Los Dias Locos.

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The girl in my car handed me her phone. “Please talk to my father. He thinks I’m lying.”

The car swerved a little on the winding north Georgia road as I took the phone. I drove with one hand. “Hello?”

The voice on the other end was harsh and heavily accented. “Who this is?” He asked. “You are a teacher?”

“No sir. I’m a volunteer. I’m driving your daughter to a senior cookout.”

“A cookout? Where you are?”

I told him the city.

“Who this is?” He demanded again. “Who this is?”

“Mi nombre es Heather,” I tried, and then tried to spell it in Spanish. “Soy un voluntario en la escuala de tu hija. Vamos a la casa de  pastor … ” I fumbled. My Spanish was rusty at best and I knew that even if my vocabulary was close to correct, my grammar was far from it.

“Give me mi hija, my daughter,” he said.

I heard him begin to shout as she took the phone. I understood fractions of the very one-sided conversation. He wanted to know where she was, really, and no lying. Who was the white girl on the phone? Where was the gringa taking his girl?

And then–

Her brother had been arrested again.

I listened as she sobbed. When she hung up the phone, I reached behind the seat and squeezed her hand. Can’t she catch a break, LORD? I prayed. She’s been through so much.

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Many of the girls I work in the youth program have stories like hers.

Brothers, parents in jail. Many of them are pregnant; some have two or three children. Others are seventeen and divorced. There are stories of gang initiations gone wrong and overdosing on everything from cocaine to cough medicine.

And this is the easy stuff.

My day–conversely–consisted of a lunch meeting at a mid-range restaurant  where I was showered with gifts and a morning of writing blogs. Some semi-stressful things were thrown my way, but they mostly consisted of running errands using someone else’s credit card and someone else’s gas.

Until I picked her up, my day felt overwhelming and crazy and exhausting.

But this girl, on her way to her senior banquet, experienced something I couldn’t comprehend–a family torn apart and a brother sitting in prison. I looked at her and saw a girl trying to be old beyond her years, but who was overwhelmed and exhausted in the face of “los dias locos”, “the crazy days.”

And to her, this life is a stream of los dias locos.

I wish I could say that I immediately recognized the innate differences between the difficulty of her life and the relative ease of my own. But I didn’t. I came home and complained to one of my roommates about how hard my day was.

In fact, I had every intention of writing a blog post about it here.

And then I started to actually write about it.

I don’t think I have any really pretty way to tie this up except to just ask you to pray for my friend, who is so young and so vulnerable. She–and the others I’ve worked with for a brief time–are what the news would call “minorities” and “at risk”. They’d probably be called a lot of other things too, mostly not so nice things.

Pray for reconciliation within her family.

Pray for her brother as he faces the judge this week.

Pray for her parents as they continue to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Pray for her cousin as her pregnancy continues.

Pray for her school as it transitions to a new year with new leadership.

Pray that I–and the others with me–are allowed back into the school in the fall.

Pray that my friend doesn’t give up.

Just pray.

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Yes Lord. What’s the Question?

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The master bedroom in my house is the kind of gorgeous you only see at a retreat center.

A wall of windows. All muted browns and iridescent blues. There’s a remote that raises the curtains so you can look out over the lake. If it was my room, I’d be hard pressed to leave it every morning. I’d probably turn on the fireplace, wrap up in a blanket and just stay for a while.

I spent some time there this morning with my mentorship group. It’s a small group, just the three of us, and we’re pretty close. It’s not unusual for one of us girls to have a small breakdown– to let our tears fall on shoulders and pillows as they will.

Today was no exception.

We prayed over her as she cried, and then listened as she interceded for herself. She’s a passionate woman of prayer, and at one point she said, through sobs–

“I just say “Yes, LORD.””

and then,

“What’s the Question?”

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I’m so unwilling to give up control in this way, to say yes without first knowing what He wants of me. I am so unwilling to say the quiet, the unrestrained yes, without reading the contract all the way through, into the fine print. I want to know every angle. I want to understand every clause.

But Jesus doesn’t work that way. And the thing is, He shouldn’t have too.

What more do I need to know but that He loves me? But that He died for me? But that He came to give me abundant life now, here, and not only in some different, distant heaven?

I shouldn’t need anything more than that, if I really believe His promises and words.

But let’s be honest,this semester, I’ve been working through the bruises life’s left on my heart. I’ve spent a little time being angry with Jesus. I got angry for things I’ve never been angry at before.

I discovered, much to my surprise, that He’s okay with me being angry. I think He’d rather me be honestly angry than consciously hiding how I feel from Him.

And after the anger, I’ve found the chutzpah to actually trust Him, just a little bit at a time.

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This week, I’ve found myself looking at my life with more openness. There’s a peacefulness that comes over me at the thought of making big decisions and saying big things and, generally, moving on with my life into the next season.

And I don’t know what that season looks like, honestly.

I want to give my heart without the fear of it breaking, because I know regardless of what happens, He’s holding it. I want to trust that since He’s led me to this place–even to the point of death–He is still the Messiah, the Holy One, and He Who Loves Me.

With that knowledge, I can become the kind of woman who says YES to the LORD first and asks what the question is later.

Choose This Day.

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I woke up this morning and, despite fierce emotional opposition, decided today would be glorious.

Not good.

Glorious.

Honestly, everything in me resisted. Everything in me said, “No. Go back to bed. You’re tired. Your legs still hurt from yesterday’s workout. You need coffee.”

It wasn’t that all those things weren’t true.

It’s that ultimately, they didn’t matter.

Ultimately, I decided, as I sleepily scrubbed at my teeth, this day was not going to be about me.

It was going to be about extra cups of coffee and reading Anne Lamott.

And it would be about back-to-back meetings full of strategy and preparation and details.

It would be about him calling in the middle of the day just to tell me he loves me (and man, does he). 

And about sharing my mango–and stories–with a friend.

Most of all, it would be about KINGDOM, something we talk about a lot in my organization and fight to choose daily.

It would be about asking to see the GLORY of God manifested in class conversations.

And it would be about CONSECRATION, and about LOOKING UP, and about CHOOSING to have a day focused on Jesus instead of myself.

Guess what?

It absolutely was.

Sometimes, I think we get so focused on “the process” that we forget we have the power to make decisions. Things as simple as getting out of bed in the morning become drastic fights to see who has supremacy in our thoughts, in our actions, in our hearts.

And honestly, sometimes I think we just have to make a decision that for today, for this moment, some things are just true.

God is good all the time (and all the time, He is good).

I am loved.

Life is precious.

And today will be glorious.

Catherine, Bringing Kingdom.

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Her name is Catherine and she’s nine years old now.

I met her when she was eight. She was a little girl with close cropped dark hair and eyes like looking into a well at midnight. I had a nose ring then, a silver hoop. She used it to identify me, asking for me by pointing to her nose and saying “Sista.”

She was bilingual, just not in English. Bahasa–the official Malaysian language–was natural to her, and Tamil tumbled over her tongue.

In the instant when she walked into the children’s home, blue and white pinafore slightly askew and little hands fisted over her backpack straps, I knew she was my girl.

I spent April 2012 with her arms wrapped around my neck. She fell from the swing on the playground; I carried her home. She learned an English word; I learned a little Bahasa. She tickled my stomach and then laughed uncontrollably when I went after her in return.

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And when, one night, she stopped breathing, fainting from panic, I bolted from the house, running as I have never run, for help. I stayed on my face, interceding, until she came home.

I prayed about staying behind, quitting my Race and living in Malaysia with her.

But God said no.

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In the middle of this, I wrote. I wrote about our daily routines and the way we’d fall asleep with our feet pressed together. My heart was expanding far beyond it’s previous capacity for love.

The last time I saw Catherine, I walked her to the van that took her to school. She didn’t cry or kiss me or say, “I go too!” as she had all the weeks before. And when she drove away, my heart splintered into a million pieces that God laid into a simple path leading me back to the purposes of His Kingdom.

But it didn’t stop with me.

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At some point between now and then, another girl in America named Emily read the stories I wrote about Catherine and felt something stir in her spirit. She started praying about going on the World Race and was recently accepted onto V Squad, which launches in September. She wrote a blog that told me about the effect Catherine had on her life. I got the message last night and just wept.

My little girl is bringing Kingdom and she doesn’t even know it.

I have prayed circles around this child, begging God to send people who could love her after I left. And He is. He is caring for our girl better than I could have, had I stayed myself.

More than that, He is showing me the fruit of seeds planted almost a year ago, seeds that were sown with tears and a broken heart. He’s showing me a love too big to be contained in time or space. He’s explaining His purposes behind Catherine in my life, purposes that include Catherine as a rallying cry for future Racers.

The thing is, He doesn’t owe me that explanation. It wouldn’t be out of line for Him to say, “Just trust me.” But He knows that right now, I’m struggling in that area, and so He’s giving me a promise fulfilled to hold onto.

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And honestly, I feel like He’s given me a star. A little piece of light to hold in my heart. Something warm and shining and mine.

Catherine’s bringing Kingdom. He used her to bring Kingdom in me.

How to Breathe.

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The deer have gotten used to me, I think.

I’ve been running past them for two weeks or so now, early in the morning, when the sun is just starting to peek out over the lake, and filter gracefully through the oaks.  They’ve  stopped darting across the street when they hear me coming, and now, stand quietly, looking curiously as I go past.

My little feet hit the asphalt and my breath hitches in my chest.

The whole purpose of this particular form of exercise is less for the five pounds I’d love to lose, and more for my lungs.

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This recovering asthmatic wants to breathe.

The enemy likes to attack my breathing. In college, when panic attacks were common, he’d come in and steal my air, sucking it from my throat with an unholy vacuum. For years, I’ve tried to hide the tightness lingering in my chest, sucking in deep breaths just to feel them filled to capacity for even a second.

In all my years of doctors’ visits for chest exams–the kind where they had me blow as hard as I could into a little tube marked with little lines, gauging how strong my lungs are–no one has ever found anything wrong with me. Not medically, anyway.

When asked if I liked to run–a question I get a lot, strangely enough, I’d laugh and give a practiced response, “Honey, I don’t run unless something’s chasing me.”

That was the fear talking. What I meant was that I thought I actually might like to run, to do anything seriously active, if my lungs would cooperate. I never played competitive sports for just this reason.

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It wasn’t until the World Race that I even considered it might be spiritual, and then not once did I think there was anything I could do about it. My panic attacks–the most violents of them anyway–were gone. I’d been healed of those, but the difficulty breathing remained.

A few weeks ago, in the middle of a high-stress weekend, I found myself kneeling on my bedroom floor, gasping, trying to force in air. Nothing came. I felt the familiar feel of suffocation and found that the only words to mouth were, Jesus, please.

And then there was air. Lots of air, in fact. My lungs filled up and stayed filled up. I could breathe.

Jesus, please.

In a prayer, I realized how much hold the enemy has on my physicality. He’s kept my lungs in his clenched fist, and I’ve felt powerless to get them back, to get them working the way I believe they should. But Christ didn’t just come for my sins. He came so I would be healed, body, mind, spirit and soul. So that all of me would be reconciled to Him.

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The Tuesday after this last attack, I went running for the first time. I laced up my red Merril tennis shoes and pulled on my boyfriends sweatshirt. And with my heart beating a little too fast, I took my first shaky steps out the door.

One minute on, one minute off. That’s how this particular “start-to-run” plan works. So one minute at a time, I ran, waiting for the minute where my lungs would sieze and refuse to work.

It never came.

I’m two weeks into this running plan, with about six to go. It’s training for a 5k run, which, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing. But to me, right now, it’s something. It’s a big something. It’s a big victory.

It’s taking back something the enemy stole from me. It’s reclaiming territory that he’s been illegally camping out on for a really long time. Let’s be real, it’s been fun to watch him run in terror.

Because this time, I get to chase him.

God of the Present Tense

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I haven’t written much.

I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry.

Sorry not sorry.

I’ve been sowing in tears. A lot of tears. In fact, I’ve said–more than once and only half joking–that I’ve gone from being a girl who never cried to being “The Girl Who Cries At Everything.”

I spent the majority of last weekend yelling at the top of my lungs at a God I was finally brave enough to be mad at. I drove across one of many bridges in my town, hysterical sobs finally leaking out of my body as I clung to my steering wheel. I turned into a Starbucks parking lot and pulled the emergency brake on my life.

I sat and sobbed for an hour, finally uncaring that half my office had picked that particular day to go to that particular Starbucks. It didn’t matter. I was over trying to keep it all together.

For once, the grief was just too much.

Can I just tell you what a relief it was to cry about it? There were events grieved last week that haven’t ever been grieved, not in the twenty years I’ve faced them.

Not one tear. Not one time. Not ever.

And to be honest, even in the middle of that cryfest, I didn’t really feel God there. I knew He was, but I didn’t actually feel Him. I screamed and sobbed and begged questions that are small to write here–questions like “why?”–but have such incredible, horrible implications when I think of their context.

But what happened in those hours of sobbing was a breaking off, not a breaking into.

 

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This idea that I’m not allowed to grieve the things I’m grieving got broken off. Because what I’d done in not allowing myself to cry was the emotional equivalent of building a giant cement bunker sixty feet underground and labeling it “radioactive waste” and then acknowledging its existence as if I didn’t have the option of it every going away.

The grieved things are–honestly–radioactive waste that has seeped into every inch of who I am, trying to poison me, to give me incurable cancer. And if I kept ignoring this little voice that something could be different, if I kept listening to the enemy, maybe that would be true.

But something got broken off on Saturday and–Praise God–it hasn’t come back yet. It’s not going to define my future.

Because even though I didn’t feel Him, I know He was there, working and healing. Even when the feelings aren’t there I can hold onto what I know is true. That He is good. And He is faithful. And He is present.

He is “God near at hand”, not “God far away”.

He isn’t just going to break off the cement bunkers. He’s going to till up the soil it stood on and turn it into a garden. He’s doing it. And what I’ve sown in tears, I know I will reap in joy.

The harvest is going to be abundant, but for now, His goodness is showing through my broken pieces.

 

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Open Heart, Empty Hands.

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A few weeks ago, Junior came into my office and sat down. He looked at me, face intent. “I want you to do something for me.”

I tried not to laugh; he looked so serious. “Of course,” I said. “What?”

“Write me an email describing dependance and empowerment.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “Ok, sure. Why?”

“Tell you when you write it,” he said, and promptly got up and left.

Thoughts on dependance have been following me through my days ever since. I think I wrote him an answer about a little girl in Alotenango, Guatemala–which he’ll use to for his class–who will always be the face of hunger for me, about feeling helpless and having to trust God in the face of an absolutely hopeless situation.

I meant to leave it there, but the question of dependence keeps creeping up on me. It keeps showing up in every situation, giving me more visuals of what it looks like to be dependent.

It looks like the month I didn’t get to hear his voice for weeks at a time.

And it looks like the day my tire blew on the way to work and the mechanic told me I had to get four new ones.

And it really looks like this Sunday, when I woke up feeling so much pressure that my chest felt like it was going to collapse from the weight of it.

There is an ache in this kind of life, because it means that I have to continually give up my (overwhelming and epic) desire for control. It requires me to wake up, morning after morning, with an open heart and empty hands, believing Psalm 32:8 with everything in me.

“I [the LORD] will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”

Lately, it means that every morning, when I talk to the LORD, I put my palms face up on my lap and whisper an old Quaker prayer. “Whatever you put into my hands today, LORD, I receive.” And then, turning them over, “Whatever you take from my hands I release.”

And I am not even close to perfectly dependent, or even perfectly obedient to be so. But I am willing to learn dependence. If this week is any indication, the LORD is equally willing to teach me.