When You Feel Like You’re Naked

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As soon as I hit the send button, the nerves start to come. Did I share too much? Will people judge us?

The missionary newsletter: it goes out to 182 people and is linked on facebook. 164 people have clicked that link to read it.

Over 300 readers, only a handful of responses.

Some days I get tired of being vulnerable.

It’s something I’ve felt often lately.

And I know some of it’s my own doing; I write a blog. I make a choice to share vulnerable things about my life, many of them spiritual.

But I also have a job that requires me to share. We write newsletters and try to figure out what to tell people and what to keep private, how much is too much and what isn’t enough. We have financial partners and prayers partners that want to be kept in the know, as well they should. This is their ministry too, and we don’t take that lightly.

Our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being is tied into what we do here, so we make another choice to reveal things to bosses and coworkers that we perhaps wouldn’t choose to do otherwise.

Some days I feel like I’m naked.

Because you and you and you can see all my innermost thoughts and issues and all the things I haven’t gotten right yet and the truth is that it scares me. It scares me that you know me.

I want you to know me, but I don’t want you to know me.

Because if you really know me you might not love me.

I write this blog and I’m naked. I write the newsletter and I’m naked. I sit in the next meeting with bosses and coworkers and still, I’m naked.

I am exposed.

And I just want to climb inside the biggest coat and put on a hat and hide in the corner where you can’t see me anymore, where I can mess up and no one will know, where I can cry and scream and it’ll just be that girl in the funny coat in the corner and you won’t really know that it’s me.

“You’re vulnerable because you’re secure in who you are,” he says. He, the one I pledged my forever to, sits across from me at the table and speaks tenderly to me, to my tired spirit.

“You didn’t have to share as much as you did [in the newsletter], but you made a choice to. You’re secure in who you are.”

“So, you don’t think I’m one of those crazy over-sharers (you know, the ones whose feed you block on facebook)?”

He just laughs. “No.”

So I have to go back and read the e-mails that say, “Thank you for your honesty,” the texts that read, “Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability.”

I have to remember that it matters. And that it is worth it.

That it’s worth it to share pieces of my own story that someone else may be encouraged. That it’s worth it for Jesus to get glory for redeeming my weak and messy life.

And I look to the Man that hung naked on the tree, his life, his guts poured out. For what is more vulnerable, what is more helpless and open, than saying, “Not my will, Lord, but yours be done”?

What is more vulnerable than pouring out your life like a drink offering?

He went to the cross willingly. He wore a thorny crown and not much else and said, “Here is my life, world, emptied out for you.”

So maybe I can keep pouring my life out with the pen, keep typing words and letting them fly into space where all can read. Maybe I can keep owning my weakness and physical ailments and issues and keep letting you know me.

Maybe I can.

Maybe I can live out the words of that spiritual father C.S. Lewis: “To love is to be vulnerable.”

So, I’ll keep trying to love you the best I know how, by sharing my life, my heart, and letting you know me.

And you, reader, keep writing those e-mails you may not get a response to. Keep sharing your heart, keep asking questions, and keep letting people know you. Carry on with love.

Her Glow Remains

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This is the post that I have put off writing for a long time. The words, thoughts, have swirled around in my head for months.

But how do you start the blog post about death?

She was there one day and gone the next.

My friend, Johanna, she was a star. Not with fame or something trivial like that. No, she was such that when you were in her presence you couldn’t help but become enveloped in her glow. She was magnetic.

She was there when I first brought that boy to my college church. We giggled when discussing whether or not that guy was my boyfriend. And she was there when he and I had said our “I do’s” a few years later.

We had shared laughs and tears and conversations about life and God.

She was my friend.

Her heart was big and she loved big.

And now I would never get to say goodbye, not really. Because back in the fall when I got the news that a car accident had taken her life I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave Papua New Guinea.

So I laid in the bed next to that same boy and cried. And I had to start learning to grieve from afar.

We went out to the village a week later and she lingered in my mind.

She lingered there as I hiked through the jungle. She lingered when I pounded dough and formed loaves. She was there when I stared out at the distant mountains, when I laughed with new friends.

And she lingered still a few weeks ago on the day she was supposed to walk down the aisle dressed in white, pledging her forever to the love of her life.

The truth is I’ll never be rid of her. And I don’t want to be. I want her mark on my heart to stay fixed, tattooed there. I don’t want the image of her face to dim or fade. I don’t want her beauty to leave me.

How could I have known that two years ago would be my last opportunity to see her? When I was in town and we tried to get together but it didn’t work out.

She left behind a fiancé and 7 brothers and sisters and a mother and father. All broken to seemingly irreparable pieces, much more than me.

And I can’t help it, it’s my human nature I guess, but I had to ask Him why. Why her? She was good and kind and to know her was to love her and why her, God?

He doesn’t answer me, not really. But I do know is that “death has lost its sting.”

Donne said it best when he penned those words:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

I know she doesn’t miss this world even though it aches for her. For her smile and laugh and tender nature. The pain is real and it lingers with her memory.

But she is home. And I can’t ache over that. She is with Him, forever.

Johanna Mae, bright star, your glow remains.

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

When You’re Not Sure if He Hears You

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He and I sit on the couch, his head on my shoulder, our hands clasped intertwined.  The Highlands wind yells loud outside, blowing the tall grass outside our window.  It sways as if in a dance, shades of green moving to and fro.

I stare through the window slats.  The green rolling mountains and pine trees make me think, just for a moment, that I’m back in America.  The wind keeps howling, its invisible hands shaking trees and blowing smoke from the village just over yonder.

And I wonder, as we mutter quiet, feeble prayers, if our words get lost out in the highlands too, like the wind through the trees- you can’t catch wind with your hands.

I wonder if our prayers too simply blow away, here for a moment, then gone.

We’d stared into the eyes of the veteran missionaries just last week.  We’d asked them if it had been worth it- if their 35 years here in the jungle had been worth it.  And with eyes that sparkled and brimmed over, with aged faces and white hair, they had both nodded and said, “Yes.”

She’d cried when she’d told me it hadn’t been easy.  And she laughed when she told me how she’d told her husband she wouldn’t live in the village without a real toilet, no sir.  How she’d missed her family and raised two children and how the years were full of heartache and joy and wondering just how in the world this preacher’s daughter ended up in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

And how she’d had moments when she told God she couldn’t do it anymore.  And how He’d spoken her name and said, “Yes, you can.  I’m with you.”

My mind goes back to last summer when we slept in the village house with the dirt floor.  When I was weaker than weak, when I was failing at everything, when I was just surviving most days.  He and I, the one whose hand I hold now, had battled and afterward I’d sat in that jungle house and wept.  I’d told Him that I couldn’t see, that I had no vision.  “I can’t see, Lord, I can’t see.”

Immediately the verse came into my head:

“So whether you turn to the right or to the left

you will hear a voice calling behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”

Isaiah 30:21

The words had come so quickly, my eyes must have widened in surprise.  God had actually heard me.

In my moment of blindness, when I offered desperate prayers to God, he heard me.  And not only had He heard me, He had responded.

He had taken my plea and offered an answer that I would understand.

So now we sit hand in hand.  He and I, we keep waiting on God.  We keep asking Him for answers, we keep speaking out into the hills.  But I know our voices reach further than the wind, they blow right into the ear of God.  They don’t stop out in the void, but rest in the heart of Jesus.

And He’ll be faithful to answer.

He comes in tender waves and earthquakes and whispers and thunder.  But He always comes.  Always.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;

He inclined to me and heard my cry…

[He has] given me an open ear.”

Psalm 40:1, 6b

Leah vs. Rachel {When Your Plans Change}

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I lie on the bed and struggle to breathe.  I clutch at my chest, the pain weighing heavy on me.

I’ve never had a panic attack before, but I am, for whatever reason, sure that that is what is happening to me now.

My head is clear, like I’m  watching myself from a distance.

“Erin, just stop,” I tell myself.  “Breathe.”

But it doesn’t do any good.  My frightened husband tries to calm me; he tells my daughter that Mommy is sick when she comes in the room and sees her mama lie there with tears streaming and breathe escaping.

And I know it then: Everything is going to change.

The doctor spoke it very decidedly: anxiety.

He’d said it in his Aussie accent, that I needed rest, real rest.  Which we knew meant at least one thing concretely: our plans would be changing.  Again.

We thought we were finally hitting the plateau after the strenuous, uphill climb that has been our first year in Papua New Guinea, but now again we find ourselves asking God just what in the world is He doing?

What do you do when you’ve been working toward Rachel, but the Father gives you Leah instead?  And you find out you have to work seven more years to marry your love, your dream?  What do you do when you awaken in the bridal bed to a face different than that who you have labored and sweated over?

“So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel.  But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days…  But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! ‘What have you done to me?’ Jacob raged at Laban. ‘I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?’…  So Jacob slept with Rachel, too, and he loved her much more than Leah.  He then stayed and worked for Laban the additional seven years.”  Genesis 29:20, 25, 30

Leah gave Jacob six sons and a daughter.  She gave him his firstborn, his honor and heir.  She gave him Judah, the line from which the Son of God would be born unto man.  And yet, Jacob did not love her.

I’m finding it difficult to balance between living in the present moment and dreaming about the future.

For we all dream marvelous, wild dreams, but are at the same time forced to live out the days leading up to those dreams, forced to work and toil, forced to look upon the prize, but not touch her; to love her from a longing distance.  Forced to deal with pain and loss in the intermittent, to face changes to our plans.

So what do you do when your plans change?

You learn to love and value Leah.

You learn to give thanks for her.  You rejoice over her fruits.  You find her beauty when, in your eyes, she falls so short when compared to Rachel.  And most of all, you learn to keep trusting the Father.

Because often we don’t understand why He lets painful things happen, why the journey seems wrought with changes when we long for stability.  But we hold fast to this eternal truth: He is good.

And He’s working things out for us:

“The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.”  Psalm 138:8

And He love us.  Oh, how He loves us.

So we hold loosely to our plans and our dreams, and hold fast to God.  And we learn to love Leah.

Restored: Reflections on 2013

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2013 was supposed to be the Year of Restoration.  This was the word the Lord gave Kevin and I last December when we prayed for vision for 2013.

What I didn’t expect was the breaking down that comes before restoration.

In January we set off on the biggest adventure of our lives and were immediately met with hard times.

We felt our daughter’s skin burn like fire our first night in Papua New Guinea.

We felt exhausted as all of our cultural norms and habits were challenged and stretched in the attempt to build relationships, learn a new language, and a new way of life.

So much questioning, so many tears.

When he and I battled and yelled and said things we wished we could take back.

When my cold words cut my daughters’ tender little hearts.

When she fell and fear swept over like a dark, toxic cloud.

When I felt like a failure and more weak than I ever have in my life.

When I laid in the jungle hut and wished I could die; when I longed for Heaven so much that it hurt.

When I couldn’t see Him.

When it hurt to keep giving my life to God.

When I watched my daughter laid down on the altar, and me surrendering again and again to Him even when it felt like too much.

All the tears, all the prayers, all the time: restoring.

When I discovered that baptism isn’t drowning.

When I watched my daughter find Jesus in the night time sky and later ask Jesus to live within her three year old heart.

When I rediscovered grace and relearned gratitude in the jungle.  When I started numbering the gifts again.

When I found beauty in the ugly.

When a brown-skinned Papa carried his malaria-stricken white-skinned daughter.

When we kissed on our wedding anniversary and felt the same love and commitment from the “I dos” we spoke six years ago.

When we extended grace to one another.

We sit on our bed and reread our scripture of the year.  “Wow,” he says, “That really was for us.”  On Sunday we join the preacher’s wife in thanking God for all He’s done in 2013.  For all the hardships, for all the moments He met us, for all the gifts, the laughter, the tears, the knowing Him more deeply, the trusting Him more fully.  And my tears fall from a heart full of thankfulness, for surely He was near, all the time.  Truly, we are restored.  And what joy to know that He is still restoring.  Always.

“When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
it was like a dream!
 We were filled with laughter,
and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
What joy!

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
as streams renew the desert.

Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest.”  Psalm126

When Receiving Feels Awkward

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It’s 6:30 on Sunday morning and we hear the beat of the garamut. The large slit-drum is letting everyone know that church will be soon. It will sound three more times before church commences. Bright sunshine stretches its fingers inside our bedroom; we roll over and smile underneath the mosquito net.

Kevin is preaching this morning; the headman of the church comes by to check in on him. It was simple enough when he had told the headman that he didn’t bring any pants to the village and apologized for having to preach in shorts.

And then they all start showing up with clothes.

Apparently the headman had given an announcement after church; he’d said it in Sop so we couldn’t understand. He told everyone to bless us with clothing, to show us good customs.

They know that we don’t need clothes, but they bring them anyway. Pants and skirts, dresses and shirts.

“I need them to stop bringing clothes,” I say to him a few days later. Because it is awkward and uncomfortable to receive things from people who have less than we do. But we don’t want to shame them so we continue to say, “Thank you,” with a smile and receive them.

Because this is different than getting cucumbers and watermelons, things they have in abundance. When a man gives you the shirt off his back when you know he needs it, what do you say?

How do you open your hands to the gift given when it feels so awkward?

Because it’s uncomfortable that God came down and shed His own blood for you and me; that He took our sins upon His shoulders. It’s uncomfortable that His body was broken and yet He asked the Father to forgive his oppressors. It’s uncomfortable sometimes to be loved so deeply that we can’t understand it and we certainly will never match it.

And it’s awkward that He gives grace upon grace upon grace when you and I just keep messing up. It’s awkward that when sin abounds, grace does too.

And the truth is that we often close our hearts and cross our arms to Jesus and His gifts because it feels weird to take from Him, feels strange that He keeps on giving. But the reality is this: He will never stop giving.

You cannot out-sin his grace, can’t run too far from his love; His store never runs out.

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit… May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:16,19

So I embrace the words Kevin said when he answered me, “You’ll just have to get over it.” And I try too. So when the old woman comes and gives me another dress, I receive it joyfully.

The garamut sounds a week later and we sit down for church, him in his new pants and shirt, me in my new dress. And we worship amongst the givers.

When You Need Reminding Why You’re Here

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I sit on the hard, wooden bench on the women’s side.  The pink, blue, and yellow stained glass softens sunlight, filling the small village church.  It’s our last Sunday morning in Guntebaug; we head back to town on Friday.

I try to wrangle two toddler girls.  We wait for church to start (and wait and wait…)

I’m tired.  I’m trying to digest the last five weeks we’ve been living among the Nobonob people.  It has been wonderful and horrible and challenging and joy-bringing.

Sometimes I forget why I’m here.  I get lost in the hard moments and when it feels the failures keep piling up, I lose sight.  My blindness keeps me from seeing things as they really are- how often I have been in this place before.

Some days when my eyes can’t see my ears must work harder.

A young boy grabs a guitar and begins to play and suddenly noise fills up this little congregation.  The church blurs and water seeps over lids.  Yes, this: every language worshipping Jesus.

We are loud this morning, voices raised, hands clapping- sound reaching Heaven’s ears.  And I hear clearly and the sound makes my eyes open again.  And I see it again, the vision: Until all Hear.

You see, sometimes we need reminding why we’re here.  Not just me in Papua New Guinea, but all of us.  Because there are days when our hearts long for Him and Heaven so much that it hurts.  But we labor on the Earth not in vain.  Our brows sweat and our bodies bleed and our hearts ache and it’s not all for naught.

So when you need reminding: sing.  And let the worship remind you of this:  you have purpose here on the Earth and it isn’t to be an accountant or a doctor or even a missionary.  No, it’s to know Jesus fully- the God-Man.

I remember the words the veteran missionary spoke after I’d been here only a few weeks:  “If you think you came to Papua New Guinea to be a Bible translator or a missionary, you’re wrong.  You came here to know Jesus better.”

I sing and remember.  And my eyes refocus on Jesus, the Savior, who loves Papua New Guinea and me and who is here now calling me deeper into the knowledge of Him.

And together we sing:

Hosanna!  Hallelujah!

Until all hear; until all sing.