Excess Baggage (Mission Trip Lesson #1)…

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My son and I just came back from a mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico… our first.  We’ve never really been anywhere, so this trip was filled with a lot of “firsts.”  Our whole group was three moms & three sons.  A great combination of women and boys!

There is a couple from our church who moved to Tuxtepec, Mexico.  We all stayed with them.  Before our trip, we were instructed not to check bags, just take carry-ons.  I’m sure there were a few reasons for this, but it made it hard for this unseasoned traveler to pack.  Our group had our packing all mapped out in our minds (a bunch of moms always have plans).  Then, we were told that we needed to bring a donated guitar… a huge backpack with batteries for the drone… and two filled bags of toys and candy. AAAAHHHHH!  Are you kidding me?!  How are we supposed to take all that since we are not checking bags?  Sigh…

Quite honestly, the three of us had conversations about this… “why did he decide now that he needs a guitar?”… “why do we have to carry this stuff?”… “can’t the next team take it?” … “he told us to just carry-on bags to make it easier, doesn’t he know adding stuff is making it harder?”  In the end, we sucked it up and took everything.

The family carrying the drone battery backpack was stopped in every airport.  The backpack was big and looked weird on the inside.  It looked questionable.  We had small delays through every security checkpoint.  An inconvenience.  My son carried the guitar, it was awkward to carry and to find space for in the overhead bins on the airplanes.  Another inconvenience.  We all packed the toys & candy.  This wasn’t a big deal, but it meant less packing room in our suitcases.

As our journey went on, we became more at ease with our excess baggage, it was less of a pain once we knew what to expect.

I will tell you though, when we got to Mexico, the missionary was so happy to have the drone batteries so he could document the area with his drone.  And, our translator, who also played the guitar, was elated to have it.  She opened the bag and said “I am in love with this guitar… it smells like America.”  When we were in the villages, the people (kids mostly) would watch the drone footage on the screen.  They were amazed and delighted to see such views of their own areas.  Our children gave the toys and candy to different village children.  Our kids and their kids were ecstatic over these exchanges.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, what if we wouldn’t have carried all this?

Figuratively, in all of our lives we carry excess baggage (life experiences/struggles).  Sometimes they are big and bulky, sometimes awkward, and sometimes we just pack them away with our other stuff… but we all have excess baggage.  The joy is realizing that no matter what baggage you have, God will use it for good.  He may use it to help someone else, he may use it to bless you, if you’re lucky, both.  The blessings may show up sooner… or later… but I guarantee, they will show up.  You just have to open your eyes to see them.

Literally, sometimes we just have to physically carry something so someone else doesn’t have to.  We can carry a load to lighten someone else’s.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

If God Wants You to Do it, He Will Make a Way…

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I have been wanting to go on a mission trip for a long time.  In the past year, my older son has been asking to go on one, too.  The problem has been the timing.  Our church offers several mission trips, but they are usually too long for me to miss work.  During the past six months or so, I have felt God moving in my life.  He has shifted me away from things and shifted me towards things.  He’s been telling me that it’s time to go on a mission trip.  Ok God, but…

I have found though that when God wants you to do it, He will work it out.  So, I expressed interest in going on a mission trip to Mexico.  Our church has missionaries that moved there and have teams that go several times a year.  There is a longer story with little details, but the end story is, they made the dates of the trip around my schedule.  So, my work schedule wasn’t an issue.  It’s during spring break… so, my son’s school schedule wasn’t an issue.

We are committed and plane tickets are purchased.  Ok… Now, the matter of finances.  In case anyone doesn’t know, mission trips usually aren’t free.  I made a Facebook post letting people know that we are excited about the opportunity and to pray for our team and our financial situations.  About a week later, I received an envelope from a relative whom, honestly, I barely know.  Inside that envelope was a check… a check that covered one of our plane tickets!  Y’all, I cried.  I cried at the generosity of someone I can’t remember meeting… I cried at the awesomeness of God who provided.

I turned in that money and started pinching pennies.  During this time, we also welcomed foster children into our home.  Things were a little crazy.  Car seat purchased, clothes, extra food.  In the back of my mind, I was also aware that we may these children when I was to be on the trip.  I wasn’t “worried.”  God brought them to us and God knew the trip was coming.  Not sure how, but I knew it would work out.  A week later, it did.  The children were moved to a family member.  We loved having them, but the goal is always for the children to be with family, if possible.

After that month, I had saved some of my “Dave Ramsey pocket money.”  I was going to turn that in the next time I went to church.  Then, to my surprise, we got an escrow overage check for our mortgage company.  Mind you, this is yet another check that was unexpected and perfectly timed.  Between, my cash and this check we were now $12 shy of covering both of our plane tickets!  I think God is just showing off at this point. But, He’s not done…

In addition to plane tickets, there are other expenses… lodging, food, gas, interpreter, and I’m sure other stuff will come up.  We are now working on saving for all that.  A few weeks later, guess what?  Another check.  This time, we received the money from fostering.  This had been our first fostering experience.  We knew that we would get a little money as reimbursement for keeping children, but we didn’t know what the rate was.  That is certainly not why we foster.  Anyway, the check… it wasn’t a large amount, but it was still a little unexpected.  And, it is going straight to our trip.

My point in all this is that when God lies on your heart that He wants you to do something… whatever that is… you need to take a step of faith.  You might think that there’s no way it will work… you may think of a thousand excuses why it won’t work… but, if God wants you to do it, He WILL work out the details.  Most of the time it happens in ways which you never would’ve thought.  He does this so that you will know that He did it, not you.  So, the next time that you hear that subtle voice… take a step, have a conversation, whatever it entails in your situation to have forward progress.  I promise that once you make that small gesture of faith, He will carry you the rest of the way.

“This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:16-19

Love is Relative…

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Love… what does it mean?  Sometimes a lot… sometimes very little.  Very few people, if any, grew up in a wonderful, loving home.  The home where mom baked your favorite cookies everyday and/or snuggled you until you couldn’t stand it… where dad threw a ball with you every afternoon and/or told you how proud he was of you everyday.

For some, this may be more accurate…

Dad says he loves you, but nothing you do ever measures up, he doesn’t return your calls, and basically ignores you, unless it’s convenient.

Mom says she loves you, but uses the grocery money to buy drugs… ignoring you while she’s high and filling your home with questionable people.

Husband says he loves you, but cheats on you after work everyday.

Wife says she loves you, but lies about how much money she spent on her shopping spree.

Boyfriends says he loves you, but dumps you after he convinces you to have sex with him.

Bet friend says she loves you, but stabs you in the back.

I could go on… there are a million different scenarios here.  We’ve all been there at some point with some relationship.  Love is hard.  You may have grown up with one of these parents.  So, as an adult, you have no concept of how to love someone.  You may say the words, but the behavior is something you learned from your past, it’s not real love.  It’s difficult to model something that you have never been taught.

I’m here to tell you though, that while human love is relative, God’s love is not.  His love is perfect.  To us, love is a feeling, maybe even an action… but God is love.  God loves you with His perfect love.  He created you and He cares for you.  Nothing that you do will change His love for you… nothing.  God does not like it when we sin, and we all do, but He loves us just the same.  He loves you so much that He gave His only son to die for you.  You… the one sitting at your desk… you, the one sitting in the parent pickup line… you, the one looking through your phone while watching tv.  You… He died for you.  He thinks you are special… He will never leave you… He will never forsake you… He doesn’t need you to be perfect… or dress fancy… He just loves you for who you are.

All you need to do is accept that love.  Ask Him to come into your heart and He will.  He will fill you with the love that you lack… the love that you may have been deprived of.  He will.  The only thing you have to do is ask with an open, honest heart… just ask…

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

“neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our lord.” Romans 8:39

The Flesh is Weak…

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The night before last, I was having a chocolate craving.  This is a normal occurrence in my life.  My sweet husband usually brings me a little something to ward off the demons that arise when I don’t have chocolate.  However, I have been trying to exercise and eat better, so he’s been mindful of that.

Anyway, there I was, at 9pm, craving chocolate… with none in the house.  I resigned myself to just deal with it until he says… “check the bag I got from your mom for Christmas, there’s M&M’s in it.”  Me: Silently thinks… “What?! You have chocolate from CHRISTMAS?!  That was almost a month ago!”

I politely say “ok, thank you.”  And try to casually saunter, not run with abandon, to the bedroom to retrieve said M&M’s.  Now, I got one of these bags from my mom, too.  So, I’m fully aware that it’s a big bag, not the individual ones you get in the check-out line at the store.  Oh no… there goes my “eating well.”

I rationalize… I can just eat a few to take the craving away.  But, deep down I know that it will take all the will power I have not to eat all 11.4 ounces in one sitting.  I have a problem… I am aware… I hear that half the battle is admitting you have a problem… so, I guess I’m winning already.

I want you to know that I redirected myself.  I did some chores. I momentarily forgot about the need for and availability of chocolate.  By the time I got to my room, I did my Bible reading and then continued a book I had started.  All was well… until 11:22pm.  That little seed entered my brain… M&M’s are right over there….

I want you to know that I think I actually had an out-of-body experience and ended up with the bag in my hand.  I don’t really remember getting it, but there it was.  I’ll just have a few… yeh, ok… as at least 6 ounces just fell into my mouth.  I don’t know how it happens… maybe they lie about how much is actually in the bag?  False advertising, maybe?  I was able to fall asleep before the entire bag was consumed.  It did last one night.  The evil bag of M&M’s was declared deceased at 10:30pm the next night.  So, it’s life as not quite 24 hours.  Evil was destroyed!  That’s how I have to look at it anyway… not that I totally couldn’t resist temptation… not that I now have a few extra zits on my face from the sugar intake… not that the scale will not forgive me when I stand on her… 🙁

The Bible says a lot about temptation.  We are faced with it constantly.  We may not struggle with the same things, but we all struggle.  You could put a six-pack of beer in front of me, I won’t touch it, but you might.  I don’t care for pornography, violence, and I could resist chips and fried chicken… I will even try to control myself around a batch of broccoli… someone else may really have a problem with self-control around these things.  I’m summarizing, but Mark 9:42-47 talks about if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.  I honestly think that if it came down to chocolate and me not having hands… I would still find a way.

The kicker is that I had no idea the chocolate was even there until my husband told me.  It had been there for three weeks untouched.  However, as soon as I knew it was there, I devoured in less than 24 hours.  The flesh is weak, y’all.

Stay away from the things that tempt you.  Stay far away.  Walk the other way, change the conversation, change your friends if you have to… but stay away.  Sin is a killer.  It may or may not kill you physically, but it does kill us spiritually.  We are human… we struggle… we fail… but God has redeemed us.  All you have to do is accept the gift that He gave.

“Watch and pray that will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Matthew 26:41

Burdened…

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The past few months I have been diving into myself.  I have so many insecurities.  I know on a truth level that I am a child of God, but sometimes the flesh peaks out.  I’ve been trying to really weed out the insecurities and focus on what matters… really matters… spreading the Gospel.

I’ve been burdened with this for a while now.  I am blessed with a church whose mission statement is “to be disciples and make disciples.” I have an incredible Pastor and Worship Leader who both encourage me live this mission (awesome church’s website).  I am just burdened with the fact, that I’ve never done this.  I don’t even think that I can claim the salvation of my children.  I mean, I took them to church and I try to live for Jesus, but I’m not sure that I had a direct hand in their salvation… a part for sure.

What does it mean to “be disciples and make disciples?”  Does it mean that I need to personally lead someone to Christ, holding their hand while they pray?  I’ve never done that.  That is a huge burden on me.  What if I never do that?  Does it mean I failed?  I sit here now typing with tears in my eyes over the enormity of that.  I don’t want to sit before God and feel that I have failed Him because I didn’t do the most important task in His eyes.

One of the definitions of disciple is “to teach, to train.”  That seems a little more obtainable.  Still huge, but less daunting. I fail everyday.  I lose my patience, I yell at my kids, I gossip, I sin… we all do.  Who am I to “teach and train” someone else?!  I mean, really… who am I?  I think that’s why we (the congregation) sometimes leave this task to our pastors.  I mean, they went to school to learn this stuff.  They are more equipped to “teach and train” than I will ever be.  Yet, this is why Christianity is dying in the US.  We have placed a huge burden on them to save everyone.  They can’t do it alone.  They need us… the ones not formally trained… the ones that fail.

I am not sure if I will formally lead someone to Christ in my lifetime.  What a glorious goal, but I have no idea if that is in the cards for me.  But, I can tell you that there might be few better equipped that I to “teach and to train” to rely on Christ to hold your marriage together while you are apart for long period of time, or to forgive someone after they have hurt you, or to give of your whole heart to those in need, or to see things from someone else’s point of view when you are mad, to be kind, to love…

I may not be able to quote half of the Bible to someone who doesn’t know Christ, but I can share with them how God changed me from who I was and how He helps me get through everyday.  No one else is better equipped to tell my story.  No one can share what God means for you better than you.

So, I am going to try to focus on the steps in front of me rather than the whole journey.  This year, my oldest son and I will be going on our very first mission trip.  God worked out all the details so far.  I’m not counting it out, but I doubt that I will go there and lead someone to Christ.  However, I may plant a seed, or water one that was already planted.  Surely, I can show the love of Christ.  I can do that without going anywhere.

Pray for me as I continue my journey of growing in Christ.  Pray for me as I, in my small little daily world, try to spread the gospel with the tools that God has given me.  I may not directly lead someone to Christ, but I can, at the very least, open a door and point them in the right direction.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

The Spirit of Christmas…

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It’s that time of year again.  And by that time, I don’t mean celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, I mean time to buy a bunch of crap… I mean well-thought out gifts for people.

I know that I drive my husband and mom crazy when they ask me what I want for Christmas and my reply is “nothing… I don’t know… or I’ll try to figure out something.”  Honestly, I don’t usually want things.  I told my husband that I wanted the bathroom painted.  That would be my favorite gift!  Yet, he still feels the need to buy me something.  So, I’ll have to figure out something to tell him so that he’ll be happy that he paid money for something to give me.  Y’all, I truly struggle with this!

Most of us want deeply to give at Christmastime.  We want our family, friends, kids’ teachers, Pastors, bus drivers, mailperson, hair stylist (you see where I’m going here… where does it end?) to know how much we love and appreciate them.  So, we feel that the only way to do that is to go buy something that they may or may not want.  I don’t like this.  It hurts me.  Yet… I buy, too.  Because Heaven forbid that you don’t buy… even worse, what if they buy for you and you have nothing to return?!  The horror!

The problem is that we are all in different financial conditions.  You may buy because you have excess, but someone else may be buying instead of paying their light bill or just racking up credit card bills that they will never be able to pay.

This year, I have kicked it way back.  I (I say “I” because my husband is currently on ship so I’ve been doing all the buying) have bought my boys two gifts.  Each got the one big thing that he wanted and then something else that they probably won’t care at all about. HA!  The rest of my immediate family got what they asked for… but again, the vicious circle of telling someone something just to make them happy to buy you something.  Teachers and bus driver each got nominal restaurant gift cards… hopefully, it’s the thought that counts.  As far as my friends… y’all are getting food.  Sorry I ruined the surprise.  😉

I asked two of my friends to spend time with me instead of buying junk.  So, we are going to a movie together.  THIS… this is what Christmas should be.  Share yourself with the people you love.  Let them share their lives with you.  Invite them over.  Give them the gift of your time.  Your money might be endless, but your time certainly is not.  What does time look like?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Invite people over for dinner
  • Go out to eat or a movie
  • Rake their yard or do a chore that they can’t do themselves
  • HAND write them a letter or card expressing how much you love and/or appreciate them (I’m telling you this would make anyone’s day!)
  • Do a project together, go to a class together
  • Adopt a truly needy family with a group of friends

This is just a beginning.  Get your mind working.  Be creative.  I’ll bet if you are just straight up with your friends and family, you would find that most of us feel the same way.  We love each other… we feel obligated to buy for each other… but we don’t really need more crap (we buy it for ourselves all year-round).  So, start a trend (maybe for next year)… step out of the materialistic box and give the people you care about a little (or big) piece of you… your heart.  There, you will find the true meaning of Christmas.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

The Hallway…

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Have you ever heard the saying “when God closes a door he opens another” or maybe it was a window?  Either way, you know what I’m talking about.  That is an old saying, but it’s not from the Bible.  I do believe that God does shut doors in our lives and that He opens them, too.  But, what happens in between?

I’m at this weird place right now in my head.  (No comments from the peanut gallery!)  I feel that God is taking me on a new journey in ministry.  Not like a new job or city, but a new way to serve.  I feel like He has gently led me out of one room and closed the door.  I’ve walked out of that room and started my way to another… I just don’t know which one I’m headed to.

Have you ever felt this way?  Maybe you lost or left a job, maybe you moved to another location, maybe you got a divorce, heck… any number of life changing situations… or maybe it’s just a subtle whisper.  Either way, you are on a journey, but not sure of your destination.

God doesn’t call us to be in control, just active participants.  He wants to lead us, but we have to move.  We have to put one foot in front of the other and go towards the doors.  If it’s not open, we move to the next.  We trust that He loves us and has our best interests at heart.  We trust that He will catch us when we fall.  We trust.

So, if you are coming out of a door, keep walking the hallway.  Eventually, the right door will open.  Keep walking…

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6