Determined to be Faithful

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There are 94 steps from the driveway up to our apartment in Kathmandu. I only know because a visiting friend of ours made the out-of-breath proclamation when he reached the top and I opened the door to greet him. We have since welcomed many visitors and sat together while they recollect themselves at the end of the steep climb.

Our time on the field has been an exhausting endeavor from the beginning. Though there have been moments of great joy, and we have certainly found a way of life that suits us, putting in the work every day to fashion a life and ministry there has been a challenge of all sorts. There is no finish line to be seen. There are only more steps.

As we return to our host country in a few months after a time of respite Stateside, we will resume the climb. We will invest in people and ministries, trusting it all into the Lord’s hands. We can only aim at faithfulness, the ultimate goal of our foreign life of service. We can take the next step, breathless though we may be, in faith that the Lord will give us strength and courage to take the next one. We know with absolute certainty, He will carry us to the top where we commune with him with no shortage of joy. As we rest in His arms, we will find there is joy here in the climb too.

In what area of life or ministry are you determined to be faithful?

Tell me about it in the comment section below!

Our Place of Refuge

Each year around this time, our host country goes all out to celebrate its major holiday Holi. It is not lost on me that rituals focused largely on idol worship and pagan promises of prosperity bear a name that conveys the opposite of what is truly going on. It is difficult to express just how the forces of darkness war against my soul during this particular season. I can only imagine how much more intense this battle must be for those who have only known life in a culture completely enveloped by Hinduism.

Difficult though this time may be, it provides a wonderful opportunity for the Christian community to minister to the body. How encouraging it is to pull away from the places where temptation towards idolatry is the strongest and band together to worship the One true God! It is for that reason a veteran cross-cultural worker has set apart this nation-wide holiday to hold a men’s conference each year. As we joined the work, my husband started attending this conference, bringing believers along with him as our fellowships began to grow.

My husband felt strongly convicted to battle the forces of evil with the collective worship of Jesus and thus intentioned to attend. At the same time, he agonized over leaving his wife in tears, anticipating the difficulty of the days ahead. We committed to trust the Lord with the safety and spiritual renewal for his trip and for the care and keeping of my soul as I stayed behind.

After a day of running around the city in an effort to avoid our neighbors’ celebrations at home complete with a tribe of dancers and a hired guru, we returned home to rest. As bells rang, fireworks shot off, and unintelligible chants swam through our windows from all directions, I attempted to settle my kids for bed. Tired as they were, extended sleep, I realized was a dream not to be realized.

As soon as pale lids closed softly in surrender to sleep, our gate creaked open as a shouting drunk stumbled in demanding financial contribution to his evening’s endeavors. My babies’ eyes rocketed back open. Tears just as unwelcome as our front-gate visitor appeared beneath my lids as I vigorously batted them away. This is too hard.

This was bigger than getting restless children to bed. The ache in my chest and the restlessness of my soul were indicative of spiritual forces at work around me. The chaos of getting children to bed amid the din of riotous celebrations mirrored the revolution going on in my heart as I fought to “cast down imaginations…and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

The flashing lights that hung on ever house to summon the goddess of wealth to come bearing gifts did nothing to lift the dark cloud hovering over my soul. I prayed and slept in short intervals until finally new mercies found daylight. Golden rays slipped between the gaps in the curtains we used to separate us from the world the night before. I pulled them slowly apart. There was stillness in the street. Though the smell of incense lingered and some holiday lights had been left on, there was little evidence of all that had been done in the darkness. I drank my morning cup in peace, whispering prayers of thanks for the hope I have not in a yearly visit from a revered goddess but in a living God who loves me and sees me in the middle of the darkest night.

We moved from the hub of the city to a more rural location last year. Holi came a few months later, and my experience was totally different. It was quiet, still — at least near my home. We had walked to the town square for bread and saw the crowd, the lights, and the decorations hinting at the evening’s events. We passed busy shops shelling out plastic bags of colored powders, copper vessels, and candles manipulated in a precise manner to appease demanding divinities. I knew what was going on, but this time, I had a peaceful place to retreat.

Although the group of teens staying in the Camp lodging below our apartment made far too much noise for me to get any quality of sleep, my children slept soundly. Bedtime was a breeze, and our prayers were not drowned out by chanting and bells. Dinner was even provided for us by the team of cooks serving up food downstairs. Best of all, instead of all the clamor of the Hindu celebrations, I heard the beautiful sound of raised voices worshiping God. The contrast brought me to my knees in thankfulness and joy. Goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes spoke what I couldn’t quite articulate. This is too good.

When God put the idea for a Bible camp on our hearts, we weren’t sure what it would all mean. For one night a year, I know, it is truly a safe place for me and for the believers gathered below my little home. I can’t get over that the Lord would gift this to me as a reward for a shaky “yes” to an intimidating new ministry venture and an unusual living situation. I can see how the Lord will use this property to draw people away from worldly influence and nearer to Him. How LOUD our praise can be we can be when we aren’t competing with pagan worship from every side!

This seclusion is our sanctuary. Though we enter into the darkness to pull people out as the Lord allows, we can always retreat to a place of worship, a place set aside for the Lord to speak to us. May my home provide refuge for my family and all those who enter in. I pray my heart will be at rest even on the hardest days of life and ministry in a place that can feel completely devoid of His presence. I carry His presence with me in the quietness of my home and the stillness of my heart. Its volume can fill the void and cover the noise. Oh, God, I pray it would.

Do you have a place of Refuge?
Tell me about it in the comment section below!

The Scum on the Surface: Our Sin & God’s Sanctifying Work

I have a friend who has always said, “The mission field brings the scum to the surface.” It is true that sress brings out whatever lies inside of the cross-cultural worker. What is ugly and hidden comes into plain view as life and ministry become more challenging. When I got to the field, I found out she was right! I had been confident in God and in the role He had given me to play in His kingdom prior to our big move. but not one thing went as planned. Facing lies I long held and sin I harbored was painful, but God meant it for my good.

The scum scares us because we know its potential for disaster. It can spread, touching every corner of your life. It can spill its poison on all our relationships. At the will of our Enemy, the scum can demolish our testimony and take down our ministries, but we are not helpless! We have a choice to rip it from the devil’s grip and thrust it into the hands of our Savior who does all things well.

Scum becomes a tool in our lives to make us more like Him — more pure and more fit for His service. The Lord can transform the scum into a cleansing scrub digging deep into our pores pulling all the toxins out. The rubbing is rough, and we walk away sore and scathing but healthier for it. What is dirty, rough and scrapes you till we are bloody is the best thing for us. There is no risk/benefit assessment with God. All His work in our lives is for our good. Do we believe it enough to surrender to the work — even when it stinks? Even when it hurts?

We can do a few things to aid God in His scum-sanctifying work:

Fill Up on God’s Word

First, we can be diligent to fill ourselves with the truth of God’s word. When we face the horror of our sin erupting from within, we anchor ourselves with what we know to be true, good and holy. We remind ourselves that the scum is not who we are but evidence of our brokenness. The scum shows our need for God and the areas in our lives that have been weakened by the world’s lies. We can arm ourselves against the enemy who threatens to bring death from our diseased state. What is intended to harm brings healing through the knowledge of God and submission of the scum into His hands. If we are not intentional now to seek and study Scriptural truth, we won’t have anything to grasp at when our sin steps up to take us down.

Repent of Your Sin

I love this quote from Rosaria Butterfield, “Repentance is bittersweet business; Repentance is not just a conversion exercise, it is the posture of the Christian, much like ‘tree’ or ‘full lotus’ is the posture of the Yogi. Repentance is our daily fruit, our hourly washing…” Every day as we sense the scum rising, we must repent of every ounce of it and then ask the Lord to reveal everything we’ve missed. By His grace, we rebound from repentance, ready to do the work before us with diligence. Minutes later, when the scum begins to bubble up again, we can stop its poisonous spread by the power of the knowledge of God.

Be Filled by the Holy Spirit

We fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit so that our weakness is upheld by the power of God. I have not borrowed a phrase here from our idolatrous culture encouraging you to wield some innate power residing inside of you. If you are a follower of Christ and have called out to Him for salvation you have the power of God working working His will within you. When the pressures of life and ministry blow up a scum-storm, the Holy Spirit is able and willing to stir the whole of it into a healing potion for God’s purposes. We receive this command to do nothing but open our hands and hearts to to the Giver of good gifts as we obey the statutes of Scriptures. He does not fear the scum so we don’t have to run away from it either. 

Submit to God’s Healing Work

The scum is both the breaking down and the building up. The scum is not the enemy, though it can be a tool for the Enemy. We must give God our scum and allow Him use for our sanctification as He works His perfect will out of the mess we bring Him. He never scoffs at the unfit components because He is the master of all mediums. Give Him all of you today. Don’t hold anything the back. He will use all of it for His ultimate glory. Submit yourself to the healing, cleansing work today. We have no power in ourselves to scrub away the scum, but we can surrender it into the Lord’s hands. He has never failed to do good to those that love Him, and He won’t start with you or me.

What is God using in your life to bring the scum to the surface? 

What steps can you take to surrender it to Him today?

Discontentment v. Biblical Progress

Our family has started pulling away from social media over the last year as we have seen its constant influence become toxic to our thinking patterns. Perhaps the filters are falling off as sellers push harder and our guards have been let down by idleness and pent up frustration with current events. The pendulum swings from nauseatingly fake to “too real” and I have whiplash from scrolling sessions. At one time, I reached a point where I had to delete all my apps. I knew that my discontentment and influence-ability was off the charts, and I was not in a good place to be browsing around the web where the Enemy lurks behind the grid seeking vulnerable prey.

Discontentment Sells

Discontentment is one of his most utilized weapons. Sadly, discontentment sells. It sells in America. It sells in my host-country and all over the world. Our hearts are unknowable, both deceptive and easy to be deceived. Discontentment is a lever on our backs effortlessly manipulated, forcing our hands to reach for more. A well-targeted ad, a craftily worded blog post, pro-level photography of happy families in matching pajamas. We are being sold dissatisfaction over and over again, and we don’t think anything about it until we are sick with buyer’s remorse.

“Get a better body in 8 weeks,” or “Transform your home with 1 can of paint” — no matter the tagline, the message is the same: your life and the person behind your feed is not acceptable as is. We don’t want who you are so you better change. I’m not immune to this message living overseas because it’s everywhere and it’s effective. 

Biblical Progress Gives

Progress is the key word of this DIY culture. Every purchase decision and lifestyle change is inching us closer to an illusive perfection. Discontentment fuels economies and fills bank accounts, but it does nothing for the soul. The Scripture is anti-discontentment, but it is pro-progress. Biblical progress is vastly different than what the world teaches us it is. Knowing we are fully accepted as we are frees us to live the counter-cultural life — a higher and better life to Him, through Him, and for Him.

Biblical progress is growing in grace and brotherly love as we are truly satisfied in Christ. It is completely the opposite message than the one we gulp down like Gatorade with the rest of the thirsty world. The Biblical message seems harder to swallow, but it is life-giving rather than soul-starving. We are challenged not to DIY our way to an enviable life but to surrender to being unseen by the world but intimately known by God. We are to commit ourselves to live in contentment the calling to pursue Jesus and love others well.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.And having food and raiment (clothing) let us be therewith content”

1 Timothy 6:6-10

“…but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.”). 

1 Thessalonians 4:9-11

The word study here tells us that this endeavor does not happen without concentrated effort. It is a discipline that must be cultivated, and we are to work at it every day. Social media, streaming channels, or inspirational bloggers may be enemies to Biblical progress. We may need to do the difficult task of rooting these influences out of our lives because the stakes are higher than we realize. Discontentment pulls our hearts away from the giver of all good gifts and bows our hearts to things and to people so sadly undeserving of our worship. Discontentment breeds idolatry.

The rewards of our diligent efforts to live a counter-cultural life of contentment are many. Beyond the joy of growing in communion with God, Biblical progress provides a testimony of godliness to unbelievers giving us more influence for the cause of Christ. Biblical progress stirs up good works among the people of God. As we delight in the Lord and live peaceably with one another, our fellowship brings glory to Him. Finally, Biblical progress holds promise for the peace we pursue in each one of our failed DIY efforts. 

Content in Christ, we can see that we lack nothing. Only then, will we abound in all we truly need. Only then, will we not have much use for influencers. We finally won’t be buying what they’re selling. 

Have you been sold discontentment?
What steps can you take toward Biblical progress?
Talk to me in the comment section below!

I Accidentally Bought a Crop Top

Mom of three. Missionary. Owner of a crop top. Thank you, Target for making me an anomaly.

I’m not knocking your love of shortened blouses if that’s your thing. It’s not mine, yet here I am with a midriff baring t-shirt I have no use for. “Well, why did you buy it, Amber?” I’m glad you asked.

I was shopping with a friend who graciously took me on a fully-funded Target run when we landed Stateside. Our needs at the time were overwhelming. I had been sharing with my family that we were “unraveling.” Our daughter landed in America wearing socks provided by the airline because she was in possession of no pair of her own. The sandals she stuffed them in were no better as sequins dangled on loosened threads, the pink pleather straps barely hanging on. Our clothes were golden evidences of curries consumed long ago and the muddy waters which fled rusty pipes and flowed into our washing machine dying threads to match our surroundings.

I chose bedding for each of our three children to make our temporary living arrangement feel more like home and also because I was not yet in the emotional state necessary to navigate shopping for children’s clothing in this unknown territory. I tossed some makeup, shampoo, and a LEGO puzzle into my cart — because what is a Target run without an impulse purchase? We circled around to the women’s section where I passed flowing skirts and trendy tie-dyed sets in search for the perfect pair of sweatpants. I thumbed my way through stacked hangers to find my size which had become considerably smaller since the last time I lived in the US (I trust my time here will send my hips back in the other direction). I began looking for a tee to match the joggers in which I had no intention of exercising.

I pushed my cart from table to table, pulling out t-shirts and holding them up to examine. 1/3 of each shirt was mysteriously missing. Emerging from my jet-lagged stupor, I understood the 2/3 length t-shirts were actually crop-tops as images of Pinterest #ootds flooded my memory. Fashion trends were of no relevance to me when we lived a world away, but now I felt particularly victimized by them. I just wanted a whole t-shirt. By this time, exhaustion and confusion had taken over, and I added a boxy black tee to my commercial collection. Maybe it’s longer than it looks, I thought. It wasn’t.

I wore this top for the first time in two months of ownership with a camisole tucked in at the waist. While I’m certainly fond of the marks that represent the children I’ve brought into this world, I have no interest in sharing them with the general public. My look isn’t worthy of imitation, but I remain thankful to be wearing clothes fully raveled. I looked in the mirror and shrugged, grabbing my keys to jump in the van to commence my next crazed shopping experience.

I’ve come to terms with my life in the States or in my host country never being a perfect fit. It almost feels normal and right. I almost belong in Nepal when I am there, and I almost sense that I fit in the States when I am here. Yet, there is always that last little bit that doesn’t feel quite comfortable, forever a nagging notion that I’ve changed too much to truly find something that wholly suits me. The moments are many when I am vulnerable and exposed like the flab of flesh at my waistline my kids like to grab and squish around.

Any sense of belonging is an illusion at best and at worst a red flag that I have become too close a companion to the world. Here or there, an ill-fitting life is a good sign that I am mimicking the life of Jesus who I so long to be like. Jesus left a royal throne to walk dusty streets among humans who did not care to His message. He shed His divine beauty as He wrapped Himself in human flesh, reported to be of no particular physical appeal — no doubt a poor fit. That did not stop Him from carrying out His mission, stretching shaking arms to become a banner of love nailed to a sinner’s cross.

A Savior who is willing to do that for me is also eager to help me as I cope with the parts of life and ministry that do not suit me. I can depend on Him to mold me into His image as I seek to do His work of reconciliation wherever I am. When I feel vulnerable, exposed, and lost I can trust Him to pull me in, covering me with His perfect love. Even when I am just lost on a Target run, suffering the particular persecution of material overwhelm, I can count on His comfort and peace.

He has used an accidental crop-top purchase to remind me of my need of Him, and that’s what I need most of all.

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