Learning it’s okay to fail.

I remember the first time I called a friend from the floor of my bedroom in the Philippines and confessed I wasn’t fit to be a mom. Someone needs to come get Nicole and bring her to the kind of person she deserves, I said over the phone through tears. Surely anyone would be better at this than me.

It’s embarrassing to write that and read the words back now, but those were very real feelings from a very real place inside of me at that time. And that’s not the only time this harsh inner critic inside of me has gone there. Being a mom to Nicole revealed in me what plenty of other areas in my life had tried to hint at for a long time – I was worshiping an idol of perfection.

Because when you put the quiet expectation on yourself as a mother to never fall or fail them, to never show when you’re scared and never feel angry – then somewhere along the way you’ve stopped acknowledging God and decided you can be a good enough god to the people you love instead. We may never say it that way, but the exhausting way I was living and striving exposed me. I expected myself to always be able to love and care and be everything for Nicole perfectly. 

Nothing had me chasing impossible standards more than motherhood.

I was so consumed trying to do things for her that only He can, and then beating myself up whenever I’d fail. I had to reach the end of myself and the idol had to be exposed so I could repent. Only God could save her, heal her, comfort her, and give her what that special heart of hers truly needs each day. Only God was with her for those first 9 years of her life, and when she turns 15 next month only God knows what her future days hold. All the redemption that fills her story is from God and any glory there is his. 

I love Nicole so much, more than I ever thought possible, but I cannot be her savior. And when God entrusted her to me he never asked me to try. There’s actually power and strength in humbly acknowledging this limitation each day. 

If I’ve learned anything from the past 5 years it’s that I’m going to keep getting it wrong. I’m going to fall asleep some nights wishing I had held more space for her pain or been more patient with the ways she’s learned to cope in this world after trauma. I can always listen better or respond differently when I’m frustrated. Just this morning I lost it when she let the dogs run inside all over the freshly mopped floors. (This particular fight will likely happen again next week, if I’m honest though.)

I am not enough for her. But I know the One who is. 

My work as a mom, as a friend, as a Christian, as a leader, is to do the best I know how to right now and then as I know better, I can do better. There is grace upon grace for every moment in between. 

If you’re doing the good, holy work of mothering right now (in any form) then there’s space at the table this weekend for you to rest from your striving and be celebrated just as you are. Far more important than anything our people will ever receive or learn from us during the years they’re in our care, is what they gain from being near the One in whose image every one of us was made. 

I am so lucky to get to love Nicole and to be loved by her. I couldn’t have known all the ways this love would change me or how my heart would explode out of my chest each time she smiles. Watching her grow, thanking God every time she’s safe, seeing her overcome the impossible – her life is a miracle and I’m simply a witness. I’m still very much learning what it looks like to be a good mom to her. But I know now that I want to be the kind of person who brings my brokenness and imperfections as an offering every day instead of endlessly striving and beating myself up when I fail. 

I’m committed to doing the best I can with what He’s given me and trusting God to do all that I can’t- in Nicole and in me. That’s all He’s ever asked from us anyway. 

Sisters, Christ is in you. I hope knowing that helps you rest in grace this weekend.

Remember and Don’t Forget.

I am a camp girl through and through. Non-camp people can say what they want. I simply cannot be swayed that camp is anything less than an imperfect, but beautiful place! So it feels like a fun gift from God to me that all these years later on the other side of the world I get to be a part of bringing camp to life here.

But let me just tell you how you can know that God has big plans for something- it’s when the enemy comes hard and fast to try and take it all out. For us this time it came in the form of a typhoon. Rain and rain and so much rain every day leading up to camp. This meant spotty electricity, difficult muddy roads for the van, and overall just not the best time at camp if your plan is to be on the top of a mountain for a few days in tents! I’m all for roughing it, but I knew this type of persistent rain meant we needed to pivot and make a new plan fast. 


“…God, the girls are so excited and the staff worked really hard to plan for this. I don’t want to change it all around or move inside. You could say one word and the rain would stop. Why let this happen?” 

I thought these things only inside my heart. But still, I know he heard me (Psalm 139:2) and I instantly wished I had responded to the rain differently… I know God better than to doubt his goodness here. If this is what he allows, then it must be what is best. So I sat down with our itinerary for the next few days and together we set out to shift towards plan B…

There was a moment around that table when everyone was bustling and making new plans that I was somewhere else quieter in my mind. The conviction of the Holy Spirit was still gently and privately nudging this change into the crevices of my heart- knowing me so deeply and understanding it would always take me a little longer than the others… 

“Leah, don’t worry. Do you see how many answered prayers you’re surrounded with right now?”

The question came and all I had to do was glance up to know it was so true. This growing ministry team. The sound of two dozen girls singing songs about Jesus echoing off the walls. Provision of resources that we could even take on additional costs to shift things so easily. Solar lights to manage no electricity. A reliable van to transport all 40 people. A new location to move camp to that’s covered for sessions. We are safe. We are dry. We have plenty of food for everyone. And on and on..

Camp was always going to be good no matter what
because the point was always Him. 


The next few days of camp were better than any plan. They were full, and fun and I know they mattered from an eternal perspective for so many lives. 

We had a girl with us from the village who said one night how she felt God’s care for her just by being able to eat three full meals every day at camp. She told us how her and all her siblings had been sharing only one egg together as their meal ever since her dad- the breadwinner in the family- tragically died. 

We had seven new girls with us who came down from the village for the first time for this camp. One night the lights went out, but the power of the gospel around that table couldn’t be stopped as four of the girls- realizing how loved they are by Jesus- surrendered their lives to follow Him.

A few of the older scholars from House of Hope led the girls and staff in worship on our last night. Lord I offer my life to you, they sang loudly without a single care in the world who could hear them, everything I’ve been through, use it for your glory…tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to them and looked beside me at the other staff who faithfully give their lives to pour into these girls and their village communities every week. It was all we could do in the moment together to just stand around the girls and watch in awe. So, so grateful for the growth..the changes..the fruit God was letting us see a glimpse of that night under the stars.


After we pivoted and moved camp to a new location, it didn’t rain the rest of the time. We had clear blue skies and sweaty days and we played outside enjoying every minute of that sun. I might never know this side of heaven what God was protecting us from or why we had to change plans…but I trust there was a bigger reason. 


We ended camp in confession… and I knew I needed to go first this time. Girls, I’ve been so quick to get angry and frustrated lately. It doesn’t look like Christ at all and I’m sorry. One by one they followed and together we laid so much out in the open- silent struggles and different personal ways the world has pulled us all down lately. So thankful in the end for the real, tangible grace filling up the room around us. Then we promised to help each other remember this week and remember the God who met us here at camp. Like Moses to Israel before they were to head into their new land- “remember what God has done for you. Remember and don’t forget.” It seems repetitive that the Bible would say it that way, but maybe it’s meant to make us pause. Maybe God knows our forgetful, hurried hearts need to hear it more than once…

The girls jumped in the ocean one last time, a rare treat when you’re from the mountain, and then we loaded up the van and headed home. The seven new girls returned to their village for now. Most of the staff went home. But fingerprints from camp are still all around TRIM today, reminding us that God is sovereign- even in change- and he always does what is good.


Thank you God, for the gift of camp. 
And thank you that you make a way 
for even villages at the farthest ends of the earth to know you


You are what is best.


Home.

It’s been almost a month here and I’m finally starting to feel settled. Back in a place where everything is familiar. And also everything has changed. But maybe most of all…I have changed.

I didn’t really know what it would be like to come back to the Philippines after being away from this life for so long during a pandemic. I hear other missionary friends and families saying the same thing right now. I tried to prepare for how I would adjust, but there was no way to truly know besides just getting on that plane in Dallas and pressing my feet back into this Filipino land. 

In so many ways, these first few weeks have been a dream that’s felt easy to slide into and I’m  incredibly thankful for all the answered prayers. In other ways I’ve just had to stumble my way through the culture and pressures, adjusting slower and often messier than I’d like. Thankfully, God is always much more gentle with me than I am!

After two of my flights were delayed, I missed the welcome home party all the staff and girls had planned and instead a taxi dropped me off outside my house a day later after everyone had already gone home. When I went to pay, the driver refused to give me change because “he didn’t bring money with him”. I offered to pay double what the ride cost just so I could get out of the car. Only then did he pull out his wallet full of money, suddenly finding it very easy to hand me now half of my change. “I forgot how frustrating that feels” I whispered to myself, and then just quickly put it out of my mind and stepped outside..

I immediately set my bags down and turned around the corner as fast as I could. My heart raced. The sound of two not-so-little feet came running through the puddles and then finally into my arms. It’s a moment I had literally dreamed about so many times back in Texas while sitting at red lights and during the long nights of waiting..it was finally happening. I was back, and I couldn’t believe I was hugging my girl again. She’s grown up so much. I had worried I wouldn’t “feel” like a good mom anymore when I got back but suddenly looking into those same precious eyes, every bone in my body pulsed with joy…it actually does come right back like they said. 

Nicole and I walked hand in hand down the street until we got right outside the gates at House of Hope. “Ay-oh!”, I called out and the house erupted with teenage laughter. The girls tackled me at the door and it was so, so good to see them.

A few days later all of TRIM visited a fresh water spring and I was able to catch up with the staff over lunch while we sat together at the base of a beautiful waterfall. God’s creation here is insanely beautiful. Back in the village a few days later I sat on the floor of one of the women’s homes while we drank coffee and laughed at all the new babies that had been born while I was gone. The ladies kept calling my fresh winter skin “sobra ka puti” (too much white) and reaching out to touch it then rubbing it back onto their own arms as a joke. We sang a Bisaya song loud and proud together before I left that afternoon. I hadn’t realized how much I missed worshiping around people who don’t mind what they sound like. In all these moments life felt full and vibrant again. It’s been so good to be back…

In the same first month back, there were also countless challenges that I can’t even begin to try and write about here. We got the phone call that one of the HOH aunties was poisoned the night before in the village. It was another brutal and senseless death, the type of thing that takes my breath away and leaves me at a loss for words with the girls when we sit together to talk and pray. A few days after that happened one of our outreach staff got in a serious motorcycle accident during work and we had to rush him to the hospital as fast as possible. He’s okay, but it was a scary day for the team. And on and on…

So I’m home, and back to this life, and for 100+ reasons it’s the best and I’m so grateful to finally be here. But you also have to get really good here at holding joy and sorrow together. Life will simply demand it from you over and over again.

…Honestly, doesn’t it feel as if the whole world is a little bit like that right now?

Parents are tucking their kids safely into bed at night while other families flee from war? Wealthier countries have moved on from the pandemic while under-resourced countries are still getting slammed and in lockdown. In the same neighborhood someone is celebrating a marriage while another person plans a funeral… We continue to do the simple things like wash our face at night and schedule next week’s meetings. We go on vacation and laugh at funny movies together. But there’s still disaster, inflation, racism, sickness, divorce, poverty, and violence happening all around us.  It all feels difficult to reconcile at times.

It’s okay to feel grateful for what you have while grieving what’s hard in your life or in the lives around you, too. 

There’s often pressure from the church to lean one way or the secular world to lean the other…to see the world either completely through a rose colored lens or the opposite where everything is doomsday and terrible. But as Christians I think we have the opportunity to hold both joy and lament together and to live authentically for the watching world. We must keep confessing Jesus as our only constant hope- no matter what’s going on around us. Not diminishing the highs or the lows one for the other but instead carrying them equally as God allows them to come in our lives, with hearts set firmly on the promise of a restored Eden one day. 

A place where all earth’s greatest joys and moments won’t even compare.
Tears will be no more, and every wrong made right. 

Only then will all of us truly and forever be HOME. 

Back to the Philippines

I still remember the week I left the Philippines like it was yesterday.. 

Throwing whatever clean clothes I had into a suitcase. Driving out to homes to meet one-on-one with every staff member TRIM had just hired 2 months prior and reworking their entire job descriptions and path ahead… all in the time it took us to finish just one cup of coffee. Sticking notes onto everything – the office, my bedroom, the kitchen fridge, ministry passwords, Nicole’s medication. My brain spiraled in overdrive trying to figure out how to take care of so many different areas of responsibility on a moment’s notice…for an unknown length of time. I hugged my smiling, bright-eyed, about-to-turn-13-years-old girl as tight as I could, and then I willed myself into the taxi. 

The taxi driver and I both had to have special clearance paperwork just to be allowed on the roads to get to the airport. I remember the chartered repatriation flight and how full it was. We were packed in like sardines on that plane after being told forcefully to stay 6 feet apart until we boarded. I remember walking by myself through an empty, closed LAX airport. I remember not even telling people I was headed to the US until after I landed because it was all so much to process… 

I remember thinking when I landed this would all maybe be for 2 months. 
It’s been 625 days. 

I want to be able to tell you that this time, however unexpected and unplanned, was something I cherished and never complained about. I wish I could honestly write that knowing (and even reassuring others!) that God is sovereign in all things gave me immense joy and perspective every single day I’ve been here. But the truth is that this year and a half has felt disorienting most of the time. I never knew whether to dig in and plant deep roots where I was or keep my bags ready and my focus mostly on the Philippines. My heart ached all the time for the people and the work I had to leave behind. 

I haven’t consistently modeled patience in the way I wish I would have. It’s easy to look back now knowing how this all plays out and write a long mental list of  “I should have” done this or that. Also..we’ve been in a pandemic. So I try to be gentle with how I navigated an unexpected season here in the States- knowing I really tried to trust and do my best with what God gave me in each moment. I lived in 6 different places here. I took an extra job. I started seminary for my Masters degree. Meanwhile, I worked to continue serving and leading a new ministry team halfway across the world that has been constantly changing and growing..

And now in exactly one week, I’ll get on a plane to head back to the Philippines- the next chapter so many of you have prayed for with me is FINALLY here! And naturally, it’s not even in the way we expected 🙂

This week as I prepare to leave and move forward, I’m taking some time to look back too. Because although this past year and a half was unexpected by me, it wasn’t ever, for even one minute, without God’s kindness or lacking in his purpose for me. He has carried me through valleys and been beside me on mountaintops. And what I know in my soul to be true of God is that even the mundane days of waiting were set intentionally by him for my good and his glory – in ways I cannot fully see or make much sense of…yet. Oh God, help me see.

During my time in the USA there have been abundant gifts of provision, learning, healing, friendship, and opportunity. I have so many blessings to thank Him for when I stop and look. So that’s what I’m doing this week- asking God to give me eyes to see things rightly and close this season with thankfulness over anything else. 

I am eager to get home, that is sure. Eager to get my hands and feet back into the day-to-day of work that I love. To be in person again with Filipinos who are like family and back to a ministry that is rapidly growing. I am hopeful, excited, better equipped, and a little bit nervous about the culture and language switch after so long. The list spans pages and pages of things I look forward to most when I return. But at the very top of the list when I close my eyes is a now 14 year old girl, still smiling, and much more grown, who has waited 625 days too long for me to walk back in that door of our home. Gosh, I can’t wait to hug her neck again. 

I am overjoyed to step back into the pages of that story. 
But I’m also deeply thankful for this one. 

Praise God. 

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all unpleasant things as interruptions to one’s ‘real life’. The truth is of course that what one calls interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day.”

-C.S. Lewis

The Final Stretch

“Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should be destroyed, but that all should reach repentance.”
2 Peter 3:8-9

As I sit down to write this afternoon I’m staring out the windows from my 5th home in 8 months. It’s hard to believe I’m experiencing round two in the States of all the seasons and holidays – something that hasn’t happened since 2011. I could fill up pages and journals detailing all the efforts and hoops The Rising has jumped through trying to secure the only visa that can get me back into a closed country during a pandemic, but I’ll spare you the details of that roller coaster ride. Here’s a brief summary of the past few months instead:

October- After over a year+ of trying, I was finally granted an exemption to be able to apply for a work visa in the Philippines.

November- The ministry applied on my behalf for my Alien Employment Permit. (This Filipino process has involved meeting hilarious requirements along the way including a tree planting ceremony and a brief stint in the local newspaper!)

December- Employment permit granted. Currently my passport is somewhere over the Pacific Ocean headed to the Philippines to meet up with 8,743 other important documents for what will hopefully make for a quick and easy visa issuance.

There is no guarantee how long this last part could take, but it is the final step in a long and complicated process. I am cautiously optimistic at the thought of being “home” by the beginning of the new year but I know better than to put my hope in any government or system.

I keep going back to a basic truth I probably learned first in Sunday school…that God is the author of my days and his promise to me is nothing he allows to happen is ever wasted. My heart knows this fully well, even as I long to be across the world. And though I often feel deeply the urgency of time – time passing and time lost – God does not. He is not bound by time or space, His plans for me are not lost, He’s not in a hurry. So I can trust that I don’t need to be either.

When I can get still enough and quiet all the noise, I think about these words from Elisabeth Elliot and they wrestle me into a comforting peace – “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances…”

The question everyone asks the most is – how’s Nicole? 

I love to talk about her! So I love it when people ask. If I focus too much on my feelings, or her feelings, I can easily be frustrated by our separation. Being apart from her is maybe like being inside your home, but someone has stolen all your stuff. You want to walk in the door, settle in and take a deep breath, but you can’t because something isn’t right. The things that make the house your home are all missing. I miss Nicole’s presence in my life every.single.day. It doesn’t feel right to settle in anywhere without her. But when I settle in my heart to look intentionally for God even here in this, I can see Him. 

So, how is she?  Well, she’s happy, she’s safe and she’s healing. She’s in the very best therapy we have available, she is extremely loved on and protected by her 10 older sisters at House of Hope, she’s outgrowing all the girls at a miraculously fast pace (!!), and she’s had the sweetest 1 on 1 care from a TRIM staff member since the day I left. She remains, even on the hard days, the greatest light and joy of our home.

Her and I call each other often but the ache is still there as a good reminder that she was never “mine” to begin with… only His. 

In case you’re in a place like me this season where you need to hear this let me be the voice that reminds us both – God isn’t running late on any of his promises.

Christmas, I think, is actually the ultimate reminder of that for all of us in Jesus. That at just the right moment, and in just the way he always said it would happen, the Savior came to our rescue us from ourselves and all our tiny self made kingdoms and give us the ultimate gift in himself.

So whatever it is that has you waiting right now – or maybe it’s the opposite and this month has you spinning in circles so quickly that you can’t keep up – I hope this Christmas season you and I can remember together that God wants for us to be with him more than he wants any of us to be in any certain place or doing any certain thing.

It IS entirely why he came after all… to be Emmanuel, God with us.

Thoughts from Holy Week, Part 3

The moment for his death had almost come and Jesus found himself in the garden with 3 of his friends who didn’t understand why he kept telling them he was leaving soon. And then there was that moment with the bread and the wine just a few hours earlier…what was that about exactly and why was he talking like that?

It was late at night during Passover so the garden was dark and quiet. But I’m sure Jesus’ mind was anything except quiet. His heart was surely heavy for what lie ahead. No one truly grasped all that Jesus was yet- that he was fully God and fully human. So in his divinity, he knew all that was about to happen. He knew the betrayal and the suffering and the death that await him. But in his humanity, he knew emotions. And he’d have to wrestle them down that night. He knew fear and grief and pain..the Bible says his tears flowed like blood. And we can hear it in his prayers from that night..

“Father, if it’s possible please take this cup from me.”

..Silence.

“but even so, not MY will, but Yours be done.”

He knew what he had to do.

There are so many things Jesus could have done on that last night in the garden. But Jesus spent the rest of that precious time praying for you and me. Praying that we would stay away from evil. Praying that our lives would show the world who he really is. Praying we would be united. That we would love each other well…

Church. Brothers and sisters. How are we doing with that?

Jesus got up from that prayer and went back to his friends. They had all fallen asleep, again, but it didn’t matter much anymore because his time had come. The religious leaders and the rest of the mob were headed towards him under the cover of the night.

They were there to take him away…

Thoughts from Holy Week- Part 2

It had been 48 hours since Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem. The scene ended but the whole place was still buzzing with questions. Who is this guy? Everyone was asking..

Is he a prophet?
A king?
A big joke?

He had accepted their welcome that day with all its gestures and palm branches, but he knew they didn’t have a clue who he really was. They were crying out for a king, but he wouldn’t be who they wanted.

One of Jesus’ stops during the week leading up to his death was the temple. He went in there after his arrival to Jerusalem and started flipping over all the table tables and kicking people out for making a profit and a mockery of what was meant to be a holy place. I both love and fear this side of Jesus. I love to think of him as getting angry at all the things I hate too. But then I can’t help but wonder what tables in my own life he’d throw across the room too if he came to see me..

The next day he went back to the temple to face off with a different group of people- the religious leaders. These leaders knew the language and the verses and the prayers and all the right things. They had the appearance of good, but really everything they did was self-seeking. Their hearts were such a mess and Jesus was there to call them out on it. He would make sure one last time before he left that it was perfectly clear what kind of people his kingdom was really about.

On that day in the temple Jesus blasted the religious leaders right there in front of everyone. It had come to that point I guess and he wasn’t there to play. He started to accuse them with pretty intense statements-

“Woe to you for tying heavy burdens onto people’s shoulders that you aren’t willing to bear yourselves.”

“Woe to you, you hypocrites, for deciding for yourselves who is good enough for the kingdom.”

“Woe to you for pretending to be clean on the outside when you know your inside is full of selfishness and pride.”

“Woe to you, you white washed tombs. You look good- but really you’re full of dead bones.”

“Woe to you, you snakes. How will you ever escape?”

..Gosh, can you imagine what it felt like to be there that day and hear Jesus saying these things? Even right now, you’re probably either thinking dang Jesus, where’s the love? Or you’re sitting really still and quiet like me because you know – you know – that what he’s accusing them of is so real. You see it everywhere. Maybe even a little bit in yourself?

I want to get to Easter this week. I do. I want to get to all the excitement and energy that surrounds it. Because the cross wasn’t the end and that does change everything! And this year more than ever I’m grateful that for some reason by God’s grace, I just really feel the significance around what we’re about to celebrate.

But I want to walk through this week and towards Sunday slowly. Because the people’s Hosanna chants turned to crucifixion cries so fast, and that scares me. And the table throwing and the bold accusations of Jesus towards the so-called holy ones that I read about today makes me want to get real real about the condition of my own heart before God.

Jesus made it so clear, especially in this last week of his life, that his kingdom coming to earth would be about humility and weakness and dying to bring life. He was unphased by politics or social standing or anyone’s facade. He broke down the self-righteous but he strengthened the weak and brought dignity to the marginalized. He lovingly engaged with anyone who just recognized their absolute need for him. He wasn’t interested in any sort of manufactured religion or empty words that didn’t involve a pure heart. He didn’t want the people’s applause.

But I’m not so sure about us. I’m not saying we’re all Pharisees. Because we aren’t. But I am checking my own heart while I read these stories this week and just asking God to help me see rightly. The Jews missed what was really happening, the religious “influencers” of their day missed it, and even some of Jesus’ closest friends missed it a little bit that Easter week…

I don’t want to miss it.

A Story from Palm Sunday

Passover, 33 AD.

As someone who typically only gets to see my friends and family once every couple of years, I can picture in my mind so clearly the excitement that must have surrounded Passover each year for the nation of Israel. Family and friends are all getting to reunite together back in the same place. Covid isn’t a thing yet so they’re hugging everyone, singing the songs of Ascent, and remembering the Exodus stories told by grandparents while they walk up the hill together towards Jerusalem. It was Israel’s own version of spiritual formation and they were good at it.

On this particular Passover climb into Jerusalem, right before they got to the entrance of the town, their path merged with Jesus- THE Jesus. Everyone already knew who he was so I bet it felt exciting to be so close to him at such an important time. These Jews were a real group of people who were being so oppressed at this time and whose entire culture and identity and center of life had been overthrown by Rome. From both a political and a religious sense, they were waiting and hoping to be rescued by a new king that had been promised to come.

Expectation was always high for liberation to come, but especially so at festival time, and people had started to ask what everyone was already thinking –

Could this be the king like David who will crush the political leaders who hate us? Could this be the king who will save our people?
Could this be our Messiah, the One we’ve been waiting for?
…Could this be our King?

So on that day, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem quietly on a small untrained horse, something inside the hearts of the people there decided yes. Yes, finally. This is who they’ve been expecting to come! They all started taking off their coats and laying them on the ground as a sort of red carpet entrance for Jesus to enter Jerusalem. They grabbed palm leaves from the trees around them and started shouting from the desperate place of their oppression and hope for rescue- “Hosanna!”, “Hosanna!”

“God save us…God save us” is really what that word means.

And I’m sure this was such a thrilling moment for everyone there- and it’s a moment we still mark and celebrate in church today on Palm Sunday. And we should. But maybe not without checking our own hearts?

Because these Jews on Palm Sunday…man…they had it right for just a moment, but then they absolutely missed the entire thing the rest of the week. This IS their king. And he IS here to save them. But it isn’t going to look anything like they thought.

Just one week later, these same people who were crying out “Hosanna” and throwing down the red carpet for Jesus are the very same people who will mock his kingship and cry out “crucify him!”.

Why? Because they expected their king to reign in power, but instead he served for years in obscurity as a carpenter. They expected this new king to come in glory and might, but instead he rode into the festival that day on… a baby horse? They wanted their king to fight like all the kings they’d ever known, but instead he submitted himself to the brutality and shame of the cross. They wanted their king to crush the political powers of their day, but instead he gave himself over to be crushed by them.

Jesus didn’t act like the king they wanted. So they missed that he was the very King they needed.

And gosh, I’m afraid today we are still so much like them.

In our own hopes for flourishing here on earth, we miss him too. If we’re honest, so often we fail to give Jesus his rightful place as king in our lives because he isn’t operating in the ways we want him to or how we think he should. The world can be a really dark place and I sometimes find myself wishing that since he is king could he just show his power and intervene more clearly to prevent all this injustice and suffering and violence in the world? Jesus, if you’re really who you say you are, then shouldn’t it look more like ___?

…just me?

But Jesus was there in Jerusalem that day to give the people exactly what they were asking for. That’s the irony. He had come to save them- his entire existence was about lovingly rescuing them at the cross- but his own people didn’t recognize what he was doing because it looked like weakness.

And today for you and me, He is our king too. He gave his life that week so even we could truly live. But his ways won’t always look the way we expect. And when that happens, will we cry out “Hosanna!” to other things to save us? Or can we trust that his upside-down, backwards way of living and serving and building his kingdom on earth together with him is good and right and worth following?

I don’t know about you, but I want to do better. Let’s learn from their Palm Sunday story together. Jesus is king.

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…