Far from what I once was, but not yet what I'm going to be

Friday, November 13, 2015

He walks with me through fire.

"Why am I discouraged?
     why is my heart so sad?
  I will put my hope in God!
     I will praise Him again --
     my Savior and my God!"
          Psalm 42:11

"If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first."
          John 15:18

"When you go through deep waters,
     I will be with you.
  When you go through rivers of difficulty,
     you will not drown.
  When you walk through the fire of oppression,
     you will not be burned up;
     the flames will not consume you."
          Isaiah 43:2

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These verses have been heavy on my heart lately. I have been discouraged. My heart has been sad. I have felt hated and betrayed. I have been going through deep waters & rivers of difficulty. I am walking through the fire of oppression.

But I have hope.

I worship a G-d who will walk through the fire with me. He DOES walk through the fire with me. (Daniel 3)

Suffering is necessary in the Christian life. Every season of suffering I walk through gives me a deepened relationship with my Maker & my Father. I always say, "it's in the dark places His light shines the brightest." And I believe that with every ounce of my being. If it weren't for the dark places and the hard places, I wouldn't appreciate who He is nearly as much and I wouldn't appreciate the bright, joyful times.

But as I've learned, there are two kinds of suffering: productive suffering and unproductive suffering. I so desperately want to be productive in my suffering -- to surrender all control to my Father, to put my hope and my trust in Him, to wrap myself in His loving arms of comfort, and to cover myself in His peace. To rid my heart of bitterness and selfishness, to look past what is in this moment and see there are far better things ahead because the Lord promises good to me. To simply BE in His presence and cling to Him.

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The past year and a half has taught me so much.  I've learned that I used to place my identity in all the wrong places. I didn't know my worth. I doubted that the Lord was speaking to me and that I could hear His voice (John 10:27). But I've seen the light. The truth has been revealed to me. My identity is in Christ. I am of immeasurable worth because my Father and the Creator of my heart is El-Shaddai - G-d Almighty - and He claims me as His own and He calls me His own special treasure (Deuteronomy 7:6).

So why am I so discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?

Because even though I KNOW these attributes of G-d and I KNOW where my identity is and I KNOW my worth -- I often forget. I'm so easily blinded by man and what mere mortals have to say about me.

But then I remember: He went before me. Jesus has gone before me. He was betrayed. He was hated. To the point of death on a cross.

He says, 
"If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you."
John 15:18-19

He called me out of this world. In 1 Peter 2:11, we are called strangers in this world. Foreigners. So when I feel hated or betrayed or like I just don't belong, it's because I don't. I have been called out of conformity.

So when you feel betrayed, know they hated Him before they hated you. It is the enemy's goal to cause division. Let us not give him a foothold.

"But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you."
Luke 6:27-28

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"When you walk through deep waters,
     I will be with you.
  When you go through rivers of difficulty, 
     you will not drown.
  When you walk through the fire of oppression,
     you will not be burned up;
     the flames will not consume you."
          Isaiah 43:2

Remember that old story in the book of Daniel chapter 3 with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? Where King Nebuchadnezzar is going to throw them into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to his golden statues and fake gods.

This story has been one of my very favorites these past few months. I heard that story a thousand times growing up. But there's an incredible couple of verses in Daniel 3 that I seemed to have missed growing up -- or maybe they just didn't carry such weight when I was younger.

King Nebuchadnezzar has just been informed that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have refused to bow down to his gold statue. He is furious and demands they come before him. He gives them one last chance to bow down to the statue before he is going to throw them into the blazing furnace. Their response blows me away,

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN'T, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will NEVER serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up."
Daniel 3:16-18

What an incredible faith they exhibited. They knew they worshiped a G-d mighty enough to save them from the fiery furnace. They had faith and confidence that He WOULD save them. But they knew that EVEN IF HE DIDN'T, He is still good.

"L-rd, I believe; help my unbelief!"
Mark 9:24

This is so often my prayer. L-rd, I believe; help my unbelief. I want a faith like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Moments from being thrown into the fire and they stood firm and faithful to the L-rd.

Maybe you know the end of the story? Nebuchadnezzar is infuriated by this response from the 3 young men, so he orders the flames be turned up 7 times hotter and has them thrown into the fire. The guards tending to the flames died from the heat, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked among the flames unscathed. And a fourth man was seen walking among them.

We worship a G-d who will walk through fire with us. He will not let you be burned up.

So the next time you find yourself going through rivers of difficulty or walking through the fire of oppression, I hope you take comfort in knowing that the G-d of the universe is walking through it with you. The flames will not consume you.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

What I Would Tell My High School Self

For the past two years, I have taught Sunday school to Kindergarten through 4th graders. It was challenging, but so rewarding and one of the most growing experiences of my life.

My last Sunday was about a month ago.

Instead of my usual routine, the youth pastor had me join "the big kids."

In the leader meeting before church on this particular Sunday, the youth pastor, Nissa, gave all of the leaders an assignment: if you could go back and tell your high-school-self something, what would it be?

I took this assignment very seriously. And here is what I came up with.

You can't plan your life. The Lord has a plan for you. Ultimately, you want HIS plan for your life because nothing you think up or dream up will ever come close to the Lord's plan. I tried to plan my life; who I would marry, where I would live, how many kids I would have and each of their names, what my profession would be... Everything. And when it all came crashing down, it was devastating. I was broken, bitter, angry and confused. It took a long road to healing for me to understand that you can never plan your life on your own. Nothing in this life is certain except for the Lord's unending love. Through His comfort, strength, peace and joy, I realized I don't even want MY plans. His plans are greater because HE is greater. He knows my heart. He knows my every thought. He knows what is best for me & He knows my future. There is no need to worry because the Creator of the universe holds my life and my world in His hands. I don't want my small, petty plans to come true. I want to see His plan unfold.

Your identity is not in who you are or what you do; your identity is in WHOSE you are. And I am His. I am the Lord God's. Jesus Christ bled and died for ME; that I may live with him forever. It was my sin that held Him on the cross and He knew my name and every sin I would commit as He hung there. He conquered death and forgave me. Oh, what a love.
I used to find my identity in other things. I found my identity in my boyfriend. I lost who I was in a relationship because I was no longer an individual; I was no longer Cara. I identified myself as his girlfriend; as half of a relationship. And when that relationship ended, I didn't know who I was anymore. I lost myself.
I found my identity in my grades at school -- which left me always feeling like a failure because I could never be good enough. This is not the Lord's intention for us. We are not defined by boyfriends or grades. I am a child of God. I am His. That is my identity. And that, I can never lose. That won't fail.

You will never be fulfilled by worldly things. The things of this world are temporary. This life is temporary. You will never be fulfilled by having more money, more clothes, a newer car. Only He can fulfill you. He knows your every need.
He lives in me and that is how I am fulfilled.
Alcohol will never fulfill you. Don't even go down that path. It will only lead to destruction. The ONLY thing that will fulfill you is the one who created your heart. And He WANTS to be that for you. Only He can make you whole; comfort you in times of trouble, give you strength when you have none, give you joy when circumstances are so dark you forget what the light looks like. He is truth. He is life. And it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Plans & Priorities

If there's one thing I've learned over the last year -- just one -- it's that I can make all the plans I want, but Jesus will probably wreck them and turn them into something even more beautiful than I ever dreamt possible.

But before the beauty comes pain. Before the beauty is brokenness. Your plans are wrecked, remember? It hurts. It's hard. You have dreams and hopes and expectations; & it all comes crashing down before your very eyes.

And there He is. Jesus. To pick up all the pieces of my broken heart and shattered dreams. Smiling. Arms stretched open. He IS comfort. He IS strength. He IS joy. And He gives these things to me & He pieces my heart back together and places new hopes and new dreams in me that are now founded in Him and are so much greater.

A year ago my plans were simple. My dreams were small. My priorities were mixed up. It took a broken heart, some shattered dreams and my Jesus piecing me back together so much more beautifully than before to realize these things.

I stand here today a different woman. A woman grounded in faith, hope, and love. A woman who is bold and courageous to do the uncomfortable and face the impossible -- with God at my side. A woman who listens to the Lord, not man.

I stand here today with a new plan, to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. . ." Matthew 28:19-20

It's a year later and I have a whole year of experiences under my belt. Experiences full of the Lord's presence and grace. Experiences full of the Lord's love and comfort. It's a year later and I finally have my priorities straight. I can say that with confidence.

So when different people come at me and tell me to get my priorities in order -- I can confidently say, "they already are." Jesus told us to love God & love people. That's the priority. That's the plan.

""Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."" Matthew 22:36-39

Psalm 112:7
2 Timothy 4:17
Zechariah 2:5


Monday, February 16, 2015

Mzungu || Happy Birthday Mark

**Note: this post was written on June 22, 2014 but never published. Today seemed better. Happy birthday, Mark.

Who would have thought that the person who changed my life the most on this journey -- the one who left the most significant impression -- would be a white guy from South Carolina?

Let me tell you about Mark. (Mark if you're reading this, please don't kill me).

Mark changed my life without even knowing it. He softened my heart and changed me. And I never even told him that. What a shame.

Mark met The Lord 3 years ago and was transformed by His love, mercy and grace. I see Christ in Mark every day.

I see Christ in Mark's interactions with the mothers at the hospital - the way he is so gentle and kind to them, knowing they are afraid. I see Christ in Mark when he loves on the kids and makes them smile through their pain and adversity. I see Christ in Mark when he buys the street children chapati because they are too poor to eat tonight.

Mark changed my life and changed my heart with just a couple conversations and he never even knew it.

He used to work in the music industry. He worked with some pretty big names and he helped create a huge company that we've probably all heard of. He knew success. But he met The Lord and he knows that stuff isn't what matters -- and that's what I love about Mark. He said to me, "I make significantly less money each year working for CURE than I did before. But I would make the decision to leave that life and come here all over again because it's worth it. It's worth it every single day."

Now, Mark is the CUREkids Coordinator. He is a photographer and he writes stories for the CURE blog. He interviews the moms of the patients and asks them how they got to CURE, and all about the child and their journey. It's a pretty awesome job.

Mark gets it. He understands it's not about money. It's not about fame and fortune. It's about loving God's people -- and loving them well; which he does.

And if you could see Mark interact with the kids and the moms, you would understand. This man loves. He loves well. This man spreads joy like I've never seen. The children love him. The moms open up to him. Mark is so special. His life is a gift to all who know him.

In another conversation, Mark said to me, "I don't miss places and I don't miss things; I miss people." Again, Mark gets it. Things don't matter. In this life, material  things will rust and get destroyed, but people matter. Every life matters. We are called to love. Relationships matter. And Mark understands that.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
(Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

During my time in Uganda, I laughed a lot with Mark. He's such a joy to be around and I know he has found favor in the eyes of The Lord.

But another thing about Mark is that he has seen pain. He has experienced loss and heartbreak -- and he has remained faithful to The Lord in those times and been an incredible encouragement to me.

There are times when I have so many thoughts and emotions running through my heart and my head -- I want to write them all down but sometimes I just can't find the words. Mark was such an encouragement to me on this journey because I came across his blog. Through his blog, I was able to see into his heart; I saw deeper into his heart than I ever did speaking with him. In his blog, Mark wrote the words I struggled to write myself. He felt the same way I felt; and he so eloquently wrote it down. I found such comfort in his words and in his writing. I hope you will to.

Here is an excerpt from just one of my favorite posts on his blog: (click link below to read the whole post)

 "When everything else falls apart, the gospel remains.  When you can't make sense of your life, the gospel still holds true.  When you feel abandoned, confused, worthless, stagnant, trapped, hopeless.  The gospel doesn't lose strength or power.  It isn't affected.  In fact, it's amplified.  Its light is brighter.

If there's one lesson that I'm constantly learning and being reminded -- it's that every life is worth it. Every life is a contribution. In a country with tremendous distance between social classes, feelings of inferiority radiate from guardians, villagers and beggars. We are not to disregard the lame or meek, yet we do. I see it everyday. I feel guilty. I feel sadness. I know that I want to love people, all people. Everyone is worth it. Not having money or a job or an education doesn't discount the worth of a person in Gods eyes. I want to see them through gospel lens. I want to see them as a child of God, worthy of time, encouragement, and sacrifice. It's where I feel most vulnerable and uncomfortable. When I don't know how to help or what to say. But it's also there that I feel God. I feel His presence. When I get someone to smile that has been cursed at, overlooked and ignored all day. When I treat people like people. With respect and dignity. We're all fallen. We all need grace. We are in the same boat. We could at least try to connect."

- Mark Barrett

These are the things I love about Mark. He's broken, he's flawed, he's imperfect; but he's learning and he's loving through it. He's selfless and he's generous. He's caring and he's giving and he has a heart of gold. He's adventurous and honest.

I am so thankful for you. I am thankful for your humor. I am thankful for your joy. I am thankful for your adventurous spirit. I am thankful for your generosity. I am thankful for the lessons you taught me. And I am thankful for your wisdom.

I pray The Lord gives you clarity for your future. Know His plans for you are great. Know His plans for you are perfect and filled with life, love and adventure. I pray for your heart -- that you will be guided by our Father and hear His voice clearly. I pray you continue to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)


PS.  If I saw you in heaven, I WOULD know your name