My Boring Testimony

Last week one of my colleagues emailed to ask if I would be willing to share my testimony at their small group’s morning devotion. They are starting to do something called “Testimony Tuesdays,” as a way to encourage members of their group about how God can work tangibly in their lives. I’ve been a Christian for years, grew up in the church; surely it shouldn’t be a problem for me to share my testimony.

Yet, somehow, it took me days to respond and part of me still wants to back out of it.

In American Christian culture, we place on a pedestal those with “amazing” testimonies.  Wow – that lady fought drug addiction for years and was miraculously saved when she encountered Jesus. That guy? He once was part of the mafia and used to kill people but learned that he was forgiven and loved by Jesus. That girl’s testimony is so cool — she was really sick and the doctors told her she was going to die but then she prayed and was miraculously healed and started to believe in God. Most of us know at least one person with an “amazing” testimony and, at least for me, I always hope they get called on to share, not me.

My testimony is straightforward. I was raised in a Christian home, didn’t rebel too much when I was a teenager, and really haven’t had these huge, miraculous turning points. That’s not to say I haven’t dealt with hard things and haven’t often completely screwed up, but frankly, I feel like in the realm of hard things that I’ve had to deal with, mine haven’t been that bad.

My testimony, rather, is more the story of just seeing God at work consistently, guiding me gently, holding me close, and keeping me on the right track along the way. Boring, right?

It shouldn’t be. Shouldn’t it be a miracle enough in and of itself that God actually cares enough about my life that He doesn’t simply act one time but is consistently working in and through each day? In Deuteronomy we are told that, “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you . . . For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome. . . . ” (Deuteronomy 10:14-17)

That is our God, and it floors me that He should have chosen to walk with me and guide me through the past twenty-eight years of my life. Isn’t it more than miraculous that God should have chosen me to care about, not just for a brief moment in my life but through my every day?

As I’ve been thinking about sharing my testimony, I’ve been humbled to realize that I have relinquished to the realm of “boring” what is actually miraculous. God has walked with me through the mundane and the wonderful, the challenging and the joyful. He chose me and puts up with me when I am sinful, when I am ridiculous, when I fail to remember that He is the one guiding me and in control. He smiles at me when I turn to Him and probably shakes His head at me when I try to take the helm myself.

I don’t have one of those “amazing” testimonies, but my testimony is my own, and that God would choose to be part of it is amazing.

Posted in Theology & Philosophy | 3 Comments

The Weakest Cross

Editors Note: Ginger, her husband and two boys live in a country where the gospel is not welcomed, but the people are desperate for it. In this article that was originally published on June 30th in her private, password-protected blog, Ginger shares how the difficulties of raising two boys in a foreign country can only be handled with a perspective of the gospel in every day life. For their protection, we have taken out the names of the country where they reside and the names of her husband and two boys. Ginger, thank you for sharing this incredibly raw story and the truth that inspires you to press on.


To be honest, many days I hate living here. On those days, everything seems to culminate to a breaking point, leaving me sulking in a pit of despair. It makes me long for America. On those days, seeing pictures of friends in a Whole Foods leaves me bemoaning the caution I have to take with food here, reminded of how difficult it feels to feed my family healthy meals when eating raw vegetables and fruits makes you vulnerable to a host of bacteria and illnesses and I don’t have access to many of the healthy foods I buy in America. On those days, the lack of a backyard and church nurseries and play-dates, parks, bakeries, libraries, a pediatrician, comfort foods, farmers’ markets, clean air and blue skies seems like too great a sacrifice. I long to go to church where I can read the words to the songs so I can sing, understand the sermon, and put my children in the nursery so I can actually be in the service most weeks. And then I start to enumerate in my head all of the difficulties I face and how sorry I should feel for myself and how sorry others should feel for me. Today was one of those days.

I woke up to find that my bread and fruit had molded overnight (made me want central A/C), as there was no room for it in the fridge (made me want a normal-sized refrigerator). We walked in the rain with a stroller to find a taxi (found myself longing for a car and a compact stroller than can hold 2 kids). We walked in the rain again getting out of the cab (thus affirming my desire for said car and stroller).

I sat sweltering in church (wishing the people of this country didn’t think that A/C was bad for you and that they actually had enough A/C for the room) while shushing my oldest son who repeatedly asked for snacks, poked at my youngest son and squirmed across 4 seats while people were praying (dreaming of church nurseries). I strained my eyes to try to read the limited foreign phrases I can to be able to occasionally spurt out words like “grace”, “God”, “I”, “sin”, and “love” and trying to worship with that, even though I could not follow the theme of the song or what I was actually singing. (All of this while still trying to contain the aforementioned unruly 3-year old.)

I then took this sweet, squirming 3-year old to use the potty (a ceramic hole in the ground) where he proceeded to touch everything he could. When I tried to use the potty, I realized that I had forgotten to bring tissues (longing for American bathrooms that supply toilet paper for you). I sanitized our hands (because there is also no soap supplied). I then took my oldest up to Sunday School class where I couldn’t even understand enough of the Bible story to translate for him. He was so restless, I could not get him to even sit with the other kids. I tried to leave him at snack time so that I could at least join the end of the service, and he cried his heart out for 3 minutes while I waited at the bottom of the steps to see if he would calm down. He did not. I re-joined him in Sunday School, feeling utterly sorry for myself, and waited for the service to end.

The cab on the way home wouldn’t give me change, told me to get change at a nearby store and come back. It was still raining. We got inside our apartment to realize I have no food for lunch, so we called one of the little restaurants outside our apartment building to deliver food. Turns out, they don’t deliver in the rain. My stress level feels through the roof.

My youngest is crying and pulling up stools, trying to find food in the kitchen. My oldest continues to disobey and run wild through the house. I’m not even sure what exactly happened in the moment before I lost it, but I couldn’t take any more screaming, crying, or demands. I couldn’t hear “mama” on repeat with crescendo-ing noise levels any longer. I just screamed (loudly), “I can’t do this!!!!!!!” and ran to our bedroom, slammed the door (our oldest gets in trouble for slamming his door) and dove onto my bed and screamed as loud as I could into my pillow.

I share all this because I want to burst apart the thought that I am different from anyone else because of the call God has given to us to live here. People (including myself) often have such a romantic view of “M” work. We hear a sermon on it and we feel ignited to reach the nations. But we don’t know that reaching the nations might look like the day I had today. In fact, many days I don’t feel like I’m reaching my own family, much less the nations. I daily fight the idols of my heart that long to shop at Whole Foods, drive a car, have backyard cookouts, eat dinner with friends, and have all the comforts of America. I know that for many, mothering very little ones is one of the hardest and loneliest jobs. That’s why I am rarely on Facebook or Pinterest, because I feel like it looks so natural and easy and fun for everyone else and it leaves me discouraged, discontent, and feeling like an utter failure.

But I know that I am not alone in feeling like this. The reality is that mothering in the little years is HARD. And, yes, some things would be easier in America. But I delude myself if I think the same sin does not exist in me in America. The great gift about suffering and hardship is that it gives my sin an opportunity to come out and then God can begin changing me. It is painful and hard, and on a day like today, it makes me want to scream and jump out a window. But the part of me that feels sorry for myself and wants others to feel sorry for me too reveals that I see my cross as too much to bear, too difficult, and unfair.

Today, at the height of the fall-apart-screaming-door-slamming-adult-tantrum I had, it was nap time and simultaneously time for my husband to leave to go lead an orientation seminar. He, of course, felt terrible to leave in such a moment, but came over to me and said, “Go back to what you know is true.”

In the past couple of months, there is a little book called The Loveliness of Christ that has lifted my soul to the side of our Savior. It is a collection of quotes from the letters of Samuel Rutherford, a 17th century Scottish theologian. It has since been my daily companion and is filled with reminders of the loveliness of Christ Jesus. In the foreword written in 1909, Ellen Lister speaks of how rare it is in our days (1909) to find those who look upon suffering as it is expressed in Rutherford’s writings. These words that Lister wrote have echoed in my heart continually since I read them:

“People seem now to consider it more than unfair to have to bear the weakest cross, and certainly not to ‘count it all joy’ with St. James (James 1:2).”

I am ashamed that many days my heart has viewed this move to this foreign country as an unbearable cross – as more than unfair to bear this weakest cross, considering it to be the worst cross. But herein lies this struggle. This is the Christian life! I can, on one hand, be ashamed that I view this as unfair and as such a heavy cross. But on the other hand, I feel the very real struggle of loneliness, sadness over the things that I’ve lost, and frustration in a very different culture. It is a continuing process of me coming to the Lord with all of the brokenness, sadness, sin, disappointment, and fear and asking Him to fill me with faith to believe Him and trust Him to provide all that I need and lack.

So today, at the guidance of my husband, I went back to what I know to be true. I know that He has not forsaken me. I know that He has called me to “count it all joy” because He is rooting sin out of my heart. And I know that it is not unfair, it is merciful. It is merciful because I know Jesus more today than I did a year ago, and my love for Him is deeper than it was before the difficulties began.

The day was still hard. I still feel sad as I write this, but I’m committing to bring truth before my eyes so that I do not despair. I’m not living this extra spiritual life because of where I live … my heart is full of sin, and my days filled battling that sin, particularly when it clashes with the little tiny sinners I mother and the sin found in the culture around me. We live where He plants us. One of our callings is not more pleasing than that of another; we are simply called to be faithful where He chooses to plant us.

I hope you find encouragement today in the call God has given to you and that you learn, along with me, to rejoice in your sufferings because you know more of Jesus through them.

“The Great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide til the great Master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me.”  – Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ, (italics mine)

Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Family, Parenting, Theology & Philosophy | 3 Comments

Martin/Zimmerman: A Different Kind of Response

trayvon3

Like most (if not all) of you reading this article, I drew my own conclusion about the tragedy between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman back when Martin was first killed. Anyone whose life is taken so young and so suddenly is worthy of grief, even if they are a stranger. He was God’s creation.

The first bits of news reports about it justified the story going national in my mind: A racist white man (who is equal parts Hispanic and white) had murdered a young, innocent black man in cold blood. My heart sank and my blood boiled that such a horrible thing could happen in today’s America. But when this claim was then proven to have been fabricated by who I interpreted to be over-eager, attention-craving journalists, I realized the damage was done. The seed was planted. And our nation was once again divided by the issue of race. Erasing those reports, suspicions, and emotions from our memory or bias became nearly impossible, intruding with great force upon what we felt justice should look like for George Zimmerman.

When the verdict for the trial came out last week, very generally telling us that there was not enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that what happened was murder, I was honestly surprised by the way our nation had adhered themselves to their sides of the Martin/Zimmerman verdict — as if we KNEW either way. It struck me to the core how zealous we were in waving our team flags, sewn with the threads of half truths and emotionalism, and declaring that we knew what justice really was.

Don’t get me wrong. I had my side that I had chosen just like the next person. But as I reflected on where it came from, I realized something very poignant for me. Something that I’ve heard faint echoes of from others around me in the midst of the loud outcries: ultimately, this whole thing really isn’t my business. It busted through the threshold of my heart and mind via an unrelenting media/ultimate go-to for gossip and slander. I discovered my little world, myself included, diving head-first into this vortex of gossip about two human beings who ultimately deserve respect over opinion.

Whose business is it? The families of the two parties involved. And whoever they choose to include in their circle of support as they grieve. But ultimately, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t on the jury. And I am not God. Neither are you. We can speculate, but we can’t come up with anything resembling truth. So what I’m left with is choosing whether or not to indulge myself in the drama, in the craving for revenge, or in the defense of a verdict I had absolutely nothing to do with.

I can recognize that, yes, thanks to modern technology, this incident went public, and became an historical event in our nation (much like the OJ Simpson trial). But I can choose to stay out of it, and, by doing so, I can best respect the mourning of a lost life. I can also respect that George Zimmerman is a human being, created by God. He is not a character on a law and order show. He is not a villain in a crime novel. He will live with this every single day of his life. His world has been turned upside down and twisted inside out, and he has to figure out how to live with that. I have no business casting judgment on him. That’s God’s business.

As I have done so myself, consider how your heart has responded to this and why. Consider the possibility that perhaps your only role in this event is not defending someone or pitching yourself upon a hill of sand to die on, or proliferating opinion, but to pray for the living and trust God with the rest.

Posted in Adversity, Culture & Media, Current Events | 1 Comment

Christmas in July: Naughty or Nice?

My husband and I didn’t discuss much about child-rearing before we had kids. In the early years of our marriage, kids themselves — let alone how to raise them — were far from our thoughts. But there was one topic that we did wrestle with, long before any kids entered the equation: Santa Claus.

Erick was dead set against introducing our (theoretical) kids to Santa Claus in any form. But whenever he’d mention this to friends — or, worse still, grandparents — they’d react as if he’d announced that we were going to raise our kids without plumbing, just on principle.

I was a little more moderate. I wanted to raise our children with a firm grasp on why our family celebrates Christmas (Bethlehem, star, baby, etc.), but I also knew that our kids would grow up in a culture where it’s impossible to escape Santa Claus. I figured there was some middle ground, where we could acknowledge Santa as a fun tradition, without cheapening the deeper meaning of Christmas.

In the end, we took an avoidance approach. We gave gifts and stockings on Christmas without ever mentioning Santa Claus. When our girls reached the age of Santa awareness (around two or three) and started asking questions, we’d say, “That’s a really fun Christmas story,” and then tell them about the historical generosity of the real St. Nicholas. And when they ask outright if there’s a Santa who puts things in their stockings, we turn the question back on them: “What do you think?” Usually they say no, which we neither confirm or deny.

It feels kind of like being a U. S. Government spokesperson.

A character in whom our girls DO believe, though, is Dora the Explorer. This past spring, they checked out the DVD of Dora’s Christmas Carol from our local library. The story: Swiper the sneaky fox has ended up on Santa’s “Naughty List” because of his swiping, so Dora takes Swiper into the past, present, and future to teach him why swiping isn’t kind. In the end, he’s back on Santa’s “Nice List.” It’s a typical Dora formula, with tasks to complete and a happy ending, sprinkled with Spanish vocabulary.

After my daughters had watched the video, my oldest girl turned to me and said: “My favorite part was when Swiper gets back on the Nice List. Because nobody should really be on the Naughty List. Like me — sometimes I do bad things, but I still get presents on Christmas.”

Theology out of the mouths of babes. Again.

Her comment made me realize that there could be deeper shades to Santa Claus; he might even be useful in teaching my children about what our family believes. I still think Santa is a fun story and I don’t plan to change our family’s approach of benign avoidance when it comes to Santa at Christmas. But — not to be too dramatic — I realized that Santa is kind of an anti-Christ.

Okay, don’t freak out. I’m not saying that Santa is evil. I’m just saying that Santa and Jesus take completely opposing approaches to human behavior.

For the first two decades of my life, I considered God to be a lot like Santa Claus: keeping a list of good and bad behaviors, and rewarding gifts accordingly. Then came the breakthrough: the day I finally understood that I’d had it all backwards. God/Jesus as I understand Him is NOT AT ALL like Santa Claus, but more like the parents who masquerade as Santa. Because, although some parents might use Santa as a carrot to encourage good behavior around Christmastime, do any of us really deny our children gifts on Christmas morning if they’ve been bad? I’ve never heard of an actual lump of coal making its way into anyone’s stocking.

No, grace means that there’s a gift for you under that tree even if you’ve just bitten your sister, thrown your milk on the floor, and pitched the world’s loudest tantrum. Just like God’s love and forgiveness are available to all of us, forever. My daughter said, “Nobody should really be on the Naughty List,” and she’s sort of right, but I think of it more like this: Everybody’s on the Naughty List, and it doesn’t matter.

Parenthood has changed my understanding of evil and grace. Now, when people do horrible things — when I read in the news about people who’ve committed murders, kidnappings, rapes — I recoil at their unimaginable crimes . . . and then I think about their mothers. Because I’m pretty sure that, if one of my children did something unimaginably horrible, I’d still love them. I’d probably still buy them gifts for Christmas.

How much more so God?

Posted in History, Parenting | 2 Comments

Ear Piercing and Homicide

ear piercing

The summer before my firstborn daughter started kindergarten, we were strolling the mall looking for school outfits. She suddenly announced that she was ready to get her ears pierced. I happen to subscribe to the philosophy that kids should make their own decisions about this, and be old enough to understand it DOES hurt, and you WILL have to clean and care for them everyday. No bait and switch. So when the topic came up in the past, it had gone something like this . . .

Mommy, I want earrings like Lyndsey.

Well, we would have to go get your ears pierced, which hurts, but then it goes away after a little while.”

It hurts? Like how bad? Really, really bad?”

It stings pretty bad at first, but it starts to go away in a few minutes. And you have to clean and twist them every day so they don’t get infected.”

I don’t want earrings if it hurts.”

Yeah, that’s kinda what I thought. Maybe when you’re older.”

I expected this day’s exchange to go along the same lines. But this time, when I reminded her that it would hurt, she soberly looked into my eyes and said, “I know, Mommy, but I want to be brave.” My eyes welled up and my mama heart felt like it had swollen so large it would break forth from my chest. I had never heard those words from her before.  She was by nature, and still is, a risk taker. She loves the highest slides and the fastest rides. This was the first time, in my memory, that she was consciously choosing to do something that she was afraid of. I pushed the double stroller over to a bench, and called Daddy. We talked and decided that we wanted to give her the chance to face her fear and have courage. Whether or not she left with pierced ears was inconsequential. So I hung up the phone, and told her that the answer was yes.

She skipped merrily ahead of us, entered the store, and announced to the first salesperson she saw that her mommy and daddy said that she could get her ears pierced today. I followed in her wake, parked the stroller next to the little piercing station in the window, and popped some snacks onto the tray for my two year old to keep her occupied while I filled out paperwork.

My baby climbed up into the tall chair, smiling. However, over the next few minutes, I watched her sense of excitement dissolve into uncertainty, and then into near panic. “Wait, wait, wait. I don’t know if I want it!” Little tears started to form in her eyes and she gave me a look of sheer terror. The sales girl prattled on about how “she was going to be fine” and “it doesn’t really hurt” and “she’s gonna love it” while she prepped.

I took Sophie’s hand in mine and whispered, “It’s okay, you don’t have to do this today. We can come back another time.” The sales girl chimed in with a suggestion. “Hey, how about we just measure your ears and dot them with the marker so you can see what it would look like.” I watched as she considered her options . . .

You are just gonna measure?

Yep.”

(Pause and deep breath) “Okay.”

She seemed to relax a bit while the clerk fiddled with her measuring tool. I tried to smile reassuringly to her, thinking that I was going to have to apologize and excuse us any moment now, when all of a sudden I heard the tell-tale punch of the gun, and watched utter shock wash over my daughter’s face. The clerk pierced the second ear before either of us really realized what was happening. My daughter began to wail. Not the ouch-that-hurt-and-I-need-comforting cry, this is was the shriek of betrayal. As I jumped up to comfort her, the clerk cleaned up the station as if nothing unusual had taken place.

I was undone. I wanted to tear into that #@&$@! sales girl like I cannot explain. But I had a five-year-old crying and holding her ears asking “WHY?” and a two-year-old in the stroller now crying because she saw her big sister so upset.

Oh Jesus, help,” I muttered under my breath as I scooped up my daughter from the chair, sat her in my lap on the floor, and grabbed our two cold lemonades and held one to each ear lobe. “Why did you do that?” I demanded angrily. The young woman looked at me as if I had asked what time is was. “Oh we do that all the time,” she said conversationally. “They all get scared so we just do it before they change their minds.” Then she asked my daughter if she would like a hand mirror to see her “pretty new earrings.

You mean those symbols of injustice? Those reminders of your deceit? Sophie shook her head and kept her focus on pleading with me for an explanation. “Why did she lie to me? She said she wouldn’t pierce. She said only measure!

Over and over again she asked me these perfectly reasonable questions, for which my only answer was, “I don’t know, baby. I am so sorry.” She continued to cry, and I held her as I planned this woman’s demise.

I truly did not know what to do. I did not know how to explain to her why this woman had lied and tricked her. I was furious, and at the same time, heart-broken. Finally, after she had asked “why?” again, I looked at her and said, “Would you like to ask HER that?” To my surprise, Sophie said YES. As I watched her stand and march up to the counter, I remember praying, “Lord, if this woman has EVER taken responsibility for anything, let it be today. Don’t let her brush off lying and deceit as normal and okay.”

I got my little miracle. When my brave little toaster put her hands on her hips and looked that salesclerk in the eye through her tears and asked, “Why did you lie to me!?!” The young woman simply leaned over and said, “I am sorry.

“I FORGIVE YOU.”

My world stopped. My five-year-old, while still in the midst of stinging ear lobes and the sting of betrayal, managed to extend forgiveness to a stranger who had hurt and deceived her not ten minutes before. I had no words. Despite how horrible the experience was, despite the pain she was still in, she simply acted on her belief that when someone apologizes for their mistake, you forgive them. There was no further discussion. She turned on her heel, walked back to us, and said she was ready to go.

I was convicted. While I sat on the mall bench, replaying events in my mind, doubting this woman’s sincerity, and considering requesting her termination, my daughter was giggling and climbing all over the play structure with her little sister. She had moved on. She had forgiven. I closed my eyes and asked the Lord for that child-like faith in the power of forgiveness. To not question it, to believe the best. To not let it follow me around for days and weeks like a dark cloud. To resist the temptation to replay it over and over and indulge those feelings of anger and bitterness and resentment. To let it go.

To this day it is a powerful reminder for me. While there are times when it is appropriate to confront and address, many times it’s just little stuff: an insensitive comment, a phone call not returned, an expectation not met. I try to remind myself that I have the choice. I can either sit on the bench and stew, or get up and join my girls having fun on the playground. I want to choose forgiveness, not only because my Father has forgiven me, but because I want the freedom to go and play.

Posted in Adversity, Parenting | 3 Comments