Warning...emotionally motivated blog ahead.
I just finished sending out an email to the Milk Project sponsors. Maria and the staff compiled prayer requests from all 75 children in Tegucigalpa and 25 in Sampedrana.
I proof read all 100 prayer requests, and once again I was humbled by the nature, thoughtfulness, and character of the requests. Requests for parent's health, for them to be able to find work so that they could buy food for them to eat. To do better in school, to not be angry and fight, to meet their birth parents, to get over pain...and thankfulness for the Milk Project and the people that work there, for the sponsors...the list goes on.
I have learned quite a bit about prayer living here, and learned a lot about prayer from visiting homes and talking with people, and that includes a fair number of children.
I read 100 prayer requests from mostly happy, well behaved, polite, good kids. At least, that is how I see them when I get to interact with them.
What I sometimes forget though is that everyone has problems and everyone has a story, of which I am not getting all the chapters. And if I think about it...I don't even read or understand all of my own story.
For example, through some conversations of late, I have realized some things about myself. I reckon that there are maybe two handfuls of people in the world that I think actually like me. (even writing that feels smug...I say to myself "Really? You really think that many people like you?" Now, this is not some fact I know, or rational thought that only ten or so people might enjoy my company, but that is what I believe to be true...that at best people tolerate my presence.
Reading through those prayer requests was hard. Lots of just sad life situations/stories. But there was also hope, and rejoicing in them. There was trust that prayers make a difference. And if I think about it, the trust that this is not the end of the story.
Thinking of that, and then through a devotion shared recently in our leadership group from someone battling depression and the heavy reality of that...immediately mixed with the joy of reading 2 Corinthians 4...is powerful, twisting stuff.
To understand yourself, to understand myself, that down deep what profound self-hate and sadness might be there, and then to remember, like a child trusting in their Good Father (a child or adult who might not even know their earthly father or have memories of combining those words good and father) and can share in Paul's words (2 Corinthians 4, The Message) saying...
5-6 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!
13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
I, for one, am falling apart, on the outside and the inside. But in that mess I have made, I cannot deny God is making new life. Really? Yes really. Can't I stop looking at what I can see and instead focus on what God sees and trust Him like a child?
Moment of clarity (which I have received and been knocked upside the head multiple times before with, and still need such hits): The focus of my story isn't me anymore...it is Christ in me.
Life, living, growth…death, depression, illness. Some days it can be one way, the other…or even both. I wouldn’t think I would need reminders of that to appreciate what I have, what is now, and the many gifts I have. But even in praying and trying to remember, there is a problem. And it is me. God is faithful, good, and has a perfect plan. But I forget that routinely, can’t see enough of that plan to always trust like I should, and just plain get scared sometimes with what I can see all around me.
Most days…in big ways, small ways, or just every way, I need the reminder that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
I was running today, something I like to do most of the time. And for a while, I was crying. Crying and running don't usually go together. I wasn't even listening to a touching sermon. I was listening to This American Life, a story about someone telling someone to go back to where they came from, and someone else that stood up to that bully and said "leave her alone."
I probably can't put it into words...but it just hit me hard, that when we are mistreated, when we feel threatened, scared, or somehow wronged, we want people to pay, or to leave, or to suffer. But that is not the example we have in Christ...collectively we have offended Him in the most grievous, heinous, terrible ways. We cursed Him, we spit on Him...we killed Him. We deserve hell, justly so. And yet...He lived and died not to send us there...but to glorify God and save us.
And so I cried. I thought I understood...but then I understood a little more, a little better, and it humbled me. I was, and sometimes still am, that guy screaming "GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!" And yet I can see it so clearly...Christ smiling, loving me all the while. I know not what I do. Wow, that hurts...and then is so comforting as well.
I have been trying to keep my arms wide, and eyes wide for a while. Trying to be more observant, more forward thinking, and hopefully more empathetic and not stuck in data/words/budgets/etc.
I was reminded recently that I still have a ways to go. Not that I was getting cocky, no way. But, during some regular sponsor communication with a Milk Project sponsor, I shared a picture Maria had sent me. In her notes, she pointed out that this older boy was wearing pink flip flops because he had no shoes and was wearing his mom's to come to the project.
I had not noticed. What was worse, upon including this sobering note to the sponsor, who was much more eagle eyed...she responded that he was wearing those same sandals in another picture posted to social media two weeks prior. I missed that too.
Sometimes I see smiling kids, being fed, participating in activities, and doing homework...and forget a truth that I heard again today from Stephen Colbert..."everyone is suffering."
Trying to see where someone else is, how they are suffering, whether physical, emotional or spiritual...is not always easy. It takes time and purposefulness. I have found, ultimately, it takes a Higher Power.
But we will still fail. And we also suffer. We all share in that.
Sometimes the best way to move forward is to find people with whom we can share those failures and struggles, and the faith that enables us to get back up, as well as lift each other up.
I really have been meaning to blog. I suppose you could call this an apology. During our June and July with groups, timing was difficult. But I was thinking about it. It is usually a good release for me. But when I thought about writing something down...I had a combination of writer's block and frustration with my own emotions.
It was good while it lasted, our time with groups this year as a family. Five groups...so much they accomplished. I could post pictures of the physical work done, but more impressive, and longer lasting still in my mind is what cannot be seen that they did...prayers, encouragement, growth, and more.
Now, I settle (he writes...chuckling) into getting back into administration mode...pushing us forward as a mission to look to the next few months, and already next year, and beyond. There is a lot to do after the groups left...most of which we can now do because they were here. Several groups blessed us with extra funds to keep things going in construction, we have group funds now to complete the mission house remodel, and as well some much needed funds to continue the road work in Sampedrana. But the dreaming, the planning, the communicating, and trying to help one another as we work towards our common goals, definitely takes time, prayer, and patience.
I'll admit, being back here full time is very comfortable, and an easier work load really than being in the US trying to work there and work here, but it also brings things much closer to home, if you will. That was one advantage of being in the US...being able to remain more emotionally detached. I say advantage, but really that too has its pluses and minuses. It might make it easier on me, but that is not necessarily better.
I don't know who wrote that, and I am not sure I agree with all of it, but it is definitely a call to action I find exhorting...physically and spiritually. Now, let's go dream...and act.
I have been filling in for Valerie this week in the rural brigades/health days we are doing. She was unable to go at the last minute, as the other doctor in the clinic to see patients has been called away and will be gone for a while. But, it is not a big deal we reasoned, as things were set up to only be distributing reading glasses to people over 40 (since I was going to be by myself in that area while the rest of the group is doing medical outreach...doing a full array of glasses and fuller exams is not quite so feasible by yourself in these settings.)
This plan makes perfect sense...except when you factor in the fact that some people need help and figure, when is the next time they are going to see us? (For some of these places it has been quite a while, since we have not had any student teams to help us for several years.)
So instead of just picking through some reading glasses, it has been days of interesting conversations about mostly normal stuff (pterygiums, aged related cataracts, allergies, dry eye, young kids needing glasses for school work...even trauma related retinal scarring and the like.)
But then came the mother with her seven year old son. He has a lazy eye and wanted to check on him after trying to get him seen at the public hospital but missing an appointment (very long distance away for them) and then seeing a private doctor nearby in Comayagua.
The private doctor told her that nothing could be done, that he did not need glasses, and not to let anyone ever do surgery on his eye.
What you can see there instead of black in his pupil is a congential cataract, to go along with his strabismus (the lazy eye...in this case, his right eye is angled out to the right)
This is frustrating, because the doctor here told her that surgery would not help since he was over five years old. That is not true. It is possible he could see if he got surgery, along with other help. Likely not 20/20, but something. It is also not true that he should not be wearing glasses, since he should have protection for his good eye!
I share this mostly out of frustration and the need to speak my mind and wrestle though some things, and in anger over the overwhelming lack of good eye care in Honduras for most people...and even sometimes when they go to see doctors and still don't get good information. But also, in the midst of my own struggles with inadequacy, and the natural tendency to wonder what can I possibly do to help?
Surrender is hard sometimes. Acquiescing to higher powers (be them others telling you that you can do something, or God telling you to do something you know you can't do without Him) can be a difficult skill to acquire.
So, as I share out of my frustration not to you dear reader but instead to myself...I say in exhortation, SNAP OUT OF IT! We have been given knowledge, wisdom, and not a spirit of fear, but rather the Holy Spirit, being equipped to do every good work set out for you ahead of time. Read 2 Timothy 1 and learn to suck it up buttercup! Fake it until you make it!
I might not think I am good enough, smart enough, or that dog gone it, people don't like me...but it doesn't matter what I think, or even what might be 100% true about all that, because God's Word is true above and beyond anything real about me, and He tells me...
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Believe it or not, I try not to think too much. At least not about some things. But I know that even though we stated before we went to the US that we were planning to come back, that many people doubted us at best, and some thought there was some sort of cover up or the like. There wasn't...but I also understand from seeing many other missionaries/pastors/people make life announcements how some could have interpreted it that way.
So, what's the real story, especially now that we are back in Honduras?
Spending about ten months in the USA (minus several trips back home for groups) was a bit of a challenge to our living to Honduras. We anticipated that, and even wanted to be open to if God was using this trip to perhaps change our "calling" (a term worth some further discussion in another post.) Plus we were hoping we were flexible enough, that adapting to living there would not be too hard for us, but that would also then make it harder to leave.
But how about our main purpose: relationships with Churches/supporters/friends? Defining the trip as a success is not easy to quantify. Many visits were made, relationships were deepened, meetings had...it certainly seems like it was well worth it, and we learned a bunch I think that we can continue to use going forward. But everyone always says that. What do the numbers say? Well, the numbers as we finish up in terms of getting new donations/partners or however you look at numbers, would not say it was a huge success. Our current level of "on board monthly supporters" is less than it was 2018. Some of the contacts we made though might take another six months...or more to even know if they will be productive in that way. Patience is key.
So is trusting in God's will and not what we can see, taste, or feel.
There is a rub. If we went purely based on the above, we probably would have stayed in the US. Being back for a longer stretch, I can see the appeal of living there in many ways. But try as I might to be a terrible Christian (or so it would seem to me) I can't get away from God's clear call keeping us here. It is not like I am trying to run away...just the opposite. I see the mountain o'money we could be making in the US, the relative ease of...everything? (best I not start a list, might be depressing). And yet while on a rational side I can see then how it would be better to live somewhere up North...there is this faith component, and a voice in my head that defies logic and instead insists on a different path. And I know it is not my voice!
We might have to make a change in the future, and then again we might die here (today, tomorrow or sometime in the future.) But whatever we do...whatever you do, I implore us to continually take it before God for His direction in our lives. Sometimes if we are attuned and listening, the direction is clear. Other times and other things we might have freedom to explore or try different things and get course corrections mid stream. But making a practice of setting aside our will and seeking God's is so key to balance, stability, and peace in life. If you don't believe in God, I understand how that might rub you the wrong way, and I don't say all this to be pushy. But we have been exposed to something, Someone, that we cannot ignore, and it would be disingenuous to hold that in and not share it. I know it doesn't make sense in the conventional way, but for us there is no other way.
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