Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Is "God's wonderful plan" a trick?

As I mentioned yesterday, I've had some problems recently with a little booklet we use a ton here with Cru.  This booklet offers, as a starting point to a relationship with God, that:

"God loves you and has created you to know him personally.  He offers a wonderful plan for your life."

My problem is emotional and experiential.  See, I believe that this statement is true.  I believe that God does indeed love me dearly.  Just one glance at the cross forces me to concede that the pain of life cannot be because God does not care.  The cross proves his care for me; that he would choose to take upon himself all that I deserve in my brokenness and sin, and that he would do this freely, leads me to believe deeply that God's love for me is genuine and deep.

I also have a deeply held belief that this fiercely loving God has a plan for my life.  Now, this "plan" is very nuanced.  I believe God knows what is going to take place in my life.  Though I do not believe that God controls all things like a master puppeteer; in other words our decisions matter, and they have the potential to change the course of history.  So, in a manner unlike a puppeteer, but also in a way that upholds his control over the universe and all things therein, I believe God's plan unfolds.  His plan for my life is somehow wrapped up in his plan for the entirety of the cosmos.

This could diverge into a whole other theological set of thoughts, but I'd rather stay the course here…

If God loves me dearly, and he has a wonderful plan for my life, then why does it not seem so wonderful?

The short answer is… I don't know.  That's as honest as I can possibly be.  Why tsunamis and tornadoes and earthquakes?  Why tonight will there be Christians, married for 40 years, celebrating their anniversary by staring vaguely at one another with nothing to say?  Why will there be college girls this very weekend, just trying to enjoy life as they've been told, viciously date raped by overly aggressive teenage boys?  Why will children this very night be orphaned due to tragic accidents involving their mommys and daddys?  Why were grain working civilians in Syria simply collateral damage from the US-led bombings there?  Why?  Why?  Why?

How can this be God's wonderful plan?  There are many answers.  And most are trite.  Few, if any, really do business with the emotional realities these questions surface.

Are we just fooling people, and ourselves, when we declare that God's loves us all and offers a wonderful plan for their lives?

Well, honestly, perhaps so.  Most of the answer to that question is probably only understood in the midst of specific conversations and relationships.  For example, what do I mean when I say God offers a wonderful plan?  And what am I understood to be meaning?  Does the manner in which I'm presenting God's wonderful plan leave room for tragedy and heartbreak and shattered dreams and pain?  If not, then we should absolutely be rethinking the way we offer God's love and plan.

Would you be willing to commit, with me, to promising that when we present God's love and wonderful plan to others, we are not colluding with the stories in our hearer's heads--those fake stories of peace and tranquility and all things right directly following a conversion?  Could we promise to only present Christ Jesus honestly and authentically?

And I think, should we all commit to that, we would see an uptick in disciples while simultaneously seeing a downturn in the number of "decisions" we see for Christ.  Let's raise disciples.

I think in the future I'd like to chat more about what exactly God's wonderful plan is, then, but that will have to wait for another day.  Feel free to begin the conversation below.

Monday, September 29, 2014

7 Ways We Cope

"God loves you and has created you to know him personally.  He offers a wonderful plan for your life."

These words, and the booklet that carried them, began my journey into spirituality.  I had grown up knowledgable about spiritual things (or at least Christian things), but the things I had known had failed to hit my heart.  These words began to paint, for me, what was an entirely new way to view the world and everyone in it.  I was beginning to invite God into being the lens through which I saw everything thereafter.

But these words also began to grow in me an unconscious belief that this "wonderful plan" God has for my life would necessarily, though not literally always, equate with my happiness and health and fulfillment and well-being.  Because I had a personal relationship with Jesus, I thought, I would be happier and more fulfilled.  The void or gap in my heart would be complete.  I would be made whole again; joy would be mine.

This was a nuanced belief.  I was never under some utterly misguided notion that I'd be rich or avoid sickness or be perpetually smiling after I began a relationship with God, but I did believe life would get better.  I believed I would be happier -- however you wanted to quantify that.

But, as I hinted at yesterday, this belief is currently a struggle for me.  Life has not been "wonderful" recently, nor has it seemed as though God's plan is "wonderful."  How do you deal with this?

1. Some refuse to let doubt enter.  This feels dishonest to me, like a refusal to entertain the true feelings within.

2. Some "claim" their happiness and joy.  This feels like a mask, like a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of outlook.  "I will be happy!"

3. Some just deny that life is hard at all.  This feels delusional.

4. Some just develop personalities wherein they no longer feel anything.  I know this temptation well.

5. Some just escape into a life-sea of entertainment.  The difficulties force the escape.  But our full hearts and full lives demand more than mere escape.

6. Others minimize the pain and hardships of life.  "Consider the suffering in Africa" or something of the same ilk is a common phrase here.  But pain felt and experienced, for me at least, should never be marginalized by a cheap comparison.  Pain is pain and hardships are hardship no matter what or who you compare it too.

7. And others choose not to think about it.  Think our modern-day western funeral.  Let's prettify it up and make everything look nice so that the overwhelming horror and crusher of dreams that death is will be minimized.  We don't even have to think about it if we make it look good enough.

And I'm sure there are many others ways the broken human heart has come up with to cope with the too-hard realities of life.  What other ways can you think of?

I'd rather look for another route.  If God exists, and if he has indeed begun a personal relationship with me, and if indeed his wonderful plan is on offer for me, something has to be mistaken about the way I think.  Tomorrow I'd like to flesh that out a bit more.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why did Jesus do stuff?

What is traditionally presented as the "gospel" creates a few problems for me.  I'd be grateful if any readers that particularly feel as though they have insight could share in the comments below.  And should you think I'm bereft of any thoughts whatsoever on the following puzzles, please don't be.  I have many ideas.  Some are coherent, others perhaps less so, and I'm sure that over the course of the next few posts I'll be sharing some of those thoughts little by little.

But, if I am to understand the main message of Christianity as being simplified to say:
1. God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life, but
2. We are sinful and separated from God, thus we cannot experience his love and plan.
3. Jesus is God's only plan for our salvation, through Him alone we experience God's love and plan, and
4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ, by faith.

Then I am confused about the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
A. Why are they written the way they are?  Why not just say Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified, and then risen?  Why all the stuff in between?

B. And why was Jesus so cryptic about so many of these things?  Why not just come out and say it?

C. And what do I do with the Old Testament, then?  It seems vacant from my basic understanding of what Christianity is all about.

D. Also, if this is my framework, then was Jesus a Christian?

E. And if the gospel is mainly a way to have a personal relationship with God, then why did Jesus talk so much about "kingdom"?  Is "kingdom" just another way of saying people with a relationship with God?

F. I also have experiential questions about this "wonderful plan" for my life.  So, after entering into a relationship with God, am I right to assume I should expect "wonderful"-ness?

And the list goes on and for for me, I'm afraid.  I'd love to hear some of your thoughts, and I'd like to share some of mine in the coming posts, as well.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


More than one-third of the country of Sierra Leone has been quarantined due to the Ebola virus..  They cannot move freely.  Just yesterday an additional million were quarantined.

I read about this at Aljazeera.com.  It's hard to believe, and even harder to come to grips with on a heart level.  These sorts of things seem to bounce past us as commonly as any other passing comment.

"Have you heard about everything going on in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa?  Just yesterday over a million people were newly quarantined."
"Yeah, I've heard.  It's really sad."

"Do you think you'd be willing to trade me Carson Palmer in our fantasy football league?"

I have no beef with fantasy football.  My bristling is at our complete unwillingness to even allow the suffering of the world to move us--both to tears and to action.

Our inability to be present in the world's pain just may be the most shameful thing about the vast majority of Christians.  We unconsciously won't even allow ourselves to be emotionally present in the pain, let alone emotionally and physically.

Maybe we are the ones that are quarantined?  We are trapped in our own devices and leisures and hobbies and patterns while pain runs rampant across the globe.  We are stuck in the brokenness of our small thinking amidst a humanity crying bitterly.  We discuss trivialities and seek out new and fresh ways to entertain, while across the globe ISIL continues their beheadings.

What can free us?  What could give us ears to hear those that are crying, that we may enter into their lives and bring about peace, reconciliation, and even joy?  What could turn our stone hearts into real beating fleshly ones once more, allowing us to weep as bitterly for a trapped and hurting Africa as for our own suffering?  Is there any hope?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What is my voice?

Over the last couple days, I've had this recurring thought:

Do I have anything to say?  And if so, what exactly is it?

See, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of information out there literally at our fingertips.  There are people smarter than me talking about how to better read the Bible.  There are people wiser than me addressing deep-heart issues with clarity and foresight.  Out there in cyberspace are better writers, better communicators, and better thinkers.

And it gets worse, when I think about it.

There are better husbands.
There are better fathers.
There are better Christians (please let's not get caught-up in the theology).

This has been hammered into my life ever since I was a child, no matter the activity.  "There will always be someone smarter than you," my parents would say if they sense I was getting a big head about excelling scholastically.  "There are better (fill in the blank -- though for me it was running backs, forwards, sprinters, math students, public speakers etc)."
Looking back I really appreciate these sentiments.  They were honest, at least.  Much more than the stuff we throw around all the time today.  In contrast, my parents sentiment at least rings true.  "You can do anything you set your heart to!  All your dreams can come true!  Pursue your own happy ending!"  Really?  How's a happy ending with tragedy?  How's a dream come true amidst a broken and painful world?  Go ahead and keep believing in yourself, but death awaits, your body will decay, and your money cannot go beyond the grave.

So, then, if it's true (or at least half-true) that I may not be providing anyone with any unchartered or unparalelled information or wit, what is the point of even trying?

Here's how I think about it (and I'm curious if you have other thoughts -- as it should be clear, I'm very open to the reality that I'm not the wisest/smartest/or most mature person around and would love for those people to chip in and help me here!).
What if the way in which our world changes (for the better or for the worse) isn't due to the leaders and smartest or wisest or loveliest or father-liest or husband-liest or Christian-liest?  What if world change happens at a wider level?
Perhaps culture change and life-change is the result of a summation of waves, rather than a tsunami?  Maybe instead of the smartest person in the world speaking into a dozen different subjects and all of us lesser beings being swayed by his intelligence, we lesser beings are influenced and swayed by thousands upon thousands of other voices/people?

If it is true, that rather than being the leading thinker or top wizard, it is probably more of a privilege to be among the throng.  It is not just ok, but preferable to be normal.  Like a wolf in a pack has more power and authority, in a sense, than the biggest, meanest wolf, so a voice in the midst of thousands maybe can help accomplish far more than the loudest.

Or perhaps I'm just trying to give myself a reason to say anything at all?  Who knows?

Monday, September 22, 2014


Zuri is a dear friend and former team member.  We love Zuri with all of our heart, and continue to pray for her.  She was one of the two Venezuelans we had intern with us last year.

But her life has been quite a grind over the last year or so.  Recently, Zuri moved with her family to Italy, which has brought it's own obvious challenges as well.  I'm sharing her post-stint thoughts so you could join us in prayer for her, and perhaps we could all learn quite a bit from her processing:

Not exactly another prayer letter

 Hi everyone, i hope you are doing alright. I know i said i wouldn’t send more prayer letters, since my STINT year is over but i kind of miss doing that, so i decided to write a little bit about life after STINT. I think it can be healing for me right now because i need to tell people how i feel before i go insane and i know this is a safe place for me to express those feelings with honesty since you have read all of the stories of this year and have gone with me through this journey.

There is something that has been echoing my mind lately, i can’t stop thinking about this part of:


The Sermon on the Mount

5 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

I remember one gospel moment this year, we were at a bible study as a team, and a dear friend of mine Bart Shadle was leading this bible study and we talked about this, i remember sharing my thoughts about this, i was just angry and sad, i couldn’t understand how in the world i was supposed to be happy while suffering (I was going through a very dark time of my life and my team knew it because I would share it in every bible study we had) I just couldn’t comprehend, that didn’t seem like a blessing to me. And I remember Bart saying something like: “Blessed are you Zuri when you feel like you are feeling now, for you can stand with your head high and believe God’s promises.  It is in precisely this moment when God's pleasure rests on you”. I was holding my tears and I will never forget that moment.

Guess what, I am still angry and sad because I still don’t understand it, in my mind it doesn’t make sense, tears fall down and I shake while writing this because having to leave Venezuela has been one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, I am homesick all the time, I think I will never get over it, and that’s ok. But I have almost two months here in Italy and things are hard. Italy is going through an economical – political crisis I was not aware of, I was not expecting, when I first got here people I would talk to would say: “Non che lavoro” which means “there are no jobs, it is hard to find a job”, I thought they were over reacting but now after searching for almost two months I believe them. And if you don’t have a job it is almost impossible to find a house, they need to see you are working to rent you something so, we are staying at an aunt’s house by now but things can change at any moment. There is no security, no stability, and no assurance.

There is just something about not having a stable place to live and having no stability that gets me out of my nerves, in one of the multiples breakdowns I have had being here I started cursing and saying horrible things to God, I was just so tired. A little bit after I was done heard a clear voice in my head saying: “¡STOP, you need to STOP NOW Zuri! Can’t you see that is me all you need? I am your security, your stability, your assurance, I am your Father and I am not going to let you down, I have been with you before you could even say my name and I am going to be with you until your very last breath”.

I shut up, just sat in silence and cried inside because the tears wouldn’t come out. In that moment I realized of my blindness and my selfishness and how far I was from finding emotional rest if I kept putting my hope on those things, things that aren’t bad, that are for sure a need but they are things of this world that will not satisfy my being like God does.

While I was reading the return of the prodigal son I came across this part where Nouwen says: “The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world”. I cried inside again because I know I have been running, since a long time ago. One of the things I was scared of while doing missions was to serve God and forget to have a relationship with him, at some point it started to happen, it was easy to be busy but it was hard to rest and spend time with Him, just because, it was easy to do things for him but it was hard to hear His lovely voice, it was easy to scape, so easy and that of course makes you restless, numb, and broken because there is nothing we can do apart from him, but we think there are things. In the moment we think we rule our lives we are lost, and this happened to me, I lost myself along the way and I don’t know how to bring myself back, I don’t know how to deal with the hurricane of emotions that are inside me.

Later in the same chapter Nouwen says: “He was truly lost, and it was this complete lostness that brought him to his senses. In fact it was the loss of everything that brought him to the bottom line of his identity”. Real tears started to fall when I read this part because I came to understand that there is Hope, that even if I hate it, this is a good place to be, because is here where I am vulnerable, broken, burned out, depressed, lost and have nothing left that I can find my way back to my identity, back Home, and my Home has the name of Jesus, He is our only Home and our only Hope. The God of the Universe wants you and me, right where we are at. Isn’t that crazy? For crazy at it seems it is true and it will always be, and this is why I know God has called me to live for something beyond myself, I want to live for his cause, even if it kills me, live for eternity because it is worth it.

Doing this and following Jesus is never going to be easy, in fact it is hard and really painful. My dear friend Natalia told me a few weeks ago: “Remember that when we follow Jesus we have to take our cross every day, and remember that you have to take yours too, even if you are in another country, with other people, with things you don’t like or don’t understand”. She is right, only few have the courage to do that. Only a few have the courage to decide to live the gospel, im glad I met lots of them this year and im glad im friends with them.

Would you continue to pray for me?
For everything I shared with you and also pray that I can find a community that can be healing after all of this year craziness.  
Also, let me know in what ways I can be praying for you.

                     I’m still angry and sad about the Sermon on the Mount, I might always be, but this is my favorite part: 


Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

                                                                                                       With Love, Zuri

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A 6 year old

We celebrated Noah's birthday on Saturday.  We let him plan it.  And when you let a 6 year old plan things, be ready for anything.  Luckily it wasn't too crazy.  Mostly food and swimming.  He was ecstatic to get presents from grandparents and so we were able to Skype with both so they could see him get his presents.

It's a little weird.  I have a 6 year old.  I feel like this is the point where people say, "It's so crazy that he's 6 already" or "Time just flies."  And those things are true.  But there's something about this that just feels normal and natural.  Maybe I expect him to grow up too soon?  Maybe it's the conversations we have that just feel incomprehensible for anyone under the age of 6.  I just love his wisdom though.  And his tender heart.  He feels so grown up to me and so maybe that's why 6 feels so natural.

One of the things that I love about him is that he knows what he wants.  As he's been doing play therapy, she told me that he's very direct with her.  And they talked about Leah worrying and this convo cracked me up:
Noah: Yeah, sometimes Leah worries about monsters.
Therapist: Oh really.  What do you do to help her?
Noah (non-chalantly): Nothing.
Brutal honesty.

We love our precious little boy.  We love his sweet heart for Jesus and for those around him.  It was so fun to see his joy come out in getting us all presents for his birthday.  To see his excitement at surprising us and blessing us.  To see the fun he had in giving instead of receiving.  Don't get me wrong, he was certainly excited for the gifts from grandparents.  You can't remove that selfishness no matter how hard you try.  But to see him excited for us on his birthday.  Priceless.
This boy just LOVES the solar system and
anything having to do with the planets.
The kids were loving all running and
jumping in at the "same time."
I actually got 1 picture with a couple of
them mid-air.  No easy task.
Pretend blowing out candles.
It was too windy to light them.

Friday, September 12, 2014


So these posts are few and far between.  I never would've guessed that this is what it would've looked like.  I mean, blogging can be very therapeutic.  Let me vomit a bit all over the internet.  Yay.  Probably not for those of you reading, but yay for me.

Things have kind of hit an all time low this week.  I have hit an all time low.  And the only reason I'm even blogging at this point is because I can't sleep.  So I lay in bed thinking of all the things I should've done, haven't done, feeling guilty for not blogging, because my people need to hear from me.  Give the people want they want!  Sounds a bit narcissistic, doesn't it?  I'm certainly joking.

But I do want to fill people in on what's going on in our lives.  To be completely honest, we're struggling.  Struggling with why God has us here, why we still feel stuck, why things aren't different, why our family feels like a mess.  Our greatest fear is that 8 or 9 months from now, we'll leave Orlando and still feel stuck.  That we won't have healed and moved on and grown, and that we even might not trust God.

Lord, I pray we don't remain stuck.  Stuck in apathy.  Stuck in loneliness.  Stuck in depression.  Stuck in hopelessness.  Stuck in anger toward God.  Just stuck.  And we bring this mess into our poor, precious children's lives.  They've seen too much apathy and too much anger over the past month.  It's heartbreaking.  I don't want to bring more pain, grief and loss to their lives.  They've had enough.

So we do our play therapy and counseling and coaching and connection times and life groups.  And we hope for the best.  We are being faithful to what is before us and we have to say no to a lot of things, which can be really challenging at times.  We're investing a lot of time, money and effort into healing.  But what if healing doesn't come?  What if healing takes more courage than we can muster up?

I am a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of person.  Just keep swimming as Dori would say (can you tell we go to Disney?).  But this method has only seemingly gotten us into trouble.  We long for normalcy, in life, in our family, in ministry, in our walks with the Lord.  Just try harder.  It works sometimes.  But not this time.  Not over the past 6 months.  We're somewhat of a broken record.

We are broken.  It's in our brokenness that we should move toward the Lord.  Yet during this time, we have developed new and painful anger, hurt and resentment toward the Lord.  We want answers.  And often times answers don't come.  So it's during this time that we plead with you, our friends, our family, our prayer warriors that you would intercede for us.  We need your prayers.  Prayers for patience, prayers for healing, prayers for growth and understanding and wisdom.  We covet your prayers.

This can't be all serious.  I mean, it could be, but I also feel obligated to share the one thing that has continually brought a smile to my face this week.  And if you don't get it, that's ok.  I do and I absolutely love it.
My new sticker on the car.  Brings a smile to my
face every time I think about it.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The past couple of weeks

Where has the time gone?  It's been many days since the last post.  Not sure how, but time is just flying right by.  I can't seem to keep up.  Between school and a new schedule forming for our jobs, it's been challenging to adjust.  Plus an all new group of people to work with.  I think if I remember the numbers correctly there are 46 adults and 40 kids.  I might actually have most of the kids' names down. I'm getting there with the adults.  Priorities, right?

Here is some of what's happened:
Bart flew to Ohio for 3 days to do a wedding
Homeschool is in full swing
Our schedule is getting busier as we gear up for the program we're doing
We had a 2 day retreat on the beach two weekends ago
Noah has started play therapy
I have started counseling
We're sharing strep throat in our family (Yay!)

I had a whole post written out.  The above is what survived.  It was a few days in the works.  We don't seem to have much energy for much, blogging included.  Out of anger, I refuse to re-type what I had written.  That and I can't really remember the profound words I had written.  Shocker.  That's ok.

So for now, I leave you with pictures.  It is our, or my, desire that I would have the energy and find the time to sit down and write more about where our hearts are.  It's sometimes scary to think about honestly doing that.  But before I go any farther.....
The kids have grown leaps and bounds with swimming
Their new trick is that they love to swim through our legs
Meeting Pooh and Tigger was so exciting for them
Leah was hilarious meeting Cinderella.
She kept tucking her hair behind her ear
as if she were nervous!