My sister Peggy Lively and I just completed our 16th marathon in our 16th state. We have high hopes of completing one in all 50 states. We are often asked, "Why in the world are y'all doing this crazy thing?". Honestly, we just fell into it. Maybe I shouldn't use the word "fall" when talking about marathons. But truly, we've sorta gone into this adventure blindly (hmmm, another poor word for safely accomplishing 26.2 miles). Before my first marathon, I had never run in ANY race. Well, I do remember the three-legged race on field day in elementary school, and that wasn't very pretty, at all. Peggy and I can't explain it; something came over the both of us at the same time and within only minutes, we both decided to "just do it". And so, the 50 marathons in 50 states began.
With this being number "sweet sixteen", I took a moment to think about the marathons to date, and these are the things we have gained in this journey:
Togetherness. Our marathon weekends, believe it or not, are therapeutic for the both of us. We cover a lot of ground even sitting in our hotel room as we listen to each other's triumphs and trials of life. We laugh a lot, and we cry too. Also, throughout the weekend and the race, we pray for the particular state we are in. We pray for ministries, schools, communities, government, marriages, and families. The 26.2 miles cover not only the roads within the cities we walk, but our words reach heaven's throne with fervent faith. These extra long treks have helped me understand the meaning of "persevering in prayer" (from Eph. 6:18), and it helps me stay the course when I get back home.
Outreach. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). Both Peggy and I have come to realize that the marathon weekends are about much more than the 5 1/2 hour-ish trek on marathon day. It's about the people we meet (airplane passengers, hotel managers, marathon participants) and the friends and family we visit (old neighbors, nieces and nephews, ministry partners). I will not be able to express in a small paragraph the giant things God has done in and through our travels. Our hopeful goal each time we go to these cities is to spread the love of Christ and encourage others in their own personal journey. Just like a marathon, life is not a feel-good-all-the-time-experience, and if Peggy and I can help encourage someone even a little bit, we call it a successful weekend. In our different travels, we've met complete strangers and they are now dear friends. We've reconnected with people from years past. As a result, the blessings of these relationships have been immense. I'm excited for what's in store.
Adventure. I must add here that our dear mother sends Peggy and me off with some spending money each and every trip. Bless her for making these trips doable. She supports "our mission", which is real simple: live full, love well, and pray much. With that being said, who knew we would go to a World Series game in St.Louis, or see the Grand Canyon in AZ, or peer out into the Atlantic ocean in Maine, or go to the Dairy Queen in North Dakota? That's pretty awesome for this introvert who loves her comfy chair in the confines of her own four walls! I'm thankful for each of these trips and eager for more. God knew I needed to GET UP and GO FORWARD...to His people and to His world. I'm thankful for the privilege.
I finish these memorable moments with an encouraging word for your very own marathon of life. Hear the Forerunner say:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
Over the next several days, I will be posting thoughts and pictures of my recent mission trip to Haiti. This project will look much like theEthiopian Scrapbook, that can also be viewed on my website. Today's post is entitled Unity and One-ness.
Months before our team's trip to Haiti, I know that I know that I know the Lord wanted me to pray for unity among our team. We had 21 members of various ages from teenagers to 60's, so the diversity was obviously present. Therefore...I obeyed...and prayed (along with others) that the Lord would put His sweet blessing of unity within our group.
The main passage I claimed is found in Ephesians 4:1-6:
I therefore, prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
I'm so thankful to report that God answered this prayer in rich and beautiful ways. The 5 adult men encouraged the 4 young men in their 20's, who encouraged the 3 teenage guys. Likewise, the 2 older women, loved on and laughed with the 7 younger ladies in the group, who each contributed to the unified bond. We worked side by side all day, and then "circled up" together at night to share the great things that God had done in and through us.Thank you Lord, that Your bond of peace held us together while we were in Haiti. I pray that each of us would desire Your unity back home--may Your Spirit infiltrate our families, our friendships, our workplace, and our churches. Amen.
page 2-- One-ness
The verse that immediately follows the passage mentioned above is Ephesians 4:7
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Inside the unity is individuality, and it was remarkable in our group. We had surgeons, medical doctors, and nursing students, all giving their knowledge and skill in the jungled-hills of Haiti. We had creative Young Life leaders who played games, and taught God's word, and poured out love to the children of Hands and Feet. We had a work crew that pounded large rock, and shoveled the small gravel to help the new development on the grounds. And we had those who gave spiritually through sharing the Good News and prayer. The one true God... poured Himself out through each one of us.
Dear Lord, make us confident in how you made us. Cause us to shine Your glory in this appointed place. Help us not to crave someone else's gift, but to rise up to the great work You have already designed for each our lives. Amen
Yesterday, I submitted pages 1 and 2 of my Haitian Scrapbook; today, here are pages 3 and 4, entitled Creature Comforts and The Creator Comforts.
page 3--Creature Comforts
Today as I sit with my warm cup of sweet creamy coffee in my over-stuffed chair, I reflect on last week's trip to Haiti. Like I said in my last post, there were 9 women on our team; 7 of these ladies are age 22 or under, and then there is my dear friend Brenda Jeffries and me. Our ages DOUBLED the years of these pretty young things.
Neither Brenda nor I ever considered ourselves in the "high maintenance" category of women; however, spending a week in Haiti gave me a new perspective on this term. Brace yourself, I am about to complain.
1. There are big hairy spiders in Haiti. Oh my!
2. It was HOT. A kind of HOT I've never experienced. I knew I had sweat pores, but wow, my sweat has never poured so much--7 days/nights non-stop.
3. Electricity is not over-rated. The lights and anything plugged in (like a fan) turned off about 2 am until 8 am. Getting dressed in the early morning was quite an adventure for all. (I lost my right eye-contact on the bathroom floor--thought it was best to not look for it.)
4. Unfamiliar food to the taste is also unfamiliar to the GI tract. Over half our team found ourselves running (literally) to the nearest potty the second half of the trip.
5. Haiti driving can be compared to going the wrong direction during an intense Nascar race. However, instead of race cars, you're dealing with oncoming trucks and donkeys and motorcycles and pedestrians with baskets on their heads. I actually thoughtour sardined-packed van just might drive on through the pearly gates a few times as we whipped around mountain curves in the passing lane.
Okay, am I spoiled rotten or what?! When stripped away of all these creature comforts that seem so basic, I saw the real me... and it wasn't all that pretty...
page 4--The Creator Comforts
I want the real me to know Jesus... the spoiled rotten me. I want Him to come in and speak to me there. Then I want Him to take over and clean me out and fill me up, so that I can pour Him out to others, not my complaints. God is faithful and ever-present and gives us what we need exactly when we need it. But sometimes He has to take something away first to show us just how needy we are. Then, He graciously meets us in this place. He is able to come closer than ever before...
The heavenly presence of God did show up in the earthly absence of things while in Haiti. As I, and the rest of the team, received comfort from the Lord throughout the week, He replaced our neediness with immense love for the Haitians, joyful laughter in the van rides, and beautiful bonding time
as we shared together at night. Where we were weak, He became strong.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26
Yes, may I always desire my Creator who comforts more than the creature comforts of this world.
Here are the last two pages of my Haitian Scrapbook, entitled Depravity and Hope.
When talking with a missionary who is currently living in Haiti, he stated this fact: The struggles of sin may be different from nation to nation, but the common denominator for all people worldwide is the innate depravity of the human heart. Well said.
The bible confirms this statement: The heart is deceitful above all things , and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
The Haitian's heart may wrestle with voodoo and greed and sexual promiscuity, while the American heart may wrestle with materialism and self-centeredness and...sexual promiscuity. And then there's other nations, like France and Italy, who wrestle with living for the moment and complete non-interest of God and...sexual promiscuity.
Let the every tribe, tongue, and people group face this truth together: we are all depraved.And like the picture beside these words, we're left in darkness.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned said; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:2
But there is hope for all nations!The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (I John 4:14).
In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5). So there you have it, Jesus Light of the world, is our only hope. When we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, He enters our messy hearts, cleans us up with His overwhelming love, and then sets us in right standing before Him.
THEN, the amazing thing is this--Jesus calls usthe light of the world. (Matt. 5:14). Webecome His lamp-bearers and are now called to go into to the world (our own homes, our classrooms, our workplaces, across the street, and across the ocean) to bear this marvelous light. What a privilege!
I will finish my HaitianScrapbook with pictures, pictures, pictures. My son Bink went to Haiti for 3 months...to be a light for Christ. He was able to touch lives of both children and of workmen, day in and day out. We then joined him as a family with our team for his last week at the Hands and Feet Project. There is no greater joy for me on this earth than to be a powerful force of radiant Light while serving alongside my husband and children. The trip to Haiti, for this reason, was an immense blessing to me. I will be forever thankful.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe tho the Lord the glory due His name. Psalm 96:4-8
Do you have someone in your life that you have invested so much of your time, energy, and effort into concerning God’s love? You’ve given your heart, soul, mind, and strength to this person, desperately wanting him or her to know and understand who the Lord Jesus is and all that He has to offer. Through your loving words and Christlike ways, you’ve plowed the field, you’ve dug up the rocks, you’ve pulled out the roots, you’ve planted the seeds, you’ve watered, and you’ve waited. And the result is….nothing. You’re tired.
I have a couple of young friends that have won a place in my heart; I love them with God’s love so it’s deep and rich and full. Right now, when it comes to each of them believing in Jesus Christ as their Savior, there seems to be only an empty plowed up field. Rows of nothing. Will the blinders ever come off their eyes? Will they ever bend their knee to His love? Will they ever receive His grace, His mercy, His peace?
Will I ever get to see a small green shoot pressing through the deep rich soil?
This is when I must turn to God’s word, and claim His promises. To the same degree I want my young friends to believe in God as Savior, I must also believe in Him as Promise Keeper–the one Who keeps His word. I must have faith too! I must leave no room for doubting Him in my own heart… this is the very thing I am asking of my loved ones, isn’t it?
So, I will stand boldly on His promises, and wait, not with hopelessness, but with expectancy, because I believe in His word:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11
Keep your hands to the plow, my fellow co-laborer in Christ. Do not be discouraged when there seems to be nothing. God is at work in ways we cannot see; and He is working, right now. Trust Him. Water your seeds with steadfast love, ongoing prayer, unwavering faith, and expectant hope.
Then sooner (or later) you and I can rejoice in that tender green shoot sprouting up from the furrowed ground.
As I mentioned in my last post, I asked the Lord to "break my heart" as I traveled to Ethiopia on a missions trip with my daughter Emmy, my son Bink, and our family friend Christian. We were with an organization called Ordinary Hero whose primary goal is to "change the world for one." Over the next several posts in the next few days, I would like to share my Ethiopian experiences and photos with you. Here are the first two pages, labeled Seeking and Finding,of my Ethiopian Scrapbook:
Page 1-- Seeking
One of the places our team visited was Korah, a poverty sticken community that survives primarily through the provisional garbage dump that it sits next to. The first day we visited this village, I met several young children, one in particular whose name is Eshetu. This 15 year old boy was content to just sit by my side and smile; occasionally, we attempted broken conversations about his life and about Jesus. When it was time to go, we hugged and went our separate ways. The next day our team went back for another visit. I had barely stepped off the bus in Korah, and there was Eshetu, waiting for me. He sought me out, grabbed hold of my hand, and stuck close by me the entire day.
Page 2-- Finding
Also, during my first day at Korah, I went into a home, which was no more than a one room scrap metal shack. The mother of six who lived there proceeded to roast us coffee beans over some burning embers in a small pan so that she could welcome us properly. While waiting for the coffee to brew, I sat and talked to two young Ethiopian men, Kennedy 19 and Takley 21. They were both Christians, and I could tell by their peaceful expression and the words they spoke to me about Jesus, that they loved the Lord with all their heart. They told me that they were leading a group of young boys through Romans; I was so thrilled to hear this news! Somehow, I wanted to bless them. My team leaders said that they both needed money to help with their education. So, the next day, while holding Eshetu's hand (mentioned on page 1), I kept a keen eye out for Kennedy and Takley. It was about time to leave...and finally... I found them. When I blessed them with the financial gift, we rejoiced together as brothers and sister-in-Christ.
Thoughts on Seeking and Finding
During the time I was in Ethiopia, I know full well that I had to depend completely on the Lord to do the things that I did. All my senses are ulta-hyper, so the sights and smells of Korah were almost too much for my wimpy disposition. As I walked through the community, I found myself praying, Jesus come alive in me... please rise up in me...overcome me...claiming,it is not I, but Christ who lives in me. And then, by His grace, I would experience both His peace and joy to do all that He asked me to do in each particular moment I was there. So I was "Christ-like" when Eshetu sought me out, and clung to my side; and I was also "Christ-like" when I found Kennedy and Takley and blessed them. These actions made me think of my own personal walk with the Lord:
Do I seek Him, and cling to Him the way Eshetu did to me? The psamist says it well: O God you are my God; earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You... my soul clings to You; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:1, 8
And do I realize that Jesus pursues me and gives me blessing upon spiritual blessing when He finds me, the same way I did physically with Kennedy and Takley? And do I know that He rejoices with me in the blessing? Again scripture speaks to this: What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the niety-nine in the open pasture, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Luke 15:4-5
I am thankful for Eshetu, Kennedy, and Takley. They each tenderly broke my heart and brought me closer to my Savior. I will continue to pray that God will stay ever so close to them as they walk and live in desperate city of Korah.
How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Genesis 26:17
May we never forget your holiness. May we never cheapen your grace. Keep us mindful of your glorious presence so that we will whole-heartedly worship and humbly walk with you. Amen.