Feeding the Deepest Hungers

Seriously, there’s nothing like the good gift of perspective to soften up the hard spots in your soul or to shine just the right amount of light in it’s darkest corners. Inevitably, that “lost coin” turns up again illuminating the fact of how rich you truly are.

I was reminded of this recently as I had the privilege to listen to a man of God tell his story of a hungry childhood filled with mayonnaise sandwiches and cold sugar water— a life marinated in a praying mother’s faith and love. He said they were “Po”; too economically challenged to merit to full word “poor”.  We all laughed.  I imagine there were others in that room who had memories of this place too.

Feeding the Deepest Hungers

I know pieces of that hungry place. Truthfully, my life didn’t know the constant daily struggle of the poverty he described. However,  I spent a painful period in this place he spoke of;  just long enough to teach me what I needed to know about the deepest sorts of hunger.  Those hungry years perhaps did more to shape my life and understanding of what’s true, good and valuable than most of the other times I was otherwise sheltered and fed.

This is where the good gift of perspective comes in: for at least two reasons, I confess that I’m truly and totally thankful for those dim, lean and hungry years. I could probably come up with more but here are at least my top two.

First, I see now that during those years I learned something about a mother’s love.

                     Especially my own.

Perspective’s gift has helped me to rightly remember the period in my life when I first moved South. I was too naive to fully recognize the struggle at the time but now, I can clearly see how my mother’s love and sacrifice kept her children fed and sadly, somewhat oblivious to our predicament. We were struggling hard and I didn’t know… didn’t or maybe couldn’t understand it.

Because we left NJ under the cover of darkness, she had to keep things on the down-low — we couldn’t apply for the typical programs … she didn’t have custody of us.  It was bad but still better than what we left behind.            Oh sin…

I recall the eviction from one house and then another. I remember the bare cupboards and empty refrigerator. There was that time someone gave her chitterlings and it was all we had but the smell was too much for me so I went to bed hungry instead. There was the massive garden and the rows and rows of vegetables I despised picking and yet, learned to can and preserve one horribly hot summer because it was so important to her.

I didn’t know why.
I complained a lot.
I was selfish.

My favorite times in the week were when we went out to eat at a little “Meat and 3”cafe in town. FINALLY, a hot meal with stuff I liked!  We’d always show up late and by then we were so hungry. Mom would sit us down and fix plates from the steam table and as we feasted, she’d visit over coffee with the owners. We’d finish up with sticky cobbler or something like that while she helped bust down the steam table; disappearing many times through the swinging doors to the kitchen in back.  We did this a few times a week.

                Quite often actually.

It’s taken me all these years to connect the dots and see the complete picture: my mother never paid for those meals. Not with money anyway. Her “payment” was to help clean up and close out the place for the night; wash some dishes, wipe the counters, mop the floors. During one of the most fragile times in our lives, she fed us that way.   Thanks Mom.

Mother Teresa on Kindness

Here’s the second thing: those people who owned the place, they didn’t have to feed us.

We weren’t from around there; they didn’t have to let us in the door or show us any kindness whatsoever. Not only did they do it quite often, but they treated my mother as a friend and helped her keep her dignity by not only giving her a way to take care of her children but a listening ear, a cup of coffee and eventually… a part time job with bonus leftovers.

Like many things in my life back then, the sweetness was short-lived because it wasn’t fully rooted in the solidity of the Gospel. However, the heart lessons remain deeply rooted in me. Thanks to this period in my life,  the good gift of perspective has given me empathy.

I can easily recognize and see the many levels, faces and signs of poverty— physical, emotional and spiritual— and care enough to do whatever I can to help.

It’s what I hope you and the people around me are able to see as well.

Hunger Stats

Everyone knows that this is the time of the year when the requests for help and donations will start rolling in and I hope you’ll consider the ways and places where God is leading you to be involved.

Sometimes it’s all we can do to give a donation to an agency such as Baptist Global Response and others like them, who will see that funds are distributed internationally and spent within  communities to purchase emergency food supplies.  Many of these agencies also supply job skill training or start-up seed and livestock to give families a foothold for the future.

Shelters and food banks like the Savannah Baptist Center or the Broad Street Ministry Center also meet the needs of those living on the fringes by providing food, clothing, toiletry items, job training, counseling and spiritual support as well. Some schools and communities have backpack programs for the kids who will go home to hungry houses.

These are the BIG and PUBLIC sorts of ways you can help but there are others. Look around and maybe there’s someone in your midst who could used a helping hand to get on their feet— share a meal, teach a skill… listen.    Show them Jesus.

That’s mostly what I see now.

I see the sheltering wings of my Savior guiding us along during those years when His name was only beginning to be understood by my heart. After all these years, thanks to the good gift of perspective I look back and barely remember the hunger but I’ll never forget being fed and how He was near.

It makes me want to feed others too

What about you?

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Linking with the Ladies at LiveFree!

The Most Beautiful Church I’ve Ever Been In

It’s been at least eight years since I was there for a two day conference. I doubt I could easily find my way back and if I’m completely honest with you, right now I can’t even remember the name.   Sorry.

I could spend some time researching— maybe Google it and come close but it’s not going to make this memory any more solid. Unless you want to visit …or have a church like this one, then I guess you’d need to know. Maybe it will just be enough for me to tell you about my experience of the most beautiful church I’ve ever been in. Because honestly, this church could be anywhere.  It could be.

The most beautiful church

So…actually…we got lost looking for this place. The GPS took us into a neighborhood where the streets got narrow, skinny and tight until….. BAM!  We found ourselves at a dead end where the road probably once continued on, but now there was a high fence and a guard rail keeping us from driving into the 10-lanes of interstate highway just beyond.

Backtracking, eventually we found it— our little host church in the big city tucked waaay inside an older neighborhood on the other side of that highway, just behind a rather sketchy looking shopping plaza.

The parking lot was rough and pocked with holes. Though the grounds were spotless, the landscaping was nothing to shout about– some scrappy looking bushes here and there, not much more. The building itself was rather plain; just a standard white, wood frame church with a bit of a steeple poking out the top.  I think there were some benches out front.

This church was hosting us for an event with about 60 or more students studying the fine art of Christian speech and debate. The people were gracious and accommodating, pleasant and very glad to have this group of future Christian leaders and speakers in their midst.  They were so encouraging.

The interior of the church was mostly forgettable. No really– I forget. I recall only that it was plainly furnished and happily worn from use. Nothing notable about the carpet and pews, the fellowship hall and speaking rooms were all rather standard and functional. Comfortable without being too over the top.  It was nice.

Based on these observations, as you can imagine, there was nothing about this place that said “success” according to the world’s standards. Nothing flashy and yet, I can recall most of these details so many years later because where these things were so plain and understated, there was one great thing that impressed me so profoundly,  that I really stopped to take in and notice the true richness of my surroundings in the course of those two days.

Painted on one wall just outside the sanctuary, there was a mural-sized world map and while I can’t remember the exact words below, I do recall it had something to do with the mission of the church. As in, THE mission of THE church as well as that one there. All by itself, that was something to behold and it surely could start you to thinking down the mental path of missions as you entered and exited the sanctuary each week.

That’s a nice thing to think about. However this congregation was obviously good at more than simply thinking about missions.

Here’s where it got truly extraordinary for me. Down every hall, on every side from the entryway and on around every corner, each wall was LINED EDGE TO EDGE  with a picture of a missionary individual or family this church personally supported. I mean the walls were full. Beneath the framed picture was a smaller frame with information telling about the place and people they served, when they began serving and how long and their prayer requests.  Every one of them was being actively supported by this church.

Maybe I’m just a bit sheltered but  I’d never seen anything like this before.

During the breaks I walked down the halls, looking at the pictures and reading the information, truly stunned as it dawned on me what I was a witnessing.

This rinky-dink, nondescript little church tucked back in the middle of downtown nowhere was reaching into nearly every country and continent on the planet one prayer at a time. One offering at a time.

My heart was just bursting with— gee, I don’t know… happiness?

It was a gift to be there— a challenge to behold and truly, this was the most beautiful church I have ever been in.  No doubt about it.

CS Lews on the Effective Church

Right now, it’s a bit of a personal issue for me remembering this scenario because recently a major missionary organization struggling to balance it’s worldwide budget is offering early retirement to their older missionaries. You know really OLD…..like 50.  For reasons I can’t fully explain my heart is so troubled by this news.

It makes me sad.
This is just the first step to downsizing their force.

One of the folks within this agency wrote, wondering aloudwhat if they just said no? Or better yet, what if every church in the convention gave $420 per month– the amount that’s been calculated for what’s needed to bring the budget out of it’s tailspin.

$420 per church, per month. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot.

You know,  a flood of refugees from Syria is currently pouring into regions that already have a viable Gospel witness established within. Refugees whom God has sent there to taste, see, hear and FEEL the love and Good News of salvation.

The majority of these refugees come from regions within the “10/40 window” where Gospel work is not only difficult…it’s downright dangerous. So God has opened the floodgates leading them to other countries where the work of loving and reaching them can be more fruitful in the long term– after the initial crisis is over and where the daily work will continue long after the news headlines disappear.  This passage from the Book of Isaiah 14:24-27 is rather exciting when you consider these circumstances in this light.

  As long as there are still folks there to do it…. and Satan would love to shut that down or delay it if he can.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m an idealistic dreamer to imagine that we in our churches who know true freedom and prosperity in God could afford to dig a little deeper… live a little more sacrificially, spending less on ourselves and our surroundings and instead have a hand in this work being done all over the world…to somehow be a part of keeping that “$420 Door” propped open by committing  to the support of the missions taking place here and abroad.

What would it be like… to have the privilege of being members of a church like that?

Personally….I think it would be beautiful.

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Linking with Jennifer and Tell His Story

All That #Matters and Why

The very last thing in the world I have wanted is for this writing space to become a place of quasi-political ranting.    Who needs more of that, right?

Besides, I’m ridiculously emotional and thin-skinned when it comes to criticism and I don’t think I have the guts to take the virtual sucker punches being doled out left and right by people who don’t seem to care either way— they just like to punch.

However, I do know the need to obey the Holy Spirit’s nudge telling me to speak up and write out some of the the wrongs I see today. Even though it seems like nobody is really listening….really hearing anymore— it matters enough to at least take a stand. What’s the point in “playing it safe” anyway?

For that matter….what’s safe?

All That Matters

Explain “safe” in the eyes of at least one dear Christian woman I know who sends all four of her sons out in shifts to wear a uniform and a badge in a world that has become increasingly hostile towards them simply because they wear a uniform and badge.

Because someone on the side of evil—not justice— said it was ok and others mindlessly decided to listen. These brave and godly men know the risks. Their wives and family know it too. And tonight, their momma knows the power of prayer and how the safety of their souls rests in the capable hands of their Savior. There, she knows, they are truly safe.

This is the part of the writing where I ought to insert a deep and meaningful quote on safe-ness and somehow draw the conversation around to the ideal safety we should be working towards versus the ridiculous place as a society we’ve wandered into. However, I don’t believe that safety has ever been a reasonable ideal at any point in Christian living.

Truth be told: the need for perceived safety has often led to compromises largely responsible for the upside-down confusion we find ourselves living with today. Little by little, we’ve given away valuable territory in our gospel, thinking we were being tolerant and wise “peace makers” until now, the joke’s on us when we try to talk about “right and wrong” and bring value and meaning to the larger conversations.

The sad fact is that while Rome is burning, the people in charge of making the rules have been fiddling around with definitions and modifiers for relationships they only inherited —they didn’t create—leaving large gaps where the unchanging truth of God should be.

As a result, anarchy has taken root in the underbelly of every institution and is slowly creeping into every crevice of our society. It ought to terrify us. Instead we seem more concerned with what Miley wore last night, whether or not the stock market is going to hold up or if having a Trump card in our back pocket will save us all.

We can point “out there” at the barbarism of ISIS or where people are treating one another like animals and leaders are barrel-bombing their own people while other countries have shut their borders against the ones who’ve manage to escape or avoid dying along the way.

We don’t have to care too much because at least it’s not happening here. Or is it?

It’s all so very real and getting closer all the time. There’s been a quiet erosion of all our stabilizing foundations to such a degree that when it finally collapses around our ankles, stunned we’ll be looking for someone to blame until we realize we might have been the ones who looked the other way

when the babies were murdered
and injustices took place
and the mobs burned down the towns
and the officers were gunned down like nameless, faceless animals
because someone said it was open season.

We’ll wonder how the enemy got in so close and so fast while nobody was looking because we’d forgotten how we were told that a house, a people and a nation divided against itself    Can. Not. Stand.

Oh we’ve got our hashtags. #BlackLivesMatter. #PoliceLives Matter. #EverythingMatters.  Texas Sherrif Ron Hickman dared to say we needed to drop the qualifiers and simply recognize that #LivesMatter and take that to the bank. Maybe. It’s a start but divorced from the Source, what’s a life anyway?

How can ANYTHING or ANYONE  matter at all if God is taken out of the equation? How can any life matter if the One who gives meaning, definition and validity to all of life is removed from the picture?

How can we be enraged over injustice if justice is a fluid concept based on who gets to define right and wrong, life and death, valuable or worthless?

Life only matters when it’s anchored to something solid and unchanging… Someone outside, beyond and bigger than ourselves Who imparts His unchanging meaning and value to all of creation. Otherwise…value? Meaning? It’s all subjective and dependent upon the mood of the moment.

The problem is not somewhere “out there”…. Its right here, in our own hearts where we’ve gotten disconnected from the foundational, unchanging Truth of God thinking we were liberating and expressing our souls freely.

In his essay, The Portrait of a Soul, Ravi Zacharias expresses this place of disconnect so well:

Today we find a limitless capacity to raise the question of evil as we see it outside ourselves, but often hold an equal unwillingness to address the evil within us.  I once sat on the top floor of a huge corporate building owned by a very successful businessman.  Our entire conversation revolved around his reason for unbelief: that there was so much darkness and corruption in this world and a seemingly silent God.  Suddenly interrupting the dialogue, a friend of mine said to him, “Since evil troubles you so much, I would be curious to know what you have done with the evil you see within you.”  There was red-faced silence.”

Oh, I know— in so many ways, I’m preaching to the choir here. Most folks who read here do believe that God created the heavens and the earth and believe in His unchanging holiness and love. Your hearts are burdened like mine in all the right ways for most of the right reasons. We do falter and occasionally we fall but, praise Jesus— we know how to get back up and where to stand.

The problem is only that maybe we’re just way too quiet about it all.
We’ve got our Jesus-ticket to heaven and that’s enough.
We’re just sitting down and waiting out the storm…
trying to play it safe when really— there’s no such thing.

overcoming through vulnerability

Here and now, for such a time as this and as the ones here to serve God in our generation, we’ve got to live out loud, get our hands dirty, bare our beating and bleeding hearts to our dying neighbors and live like we really believe what we say we believe— joyful and strong in such a way that shows we know Who and What really matters…and most importantly, why.

Otherwise… what really matters?