Who Does That?

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As you may, or may not, know, I’m a bit of a misfit. Wherever I go I tend to do the opposite of what others do to fit in. I don’t misbehave on purpose – it’s a special talent that I possess. This talent has been cultivated through years of shifting between cultures. It began years ago (I won’t say how many years ago) as I am born American to Finnish parents, raised in a Finnish community as a child, grew up in South Florida, and moved over to Africa where I have spent most of my life.

Who does that?

I’ve never fully fit anywhere. From the time I was in school, I knew I wasn’t destined for popularity. My parents’ English was lined with a nearly unintelligible accent that made fodder for the bullies. We lived frugally, that itself was a problem in a society that measures its members by what they look like and what they possess. Mom and Dad grew up in war-torn Finland where nothing was ever wasted; their experience obviously affected them deeply. Eating out was something we never did, we didn’t have up to date hairstyles and cool clothes.

School was a chore (imagine asking my parents an English grammar question in high school), life was difficult, and I tried to fit in and be part of the “in” crowd. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was never going to fit in. I decided to learn what was acceptable and what wasn’t; I then did my best to fade into the background. It was easier to go unnoticed than it was to be recognized for who I was – a real misfit.

And then I met Jesus. I have a lovely aunt who introduced me to Him and when He and I got acquainted, I found (for the first time) Someone Who accepted me without condition. I became one of those that brought Jesus into every conversation and people slowly adapted to my new and crazy identity.

Unbelievably even those who said they were acquainted with Jesus thought I was “over the top” with my commitment. While I fit with my Lord, I didn’t fit with those who were my new family. I became “that one” that is in every family – you know the one that makes everyone’s eyes roll when they come into the room? My misfit status remained firmly in place.

My hopes and dreams of doing something for God with my life slowly began to stifle under the same kind of pressure of fitting into what is “relevant” in our Christian circles. I tried to fill that mold as well and began to fade into the background of the noise of what was acceptable. It seemed there was no fitting in no matter where I turned.

What to do with me? Someone who was American but not? Someone who loved Jesus but was crazy? Someone who had dreams for a continent and no plan to get there?

There are few emotions that are as painful as feeling misunderstood and I was willing to go to great lengths to avoid that pain. While I had grown accustomed to being a loner, it didn’t mean I enjoyed the feeling. I slowly found myself bending the truth of who God had created me to be in order to avoid the pain of not fitting in. There was a certain level of misunderstanding and rejection I was prepared to endure, but I secretly hoped those feelings would diminish if and when I would ever find someone I could fit in with.

But that was not meant to be – fitting in is not meant to be for any of us. We are not born to fit in; we are born to stand out. We will “amen” to sermons on the subject, we’ll sing songs about being a chosen generation or being brave, but few have to courage required to live our lives boldly for God.

When God breaks into our lives and we let our walls of self-defense come down, it’s as if we undergo a personality change. I take courage in understanding that the Bible is full of misfits who found their fit when they gave up trying to fit in.

Moses didn’t fit into Egypt or Israel, and even when he spoke with God, he tried to find a way out. When he finally gave up, he led millions to freedom.

Caleb’s courage wasn’t welcome. The other spies and the entire nation of Israel rejected his faith to take the Promised Land. But he stuck to his commitment and he did get his mountain.

Esther was a Jewess in a Kingdom that had called for their deaths – but she found a way to gather her courage. She became part of Jesus’ earthly lineage.

Deborah was a prophetess leading a nation where women were second class compared to men. Yet she found the courage to lead the nation to victory.

Jesus who called Himself God, was rejected and crucified for His own. Yet love found a way to break through and the world is now filled with Christians because He lived His life “out loud.”

The common thread woven between all of these (and many others) was their abandon to self and image. The roads they chose were the roads less traveled by for sure, but I wonder what would have the alternative been for them? Lives lived under the microscope to please others and stay out of trouble?

When we live to fit in or please others, it’s much like paying a bribe. You pay once, and you will end up paying again. It’s best never to pay because it’s a bill you end up owing for the rest of your life.

The only One who is deliriously happy with you at all times is your Heavenly Father. God is your Father and His is the identity you possess and fighting to change that identity only serves to frustrate you and hold you back from rising up to who your Father has destined you to be.

What is the worst that could happen? We fear the unknown to the point of hindering us from fulfilling destiny.

What if I fail?

 What if I fall?

 What if I miss it?

 Where will the money come from?

 What if my family doesn’t understand?

Psalm 37:23,24 TLB “The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with His hand.”

God is more interested in your getting it right than you are – and He has the power to get you back on track if you take a wrong turn. He’s not in heaven with His charts polling the heavenly host predicting if you will fail or not. He is in heaven’s grandstand cheering us on! He delights in each step we make, even the wrong ones for the wrong ones lead us closer to Him as we find our way in the dark.

It isn’t fatal – it isn’t irretrievable – you can and will get back in step because we are to rise and take our position against our common enemy, Satan. He and his cohorts work to keep us insecure, powerless, fearful, and depressed. Don’t give in to those emotions. That’s not part of the deal!

God has a plan, a marvelous plan for you – do you dare not to fit in with what society says is right and live out loud for Him?

 

 

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The God Factor

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“It’s all about who you know.”

That’s what “they” say, whoever “they” are, and I’ve found this statement to be true. Wherever we have lived, we get to know different people in the offices and businesses we frequent. As time passes and we build relationships, I try to see the same person each time I need to visit those places. A friendship of sorts is established and I find my errands to be much more palatable when there’s a friendly face behind the counter.

When we began the long, and sometimes frightening, process of adopting our youngest daughter Andreya, there came a time that we needed a Malawian passport for her in order for us to travel. Her adoption had yet to be finalized and obtaining her passport could have been impossible, had God not intervened. Through a series of events, God gave us favor with an immigration official in the city we were living in at the time, Lilongwe, Malawi, and the unheard of happened – she was granted a passport in just 24 hours. It was a miracle as passports can be held up for months and even years; God just showed up for us.

Fast-forward almost 10 years and we found ourselves in Blantyre, Malawi, planting a new church. We made application to renew our work permits enabling us to stay in the country, and it became apparent that their approval was being delayed. As it is with obtaining passports, it’s not uncommon for work permits to be held up indefinitely. Our temporary permits were valid for only 3 months and time was becoming a critical issue. So we decided to go to the immigration headquarters and find out what was taking so long.

Who did we find had coincidentally been reassigned from Lilongwe to Blantyre? Our contact who had helped us with Andreya’s passport all those years ago sat behind his desk welcoming us. A smile crossed his face as he said he recognized us – even before we recognized him. He looked to Andreya and my husband said, “Here’s the one you helped years ago in Lilongwe,” and a moment was spent giving account of her adoption story to our longtime contact.

You’ve guessed right if you thought that our permits finally did get processed in a reasonable time period. God made a way – and to this day I wonder if this man was reassigned to Blantyre just so he could help us. Yes, I am that convinced that God loves us just that much.

The people we know are more than simple acquaintances or friends to help us socially or emotionally cope with the ebb and flow of life. God connects people on purpose and sometimes those connections are evident, and at other times, they are much more subtle. In fact, I wonder how many of our connections in life go unnoticed by us as to having a “God factor” attached to them. Perhaps only eternity will tell of the puzzle God pieced together in our lifetimes.

As I write this today, Andreya is sitting next to me enveloped in her little girl world of make believe, makeup, and dress up. I look at her little face and find myself wondering what the God connection with her will be? Who will she reach and where will she go? Her older siblings have all made their launch into the world and are making the mark God has destined for them and I wonder where will their connections take them and their children?

I’ve also learned that the connections that bring us places often aren’t what we would think to be the obvious important connections: those with influence and money. God connections often start with ordinary people who lead us to those who can open amazing doors of opportunity. God opportunities are not clothed with money; His opportunities are those that bring us to people, to others. When we look for God opportunities in the form of reaching out to people, God in turn reaches out to us and takes care of our every need. Real value is found in people, not in what they have or what they can do for us; it is for people that Jesus died, not for what they have (John 3:16).

God had Samuel connect David, the unknown shepherd from Jesse’s family, to his destiny (1 Samuel 16:1). Long before that destiny was fulfilled, David was connected to other very normal (some might even call dysfunctional) people whose problems had overwhelmed them (1 Samuel 22:2). Yet this band of dysfunctional outcasts became the foundation for David’s future kingdom and household, and from this household, Jesus was born (Matthew 1:20).

1 Chronicles 14:2 TLB “David now realized why the Lord had made him king and why he had made his kingdom so great; it was for a special reason – to give joy to God’s people!”

God has connections waiting for us just outside our front doors wherever in the world we find ourselves. They may be (and probably are) dysfunctional to some degree, don’t have much to offer, but unbeknownst to them – they are a God connection and have the “God factor” attached to them.

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Dumpster Diving

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As newly-weds, my husband and I decided to apply for our first credit card. This was when having a credit card wasn’t as commonplace as it is today; my kids would call the process “old school.” Long applications had to be filled out by hand at the bank and it would take some time (compared to today’s process) to get approved and actually receive a credit card. We endured everything that was required of us and the day came when, finally, the card came in the mail.

Like most people I suppose, we had a place on the kitchen counter that grew cluttered with the mail and other miscellaneous “paperage.” That place on the counter slowly began to eat away at my inner peace, as at my core I am my mother’s daughter. She was careful to always keep a clean home and instilled in me that same compulsion: if it’s cluttered it must be cleared.

This compulsion, you might call it haste or impatience, has been the source of irritation to my family. Some, I agree, is justified, and some is not. However, the account of what happened during one of my cleaning moments did result in a great amount of stress and dumpster diving.

Let me explain…

The cards came in the mail and we were aware they had arrived and were in the envelope they came in on the counter. Days passed and I put that information in the back of my mind as I was compelled, as if by the Spirit, to embark on “the great clean” of the century. That day nothing escaped my fury as even the oven received a state-of-the-art scrubbing! Proud of myself, I unloaded the last bag of trash into the dumpster outside (one shared by the community we lived in), and sat down for a cup of coffee. My mother would have even declared the place clean and with that thought, I smiled with a bit of smug self-satisfaction.

Later on the next day, my husband looked to the countertop and noticed the customary pile of post had disappeared.

“Where’s the credit card?” he said with an unmistakable tone of worry.

“It was here on the counter in the envelope.” his voice beginning to quiver.

“I don’t know, didn’t you put them away?” came my honest reply.

Thus began the search of the century that ended with my husband standing up in the dumpster for several minutes going through the trash until he found said credit card, still in its original (albeit stained with coffee) envelope. While this happened over 30 years ago, I have yet to cease being reminded of it.

While I was thankful to have the card in hand, in the fury of our search, we ruined my hours-long cleaning effort and I had to clean up all over again.

I was hasty and I blew it.

Psalm 31:22 TLB “I spoke too hastily when I said, ‘The Lord has deserted me,’ for you listened to my plea and answered me.”

We often become impatient with the circumstances of life, we want answers now! Our impatience clouds our ability to see that God’s given us the credit cards already, and He’s paid the bill. They’re on the counter of life, ready to be used to pay off our debts but we seem to have misplaced them, thrown them away in the dumpster. In our haste, we wonder why God hasn’t come through, why doesn’t He see, doesn’t He care? Right when we are sure He has turned His back on us, in spite of our hastily spoken words, He comes through with an answer – and gently hands us the cards we threw away in our compulsion to get things in order.

Yes, we all blow it and say things we shouldn’t and even begin to wonder about God’s love and care for us. While we may fail, we can be encouraged with the knowledge that God’s love and care never fails, in spite of our baseless doubts. He is always watchful over us in spite of what life may throw our way.

Don’t throw away the credit cards just for a moment of apparent clarity – the clarity we create in our haste only lasts for a moment only to be replaced once again by more clutter as life continues to unfold. However, if you do blow it (as we all do) our Father is more than ready to go dumpster diving and answer you.

Yes, He is just that good.