Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Swimming Against the Current

I remember back in junior high I was introduced to the concept of choosing to either go with the flow or swim against the current. I heard the quote "Only dead fish swim with the current", and it must've left a lasting impression on me. I feel like I have spent my life up to this point trying not to go with the flow. It's not that I am fighting the current; maybe it's just that I’m trying to find an entirely different stream to navigate.

This concept has been heavy on my heart lately, I suppose because I’m currently in a small group study that is bringing my attention to different aspects of my personality. And this is one that I have always prided myself on: not being a dead fish – not swimming with the current.

But pride is a tricky thing. Too much of it can lead to all kinds of problems. Not enough of it can create another set of issues altogether. But ultimately, the basis for that pride – what underlies it – is really what matters. I don't know why, but I rarely want to be in the majority. I don't want to live the life that everyone else lives, or shall I say, the "typical American dream." I mean, I DO want the things that come along with it, but I want my life to stand out. And lately I've been wondering, is that a bad thing? Who do I want it to stand out to? And why?

Example #1: My mom, dad, AND sister all went to Texas Tech. I went to Baylor. What is my response when people ask me why I didn't go to Texas Tech? "Because that is where everyone else went."

Example #2: I moved all the way across the world without knowing a soul and lived there for almost 3 years. And I wanted to stay there. Most certainly not swimming with the current.

Example #3: My choices in hobbies. a) I love the zoo. It is my sanctuary. b) I have a love/hate relationship with hot yoga. And I enjoy watching people's reactions when they find out the temperature in the room. It's amusing! c) I enjoy traveling equally as much as I enjoy being at home. I don’t think that’s very normal.

There are a slew of other things that I could mention. But what is it that I’m after? Some sort of wow factor? Or a “shock and awe” plan for my life?

I think what it boils down to is that my parents always encouraged me to stand out. And not in a bad way, but to set myself apart from others. And just be me. And I have learned over the years that I am NOT a dead fish.

On the other hand, I look at some women and they seem to always fit in so perfectly with whatever group they are in. They don't cause issues, they go with the flow, they are agreeable, and everybody likes them. Sometimes I want to be like that. The average woman. The girl next door. Someone who looks and acts friendly and dependable all the time. But then I start thinking, would that imply that I lack passion? Does that indicate that I'm not strong enough to have opinions and feelings of my own? Could that suggest that I let people walk all over me?

These are all good questions, and I don't know the answer to any of them. I don't know that I need to. Because the thing is, I have a different personality than the woman that I describe above. And to her, being agreeable is not lacking passion or opinions of her own. To her, it’s being her. And I’m me. And we are very different people.

If I spend my entire life heading upstream, or along a different stream entirely, in the opposite direction of the mainstream, will I tire eventually? Will it be mentally and physically exhausting on my body and my mind and my soul? Is it worth it? Will I get lonely navigating my own stream?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But based on my past experience and relationships, there are two things that I do know for sure:

1) I refuse to let anyone squash my spirit. If they try to, I need to get them out of my life very quickly.

2) One of the qualities that I find most appealing in a person is passion. So why would I EVER want to not be passionate in my own life? I surround myself with passionate people, so that I have others to be silly, crazy, excited and emotional with.

What is the purpose of this whole blog? Honestly, I’m just thinking out loud. It’s my way of working through what this small group study (it’s called No Other Gods by Kelly Minter, by the way) has been bringing up to the surface. The girls in my “NOG” small group have had the pleasure of listening to me work through all of this :-) And ultimately, I think that as long as I stay focused on Him as I’m swimming against the current, I’ll be okay. It’s when I start becoming too prideful and self-righteous that I know I have a problem. And I recognize that I do that on occasion. Maybe a little too often lately. Maybe that’s why this is so heavy on my heart right now. Yikes.

I will always strive to be perhaps a little bit different. It’s really no effort for me at all actually. It’s who I am. And I love that I have people close to me in this world who are just like me, and those who are complete opposites. I think we balance each other out. And I wonder if it’s not me being different or standing out at all, but me just being myself. And maybe I am going with the flow. Maybe I’m just the fluorescent green fish amongst a stream full of silver ones.  Or maybe I'm not different at all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Back in elementary school, the highlight of my morning was often the 15 minute break that gave me the chance to go out on the playground and get rid of all of my energy. That or find the boy that I had an innocent crush on and hopelessly try to flirt with him, whatever that meant at the age of 8. Ohhh the fantastic thing that we once knew simply as recess.

Wikipedia defines recess as “a general term for a period of time in which a group of people is temporarily dismissed from its duties.” Many elementary schools use recess to give kids a chance to take a break from learning, from the responsibilities of the classroom, and to get some physical exercise. It also gives children the opportunity to develop the skills needed to effectively socialize. All of these things become very important later in life. My opinion is that recess is paramount in a child’s education, and to keep teachers sane.

I think I need an emotional recess in my life.

I need a break from adult responsibility. I need a break from gossip, and pettiness, and drama, and emotional roller coasters, and little things that impact me way more than they should. I need to get out on the playground and run around carefree like a child, with no worries other than waiting for the bell to ring to bring me back to real life. And I want to come back eventually, but a nice little break seems to be in store for me.

I think that mentally, I need to STOP every once in a while. Stop holding myself accountable for everything that happens in my life. Stop getting caught up in the craziness that each day usually brings. Stop doing so many things. Stop thinking that I have the responsibility and the ability to solve everyone’s problems. Stop thinking that I can be a super-friend, when really I am just a normal person who runs herself ragged trying to fit it all in. And I’m not actually that great at being a super-friend in the end anyway!

I need to START taking more time for myself. Start treating myself better. Start spending more time in the Word and less time at a restaurant. Start concerning myself with what God wants out of me, rather than what other people want out of me. Start doing things that I want to do, which may include not doing much of anything at all, or it may include tackling a to-do list. Either way, I want my choices and opinions, at least for a little while, to not impact anyone else at all.

I want to be careful here not to cause you to think that I want to be a couch potato. That’s not at all what this is about. When I look around my house, I can come up with a list of things that I’ve been wanting or needing to do for a while now. Like the weather stripping that has come off the bottom of my front door, or the repainting that I need to do in the bathroom, or doing something about my ice maker that has been broken for about 2 years now. Instead of doing all of those things, I go out to eat, or to a movie, or to a party, or away for the weekend – and I LOVE all of those things and the people that come alongside them. But I think it’s just a bit much for me right now. I don’t want to lend emotional support today. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to make small talk. I want to grab a bucket of paint, turn on my iPod, and sing to my cat. Is that ok? Can I take a little emotional recess from my life?

Because I think that I need to. And I think that without a recess, I’m going to continue to turn into someone that I don’t recognize, and to be frank, someone I don’t like very much; the short-tempered, insensitive, impatient being that I feel I’m turning into at the moment. I can’t be a great friend in this state, nor co-worker, nor anything else for that matter. And it’s not fair to anyone.

So, I need a recess, and I don’t know when or how it is going to happen, or for how long, but it must. And it must happen soon. And I have a feeling that many of you out there have felt this way at some point, and have dealt with it, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. And you understand. At least I hope you do.

I think I hear the recess bell now…….

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

When I finished my second blog about Ethiopia, I was feeling like I had one more in me. I realized that I had not really talked about the part of the trip that had the greatest impact on me. I loved the experiences that I had over there, I loved the sweet little faces that I got to spend time with virtually every day that I was there, and I loved spending time with my friend Lauren and her mom Patty, relaxing and learning about that fascinating country. But what impacted me the most, what will take me back to Ethiopia at some point, or on many occasions in the future, was seeing God at work over there.

I had never been on any type of mission trip before, formal or informal. And I don’t really know what you would call this one, but in any event, I was over there to help Him with His work. And I don’t think I even knew what that would be like, how it would feel, or what it really meant. When people said to me, “Lisa, go be the hands and feet of Jesus over there”, I thought to myself, “Don’t you have to be qualified for that? Shouldn’t you have to pass a test to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Shouldn’t I know the Bible backwards and forwards?” Well people, I am NOT qualified, I have NOT passed any test, and I do NOT know the Bible backwards and forwards.

What I do know, is that I love Jesus. I believe in Him. I love Him with everything in me and strive every single day to call on His name and do something that will glorify Him. I know that I still screw up, and that He loves me in spite of that. I know that I do things that He should be upset with me for, but He continues to give me His grace. And it is with this love and this grace, that I stepped out to Ethiopia to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

More importantly, there are so many people at work for the Lord over there. In a country with an overwhelming population of Orthodox people, God is working overtime; He has to! We were blessed to be able to see several examples of His work in a country that a lot of people have forgotten about.

Men of Korah

They are affectionately known as the “Men of Korah”. They are 20 somethings who grew up in Korah and now live to serve there. They are men of God. They have incredible servant hearts. They are handsome and strong. And they are truly the hands and feet of Jesus. I have rarely, if ever, seen a more powerful, impactful, representation of that in my life. These men are part of the Great Hope Ministry in Korah. Korah is a leper community of over 100,000 in Addis. As my new friend Eve so descriptively states on her blog (http://hopeforkorah.blogspot.com), Korah is a place “where His precious children are living in oppression; in garbage dumps and makeshift homes filled with darkness. The community is consumed with poverty, where families are broken through illness, death and persecution”. And Great Hope Ministry strives to get them out of that poverty and oppression; to give them hope; and to show them the love of Jesus.

We were fortunate enough to get to travel with Eve to Korah during our trip, and spent the better part of a day there alongside Eve and the men of Korah. During our day there, we participated in three home visits, played with children, and participated in helping Eve distribute new suits to all of the elderly leper men who are served at the Great Hope shelter.

The Men of Korah feed these elderly lepers every day. They visit families throughout the Korah community, taking them items and just visiting with them, learning of their problems, and trying to come up with solutions. They provide a shelter and a church where the people of Korah can go for food and a good, healthy dose of Jesus. They are the hands and feet of Jesus in Korah, every single day.

Compassion Family International

They show up like clockwork every morning. Their bellies are empty and their minds are open. They come for food, but more importantly they come for a shot at life. At Compassion Family International (“CFI”), we spent every day on our trip observing, participating, creating with, and loving on 24 kids who are continually shown the love of Jesus by the CFI staff.

Peter & Elizabeth run CFI and treat each of these kids as their own. They are the poorest of poor kids who need an education before they fall too far behind and will likely never catch up. They are smart, sassy, and enthusiastic. Some of them walk an hour each way, on streets with no names, through dirt and garbage, just to get to this place that is a safe haven for them. At CFI, they can be free to be the little people that they are, without the worries and troubles that live at home with each of them. At CFI, they aren’t put to work, they get to learn. They don’t have to sit hungry in a dark tin shed, they sit outside in the sunshine and eat lunch with their classmates.

One of my most treasured memories of my time at CFI was our surprise “farewell” presentation that the kids put on for us. Each kid presented us with a homemade thank you card, and Peter, Elizabeth, and the staff thanked us for spending our time there. And then the staff asked the kids if they had anything to say to us. And every single one of them raised their hand with complete exuberance! They took turns thanking us for various things, like the witness bracelets we made with them, the foam crosses that we helped them put together, the new clothes and toys, etc. And then one of them simply said, “Thank you for playing with us.” And I was a wreck. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Playing with them and spending time with them is more impactful than anything else. And I truly can’t envision anywhere else I would’ve rather been at that moment.

We were so blessed to be able to spend time with these children. We may have taken them donation items that put a smile on their faces for an hour or a day, but spending time with them has left me with a smile on my face for so much longer. God is so clearly at work with CFI and these precious little souls.

Authoritative Guidance (spoken like a true auditor!)

As a result of this Ethiopian adventure, there have been a lot of discussions around adoption – that is what started this entire trip after all. And there are a lot of orphans in Ethiopia, more than anyone probably cares to know or admit. And they are children – some normal, some not-so-normal, some infants, some teenagers. But they all have a story, and they are all tiny people with the right to have a chance at life.

A common discussion topic with friends and family when talking about my friend’s adoption and my mission work over there, was “why international?” A lot of people have been curious why her adoption, and our desire to serve, were focused overseas. Well, I will not put words in her mouth regarding her adoption, but why did we travel across the globe to serve others? Because we are called to go and make disciples among all nations. The Bible, the only authoritative guidance that this world needs, says so:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

We may not have baptized them, but we showed them the love of Jesus. We told them of that love. And we did it in a foreign land. We served those people. And there are so many other servants in Ethiopia. It really is astounding and such a true testament of the power of God’s love. People like you, and like me, and like the men of Korah, and like Peter & Elizabeth at CFI, who truly are acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.

I’ll leave you with this: You don’t have to be a pastor to be the hands and feet of Jesus, nor do you have to be an expert on the Bible. What you do need, is to be a believer, and not just within your perfect little world, but in other places too. You need to “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people”¬ – Ephesians 6:7 (NIV) and act on what the Bible is telling you to do. It’s scary at times, and it is certainly uncomfortable, but when you walk in a place like Ethiopia, or Korah, or among the streets with no name, or even somewhere closer to home; when you just spend time with people, you will have the opportunity, whether you realize it or not, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And that, my friends, is what this life should be all about.

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” - 1 Peter 4:11 (NIV)