Victors

Tonight, the headlines irrevocably declare: “120 Dead in Paris Attacks, Worst Since WWII”.

Terror is spreading across our planet, and the people of this planet, like ancient wooden ships adrift in a storm, scatter. Some cry, some shout “Revenge!”, some huddle in the paralysis of fear. Some hold up signs that say ‘NOT AFRAID’–a distinctive message to their enemies, but the sign-holders are powerless to make the message true within their hearts.

We the people– the meant-for-another country people. We the foreign exchange students, so to speak. What are we doing?

If we’ve been trained to fight, why are we afraid?

If we are truly selfless, why not choose to feel pain with the hurting instead of jumping into our closets of self-protection?

If we really believe God’s power makes us unstoppable, why not walk towards the danger instead of running away from it?

We are never victims.

We are always promised joy.

We are always promised rest.

We are always promised protection–the definition of which only Jesus knows.

We are never victims.

We are victors.

We the people pray for Paris tonight.

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We also pray for peace within ourselves.

 

Never, never, let us accept the title of “victim”, Jesus. Never let us stop receiving peace from you, and fearlessly giving that peace away.

That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

bum

Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

Jesus was homeless, too.

I don’t live in the city anymore, but when I did, I never once gave money to sign-holders. I’ve never dropped even so much as a quarter in a Salvation Army bucket. That’s a shame.

No, it’s more than that. It’s a complete disgrace.

I met a homeless man named Richard LeMieux last week, and if I would have judged him by his looks and name alone, I would have laughed and said, “It’s all a game. People with high-class, French-sounding names aren’t homeless. Look at him! He has a dog! Homeless people don’t have dogs. And he has a van. What a lazy bum.”

But then I saw the dejection in his eyes, and the humiliation, and the hopelessness. I knew, even before I had heard five minutes of his story.

This man really is homeless. But that’s not the reason for the pain in his eyes. His heart is shattered because he is alone, scorned and rejected. 

Richard LeMieux was depressed.

Depression is a taskmaster who steers the wheels of many, many….. FAR too many lives. No one sees these lives, because they are too ugly—too unpredictable to look at. Yet denying their existence does not cause them or their problems to disappear, and so they exist, and careen farther and farther into the ever more arid desert of un-lovedness. Richard is one, and it didn’t happen by choice. He didn’t start out homeless.

It wasn’t the choice of the 30 men and woman eating ham around me at the Catholic nunnary, the people who had nowhere to go on Christmas morning.

It wasn’t their choice that EVERY single one of their friends disowned them.

It wasn’t their choice that their business went bankrupt and the bank took all they owned.

It wasn’t their choice to be a victim of abuse, and to live life on the move from city to city, hiding for their life.

And the ugliest part of their reality is that almost nobody takes the time to understand them–and that fact alone is the most undeniable proof that they are unwanted and unloved.

Richard and his friend C–two real people with beating hearts just like yours and mine–sat down together one day, having just seen their homeless friend Adrian being dragged behind a car in retaliation for a drug deal gone bad. This is what they said.


 

“You know who the most famous homeless man in history was, don’t you Richard?”

“No.”

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head, Jesus said.”

“I should have known that.”

“You, Richard, are in good company.”

“People were afraid of Jesus.”

“Yes, and people are afraid of the homeless today. And they are disgusted when they see a person digging through a garbage can or a dumpster. They’re frightened when someone unclean talks to them—afraid they might ask for money, afraid they will steal their car or rob their house or stab them.

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But it isn’t the homeless they should fear.

It’s the people who have jobs and money—like that truck painter, Gary Ridgeway, aka the Green River Killer. Did you know he admitted to killing forty-eight women in Washington State? He’s the deadliest killer in the United States to date.”

“Yes, I did read that.”

“Can you imagine that one Christmas Eve, Ridgeway got off work early, cashed his Christmas bonus check, went to the mall, bought some presents on his MasterCard, had dinner at home with the wife, and then went out and killed a young woman and dumped her body along the road?

She was one of those disgusting, homeless prostitutes people fear.

H—, maybe the %$@# did her a favor! She would probably have had to sell her body over and over again for ten, maybe fifteen years just to pay for a three-hundred-dollar-a-month apartment, electric and water, and a run-down car!

People should REALLY be afraid of guys like the Tacoma police chief who shot his wife to death in the parking lot at the mall. Or the son of the director of the Department of Corrections for Washington state who raped a two-year-old. He pleaded guilty and got a whole six months! If a homeless guy had done that, he’d get life in prison!

You know, the big thing that sets the homeless apart is that they usually only commit crimes out of desperation. Those with homes and jobs commit crimes out of boredom or hatred or greed.

‘You are not needed anywhere, not wanted anywhere. Nobody cares what you do.’ And you know, unless people have been there—lost, alone, rejected, feeling worthless and unwanted— they just can’t know the numb feeling that drags you down. All the dreams are gone, gone forever. You’re just hoping for some force to end the nightmare peacefully.

Whatever happened to Emma Lazarus’s sonnet on the Statue of Liberty? ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

Homelessness in this great country of the United States is an abomination!

But the great masses—who are only one paycheck or one stroke of luck better off themselves— even THEY repeat the same great lies about the homeless: ‘They are lazy. They don’t want to work. They are drunks, bums, drug-using, worthless scum.’

If you tell the same lie over and over again about the homeless, eventually it becomes the truth. You tell your wife the lie, then you tell your children the lie. Rush Limbaugh and Mike Savage then broadcast the lie, and politicians who want your vote politicize the lie. The lie just grows and grows.

The homeless are human beings. Okay, so they are people with problems—some greater than others. But there is no problem that can’t be overcome with love, patience and kindness. Given help and a sense of direction, most will help themselves and even help others.”

-Dialoge between C and Richard, Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux


Homelessness in America is an abomination! But even worse? My response.

So, what am I going to do about it?

 Love. Not fear.

 

 

 

 

My Yellow Dress & What Sounded Like A Helicopter

I was 18, and my first car was a Mercury Sable station wagon.

Eggy

Eggshell-tan, except for where the paint was peeling to reveal a lighter color underneath. Inside, the upholstery was ripped and if you plopped into your seat too hard dust would fall from the exposed and brittle insulation in the ceiling. The license plate was ‘EGY-4849’, so we called my heroic steed ‘Eggy’.

Oh, and I forgot to mention… this car was one of those stylish station wagons where you could pull the floor of the trunk up into a rear-facing seat. Needless to say, all of my friends BEGGED to go riding with me.

One warm day in spring, my bestie and I decided to go to the mall. In Eggy, which was an instant ticket to high class.

In the true spirit of the season, we donned our girly best, and I distinctly remember wearing a new yellow dress. It was a short, fluffy dress, and I remember it because I didn’t have a lot of yellow clothing at the time and because I didn’t wear many short dresses and because girls just do remember stuff like that.

Laughing and listening to the radio and joking about –well–things girls joke about, my friend and I were long-gone on our merry way when we heard a strange sound.

Wup-wup-wup.

Kinda like a helicopter.

chopper

It got louder.

Peering dubiously out the windows while speeding–well, less polite people might term Eggy’s locomotion as ‘careening’–down the highway, we tried to figure out where this foul aircraft could be, and why it was hovering so low.

Turns out, there was no helicopter.

There was only one dysfunctional Eggy station wagon, one wheel decidedly flat, just past the off-ramp 4o minutes from home.

We called my dad. He was away from home, but tried to tell me what to do. At that point in my life, my only idea of a jack, other than my cousin Jack, was the large kind that are used in a mechanic’s shop.

I saw nothing of either sort in the trunk of my car.

So there I was, sitting in the trunk of a horrifically ugly station wagon, my little yellow skirt blowing in the breeze, trying to decipher what in the hoot my Dad was trying to describe to me above the racket of passing traffic as my friend did her best to aide me. We were the perfect picture of two damsels in distress.

What do you know, but a car pulled over behind us.

We, being young, dumb and trusting in the entire factuality of unhealthy local news stories circulating at the time, were petrified with terror.

“Here, hold the keys!” I hissed to my friend, convinced that these newcomers sole purpose for stopping was to hijack our disfuncionable steed. Two men walked up to us, both rednecks, the older man sporting a full beard and weathered face, the younger one handsome and shy-looking. “Hi, I’m —-, and this is my son, David. Can we help you?”

I tried to tell him no, while my dad, still on the phone, tried to tell him yes and my friend sat in the car grasping the keys with white-knuckled force. Finally, David’s dad, seeing he was getting nowhere, just knelt down and started loosening the lug nuts.

He tried to make comforting conversation.

“Do you know what you hit?”

“N… nooo.”—“we thought we heard a helicopter…” my brain wanted to finish, but I didn’t say that part out loud. Somehow, I got the faint impression that David and his father didn’t have the highest opinion of our common sense.

Another rackety vehicle pulled over. This was becoming quite the scene. My friend would never want to go shopping with me again!

These people were strangers as well.

“Are you a (local family) girl?”

“No…..”

“Oh, ok. Well, we just saw you by the side of the road with two men, and wanted to make sure you were ok.”

“Oh. I’m fine.” I said, and they eventually went on their way, still not convinced that I wasn’t the girl they thought I was.

David’s father had the spare on within minutes, and instructed us about the speeds with which we could drive on it. I was so flustered, I never even tipped him. But I did say “Thank you” with strongest feeling, and shook his honest hand while vowing never to judge a person by their appearance again.

Then my friend and I darted into Eggy’s safe recesses, shivered a little, laughed a little, and continued on our way to the mall, the indomitable high spirits of our youth restored by the pleasant outcome of our unfortunate situation.

But I still felt guilty for not tipping David’s dad, so I prayed blessings upon him for a week.

————————————————————————————————————————-

This morning, I blew a tire.

Impressively enough, I didn’t sweat it. I just pulled into Hess, shoveled to the bottom of my overstuffed trunk, pulled out my spare, and had that puppy changed in 15 minutes flat. Sitting here now, I laugh about the difference between today and the first time I had car trouble. It’s amazing how time changes things.

And it’s amazing how real friends remain your friend for years and still want to go shopping with you….

even if you break down in an ugly station wagon named Eggy, are scared of strangers, and get grease on your new yellow dress.

to go [low]

It happens at that moment when the dragon who has haunted my life for months gives one final gurgling gasp and collapses at my feet, and my triumphant shout of victory rings and echoes off the mountain ranges. I pull my sword out of his throat…

And that’s when I see it.

And I sigh so deeply that my chain mail rattles and groans and sounds like a creaking sob.

What do I see? It is the head of another, larger and more heavily armored dragon then the one I have just vanquished, looming up out of the mist of the valley at my feet.

I know this monster, too, is headed my way. I cannot stay here on the mountaintop. I must descend, and prepare once more to fight.

I’ve always wondered why bad things happen. Yes, I know all the clichés just as well as you do. “All things happen for a reason.” “Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.” Got it. But my question is, when does stronger turn into strong enough?

Living life is hard. Why in the world can’t I just have a success, and then climb up to the next rung of the ladder of life….

instead of inevitably falling completely off of it again and again?

Why is life such a valley-mountaintop experience?

Why is life a CONSTANT struggle against evil?

Have you ever heard of Hind’s Feet on High Places? I am currently addicted to that book.

When I was younger, I read it mainly for the vivid pictures on every page. The words didn’t really sink in. But on a trip to Canada last spring, I listened to the words again. And suddenly, in a smack-upside-the-head revelation, all I could think was, “Shoot! That’s me! That’s me, that trembling waif who is weeping by the side of the trail, whose fears of what the unknown might ask of her loom greater than the giants of her past. That’s me, that girl with deformed legs and weak, trembling feet.”

I know this Much Afraid very well, because a large part of her lives inside of me.

My favorite part of the book was when Much Afraid stopped one day to rest beside a jumping, splashing brook. As she listened closely to the sounds the brook was making, she was amazed to hear the water actually singing these words:

Come, oh come! Let us away– lower, lower every day,

Oh, what joy it is to race, down to find the lowest place.

This is the dearest law we know– “It is happy to go low.”

Sweetest urge and sweetest will, “Let us go down lower still.”

Hear the summons night and day, calling us to come away.

From the heights we leap and flow, to the valleys down below.

Always answering to the call, to the lowest place of all.

Sweetest urge and sweetest pain, to go low and rise again.

“That is very puzzling,” said Much-Afraid [to the Shepherd]. ” ‘Let us go down lower still,’ the water seems to be singing so gladly, because it is hurrying to go down to the lowest place, and yet You are calling me to the Highest Places. What does it mean?”

“The High Places,” answered the Shepherd, “are the starting places for the journey down to the lowest place in the world. When you have hinds’ feet and can go ‘leaping on the mountains and skipping on the hills,’ you will be able, as I am, to run down from the heights in the gladdest self-giving and then go up to the mountains again. You will be able to mount to the High Places swifter than eagles, for it is only up on the High Places of Love that anyone can receive the power to pour themselves down in the utter abandonment of self-giving.”

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To POUR myself down in the utter abandonment of self-giving?

To run down from the heights in the GLADDEST self-giving and then go up to the mountains again?

To go low and rise again?

This is the lesson of the river. A lesson that it sings with utmost joy and gusto. Ever moving, ever rushing. Full of life and energy.

I’m pretty sure that the song of the brook just gave me a brilliant new note of happiness in the middle of my question. Why is life a CONSTANT struggle? Because I am growing, and evil is real. It does not want me to grow, and so it makes it hard.

But you know what makes my journey joyful? Knowing that every time I tumble off of my plateau of success and into the muck of the valley, I can pull a little stone out of the sludge (Much Afraid’s memorial for the lessons she learned) and use it in the future to pull someone else out of the muck of the valley. Someone who is weaker; a used-to-be-me.

I still don’t like the valley.

AT ALL.

But the Father is teaching me how to use more and more tools which make my time there recede. And it is AWESOME to take someone up to the High Places with me. After all, what fun is a mountaintop experience without someone to party with?

Sweetest joy and sweetest pain… to go low and RISE AGAIN.

You know I actually get the best of both worlds though, right? Because one time…. sometime, it will be my last trip out of the Valley.

And then I’ll get to party in the High Places FOREVER. That, my friend, is exciting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me….. I gotta go find my sword.

I have a dragon to kill.

When a roadblock becomes [a hug from heaven]

           

I never liked Cinderella.

And yet, on that mind-boggling day, I could almost say that I felt like her. Except that my coachman was a long-haired redneck with a Copenhagen ring. And my pumpkin-coach was a tow truck. And instead of leaving the ball too late, I nearly missed arriving at all. And (thank goodness) I was wearing a Cabelas hoodie instead of that preposterous bedazzled dress….

It happened all too quickly to really explain. All I know is, when my rusty green Mercury clanked and came to a deathly, sullen halt at a green light just far enough over the peak of a hill to be invisible to the lines of rush hour traffic behind me, I was hoping on a prayer that the two 18-wheelers who were riding on my bumper would be quick on the trigger. They were. Their brakes screeched and squealed behind me as they wove to a stop…. Just in time. Another line of traffic was rapidly cresting the hill directly behind me. The light was still green.

That’s when I decided to exit the car.

Standing in that weedy parking lot, waiting for the tow truck to arrive, watching the smoke seep from under the hood of my car and watching vehicle after vehicle zoom over the hill and frantically switch lanes or slam on the brakes to avoid hitting my dysfunctional car, I  couldn’t help but wonder, “Why, God? Why allow my trusty old tin can to give up the ghost now? Why do I, a weary, penniless Bible college student, need to deal with this just 20 stinkin’ minutes before our end-of-semester banquet is supposed to commence?

Ugh!!! This is terrible timing!”

Almost an hour later, driving back towards the Bible school campus on a high-backed leather seat beside the tow truck driver, my poor lifeless car clanking along on the trailer behind us, we somehow found ourselves talking about fate. And I remember saying, “It’s a good thing I have a skateboard, ‘cause I don’t live around here, and it might be my only way to get home tomorrow. But either way, I know God has a plan for this. If I could only see life through His eyes, I know I would never want to change a single circumstance of my life, no matter how hard. Everything happens for a reason.”

I’ve come to believe that it’s dangerous to make such bold statements. Somewhere in the future they usually become tested…

We rattled on into the campus parking lot and came to a halt directly under the windows of the music room where the entire student body was taking formal class pictures. I helped to unload the care while dodging puddles of tobacco juice with impressive style and ease and attempted to calm my friends, who were peering out of the windows with varying degrees of surprise, amusement, and concern at my untimely predicament.

I backed my car into a parking spot while my tow truck friend pushed… said thanks to him and waved goodbye… turned back towards my car just in time to see that it was still in neutral and was drifting speedily towards a large pine tree…. dashed to it and threw it in park literally two inches before it hit… grabbed my boots out of the back seat and laughed about the people who might think it strange to see my car parked half in the parking lot and half under a tree… darted up the back stairs of the dormitory… and stuffed myself in a very uncomfortable dress in time to enter the banquet hall only a few minutes late.

I was glad to sit down.

I called my father during a break in the festivities, and he, in his customary super-awesomeness, agreed to re-arrange his schedule in order to bring a trailer down to the campus the next day. Something bothered me, though. I had promised to give my friend a ride home early the next day. I hurried to find her and apologized that our plans would have to be cancelled because of all this mess. I suggested that she could hop home with one of the other girls who lived in my vicinity. Surprisingly, she said she’d rather hang around and wait for me. Just because she’s a gem.

At 2 pm the next day, I was waiting expectantly in the hallway with my bags packed. My phone rang. My father’s voice was on the other end. He sounded stressed.

“Hey, Kara, you know how we were supposed to be picking you up in thirty minutes? Well, that wont be happening now. A tire fell off my truck, and I’m stuck here on the shoulder of the highway until someone can come get me with a trailer.

….Yes, it was a tire I was driving on. Yes, at 68 miles per hour. I chased it down the highway on foot once I got the truck stopped. Whew……. I’m still tired. But anyhow, tell your friend that it’s gonna be at least 4 hours till we get there. I’m really sorry about all of this.”

Really? How often does a tire just randomly fall off? Creeps! All of this was just too ironic. But it got better…

Two hours later, I received another call. “Hey, hun? Just wanted to let you know that Art (my mechanic, and also my brother-in-law) just hit the road now. Turns out that the keys for his truck somehow ended up with me (my father was two hours away from Art at the time)… and yeah, every single thing that could possibly go wrong, did while he was trying to round up a truck and trailer to rescue us all. But he is FINALLY on his way, so hang in there! 4 more hours should do it.”

Seriously??!? MORE waiting? My impatience was beginning to show. All I wanted to do was to go home and sleep forever.

By this time, there were only three students left on campus, and the dormitory felt more like a dark, hollow tomb than the bubbling hub of life it had been just a day before. My friends and I decided to stop by a local radio ministry while we waited for our rescuers to arrive. We had just enough time to get a quick tour before the business closed, and thankfully, all of the staff were still on duty. Just as our tour ended and we were heading out the door, we heard a voice behind us, “Hey, you guys should stop in and meet Bob before you go. He just got off the phone.” To this day, I’m not exactly sure who Bob is and how the subject came up, but before we’d been in his office five minutes, he began telling us the animated story of fruitless search for missionaries to staff a Christian orphanage in Mexico. The current staff workers were being drastically overtaxed, and Bob was becoming overwhelmed because it was an extremely long process to simply train a new staff person in the language, much less the skills needed for the job.

My friend’s eyes started to sparkle, and she began asking question after question.

Bob was more than happy to provide information.

Before the hour was up she had completed an application and received an invitation to travel to Mexico with Bob and some other staff the next month. But maybe you don’t realize just how epic this was, both for Bob AND my friend.

You see, Bob had no applicants. But my friend had majored in evangelism and missions during her term at Bible school, and God had planted an insurmountable hunger for service in her young heart. Bob had a large set-back in hiring staff, because it took so long to train them in the language and customs. My friend was FROM Mexico, and had lived in the US, and so was extremely well-versed in the language and customs of both locations. Bob needed someone ASAP. But the Heavenly Father had brought my friend to just the place in her walk with Him where she could say, “Yes, Father, if this is your will, then I am ready.

What do you think? Was this meeting a shallow shot in the dark called ‘chance’? Or was it a wild, dangerous, spectacular rainbow of divine initiation? As my friends and I finally left the business, contact information and brochures in tow, there wasn’t a dry eye among us. We could feel the presence of the Lord in our midst, and it was as if He had audibly whispered,

“See? All of your car problems over the past two days were for a PURPOSE! I needed you to be right here, right now for a reason. This miracle that just took place for Bob and for your friend could not have happened any other way. Was it worth it? Was it worth all the hassle for my work to go forth, for harvesters to be added to my fields? Take this, not only as a symbol of my love for Bob and your friend, but as a symbol of my love for YOU. I do not allow hardship without a reason. And this time, I have chosen to reveal my reason. Remember this, child, and be at peace.”

Suddenly, nothing mattered anymore, except this moment… right here, right now. It didn’t matter that I’d had to call 911. It didn’t matter that I’d had to fork out a ridiculous amount of cash to the towing company. It didn’t matter that I’d almost missed the banquet.  It didn’t matter that my family ended up needing to drive almost 1,000 miles to pick me up (normally the round trip would have been 550). It didn’t matter that we had two broken-down vehicles. We all now saw these obstacles as tools. Tools for the kingdom. Tools of love. Symbols that my friend’s destiny mattered! That she was infinitely valuable!

And now, 5 months later, as she works at the orphanage and sometimes things get tough, I know it is her reason to go on.

Because one person’s road block is another person’s glory.

Our Father always has a plan. And it is something BEAUTIFUL.