Monday, May 29, 2017

Dusty Streets and a Softening Heart

After the 3 hour bus ride, I made my way up through the dusty and hilly streets in the foothills of Carabayllo for one last visit.  Two years ago, my heart was angry at this young lady, angry at her wantonness, and angry at my foster son’s inability to resist her.  Of course he wasn’t the problem… she was. If only she weren’t so easy, or so aggressive, he would be able to see clearer. What I wasn’t seeing (or wanting to see), was that she was just as broken as he was… but she had no warning voice reining her in.  So he struggled, and she won her prize – a young man who turned his back on God to be with her, and in so doing, turned his back on his conscience and gave up the struggle to deny himself anything. He crumbled in the face of the temptation of turning back to drugs, of life on the streets… and of other girls. 5 months after winning her “prize,” she was pregnant, and the father of their baby was already with another girl, working sporadically, and treating her like something to be used and discarded.  “Enlarge your heart,” God had spoken to me way back when she was relentlessly pursuing him… and vice versa. Oh, how slow we are as parents to see, that the fault may lay within our own.  How slow to see that that “problem,” may be someone just as desperate in need of love, of counsel, of the presence of someone who truly cares and is willing to speak the truth to them in love.

            Now, two years later, I’ve had the privilege of spending time with her, and with her son, who is a precious and smiley 8 month-old. I pray with all my being that he is not another casualty of the consequences of abandonment, family violence, abuse or neglect.  She is so young… and still so broken.  It has been good to be with her, hear her story, and be able to speak some truth – in love this time – to her. Truth about her worth, about God’s love for her, about her need for His counsel, as He truly does care for her.  I’m not sure how much she has “heard.” When we fix our eyes on another savior apart from Jesus, we are easily sidetracked.  She is soon heading back to the jungle to try to raise her son with his father, who says he is now repentant for the way he treated her, and I pray that somehow, in the mess of it, they all find God’s redeeming grace, forgiveness, and wisdom.

However, as I walked up the hills of Carabayllo, I wasn’t praying anymore for my heart to be open to her, now there was another “problem.”  Her sister has been living with her and their mother for a few months now also, recently broken up with her fiancé.  In my mind and heart, I had made her into a “problem,” as well. Joking with her sister about being a “sinner” as she tried to read her Bible, dressing provocatively as she went out on the street… I was convinced that she was being a bad influence on her younger sister in her vulnerable state.  “Lord, help me to see her through your eyes, help me to love her with your love,” I prayed as I walked.  I had found out that she wasn’t working for the moment, a flu having kept her home for a few days.  My self-righteous nature is easily awakened, and once again I found myself in the clutches of “if onlys…”

When I arrived, the sister was there, and not the brash girl I had seen on my last visit. She asked about missions, asked about why and how I was in Peru, and confessed her difficulty in connecting with God. She shared how she had gone to church with her fiancé, and had received Christ, but only to please him. She confessed how boring she found church, and how she had told her fiancé she wanted to be there and wanted to follow Christ, when she really didn’t at the time. In effect, she was sincere and vulnerable with me… and it undid me.  God answered my prayer for my heart to be open to her in ways I didn’t know were possible during that short visit. Over lunch when I was talking with her Mom about giving her life to God to have Him sort through it instead of her trying to “clean it up” in order to give it back to Him pretty, the sister broke down crying.  “I’d really like to follow God,” she said, “but the world seems so attractive sometimes… and church so boring. Do I have to go to church to follow God?” We had a great conversation about the need for fellow believers, about different churches, and about the value of the eternal versus the temporal.  I got to share the fun fact that I’ve never found God boring after deciding to follow Him wholeheartedly… frustrating, painful, and heart-rending at times, but never boring, hahaha.

So, once again, I am humbled by the fact that God uses us even in our brokenness. Do join me in praying for this family who are searching and hungry for Love.  And for me, that I’ll continue loving in ways that are stretching to this sometimes-critical heart.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Baptism - What of it?

Sunday afternoon we drove a few kilometers south of Tambo de Mora, and two precious young ladies were baptized.

Abigail, 10 years old, had come to the church around a month ago with her Mom, scared and asking for prayer. She had been having demonic dreams, full of fear and impotence. No matter how much she prayed, and her Mom prayed, the dreams kept coming back.  It's hard to take authority over spiritual attack when you don't know Who your Father is yet. After chatting for a bit with her, her Mom, pastor Robert and a few girls from the World Race team there at the time, she indicated that she would like to give her life to God, and would like Him to be both her Savior and her Shepherd. I tried to make sure it was something that she truly wanted, not just a patch for a scary moment, and she said she was sure she wanted to give her life to Christ. We prayed and gave her further strategies for telling those spirits that she belonged to God, and they had no right to bother her.
The next week when they came to church, she said that after 3 more nights, the dreams had stopped, as she continued to introduce the bothersome spirits to her Heavenly Father, and His authority.

That same week, her older sister, Anghyolina, who is 14 years old, came to church with her Mom, brokenhearted because her stepfather blames her when anything goes wrong. One of the racers, Andi, was able to share her testimony about growing up in a broken home, and speak directly to her heart about what it looks like to find your worth in what God says about you. It was a beautiful moment.

After the service that night, two of the women were talking about being baptized, and young Abigail expressed her interest in being baptized too. As we were talking about it on the way to take them back to their home in Chincha, she mentioned it again to her Mom, and her sister Anghyolina piped up too, "I also want to get baptized!" So we arranged for a class on baptism with them the next Sunday afternoon with pastor Robert, and then set a date for the baptism after that class for this past Sunday.

In the Catholic church culture down here, infants are baptized, and many see it as an amulet of protection for them against sickness or evil spirits.  Those who are baptized are saved, and those who aren't, well - aren't. In the Protestant church here, it is a symbol of one's commitment to God, and our willingness to be united with Christ in His death, receiving His forgiveness and burying the "old man" with it's old nature with Christ and trusting in His grace for a new way of living in Him.  But, there's a big "but" for me: I still have questions.

I know baptism doesn't save you - we are not saved by works, but by faith - however, does anything supernatural happen at baptism? And if it does, how do I know so many who have proclaimed by being baptized their desire to follow Christ... but have turned back to the world and to dependence on themselves, their own wisdom, and strength to get what they want out of life? So many people share about experiencing great peace when they were baptized, or of an infilling of the Holy Spirit. Others say it's just an act of obedience to God's mandate to be baptized, nothing more and nothing less.  Just like with Jesus, though, it seems that for many, the public declaration of the desire to follow Christ is followed by a time of testing in the wilderness... and perhaps not all pass the test.

The mandate in Matthew 28 is to go, making disciples, baptizing them in Jesus' name, and teaching them to obey all that He commanded.  I do believe that as exciting as baptisms are, it's the last part of that directive that gives the church (and me) trouble. The "teaching them to obey all that I commanded."  Discipleship to Christ - not to doctrine, not to oneself, not to a denomination, but to "hear His voice and follow," I believe is truly where we need to be working.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rimac - Finding Healing in the Broken

Yesterday my friend Sofia called at 8am. "Did I wake you?" she asked, and I laughed her off with a "At 8am? Don't be silly... even if you had, it would have been time to be up anyway!" The reality was that I was struggling to drag myself out of bed... again. At night my thoughts keep me awake, and in the morning it just seems easier to keep shutting them out with more sleep.

"Hermana, could you come with me today to visit my sick brother (in Christ, not by blood)?" I tried to stall for time to answer, "What time do you want to go? Let me think... I need to be back in time to make supper, it's my turn to cook tonight. Where is he?" Trying to sound like I care (I truly want to care, but the weight of my thoughts makes me listless), while inwardly acknowledging the reality that I might rather stay home... and do what? There was truly no good excuse. And isn't this what I'm here for? To be available to meet others in their need? She was ready to leave immediately, I just had to pull myself together, so I gave her an affirmative answer, and asked for an hour or so to "take care of some things." Like getting up, eating, getting dressed and trying to press in to a devotional time with God.  

The upside was that I got to go out and have some reprieve from my thoughts. The downside was that he lives in Rimac, one of the most crime-ridden sectors of Lima.  At 11am we finally met up in Chabuca, a park right behind the presidential palace. The river Rimac runs by the park, and on the other side of the river is the sector itself, standing in dirty stark contrast to the area surrounding the presidential palace. I followed her lead, as she was familiar with the zone and knew how to stay away from more dangerous spots.  We took a taxi to Rimac market, then another car to the San Juan area on the side of a hill, walking an uneven block to the house where the sick man, Gustavo, was. 

 A year ago he had been diagnosed with a malignant cancer, and given a year to live.  He was in bed, rail-thin, a man in his late 50's more or less, with a still dignified demeanor even on his deathbed.  His yellowed eyes gave away his quickly deteriorating condition, but we chatted about the weather, my friend Sofia's early years as a believer, and his family.  He had been a police officer, and had 9 children, not all by the same woman.  He had his sweet wife Yoli bring out the certificates he had earned in courses taken for chaplaincy service after coming to Christ.  I was impressed by his effort to better himself to serve those around him.  Then we sang and prayed together.  "Tu fidelidad es grande..." "Your faithfulness is great..."  As we prayed, he started to writhe and moan, and all my doubts of my ability in my present state to minister to anyone flooded in, but I continued to feel led to pray against depression and discouragement... and God showed up. Turns out God isn't limited by our imperfections - asking in faith in His goodness even apart from our worthiness is enough.  Gustavo stopped writhing and started nodding.  "Gracias, Señor." "What do you feel, brother?" I asked. "Peace. A lot of peace."  Just what we'd been asking for.  My heart flooded in gratitude and awe at the mercy of God. 

Later Sofia told me of how he had been wounded by the church, and how pastoral jealousy had kept him from meeting his full potential to serve.  How the pastor had never visited him, even after knowing that his cancer was fatal, and on one occasion when he had felt well enough to attend a service, had remarked that "nowadays it takes cancer to get people to go to church." Wounded people wound others, and the wounds of discouragement were deep. Sofia felt sure that this is what left him as we were praying. 

On the way home, I wondered at a God who uses the broken to bring healing to others.  Who took a womanizing police officer and turned him into a police chaplain and family counselor. Who planted a transformed police officer in the middle of a corrupt and delinquent sector of the city and whose family, even in his sickness, is a beacon of light to those around them.  Who got a depressed girl out of bed on a Wednesday morning to go pray against discouragement and depression in a terminal cancer patient.  Truly, great is His faithfulness. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mourning the Unmournable

“The way he treated you, that’s not gratitude.”
“He didn’t deserve your care.”
“Let him be the one to show you he’s truly repentant."
"You don't send kids back, no matter how terrible they are acting."
"If you were a real mother, you'd never have let him go." 

After spending a year as a foster mother to a 15-16 year old boy with a trauma and abuse background, replete with addiction issues and poor coping mechanisms, I had to send him back to his biological mother when I found out he was stealing from me, and after all the lies, manipulation and breaking of trust time and time again, emotionally, I didn’t know how to cope anymore.  

These experiences don't come with manuals... at least not ones that you know about when you just jump in over your head. But everyone, including myself, has an opinion on how things should be, even if the opinions don't line up.  Still, in my heart, he was a son.

What I didn't realize, is that I too had a lot of baggage that I didn’t know I was carrying. The baggage of codependent behavior in myself, of being too needy to be a good Mom at the moment. Fear is never a good guide, and I was drowning in fear - fear of losing him, fear of what would become of him if he made the wrong decision, instead of listening to the still small voice of the Father who loves – but has good boundaries.  The baggage of wondering if I had somehow screwed him up more by my enabling… and then by my abandonment.
The hardest person ever to forgive, I've found, is oneself.

“Of course God used you in his life, you just can’t see it yet. These things take time.”
“You never know how God used you. You showed him love, now you just have to let go and trust.”
... and so on. Well-meaning words of comfort, but it's never seemed that easy to me to let go and trust. Perhaps I'm a horrible Christian too. 

What do you do, when you’ve been a Mom, and all of a sudden, you aren’t anymore? When you realize that you’ll probably never see them fulfill the dreams that they had shared with you? That the house will be empty from now on, and what was can not be again? And in the place of purpose, connection, hope and belonging now, is just loss. Disconnection, guilt, shame, blame, and confusion.

If only I had been more vigilant. If only I had listened to God better. If only I had protected him more, protected him less, scolded him more, scolded him less, and let him face consequences earlier… if only I had been a better Mom, this wouldn’t have happened. 

What do you do when you lose a son… but you feel that the people around you blame him, and wonder why you’re still caring about what happens to the manipulative twit? Or when you feel that people blame you, and wonder why you gave up on a kid that you had called “son” once? Gave up? No, I felt he was forcibly ripped from my hands by God who could not have said much louder, “Let go!”

Then, what do you do when God gives you a gift… and then takes it away? What do you do when you feel that all you ever knew of God’s goodness and faithfulness seems to contradict what He’s asking of you? How do you trust God again when you’re not sure if maybe you’re the next one to be evicted?  And how do you mourn a son who is still alive but not your son anymore?

A friend of mine lost her son at the same time I lost mine, but in a car accident. And I watched with horror, compassion… and might I even admit… a twinge of jealousy, as she processed her loss and grieved publically on facebook. The horror and compassion are understandable – I could empathize with her ravaged grief. But the jealousy? How was I to mourn, and who could I talk to? All my conversations felt like they were about betrayal, failure and… loss? But what loss? The loss of an angry, manipulative, and oh-so-wounded teen? But oh, what loss!

To not hear his voice in the morning coming from downstairs, saying “hello, mamá!” and “good morning, mamá!” And his favorite way to bother me as he was washing (clothes, dishes, etc.) down below… “mamá!... mamá!... mamá!” until I caved and said, “what?”… “nada… jajajaja!” Or, the alternative answer: “I love you! Jajajaja.” To not hear the quiet “good night, mamá” in the evening when the house was dark, and I could barely hear it whispered through the floor.

And the things I learned from him. I learned about God’s amazing sacrificial love for us. When my laptop was run over, falling out of a motocar he was in, and was supposed to be taking care of and he responded with palpable remorse and said "I wish I'd been the one run over," I learned about how God paid what we could never hope to pay for, in order to maintain relationship with us through Christ. When he told me not to thank him for washing the dishes all the time, because it felt like I was trying to pay him with my gratitude for something that a son should do for his Mom, I learned that love is not earned, and we don’t have to bargain for it… and that gratitude should always be sincere, not offered in payment, which is a bit manipulative. The things that God showed him about how God offers us more and more precious treasures as we grow deeper in relationship with Him, but how we often settle for cheap and gaudy on a superficial level. He heard God’s voice, and with what he learned, I learned.

But his past caught up with his present in the form of a girl, seductive and broken, just like he was. From a past of abuse and abandonment, with the same hurts and same struggles… and she started playing with his heart, and he started playing with hers, and they both lost. Even after God warned him time and again to stay away from her. And I’m sure if she could have heard God, He would have been telling her the same thing. And now there’s another baby growing up without a Dad present, far away with his Mom in Lima.

How do you mourn such loss when there doesn’t seem to be any platform for it? To be a Mom, then to not be a Mom… but not through a death, though it felt like a miscarriage. Or an abortion. How do you mourn when there’s such guilt? And blame? And so few that might understand without feeling that you’re minimizing their loss (when their child really has died), or exaggerating your pain (he deserved it, get over it)?

So. I still mourn. And wonder how long it takes to heal, when I have a son/not son out there that I don’t know what to do with in my heart.  How to maintain any connection, from a distance, without setting him up for false expectations? Or how do I let him go, when he was not mine in the first place? And how do I hear God in all this, when all the messages seem conflicting, those from without as well as those from within? 

So. I'll mourn. And continue to mourn until the mourning is done, whether those around me agree with my mourning or not.  And I'll continue to pray for him, undeserving as he might be... for weren't we all once enemies of God, when He loved us enough to lay down His life for us? And I am convinced that even with his anger, rebellion, fear, shame, self-loathing and poor choices... that God still loves this stinker, and still has plans for his good, if only he will trust Him once more.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”
Jeremiah 31:15 

And please, Lord, verses 16-17 too.