Thursday, October 30, 2014

Celebration: {Day 30} Becoming

Here in West Africa, we talk a lot about becoming.  (Actually, I think we talk about it a lot as a Mission.)

"Becoming relevant and useful instruments in a new context" - that's kind of our motto.  Which is great and all, but that's not really what I want to get into right now.

You see, before becoming relevant and useful we basically have to become...nothing.  For many of us, it's one of the most excruciatingly painful and humbling things we've experienced.

And yet, this becoming nothing process gives me the opportunity to depend on God in ways I might not have had to before.  It allows me to see Him work in ways I might not otherwise see.  So it's a gift.  It's grace.

Honestly, though, I hesitated to write this post, because in calling becoming nothing a gift, there's a danger.  You might come away with the impression that I've totally embraced all the difficulties, that I've bravely accepted all the struggles 'cause I know they're from the Lord.

Not true.

Some days I do.  Some days I push it all away, wanting some other more attractively wrapped gift.

But He doesn't change.  He never stops giving, never stops loving, never stops doing the good work He began in my life.

And I love Him for it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Celebration: {Day 29} Memory Lane

I stumbled across this article today and it got me thinking about yet another grace-gift: my childhood.

Now, I don't want to paint some idyllic picture in all rosy shades.

We were far from a perfect family.  My sisters and I disobeyed (rather frequently, I might add), we broke things, we called each other names, we got skinned knees.  My parents made their own mistakes.

But here's the thing: I knew without a doubt that my parents loved us and each other.  Not every child has the privilege of growing up with the stability that knowledge brings, and I don't ever want to take it for granted.

And when I think back on those years, I remember a lot less of the bad stuff and a lot more of the good stuff.

I remember standing on chairs behind the kitchen counter to watch Mom cook (we called them "cooking shows").  Snuggling up under blankets with hot chocolate and buttered popcorn.  Mom or Dad reading books out loud.  Riding our bikes in the backyard for hours on Saturday.  Dressing up and pretending we were pilgrims or pioneers.  Sitting out in the garage and watching Dad work his magic on wood.

I think of how Mom did her best to nurture our God-given curiosity, or how Dad worked hard to provide for our family.  We didn't get everything we asked for, but we had all that we needed (and more).  We were given chores and responsibility, yet we still had time and freedom to play - to be children.

Most importantly, Mom and Dad wanted us to truly know God, the One who is so much bigger than all of our human imperfections.

These are gifts.  Again, not every child enjoys these things, and I'm no more deserving than anyone else.  It's all grace.

To use a line from Monday's post -

He is good.  And I am grateful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Celebration: {Day 28} Acceptance

Another grace-gift -

I am fully accepted in Christ.

On a surface level, I gave mental assent to the fact that yeah, God accepts me entirely because of what Christ did on the cross and I'm saved through that.

But it didn't sink in all that much.  I didn't let the reality of God's acceptance change my thinking (and my living) deeply.

I still lived as though I needed to earn God's acceptance, or work to keep it.  I've already told you how exhausting that was.

But I also worked hard for the acceptance of others.  Not in a trying-to-fit-in-with-the-cool-kids sort of way, but in another dangerously subtle way: I did lots of stuff.  Good stuff.  Helpful stuff.  Serving stuff.  Responsible stuff.  The more of this "stuff" I did, the better, I thought.  And if someone wasn't quite satisfied?  Well, I'd do more.  Try harder.  Aim higher.  It was like being held prisoner behind the iron bars of people's expectations.

Doesn't sound like grace factors into that scenario much, does it?

Honestly, this is something I still really struggle with.  Less, I think, with trying to earn God's smile and more with keeping people happy.  Happy with me.  Happy with what I'm doing.

I justify it (subconsciously, most of the time) with things like, "I just want to be a good testimony/example."  The reality twisted through that seemingly innocent statement is that I want you to see me as "good".  At the root of that tangled mess is proud unbelief.

It's about how I look and not about others getting to know God.  Pride.

It's about me not really resting in this acceptance that God gives.  Unbelief.

Ick.

So what if I received this grace-gift with both hands?  What if I really believed that my Heavenly Father already fully, unconditionally, and forever accepts me, and that was all that truly matters?

If I live from this reality, I'll let His grace pour into me and then spill over into everything I do.  I'll stop doing because of people and start living because of Jesus.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Celebration: {Day 27} Walking Partners

I don't mind walking alone, but it's nice to have a good friend along for the company.  There's safety, motivation, and accountability in having a walking partner.  In the same way, it's good to have company for our Christian life, our walk of faith.

And for that walk, I have some pretty cool partners.

They make me laugh.  They make me think.  They listen to my struggles, hopes, and fears - and share their own.

When I start lagging, they encourage me, pointing out the finish line 'way out there on the horizon.  When I get distracted, they remind me to keep to the trail.  If I limp, they're to tuck an arm under mine and help me on.

Just like people taking a hike together talk about the scenery around them (because they're both on the same trail), my walking-in-faith partners and I can talk about the scenery around us.  We can process the realities of the journey we share, and what God is showing us along the way.

God could have turned us all lose to forge trails on our own, but He didn't.  I'm glad that in His plan, He designed us to need companionship.  And each stick-by-my-side walking partner is a grace-gift from Him.

It's easy to take these gifts for granted.  But this evening, I'm pausing to reflect on His grace in bringing certain people into my life.  He is good.  And I am grateful.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Celebration: {Day 26} Bob's Story

Sometimes we lose sight of grace or perhaps even deliberately ignore it.  We might find ourselves farther from God than we thought possible.  But every prodigal has the opportunity to go back...and every time the Father is waiting with a whole-hearted welcome.  Bob shares his thoughts on coming home to grace.

- - -

When reading the story of the prodigal son I wonder if the son asked, "How in the world did I get here?"  I think it's a legitimate question as the Scripture says "he came to his senses" (Luke 15:17).  From that point on the son begins to have a better sense of where he needed to be and what he needed to do...go home to his father.  The son travels home with a repentant heart and is received back in his father's arms of grace.

This is a story of what I call "grace sense" and I love it!  In my own journey I was like the son who walked away, losing my sense of directional grace and lived a wasteful prodigal life for two years filled with sin.

One day by the grace of God I came to my senses.  My grace sense was awakened and I asked myself, "How in the world did I get here?"  It was grace that led me home.  Grace greater than all my sin welcomed me back into my Heavenly Father's arms.

I'm growing in my "grace sense" as on the days when the guilt of my sin raises its ugly head, my Father whispers in my heart to look at the robe, ring, and shoes of His grace.  Once again my "grace sense" is awakened to remember I am forgiven.

But by the grace of God I am what I am (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Bob A.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Celebration: {Day 25} Left Raw

I've talked a lot about grace breaking through my Pharisee façade.

It had been both a mask and a cast - keeping others from seeing my true face, and keeping me all bound up and hobbling along.  To be rid of it was to experience a freedom that I'd never really known before.  It was like breathing in deep gulps of air.  It was like running free through fields stretched out beneath sunny, open skies.  It was wonderful.

But there was another side to this new reality, a much less sunny side.

When you shatter a years-old protective shell, you expose layers that haven't been exposed before.  You no longer have the mask to hide behind.  You're left open, raw.

And so it was for me.

Since I was little, I'd pictured myself as the next Amy Carmichael, the next Gladys Alward, the next Ida Schudder.  I was sure of my calling, sure of myself, sure that I was going to serve God in wonderful ways.  But then grace came along, changing, well...everything.  And when I landed in Africa at 22, I was quite unprepared for the struggles that I'd experience.  Things that, to paraphrase a fellow missionary, would make any church-goer question my walk with the Lord.

I'm not talking about culture shock, like everything-is-so-different-and-overwhelming-and-I-stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb-and-I-don't-know-if-I'm-gonna-make-it-here-and-some-days-I-flat-out-hate-it.  That's normal.  Far from comfortable or fun, but normal.

I'm talking about seriously asking myself if this was indeed my calling.  If God really wanted me to serve Him as a missionary in Africa - or as a missionary at all!  (Side note: I'm not claiming to be the only one who's ever experienced this.  I'm simply distinguishing it from culture shock/stress, which I expected.)

I couldn't help but think, If I had come here three years ago, I honestly wouldn't be having these struggles!

I would have had it all together.  I would have blithely repeated Christian clichés when things got tough.  If that didn't work, I would have given myself firm talkings-to and mechanically quoted Bible verses.  (Because Christians are supposed to quote verses, right?)

But the stock of clichés was gone.  I searched high and low for some vestige, some semblance of protection to wrap around me, but it was fruitless.  I knew I didn't have it all together.  Grace had peeled away the old layers and left me...raw.  Stripped of who I thought I was and who I had tried to be.

God's timing may be painful, but it is always purposeful.  I have no doubt that He took the mask away when He did so that when I got here, I would be conscious of these struggles...and so that my heart would be open and workable.

Do I enjoy these struggles?  No.  Of course not.  Would I have asked for them?  No.  But I know He doesn't make mistakes.  He's working.  He's got a plan.

And look, I'm not saying all this because I've got this stuff resolved.  I'm simply sharing reality because this is all part of His grace.

All part of His grace.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Celebration: {Day 24} Who's the Hero?

It was MTC, third semester.  An unwelcome visitor showed up: migraines.

I was used to being healthy and energetic - more or less.  I said no to things because I was busy, rarely because I "didn't feel well".  I did what needed to be done...and maybe then some.

But now it was different.

Getting homework done became a struggle (staring at a computer screen and thinking is one of the last things you feel like doing with a migraine!).  There were nights with precious little sleep.  Productivity took a nose-dive.

With every week that passed, it became more and more glaringly obvious that Rachel was not Superwoman.  Not even close.  And for that matter, she never would be Superwoman.

My cape of supposed adequacy was tattered and threadbare.

Enter grace.

I resisted it at first (like I had in many other area of my life up to that point).  I'd found such confidence in my own abilities: my own strength, my own energy, my own time management skills.  The whole taking-one-day-at-a-time-in-dependence-on-someone-else was not in all honesty something I would have signed up for.

I liked being my own hero.

But I started to realize what a pathetic hero I was.  No hero at all, really.

I needed someone strong.  Someone big.  Someone who didn't get tired, didn't run out, and didn't have limits.

And there He was.

The God of daily grace.  The God of comfort, of rest, of quiet strength.  The God who was always there and always enough.

He's the true Hero, the One who rescues undeserving wanna-be-heroes like me.