The Mission or The Maker?

I was six days away from my next trip to Haiti when all of the flights were canceled and the boarders shut down. Up until the last moment, I was determined to go. My bags were packed, my mind already there on the dusty streets of the nation I’d left my heart in. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. It took the government shutting down the country for me to be still.

I was crushed. I’ve devoted my life as a missionary to the children of Haiti and, in an instant, I was no longer allowed to see them (and for who knows how long). One of my boys there called… “When are you coming back?” I could hear the fear in his voice. Fear of another loved one leaving and never returning again. My heart ached. For the first time, I had to respond with, “I don’t know.” I refuse to use the word promise with these children. They’ve lived through too many broken promises. But everything within me wanted to promise him that I’d come back soon. I know, God willing, I’ll return to Haiti…but that little boy doesn’t. He can’t. Nothing has ever been certain for him. Despite the nine trips I’ve taken in the last two years, these kids have suffered through so much loss that they can’t afford to trust me at my word. Trauma has broken them too many times. Walls have been built around their hearts; walls only Jesus can tear down.

I am thankful for my safety. For my health and my family’s health here at home during this pandemic. Coronavirus is a threat to be careful in dealing with. I understand the blessing in being here. Yet, I can’t pretend that I didn’t sink into a deep depression after being stranded away from the other half of my family. What I see as my purpose, my place in God’s mission, suddenly felt threatened by restrictions with no end date. I was left alone with a new, harsh reality; the realization that a huge piece of myself was incredibly unhealthy and broken. What this time of quarantine is teaching me is that I’ve allowed my focus on missions to overshadow my focus on Christ himself.

Day after day, I’d lay in the darkness of my room and find it hard to get up out of bed. It’s hard to admit, but I felt a sense of hopelessness; all because I was being kept from the mission field. When, all along, the One who I’m on mission for has been right here by my side. God IS the purpose of all I’ve done and will do in Haiti…but what if He took Haiti away from me? What if overseas missions work was suddenly off the table? Would I still feel fulfilled? Would I still have a sense of purpose? Would my heart still stir with passion for serving? Would I still see God as good if all I have worked for was gone?

…Am I more in love with the mission or The Maker?

The truth that I couldn’t answer that question with instant, honest devotion to Him above all else was devastating. It brought me to my knees…a kind of pain I don’t have words for. There are a million reasons why the walls built up around my heart exist. But, why have I been keeping God on the outside? Why have I jumped ahead to deeper and deeper relationships with His children than with Jesus Himself? How could I forget to stop and work on transparency, depth, and faithfulness to Him that transcends anything I’d ever give to humankind?

There is a reason why I’m here and not in Haiti right now; why it all played out this way. This realization had to take place for me to ever be a truly effective missionary. God has to be the source of my strength, the foundation of my being…my greatest and first love. I must be so wrapped up in my feelings for Him that all else is simply overflow. I want my children, both here and in Haiti, to remember me for my love of Jesus. If there’s nothing else I accomplish in my time on earth…may loving Him well be my sole mission.

In the coming weeks, as I’m waiting for the world to begin moving again, I will set aside all my striving. I will breathe Him in and allow Him to change me in a way only He can. Without Him, there is no mission. At the core of who I am, there is only Jesus.

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Chasing The Lost

I thought about not mentioning this trip, as I find myself in Haiti again. This wasn’t planned. This isn’t a happy trip. This is the broken, battle-ready heart of missions. When things don’t make for fun posts and pretty pictures.

I’m here to fight for the one. The lost sheep that God’s heart is after. The one who is rooted so deeply in generational sin and this world’s burdens that most would call him a lost cause. But NOTHING is lost to Jesus.

I have been here before; this place where things seem absolutely hopeless. Which is how I know that hope is here and this sponsor son of mine is worth it…to come this far just to sit with him in the mess and the pain. To fight with everything inside of me for his future. Please pray for this trip. That God’s power would come rushing in and miracles would happen. That His will be done.

I refuse to look at another empty chair, with only a memory to hold on to. This is the darkness that missions was made for.

Haiti And The Heart Of God

It was my third mission trip to the mountains of Haiti, where an orphanage full of children hold pieces of my heart that I know I’ll never get back. My specific reason for traveling there had been to continue my work individually with a group of children who not only have special needs, but have experienced trauma above and beyond our deepest fears and nightmares. I thought I was at least a little prepared for the week, having begun research on working with those affected by trauma and gearing up for official training on the subject. God had reassured me that, though I still have much to learn, the most important thing I can possibly do is to love them. To hold them and make sure that they begin to understand that someone sees their pain, understands their emotions, knows of their past…and still believes they are destined for greatness. One main goal was to start to build the bridge of hope and trust; to prove to them that I value them and am committed for the long haul. To begin to share bits of my own personal story of trauma and meet them in the pain. There are few words more powerful than, “You are not alone.”

I soon learned that there is no preparation for hearing stories of the devastation of those you love. Though I’ve been through abuse, rape and other physical and emotional trauma myself, nothing could have prepared my heart for what I’d learn about the people of Haiti. Stories of the past experiences of these precious children hit my heart with violent force and, even after my return to the states, have left me with pain that weighs heavy and often overtakes me. To go back to “life as normal” feels impossible. In a matter of moments, everything had changed. I had changed…and there’s no going back.

I have moved through the past few days in a fog. I go from desperately praying through tears, to becoming numb and not finding the words or strength to pray at all. The enemy’s been whispering temptations to fall into old habits of coping with this level of pain. More times than I can count, sudden urges to drink the pain away or put up walls of seclusion from family and friends have felt impossible to resist. Yet, I’m held by a God who is using this very pain to draw me to Himself. And so I remain still and focused on The One who’s called me from darkness to light.

I’m finding it hard to sum up this trip for those who’ve supported me; to express in words what happened and how God worked in and through me. All that I keep coming back to is the reality that, in feeling this ocean of pain for these children, I’m being given a small glimpse into the heart of God. The pain of His people stirring more and more compassion within and transforming me into someone whose past no longer defines her, but glorifies her Savior and brings healing to the hearts of others. This gift is beyond words and worth every sacrifice. I’m humbled that a calling like this would be placed on my life; infinitely thankful that His grace is taking what was once death and destruction and replacing it with victory. My heart will ever belong to Jesus…The One who loved me at my darkest.

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Resurrection Child

I was born on Easter morning. I was raised to believe that this meant I should really like bunnies and baskets full of candy. Which I do, because of the cute and the chocolate, but that’s not what the holiday means to me today. I actually struggled for many years to figure out my personal views on Easter. For some reason I felt numb…until the pieces fit.

I was a victim of verbal abuse as a child. The message I received: I was a worthless failure. It was my identity. Nothing I did was ever good enough so, my sense of value became tied to what I did rather than who I was. I was a disappointment and a burden in my mother’s eyes. She made little to no effort to hide it. This formed my reality; the image I saw when I looked in the mirror. I was a slave to my shortcomings, always feeling pressured to be impossibly perfect, and always missing the mark. I couldn’t escape the feeling that, no matter how hard I tried, I would never be worthy of love or respect. This led me straight into the arms of an abusive boyfriend after high school graduation. In my mind, physical, sexual and verbal abuse seemed to be exactly what I deserved. Pain was my normal. Before I knew it, two more years of my life were gone. By the time I realized that I needed to escape the relationship, I was staring death in the face. He had completely lost control, and I had completely lost myself. The grace of God landed me back home. Physically in one piece, but emotionally shattered, I couldn’t see beyond the pain. I couldn’t understand what needed to be done. Instead of reaching out for help, I entered another unhealthy relationship. One that ended in rape.

Being raped flipped a final switch in me. I felt cold. Empty. Defeated…and alone. Completely and utterly alone, in the depths of a sorrow I couldn’t bear the weight of. Less than a year later, I attempted suicide. The pain was too great and what I felt I had to live for was too small. I believed the lives of those around me would either be untouched by my absence, or improved by it. I chased a bottle of pills with a bottle of alcohol and went to sleep.

What should have killed me didn’t. I don’t know why. All I know is that I’m thankful. I wasn’t thankful immediately, but immediately I knew that there was a reason God had kept me alive. He’d saved me from my abusers and he’d saved me from myself. I had a chance to begin again. I wish I could say that I picked myself up that day and started a new life…but I didn’t. I didn’t know how. Not at first. I had no idea what kind of person I was beneath it all. I only knew the labels my abusers had given me, and those only led me further down the wrong path. I knew God was there. I knew He was waiting. I didn’t know how to accept what He had to offer.

Then Easter came around again. I listened to another sermon in another seat in another church, the same way I had my entire life. This time, He captured me. Deep inside, beyond the wreckage that had been my life up until that moment, my entire being shifted and I stood face-to-face with GRACE. The message of the cross clicked. Christ’s body broken. For me. Not the me I was dying to become, or the me I’d been told I was…the me that I had been all along; the me He created. God’s intense suffering, chosen. Willingly chosen. For me. For the first time in my life I realized that, there in my darkness…in the evil, disgusting, utterly terrifying spaces of my life…He chose to be. At the greatest of all costs…

I was chosen. 

Today, because of His grace in my darkness, I am living a new life. I’m married to an amazing (and respectful…and gentle…and kind…) man. I am the mother to four incredible children. I am a photographer. I am a writer. I minister to families of children with disabilities and to recovering victims of abuse. I am a survivor. I am a warrior. My identity is no longer forged by my scars, but by His truth: I am a daughter of The King. This chapter of my story exists because of His saving grace; because of what Easter represents: There is no sin too dark, no hurt too deep. He has overcome it…and so can we.

We are made truly alive because of His death. With Him, we are resurrected. From unwanted to cherished. From defeated to conquerors. From victims to victorious. From chained…to FREE. Not because we have earned it or deserve it, but because HE. IS. LOVE.

…and love always wins.

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An Uncensored Prayer

Father,

You already know. In the depths of my being, you hear the words I can’t bring myself to say.

You understand what breaks me; what has broken me. You are here. In my hiding away, in my pretending…you patiently hold my hand and wait. You’ve always been here, and ‘thank you’ could never be enough.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just keep making the same mistakes. I can’t seem to get past this and I don’t know how to fix it. You’ve spoken perfect truth into my life but I can’t seem to own it. I don’t know how to see myself as worthy of your love; as worthy of any love at all. Please. Help me. Help me understand what it is that you could possibly see in me…because all I hear is the echo of their voices. All I feel are the hands that hurt me.

God, I’m so tired. I’m at my end. I’m angry and I’m afraid and I’m screaming on the inside; it hurts so much that it’s burying me alive. I know you have a plan and I know you’re in control…but I’m shaken. I’m lost in the heaviness of the past and the present combined. You’ve trusted me with much, but I don’t feel trustworthy. I feel like a failure. I feel alone.

…but you’ve shown me that I can’t trust my feelings. You are all I need. You are clear, constant truth.

I love you.

For meeting me in my brokenness, for embracing me in my fear. For never giving up on me. For all you’ve done and all you will do. For being who you are, and for loving me despite who I’ve been.

Thank you for reminding me, here in the stillness, that nothing is truly lost with you. That no matter how big I screw up, or how deeply damaged they’ve left me, you can use it. The pain that almost destroyed me, the disgusting shame, the scars that have slowly faded, and the scars no one can see…you can use all that was meant to harm me for good. You turn the battle around on the enemy and rescue me. Not just rescue, but redeem. You are for me, no matter who is against me.

Because of you, my scars don’t define me. My past doesn’t determine my future.

I know my prayers lately have been shallow. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines, feeling defeated. I’ve lost my focus, Lord, but today I pray you’d light the fire again. Burn into my being your truth; the truth that sets me free. The real, raw, beautiful love that you stand for…that you are. That you’ve created me to live in and give away. Help me take the memories and the troubling thoughts captive. Help me see the enemy’s lies for what they are. Help me to see past my circumstances and remember that you’ve equipped me for this battle. We’re in this fight together and, when I can’t fight anymore…I will obey, as it tells me to in your Word, and be still. I will lay down my pride and rest in you, knowing you will fight for me.

Search me, Jesus. Reveal me. Show me who you’ve created me to be. Show me how to let love in. Soften my heart and, at the same time, help me be courageous so that I can stand and fight again.

Amen.

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To The Ones Who Abused Me

I can hardly put it into words, the depth of this pain. Everything within me shudders at the thought of even being here in this moment; walking into this darkness, approaching the past. The truth is that you haunt me. You invade my thoughts, uninvited. I carry the shame of a thousand sins I didn’t commit. I’m suffocating beneath the weight of all that your words, and your hands, have done.

You left me there, in the dark. Naked and alone. Too afraid to move, I couldn’t escape the reality that I was in too deep. I blamed myself. I went numb. Any sense of who I truly was had been stripped away. Overwhelmed by fear, in that moment I knew that if I didn’t find a way to leave you…you would kill me.

These memories imprison me. This fear of approaching the subject of you, and all the ways you hurt me, has kept me from experiencing the freedom to fully live. Instead, I’ve been slowly dying. A silent screaming, nightmare having, sobbing in the shower kind of emotional death. I wondered for the longest time if this was all I’d ever feel. This despair.

Years have passed since my escape and, though I may be just an afterthought to you now, I’m left struggling to pick up the pieces. I’m shattered. The very fabric of my being torn apart at the hands of your rage. I have a life now that is beyond anything I’d ever dreamed was possible. A family who brings joy to my aching soul. Yet, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that I don’t deserve it. The tapes that you recorded for me replay in my mind, assuring me that I’m damaged goods. That, one day, it will all fall apart. That nothing good can possibly come from someone like me.

All that is within me longs for justice. For peace. A peace that God’s been holding out to me. It’s within my reach. Yet, I’ve been avoiding the call to be obedient. The call to bless those who curse me. To pray for those who abuse me (Luke 6:28). I’ve been choosing to allow this fear to reign in me. In a place that He’s already called His own. Though there’s no way to erase what you’ve done to me, there is one way to rebuild myself. To create new life where you’d once created chaos. There is healing; mending in the midst of this brokenness that can only come if I do the one thing that feels hardest right now…

Forgiveness.

So, I’m making the choice…I forgive you. I’m walking away. Holding on to all of this anger, this fear, and this despair is only destroying what’s left of me. I’m leaving what you’ve done in the hands of God, in exchange for freedom; in exchange for hope. Forgiving you doesn’t make what you’ve done okay, but it makes me available to live my life. To truly experience His grace and mercy. Forgiving you gives me the freedom to love and be loved again. Your sins are no longer my sins. Your shame is no longer my shame. You have no power over me.

I’m letting go of you and I’m grabbing on to joy. When those moments of pain and fear come back to haunt me, one moment at a time, I will surrender them to The One who will hold you accountable. One moment at a time, I will have my life back. I pray that you somehow overcome whatever hurt has caused you to abuse the ones you love. I pray that His light would shine into the darkness of your life. I pray that, one day, you’ll choose forgiveness too.

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