No longer a foreigner to Grace


The day we moved to Haiti was exciting and exhilarating. We got up at 3am, headed to the Detroit airport with our giant suitcases, hugged our selfless middle of the night chauffeurs/friends and headed off on adventure.

My first thought when we arrived in Haiti was, “We can handle this!” With the warm greetings of our Haitian friends, our bellies full with plantain and celebratory cake, and the distraction of unpacking and settling in, the culture around me seemed a curiosity, rather than shocking. It took little more than four days and a trip to the Haitian marketplace to feel thrown completely off my footing, to know that “we can handle this” was hopeful at best, a mild delusion at worst.

In the marketplace, there were people everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I have shopped the foreign marketplaces before. I’ve traveled all over. I don’t love bartering, but I have some skills. I enjoy people, crazy mixes of smells, and the sound of vibrant language overlapping in the pleasant chaos of the day’s busyness. But I have never had to do it for my survival. I wasn’t there just to browse and procure a few souvenirs for friends back home. I needed groceries, and I needed them on a limited missionary budget. I needed to figure out how to cook said groceries, and I needed to not get hit by a mototaxi doing so.

I stood in the marketplace that morning and realized I was a foreigner. I was an outsider. I had no clue what I was doing, and do you know what that translates to? That feeling of utterly alone. Standing in the middle of a crowded marketplace, the sounds dissipate around you, the tears well up and you realize, in the end, it’s just you on an island. No one knows you here. If you fell, would someone pick you up? If you disappeared, would anyone notice?

In the marketplace, lost in my lonely thoughts, I felt a tug on my elbow that brought me back to the movement and the noises all around me. I looked into the chocolate eyes of my friend Sydney, who placed her arm around my back, held on to my shoulder for dear life and said, “Heidi, I am right here.”

That day in the market, Sydney gathered me. She didn’t just gather me in her arms to reassure me, but she also gathered me to be part of her people. Our friends in Haiti did absolutely everything they could each day to make us part of their lives. To welcome us, yes, but also to gather us as part of them.

Have you ever been the foreigner? Alone in another country, another town, another family? Think past the obvious. Have you ever been left standing in the high school cafeteria looking for a place to sit? Have you ever had to walk into a new church praying it felt like home? Have you ever rolled over in bed and realized afresh that the other side now lies empty and this world of loss is something harder than you ever imagined?

God promises that in all of our aloneness, all of our wanderings, all of our cast aside and walked away and went far off, He will gather us to Himself.

Isaiah records this promise in Isaiah 56:5-8. Read that below –

I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.”

Child, you are better than a son, better than a daughter. That means that you who were once a stranger to God, a foreigner to grace and mercy, are now more than family.

You are gathered.

He has joined you to Him, gathered you up from your dark places or your regular middle-of-the-road day and brought you into relationship with Him. Verse 7 above proclaims that He brings us to His Holy Mountain and makes us joyful in His house of prayer.

God made someone else joyful in His house of prayer. She also felt like an outsider, a less than, and wondered if she was foreign to God in her barrenness. Look at Hannah’s story fresh. Read 1 Samuel 1:12-16.

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Hannah brought all of her anxiety, all of her burden, all of her pain before the true God. Her heart overflowed, “pouring out her soul” before the Lord. If you think that Hannah’s prayer was polite, I would offer up a different vantage point. Hannah herself tells Eli in verse 16 that she has been speaking with the Lord in great anxiety and vexation. What’s the English definition of vexation? Annoyance, exasperation, indignation, aggravation. The Hebrew word here is marat, or bitterness. Hannah didn’t just pour out her requests, she poured out her bitterness in this house of prayer.

Hannah was gathered by the Lord.

He gathered her up to hear her bitterness, hear her dissension, to hear her shock and her distress at a world that was not fair. Is it possible that Hannah wondered in her distress if she even knew the Lord? Did Her beloved Savior feel foreign to her in her struggle? Have you ever been there?

You are gathered.

This is how God gathers. Maybe the house of prayer is simply honest relationship with God. Peak back at Isaiah 56. What did the Lord want from His people? He just wanted them to come to Him.

…To love the name of the Lord…

…to minister to Him…

…to hold fast…

…to place our sacrifices, on His altar…

You are gathered and He promises to gather others as well. That means all the Hannah’s you have around you, bitter and struggling with something. He’s gathering them. When He brings you to Himself, whether in bitterness or joy, He will use you to gather and gather and gather some more.

You are gathered. You may look a foreigner in this present land. You may feel a foreigner in your family, your church, or this culture. You may have some annoyance, some frustration, some distrust stored up to pour out before Him.

Go ahead and do it. You are no longer a foreigner to His grace.

You are gathered.

Trust in the One who holds you tight.

 

Gathered Scripture Engagement Tool

Exploration:

Present your requests before the Lord. Set a timer and challenge yourself to pray for 10 minutes straight with no distractions. Please feel free to pray longer, but let’s challenge each other to pour the cares of the day out to Him and spend time with Him and Him alone for just a bit. If you’d like to share some prayer requests, please feel free to do so in the comments below.

 

*psssttt – a birdie told me that the “No longer a foreigner to His Grace” photo makes a great iphone wallpaper. Just save it to your phone and insert as wallpaper under settings.

Clay Walks: A life lived in love

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*photo made with the vrsly app, using a pexel.com photo
Are the pages of Isaiah getting easier to turn as we man-handle the pages? My study Bible has these ridiculously thin pages and until a section has been tossed and turned again and again, I trip and I fall around trying to find the right chapter and verse. The pages stick together. I turn them and go six chapters too far. I back track and finally land on the selected passage. It becomes easier as I turn the pages more and more. As I study more, the pages have my fingerprints all over them. A side effect of this is that the pages get just crinkly enough that I can turn them deftly and without all the frustration.

This is how faith seems to work as well. Turn to Isaiah 30:18-22.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22 Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

Walking, like our fingers moving across the pages of our Bibles, is one of the descriptors of faith in the Bible. In Isaiah 30, we find a fun name for our God associated with this walk – Teacher.

We do not walk alone, girls. We have a Teacher who guides and leads. While this passage doesn’t speak about clay, it fits into our title of clay because clay is moldable. It’s instruct-able. When we say, “Mold me and make me, Lord. You are the potter, I am the clay.” We also say –

Teach me.

Walk with me.

Show me the way.

Isaiah 30 gives us clarity in this picture. As we walk in faith, not in perfection, but simply walking, we grow up into Him, into the Teacher, Christ Jesus. Look at Ephesians 4:14-15:

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

Look just a tiny bit further in your Scriptures and rest on Ephesians 5:1-2.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Living the truth in love looks a whole lot like walking.

Therefore…walk in love. I so often walk in hurt, in bitterness, in impatience, in discontent, in annoyance, in apathy.

Because of Jesus Christ, I can walk in love. I am instruct-able. I need and I have a Teacher to show me the way, to walk beside me, to walk behind me and cover me in forgiveness when I mess up. He also walks ahead to guide me in the True Light.

When I learn, I’m walking. When I grow, I’m walking. When I trust, I’m walking.

Check out Acts 9:1-2.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Paul, he was walking as God’s clay before he even knew it. He was walking hunting down people. He was walking in destruction. It’s ironic that Christianity is referenced here and only here as “the Way.” Neither right nor left, friends. Jesus is the Way. Paul walked and life changed forever along that Way.

When I am wrong, I’m walking. When I repent, I’m walking. When the breath of forgiveness rushes in, and covers my sin, I’m walking.

He leads. I walk. In His love, in His mercy, through crinkly pages and brokenness into marvelous, inestimable Grace.

Keep walking, friend. Clay walks.

 

Exploration:

What was your first experience with studying the Bible?

 

What group Bible studies have been memorable for you?

 

What is the hardest part of walking in love for you?

 

 

My one word

 

I’m sure that some of you have heard this idea from the internet of choosing one word for your new year. I’ve never been especially interested in resolutions, mainly because I can not keep them to save my life.

One word…that I can do. I have no idea where the idea originated, but a few years ago it nestled itself in my heart.

It was simple – I mean really…one word. Not four words, not a whole Bible verse even, one word.

It was doable. Actually, the irony was that nothing really needed to be done with this idea. I wasn’t accosted by guilt at unfulfilled resolutions and broken promises. All you had to do, in my understanding was pick a word for the year and see where that year led.

It was Jesus-oriented. I’m sure people have one word for their year and it has nothing to do with Christ. But in my mind, this was an opportunity for God to speak into my life in a new way. Something fresh for growing in my Faith. It allowed me to sit back and wait on Him.

So here are my one word choices over the last 4 years.

2012- less

2013 – brave

2014 – silent

2015 – grace upon grace

2016 – fearlessly wrong

(Um, so maybe I’m not great at one word. Two is ok, right? Three? I get to make up the rules, so it’s fine. 😉  )

If you know us, even a little bit, you can begin to understand how God spoke into our lives with the one word each year. Almost every year God spoke the words into my heart during the quiet of Christmas Eve candle light service. As my husband starts to read John 1, almost universally, God begins to speak in the stillness. The first year I had heard the idea and kept asking myself questions, “What do I want for the coming year? What need to change in our lives? Where is God speaking to me?”

Sitting quietly in candlelight, I remember my confirmation verse rising up in my heart over and over again.

He must become greater, I must become less.

                                           John 3:30

Less…I needed less. Less stuff, less opinions, less expectations, less demands, less frustration, less hurt, less tears, less getting in the way of God’s work in my life, less selfish ambition.

More Him. 

And so it went each year – brave, silent, grace upon grace – to this year…fearlessly wrong.

The thing is, I had spent the last year soaking in grace. Seeing how God has wrapped my life and all of me up in His grace that pours out and then pours out some more. I watched Him put more grace in my home, more grace in my heart. I was so grateful to see clearly, as I studied the Word that year how truly filling God’s grace was in my life.

So this year, the choice was easy- it was time to be ok with being wrong. To believe in grace in a way that wrong was ok, that it wouldn’t harm me. That God was in my wrong, just as much as he was in the being right, saying the right thing, making the right decision. God’s grace allows me to unwind the cords of “right” that I have tangled myself in that keep me from good relationships, Gospel sized risks, and the fullest experience of His mercy and forgiveness.

Although I treasure godly, I am beginning to understand just how much grace there is in imperfection, in trying, but being ok with messing up.

IMG_1586       Fearlessly wrong.

It’s really cool to see God’s work in this. So far my year has brought employment changes, new endeavors, family adventures, health concerns for those I love, and deeper relationships at every turn.

What does fearlessly wrong look like in your life? How could God be working in the places where you let imperfect be beautiful and grace be what reigns?

It’s scary for sure. Don’t worry, I’m not running around wild, embracing sin, but being willing to put yourself out there, to say the wrong thing, to do the wrong thing, it changes the shape of life. It makes my understanding of grace fuller and leaves me more expectant of grace from God and His people.

Always an adventure, always. Less, brave, grace, fearlessly wrong. I’ll be watching for His work in your life too.