Miracles.

“Let’s just not expect any miracles, okay?”

That’s what the doctor said to me when I took Nicole in for her final check-up before her surgeries. And it’s the same thing he’s said to me at almost every weekly follow-up appointment since then.

“We’re giving it our very best and only time will tell, but we can’t expect a miracle.”

…Except that I kind of think we CAN.

The line between faith and doubt is so thin, and I’ve seen too many times (in my own life!) that often the only thing that keeps us from crossing over to full-on faith in situations is our own desperate need for self-protection.

The day I brought Nicole home with me her shirt was soaked in blood, her hair all choppy and matted together was absolutely infested with lice, and the rumors about her story from village friends ranged all over the map. “She’s cursed and will never speak”, they said. “She fell off a landslide as a kid and hit her head…her tongue is too short…she’s too traumatized to learn to behave…she’s too violent…there’s nothing you can do”.

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But I mean it when I say that I could see it in her eyes- there was more inside of that girl than anyone in the village knew, I was sure of it. By the grace of God, He let me see it. And although it absolutely terrified me and at the same time destroyed every single plan I had for my life at that time, I knew that if no one else would, I could be the one who believes in miracles for her…

It didn’t take long before this warrior girl started shattering expectations. Within a few months she learned to hold a spoon, and use a toilet, and go to sleep at bedtime. She even stopped kicking the dog. This girl they had labeled as “cursed” and “violent” was suddenly hugging everyone who walked in our home and refusing to eat breakfast unless one of us is sitting right next to her at the table.

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Right now she enjoys coloring and matching shapes on the ipad and she begs every night to help me cook dinner in the kitchen. She loves her dolls and “reading” her books and playing with the toy trains that her friend Pierce left for her, but if she gets her way she’ll just be outside mixing leaves and dirt and berries all day. She’s really starting to try to speak more and more every day, but no matter what happens, I have a feeling her laugh will always be everyone’s favorite sound.

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You see, I know how much easier it is not to expect…not to hope. But every single day we get handed different situations, relationships, and needs in our lives and we get to choose how we will face them. We can choose to only work towards and hope for the outcomes that we know are safe…painless…inexpensive…or make 100% sense- the things we can know for sure will let us come out on the other end scrape free. OR we can put our heart on the line and make some space in our lives for miracles to happen.

When we only hope or try for things that are sure to happen, we leave no room for God to actually show up like we claim we want. When everything we do, or give our hearts to, or allow into our lives in any way, are just strings of perfectly calculated scenarios and risk-free investments, we will ONLY ever get what we planned for. And while that may seem like enough in the moment because it saves us from things we all hate such as disappointment and loss, it also means we inevitably miss out on so much of the territory where God does His very best work.

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When the medical prognosis is only 15% survival, are you brave enough to try to fight it? When you can’t make the numbers in your budget work out perfectly but you know God is asking you to do the thing anyway, will you do it? When the marriage or the friendship feels too far gone and you’re both too different now and all you can see when you look is how broken you both are, will you take the easy out when it comes? Because it will come. Or can you hang on long enough for God to rescue what you couldn’t rescue on your own?

God’s “abundantly more than we could ask or think or imagine” usually brings about things like rescue, healing, unity, truth, peace, restoration, financial stability, salvation…and on and on. Those are miracle words. But we wont get there…we can’t get there… if we aren’t willing at times to go against every odd, to take every doubting thought captive in our minds, and step our shaking feet and fragile heart out into miracle territory.

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The truth for me right now personally is that Nicole’s surgeries went perfectly, and she has an incredibly talented surgeon and doctor on her side, but there’s still a chance she may never speak or hear properly. Her ears may never heal the way we want and hope they will. The doctor is right when he says that only time will tell. We still have a few more months of waiting and weekly appointments.

And some days, part of me is really terrified to keep hoping. I want to just accept that she will never speak…that I will never hear her say, “I love you too”, or tell me about the first ten years of her life that I missed. But I can’t do it, I can’t give up hope. Because I promised that very first day to be the person in her life who fights for her and believes in miracles for her. That’s who I want to be. For her. And for myself.

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So right now we hope. And we pray. And we wait.
Fully convinced that nothing is impossible for our God.

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“My heart feels warm”, she said.

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The dust collects in between my toes as I walk down the road towards the next house. Even though it’s 100 and something degrees hot outside, I pull my black scarf over and around my head so the motors passing by hopefully won’t take much notice to the white girl in the village. I can’t do much to hide my blue eyes, so I just turn them up towards the sky as the motors pass and take it as a quick chance to reconnect with God until the path is clear again.

We have been coming to this village for a long time now, but I still try to remind myself each time I slip my sandals off outside the door that I am forever to be a learner first in this place- a learner of their tribe and culture, their way of living, their people. I don’t come in with all the answers to their problems and I don’t want to ever pretend to be the hero. I am most definitely not the hero. If only you could get to know them with me…they are the heroes.

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I step into the house and immediately get handed a baby. So I sit down on the ground, hoping the baby doesn’t use my lap as a diaper today (buuut he probably will), and I take in the familiar view around me. The inside of this house looks the same as all the others I spend my village days in. A stock of clothing is piled in the corner to be shared by all 15 people living in the house, a small table made from trees stands proudly in the center of the house, and next to it a bamboo mat is laid down where the family will all huddle together to sleep at night. There is likely a gun somewhere, but I don’t see it today. A metal mug, a few spoons and bowls, and a pot hang from nails on the boards of the house. Laundry is drying on the clothesline outside. And that’s it. That’s the house and all they own. I remember the teaching of Jesus…

“And when you pray, He said, pray like this:
Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread…”

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I’ve been coming to these villages long enough to know the secret: there is really a special joy to be found here in this kind of life. I don’t say its easy, because absolutely nothing about life here is easy. But something is so real and powerful about a life completely and utterly dependent on God to show up and do what He says He’ll do, and be who He says He is. The Bible comes alive to me here; God is tangible.

“And looking at His disciples, Jesus said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

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After a while, Auntie takes the metal mug off the nail, blows on the old fire coals to spark it up again, and sets the water kettle over the wood to heat water for our coffee. She sits down beside me and catches me up on the chika (news) from the week. I understand most of what she says to me and just smile and nod through the few parts I don’t quite catch. Afterwards its silent between us for a minute. We goo and ga and do all the baby things for a while. Then she lifts her head and almost in a whisper, leans in to ask me a question…

“Why do you keep coming here? Even your Filipino companions from the city, why do they keep coming here to us? The road is hard, it’s dangerous here for you, we have nothing to give to you, we smell like the mountain…”

She stops her question short because I start laughing when she says their smell is like the mountain. But then I pause for a minute, because I know this question matters and I really want to answer her well. Its not the first time I’ve been asked this.

I take a second to pray before I answer her. If I bring up God’s name too soon or in the wrong house or in bad way, it could get our team into danger. I have to be bold and honest, but careful and discerning. There is no rulebook for this and I so often feel the heavy weight of responsibility to keep my team safe, but today I feel peace as I pray so I continue…

Auntie, the same God who brings the rain to water your crops so you can have food on the table, and creates the children in your womb, and provides for your needs here each day, the same God who created the materials in nature for you to build this house, who renews your strength every morning so you can fetch your water and care for your family, the same God who sees us sitting here right now together in your house, is the same God who brought us here to your place.

Because He wants you to know that He loves you. You are not hidden from His sight or forgotten about here in this village. His ear is not deaf to hear your cries for help and His hand is not short to save you. I can see His handprints all around your land even though most people here don’t yet worship Him. You think you’re alone out here, but you’re not. The one true God is here. And He loves you.

(I do the best I can with the language skills I have, but in a weird way I can’t explain, God tends to take control of my mouth when it matters most and give me words I don’t even know that I know).

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I turn back to face her, a little nervous to catch her response, but then I realize she’s crying.

Auntie, why are you crying?
“Because my heart feels warm”, she said.

We just laugh. I wanted to tell her right then and there about the Holy Spirit and how He moves and works in us. But I knew it wasn’t yet the time to push it. Instead I just smiled back at her and finished my coffee. One seed at a time.

I’m glad Auntie, I’m glad! My heart feels warm too…

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Show up.

It was 5:42am on Friday morning. I was sitting outside my house on our bamboo bench, trying to prepare my heart and mind for the day ahead in the village. The breeze was colder and stronger than other mornings, and the sun was taking a lot longer to rise than it should. This is a tell tale sign here in the Philippines that a storm is brewing and coming in quick. REALLY not what our team wants to see when we’re supposed to be on the road soon…

My mind instantly started considering the dangers and risks of taking the team up the mountain in a storm. The already challenging path we take each week would become a slippery, muddy mess. The rain will make it hard to see the missing pieces in the road, the rocks, goats and other farm life suddenly crossing the road, and there is a high potential that even our pick up truck will get stuck (in a rebel zone with 3 American visitors riding with us).

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That morning I felt the heavy weight of responsibility on my shoulders to be wise and keep the team safe. My brain automatically said just don’t go today, but my spirit was fighting it. I wondered why…

The team would be on their way to our house soon, I needed to make a decision. Are we going or not God? I read, I prayed, I sat down, I stood up, I walked over to the garden….as if maybe my standing or sitting or my positioning in the yard would make His answer come quicker and clearer! …nothing. It wasn’t a go, but it wasn’t a stay either. I took a deep breath and went inside. Still no answer, but I might as well get dressed. The storm clouds continued to roll in and my clock was ticking.

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If this same scenario were happening in my life years ago, I would’ve had no problem. We simply would not go. Back then, whatever my brain told me was smart, that’s what I would choose. But then I learned to hear Gods voice, I learned to tune in to that tiny whisper inside of me, and my life was wrecked forever. I mean completely flipped upside down. I can no longer lean on my own understanding; I can only acknowledge Him and listen for Him to direct my path.

Makes for a real cute verse or refrigerator magnet,
but a tough life motto to truly live by…

Usually, when I can’t yet clearly discern the direction of God in my life, I just keep walking forward until He tells me to stop or change where I’m going. That was essentially my stellar game plan for this day too. The team arrived, they packed up all our supplies and food and loaded it into the truck. Meagan’s family, our visitors for the week, packed their lunches and prepared their bags, everything was ready. We huddled into the living room in a circle for prayer and worship.

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Jeni started to play the guitar and the team started to sing. I just love that moment every morning when the atmosphere in the room shifts and the presence of God becomes really tangible. The world to me for a moment, feels very small and personal. I started to pray again…God what do you want us to do? 

I want you to go. I want them to see today
that I love them so much. Tell them…

He didn’t scream. He didn’t write it on the wall. He didn’t hack into the sound system in my house and inform us all together in unison. But as sure as I’m ever sure, He answered. And deep down inside, I always knew He would. The question all along was really this-...would I be bold enough to listen and obey once I heard His answer?

All in all it took us 7 ½ hours to get there and back on Friday, we were completely soaked and cold all day, and our butts were a bit bruised from the rough roads. But we made it, no problems. God was good to us.

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As we traveled there that morning I sat in the back of the truck and thought about what God had said- about His plan for them to really SEE how much He loves them. You know, we go into these villages each week with bible stories, livelihood skills, feedings, games, and its good. But sometimes they still question why we are there. They talk among themselves and they think I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I can…

“maybe they have to fulfill their religious duties for the church or the gods wont bless them…maybe she had leftover food at her house so she brings it here…maybe they get paid a lot of money for coming here…maybe she feels bad for us…maybe she doesn’t have any family in America so she comes here…maybe she will make a movie and we will be famous..”

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I’m not kidding, I’ve heard all the reasons. It’s hard sometimes actually not to be offended by their reasoning…

No matter how much we try to preach Jesus and live and love and serve them with Jesus at the forefront of everything we do, they still have (yet) to comprehend it fully. They accept what we offer, but doubt our motives. Can I blame them? They only know what has been spoken over them and about them for generations- you are nothing, nobody sees you or knows you way out here in these villages, you are ignorant and unloved and your life will never amount to any more than this…

So when God told us to go to them on Friday, even in the danger of the storm, I really understood why. The people in the village wouldn’t expect us to come on this day. The whole island was under a signal 1 warning. They would assume we wouldn’t be there. They would know what the roads are like…

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But on this specific day God said go.

Because when you continue to show up for the people around you, in spite of the inconvenience, they will start to wonder why. When they don’t deserve it, or its least expected, or they assume you wont be there, but then you ARE there- it shakes them up. It rattles loose all the delusions put there by the enemy about why you could possibly still care about them and forces them to see the truth-Someone really does loves them.

If it was about religious duties, or leftover food, or money, or pity, then we would have stayed home on Friday. But when I stood in front of the kids that day and then later again in front of the moms in English class, they knew I had nothing to gain by being there. I told them how much God loved them, how He wanted us to be there with them, and I trust that for the first time, they really started to believe it…

I heard Beth Moore preach the other day and she said this: “there are no shortcuts to long-term effectiveness and faithfulness..”

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Basically, you show up. And then you show up again, and again and again. Day after day, week after week. Through mountains and valleys, when you can’t see any fruit from your labor- show up again. When they question your motives, keep going. When they take what you give them and then walk right away without ever looking you in the eyes, keep giving. When the passion and fire inside of you fades, go anyway.
When God says go, you go.

Because there are no shortcuts in ministry or just in life. Sometimes the people around us just need to SEE it over and over again before they can finally believe that God really loves them.

Who is that person in your life who needs you to show up for them right now? Maybe you’ve been showing up for years now, and you’re tired and frustrated because they still don’t get it and you don’t see any change. Will you find inside of you a tenacity from the Holy Spirit to push through and keep going? Because today might just be the day you show up, against all odds, and the enemy finally loses his grip on them…

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There are no shortcuts to long-term effectiveness.
Be faithful to the call.
Show up.

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I am a prisoner of hope.

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I have knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly, been a prisoner to many things in my short 24 years of life.

As a child, soccer was always my captor. I was constantly rushing from school practice to club practice and spending every weekend out at the fields. I sometimes missed school dances and birthday parties, I didn’t drink soda and I was careful to stay in shape.

Then in middle school, like most girls, I was a prisoner to popularity. I wore a hideous, thick line of white eyeliner to school everyday even though I hated it. Everyone else was doing it so naturally…I had to too. I laughed at sick jokes, even though they made me feel dirty and threw around a bunch of four letter words.

But in high school I went the opposite direction and instead of chasing the world, I became a captive of religion and the church. I knew all the songs, memorized the popular Bible verses, and went on all the weekend retreats. I was polished on the outside but dead underneath…

And in college, I devoted myself to gaining the love and approval of people. Moving away from home and suddenly getting thrown into a world of complete strangers left me desperately fighting to be seen. I went to some ridiculous extremes just to feel wanted…

I’ve been a prisoner to fear- anxious and worried about things not in my control. I’ve been a prisoner to anger- letting even the smallest circumstances or one wrong word thrust me into a whirlwind of screaming and fighting, taking out everything in my path. I’ve been a prisoner of doubt- overwhelmed and defeated by all the pain and suffering in the world, concluding at the end there can’t be a God.

Pride. Selfishness. Relationships. Loneliness…all captors my flesh wants to go back to…

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I feel just like the Israelites sometimes when they kept begging Moses to let them go back to Egypt, even though God had rescued them, performed crazy miracles right in front of their eyes, and promised them multiple times that better things were ahead.

I get it, Israelites, I really do…

But I refuse to let that story be MY story. I know what its like to be a captive of lesser things- I lived that life for way too long. And I too can hear the enemy when he whispers his lies that its easier back there or I was happier when I was a slave…

But here’s the thing- I refuse to live as a prisoner to anything but Jesus.

Even in the middle of darkness, or in those seemingly inevitable times that I have way more questions than answers, when tomorrow is full of uncertainty, or even in those special times when my life is overflowing with celebration and blessing- I want to live as a prisoner of hope.

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I want to live FULLY confident in the hope that only comes from knowing and clinging to the promises of God. Because one of my favorite verses tells me, no matter how many promises God makes- they all find their YES in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Jesus, You promised. You will comfort the brokenhearted. You set the captives free and the lonely in families. You give beauty for ashes. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a display of the Lord’s splendor. You began a good work and You will finish it. You knew every day of my life before there was yet even one, and you work all things together for good for those who love You. You will be exalted in all the nations. You will be praised in all the earth…

422734_3674918321569_2104574070_nAnd because of HIS yes, I too can say yes to all He asks and all He brings my way.
I want to live my life as a prisoner to these promises and to the Hope that’s found within them. I must live like this. For I have found and come to KNOW this is true:
life-changing freedom can only be found when I am completely captivated
by my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
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“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and saving is he…he will speak peace to the nations; his rule will be from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O PRISONERS OF HOPE; today I declare to you that I will restore to you double what has been taken…”
-Zechariah 9:9-12

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