The Horse Who Didn’t Have An Owner

Cleaning out my computer, I found these pictures that break my heart and bring a smile to my face at the same time. This is a story that Mandi wrote and illustrated soon after she first came to us as a foster child, even before she was adopted, as you can see by her last name in her story.

This short little story is a powerful testament to the importance and value of both fostering and adopting. I applaud anyone who has done so or is doing so now. The funny thing about adopting Mandi is that with foster children, you are at least somewhat prepared to say goodbye because that is part of the arrangement. You provide a safe home of transition essentially. But my parents adopted her, which meant that we were not supposed to have to say goodbye.

Even though we did and I may never understand why, I am so incredibly thankful for the story represented in this little book she put together. It is her story. It is the story of every child who longs for a home and finds the open arms of a family to love them. I would even go so far as to claim that this story adumbrates the narrative of God’s relationship with his adopted children. We were the lost horse… the lost sheep… the lost coin… and he chose to adopt us and give us a home.

If I have learned anything from both gaining and losing a sister, it is how important it is to love those who are unloved. To seek out the unwanted. To see the unseen and rush toward them with unconditional love. There’s no guarantee that this will end up pretty. Our story took a turn that hurt like hell, but to know and love Mandi and to have her a sister, albeit not as long as I expected, was so worth it.IMG_3278IMG_3279IMG_3280IMG_3281IMG_3282

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Hope

Guest post! Last Sunday was Easter, and we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This single event carries so much weight and authority as it gives believers in Jesus one thing that sets us apart: hope. As this happens to be my name, I am always drawn toward any study of the word, and my amazing friend Amanda has done an incredible job of unpacking some of the truth behind our biblical hope. I am so honored to have her as a guest writer for my blog, and I love what she has found. I’m an English teacher and will say it to the day I die, but words are so powerful! Especially this one.

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“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil… -Hebrews 6:19 (NASB)
I did a lot of praying, reading, and preparation in trying to pick a word for this year. After all of that groundwork, I landed on hope as my “one word” for 2016. It’s only February and I’m sure God has a lot to teach me about hope this year, but here’s some of what I’ve learned so far.

Hope is a noun.
Well, not always. Let me clarify. I found that in the New Testament, there are two primary words translated into the English word hope: elpizo and elpis. Elpizo means to hopefully trust or wait with confidence and joy. Elpis expresses expectation of what is sure or certain.

In the New Testament (NASB version), hope is translated 27 times from elpizo and 54 times from elpis. Elpizo is a verb. Elpis is a noun. My take away from that is that more often than not, hope isn’t merely something we do, but something we have. Not only do we have the expectation that we will make it out of the storms of life, but we have Christ’s return as the Blessed Hope.

Last December, when I was considering hope as a possibility for my word, the first verse that came to mind was Hebrews 6:19 about hope being an anchor for the soul. This made me curious about anchors and what anchors had to do with our souls. We all know about the traditional type of anchor that is let down to the bottom of the lake or sea floor. Once the anchor digs in, it keeps the boat within a certain radius of that spot, despite what happens with the current or winds. But there is another kind of anchor that I was unaware of, a sea anchor. Which brings me to some of the most eye-opening things I am learning about hope.

Hope is present with us.
A sea anchor looks simple and is typically made of fabric; it looks almost like a parachute. It doesn’t go all the way to the bottom of the body of water, but stays up near the surface just beneath the waves. Hope as an anchor isn’t in some distant, deep place where conditions remain calm even though the surface is turbulent. Our hope which comes from God, is with us in the waves.

Hope is “in spite of.”
A sea anchor is put off the bow of the boat and it serves to keep the boat pointing into the waves. I know that when I see a metaphorical wave coming at me, my first instinct is to turn and run. But if a boat gets hit by a big wave when it is sideways it means trouble. Best case scenario would be that the boat would rock violently and become unstable in the trough between the waves. Worst case scenario is that the vessel capsizes. By facing into the wave, the boat will remain more steady. What is this called? Attitude stabilization. I might not always want to admit it, but when I’m being hit with wave after wave, I need some attitude stabilization. After all, hope is sure and steadfast. Hope doesn’t mean that the waves quit coming, it means that the boat is safe in spite of the waves and winds.

Hope is able to sustain you in the storm.
On one particularly rough night last month, I found myself listening to Bethel’s “It Is Well” on repeat. Two sentences jumped out at me that night. “Let go my soul and trust in him. The waves and wind still know his name.” How in the world are we supposed to let go when we are in the wind and waves? Maybe I’m just too much of a control freak, but that seems counter-intuitive to me. If we just let go and stop trying when we are caught in a storm, doesn’t that mean bad news for us and for the boat? While there are other uses for sea anchors, I consistently found that their most crucial function is in the storm, when high winds drive towering waves. I know that when the waves keep pounding, sometimes all I feel like I need is rest. One source says that, “although a skilled sailor can manage to steer the boat correctly in these conditions, a sea anchor can steady the boat against rocking seas and roaring winds, allowing the sailors to concentrate on repairs and safety precautions. Trying to steer a ship through a storm can be exhausting work; by properly using sea anchors, the helmsman can conserve energy.”

Did you catch that? A sea anchor can help the sailor conserve energy in the middle of the storm. When we hold on to hope, we can somehow find rest even though the waves keep coming and the gales keep blowing. When we let go and let the sea anchor do its job, when we let hope do what it does, we don’t have to be exhausted even in the middle of a hurricane.

Like I said at the start, I’m sure I have a host of other things to learn about hope this year, but these lessons have kept me going so far. My 2015 was rough and, when I picked hope as my word, it was largely because I was hopeful that things would start looking up this year. Something people always say about patience is that if you ask God for patience, he will give you opportunities to learn and practice patience. I was talking to a friend about my 2015 word, joy, and she suggested that the same was true for it. I had a lot of opportunities to practice joy despite what was happening. Perhaps hope is the same way. I’m still expectant to hit some calm seas soon, but I’m learning a lot about hope during the storm.
(Disclaimer: I’m neither a theologian nor a mariner, so my interpretations and explanations might not be perfect and details might not be exact, but I did enough reading to believe that the main ideas are true.)”

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21 Things I’ve Learned About Grief

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In honor of Mandi’s would-be 21st birthday, I decided to compile a little list of 21 things I have learned in the last three and a half years about grief.

  1. The Sound of Music is truly therapeutic. And in the words of Maria herself, “you cry a little. And then you wait for the sun to come up. It always does.”
  2. So is Sleepless in Seattle: “Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while”
  3. God is bigger than my futile attempt to understand him. But so is his grace. And his peace.
  4. God is enough. Sometimes we only see the depths of his sufficiency when we lose the things we thought we needed other than him.
  5. Grief does not wear a watch. There is no way to predict how you are going to feel based on a time line.
  6. Grief does not count calories. If you’re trying to eat well and it’s your little sister’s would-be 21st birthday, you go ahead and eat those cookies.
  7. There is a fraternity of the bereaved. Even strangers connect through the shared of experience of loss.
  8. God doesn’t always give you the answers you want. But he will give you his presence. He will give you a new day. He will give you people to surround you and uplift you.
  9. Birthdays are harder than the actual anniversary of the death. They are supposed to be a day spent celebrating the ones you love, not missing them.
  10. Grief can make you hyper aware of the needs of others around you or it can make them obsolete. Fight to choose the former.
  11. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. This lesson was so important to Jesus that he was willing to let Lazarus die to teach this to Mary and Martha in the New Testament.
  12. Faith is less about being sure of what God will do in any given situation than it is being sure about who God is in any circumstance. He is always good. He is always  sovereign. He is always powerful. He is always loving. He is always present.
  13. Your relationship with God can only grow closer with true honesty. Sometimes you just need to throw your fists to the air and throw a tantrum because none of the above statement feels true. He can handle it.
  14. The people who say idiotic things and offer empty promises don’t mean to be hurtful. They just don’t know what else to say.
  15. Starbucks’ Java Chip Frappuccino Ice Cream temporarily heals all wounds.
  16. God can maintain sovereignty while relinquishing control. The Bible is no stranger to paradoxes. Look at the cross. What looked like the greatest defeat ended up being the single-greatest victory in all of history.
  17. My primary goal in life needs to be singular: that God would be glorified. Above the health and safety of myself or those I love.
  18. God doesn’t fit inside the intellectual lines I try to draw for him. 
  19. God desires for his children to run to him when they are hurting. He collects our tears in a jar. He makes all things work together for good. He is faithful to finish the work he began in us. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  20. Grieving is not the same thing as being crazy. It would be crazy to not feel the pain of a loss. Death is antithetical to the way that we love. It is antithetical to the way we were made.
  21. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss, not prosperity. -John Piper. It’s easy to say you love God when everything is going great, but when the bottom drops out from underneath you, that is when you truly have the opportunity to glorify God by putting all of your trust in him in spite of the way you feel.
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When the God Who Heals Doesn’t Heal

Exodus 15:26  “For I am the Lord who healeth thee”

Isaiah 53:3 “By His stripes we are healed”

Psalm 107:19-20 “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave”

Psalm 103:2  “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-  who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases”

I grew up in a very charismatic church that believed in the healing power of an omnipotent God. I was taught to believe that God is good, that he has a plan and a future for every life, and that his will for his children is good. While I admit that this is still true, I wasn’t able to fully process the depth or the complexity of those truths until I was older. As a child and a preteen, I thought that because God had a plan for my life and was only good, then nothing bad could ever happen. Sure, little things could go wrong, but nothing completely earth shattering. After all, he is the God who split the Red Sea for the Israelites, shut the mouth of lions for Daniel, knocked down a giant for David, and stepped into the flames for Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. I loved those stories. I remember watching them all as VeggieTales. In fact, I watched them before I learned how to read, so when I could finally read the stories on my own, I remember that I used to picture the little vegetables running around. (Imagine my horror when I discovered that in Esther, the Jews were being put to death instead of being sent to the Island of Perpetual Tickling!)

My understanding of God was that he was big, powerful, and he loved me very much and would always take care of me. Again, all those things are still true, but my understanding of “taking care of me” looked very different. The shift began to happen when my childhood friend Christopher Floyd got sick. He was only a year younger than me, and we grew up in church together. Chris was kind, very intelligent, and funny. He knew that God had big plans for his life even from a young age, so when he got sick, I honestly had no doubt in my mind that God was going to heal him. I remember thinking, “Wow, what an amazing testimony he is going to have!” Chris battled cancer with the faith community behind him. I remember one day, we had him come up to the front of the church so the congregation could pray for him, and he was offered a chair, but stood there because he knew God was going to give him the strength to stand and to be healed. He was the bravest person I knew.

Maybe it was my age or maybe it was my limited understanding of what God’s provision looks like, but I was honestly shocked when my parents told me that Chris had died. It made absolutely no sense.

God is the God who healeth thee! If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can say to the mountain, “move!” and it will move! Why didn’t the mountain move? Why didn’t my faith work? Chris’ death affected me so profoundly because not only was he my first significant loss, but his death meant the first time that God did not behave in the way that I expected. What I read in the Bible didn’t match what I saw in real life.

I worked at Hastings my freshman year of college, and their slogan is that they are Hastings, home of the 49 cent movie rental. People would come in for our 49 cent movies, only to learn the fine print states it is only 45 cents after a 50 cent credit back if they return the movie the next day. That always bothered me. But I often felt like some of God’s promises were like that 49 cent movie: I read about it, but when I tried to take hold of them, there would be some fine print that I missed. And I don’t even know what that fine print is all the time. I just know his promises don’t always turn out looking like I first read them. It’s not that I feel cheated by God, because He’s the one who gives everything anyway. But I did struggle to understand when a 49 cent movie really is a 49 cent movie and when there is some element or some fine print that I just don’t know that keeps it from being as simple as its face value. Why didn’t the mountain move?

This tension started when Chris died, and it was aggravated each year when another person in my life would die. It became something where I would say, “Okay, God. I know you said no last time, but I really need you to come through and heal this time” and then “okay, I know you said no the last two times, but how about this time?” the last three times, and still the next year, “I know you have said No the last FOUR times, but I need a miracle here. Could this one be any different? Could you say yes? It is possible that prayer changes things?”

That fourth time was my senior year, and I watched my older sister battle, with the most grace, strength, and poise, right alongside her sister-in-law and best friend who ultimately died of cancer, leaving behind two young boys. One day toward the end, I remember I was babysitting. Watching them playing, blissfully unaware, I began to pray for the God who healeth thee to come down and part the waters for us to walk through.

They didn’t part.

So with a deeply rooted mistrust in what I thought were misquoted, mistaught, commercial promises of God (healing, for example), I headed to college. Little did I know that the most profound loss, the most painful disappointment, the most confounding questions were waiting for me in my sophomore year.

I was leading worship that year for my sorority, and I was experiencing a sweet season of growth in my faith. The bitterness, the questions, the disappointment was all starting to fade a little as I chose to put my trust in Him and even lead others to worship him.

I went home on a Thursday because my Friday classes were cancelled and I didn’t have to work that weekend. I remember I was sitting downstairs on the couch when my mom told me that my younger sister Mandi had been taken to the hospital (she wasn’t living with us at the time- see my earlier post). In a moment of indecision, I let my mom go and resolved that I would go visit in the morning. It did sound serious, however, so I remember praying desperately the same “God I know you said no before, but could you say yes this time?”

The next morning, I awoke to several missed calls that said things had gotten much worse unexpectedly and that they were doing CPR. Now my prayers turned to panicked yelling, no longer asking God to heal her, but reminding him that he is the God who healeth thee!

Holding her cold hand in the hospital bed, I was furious with the God whom I felt had let me down. He had never said yes when I most desperately needed a life or death miracle. Why was I so naive to think that he would start now?

That “no” from God put an end to me asking him for things for a little over a year. Sure, I would pray and converse with him. I’d praise him and talk to him about life, but ask him for things? Submit my requests to the Lord? Not a chance. I resigned to the fact that prayer didn’t have any effect on God’s sovereign will. I did so much research on this. I desperately tried to logic it together. I honestly got very Calvinistic for a little while there. It was easier for me to pray that God would help me trust him and to cope with whatever decisions he made than to be vulnerable enough to ask him for what I wanted. That required putting myself in a position that could be disappointed again. It had hurt so deeply when he said no to healing Mandi (and all those times, really) that I was going to skip the part where he could potentially say “no”. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. It was a lose-lose situation, really. If he said yes to a prayer, I would’ve been so angry that he said yes to some less significant situation when he wouldn’t say yes to Mandi’s life, and if he had said no to a prayer, I would’ve considered it just another reason to trust that prayer doesn’t change things.

With time and community, I eventually became convicted because the Bible specifically states to pray for things and submit your requests to the Lord. So I made my word for 2015 “obey” and I specifically meant it in regards to prayer. I was going to start asking God for things again only because he said to. I was a teenager pouting as I cleaned my room or did my chores. I wasn’t happy about it, and I didn’t do it without a fit, but I did it.

The problem is, I am such a logical processor. I needed something to make sense. I needed some consistency. I needed answers. So, in order to pray, I came up with a flow chart that I would use any time I was going to ask for things. It started when we went on a cruise, ironically enough, with Christopher Floyd’s family. As a side note about that cruise, I vividly remember one night at dinner, we all sat at a rectangular table. The four Floyds on one side, four of my family on the other, we totaled 8. The table we were placed at had 10 chairs, which left exactly one empty chair at the end. One on The Floyds’ side. One on ours. It was incredibly sad and incredibly obvious that each family was missing exactly one person at the table.

Anyway, as I stepped onto the boat, I remember just by instinct thinking “pray for safe travel”. Then the pouting teenager living in my brain popped up and said “well maybe it’s not God’s will that the boat gets across safely. Who are you to say you know God’s will? Sometimes God’s will is for people you love to die!”  Thinking through that, I wrote out this chart.

flow chartThankfully, this chart acted like training wheels and eventually I was able to just start asking God for things without having to go through this whole mess. Instrumental to this process was Andy Stanley’s “When God” series. I highly recommend it for anyone who has related to anything in this post.  Andy Stanley unpacks three different stories in the Bible in which God tells people no. Finally! I was sick of reading the gospels where all Jesus ever said to people was “Take up your mat and walk” or “your faith has made you well.” Why didn’t he ever look someone in the eyes and say, “no. trust me anyway” like he did to me all those times?

So again, this series was life breathing. It prompted me to study God’s character in a wider lens. Disagree with me if you want, but I believe God allows- and am starting to suspect that God may even cause some of the bad things to happen here on earth for his ultimate glory. Jesus lets lazarus die to show Mary and Martha that he is the resurrection. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that the miracle would be bigger and God’s power would be greater displayed (Exodus 9:16). Think about that one for a minute. God caused Pharaoh to say no to Moses so that the stakes would get higher. Pharaoh saying no led to the deaths of firstborn sons of each Egyptian family. That’s a lot of bloodshed. Of children. And the Bible says that God is the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart to keep him from saying yes. It is possible, then, that God not only allows, but could even cause things to happen that we don’t like in order to show us something about his power and his glory? I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I know this is a theological hot spot, so I admit that I could be wrong here. I am just starting to suspect that maybe that is the case. Maybe God is bigger than the box I have been putting him in. Maybe he is bigger than my flowcharts.

What clarity I have gained through all this clouded confusion and sorrow is this: I have an unshakable trust in the ultimate goodness and trustworthiness of God’s character. Even when I don’t understand how that works. I concede that my logic can’t fully comprehend it all, and although that answer often frustrates me as it sounds like an excuse to not think through issues, it doesn’t change my deepest conviction that God is good and his plans are good.

What God has done, it is well done.

His will is always just.

Whatever he shall do to me,

in Him I’ll ever place my trust.

 

 

Here’s the link to that Stanley series: http://northpoint.org/messages/when-god

 

 

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In the meantime

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In my chronological reading plan, I’m in exodus. God just split the Red Sea, and the Israelites are in the space between deliverance and destiny. He performed a powerful miracle and set them free from the Egyptians, and now He wants them to obtain the promised land. However, they don’t go straight there from the sea. Instead, they wander around for awhile, going from place to place and setting up camp. I wondered why, if God could show such incredible power in getting them out of Egypt, he couldn’t just do the same thing and get them into the promised land.

At each new place they set up camp, there was a need. They either lacked food or water or security. I believe that God took them through the process to show them that he is their father, their leader, their protection, and their provider. They had been slaves their whole lives, and God needed to teach them how to be free. There is a difference, after all, between being delivered and being free. My pastor once explained that although God got them out of Egypt, He still needed to work the Egypt out of them before they could take the promised land. Later in their story, when they finally do make it, the first things they meet are an uncrossable river, a giant wall, and a powerful army. If God hadn’t taken them through the process between deliverance and destiny, they might not have had the faith or the strength to actually take the land. In fact, just one month after God parts the Red Sea, they set up camp at a place where there is no food and they all start complaining and saying that they should’ve stayed in Egypt where at least they were fed. How were they going to be able to trust God with the challenges awaiting them in the promised land if they were already packing their bags at the first sight of trouble?

I like to call this middle ground, this in between period for the Israelites, the meantime.

Their bondage behind them, their promise ahead of them, they lean to trust, praise, love, need, and have faith in the God who leads them from deliverance to destiny, from glory to glory, from faith to faith.

I write this today because now more than ever, I feel like I am in the meantime. I’ve got some things behind me that only God could’ve delivered me from, and I’ve got a big promise ahead of me that is currently just a dream instead of a reality. The past two months have been filled with big dreaming for my future, and as exciting as that is, it was very frustrating at first because I had a vision as big as a football field, but didn’t know what the first yard in front of me looked like.

Funnily enough, I’ve heard several sermons, read several books, and am even in this particular part in my Bible reading plan, and I keep hearing the same thing overhand over in different ways:

start where you are with what you have.

Christine Caine said that at Propel in November, and that really got ahold of me. Since then, I’ve hit the ground running, trying to use whatever I have where I am. This has led to the beginning of several small things. A few weeks into this, however, I started to get discouraged again. I knew God was calling me to make an extraordinary difference, and all I had done was make a few dents. I’m thrilled with what all is starting, but I still felt the restlessness of my big dreams. Then, after wrestling through this for a whole day straight, I picked up my Bible to read one night and read

Zechariah 4:10: Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

If, like me, you find yourself in the meantime, I hope you can find some encouragement in that verse and in the Israelites’ story in Exodus 16. I’m reminded of Rapunzel singing “when will my life begin?” If you are waiting for your dreams to become reality, look up and try to see what God is teaching you, because that is what He is going to use to prepare you for what He has planned for you. Don’t wait for your life to begin! It already has. I believe that one of the main things that will determine whether or not you reach your promised land or stay wandering in the desert your whole life is if you can look for and learn the lessons God is trying to teach you in the meantime.

 

 

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An Invisible Girl and a Seeing God

elroifinalOne of my favorite names for God is El Roi, the God who sees me. This name first falls off of the lips of a very desperate, lonely, and broken woman, and it is life giving to anyone who has ever felt invisible, unknown, or unwanted. To the person who enters a room full of people only to feel more alone. The one who feels like you are no one’s first choice, but everyone’s third or fourth option. To the person who hides a secret sin or pain because you are too afraid to let others see all of you. To anyone who puts on a mask or gives a beautiful performance during the day but can’t escape the haunting loneliness you feel when everyone has gone home. For anyone who has been rejected or abandoned, the presence of a Seeing God is an ever present help in time of need.

The story is found in Genesis 16. If you’ve grown up in the church world, you may have heard of Abraham being referred to as the “Father of Faith.” A New Testament writer cites Abraham’s great trust in the Lord in what is known as the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 12. Abraham blindly trusted God when God asked him to pick up and move without telling him where he was going. He trusted God when God asked him to lay his son Isaac on the altar as a sacrifice. We all applaud him. But to be honest with you, part of his story makes me sick. Before Father Abraham had his many sons, God spoke to him and Sarah and told them that they would have a child. You know the story. Abraham and Sarah (then Abram and Sarai), unable to believe that Sarah could have a child in her old age, arranged for Sarah’s servant Hagar to take her place in bearing Abraham a child.

It doesn’t sound too terrible until you look at it from Hagar’s perspective. Here is the young woman who has the odds stacked up against her. If anyone met the criteria for being considered invisible, it was Hagar. She was:

  • a female in a patriarchal society
  • a foreigner, a stranger in the land
  • a slave

And she was now being used for sex. I can’t imagine what her reaction was when Sara told her what going to happen. As a female slave, she probably wasn’t asked politely, but rather was told what she was going to do.

So Abraham sleeps with her and impregnates her (Way to go Father of Faith). If she felt any shame, any bitterness, any anger, she had to look at the physical reminder of all of that day in and day out as her stomach grew to accommodate the new baby growing inside of her.

But maybe she felt hopeful. Maybe this was her big break. After all, she was carrying the Master’s son! If this didn’t give her a say in things, nothing would. She might have expected some special treatment, or at least to be heard. To be seen.

And she was right. It worked. Her pregnancy finally caused her to be seen, but she is seen through eyes of jealousy and hatred instead of eyes of acceptance or love. Sarah begins to despise what was her idea in the first place. Even though she is the one who suggested giving Hagar to Abraham, watching Hagar grow bigger and bigger with the thing that Sarah wanted so desperately planted a bitter seed of jealousy in her heart, and she began to mistreat Hagar.

Eventually is gets so bad that Hagar decides to flee. Pregnant with a son she didn’t ask for, rejected by the man who promised to take care of her, abused by the woman who was her authority, and displaced with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, she wanders alone in the desert, and that is where God shows up. How amazing is it that we serve a God who shows up right in the middle of our deserts!

I find it interesting that the angel of the Lord told her to return to Sarah and Abraham. God doesn’t miraculously provide a new place for her to live or a new life. He doesn’t change her circumstances, but he meets her in the middle of her misery and he makes a promise to her that her descendants will be too numerous to count. This sounds so familiar in my own life. God doesn’t always change the circumstance, but he meets us in the middle of the desert and promises us that he makes all things work for good.

But it is Hagar’s reaction that is my favorite part of this story, and one of my favorite parts of the whole Bible.

Genesis 16:13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are El Roi.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?”

He is El Roi. The God who sees you. The God who knit you together in your mother’s womb and who made plans for your life long before you were even a thought. The God who knows the parts of you that you don’t share with the world. The God who knows the details of your past mistakes, your present predicaments, and your fears for the future, and loves you anyway. Chris Tomlin phrased this well when he wrote the lyrics for Indescribable:

Incomparable, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing God.

He is an amazing, loving God. There is no point in hiding anything from him because he already knows. You don’t have to feel invisible, unwanted, or rejected because he sees you. The question is, have you truly seen him?

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When Mandi walked through the door

I’m going to assume it’s safe to say that if you are reading this, by now you know that I lost my 17 year old little sister 3 years ago. It’s crazy to think that she would be 20. Losing her is one of the main things that has spurred this blog in the first place. Even three years later, there are times when I feel a sorrow that is so pressing that the only way I know how to describe it is a heaviness. There is a field of horses that I have to pass on my way to church, and I know this sounds crazy, but there are days when the sunset is just right and I see the beautiful sky as a backdrop of the rolling hills with horses, and all I can think of is riding horses with Mandi when she first came to us. It’s a heaviness.

Apart from teaching, I am a small group leader in Switch, Lifechurch’s youth group here. Between school, soccer, and church connections, I have a wide range of students whose lives I am able to speak into. I spend the majority of my time with teenagers! Mandi was in her junior year of high school when she died, so in my mind, she is frozen at that age. Because I spend so much time with teens, I see Mandi in many them.

The girl who puts her whole life into her boyfriend.

The girl who chooses the desk toward the edge of the room and draws.

The one who struggles with grades and needs extra time to understand things.

The teen who goes through a different style phase every week trying to find out who they really are.

I see her, and because I see her, I see them. Before losing her, I might have had a blind spot to these students, but now I am drawn to them and compelled to love and care for them in a unique way. I’ll never forget the first time a student at school walked in with Mandi’s cowboy boots on. I was actually still in college and just doing my observation hours at a rural high school. As soon as I saw the boots, I excused myself, went to the bathroom, and sat down on the floor and cried.

Like I said, I spend time with the teenagers in this town in many different capacities. So many teenagers have reminded me of Mandi, but I was not prepared for the day that Mandi walked in the room.

One day, I was talking with a teen who was visibly upset. I asked her what was going on and if she was okay. If you’ve never asked a 16 year old girl that question- let me just warn you. It’s a dangerous question! This poor girl went from 0 to 60 in about 2 seconds. She just started crying and telling me about how she was having problems with some friends, and as I began to dig, I found that of course it as much deeper than that. She, like so many teenagers, was struggling to feel accepted for who she truly was. She began to tell me of many heartbreaking encounters and rejections she had experienced and how it all made her feel like there was something wrong with her.

I began talking her through some of the things she brought up, and the crazy thing is that some of them were the exact problems that Mandi struggled with when she was alive. When Mandi was having a difficult time, I let it annoy me. I saw it as weakness or her just being dramatic, and at the age of 19, I had no patience or tolerance.  I used to have these exact conversations with Mandi, but I failed to show compassion. Now, here I was three years later having parallel conversations with a teenager, and I was able to see the problems through new eyes. I had to pay a large price for those eyes, but I am at least grateful to have them.  I was able to see the redemptive quality of God’s faithfulness in the situation.

I blew my chance with Mandi. When we had these conversations, I missed the opportunity. Now, like when Peter denied Christ three times and Jesus later allowed Peter to tell him that he loved him three times, God was giving me an oppurtunity to try again. And I like to think that I didn’t squander this one. I was able to love on a teen who showed remarkable similarities to my sister:

-she has a similar sweet and shy until you get to know her and then she is funny and outgoing personality

-she is the same age

-she was struggling with the same issues

-she is adopted

-her name is Mandi.

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