Category Archives: Musings

Let it Be.

My type-A control freak personality craves a plan. I’m one of those people that would happily take a print-out detailing the rest of my life, and be on my merry way! I tend to live and die by a cute little green day-planner that serves as a sort of script for my life-you’ll never find me without it.

Unfortunately, life as of late has made it impossible to plan just about anything of importance. This has resulted in to-do lists that look a little something like this:

  1. Paint toes.
  2. Run.
  3. Call Christy [again] and ask her [again] to move back to North Carolina.

Achievable goals. In lieu of an actual idea of what’s going on in my life, clearly I cling to the illusion of control.

I think Jesus has orchestrated this period of uncomfortable uncertainty into my life to teach me more about what exactly it is that I worship. You see, I love having a plan because I really, really  love being in control. And I love being in control because honestly, I’m afraid of what might happen if I’m not. While I understand that any thought I might have that I’m in control is laughable, that God is in control and His plan is always, always better than mine-it sometimes doesn’t feel like that’s true.

I fear something when I think that it can really damage me. Fear is usually a type of worship-when I place more weight on the object of my fear than the One who has told me that He loves me perfectly and I never need to be afraid again.

By exposing where I am afraid, Jesus exposes what I worship. He is gently, painfully, slowly teaching me what it looks like to unclench my stubborn fingers from their death-grip around my dreams, and tentatively hand them back to Him. Mind you, this is no simple process-I have attempted to wrench back the control of my life, and failed so frequently and consistently that I ought to apply for government funding.

As if. As if my life were safer in my hands. As if I were more concerned with it than Jesus is. What an odd, marvelous thought-that the same God who created Jupiter and the Swiss Alps and caramel lattes is more concerned with the details of my life than I am!

And so in the midst of uncertainty, I have to choose truth. And truth is that I simply am not in control-but God is. And He must-must!-be bigger to me than my fears, or I am not really worshipping Him at all. I have been commanded not to be anxious about anything, but to run to Jesus with every worry that I have and leave every single one of them with Him, believing that He cares more than I do and He is working for my good. And He has promised that His peace will guard my heart and mind. A lack of peace is an excellent indicator that I am not trusting Him.

I am declaring the folly of plans, not the futility of hope, mind you! There is hope in placing all of my worship where it belongs. In wrapping up every hope and dream I have in Jesus. That is, after all, what you and I were created to do.

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Filed under Hope, Musings

From The Other Side of the Wardrobe Doors.

Tis’ so sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just to take Him at His word.

Just to rest upon His promise,

Just to know “thus saith the Lord”.

Jesus, Jesus-

How I trust Him!

How I’ve proved Him over and over.

Jesus, Jesus-precious Jesus!

Oh, for grace to trust Him more.

I love those lyrics. I love the affirmation that “Yes, my trust is wrapped up in Jesus”, with the quiet plea for the grace needed to trust Him more.

We really can trust Jesus. I cling to that lately, as the bittersweet ebb and flow of a life turned upside down causes tears to spring to my eyes at the most unexpected moments. I came home the other night to the dismal discovery that my dog had chewed through a basket and left the pieces recklessly strewn about the hallway.

And I cried. I cried like an emotionally disturbed child who just wanted to take her E-Z Bake Oven into the bathtub with her. I believe that was the moment that I came to the startling realization that I am, in fact, in the midst of trying to adjust to this new piece of my life. And some days, it’s hard. This much change at one time makes my head spin.

Don’t get me wrong-there are an infinite number of things I love about being home. I can’t do justice to how glorious it is to be around the people I’ve missed so much until somebody teaches me how to do a cartwheel!

The thing is, there are other people that I miss now. Life as I knew it for two years is done-and suddenly, Dakar feels very much like Narnia must have felt to Lucy after the White Witch had been defeated. It was an entirely different world that was real and somewhere-…but she was never quite certain as to how to get back. As the years slipped by, she must have fought the gnawing feeling that her time in the snowy land past the wardrobe doors had simply been a dream.

Some days, Dakar feels like it never really happed. But in the drowsy split-second between sleep and my eyes fluttering open in the morning, I sometimes still half-expect to wake up on the dirty floor next to Michelle as the drunken lullaby of the mosque echoes throughout our room.

But I don’t wake up next to Michelle anymore. In fact, there are very few things about my life that are unchanged. It’s a sweet opportunity to press into Jesus and make much of Him-…and when I’m not doing that, I’ve sadly perfected the subtle art of taking my stress out on my favorite people. Let’s be real.

One of my first days at work, my boss handed me a credit card and asked me to run to the Apple store to buy an Ipad as a door prize for an event we were hosting. I drove to the mall in a sort of daze, unable to wrap my mind around the idea that we were about to spend over 500 dollars on a door prize, when there are people that I know just a seven and a half hour plane ride away that can’t always afford to eat. I’m not saying it was wrong. I’m just saying it was hard for me to do it.

It feels almost as though I’ve borrowed someone else’s life. That the cubicle at work, the pencil skirts and heels, the air conditioned car, the gloriously fluffy bed-those can’t possibly be mine. Something in me hesitates to buy a full gallon of milk-as though at any moment, I might discover that it’s time to leave again, and have to gulp down the whole thing before hopping on a plane.

I’ve said that I’m going to keep up with the blog, and I intend to. It’s just that these days, I’m not always entirely certain as to what to write about. The stories are so different now. But Jesus is the same, and He’s called me here every bit as intentionally as He called me to Africa. So hang with me as I figure out what that looks like-and how to write it down. :)

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Musings

Of Rootlessness and Geographical Feng Shui. [Home.]

Thirty nine days from today after a little geographical feng shui, my day will look markedly different than the one I just experienced. While I spent this morning chasing a  roach the size of a small duckling across the kitchen before I made a pot of my carefully rationed caramel coffee, thirty nine days from now I’ll disembark a plane in DC, and drag my team to Starbucks for a skim venti caramel latte with whip. [There may be tears. I’ll keep you posted.] I’ll catch a connecting flight to Raleigh where after months of waiting, I’ll finally get to tackle hug some of my favorite people in the world! And while this afternoon, I spent the better part of two hours scrubbing my clothes in the bathtub-just thirty nine days from today, I’ll be dumping a royal blue duffel full of filthy laundry into an oversized washing machine. I’ll press a magic button, waltz away, and return twenty-five minutes later to clothes that are cleaner than anything I’ve put on my body since I landed in Senegal! [Be still, my beating heart.] And though as I type this I am covered in a thick layer of dirt, thirty nine days from now I’ll finally be clean. My impossibly curly hair might even be straight after I reintroduce myself to my blow dryer and flat iron! [Ah, the flat iron. My good man.] In the heat of this afternoon, I took a taxi ride through my dusty, poverty-stricken city. I saw a herd of rather suspect looking goats wandering the streets, women with elaborate, pumpkin orange head wraps guarding dilapidated, precariously perched wooden tables boasting endless piles of spotted green mangos and canary yellow bananas for sale, and men with machetes chopping up bloody chunks of cow in the back of a rusty red and white truck. In thirty nine days, I’ll be driving an air conditioned car on the most breathtaking, green, winding stretch of back country road towards Chapel Hill while Tim McGraw serenades me in the background. I’ll buy organic spinach at pristine, air conditioned Harris Teeter-spinach that’s spritzed religiously every eighteen minutes by automatic timers. I’ll run at night for goodness sake-past the magnolia trees, fireflies and wrap-a-round porches that hallmark summertime in the south.

But forty days from now. Forty days from now, I won’t wake up on the floor next to Michelle. I won’t sit across from her in the living room sipping my caramel coffee while she drinks green tea out of a green mug, reading our Bibles in our pjs while Christy sneaks another hour of sleep. I won’t spend the first hour of my work day meeting with my team, nor will I take Miriam out to my favorite French bakery to answer some of the hundreds of questions that she has about Jesus. In fact, the odds are that forty days from now, I won’t even see a single Muslim. I won’t hear the call to prayer echo through the city, nor will I lace up my dirty tennis shoes to leave at five to run on the beach that I have contentedly succumbed countless hours of my life and two pairs of tennis shoes to. Forty days from now, I won’t stop by to see Mohammad the fruit stand man for grapes and mangos on the way home from said run. Forty days from now, I won’t cajole Dayton, Ben and Ted into running to pick up last minute dinner items while Michelle, Christy and I chatter on as we finish off dinner on the hotplate. I won’t carry bowls of food up two flights of stairs to spend an hour eating and catching up with the boys-nor will Ben be around to do the dishes after we finish. Forty days from now, I won’t make nutella banana crepes with the girls as desperate attempt to satisfy the late night chocolate cravings that always seem to hit us at precisely the same time, nor will I spend the last piece of the evening talking with Christy after Michelle has fallen asleep.

Forty days from now, I’ll wake up to an entirely different life. And while there are pieces of that I’m thrilled about, there are things I’m going to dearly miss about the world I am leaving behind in this African city that has slowly become mine. My two years in Senegal have been the hardest, most incredible years of my life. The five people that I live with in Dakar feel like my family-without them, I would have jumped ship and attempted to swim across the Atlantic long ago. And even on the most painful, homesick, tear-filled days in this city-I have loved sharing the gospel with Muslim students. What a bittersweet thing to leave-and go back to a life that is drastically different from the one that I left behind two years ago when the ink was barely dry on my UNC diploma. Many of my best friends are now gone-and that, coupled with the fact that I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing this year means that in many ways, I’m starting over. Again.

God has used the rootlessness that has characterized the better part of the last seven years of my life to tangibly teach me that my home is not to be found here. I was not-we were not-created to belong in the world. There is an inevitible homesickness that comes with following Jesus.  Somewhere between the Holy City and the City on a Hill, I will [am] learn[ing] where, exactly, my Home is. And after five moves in seven years, I am entirely convinced of one thing: home is not a place. It’s not a continent, a city, an apartment or a house. Home is a feeling. It’s a place of belonging. Restfulness. Peace. Security. Comfort. Trust. It’s an easy breath-something to close your eyes and contentedly, wholeheartedly settle into because you’re safe. And I only know One place like that. 

And so, I learn to savor where I am, and cling to the truth that I was created for God Himself-and not for a place, or even people. I belong to Him. And I choose to believe that this-right now-is precisely where I am meant to be. It is not accidental, nor am I a bit to the haphazard left or right of what God had intended. No, this is precisely  it. Today was good. And in forty days when I wake up in my bed in North Carolina, that will be good too.

39.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Home, Musings

Of The UPS Man, African Snow White, and One Too Many Pickles.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we return to our regular programming.

In light of recent distractions, regular programming this week in Dakar just happens to include hopelessly daunting piles of work that need to be finished before Tuesday morning at 5:20 AM [oh, we’ll get there in a moment], and an apartment that’s completely gone to pot. I feel like I’m on Survivor. It’s embarrassing. If UPS had even the foggiest hope of being able to find me in this country, I would probably not even crack the door for the awkward brown-shorted delivery man-but simply implore him to leave his box sitting on the front mat and then slowly back away. The Leaning Tower of Dishes is teetering menacingly in the sink, and I’ve been surviving on granola, pickles, and chicken salad for approximately the last eight meals. [Which is what happens when you make a veritable vat of any one particular food. Lesson learned.] In a rather startling turn of events, sweeping yesterday garnered enough hair to make a small voodoo doll-and frankly, I’m having an impossible time ascertaining whether I am more disturbed by the level of filth on my floor, or the fact that there is the distinct possibility that I am going bald.

That, coupled with the minor detail that on Tuesday morning at 5:20 AM, sixteen Americans are landing in Dakar to spend six weeks doing my job with me, has kept life busy as of late.

Yes, it’s that time of year again-time for our summer project. With them comes a lot of early mornings and late nights-and a mound of paperwork as we get ready to teach them everything from Islamic theology to how not to die whilst crossing the street. [Never fear-I have no hand in that particular seminar.]In a dark city where hope wanes and poverty crushes, it’s exhilarating to think about sixteen extra people coming to proclaim a thrill of hope to a weary city that has none. And there is hope-yes, and amen!

In other news, exactly seven weeks from today I’ll be leaving Dakar for the very last time. Good golly Miss Molly-where has the time slipped away to? Last I checked it was November. As Michelle phrased it-we’re on the downward rush of the rollercoaster-and before we know it, we’ll be coming to a grinding halt and dizzily exiting the ride. As my stomach lurches and life starts to blur around me, I am both excited-and so very far from being ready. Faced with the bittersweet reality that change is inevitable, I am struck by the fact that when change comes our way, God is not simply watchful. I think He’s giving a standing ovation-savoring His grace and hard work in our lives. He’s celebrating the gangrenous, calcified pieces of our hearts that He has surgically removed in the [sometimes painful] process of making us more like Him. He is more committed to our character than our comfort-and in the midst of all my unknowns, that’s something I can hold on to. That, and the sweet truth that though my rollercoaster world may spin wildly out of control-my Jesus never changes. This, Africa has taught me.

Alas, the dishes are calling. I’m going to attempt to channel my African Snow White and get the roaches to do them for me-…but there is the distinct possibility that I’ll have to pick up a sponge.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Hope, Musings, Senegal, Summer project

Of What It Means To Be Forgiven.

God does not forgive sin.

At least, not in the way that we so casually fling the word about. Living in a Muslim country has taught me that the Evangelical Christian church has more in common with Islam than we ought to be comfortable with-particularly in the way that we use the word “forgive”. Islamic doctrine teaches that at the end of a Muslim’s life, Allah weighs his good and bad deeds on a scale and then makes an arbitrary decision as to whether or not to “forgive” that particular individual. For Allah to “forgive” a Muslim means that he has decided to let the offense go. He’s sliding sin under the cosmic rug-deciding that it’s okay, and he’s not going to do anything about it. If a Muslim is “forgiven”, sin quietly slips away and simply goes unpunished. 

When we talk about God forgiving sin, we’re often implying that He does much the same thing. But a holy, just God can’t do that. A God that is both perfectly holy and perfectly just cannot tolerate sin and must punish it. And the Bible details exactly how sin must be punished: by death. Not a physical death-but an eternal separation from God [better known as hell].

Crushed under the damning weight of sin, desperate people like you and I find ourselves gently drawn to the only place we have to go: the cross.

When God “forgives” sinners like me, He is not simply choosing to ignore the sin-He’s pouring every ounce of His wrath towards my sin into Jesus, who stands in the gap between me and the holy God that has to met out the just punishment for my cosmic treason. That is how I am forgiven. My forgiveness was costly. It was horrific and bloody-an innocent man that had already been beaten beyond recognition was nailed to a couple planks of wood to die an unimaginable death  in my stead. Nothing was swept under the rug. On the cross, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God on my behalf-and there it was finished.

The cross is the picture of God’s absolute rage against sin-and His relentless love and mercy towards sinners. In sending Jesus to earth to live the perfect life that we could not, and take the punishment for our sin on our behalves, God spoke. God spoke, and what He said is that He loves us and we don’t have to be the way we are. We need no longer be enslaved to the sin that whispers to us every morning when we wake up. We are more sinful and wretched than we ever dared to imagine-but we are more loved than we ever dared hope. We have been ransomed from sin and death-bought back at unfathomable expense. That’s the cross. And when we say that God forgives sin-the cross is what we’re talking about.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Hope, Islamic theology, Musings

Invisible. [What He Has Been To Me.]

I’ve told you about Talibe boys before. They’re the barefoot children that wander the streets of Dakar clutching rusty,  tin tomato sauce cans, begging for spare change. They’re part of an organized system-each “works” for one of the many local Islamic cult leaders.

They’re taken from their families at an early age [some are sold, others are voluntarily given], and brought to Dakar under the guise of becoming Qur’anic students at a local Daara [Qur’anic school]. At best, those that are actually given any sort of “education” memorize lengthy portions of the Qur’an in Arabic-sometimes all of it.

None of the Talibe boys understand a word of Arabic.

In the Senegalese culture, it is polite and expected to shake the hand of each person that you greet. When entering a room, this means going around to shake every person’s hand-even if there are thirty. It’s a custom so deeply ingrained in the culture that small children will offer their hands as a greeting by the time they take their first, teetering steps.

The Talibe boys that wander throughout this filthy city arrive in Dakar as young as three and four years of age. Can you imagine the confused terror of a little boy that has been abruptly  wrenched away from everything that is familiar to him? A little boy that wakes up on a Tuesday morning and suddenly finds himself without a family. Without a home. Without anyone to remember his favorite food or his middle name or the stuffed animal he could never fall asleep without. Now, even that is gone.  He owns nothing but the clothes on his back, and those are quickly taken away and replaced with rags to make him look as poor as he is before he begins to beg. His shoes are confiscated, and quickly his little feet become bloodied and calloused as he tearfully attempts to collect the dollar a day that his Marabout [the Islamic cult leader that now owns him] demands. He doesn’t speak any French-and quickly finds that his tribal language prevents him from communicating with much of the city.

It’s a city that refuses to speak to him in any language. Overnight, he has become invisible. His first day in Dakar, he does what comes as naturally as breathing-dutifully offers his tiny right hand to greet a man on the street. Without hesitation, the man passes him by-indifferent to the bewildered child with the outstretched arm.

This has never happened before. But now it happens again, and again, and again-until finally he understands. No one wants to touch him. He is unwanted. He is an outcast-treated as though he had insisted on being born. And the Talibe boy stops offering his hand.

These are boys that don’t know how old they are-children that have no idea when they were born and would never

This is where some of the boys that I met today live.

have a birthday party even if they did. Children that lay awake at night desperately trying to remember the faces of the families that sold them-faces blurred by the passing of time. Little boys that wake up crying for moms that aren’t there to rock them back to sleep.

Today Michelle, Ted and I went to volunteer at a church that works with the Talibe. Two remarkable women named Jane and Antoinette open the doors of their church every morning for about five hours, and play the part of surrogate Mothers to hundreds of boys. They start by making a millet cereal that feeds the first 35 that show up. Each child receives a number on his arm in magic marker-indicating his place in line for one of two showers. There are games, and wash tubs for the kids to scrub their tattered clothes. Both Jane and Antoinette spend the better part of their time cleaning and bandaging cuts and scrapes, lancing abscesses,  doling out vitamins, treating malaria-trying desperately to stem the waves of human suffering that beat relentlessly at their door.

They’ve been doing it for thirteen years.

I wish you could see what I saw today. Little boys that are invisible to the rest of the world-boys that wander the city with blank expressions, miserably begging for spare coins-those same boys came alive when they walked through that door. Broad grins crept across gaunt faces as child after child lit up like Christmas walking across the threshhold. Jane and Antoinette mandate that each boy that walks in greet them with a handshake-restoring the dignity that is stripped from them everywhere else. In a world that refuses to see much less touch the boys, Jane and Antoinette kiss scabies covered elbows and knees. They laugh with them, tease them, lecture them, and expect them to do chores. Chores, I might add, that the boys seemed thrilled to do. Each child I met today was incredibly well behaved-grateful, it seemed, to have somewhere to belong. Even if only for a few short hours.

Most of the boys that come speak Pulaar. Jane and Antoinette play tapes that story through the Bible in Pulaar all day at the church-so ironically, though the boys can recite lengthy portions of the Qur’an in Arabic, what they are learning is the Bible.

I played Jenga with a four year old little boy named Samba. He sat down beside me tentatively-and I smiled and put my hand on his back. He looked startled-his sweet face softened with longing as he shifted uncomfortably on the gravel. Then slowly, he began to inch his tiny hand towards mine-until finally his fingers were tightly wrapped around my pinky.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I wondered how long it had been since someone touched him.

I wish this story resolved, but it doesn’t. This is simply what I saw today. Today, through Jane and Antoinette, I saw Jesus. Loving the unlovely-the ones that nobody else wants. Ignoring the filth in our lives and taking our hands anyways. Kissing, cleaning, healing the ugly, festered pieces of our hearts. Redeeming what was lost and giving us a new identity as His. Freely.

May I be to others what He has been to me.

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Filed under Ministry moments, Musings, Senegal

Of Discontentment and Faith.

Four days ago, I learned that for various reasons, my team may be flying home on June 30th.

It’s only a day sooner than that July 1rst flight-…but it’s June. June. Something about that one missing day has made the inescapable reality that I will soon be flying home for good more tangible to me. My days of rice and sand, 6 AM calls to prayer and relentless heat, marriage offers and Muslim women, are numbered.

That number is 85.

About a year ago, I titled this blog “Audacious Faith” in hopes of learning what the audacity of actually taking God at His word might look like. I wondered how Senegal might change-how my life might change-if I lived like I really believed that God was as big and powerful and loving as He says He is. The greatest moves of God throughout history have been in response to absolutely audacious requests from people who really believed in His exclusive power to save-and I wondered what might happen if I began to live my life with a sort of reckless daring that necessitated great moves of God.

And now I find myself with only 85 days left to do that in Dakar.

Lately, I’ve been delving into Hebrews 11. You probably know that this is the “Hall of Fame” chapter that upon a cursory reading, seems to simply laud men and women who “by faith” accomplished astounding things for God. And these are the greats-people like Joshua who had the audacity to ask God to literally make the sun stand still because he needed a couple of extra hours of daylight to kick some Amorite tail. [Ha, and you’re talking to the girl that had trouble believing that God could get her through track season.]

I’d read Hebrews 11 many times before. It was orange highlighted and underlined to beat the band-but somehow, I’d managed to entirely miss the point. The chapter begins by defining faith as “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” If I hope for something, I clearly don’t have it yet. Hope implies discontentment. And discontentment screams “This is not it! The ways things are right now is not how they will be. There’s more.”

The idea that discontentment is foundational to faith was rather startling to me. Faith anticipates a better day-it anticipates that the promises of Christ will come true no matter how much it has to fight for them or how long it takes.

Faith simply believes-and then it acts. Faith moves. Faith perseveres.  

Hebrews 11 is a vault containing a lengthy list of people that  really believed. Noah building a mammoth boat in the middle of the desert, ignoring the condescending taunts of his neighbors and friends, confident that it was going to rain. Joseph asking the Israelites to make sure that when God called them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, they took his bones with them. [And why is that one noteworthy? It was 300 years before the Exodus. Joseph had no idea when or how the Israelites would be freed-but he knew somehow, sometime, God would do it.] Samson, Moses, David, Samuel-people that didn’t have the foggiest idea when or how but they knew God was going to move.

And the glorious news is this: they’re not the point.

Hebrews 11: 13-16 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

The million dollar question: why was God “not ashamed” [I think it’s fair to say that that’s an understatement for “proud”] to be called their God?

It wasn’t the boats that were built, the seas that were parted, or the cities that fell. It wasn’t even because some of them were martyred. In an entirely counter-intuitive spin, God was proud to be called their God because of what HE had done for THEM. He’d prepared a “city” for them-and in the midst of a listing of great acts of faith, He is simply proud of what He did, and their desire for it. Each of those “greats” had one thing in common: they were discontent. And in the midst of that discontentment, they truly believed that God was better than life itself. Worth looking absurd for, worth leaving home for, worth living for and worth dying for. Their desire for God-for what He had already done for them-calls attention to His superior worth over all that the world has to offer.

Neither Hebrews 11, nor my life or yours, is about us. Our greatest acts of faith [which we are indeed called to make!] are insignificant in light of what God has already done for us-reconciled us to Himself through Jesus. And He is delighted with us not because of what we have done-but because of what He has done.

To an often faithless girl like me, that’s exceedingly good news.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Hope, Joy, Musings