A letter of encouragment

Sundays are hard for me these days. It’s the last day before a new week begins, weeks that are a bit harder than I would like, and it’s also the day in which my community in Nicaragua meets, and I’m not there. I am slowly participating in my mom’s church, Northridge Friends Church, and each time I go, I ask the Lord to help me hear what He has for me, to focus on the good and not the hard.

Today, there was a guest pastor, the main pastor’s father-in-law, and as I listened to him, I knew I wanted to share some thoughts from it here, as a reminder for myself and an encouragement to my brothers and sisters currently in Nicaragua.

His title was “How to get through a bad day” and his text of reference was 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18. I don’t know about you, but a title like that sounded like something I needed to pay close attention to.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you….So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:7-12, 16-18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/2co.4.7-12,16-18.esv

Man, do I feel like a jar of clay these days. And praise God for it, because to not be conscientious of it is to miss the things that God is doing in spite of my weakness. When I think about what my brothers and sisters are facing in Nicaragua, be it heightened levels of stress, tension and fear, or what many citizens there are experiencing after the loss of a loved one, the unknown circumstances of others, the persecution, injustice and outrageous circumstances of many, my heart grieves and my soul shakes. There are so many things I would like to say, and don’t, for the safety of my husband there currently and the tenderness of heart of so many others. I want desperately to have a word of hope, of light and to shout it from every rooftop; this morning I felt this was the word I had been looking for.

My dear ones, do not lose hope. The very critical and horrific situations that are occurring, the things that make us indignant, furious, desperate and terrified, are the very things that Paul calls “light, momentary affliction” – not because he is saying that they are not serious things for one to experience, but because what they contrast to, the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” make everything else pale. Think about that. That a complete destruction of security, safety, well-being, justice and progress can be called light and momentary. That those very things, the heavy handed strongmen, are preparing for us this glory.

How do we know? How can we be certain of this? The unequivocal presence of God is with us through it all. Isaiah tells it to us clearly:

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you….Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭43:1-5, 19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/isa.43.1-5,19.esv

To this we must cling, to remember that though the night be dark, the trials long and the weight heavy, He is with us. He is working in us, preparing something so good that nothing can diminish its light and goodness. We can see it in the cross – what was a despicable, unjust and horrific thing, God used to bring forth the capstone of Creation, the most glorious event of all mankind. This is our Father; He has not changed. He is able and willing to turn what we see as utter decay into glory. Oh, and that is so my hope, my desire. To see what has happened be transformed into light, to see those who are bent under oppression rise up into a glorious future that sings His praises and walks in His freedom.

Brothers and sisters, those of you who are there enduring, those of you who are suffering, take heart. Know that I pray for you every. single. day. That our Good Father walks closely with you, upholds your tired hands and hugs your weary shoulders. That He is in this, though it seems hard to perceive. That He is working, moving, though He seem silent or distant.

I remind myself of this when the heartache threatens to overwhelm, when the energy and patience needed to do the next thing seems non-existent…He is here, and He is working. I can continue on because His surpassing power is available, and moving on our behalf. May we have eyes to see the unseen, to not be distracted or burdened by the seen, but ultimately, hopeful in the promises of His Word, all of which are YES in Jesus Christ.

Un abrazo hermanos. Los extraño terriblemente. Él quien nos llamó es fiel, y Él hará!

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Diez Años en Nicaragua – Happy Nicaversary to me!

Ten years ago today, I stepped out of the cool air of the airport into the suffocating humid heat of Managua, walked across the parking lot with 40 other Peace Corps Trainees to Las Mercedes Hotel and began what has been an extraordinary journey.

As I watch and listen and experience the different facets of the unrest Nicaragua has been enduring, I am reminded of how things were when I first arrived. We arrived 18 months after Ortega had been elected back into office and the country was still abuzz with the transition from the liberal governments of the ´90s back to Sandinista rule that was such a force in changing Nicaragua. I had read Gioconda Belli ´s “The Country Under My Skin” before arriving; it stirred me powerfully to have read her account of the Sandinista Revolution and then find myself in her country, under the rule of that same iconic leader. It was also a time of unrest, though nothing like what we are experiencing these days – the transportation sector was striking against the high cost of fuel and the unsustainable prices they were able to charge for their services. For a large chunk of our time in training, we had limited access to fresh produce and our travel was restricted due to the strike. It eventually led to a government subsidy and reduced prices for the transportation sector, which also allowed prices for the public to remain at their reasonable costs. I remember being impressed by the tenacity of the people to demand what they needed and to see the government work out a solution with them.

What the streets looked like during the strike – buses and taxis lined the main streets for miles.

Perhaps it was naïveté that allowed that impression, or perhaps things have really changed and twisted in the last ten years. Either way, I don´t have the same sense of the situation that I did then; I am concerned for how this thing will play out. Not scared, but concerned. One thing is certain: Nicaraguans, those I have come to know and love, are patient and tenacious…and if there is a set expectation in their collective mind, we´ll be hard pressed to see this end before that expectation is met in some fashion.

All that to say, enjoy a few posts from my first week in Nicaragua back in 2008.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

well. i’m here. 🙂

nica hugs you the minute you get off the plane. the hot air just engulfs you and spanish winds its way into your ears. palm trees and gorgeous flora line the open air walkways between rooms. and the people. i can’t explain the comraderie you feel in peace corps…the staff, from the country director to the admin officers make you feel like you could talk to them about anything….this being a very valuable trait considering these will be the people i call when i find myself in a jam. the trainees and i have been enjoying great food and posh rooms and a pool. the surroundings make for a good place to unwind and get to know each other better after the long day of training.

having current volunteers here has also helped immensely…there is something about looking at someone who has done it for a year or two years that quiets all those irrational fears. it’s been a great beginning to what i hope to be an amazing viaje.

tomorrow we have 3 hours of language training to further determine our levels and place us in our training town groups. Then its off to tour managua [supposing the transportation strike is over…] and saturday we meet our host families. I am so stoked! more later when i get internet again….let me know how you are!!

BAUTISMO:

My mind is a dance of English and Spanish, the English leading while the Spanish moves swiftly to come to the forefront. My family and I are sitting near the doorway, listening to the firecrackers and distant thunder. It appears there is a parallel between the natural and our creations. Finally, it is time. Prayers echo out of the speaker on top of a slow moving car, the nearby church attendees all holding candles and singing praise. It is the procession of Santisimo, the celebration of the host and the miracle of the Spirit’s indwelling. We weave our way around other faithful and begin walking in step with the nuns. I can’t quite catch all the words, but I recognize Jesus’ instructed prayer and I feel at peace, knowing that my faith translates across language. As we round the blocks and past the church, it begins to rain. Just slightly. By the time we find ourselves back home, the rain begins to pour. And as I laid underneath the heady mosquito net listening to the pounding on the tin roof, I find strange identification with the procession we just had and the soaking rain above my head. While my townspeople were celebrating the miracle of the Spirit’s indwelling in one part of their faith, I felt like my Father was infusing me with His Spirit once more, baptizing me and reminding me that He goes with me. And that was enough to set me at peace and draw me into restful sleep.

LAVANDERIA:

I awoke this morning to the clattering palomitas on my roof and the rising heat wafting into my upstairs window. Climbing out of bed, I realized I have a ton of laundry. Now, there are no washing machines or press the button type chores. Everything is dependent on your own muscles, your own creative devices. As I drank café y picos with my Nica mama, I asked her if she could show me how to wash my clothes. She smiled widely and took me to the backyard. In 30 seconds, she had my skirt tumbling across the cement ridges with a teal soap brick in her hand. Watching her, I thought, this will be no problem. I can handle this. And then it was my turn. I don’t know how anyone could feel uneducated doing laundry, but I certainly did. My hands awkward and timid, water and clothing spreading across the countertops, with a certain humility and appreciation swelling in my chest. It took me a good 3 minutes to wash my first t-shirt. But Dona proved so patient and kind, she allowed me to continue washing and did not insist on standing over me or doing it for me.

With my clothes dripping in a colorful array across our cement backyard, I smiled and thought to myself, si se puedo. I can do this. I might falter and slip and make huge errors, but there is something within me that is adapt to growing in these kinds of unfamiliar places. I began to think of the day when laundry washing and making gallo pinto will be second nature. And the fact that this is my path gives me great hope for the coming two years.

PS: I even ironed all of it tonight. How bout that?!?

SIENTASE:

This is something offered to me multiple times a day – the invitation to sit. I’ve only been here two days, but already I can tell there is so much more to sitting than sitting. It is not just the action of placing your sweating self into the proffered rocking chair or plastic silla. It encompasses being a part of the community around you. People are coming and “sitting” all day. I know that right now my experience is only two things: invitation to sit and rest or sit and participate, but I am excited to perfect the art of sitting with people. It was something I had begun to explore back home, particularly with my pals Sara and Lauren, but here, this is what you do. There is not much else, especially on the weekends [and DEFINITELY during a transportation strike], and there are at least 3 hours of the day that demand you to sit – to do anything else results in major fatigue and buckets of sweat. My American self is rather worn out by all the sitting and missing chunks of language, but my global soul is excited to learn this ancient art of loving people by just being with them. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Mosquito bites: 5

Sunburn: 0

Parasites:0

Crying fests: 2 little bits

Massive Bugs: 0

I can handle these counts…let’s keep hoping they stay this good.

(buenas tardes to everyone…i have an internet cafe in my town, so these will be coming once a week or so. much love!)

The youth we worked with in our training town, during our final presentation of TEFL resources for the local school´s library.

A letter to my son

Dear Caleb,

We are just a few weeks from meeting you face to face, and I´ve got to say, you´re arriving into unexpected circumstances; circumstances I can better understand as I consider the process of our pregnancy.

In this journey, I´ve gone from blissfully unaware that I was pregnant to painfully cognizant of this growing, impending arrival. What was once small and even unnoticeable is now the most noteworthy thing about me physically, and that which impacts every small thing I do…sleeping, eating, working, walking…there is no getting around it.

There is, of course, much hope. That while the process is deliberate, slow, and increasingly uncomfortable and tense, there is this great expectation of what is to come…new life! What will you look like? What will your personality be? How will everyone around us receive you? How will you change our lives? Will we be able to be all you need us to be?

The experience of waiting is, at times, brutal. Too much head space given to pondering worries and fears, too much time stumbling around the what ifs, too much emotion drowning out rational thought and reason. Even as I looked at your adorable face in this last ultrasound, proof that things were developing well and a promise for good in what’s to come, I still battle against the fear and anxiety that somehow it will all go awry. That you will suffer complications, or the delivery won´t go as we plan, or that somehow this blessing will become a woe. This kind of thinking is not productive or helpful. Is there a guarantee that all will work out as we plan and dream? Nope. But that is the very reason we continue to hold on to those things that give us hope for what is coming…because the alternative is to stop living, stop loving, stop engaging.

There is also a certain amount of trepidation concerning the pain and work of labor…that you will come into this world through a physically and emotionally taxing process, one that may begin at any moment and over which I don´t have much control. Yet from what I´ve read from others, it is this very process that is part of starting a new phase in life…that the intensity of it, and how it takes all you have and then some, are the very things that make your arrival so glorious. That is my grounding point as I await the labor pains.

It is that very same principle that gives me a positive sense of expectancy as we move towards a similar labor here in Nicaragua. It may be long, drawn out, painful and not something I have any control over, but we can certainly hope that whatever is birthed from it will usher in new life.

There is an anticipation that hangs heavy in the air; that which had been roiling and growing under the surface has suddenly burst into being and there is no going back, no pretending that we can just forget the past few weeks and return to how things were. There are so many uncertainties and unknowns in how this might play out…but there is hope. Just as we hope for who you will become, we hope for what Nicaragua will become. We are patiently awaiting the next steps, praying it births a new dawn for this pueblo…one that brings life and restoration, reconciliation and peace.

How fitting is your name: Caleb Moisés. Two mighty men of faith who were brave and courageous, leaders chosen and equipped by God to face unfathomable circumstances. We need men like that in today´s world and I can only pray God helps us raise you up to be that and more. Te amamos mijo.

Love,

Mama

Grief and Advent

I don’t know about you, but grief and sorrow are not two words I like to have linked to ¨Christmas experience¨ in my head. I expect it to be a time of perfect familial harmony, great joy and pleasure, and crystalline memories to cherish for the 364 days until the next Christmas. Obviously, this is not, much of the time, our reality. I´ve been digging into the role of grief in the midst of what is meant to be a joyful holiday and I wanted to share with the hope that it might encourage someone else who is facing grief this season.

For me, it began like clockwork as I saw the traveling posts on Facebook around December 13th. These last two years we had the immense privilege of traveling to the States for two to three weeks to celebrate Christmas with my family. It was a time of great joy but also hollowness – one, because it meant that we were not here, where Moisés´ family is, and therefore we felt that loss, but also because it made me really sit in the reality that Josiah is growing up far from his extended family. It is gut-wrenching for me to know he doesn´t have the everyday memories with cousins, the overnight trips to Grandma´s house, or the fullness that one experiences as a child by having many relatives who love and pour into you. While we do live in the same country as Moisés´ extended family, many of them live far away and due to our schedules, we are unable to visit them often. This is our reality of living in Nicaragua. I began to really feel this grief settle in as I watched fellow missionaries leave for home, while we prepare to spend Christmas here this year, without traveling to visit family here due to construction projects at school.

This time of year is also hard for us ever since we lost my father-in-law unexpectedly in 2011 and just nine short months later, my brother-in-law, even more unexpectedly. There were days in between 2011 and 2013 that celebration and joy felt impossible. Their absence has considerably dimmed Moisés´ joy and enjoyment of the holidays – they are painful reminders of those who are no longer with us.

All that to say, I was feeling heavy at the beginning of this Advent season, trying to prepare my heart to celebrate the joyful arrival of our Savior Jesus, but it just felt flat. As I would sit down to read my advent devotional or listen to Christmas music or decorate the house with Josiah, who is definitely aware and on board with all things Christmas this year, I felt like a grinch, restrained and caught up in the sorrow rather than in the potential joy. I´d chide myself internally, c´mon Sarah! Get with the program! It´s the most wonderful time of the year!!

But as I´ve soaked in the Advent scriptures and mulled over the Story once again, I see that grief and sorrow is very much a part of this story. A virgin, engaged to be married, shows up pregnant. The scandal of it, while not explicitly explained in biblical text, is implicitly understood in her fiancés move to quietly divorce her so as to preserve as much of her dignity as possible. But God had another plan and got Joseph on board. Then she has to endure a donkey ride to Bethlehem because the politicians of the day decided to do a census. I´m in my second trimester, and I cannot fathom the duress of riding a donkey long distances in the third trimester, let alone any trimester! Then she has the Child there, laying Him in a manger because there was no where else to place Him. My mama self is horrified by the exhaustion, sorrow and pain of being in that situation. But it doesn´t stop there; they then had to spend the first two years of His life in exile in Egypt due to Herod´s bloodthirsty power trip, from which Jesus was saved but ALL the males under two in Bethlehem and surrounding regions were slaughtered. If that is not grief, I don´t know what is. I cannot even imagine it.

The horrific conditions into which Jesus was born is only a reminder of the reason He had to be born at all. We are Creation gone awry, twisted up by sin and darkness, eternally lost unless Someone intervenes. And Hallelujah that He did! Once and for all! While we could never fulfill the law on our own nor loose ourselves from the chains of sin, brokenness and death, He came to do just that. THAT is the glorious joy and hope we have this season; “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.

There are so many things that can cause us grief in this life, reminders of the darkness that threatens to overtake us. Be it a loss, loneliness, plans deferred or destroyed, hardship and struggle or just an awareness of living in a broken world…we are invited every Advent to contemplate and remember this great Light who has come to take away the sins of the world, to set free the captives and bind up the broken-hearted, to restore that which has been destroyed, to cast off darkness forever. My hope is that we can acknowledge our grief and sorrow this season, and then offer it to the One who promises that all will done away with in His second coming. We can celebrate and be joyful in the midst of the grief because our Hope buoys us up, reminding us of what will come and the promise that it is already in process. My hope is that you will find comfort in His glorious light and presence this season, and that we can learn to embrace grief and joy simultaneously.

Merry Christmas friends,

Sarah

Putting paintbrushes in painter´s hands…

I am currently in Ahuachapán, El Salvador, not too far from the Guatemalan border, finishing up a four day intensive immersion trip with a team of teachers and administrators from NCA Nejapa and NCA Matagalpa. We have done observations, trainings and feedback sessions with La Atarraya Christian School here, with the purpose of reaching our goals of implementing Project Based Learning effectively in our classrooms and strengthening our Objetive Driven Approach. It has been a fruitful trip, with our strategic planning session happening tomorrow morning. What has most impacted me, however, isn’t so much the progress and achievements we have made, but something close to an epiphany I had during our breakfast this morning.

I have been working in education here in Nicaragua for 9 years now, with every single one of them focused on ¨how can we continue to pursue excellence? How can we go further?¨ Be it in English instruction and our curriculum, our routines and procedures, our teaching methodology, etc…it´s been a continual climb. Frankly, it is one that has on many occasions left me frustrated, bewildered and worn out, for reasons I couldn´t always understand.

As we have pursued instructional coaching as our main mode of professional development at NCA schools, and as I have been trained how to coach, I have seen my perspective on how change happens transform…and it peaked during what I shared this morning.

We were talking about what we were thankful for in response to our devotional from Colossians 3, and I started off by telling them I was thankful for them and I wanted to explain why through a mental picture I had: I have come to relate my experience here in Nicaragua like a child that knows how to paint, loves to paint, and appreciates how her paintings come to life with her hands, paintbrushes and paints, but suddenly she is placed somewhere new where every effort she makes to paint, doesn´t turn out quite right. The colors are off, the lines crooked, with the end product not at all what she had in her mind when she started. And even more disappointing is how she cannot inspire others to paint like she does. But what she has come to realize is that if she gives her paintbrush to the other children around her, and she shares her paints with them and she shares her love of painting and experiences of painting with them, she begins to see them paint. And it may not look exactly like the sunflower she had imagined in her mind, but it becomes the most gorgeous sacjuanjoche she´s ever seen…and more importantly, that sacjuanjoche draws others in to learn to paint in ways her sunflowers never could.

After I shared a summed of version of this metaphor and how I was thankful to them for being those willing children who wanted to paint and were doing it well, a true understanding of what I have been called to do sunk into my being. To share my love of teaching and anything I may have with other teachers, that they might pick it up for themselves and turn it into something powerfully beautiful, something that inspires and creates change in ways I never could. That this has never been about what I can do, but what I can empower others to do. All the while, holding it all loosely enough to trust them to make it their own, as I watch how the Lord causes what is sown to flourish into something amazing that impacts student learning and teacher motivation. It´s not about me telling them how to do their jobs or insisting on MY method or claiming to be the expert. It´s about giving all that I´ve been given to see them go farther than I could ever dream.

It is humbling and exhilarating all at once, and beyond that, I feel so thankful that I have been given colleagues who will take whatever I might offer and turn it into something incredible. Thankful that I get to work with these dedicated, passionate and inspired educators who will be the ones to create lasting change in their schools, their communities and their students.

The Pursuit of Excellence

Last year I shared how the NCAI and ANCA team had come together to develop a set of teaching standards, based on resources we received from CfUT and our NCA distinctives. This year, on January 23rd, we had the opportunity to fully launch those standards across our three campuses during our annual ANCA staff conference. NCAI had already begun the roll-out process at the beginning of their school year in August, but this was the first time all three school staffs were together and unpacking this document together.

eric-plenary

Eric´s plenary session on educational excellence.

We kicked off with an phenomenal plenary session led by our board President, Eric Loftsgard, who taught us about the 5 C´s of excellence – character, competence/capacity, Christ, commitment, and contribution. He shared multiple resources on how to develop the character piece, which is essential to developing our students wholistically.

Our teachers and staff were then divided into different workshops – staff into their particular work area where they received workshops pertinent to their tasks and teaching staff into workshops based on the standard each has chosen to focus on for the current school year. Our workshops were all developed by our own staff members and it was amazing to see how much they put into it. To see our educators building others up, sharing their resources and working together to see everyone succeed is truly inspiring.

From the beginning of the day, all staff members were organized into focused table groups that had participants from all three schools, where they shared in icebreakers and meals, while the teachers ended the day in their groups for a collaboration time, sharing what each had learned in their morning sessions in addition to the tools that have worked for them in their schools. We got resounding feedback from teachers that this was the most important time of the day for them, and after having worked since 2012 to try to create more collaboration and harmony between our three unique campuses, this was so encouraging to hear!

We are continually amazed at how our Good Father orchestrates details and brings so many people together to advance His kingdom through Christian education here in Nicaragua. We are thankful for how this year has started off and we are confident that the Lord will continue to grow us together towards excellence, in every sense of the word.

 

 

Letting Go and Letting God

Do you remember that phrase? I actually would cringe inwardly whenever I heard it or any of it´s familiar brothers and sisters – you know, the cliché Christian phrases that belong on a needlepoint pillow. I tend to balk at the neatly packaged platitudes that we tend to offer one another as a quick fix when something isn´t quite what it should be. It falls flat on the disappointed and grates on the mourning or the wounded. But I digress. This is not a post about clichés

It IS about how this phrase is something I have come to experience, learning to let go of my striving and expectations and letting God do His work.

A few months back I found myself feeling defeated. Running on empty. Tempted to cynicism and frustration. As I had shared in a monthly newsletter, the road I had mapped out for what my role would look like for the rest of 2016 and in 2017 was not going as planned. Every door I tried to walk through, every next step I tried to make happen, stayed firmly and utterly closed off. This became quite hard for me because over the last 8 years that I have been working here in Nicaragua, I have experienced 4 job changes – from Peace Corps volunteer to English teacher to Elementary Principal to General Director to my role now, which is a cross between instructional coach/admin leader coach/director of professional development for ANCA. If you´ve known me for any length of time or used to follow my old blog (eyesthatknowme.blogspot.com), you know how much I long for roots. For stability. For a deepening, belonging, widening experience. To feel like I´ve settled. I have seen being the director of PD for ANCA as an opportunity to FINALLY settle into a role that might last longer than two years. To actually see fruit of my work and participate in the longterm tending that projects often require.

As I type that out, I can see why the Lord has not yet allowed me to “settle” into a role. My home, my resting place, my settled place is NOT in a job title. Or the work I do. It is in Him alone. Just as Jesus is in the Father, I am invited to be in Him, to make my home with Him. Jesus promises us in John 14:23, … “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” I don´t have to carve out my own abode…it´s right here with the Lord, in me.

At some point over the last couple months, as I shared my heart with the Lord and as He led me gracefully deeper into trust, I was suddenly surprised to realize that a potential ANCA partner was actually more interested in being my replacement than just collaborating with the Association.Through a series of emails and meetings, we realized this was a great fit for her. As I worked on the budget with our director and fine-tuned the job description, I just kept shaking my head. It is not in my hands to determine my future or to make it happen. It is in my hands to love the Lord and my neighbors, to seek Him first, and to see Him add all the rest (Mt 6:33). I am so grateful that the Lord does not tell me to stifle my desires or ignore my heart but to share them with Him, to trust when His word says He will give me the desires of my heart when I delight in Him.

So here we are. Potentially arriving at a new role that may be the role I get to settle into for the duration of our time here in Nicaragua. And even if it´s not, I am thankful that I can settle into the One who is unchanging, who is Good, whose love never fails, never runs out, whose promises are all yes in Jesus Christ. What a blessed reassurance!

Promised Land Living

So if I find myself in a wilderness, or I am not sure where I am exactly, how is it that I can step into the Promised Land (which means a place of abiding and living out of His promises).

Let´s consider Joshua and Caleb, who were the only ones who said they should go up and possess the land promised to them. They demonstrated courage and risk, founded on the promises of God. We are called to do the same, to grasp with boldness the grace and promises of God and start living there. We must step out of the wilderness and dwell in the land.

By crossing over into belonging to the land means we let go, we belong to the promise but we do not possess it, for it is of the Lord. This is our reality as sojourners – we fully belong because it is where He has called us but it´s not ours.

Here Laurie reiterates that the lessons we learn in the wilderness are just as vital in the promised land. The promised land is a place of rest, of dwelling and she went on to boil down what the gospel really is – that God is with us, that He will and has defeated the enemy and He will establish us. This is the good news.

So what does it mean to actually rest and live out of that reality?

It doesn´t mean that we won´t have difficulties or hardships; rather it means that we rest in the knowledge that God will be victorious in spite of those things and that, though my resources are not enough to face it, His are. It´s why we have the Sabbath…God´s resources are so abundant He could take a whole day to rest. It´s our very real weekly reminder that we can depend fully on Him, that He never runs out, that He is more than enough.

We have to learn to cling to this promise even if our reality doesn´t reflect it. We cannot wallow in the wilderness; we must step out and grasp what is in the new land, holding it loosely with open hands.

How do we know if we are achieving this? Laurie shared that grumbling is the language of the wilderness, while gratitude is the language of the promised land. We can very quickly do a litmus test to see where our hearts are abiding just by analyzing our words and thoughts. Gratitude reminds us that we are separate/holy and thus everything is a gift; we are treasured and therefore can treasure all of those around us. Complaining is our effort to exert control over our situation, to hold it at bay and not fully engage it.

Now, living in the promise doesn´t mean all of a sudden everything is all sunshine and rainbows – it does mean that it will be birthed eventually in our reality and it holds us in that place to experience it. It also doesn´t mean pretending like everything is spectacular when it isn´t. Lamenting is a lost art to us – from what I´ve experienced and seen others experience, we white North Americans don´t always do grief well. We want to package it all nice and neat with platitudes or hurry through it or set timelines on it. We often stuff it. But the Hebrews, as evidenced in the Prophets and Psalms, were quite adept at lamenting and it was a vital step to dealing with grief and oftentimes, moving from the wilderness to the promised land. A lament affirms what is true about who God is and His creation, then explores what is wrong or at odds with that truth, and finalizes by trusting and affirming who He is. She shared from Psalm 42, but you can also see it in numerous passages, particularly Jeremiah´s writings, including of course Lamentations. One of my favorite verses comes from Lamentations 3, a beautiful description of how we find relief in God´s mercy…but it comes after 62 verses of utter despair and destruction. The lament gives us space to be honest about our experience while framing it with truth, to keep our hearts and eyes on Him, to keep us rooted in the midst of great pain. This is another way we can live in the promised land.

She closed by sharing how part of living in the promised land is the outpouring of our abiding – we find our joy, freedom and blessing in Jesus, in letting go of the illusion of control and holding things loosely, but it doesn´t end there. It´s how we love our neighbors, what we do with what we receive that makes our joy and experience complete. The most practical way to live this is out is by practicing hospitality. We can make others feel at home with us, whether we are settled or not. It doesn´t mean having a perfectly crafted space nor endless resources to provide refreshment – it means trusting in the promise that we belong and therefore can welcome others to belong with us.

I appreciated all her points because I am a practical next step person – love the big ideas, but how does this translate into something I do differently today? By choosing gratitude, practicing lament when necessary and extending hospitality whenever I can, I begin to see the wilderness recede and the promised land come into view. It´s a minute by minute decision; it´s not a once and done thing but rather a process.

The biggest challenge for me has been the hospitality piece. Over the last year I´ve had the opportunity to host a few things and practice hospitality; each time, I´ve found my joy multiplied and my heart at home. Yet my self-sufficient mind had always pushed back – “don´t always say yes, don´t take on something you can´t control, don´t overextend yourself”. I think  those came from a place of wanting to be healthy and balanced, but really it just twisted back into self-sufficiency and striving. So I´ve been taking the risk to extend hospitality a bit more, even when it seems a little crazy or a little out of control – and I have not be disappointed. What a gift, to show someone that they belong and in the same moment, be reminded that I belong. This Jesus, He is the only reality I´ve experienced where the more I pour out, the more I receive. What immeasureable grace!


Which of these promised land living tips are hardest for you? Which ones are great anchors for you to abide in the promise? How can we encourage each other to walk in this practice of the promised land?

Thanks for reading, friend…this series has reminded me how God uses writing to help me process and I hope to be able to write more frequently. It´s been a joy to revisit these notes and I am so blessed by Laurie and what she shared with us.

 

The Wilderness

This is a topic I´d love to handle with academic language only, yet it demands a full interaction with all of our heart, which Brother David Steindl-Rast defines as the collective intellect, will and feelings (Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer). As I began to listen to Laurie, my intellect was fully engaged, but slowly my will and feelings had to take part as well. I want to start by sharing a few of her points before digging into the implications of this topic.

  • Wilderness is the place of intimacy, which requires need, humility, vulnerability, risk/trust/faith and separateness.
  • The wilderness is a place of need and dependence, where you have nothing yet lack nothing.
  • It is essential to the journey and to settling in. Neither of those two things can occur without a wilderness.
  • The end goal is not to be in comfort or even completely settled – it is to dwell in His presence…which interestingly enough goes with His people. He is not a static God in one dwelling place, but rather accompanied the Israelites throughout their journey.
  • It is where God rescued the Hebrews (and us) from lesser loves.
  • It´s not an inconvenient in between place to make a journey long and tough nor is it a place to strive through; it is a place to depend on God, graciously depending on Him without storing up or presuming upon those resources.
  • It is the wilderness experience that teaches us the essential relationship to grace.
  • The wilderness experience throughout Scripture shows us that the heroes of faith weren´t self-sufficient or working with some surplus, but rather they were humble, needy and dependent on God´s grace.
  • Jesus was affirmed as God´s beloved Son before he accomplished anything. His temptation was to be sufficient, to do something big and glorious, to overcome corrupt systems by His own efforts…but He did not rely on His own abilities (though He could have!) but rather depended wholly upon His Father and His Word.
  • The greatest accomplishment or outcome? Abiding in Him.

These words stir me up. Most of my Christian walk has been a collection of desert experiences that I strived to get out of and abiding times where I strived to remain there. When I´ve considered the stories of the Israelites in the past, their trials and mess ups and repeated mistakes, I´ve scoffed and thought, “Goodness! Why couldn´t they figure this out?

And yet God accompanied them, led them by pillars of smoke and fire, drawing them to know Him, leading His people from the very beginning until even now to let Him dwell with them. Inviting us to abide, to be one with Him, to return to what we were made for – intimate relationship with Him. It´s always been about us coming to the end of ourselves and surrendering to what He already accomplished.

In Exodus 33:1-4, He seems to give up on His plan to dwell with His people and tells Moses to just go on without Him because He might consume them for being a stiff-necked people (after the whole golden calf fiasco). But Moses knows that the Promised Land is nothing without the Presence. The whole point of being in the Promised Land is to fully dwell with the One who made the Promise. We go through the wilderness to be stripped of all our ideas that are not that…that anything is more important than abiding in Him.

Up until this point, my intellect has been quite intrigued, my will even considering what this means in my actions…but it was this next phrase that pierced my emotions and got my whole heart engaged.

“It is not helpful to pretend that a wilderness is not a wilderness.”

I was struck, because I´ve always considered a wilderness to be a set of difficult circumstances or a season of “a dark night of the soul” or maybe even a faith wrestle. I didn´t expect to find myself in the spotlight of conviction, right in the middle of an emotional wilderness. I´ve explained it away, downplayed it,and  worked really hard at getting myself out of it (though not admitting I´m in it).

The past year and a half has been a journey of relearning to feel after years of emotional survival, while also discovering emotions as ways that God communicates with us, not as categorically good or bad things to be managed. It´s been a year and a half of upheaval,transition, great loss, an unanchoring in things I thought were firm and a general loosed feeling. All of which I´ve not wanted to face. Because I strive, remember? My whole life has been get it done, make it happen, don´t fail, don´t stop, get. it. together.

And I just heard Him say, through Zephaniah 3:17-20, “let Me do it Beloved. Rest. Let it go, let your walls down. Acknowledge this heart wilderness for what it is and let Me walk you through it.”

I am once again undone at how good, patient and persistent He is. Just as He accompanied those stubborn Israelites, He accompanies you and me wherever we are. We only need to turn to Him, to abide, to trust that He really does invite us into intimacy without any regard to us “earning” it.

If you have ever doubted that our Father is good, that He is tender, just listen to how He chose to proclaim Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7: “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” And to top it off, He sent Jesus to be the final payment that canceled out all sin, conquered death and ended the need for ritual sacrifice. He provided all we could ever need.

I don´t know whether you find yourself in a wilderness or perhaps you even carry wounds from a previous wilderness; my hope is that you would be encouraged to be honest about  your wilderness experiences, because they are places where our relationship with Jesus goes deep, where our distractions and lackluster love are transformed, where He sustains us. And ultimately, our illusion of self-sufficiency only serves to block our intimacy with Him…if we are in a wilderness, we can trust that is His desire that we draw near to Him.


What wilderness experiences have you had? How do you normally deal with them? How can we be a community that lets people be honest about their wilderness experience while still moving towards the Promised Land?

Tomorrow we will explore what it looks like to dwell in the Promised Land, both in mindset and practical everyday actions.

 

 

Our story place

The opening into this series of sessions on Sojourners was digging into this idea of a story place. We westerners tend to focus on events and happenings in time without real connection to the place in which they occur. Part of Hebrew understanding was that promise was tied not only to an event but a place and most definitely a Person. It wasn´t some static series of happenings, rather each of them is tied down to a physical location and remembered often through the stone altars they would build up and name.

As missionaries living away from our passport countries, and as adopted sons and daughters of God living far from our final Home, this lack of place to which we relate our deepest memories and occurences can lead to a feeling of dislocation, of being lost. Yet she encouraged us to full embrace the Story Place we find ourselves – this beautiful, slower, sometimes disjointed and confusing but always welcoming Nicaraguan place. Because though it is not Home, it is where we are present. It is our story place. And we are called to fully engage with the Story Place in which He has us…to avoid it and to wish we were elsewhere is to ignore the Promise that He has called us to and which has us living here.

Part of this session was also a really neat exercise in which we drew and labeled those Story Places throughout our lives  that have brought us to where we are now and that have made a significant impact on who we are. As I worked through mine, I realized that since my birth in Germany while my father was in the Air Force, I´ve been moving slowly outward into this global space; starting in Kansas with a short time in Texas working with Hispanic kiddos to another stint in Mexico for an ESL practicum to Nicaragua. And since being here in Nicaragua, I´ve been to Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Dominican Republic. The girl who said she would never be a missionary, that couldn´t live for a long time out of Kansas, let alone the States has now become this woman who just recently celebrated 8 years here in Nicaragua. I appreciated her call to embrace the land we inhabit, because I have experienced that when I do that, I find peace, I find a sense of purpose and strength to do the work before us here. Whereas when I don´t embrace it, when I push back on it and refuse to settle in it, there I find myself stirred up, restless, at odds. I must accept and rejoice in this Story Place where He has us, trusting that when it´s time to move on to somewhere else, He will show us.


What are your Story Places? Have you embraced the Story Place you occupy now?