Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.
Satan's sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude . Adam and Eve are, simply, painfully, ungrateful for what God gave... that was the fall! Ingratitude... humanity's discontent with all that God freely gives. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)
Psalm 103 has for the past several years been my most prayed prayer. It is one that pierces me, convicts me, and restores me to a place of gratitude... Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me bless His holy name. David, the imperfect man of God that he was, is seen here speaking to himself, actually speaking to his soul. He beckons the core of his being to shed itself of the busyness, selfishness, fear, and doubt that lead to the sin of ungratefulness. He reminds himself that God has been good! God has redeemed and restored his people. He has crowned us with love and compassion. David, rebukes his ungrateful heart and commands it to bless the Lord.
I began this week of fasting with the intention of boldly praying for direction, asking God to have mercy on His daughter seeking only to follow Him and His plan for her family, her future, and her life. I began this week of prayer expecting God to give in and bring light to my confusion and answers to my impatient heart. But I have no answers, I do not yet know the will of God for my husband and me. I know not what the future holds for our family. But I join David in pleading with my soul to simple bless the name of the Lord. He is good; He is mercy; He is grace. He, the creator of heavens and earth, has crowned us with His glory, and who am I that He should be mindful of me? (Psalm 8).
In my search for answers, He has brought me to gratitude. He has reminded my aching soul that He has been good. My life is overflowing with blessing, and in that blessing, my soul will bless the Lord.
Baptism... a day to declare the work of grace in our hearts and to celebrate the new life we have been given through His sacrifice.
I sat there in the shade looking at my beautiful church family who had all come to take part in the celebration of new life for nine beautiful souls. In the middle of the harsh Honduran summer, the children dove head first into the cool waters of the pools, the men off to play soccer and the women chatting and laughing in the shade. I sat for a moment to give praise, to give thanks for all of this. I am not sure an outsider could fully understand the miracle that was taking place in that moment, but I knew full well that this was truly an act of God.
I saw Lida, who then I met her was chained down by a deep depression. Her four babies walked each day up the mountain to grandma's for food, because mama couldn't get out of bed. Today, her smile radiated as she rose out of the healing baptismal waters- clean, new, alive. God had made her new.
I saw Jose, a man who had surrendered in the battle against alcoholism. Whose four year old daughter not long along was heard running from the house screaming, "he's going to kill my mom, help!" This same man was brought to tears while the nine prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for their redemption. Now, he is cannonballing himself into the deep end. His sweet daughter who has spent her short life fearing him is hugging him tightly and laughing uncontrollably as her little heart praises God for the sweet moment with her papa. And her childlike faith tells her there is hope even still for him.
I saw seven teenagers, who statistically speaking (in Honduras) should have already dropped out, gotten pregnant or involved themselves in drugs, declare that they will not conform to this world. Instead, their lives will be ones of hope, joy, beauty, and truth. They now were throwing each other into the pool without a care or worry in the world.
Children who sleep on dirt floors and occasionally eat more than one meal a day, women who have never learned to read or write, men who have struggled against addiction, broken families from impoverished communities... the hopeless, the poor, the least of these. I scanned the crowd, none of them were to be found. All I saw were men, women, and children living new lives: rich lives full of joy and laughter, full of love and grace, full of hope. I saw a miracle of God.
I was sitting there alone on the bridge near the church one evening, and I heard a beautiful, worshipful praise coming from the church. I thought to myself, I would go to that church if they could ever accept someone like me.
My father was a drunk. My four sisters and I grew up suffering in an abusive, loveless home. My mother hated us for she was convinced we were to blame for my father’s sickness. Before us, they were happy. When he raped my little sister, I fought him to protect her. My mother slapped me hard. How dare I.
When I was fifteen, I gave myself to someone who showed me a love I had never experienced and got pregnant. My father called me a whore and threw me to the streets. There I lived with my child, depending completely on the mercies and kindness of strangers.
Eventually, I was able to afford a small house (made of mud and sticks) and got married to the man I am with now. We had two more children. I had just started to get my feet on the ground, when the flood came. One horrible day, my house and all my belongings were washed away.
With my two young children and newborn baby, I returned to the streets. My husband left to find work. I had returned to where I began; alone, desperate, hungry, empty and hopeless. And when I heard those songs being lifted to Heaven that night, my soul longed to go to that little yellow church and feel the same joy of those inside. But it would be years before I opened my heart to let God heal the brokenness that many years of abuse, shame, poverty, and sin had left me with. In that moment, no other life was possible for me.
Moving to the Urrutia community was a new start for us. It was truly the first home, I had ever lived in. It was there where I got to know the people of the little yellow church. As they helped us in our time of greatest need, they showed many of us a kind of love that the world had never offered. I suppose God had to bring the church to me. Outside my home, every Wednesday they came and taught the children songs and stories of the Bible. Slowly, my hard heart began to soften.
Since then my life has changed completely. I have been abundantly blessed; my three beautiful, happy children are all going to school with scholarships (from the Honduras Education Project) and my dreams for them get bigger everyday, I have finished my studies and work as a kindergarten teacher, and the Joyas de Esperanza jewelry project has allowed me to provide for my family. These changes I suppose could be credited to a simple change of circumstance. But the more incredible transformation, that could only be explained by God, is the change in my heart. I have forgiven my mother and father acknowledging that they too are just products of a broken, sinful world. I am not alone. I am not fearful. I am full of hope and joy. God has restored my very broken heart and given me a new one that is strong, pure, and at peace.
Now that little yellow church is my church, and my voice is among those singing praises to Heaven.
“Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” –John 9:25
When the Pharisee’s heard that Jesus had healed a man born blind, they did everything they could to discredit this man’s testimony and condemn the work of Christ. But the evidence was clear. The healed man did not claim to be a great theologian nor intended to challenge the religious authorities. He simply told his story. He was blind, and then he wasn’t.
We are called to tell our story and to be witnesses of the great works of our God. We don’t need to pretend to understand all the deep mysteries of heaven and hell nor convince the skeptics of the truths we hold true by faith. We simply tell our stories, and the work of God will speak for itself. The problem is many stories never get told.
Living here and doing what I do, I have the unique opportunity to hear so many stories, witness drastic transformations of entire families, and see for myself the very hand of God change people’s lives. The glory and power of our living God is so evident all around me, but the problem is these stories just never get told.
That is what I have set out to change. With the sole purpose of bringing glory to the name of our good and Heavenly Father, I write these short testimonies the best I can. Note, that I have chosen to write these stories as they were told to me from the perspective of the person to whom the story belongs. Though they are not word for word translations and many are pieced together from years of tearful conversations, desperate prayer requests, and simply walking alongside these brothers and sisters through many life circumstances, I will do my best to simply share what God is doing in Danlí, Honduras.
There is no easy way to tell this story. Honestly, It is one I would rather forget. But it is a story that has marked me, changed me, and shown me the true meaning of Paul's words...
Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
It was Mothers' Day. The church was decorated beautifully, and was filled with the sweet poems and songs the children had dedicated to their glowing mamas. The service ended with warm hugs and kisses. It was a precious moment that overflowing with joy and thanksgiving.
Until our pastor came to the front. With tears in his eyes and tremor in his voice, he called our attention to one faithful sister of the church who was not in attendance for she was mourning the death of her daughter.
Turns out there was much more to the story. Her daughter, 23 years old, was kidnapped, raped, killed, and left in the city sewage tank. Her body was found that same Mothers' Day morning. While other mamas were warmly woken up to flowers and chocolates, this one woke to the police knocking on her door.
It was our first Honduran wake. As is tradition here, the wake takes place immediately after the death of a loved one. The body is placed in a coffin with a clear top in the family's living room, and for the next couple days, the family mourns their loss while their community comes to offer whatever comfort they can. When we showed up, there were hundreds of people surrounding the house. When we finally made our way into the house, the pain was overwhelming. In that moment, I felt no hope, no joy, and no love. I saw a mother, whose beloved daughter had spent the last hours of her life suffering the most terrifying and inconceivable violence, weeping uncontrollably and inconsolably. In that moment, I felt like the devil had won. Evil had won. This girl had been killed by Satan himself, and this poor mother, who had put her life in the Lord's hands, was suffering a pain no one could deserve.
But was not the end of the story. That's not the part has changed me forever. A few weeks went by, and my nightmares had subsided. One average Saturday evening, I walked into church and sat waiting for the service to begin. As our pastor asked us to greet the people around us, I turned to see behind me that same mother. Hoping she didn't see the shock in my eyes, I hugged her tightly and thought "what on earth are you doing here?" We began to sing and worship, but all those thoughts of hopelessness and defeat immediately took over my heart once more: What would she possibly be thinking? How could she have anything to praise God for...? How could she even come back here?
gracias, Señor, gracias
My thoughts were interrupted, but a quiet prayer behind me. Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you... it continued for several minutes. Glancing behind me to confirm my confusion, this mother was bent over, hands high in the air, declaring her gratitude to the Lord. Thank you Lord, thank you. Thank you.
I'll let this resonate with you as it did me. I have no answers still to why or how this suffering mother could put those words to her lips. And though confusion and conviction overwhelmed me as I continued to hear her heart praising God, I knew that this woman had looked into the eyes of Satan himself, and with a truly supernatural strength, declared victory in the name of hope, in the name of joy, in the name of love, in the name of Christ. Amen.
When we first decided to move to Honduras, I greatly struggled in explaining to people exactly what I meant when I said God had called us to do so. Many rationalized back to us saying, we were "going on an adventure," "living out our youth," "getting it out of our system," or (my favorite) "taking an extended vacation." Instead of following God, we were told we were following "our hearts," "our church," or "our dreams."
But no this was God, and He had called us.
I had said back then that its a little like falling in love...
God's "calling" is a funny thing to explain. I suppose it is similar to love in that way. Difficult for those to understand who have never been in love, but perfectly simple to those who have. Once you know you have been called, it is so blatantly obviously to you. Once you know, you know, and its impossible to orient your life around anything else. (my first ministry update)
And I've realized now, after over two years on the "mission field" (hate that term by the way, what does it even mean? where isn't the mission field?), I am realizing that God's calling is a lot like falling in love.
At first, you give up everything without a second thought to be with that person, because you see now that nothing else matters. Your family and friends think you're crazy, going too fast, and extremely impulsive. Your grandmother wishes you'd have fallen in love with someone more financially stable with a nice 401k or 403b or whatever combination of numbers and letters equal security and happiness. But it doesn't matter, you know its real.
Then you dive in, go steady, get married, and its harder than you expected. Its not the rosy, pretty picture you had painted for yourself. It is real, but that what makes it hard. There is real sacrifice, real pain, real struggles, and a real enemy.
But I go to sleep each night, next to my husband because I love him and I am committed to him. I couldn't imagine my life apart from him, and I never want to.
And that's why God's calling is a lot like falling in love.
He looks at me with tears in his eyes and says, "promise me you'll come home one day," and shakily, unconvincingly I tell him what I know his loving, aching heart needs to hear "of course, Dad."
The truth is in that moment my heart was begging me the same question, promise me we will come home one day for here is where I can see us having babies and dogs and a beautiful house to call home. My heart says to me here your children will know and love their grandparents. There will be t-ball games and ballet recitals. Here you will be happy, and you won't have to say goodbye anymore.
My heart is fickle, and my feelings as well. I have learned not to trust them. For if I did my life would be all about me, and it isn't at all about me. My spirit however is not my own. The Holy Spirit residing in me is from the Lord. It is holy and sacrificing not self-seeking like my heart. And my spirit patiently replied over and over to my heart, will you follow the Lord even when you don't feel like it?
Yes of course, it reluctantly replies, like a child who has just been corrected by her father, but still not wanting to comply.
a living and holy sacrifice (romans 12:1)
it is not I who lives, it is Christ living inside me (galatians 2:20)
deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me (matt. 16:25)
left everything to follow you (mark 10:28)
whoever loses his life for My sake will save it (mark 8:35)
I must admit coming back to Honduras for the third time was more difficult than ever before. At home, I had completely forgotten any and all reasons why my life here is truly blessed and beautiful. As I hugged my loved ones and boarded the plane, my body was simply obediently going through the motions as my heart was screaming in rebellion. But my faithful and loving Teacher, kept reminding me: I love you. I have called you to surrender not just the easy stuff but everything- your hopes, dreams, desires, family, comforts...everything. But I promise you my sweet daughter, my plans for you are immeasurably greater than your own (eph. 3:20). Delight in me and I will give you the desires of you heart (ps. 37:4). Delight in obedience, delight in surrender, delight in following me wherever I take you.
I am just a simple person who is trying to follow God the best I can. For He has changed my life and my heart. He has shown me what it is to love and to serve. And I spend my days trying to imitate His example wherever I am.