Tag Archives: Christianity

Even on my worst day…


Even on my worst day, I have so much to be thankful for.  My complaints are pathetic and selfish in comparison with real life for a huge portion of the world.  Look at this post that a fellow missionary in Nicaragua posted earlier this week.

“Please pray for precious Keyling. She has a high fever and an infection in her chest. You can only imagine the struggle to remain healthy living in these conditions. 8 people trying to sleep on this one piece of plywood to keep off the cold, muddy, wet ground because of the heavy rains. We were able to get Keyling the antibiotic she needs. As we told her mother to make sure she takes the meds 3x a day with a small piece of bread or something in her stomach the mother humbly told us that wouldn’t be possible. They cook a small pot of yucca (like a potato) every morning. Each person in the family gets one small piece. Please pray for Keyling today. That God would supernaturally touch her body, keep her safe, warm and provide this families every need.”
Pictures by Kendra Dout, missionary to Nicaragua

Pictures by Kendra Dout, missionary to Nicaragua

 I am so blessed, and so are you.  We see this kind of poverty where we live too.  I often wonder how those people live day by day in those kinds of conditions.  I complain that there are too many ants on my counter tops in the mornings… and her counter top is a log.  I complain that my washing machine is making a funny noise and not draining properly.  Look at how they must do their washing by hand and hang things out to dry. I complain that my wardrobe is getting thread bare after 5 years of use.  Look at her one shirt and how the family’s clothes are doubling as pillows and blankets.  I complain that the store didn’t restock my coffee creamer for the 3rd week in a row, and this family eats one piece of potato a day.  I am a selfish, spoiled person.  I have so many blessings for which I forget to thank God.
Kendra told me that she found this girl on the streets 2 years ago.  She was probably 4 or 5 years old.  The mother was living with all 6 kids in this shack.  She was selling the older 2 children (ages 11 and 14) for sex in the market.  Lack of money leads to desperation.  But lack of Jesus leads to sin and death.  You know the saying, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time.”  Well there is a Spiritual extension to that proverb.
You can come into a poor community and just pour money into the gap, but the people are still spiritually poor and headed for an eternity without hope.  However, when a missionary brings Jesus to the poor, he brings an eternal change to the situation.  There is now hope where there was once despair.  With Jesus in their lives, the family makes better decisions… like not selling their children for sex because that’s wrong… like not drinking alcohol because that deprives the family of food.  Economics can change when there is a heart change.
We don’t feed people in exchange for them becoming Christians.  We feed people so that they can hear the message of Jesus’s love instead of being distracted by the rumble of their stomachs.  It is unjust and morally wrong to just say, “Jesus bless you” and not actually feed the hungry or give a cup of water to the thirsty.  The message isn’t the cup or the plate.  The message is always “Jesus”, the food and water are just vehicles for the message- tangible expressions of the abstract concept of love.  Plus it’s just what Jesus told us to do.

Digging Deep


Once upon a time we were in Youth Ministry at a church.  A young couple that worked with us as youth leaders got pregnant and had a baby.  A few months after wards, it became apparent that something was not right with the little girl’s health.  After months of medical tests, they discovered that their baby was suffering with profound genetic defects and there was no hope for a cure.  She was given just a few months to live.  They signed a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) medical order and took their daughter home to enjoy the last few months of her life.

We prayed like crazy during those couple of months.  We prayed for a miracle.  It did not happen.  When their smiley little baby died, we were stunned and hurt.  We all said the awkward, unhelpful things that people say when friends experience such a tragedy.  None of us knew how to help them grieve.  We were all in our early 20’s, and none of us had the wisdom nor the life experience to know how to handle this kind of sadness.  They retreated into their grief and we stood ineffectively on the sidelines wanting to do something, but doing nothing more than providing a few meals and pitiful sympathies.

At the funeral for their baby girl, the grandfather gave the eulogy for this young life taken far too soon.  I wondered how he found the strength to do it.  But he said some of the most beautiful and life impacting words that I have ever heard.  I’ve never forgotten them.  He talked about foundations.

On his morning commute through downtown, he would drive past an entire city block fenced off with barricades indicating that construction would soon take place there.  As the weeks passed, the buildings that were on the site were demolished.  Heaps of rubble were hauled off the site.  Then the digging machines were brought in.  For MONTHS they dug the hole deeper and deeper, preparing to lay the foundation for the future building.  As the hole got bigger and bigger he wondered what kind of massive building would be built there.

As the months passed and the sky scraper began to take form, the grandfather pondered these things in the light of the impending and certain death of his first granddaughter.  At the funeral he said, “When God lays a foundation, he has to dig deep.  We wonder what kind of structure he will build here.  The deeper he digs, the bigger the building will be.  In order to build something massively ‘upward’, you need to take the time to prepare the ‘downward’ part first.  The deeper God excavates our lives, we can be sure that He plans to build something very big on the surface, but he has to dig first.”

I have no idea if the family even remembers this eulogy spoken through the haze of their pain, but it has stuck with me for all these years.  I think about it when I feel like God is tearing down and digging out too much stuff in my life.  I thought about it when we let go of our life and possessions and family to move to the mission field.  I cried for the pain of the deep digging, but I wanted the results of God’s construction in my life even more than I wanted the rubble I gave up.  The bigger the blue print for the building, the deeper the hole for the foundation.

If God is digging really deep in your life, hauling out a ton of dirt and making a really big hole, then he plans to build a really big structure with your life.  We are the temple of God.  Does our foundation go deep?

A Letter to Friends who are Gay


I have posted before how I am proud of several of my Christian Facebook friends who are breaking the stereotypes that the world holds concerning Christians.  Recently I read this post by a friend of mine and fellow missionary.  Normally this woman cracks me up with her wit and humor, but today she made me wish I KNEW some friend from high school who came out of the closet just so I could say these kind words to them.  (I actually keep in contact with so few people from then that it’s just pathetic and sad.)  Catherine, you make me proud to be a Christian… the kind of Christian who can extend loving friendship to someone who is gay even though we don’t agree about everything.

Having grown up in the Twin Cities where there is a large gay community I have worked with and gone to school with many people who professed to be gay.  I generally have found them to be delightful, creative and witty people (pardon my stereotyping).  They always know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am indeed a Christian, but I have always tried to show that a relationship with Jesus was not a political position nor a social weapon for shunning someone.  But my relationship with Jesus gave me the FREEDOM to love someone outside of my “tribe”.  

Jesus ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other shunned people from his time, much to the dismay of the religious leaders.  A real follower of Jesus will do the same- reach out to those who need a friend regardless of their lifestyle.  This does not mean I condone their behavior, it is still sin, but I am deliberate in extending my friendship to them by following the example of Jesus.


Dear old friend from high school that I just learned is gay,

Dude! How’s it going? So, I stalked you on facebook. The snoopy part of me sees bits of your profile, and I have pieced together that you’re gay. I have wanted to “friend” you. I want you to know I remember that nebulous cloud of high school where I was half asleep to the things that really mattered, and more focused on emotionally surviving my day. I wish I had been more bold back then, but everything in it’s time… If you look at my profile, you’ll see that I’m a Christian. A missionary, in fact. You would laugh if you knew the detours I took along the way. I hope that doesn’t bother you. You’re gay, and I love you, like you even.

We’ve all changed since school, but I think we would both fondly remember moments of being with someone and you didn’t have to try so hard. You could just be. I was grateful to you for those reprieves. We laughed a lot. Sweated a lot. (it was the desert after all.) We had acne together that the beautiful people magically avoided. We weren’t goth and we weren’t quiet grunge. What were we? We were awkward together. We dabbled in the more creative electives, and perhaps nerdy pursuits. I remember not feeling like I fit in my own skin. I wish I could go back in time and tell us we were beautiful.

So I’m a Christian and you’re gay. We won’t agree on everything, and maybe we don’t have to talk about everything. But you’re still my friend and I still treasure you. I promise not to hit you over the head with a giant Bible, (until I am overcome by love and concern for your soul, that is. I can only hold it in so long, you know.) But in the meantime, I would only say you are deeply, deeply loved by your Creator. He sang a song of delight over you as you were purposefully formed. And…I still like you. (Not like-like, just like, don’t get all vain.)

Now don’t you think that sounded just like how Jesus might sound?  At least he sounds that way in MY head.  Yes, Jesus says “Dude” in my imagination.  But more importantly, wouldn’t Jesus be the first one to say, “I still like you.”?  I think he would.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/7186832081/”>Thomas Leuthard</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

The Savage My Kinsman


This is an bit from a book that I just finished reading called The Savage, My Kinsman by Elizabeth Elliot.  As a missionary I really related to her honest sense of uselessness as she spent a year living with Indians in the Amazon Basin.  How, as missionaries, do we make sense of this seeming spinning of our wheels?  How can this be called “Christian” work when we are just learning the language and learning how to live in this new place?  We speak like babies, we can’t even function in daily life without help and directions from others, we are an ill fit with this culture- how can we give these people what they do not even know they need which is New Life in Christ?  Elizabeth Elliot wrote words that comforted me because I understood where they were coming from:

God keep us from sitting in the seat of the scornful, concentrating solely on the mistakes, the paltriness of our efforts, the width of the gap between what we hoped for and what we got.  How shall we call this “Christian” work?  What are we to make of it?

We must not proceed from our own notions of God’s action (it will appear He has not acted) but must look clearly and unflinchingly at what happens and seek to understand it through the revelation of God in Christ.  His life on earth had a most inauspicious beginning.  There was the scandal of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the stable, the announcement not to village officials but to uncouth shepherds.  A baby was born- a Savior and King- but hundreds of babies were murdered because of Him.  His public ministry, surely no tour of triumph, no thundering success story, led not to stardom but to crucifixion.  Multitudes followed Him, but most of them wanted what they could get out of Him and in the end all His disciples fled.

Yet out of this seeming weakness and failure, out of His very humbling to death, what exaltation and what glory.  For the will of God is not a quantitative thing, static and measurable.  The Sovereign God moves in mysterious relation to the freedom of man’s will.  We can demand no instant reversals.  Things must be worked out according to a divine design and timetable.  Sometimes the light rises excruciatingly slowly.  The kingdom of God is like leaven and seed, things which work silently, secretly, slowly, but there is in them an incalculable transforming power.  Even in the plain soil, even in the dull dough, lies the possibility of transformation for, as the psalmist wrote, “All things serve Thee.”

The missionary, with all his sin and worldliness, stands nevertheless with Christ for the salvation of the world… The effort to do this must not be seen in “either/or” terms- either it is flawless, and therefore a success, or it is flawed, and therefore a miserable failure.

Every time my hopes are dashed and I am asked to exchange my small view of “good” (when things work my way) for God’s view of it, expressed in Romans 8 …{He cooperates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose…}  That, in the last analysis is for us the only good- that shaping, no matter what it takes.


From the book  The Savage, My Kinsman by Elizabeth Elliot where she talks about spending a year living with the Amazon tribe of Indians who speared to death her husband and 4 other missionary men.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/3555700749/”>@Doug88888</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

On a Short Leash


I was raised in a pastor’s home.  That makes me a PK, a Pastor’s Kid.  Some people say that Pastors’ kids are the worst kids they know.  In some cases, I would agree with that, but in my case I have to disagree.  I was a pretty good kid, wanting to please my parents.  But even then, I have always felt like God has kept me on a very short leash.  Even when I WANTED to do something bad, I never got away with it.  I got caught every time!!

For that reason, to this day I am a terrible liar.  Wait, I mean I am terrible AT lying.  Even if I try to tell a lie, people can see through me every time.  This means that I cannot for the life of me keep a secret from my husband.  He just looks me in the eye, asks me a direct question, then laughs at my NON-poker face.  George Washington has nothing on me!  “I cannot tell a lie.”

So it kind of bothered me when I was younger that I didn’t have some fantastic testimony of being saved out of some horrible, rebellious way of life.  As a matter of fact, my testimony is kind of dull, in comparison to others.  But one year I went to a camp for pastors’ kids and my perspective changed.

At the camp, other PKs were giving their testimonies about how they had gone through some kind of rebellious period and how God brought them back.  I was having testimony-envy until an older girl took the microphone.  Very simply put, she said, “I have never had a time of rebelling against my parents or God.  I have loved the Lord ever since I was a little girl.  My testimony is the evidence of God’s power to KEEP me.”  And my world was shaken!

God has kept me.  He has carefully watched over me ever since I was a baby.  He has guarded me from bad company.  He didn’t let me run wild.  He has hedged me in to keep me on the path that He chose for me.  Yes, my choices have been more limited, but my heart has not grown hard through sampling the “delights” of the world.  Like a precious and valuable exotic flower, I have been kept in God’s greenhouse, sheltered from the frost and wind.  I have been kept.  How awesome is that!

In God’s power, I can brag.  I am not the only one who has been kept by God.  Think of David, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Mary, Timothy who were all kept from a young age.  God is powerful and able to preserve you from evil.

“From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”  Psalm 22:10

“For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth… Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”  Psalm 71:5, 17-18

What NOT to wear


One of my favorite “junk TV” shows is a catty little fashion show called “What NOT to wear”.  Basically the witty, yet snotty, hosts hijack some poor fashion disaster, trash her hideous wardrobe, and then take her on a shopping spree in New York City.  They give her shopping guidelines to follow based on her body type and her previous fashion faux pas.  I have often wished that someone would give me some fashion guidelines for dressing myself in another country.  It would make things a whole lot easier.

I stand in my closet and think, “Hmmm, What to wear, what to wear…” If I were in a country where the locals went naked, would I consider following the local trend? Probably not, but how “native” am I willing to go?  Sometimes that’s not a difficult adjustment to make and sometimes it’s super challenging.  For example, here in San Jose, Costa Rica a modest woman does not wear shorts in the city.  I wear pants, jeans, capris or longer skirts.  Now the locals can also wear super short skirts if they want to, but not shorts.  I personally get stared at enough as it is, being a white woman with blue eyes, so I prefer not to wear mini skirts and get too much of the wrong kind of attention.  It’s not a sacrifice; it’s my preference.  Actually it’s the jeans that cause me the most consternation.  When it’s hot, jeans feel like insanity!  Yet people wear them… and wear them tight!  UGH!  This American thinks that is crazy uncomfortable.

As a Christian we also have a tighter set of fashion standards that we have to think about too.  For example, I have a friend who grew up in Africa.  His parents were missionaries to a tribe of people who basically wear strings tied around their waists and nothing else.  In an early attempt to bring Christian modesty to the tribe, the missionaries imported a box of T-shirts and passed them out to everyone.  The people were thrilled!  However, the missionaries were less thrilled with the results.  The following week all the women showed up at church with circular holes strategically cut in their T-shirts to make nursing their babies a convenient activity while the pastor preached with a tomato-red blush on his white face.  Fail!

So the question remains for the conscientious missionary:  Are you going to “go native?”  Do you wear what the locals wear?  Or do you require that they convert to Western clothing when the convert to the Western Jesus?  If I am a woman in a Muslim country, do I veil?  What is Biblical and what is my culture and what is my responsibility to the people that I want to minister to?

Did Jesus say, “Change your neighbor as yourself”?


A Friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page as her status update one day:

“I have quite a diverse group of friends on my Facebook….many of whom believe and behave very differently than me. I have friends who are adulterers, at least one murderer, a rapist, an assorted atheist or two, a whole slew of gossips and slanderers, several liars, a couple exotic dancers, porno models and porno readers, gun lovers and gun haters, gays and lesbians, and more whiners than I can count.

Someone recently chastised me a little about this.

As gently as I could I pointed out that Jesus didn’t say “Change your neighbor as yourself.” He said “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

My job is to love people….it’s God’s job to change people. He’s welcome to start with me because I have my place in that list, too. How am I going to love someone if I will not learn how to be their friend…even on something as simple as facebook?

Here’s something I’ve learned from reading the status updates from all my friends no matter where they are in life: we all have emotions, we all get sick, we have jobs that make us a little crazy, we long for relationships, we have families we are trying to figure out, and we want a better future. I’d say we have enough in common to be able to get along and love each other.

May God help me to love the people that He loves…and, yes, to be friends. And I pray that I can love people enough that they feel safe to ask me the hard questions of life and that maybe, together, we can search out those answers that might lead to the change process that only HE can do.”

Did I mention that she’s a pastor’s wife?

I admit that my list of Facebook friends is a little more sterile than hers.  But I admire her heart and spirit and spunk.  She says strong things in a loving way.  This is a lesson that I am constantly trying to learn for myself.  I think this is the core of Grace.

When God shows you his back


“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks…”


“What of all the memories where Christ seems absent?  When the bridge shakes and heaves… when we look back and see God’s back.

Wasn’t that too his way with Moses?  ‘When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back.’  (Exodus 33:22-23)

Is that it?  When it gets dark, it’s only because God has tucked me in a cleft of the rock and covered me, protected, with His hand?  In the pitch, I feel like I’m falling, sense the bridge giving way, God long absent.  In the dark, the bridge and my world shakes, crackling dreams.  But maybe this is true reality:  It is in the dark that God is passing by.  The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite:  God is passing by.  God is in the tremors.  Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by.  In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will.  Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us, I-beam supporting in earthquake.  The He will remove His hand.  Then we will look. Then we will look back and see His back.”

Once again Ann Voskamp blew my mind!  “One Thousand Gifts”.  Can I say anything more?  This is so simple and yet so profound.  This is going to take a while to process and apply.

Holiday in Costa Rica


Today is a special holiday in Costa Rica- a Holy Day.  It is the day that Catholics celebrate the patron saint of Costa Rica, La Virgin de Los Angeles, also known as La Negrita.  Around the country, preparations have been in progress for weeks already.  This is the holiday that brings pilgrims from all over Costa Rica, and even from neighboring Panama and Nicaragua, walking all the way to the Basilica in Cartago where the little black statue of an indigenous Mary is enshrined.  It is predicted that 2.5 million people, half the country, will make the pilgrimage this year to pay homage and ask for special blessings from La Negrita.  Many penitent will crawl on their knees the last mile or so.

On August 2 this whole city will be wall to wall people. They shut down the highway through San Jose and into Cartago to make room for people to walk.

As missionaries, it is important for us to know about the local traditions and religious beliefs of the people that we are here to serve.  We try our hardest not to be “agents of American culture” bringing the North American Way in our baggage.  We try to see the world through the eyes of the people in our new culture.  So we come as learners.  We have learned the history of La Negrita, visited the Basilica countless times with teams and students, and studied the Catholic doctrine a bit to give us some background to the sites we see at this holy shrine.  We have learned that the secret to the longevity of the Catholic church around the world is that their doctrine permits the inclusion of local legends and saints (and often local gods, renamed with “Christian” names).  The church thrives when the locals have a saint that looks native to the area.

The story goes that on August 2, 1635 a native girl found this little statue made of black stone.  She brought it home, but twice it mysteriously reappeared back in the original location.  So the local townsfolk decided that it was a manifestation of the divine and it wanted a shrine built to it.  In 1824 it was declared the Patron Saint of Costa Rica.  The Basilica where it is now housed is not the original because the first few churches were destroyed by earthquakes from the nearby Volcan Irazu.  Outside, this new version also includes “holy water” piped in from an underground spring.  People stand in line, often for hours, with their empty jugs and bottles waiting to fill up with holy water.  Inside, the walls of the shrine are lined with display cases filled with silver charms representing body parts “healed” by La Negrita.  People can buy a charm representing whatever request they are praying for, and when their prayers are answered, they give the charm back to the church as a testimony to the healing power of La Negrita.

It’s a little blurry do to the low light, but this is La Negrita in her shrine

The spring where Holy Water flows. See the wheel chair? And the woman smoothing her hair with wet hands as if she could wipe away her worries with holy water.

I’m not writing this blog to bash the Catholic Church.  The point I want to make is that it is in our nature to WORK to reach God.  From the days of the Tower of Babel to the selling of Papal Dispensations to the modern believer crawling on his knees in penitence, it is our human nature to try to work to earn forgiveness.  We all need to be set free from our self-inflicted bondages, the chains that tie us to this earth.  And that is why Jesus came.

The spring of Holy Water where people fill up.

Jesus came preaching Grace and he turned the religious world upside down with teachings about the Upside Down nature of the Kingdom of God.  The first shall be last.  Love your enemies, pray for those who curse you.  Don’t stand in the streets making a show of your prayers like the pharisees did.  Pray to the Lord in secret, and the Lord will reward you openly.  Grace which can not be earned or deserved.  Forgiveness which sets us free to forgive each other.  Love which lays down his life for those who hated him.  The Upside Down Kingdom has come.  And that is our message of love to Costa Rica.

Mostly Dead


There is a scene in the movie The Princess Bride where the grumpy magician Miracle Max revives the Man in Black.  (Remember that one?  Classic.)  His friends think he’s dead, but Miracle Max says, “Turns out your friend here is only Mostly Dead.  And Mostly Dead means he’s slightly Alive!”

One of the central principles of the Christian faith is dying to yourself.  We are instructed to die to our sinful desires, to take off the “old man” and put on the “new man”, to identify with the death of Christ through baptism, to be dead to ourself.  Dead to ourself but alive to Christ.  Just as Christ rose from the dead, we too rise from the waters of baptism with a new Master in our lives.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  Romans 6:11 says, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  So we are the Living Dead.

But here I have to confess that much of the time I am kind of half-hearted about this dying to myself thing.  I’m reluctantly Living Dead.  OK, most of the time I’m just Mostly Dead, which means I’m slightly Alive.  I’ve heard it said that the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.  Yes, that’s true of me.  My sinful desires are slippery and hard to nail down.  My own motives are hidden in the dark, unexplored corners of my heart.  And if I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t want those corners illuminated and mapped.  I’d rather keep a part of myself instead of giving my all to Jesus.

Living Dead is hard.  It’s a daily dying and most days I don’t die well.  I put up a fight.  Some days I’m just tired of the fight and that’s the only reason I die on that day.  Those are the days when I collapse in a heap at the foot of the cross and only have the strength to weep soul tears and whisper a one word prayer, Oh Jesus!  This Living Dead thing is wretchedly hard.

I’d like to give you a nice perky ending here, but then you’d know I was being a fake.  I’m not going to lie to you, it’s much easier to be a sinner than a saint.  But here’s where my faith picks me up out of my despairing heap and sets me back on my dead feet again.  I know that someday it will all be worth it.  I’m keeping Jesus in my sights and the hope of Heaven as my promissory note.  One day it will be worth it all when I see Jesus face to face.

“We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?… We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 6:1-11