about spiritual direction.  I had heard of it, know people who have done it or are spiritual directors, but didn't really understand the process.

The leader, Andrew Osmun, was talking about how to find a spiritual director, etc. but there was confusion about what it is and isn't.  So, he said let's practice and I volunteered.  I really wanted to understand the process.  I certainly didn't expect anything to happen, especially since I was sitting in the middle of a circle with 30+ people staring at me being spiritually directed!  Not exactly a conducive environment for spiritual reflection...

Anyway, Andrew would explain the first step of the process and then we would do the step, he would explain more about that step and the next one, we would do the next step etc.  He asked if anything was on my mind.  I briefly and vaguely explained what was on my mind.  

He told me to close my eyes, he would say a prayer and then I would just be still for a couple of minutes.  When I was ready I would pray out loud and that would be his signal.  

I closed my eyes and was immediately frantic.  I started praying that I would be able to come up with something to say!  I really just wanted to walk through the process to understand it better so I wanted to do a good job playing my role in this simulation.  

Suddenly I could see one of our concrete block walls.   I was standing inches from it and the blocks had just been laid, the mortar was dry but rough.  That was all I could see.

I said a short, meaningless prayer (still in panic mode) and explained the image.  He told me to repeat the process, but this time I was to sit by the wall with Jesus.  My internal reaction to that was, "Nuts!"  Being there with Jesus took all the wind out of my sails.  I knew I could not lay out my carefully developed defense or "argument for the prosecution!"  I had to just be there by the wall with Jesus, who already knows all that has happened and all that will happen.

After the second prayer, Andrew asked what I experienced.  I had a clear image of the water tank!  In explaining this to
him (and the group) I realized God was saying, "I will deliver...in my time...and more abundantly than you expect." God said, "I have done so many miracles here, why would I stop now?"

To my shock, the Holy Spirit actually showed up! I think we were all surprised.  Of course, I was crying by now.  

Then we prayed once more to finish the session.  I closed my eyes and he prayed.  We were done.  Except - I said, "I received another image.  It was a wall."  Andrew was visibly startled and there was a gasp in the room.  I explained, "It was Suzy's prayer wall."  This is the wall we are building to celebrate Suzy's 25th anniversary.  She has long wanted a wall like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, where we could write prayers and petitions and put them in the cracks between the stones. I could see the section that we had just built, with the trees and mountains in the background and a beautiful brilliant blue sky!  The Lord was saying, "Come to me in prayer, rest in Me."  Then, I received the peace that passes all understanding. Selah 

Just a couple of days ago I met with clergy from a new church in a new city.  At the end of the meeting, they said they want to partner with us!  The Lord has already begun to deliver. 

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new  every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23 


Monday, April 18, 2016

Being a lamb


I had the honor of preaching at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Cumming, GA yesterday.  This is the sermon I preached:

“The Lord is my shepherd.”  David wrote it, Jesus lived it.   The Lord is our shepherd too.  That makes us sheep, which are really dumb animals! They blindly obey and follow the shepherd.  But what if, instead of dumb, we say sheep are faithful.  They do exactly what the shepherd says and go exactly where he leads.  They trust him to keep them safe.  They worry about nothing.  The shepherd, in turn, is also faithful.  He is with them always, goes after the lost lamb, protects them from danger, no one will snatch them out of his hand.  Being a sheep sounds better and better if you follow the right shepherd. 

Jesus, the Lamb of God, showed us how to follow the Shepherd.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”  The Lamb of God is also our shepherd“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
What is it like to be one of God’s lambs?  I never gave it much thought until I moved to Honduras to work for the LAMB Institute.  We are all about the Lamb of God, our shepherd. Our day school and children’s home are called Los Corderitos de Dios - “God’s littlest lambs.”  Our church is El Buen Pastor, Church of the Good Shepherd. Our motto is based on Revelation 14:4, “following the Lamb wherever He goes.”

“We walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” says the psalmist.  Sometimes we stumble there, through our own choices and sometimes He leads us there for His own purposes. However, sometimes we are dragged there by someone else.  About a year ago, a mother sent her 6 year old son, whom I will call Juancito, out with his 18 month old sister...to sell her for $20.  She told, “If you come back with her, this time I will break both of your arms.  But, our shepherd would not let evil snatch the children out of His hand.  Instead, He sent Social Services to intercept His precious lambs and deliver them to us.  They are safe, loved, and happy at our Children’s Home!  If you come visit us in Honduras, brace yourself because Juancito will leap into your arms from a running start!
Other people live in the valley of the shadow of death.  In Flor del Campo, a gang-ridden barrio on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, 200 young men choose Jesus instead of gangs and drugs.  They join our Alonzo Movement, led by volunteers from Flor, many of whom were the first young members of the program. Jesus’ message of love is so compelling, leading them beside the still waters of peace and hope, they invite their friends to join them.  Every new Alonzo member is one lamb snatched from the hands of Satan and his gangs.

A little girl, whom I will call Maria, was 3 when her father was killed.   A short time later, she was kidnapped.  She saw a young man be killed and figured she was next.  Thanks be to God, she was rescued three days later.  Then, she witnessed her mother’s murder.  She went to live with her grandmother who got cancer and died.  Maria was living in the valley of death.  Then Maria entered kindergarten … at our school on a full scholarship.  Today, she is a bright 7th grader with good grades who sings, “I believe in you, Jesus, and what you will do in me.”  She believes that surely God’s goodness and mercy shall follow her all the days of her life.  She has a dream and hope for a future.

This does not happen accidently.  Pentecost is coming, when Jesus sent the disciples, and all of us, out into the world to make disciples of all nations.  He sends us out and uses us as His instruments to bring salvation to the world.  Juancito, his sister, the members of the Alonzo Movement, Maria and so many more are following the Lamb because many people before them chose to follow the Lamb.  They are the works that Jesus does, in his Father's name.  Our stories about children saved, trafficking victims rescued and restored, medical miracles, protection from real and present dangers, youth choosing life over death and so many more are examples of God’s love and presence in this world.  These are big, wonderful acts.  Just like John said, these are just a few.  I could fill hours, days and years with more.  But God doesn’t just do the big, sweeping acts.  He is in the moments of our lives too, the seemingly insignificant things, like little pink socks.

One final story.  Yarely was a beautiful, spunky 10 year girl who had spent her entire life with us at the Children’s Home.  We were preparing to say good bye to her as her adoption to Brad and Misti in South Carolina was in its final stages.  A brain tumor, growing silently, was also in its final stages.  She was diagnosed with a rare form of deadly brain cancer and died six weeks later.  Misti and I were there when the nurse asked if we had brought clothes for Yarely.  Misti, confused in her grief, looked at me for help.  “Her permanent clothes,” I explained.  Misti, Yarely’s mother in every important way, announced, “We have to go shopping.”  She wanted her baby to be dressed properly.  We searched the local mall and found a beautiful pink dress with a lacy collar, a little hat to cover her shaved head, and some adorable little shoes.  “Do you think we can find some pink, lacy socks?” Misti asked.  I thought, “No.”  I answered, “Well, they often don’t wear socks but let’s look.”  At the last store the sales clerk led us to the sock display.  We saw a variety of colorful athletic socks but not what Misti wanted for her little lady.  Suddenly, at the very back on the top row I saw a little bit of pink lace peeking out behind all the socks.  I reached up to find the perfect pair of pink socks with lace around the top.  The exact color of pink to match the dress.  Misti beamed!  The perfect outfit was ready for her only child.  Now this is such a small thing.  But, to Misti, it was important.  The Lord looked down and nodded, “I get it.  Here are your socks.”  It was such a comfort to Misti and a message from God, “I am right here with you, every step of the way.”   As we buried Yarely, we knew the Lord had been faithful in His promise of eternal life, that Yarely will hunger no more and thirst no more.  Jesus is Yarely’s shepherd and He has guided her to the springs of the water of life and has wiped every tear from her eyes. 


Each of one you is God’s precious lamb.  Follow Him and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Maundy Thursday!

Happy Maundy Thursday!  Now that's something you don't hear everyday.  Many of you, from non-liturgical traditions, may not know what Maudy Thursday is.   It is the day Jesus and his disciples had the "last supper" in which He instituted what we call communion or Holy Eucharist.  It is when Judas betrayed Jesus and when Jesus was arrested.  We don't normally view this as a celebration, instead it is a somber, reflective time in Holy Week.

But for me, Maundy Thursday, 2007 was the day I was healed.   You see, over the course of many years I had gradually bought into a message that I was not worth caring for.  It happened so slowly I didn't really notice, therefore, didn't question it.  This also affected how I thought about God's love.  I believed that God counts every hair on your head, and his head and her head.  But when it came to me, I had this image of the Atlanta Braves' baseball stadium filled with people.  I imagined Jesus looking at my face in the midst of thousands of other anonymous faces saying, "Oh yeah, I love you too."  Not that Jesus didn't love me but not in the intimate way he loves you.  I was OK with that...I wasn't worthy of anything more.

In March of 2007, I went on my first mission trip ever.  Of course, it was a mission trip to Tegucigalpa to work with LAMB.  We were building one of the cottages out of adobe block.  The children were still living in the rented house in Las Tapias on the outskirts of Teguc.  We saw them several times during the week.  I was moved, touched, amazed and in love with them.  Towards the end of the week, the Holy Spirit suddenly overwhelmed me by revealing a truth I hadn't given much thought to.  In the south, you see "Jesus Saves" signs everywhere.  They are ubiquitous and become part of the scenery.  If I did notice one, to me it was an aspirational statement.  Someday, when I die, Jesus will save me.  What's not to like about that?  Well, that day on the work site that would become the Children's Home, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that Jesus saves those children right here, right now.  I was overwhelmed by the immediacy of that.  For the precious children I had come to love, Jesus was saving them, loving them in the moment!  I was filled with joy and awe at His love for them.  For them.  Not me.

Soon after I returned to the US, it was Maundy Thursday.  I was a chalice bearer for this very solemn service that ends with the stripping of the altar in preparation for Good Friday.  I and the other chalice bearers were kneeling in the back of the church as the service quietly ended.  Suddenly, I heard the Holy Spirit say, "And I save YOU, right here, right now. I love YOU!"  Just like that, I was healed.  No more feeling unworthy or uncared for.  Just like that I knew I was beloved, that Jesus died for me.  I remain secure in the knowledge that I am one of His beloved, saved now and forever.

So, Happy Maundy Thursday!  I wish you a Maundy Thursday filled with the knowledge that Jesus saves you, beloved, right here, right now!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Splat!


"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." 


How can this not be one of the most wonderful, beautiful statements ever uttered by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?   It has comforted me and encouraged me many times over.  The darkest time is no longer dark, but filled with the light of hope and love when I remember this promise.  I will never be alone, never without love and hope, no matter what this life brings.  I have repeated this to countless people suffering from tragedy, anguish, or fear.  I pray it brings them the comfort it does me.


This wasn't Kennet's first rodeo.
He knew what was coming!

Recently, it occurred to me that Jesus made this promise is not only for the diffiult times, but the happy ones too.  It was hearing "SPLAT!"  that did it.  It began with a funny game I brought back from the US to play with the medium boys called "Pie In the Face!"  It is a simple game.  You spin the dial and turn a crank the required number of times, your face positioned just right.  At a random moment, SPLAT!  You get hit in the face by whipped cream!  Hilarity ensues.  Very quickly, the game devolved into taking turns getting hit in the face.  Everyone had to participate!  
It was as funny the 50th time as it was the first time.  And who do you suppose laughed the hardest? I am sure it was Jesus, sitting there with us, holding his breath until Kennet, or any of us "lost" the game again, then bursting out laughing!


Then again, I heard a "SPLAT!"  This time it was a water balloon.  I don't remember who the perp or the victim was but it didn't matter because seconds later we had pandemonium.  Water balloons flying across the courtyard, children shouting with victory or laughing in defeat.  It was every man, woman, and child for themselves!  Then....(imagine foreboding music) the big guns came out.



There was Menguin, house dad for the big boys, standing in the middle of the courtyard swinging a hose over his head, promising all a well aimed spray!  That unleashed the more strategic warriors and the bowls and buckets appeared. Every faucet, placed for fire prevention, was going full force. Filling a constant supply of balloons, buckets, plastic cups and anything else that could hold water.  And who was in the middle of it, pointing out vulnerable victims, directing balloons to their target?  I am sure it was Jesus, whooping along with everyone else, laughing to see Menguin get his from a bucket from behind!


She is not innocently walking with a bowl!


I am sure Jesus threw that balloon at Menguin!
When Jesus promised to be with us always, he meant always and in every situation, including pie face and water wars.  I was filled with joy when I could see him there, face covered with whipped cream and hair dripping wet from a well placed balloon strike.  That is what love is...To cry with us, to struggle with us, to grieve with us, and to throw water balloons with us!  

As the child's hymn goes,  



Jesus loves me, this I know


For the whipped cream is in my nose

  "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." 
SPLAT!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reflection - 5 years later

Today, Jan 20, is my 5th missionary anniversary!  I arrived here  5 years ago today with 2 bulging suitcases, joy in my heart, and a twinge of nerves.  Through God's mercy, Leamarie True, came with me for 3 months to share her wisdom and experience with our teachers.  What adventures we had!

The five years have flown by.  I have met so many wonderful people, Honduran, American, and others.  I have witnessed so many miracles, seen Jesus everywhere, wept during tragedies, my heart has been broken and has been filled with joy more times than I can count.  The teams and I have built cabins, sidewalks, walls, painted countless walls, played for hundreds of hours with the cutest kids, worshipped, cared for thousands of patients, prayed for thousands more and collapsed from fatigue.  I have fallen in love with our Honduran staff.  Coming alongside me have been so many people and my church, supporting me and praying for me.  Suzy has become my spiritual advisor, co-worker, dear friend and sister.  How rich I am!

Many missionaries sign up for a term of service - 1 year, 3 years, 5 years.  I came with no particular end date.  I figure the Lord will let me know when it is time to go.  I remember thinking, about 2.5 years ago, that if I had committed to a 5 year term, my time would be half over.  It was an awful feeling.  I realized I would have been living a countdown. "2 years left, 6 months left, 1 day left."  That is no way to live.  Instead, as Jesus tells us,
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." Matthew 6:25, 34 

This is hard for us to do in the US.  I am learning how to do this from the Hondurans, who as a pastor explained to me, set their sights on the next life. They take each day at a time.  Many of them worry about how to feed their children today...every day. But still, with their eyes toward heaven, they have time to be generous, kind, joyful, and full of faith in the Risen Lord.  This is surely a better way to live.

I wrote a blog the night before I moved here, called Honduras Eve. In it I reflected on my call, its effect on many people and their loving response.  The truth is God is calling each of us.  Every call is different. Some are dramatic, leaving home and family or becoming clergy, and some occur in place, teaching Sunday School, joining the medical profession, raising your children in the Lord, modeling Christ in the workplace, volunteering to help the poor and oppressed...

But, here's the thing.  God calls us to many things.  The most important is the call we all share:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
There is no end date to this call.

Finally, I reaffirm my commitment to my calls:

Lord, grant that I may always allow myself to be guided by you, always follow your plans, and perfectly accomplish your holy will. Grant that in all things, great and small, today and all the days of my life, I may do whatever you require of me. Help me respond to the slightest prompting of your grace, so that I may be your trustworthy instrument for your honor. May your will be done in time and in eternity by me, in me, and through me. Amen. - St. Teresa of Avila

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What's the difference?

Years ago, while still working for IBM, someone told me I was not "evangelical enough."  Startled, I vigorously defended my efforts to share the good news.  Later I realized this person actually meant I was not enough of an Evangelical.  As a cradle Episcopalian, I vigorously agreed!

I have been in Honduras for almost 5 years.  I have spent time with many Evangelicals, with a capital E, members of the Evangelical Movement in the US.  The Episcopal liturgical tradition feeds my soul yet I have come to see that aspects of the Evangelical tradition enrich my own prayer and worship.  I love all the "capital letters" who come down.  We have Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Non-denominationals.  I learn something from each of them.

I recently watched the movie, He Named Me Malala.  I consider Malala to be a representative of the true Islam.  I am inspired by Malala, 17 year old Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and her father.  Their peaceful and forgiving spirit, born out of their faith, is beautiful and an example for us all. Malala, shot in the face for simply going to school, has never had one "quark of anger."  Imagine.  I heard her in an interview say that if threatened again, she would throw her shoe at the attackers!

I am saddened when we focus on the differences between us, whether it is which Christian capital letter one is, which political party one chooses, or which religion one practices.  It grieves my heart to hear people judging who is "in" (heaven) and who is "out."  Can we really say that Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and Malala are "out?"  Can people of other faiths say that Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Suzy McCall are "out?" For Christians, Jesus was very clear about division of responsibilities.  He judges, we love.  In the midst of our differences, we have one thing in common. We are all trying to be faithful.  So, I am content to let the Lord sort things out in His time.

It seems to me, aspects of other religions may enrich our own faith and lives.  For me, I aspire to have the love and forgiveness for my enemies that young Malala already has. Buddhists have much to teach me about meditation and reflection.  Hindus can show me how to see God in every living thing.

Hermanos y hermanas in Christ, let us not pat ourselves on the backs when we are so "tolerant" of differences.  Instead, let us embrace differences!  Let us open our hearts and minds to all that is beautiful no matter what the source.  Truth is truth, beauty is beauty.  Most of all, let us seek God in each other and love one another as He loves us!

Feliz Navidad!  May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas!

I love each of you very much!



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

From the outside in

I just started reading a book called, A More Christlike God by Bradley Jersak.  After chapter 1, so far so good.  It is very thought provoking.  A thought that this chapter provoked in my mind is how do we as Christians appear to those who aren't?  Do our words, actions, and FaceBook posts advance the Gospel or do they turn people away?

Consider this excerpt that includes a quote from Bill Maher, a famous, cynical atheist (emphasis mine):
Jesus is seldom the issue, even for a rabid, self-avowed ‘non-Christian’ such as satirist Bill Maher. His primary attacks are not against Jesus at all, but against Christians whose religion does violence in the name of the Prince of Peace. He castigates: If you’re a Christian that supports killing your enemy and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself. …‘Capping thy enemy’ is not exactly what Jesus would do. For almost two thousand years, Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try to figure out how ‘Love thy neighbor’ can mean ‘Hate thy neighbor.’ … But if you’re endorsing revenge, torture or war, …you cannot say you’re a follower of the guy who explicitly said, ‘Love your enemy’ and ‘Do good to those who hate you.’ … And not to put too fine a point on it, but nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark—kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales. There’s interpreting, and then there’s just ignoring. It’s just ignoring if you’re for torture... You’re supposed to look at that figure of Christ on the Cross and think, “how could a man suffer like that and forgive?” … If you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian...you’re just auditing. You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans."
It is easy for us to blow off people like Maher, to say that he is an atheist and just looks for ways to attack Christians and our faith.  But look at it a different way, Maher and every other non-Christian make a judgment about the Risen Lord based on our behavior.   We are supposed to be His hands and feet in the world.  You know my favorite hymn is "They will know we are Christians by our love."  What will "they" know about Christ when they see you, hear you, read your FaceBook page? Often I hear the excuse, "it was just a joke, it was meant to be funny."  When did Jesus insult or vilify others as a joke? Not to put too fine a point on it but will they be drawn to Christ or will they run away?  Will they see Christ as a loving, welcoming, forgiving God or as a mean, intolerant,spiteful God?

I have a heartfelt request for my Christian brothers and sisters.  I am particularly worried about FaceBook because the audience is so broad and often, unknown. We have all seen how things go viral, often unexpectedly by the person posting the message.

So, please, before you hit send, especially during the upcoming election season, ask yourself, "Would I post this if Jesus were my FB friend?"  "Would this post be on Jesus' wall?"  "Does this post live up to "Love your enemy..." (including those who don't agree with your position) and "do good to those who hate you." (Luke 6:27)  "Will this post bring people  to Jesus or drive them away?"

I will too.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Can't get enough...

Jim & Kathy Kelly, Carolinita and Iris
The Main Street UMC group from Greenwood SC are here along with 3 "scouts" from a church in Kansas (including oldie but goodie Karen DeArmey!)  At Kathy the team leader's request, I invited a Honduran family to have dinner with us.  Iris Carolina, her daughter Carolinita, and her parents, a lovely, gracious family came with home made flan in hand.  After dinner, Iris Carolina shared her story with us.

When Carolinita was about 8 months old, Iris noticed her daughter wasn't developing according to schedule.  She took the baby to the doctor who said she had dengue fever which must have damaged her brain.  With a mother's finely tuned instinct, Iris did not accept this diagnosis.  She began to take the baby to doctor after doctor.  And, she began scouring the internet.  She took the baby to a neurologist here who had no idea what was wrong.  "You need to find Dr. Ken Holden.  He lives in South Carolina," said the neurologist.  All Iris needed was Dr. Ken's name.  Back to the internet she went and discovered that Dr. Ken brings a brigade to Tegucigalpa!  She, then shifted her investigation to Teguc, finally discovering that Dr. Ken and his brigade stay at Mision Caribe.  After weeks of calls to Mision Caribe she learned the brigade would be in Flor del Campo (at our school) on January 26.  On the appointed day, she went to Flor with her young daughter, asking everyone along the way, "Where are the gringos?"  She laughed and said, "Everyone knows where you are!  Those vans filled with gringos!"  A little boy led her to the gate of our school.  She rushed in with the piece of paper her doctor had given her with Ken's name on it.  "I need to see Dr. Ken Holden!"  As directed, she returned the next morning to see him.  He spent 3 hours with Carolinita.  Finally he said to Iris, "You know what she has, don't you?"  Rett Syndrome - a devastating, extremely rare genetic neurological condition, damaging most of Carolinita's systems.  There is virtually no support here in Honduras.  Then Dr. Ken asked, "Did you know that one of the world's best experts on Rett Syndrome is in the next room?"

Imagine that.  In God's Littlest Lambs school in Flor del Campo, Honduras sat the one doctor in the world that Iris needed for her daughter!  How does that happen?  Friends, this is not a coincidence or luck.  This is nothing less that the miraculous, merciful hand of God.

Main Street UMC raised the money to bring Iris and Carolinita to Greenwood to be seen at the genetic center. They took them to a Rett Syndrome conference in Alabama so she could learn more and meet other families dealing with the same thing.  The team brought a year's supply of important vitamins and medications for Carolinita.  "I no longer feel alone.  Finally, I have hope!" beamed Iris.

As her story came to a close, she looked us in the eye and said, "The Lord assures me Carolinita will be OK.  I am very grateful for how the Lord is transforming my life, my family's lives and the lives of so many through Carolinita.  We are much closer to God now.  I  am most thankful for that. My girl will be OK."

As many of these wonderful stories and experiences I have had in Honduras, I worried that I might become inured of God's marvelous works.  In fact, I cannot get enough of how wonderful God is.  I am constantly surprised at the depth and breadth of His grace.  I hope you feel the same.


Praying for Carolinita and Iris

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Being the beatitudes

Did you ever write an essay about what you did on vacation?  "I went to DisneyWorld/on a cruise/to Europe/skiing..."  Last week was a national holiday week.  Yesterday I had coffee with Gloria, our housekeeper.  I asked her that same question.  I have written about Gloria before.  She is kind of the unsung hero of Casa LAMB.  The teams, sadly, don't get much exposure to her.  She arrives in the morning as they are eating breakfast and leaves before they get back in the afternoon.  The few that get sick and stay home for the day are the beneficiaries of her tender care and delicious chicken soup.  Gloria is many things besides a great housekeeper.  She is a prayer warrior, the likes of which I have never seen.  She is an inspiring preacher over a cup of coffee or casual encounter.  She is very humble and she is very poor.

What did Gloria do on vacation? She and her husband, Nelson, took a long bus ride to Choluteca to minister to the extremely poor.  They gathered whatever they could and spent the week in one of the hottest and poorest parts of Honduras.  They have very little to give in terms of material goods but share enormous spiritual gifts with their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Nelson had worked in Choluteca for about a year awhile ago and has never forgotten the people there.  They spent the week in fellowship, evangelizing, and fasting and praying for the people.  She brought a plastic soccer ball to the children, the only one they had.  (Real soccer balls are very expensive here.)  A teenager asked Gloria if she would bring him "tacos" or soccer cleats.  It may seem like a frivolous request but soccer here is everything for a teenaged boy.  His prospects are bleak. He has scaled his dreams down to a pair of tacos.  Gloria promised she would bring him some next time, "Por fe," she said.  "Through faith" she knows God will provide the cleats.

She recounted an amazing story about an elderly man who had been desperately ill for a long time.  He couldn't move, had difficulty eating and was near death.  Gloria and Nelson fasted and prayed.  Nelson annointed him with oil as they fasted and prayed some more.  Miraculously, he sat up! He started eating and drinking. He can move his arms and talk. It is reminiscent of when Peter healed the crippled beggar:
Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:6) Gloria has no silver or gold but abundantly gives what she has.

Gloria is the embodiment of the Beatitudes.  Being with her gives me a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.  

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy 
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God..." Matthew 5:3-7






Friday, October 2, 2015

90 degrees

About a week ago, I wrote about miracles.  A friend shared that my claims of miracles and answered prayers caused her pain.  "What about those people who have lost their children despite the same prayers?" 

On Sunday, September 27, 2015 we became one of those families when Yarely died.  She had been improving and her doctors were encouraging.  We were in shock. We have the same emotions and questions that any family has at the death of a child.  Why? He opened so many doors, how could He close them now? 

The Hondurans move quickly. That afternoon the all-night “velorio” (wake) began.  Dulce and the other cooks fed us arroz con pollo at 10, cookies and coffee at midnight, homemade chicken soup at 2AM.  The next day was the funeral.  It is all over so fast while your head is still spinning from the news of her death.   Yet, heartbroken, mourning for what might have been, we have a spark of hope within.  We ask, “Lord, where are you?”  He gently answers, “do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. We open our hearts and look for miracles and celebrate answered prayers.
 
A couple of years ago, I asked a Honduran pastor how the very poor, who suffer so much could have such profound faith.  “We set our sights on the next life.”  I think this is also the answer to Yarely’s death.  We miss her and hurt deeply while we rejoice and praise God.  We have unanswered questions while we trust in the Lord’s call to Yarely to come home.   We ask a million “what ifs” while we expectantly wait to see how He will redeem this tragedy because, of course, He has and He will many times over. 

As Margaret Merritt, dear friend and LAMB Director of Operations, said, “It depends on whether you see Yarely’s death as the end of the story, or if you believe the story continues.”   Do you set your sights on this life or do you raise them 90 degrees straight up to heaven? 

We believe that Yarely had shifted her sights upwards before her illness.  Her teacher shared a drawing Yarely had given her.  At the top it says: "This angel will watch over you always. I love you Profe Erika. From: Yarely.”  Along the bottom it reads, "I love you. Don't forget me."  It is a sweet but strange sentiment from a 10 year old.  Unless it was prophetic… The night before Yarely died, her mother, Misti and I went to the evening visit as usual. Yarely would always open her little hands and grasp ours.  Misti would massage a rich lotion on her legs and massage her temples.  Yarely would almost purr, she loved it so much.  But Saturday night, she didn’t want to be touched.  She would sleep off and on.  When she awoke she would look at us and grimace, crying without sound or tears.  We were baffled by this sudden change.  She had had a crisis 3 days earlier when she went into cardiac arrest for 3 minutes before being revived.  Misti and I wonder if during those 3 minutes she caught a glimpse of heaven because, on Saturday, every time we touched her it seemed like we were bringing her back to earth.  She was ready to go home.  How can we not rejoice for her?

But the Lord isn’t only concerned with Yarely.  He has made His presence so tangibly felt…in small ways and large sweeping ways.  The rainbow that we saw over the Children’s Home the morning of her funeral and that Margaret saw on her way to church that same day was a gift, a reminder of God’s promise and a path for Yarely to skip up to heaven.  When we raise our hearts to heaven, we can see these grace notes

Yesterday I learned that Arely’s 6 year old son, Isaias, had a miraculous experience.  The top half of Yarely’s casket opened and had a plexiglass window so you could see her.  Isaias told his mother, “She touched my hand and she was looking at me and laughing with me.”  How like Jesus to send an encouraging message about our precious child through another precious child. 
If your sights are set only on this life, you may be rolling your eyes right now.  If they are set 90 degree up, you are shouting “Alleluia!”

Yes, we are one of those families who did not receive the miracle we prayed so fervently for – full healing and a long life with her parents, Misti and Brad.  We were praying for miracles here on earth.  Instead, Yarely received the greatest miracle of all – perfect health, enfolded in the loving arms of the Risen Lord.  We believe Yarely’s story has just begun, relocated to heaven.  He didn’t shut the door, He opened a new one.  God will redeem this - a tragedy for us, a triumph for Yarely.  I can’t wait.  I pray we will all shift our sights 90 degrees upwards. 


He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." Rev. 21:4-5

Monday, September 28, 2015

Grace notes

We were not prepared for 10 year old Yarely's death yesterday.  She had been steadily improving in ICU.  At 10:30 am (HN time) she suddenly went into cardiac arrest and could not be revived.  Shocking and heartbreaking.

Still, in the midst of unimaginable tragedy, there are grace notes.  Some huge and some small, but all tangible reminders that the Lord is faithful.

Yesterday, Sunday morning, I dropped Misti (Yarely's mom) off at the hospital a couple hours early for the morning visiting hour.  I wanted to go to church at the Children's Home for the annual Bible Trivia contest on the Honduran "Day of the Bible" Sunday.  Normally, I would have accompanied Misti but who wants to miss the kids fiercely competing about Bible Trivia?  David and Evelyn normally go to their church on Sunday morning and visit Yarely in the evening.  Yesterday, they showed up in the waiting room unexpectedly.  Minutes later, the doctor came out with the terrible news.  Through God's grace and mercy, Misti was not alone. I was at church, which had just begun, and could tell Suzy immediately. Suzy was able to switch to pastoring her flock of little lambs while everyone was together in the place they needed to be to learn of this loss. Shock turned to grief, yet in their hearts they hear, "Don't be afraid, I will help you and give you peace."

As we were standing, stunned, by Yarely's wrapped body, the nurse asked if we had clothes for her.  Misti asked me, "Are these clothes just to get her to the funeral home or...permanent ones?"  I answered, "permanent clothes."  Misti announced, "Well, we have to go shopping.  She needs a pink dress."  We headed to City Mall looking for a pink dress, pretty shoes and a hat to cover Yarely's shaved head.  After looking in several stores we found an adorable pink dress. Next we found pretty little ivory patent leather shoes with a bow.  Misti asked, "Do you think we can find little lacy socks?"  I hemmed and hawed.  I didn't want to say no to a newly grieving mother.  "Um.  I'm not sure.  Alot of times they don't wear socks."  We went to the last store and found the perfect hat - pink on one side and polka dots on the other.  I asked the sales clerk if they had socks.  There on one of the racks filled with athletic socks, way in the back, we saw pink lace poking out.  We pulled out the perfect pair of pink, lacy socks. The only ones in all the stores we visited in Central America's biggest mall.  It is a tiny thing, maybe not worth mentioning, but to Misti it was a gift.  She was able to dress her precious child in the perfect outfit.  One last time.  A tiny whisper, "I am here with you. I will not let you go."


After the funeral service, we processed to the burial site.  It is a cemetery on the side of a mountain in the village of San Buenaventura.  Although the path was long and a bit treacherous, the view over the valley was beautiful.  "Just like the view from our mountain home in Tennessee!" exclaimed Brad, Yarely's father.   Off to the left was a beautiful view of a valley with a town at the far end.  It was cloudy and dark when we arrived.  (Thank you Lord for holding off the torrential rains during the burial.)  Led by Angel and the small guitar, we began singing a beautiful, meditative song called, "Aleluya" praising God.  I looked up to see the town, just the town, illuminated, shining in the midst of the grey, cloudy mountains.   As the song ended, the clouds returned.  For a moment the Lord reveals, "Yarely is with me, in my Holy City."

Aleluya!