For those who have been David and not Joseph

I walked away from the straight and narrow.

I. Walked. Away. No one led me, no one tempted me, and no one forced me. I. Walked. Away.

In an event that had more mental and spiritual hardship than I was expecting, I was ill equipped to handle it. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I was unequipped and my only answer is that I thought it could never happen to me. I thought I was spiritually invincible; I was much too steady to be shipwrecked. I read my bible every day. I prayed regularly. And last but not least, I was a missionary. My pride gave me a false sense of successful living without the healing hand of Christ.

I spent 3 years of my life giving up everything to serve the God that I came to know and love. I gave up relationships, comfort, decent internet, and smooth skin without any bites for the sake of knowing Him better and serving those that He loves, and I came to find out that I’m not sure I knew Him much at all. I knew the idea of Him. I knew the characteristics of Him. But as far as truly knowing Him, I was ignorant because I hadn’t shared in His sufferings, and when I did, I didn’t handle it well.

All those great guys of the Bible that went through hard things; that was because they did bad things, right? David’s son died because he sinned. Samson had his eyes gauged out and he was imprisoned because he broke his Nazarene vow. Those were the ones I latched on to… As long as I wasn’t “like them” I’d be fine… But here’s the thing… There are those who suffered blamelessly. God gave me an opportunity to be like Job and Joseph; the innocent sufferers of the faith. And. I. Blew. It.

When I returned I was HURTING. Maybe it was the fact that I lost my identity as a missionary. Maybe it was the fact that I lost a family I came to love as my own. Maybe it was the fact that I was reintroduced to a world that was so vastly different from what I came to know. All I know for sure is this: I had the opportunity to walk with God through these things; I had the chance to suffer well; to be a Joseph of the faith. But as time drug on, and as the process got deeper, darker, and more difficult, I chose to walk away. I chose to find things in the world that were bringing a reprieve that this God I forfeited my life for wouldn’t give me, no matter how much I begged and pleaded.

As I sit here looking at the last six months through my hindsight 20/20 I’m not ashamed. I’m not condemned. I’m in awe of a loving God. I’m in awe of the God that loved David after he slept with Bathsheba. I’m in awe of Samson’s God who restored his strength and allowed him redemption. I’m in awe of the God of Peter who had 2,000 years of church structure built on his comeback after the denial of His relationship with the Lord. I’m in awe.

God is gracious, guys. He’s so gracious. In the midst of my worst decisions He was there. He protected me from things I didn’t deserve protection from. He allowed things that made me look at myself and ask “who even is this girl?” and when the day came that I didn’t like the answer He was gracious and took me back. He never took away my seat at the table. He only heaped up portions as He patiently awaited my return.

You can’t have a comeback without a fall. You can’t get up eight times until you’ve fallen seven. You can’t experience a loving return until you’ve ran away. I would never suggest anyone run from God; it’s a lot of pain and consequence, but if you’re in a season of running; if you’re questioning everything, I know from experience He will be there. He’s there now, and He’ll be there for your return. His love is steadfast. He’ll rebuild bridges you’ve burned. He’ll restore relationships you’ve forfeited. He truly does restore the years the locusts have eaten.

One of my favorite quotes I’ve read through this entire process is, “second and third repentances are not met with half-ass parties in the Father’s house”. I’m sure there will continue to be struggle, sin, doubt, frustration, etc… but every time I take a thought captive, every time I choose to repent I’ll be met with loving arms that throws a party for my decision to trust in His truth instead of my fear of God. A fear that is tarnished by wounds that were inflicted by the sin of the world.

So where do I go from here? Well. I’ve gone the David, Prodigal & Samson route. I’ve messed up and tried to clean it up. I took advantage of the grace and gifts of our God. And I’ve done most of the things I swore I’d never do. So now I get to know experientially that those ways don’t work. Masking my pain, my hurts, and my sorrows with worldly remedies doesn’t work. I need supernatural healing. I need the only one who’s able to clean up my heart one prayer at a time. I need this healer to strip away my fears of rejection and betrayal, and replace it with the value I once believed I had in Him. I. Need. Faith.

Faith is the root of healing.

Faith in His word: His word stands the test of time. When the lies that He can’t be trusted because He hasn’t felt trustworthy come to my mind I need to stand firm in His truth that, “for those who know Your name put their trust in You, for you, O Lord have not forsaken those who seek you” (psalm 9:10). I can’t quit seeking Him. That’s where the battle is won.

Faith in His hope: He gives us a hope, and a promise that is so farfetched that in times of darkness it seems unbelievable. I get to go to heaven? A place without sin. A place where my tears will be wiped away. A place where I will be able to lie down in peace…? Me? This sinner? This prodigal? This rebellious daughter? Don’t get me wrong… I know all of this is TRUE. But after the fall, it seems too much for my brain and heart to handle. I don’t deserve this hope, but I get to put my faith in it. And every time I’m reminded of the fall, or every time I stumble I get to be reminded of a gracious God whose arms are stretched out still.

Maybe next time suffering comes, or more so as it continues I’ll be a Joseph. I’ll be able to stand firm in the truth. I’ll be able to suffer well. Maybe I’ll be able use my prison to prepare for the larger picture. Maybe I’ll be a Job who stays steadfast through the trial. Next time I’m called to share in the Lord’s suffering I truly hope I’ll let Him shoulder the burden while I walk in faith & hope. But for now, I’m just thankful that God still loved David, and Samson, and Peter… And He still loves a rebellious, fallen missionary like me.

Hosea 6:1//Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up

You are of more value...

The idea of worth has been marinating in my brain. God has been showing me how much He values me; not because I have anything to offer, or because I can bring anything of value to him. In fact the only reason I hold any value is because He paid a high cost for a wretched, tattered, and broken soul that was headed straight for hell without His grace and intervention. The only value my soul holds is the fact that it was redeemed and paid for by the blood of Christ.

I have this mug... I love this mug. It was purchased by a wonderful friend of mine. I don't even use it to drink coffee because I'm terrified it will break. This ceramic stuff holder sits at the center of my shelf as decoration. This mug gets dusted, cleaned, and taken care of. If I can give this mug that kind of attention and care because it was a gift of value, shouldn't I give the same care to those who God redeemed and purchased? How much higher of a value are they?

I've had to ask myself a difficult question these last couple of weeks-"Am I hindering, or helping someones worth?"-

My daily reading has been in Paul's letters. Paul puts a high emphasis on the love between believers. The Word demands that we honor each other. The Word asks us to treat each other with the value of the blood of Christ that purchased them. 

I started asking myself how to do that, and I've found there's no right answer. I've found I have to take it moment by moment and ask myself, "Are my actions showing that this persons value is the high cost that Jesus paid on the cross?"

For me an example has looked like this: I love being a missionary. I love what I do. But in all transparency the hardest part is always having people around me. I share a living space with 8 other people, so tasks as simple as going to the bathroom usually come with a knock on the door midway through. Or sitting at my desk to do work or read usually comes with a few interruptions to tell me stories of something that just happened. It's not bothersome, it's not frustrating... It's just life. I used to ignore those things and say "uh-huh" while looking at my computer screen or book, but lately I've had the conviction of saying to myself instead, "What would show the most value to the person in front of me?". Truth is, it's usually the most inconvenient thing. For me it's patiently listening, responding, and hearing more about the story. And then I go on in life, and that person felt heard, invested in, and loved. 

What can we do to be a HELP to people's worth in a world that wants to strip it away? I can't give you a direct answer. I can only encourage you to-moment by moment-ask the Lord if you're showing value to the soul in front of you. 

When you're at someone's house are you pouring value into them: listening to them, helping them, praying with them, etc... Are you spiritually feeding their worth in Christ? Or are you starving their worth? Looking at the condition of their house, the way they parent that differs from you, feeling good about the amount of dishes in your sink verses theirs? 

When you go to church are you showing up right on time to get fed and leaving right away? Or are you showing up for a time of conversation to encourage someone sitting alone? To listen to someone who has maybe had a rough day, week or year? Are you carving out time or making yourself available to invest worth into people?

Are you placing value in people, or are you sitting by as the world we live in and the enemy we fight against strips us of the value we've been given in the blood of Christ?

I personally struggle with my own value. When I'm around someone who seems to have it all together, I almost feel my worth drop in an instant. Take heart! Your worth does not diminish based on the circumstances surrounding you. Your value is unchanging, unmeasurable and assigned to you the moment you accept the blood of Christ as your covering. You are of such a high value only one person in all of eternity could pay the cost. And He did. 

I don't care what your house looks like, how your kids behave, whether you served canned ravioli for lunch, or an organic snack box. I don't care if you do your make-up, live in oversized sweaters, have a pile of laundry on the floor, or haven't washed your hair in weeks because you have 2.5 kids and a house to clean. I don't care if you're a democrat, a conservative, a free spirit or a legalist. The value of you is the same as me; the blood of Christ, and I pray that we will recognize that value on everyone the Lord puts in front of us. I pray we'll learn to love each other in the body the way that Christ loved us on the Cross. I pray that we start treating each other better than any of our dearest valued possession. My mug now continues to sit on my shelf but now it serves as a reminder to give others more value than I've given that possession. 

Matthew 10:31//Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows

War is Anything But Boring

When I first became introduced to Christianity I had a lie planted in my head about this life being boring. I truly felt that if I chose to be a Christian I would be giving up fun and any chance of excitement. I thought my life would consist of filling a pew, finding the one, and being a do-gooder. At that time in my life I was ready for some boring; I had a lot going on and I just wanted calmness, but I wasn’t sure I’d take the risk of never having excitement again. I decided the love I felt from Christ was worth the risk… Only to discover that Christianity is the least boring journey I could have ever embarked on. Seriously. It's war.

You’re in a war:
Christianity is a war zone. A battlefield. Combat. War is anything but boring. When you’re fighting for a cause it’s terrifying, it’s thrilling, it comes with wins and it comes with losses, but it’s never boring. Even on your “days off”, you’re in war. Every day you’re in contact with souls who need to hear and see the love of Jesus. Your life is on display as representation to the King of Kings, the One True God who will some day set up His rule and reign here on earth. It’s nothing to take lightly. When you’re in war you’re not left alone. You’re equipped.

You have a trust worthy leader:
God will be your leader. Gods know ALL things; past, present, future, secret, or exposed. He knows it all, and He will never steer you into a battle that He won’t get you through. He knows the outcome of them before we go in. The battles won’t be easy, in fact they’ll be hard. They’ll come in the form of trials, tribulations and hardships. You will be called to love people you don’t think you can, do things you don’t think you’re capable of, and go into places you’re not sure you can go. But He’ll get you through it. And you’ll get on the other side of each battle and realize through it all Jesus proved Himself faithful and trustworthy once again. And the on the other side you’ll be able to point the onlookers to Jesus.

You have fellow soldiers:
Friendships in the Christian community are the best. There are pockets of people you’ll struggle with, but I’ve found for the most part your fellow soldiers are the people who are going to carry you when you’re wounded, pick you up when you’ve fallen down, and love you anyways when you’ve messed up. The only common denominator you need for this kind of love and friendship is Christ. Going through this war with others automatically links you to them. I thought Christianity was going to be boring because I’d have to leave behind sin, but I found an abundant life is embracing Christ and Christ’s people. You get to do life, heartache, laughter, and love with others. You get to be on the front lines with people as they’re made new. You get to watch people fail and you get to lift them up. You get to watch people have victory and celebrate with them. You get to have purposeful friendships, pointing each other to love and spiritual maturity.

You have a battle plan:
The battle plan is simply said and complexly carried out; Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemies. Love. Expressing and receiving love from the God of the universe who created cells and galaxies is the best. He can do all things, create anything with less than a word and He chooses to focus His attention on us. Loving your neighbor is not boring, in fact it can keep you busy if you let it. Sick neighbor? Make soup. Sad neighbor? Movie night. Overwhelmed neighbor? Help practically. Excited neighbor? Celebratory get together. There are countless ways to love your neighbors and your friends. But what about those that are harder to love? There is nothing easy or boring about loving an enemy. Loving someone you don’t agree with, or treats you with anything less than kindness can be a moment by moment decision to love them. Choosing to occupy your mind with good thoughts of them is a process that takes time, but the harder you pray for them, and the more loving you are towards them in action and in thought will make the love for them come more naturally over time. The accomplishment of genuinely loving someone you’ve previously felt you couldn’t is anything but boring. Love isn’t boring.

You have enemies:
There is an enemy of you soul who wants to sideline all your efforts for the Kingdom of God. And there is an enemy within you that has to be kept at bay by battling it with Christ and the Word of God. You WILL have setbacks. You WILL fall into sin. You WILL question everything based on your performance. And your enemies would have you believe this disqualifies you and everything you’ve done for Christ, but Christ would say that makes you more usable. It’s our weakness that show’s off God’s strength so bouncing back after a fall is sort of the goal. Our biggest weapon of war is knowing that it’s nothing you’ve done that can advance you, but everything that Christ has done. Get back up, receive the grace God freely gave, and get back into the battle. Getting back up from your failure or fall is anything but boring. Consider it a right hook to the face of the enemy. 

You have victory:
In Him you have overcome the world. In Christ we have been given every tool to overcome ourselves and our enemy. Stand behind Christ, follow His lead and the journey will be anything but boring. Not only will the journey be crazy exciting, but you’ll be on the winning side. And if you’re anything like my competitive self, winning isn’t boring. 

II Timothy 2:3-4//Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

More of you, and less of me. Literally.

More of You, less of me… Literally

 

It’s inevitable to not be asked questions when you go through a very noticeable journey such as extreme weight loss. I hear about it all the time, usually well intentioned and encouraging comments about the change. Most everyone asks the same questions; “how much have you lost?” “What made you start this?” “Don’t you feel so much better?”

 

There’s nothing wrong with these questions, and I’m happy to answer them, but anyone who has walked through this missionary experience with me knows I’m going to be honest about what things are really like and weight loss is very much a part of my missionary journey.

 

Last year when I moved to Colombia I knew weight loss was probably going to happen but I didn’t realize how much God was planning to weave it into His plan. I sometimes forget that God cares about ALL of my life. Not just bits and pieces. So with that I’d like to answer the questions that I get asked and give the raw answers people don’t usually expect, not to toot my own horn, but to bring a little bit of honesty and a different perspective to a personal journey.

 

How much have you lost?

100 pounds. If you want a clearer picture of what that looks like, it's 6 pants sizes, 2 shirt sizes, a ring size, a chin, and the equivalent to 2 1/4 of our smallest orphans.

 

What made you start this?

God. He was like, “Hey Dana, I’ve got a new plan for you! Go to a place where you’re going to sweat all day, eat rice and beans, and then I’m going to set you up with a friend who likes fitness.” Okay, He didn’t say that, because if He had I would have been like, “um. nope.” Nevertheless, that’s what happened. I got to Colombia about 3 weeks after Samantha and about 2 weeks before they finished the construction of the farm gym. Once it got finished Samantha was faithful to invite me to join her workouts. I’m pretty sure I said no for about a week out of embarrassment and pride because I knew there was no way I could keep up with Samantha, but eventually I needed the fellowship. God let me crave friendship and fellowship so I would say yes. As far as starting, it wasn’t easy. And my pride took a hit when I couldn’t do a real pushup. My first month I was doing pushups on the wall. Vertically. Yikes. Looking back I’m glad that’s all I could do because it shows how far I’ve come. And to be thankful for where you’re at, you have to be realistic about where you’re able to start. For me, this whole journey has been a picture of God in my life. Moving to Colombia has showed me how far I’ve come in faith. There is still so much farther to go, but not only did God show me physically where I was at, he showed me spiritually as well. Physically Samantha asked me to come along a journey of health with her, and provided the encouragement and challenges along the way to improve where I was. Eventually I moved to lower wall push ups, push ups on the ground on my knees, and then eventually a real pushup. It’s a process. In the same way, Jesus has done that with me spiritually. It started with a little step of faith; boarding a plane to Colombia, then he started teaching me things about serving (cooking, cleaning, hanging with kiddos, etc…), and brought trials and hardships along the way to strengthen me spiritually. With Jesus, the journey might involve the physical, but it’s always a journey to sanctification. 

 

Don’t you feel so much better?

Overall? Nope. I bet you weren’t expecting that. There are ways I feel better: it’s easier to go up the stairs to the main part of the farm (I wouldn’t wish these stairs on anyone, I’m pretty sure it’s the equivalent of 80 flights of stairs… okay, that’s a slight exaggeration), it’s easier to lift things, and it’s easier to breathe. But if we’re being honest, isn’t it so much easier to see how much farther you have to go verses how far you’ve already come? I feel like it’s always that way in life. I climbed Saddle Mountain for the first time ever when I was home in February and right at the top when we got to the super steep switch backs is when I was most tempted to turn around. I could see the summit, yet the challenge getting there looked to be too much. I didn’t want to. I did, but there was something in my mind that said, “you can’t do that”. Extreme weight loss, or any personal battle really, comes with a constant voice saying, “you can’t do that”. No matter what you’ve proven you can do, you still focus on what you can’t. I’ve embraced this part of the journey like an old friend, because it’s in that place where I hear a triumphant voice in my heart say, “You’re right. You can’t. But I can.” So yeah, I guess I feel better, but the enemy doesn’t stop discouraging. In the same way it’s a battle physically, it’s a battle spiritually. The enemy doesn’t like when you accomplish something and attribute it to Christ so out of his old playbook, he brings discouragement. I’m thankful the very thing He uses to discourage is the same thing God uses to encourage. It’s true; I can’t. And that sucks. But thankfully my hope isn’t in what I can do. God got me this far, so I’ll just admit I can’t and keep walking (and going to the gym) with Him and asking Him to help me. And when you get to a place where you’re doing pushups on the ground without your knees, or doing a plank for a full 60 seconds without dropping, that’s where you feel better. It’s not every day, it’s not every week, sometimes it’s not even in a month… But God is faithful to give little glimpses of how far you’ve come when you need it so you can keep going. But ultimately, the journey is finding contentment in Him not the next triumph on the scale.

 

The journey to sanctification, no matter how God is choosing to do it, is going to take some effort and pain. There will be trials, but the trials are building up into your testimony. The changes God makes in us are to point to Him. So I could awkwardly answer the questions with a simple answer, but in telling the truth of how difficult it is and how I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much, God gets more glory.

 

So yes, my journey has been physical… But it’d be meaningless without the spiritual. 

 

And for your viewing pleasure here’s a before and after photo of me. The one of the left was taken the day I left for Colombia in August 2015 and the recent one was taken tonight after my insanely difficult workout. #thankssamantha

John 3:30//More of you and less of me, Lord.

In Search Of: Hardworking Prison Cellmate

Where are You, Lord?
What did I do wrong to get here?
Will this ever end?

Anyone else ever have these thoughts while in prison?
Anyone else never actually been to prison?
Please tell me I'm not alone...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a specific area in my life where I’m helpless. And the circumstances that got me here weren’t of my own doing. God put a trial in my life that I have to trust is for my good and while dealing with this I just happened to be reading through Joseph’s testimony in Genesis.

Genesis 39 gives us the account of Joseph who was unsuccessfully seduced, falsely accused, and wrongfully imprisoned; all because the dude was attractive. He was probably rocking the dad-bod, man-bun, or whatever else was the aesthetically pleasing trend at the time. Here he was just minding his business, honoring his God, and obeying his master... and he ends up in prison. What the heck?!

I feel like I’m there. Physically speaking I’m nowhere near where Joseph is, but spiritually speaking I’m most definitely there. There’s a lot happening outside the walls of my life that isn’t necessarily fair; a lot of pain, hurt and sin going on with people I love. But my hands are tied. I’m a sitting duck. I have no control.

So what now? I guess since we’re using the example of Joseph, and because he was a Godly man it’s safe to follow his lead.

Verse 21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” Okay, step one: recognize that the Lord is with me and shows me steadfast love and favor even in the midst of my prison. But I don’t feel like He’s with me… So now what? Stand on the truth of the Word instead of how I feel. Tell my feelings they’re stupid and irrational, because they are, (yours probably are true. Yeah, I said it) and press into the truth of God. Alright, let’s see, how about Romans 8:38-39? “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. No prison, no circumstance, no powers. Nothing can separate me from the love of Jesus. 

Okay, got it. I’m loved and Jesus is with me no matter how I feel. But I’m still in prison… Soooo now what?

The account of Joseph continues on to tell us what God’s favor did for Joseph in his prison. “And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.” What did Joseph do in his prison? The same thing he did outside of it; honored God. Joseph worked hard, proved himself faithful and trustworthy and was given responsibility based on his actions and God’s favor. I especially like that it says the keeper paid no attention to anything in Joseph’s charge. Joseph could have used the keeper's trust to his advantage but instead He used it to glorify God. Joseph probably could have manipulated certain areas, put himself in advantageous situations, or gone to the right areas of the prison to possibly escape. But instead he honored God and worked hard and diligently in the tasks he was given. Would I do the same? 

You know those inmate clean up crews you pass on the highways? If that was your job in your prison would you be filling as many bags as you could? Or would you be trudging along, doing the bare minimum until it was time to leave? I think of their overseers and how much they must appreciate the ones who don't need much direction. They see their task and they do it. I would bet there are highway clean up crew inmate workers with better attitudes than I tend to have in my spiritual prison.

My current prison is being a missionary. Don’t get me wrong, I like the role God has placed me in, but I’m on another continent where circumstances elsewhere with family and friends seem to be crumbling. I could choose to dwell in my prison, and try to escape it OR I can use my prison to glorify God, walk with Him, work hard, and trust that He knows what’s best. Trust that His word is true and His hand is on these situations better than mine could ever be. Besides, contrary to my own pride He really doesn’t need my help.

What’s situation do you find yourself in that feels like a prison? Stay at home mom? The Oregon Coast’s lack of sun? Your own mind; anxiety, depression? Situations you can’t fix with people you love? A sin you were introduced to and you can’t break free from? Less than ideal finances? Sickness? Marriage? Singleness? 

Please know this; your decisions and choices didn’t necessarily land you in your spiritual prison. Sometimes it’s solely because there’s a lesson, or a refining characteristic being woven into you. Sometimes it’s a consequence, and that’s okay too, because God wants your freed as much as you do. And sometimes we go to prison to minister to the other prisoners. God wants to comfort us in all our troubles SO THAT we can comfort others in theirs. God is going to use your prison for good. He promises. 

I wonder if Joseph knew his time, hard work, and authority given to him in the prison was preparing him for something bigger; to have authority over the land of Egypt. I wonder if he doubted the dream he had early on of his family bowing down to him? I wonder if he felt abandoned?

It’s okay to admit you’re in a prison, it’s even okay to admit you don’t like it, but it’s not okay to wallow there. 

You won’t be in prison forever. God specializes in setting captives free.

Hope in Christ.

Luke 4:18//The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives...