Love in the Time of ISIS

Something snapped in me this week. It’s hard to describe what the phrase “systemic sexual violence against women and children” does to me, but I think it looks like this. 

I’m kicking trash cans and smashing mailboxes because Boko Haram militants pray for conception as they rape little girls, hoping to create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria. ISIS sells naked little girls in slave markets in Iraq with such impunity there’s a pamphlet with an FAQ explaining how rape and enslavement are cool with Allah. 

Now, before we set off an argument about which religions have, throughout history, used sacred texts to defend the buying, selling and abuse of other humans (ahem), or before we dismiss all of it saying the poor and marginalized have been abused forever, I want us to travel in our minds to a market in Ramadi and take an unflinching look at naked girl children being sold like calves. You can purchase a little girl there for $172. An orphan calf in Texas costs twice that. Now, consider those people, in the course of history, who’ve stood up, often at great personal cost, and said:

This is wrong and I’m going to fight it.

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You can think what you want, but I believe I will stand before God and give an account of my life. I will answer for how I spent my abundant freedom and my deep American privilege. I’m not afraid of that day, but I really want to give a good answer – especially when it comes to desperate women and children.

If you’re not a Bible reader, here is just one of its admonitions on the topic –  words spoken by a woman, to her son, King Lemuel. 

Speak for those who cannot speak. Seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction. Speak up, judge righteously, & defend the rights of the afflicted and oppressed. Prov. 31:8-9

This week author Ann Voskamp spoke up, issuing a serious call to the North American church. Abandoning her normally gentle, quiet tone, she basically yelled: Wake up Church! Quit repaving your parking lots. This abomination requires an immediate and loud response from people who still have loud voices. – Us!

She implored her followers to “Wage Love” and defy ISIS by raising $150,000 for The Preemptive Love Coalition – a small NGO in Iraq doing pediatric heart surgeries, paying tuition for kids and granting micro finance loans to Iraqi women.

By Thursday, they raised half a million dollars, I think because many people are saying, I can’t keep kicking trash cans over ISIS. I will help, but what do I do?Empower

I often take questions like that to God, because in my experience, he gives me reliable, though often difficult, counsel. Here’s what I got:

“Give a sum large enough that you and Sam will argue about it.”

Ooooh see now, that costs me something because I don’t want to argue with Sam. But we did, then we agreed, then we gave. Yah! Go us! 

And now Sam and I are a small part of that half million dollars. I’m defiant by nature, and it feels awesome to shoot ISIS the finger in a practical way. The irony is, on their homepage, PLC reminds us to “Love First” not shoot people the bird. OK. I’m a work in progress.

Here’s the thing. We we can ignore this and the myriad other issues that have us smashing trash cans, or we can do something. But if you’re stuck knowing what to do and how. Here’s my best tip:

matchGo into your room. Close the door. Get on your knees and pray, even if you don’t really know how. Just ask. “God, I want to help, what would you have me do?” Then sit and listen. Pay attention for the next few days. Look for mysterious little invitations popping up around issues you care about. Slavery. Addiction. Bullying. Whatever. Then take a step over that threshold. Then another. Then another.

See those curious little beckonings are open doors into work that matters to you and to God. They are invitations to a big life in God’s big army. If that concept makes you queasy because of all the armies out there violating people in the name of God, here’s something to ease your mind.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

Just look for the light, and that’s how you judge the army. 

Feeling A Little Restless?

Isn’t it amazing to watch somebody take a blind, flying leap into a brand new life? To watch them decide the fear of not leaping is greater than the fear of what’s below?

Does it make you a little jealous?

IMG_5184Meet Ashley, one of the founders of Love Dinner, a woman I met two years ago on a trip to Zambia. Yesterday, after two years of planning, she landed back in Lusaka.

We all returned from Zambia different, but Ashley came back destroyed. She was restless and pacey like a dog on a chain. All she talked about was going back and how she felt sort of foreign and aimless in her American life.

Don’t you know that feeling? It nags like heartburn and makes you ask everybody “What am I doing with my life? What am I doing in this job? Why did I marry you? Who are these obnoxious kids? Blah Blah Blah.”

What happens next is a matter of choice.

You can handle that pacey dog feeling in spazzy, damaging ways like I did for years: Taking up with bad men or throwing my things in the back of my truck at midnight and heading west. I’m super good at that.

Or you can sit with it like a grown up, surrendering to the possibility that it’s holy discontent, put there like a treasure map to guide you toward something that’s actually kind of precious.

That’s what Ashley’s doing. She’s not running away, she’s running toward something she believes God buried for her on the windy plains of southern Africa.

So what is it for you? What is making you pacey? Chances are your life’s work is hidden in it somewhere. Don’t go leave your wife or buy an expensive car just to assuage it. Sit with it. Surrender it to the God who’s likely using it to get your attention. It’s not up to you to figure out HOW to do the work amid your other demands, leave that up to Him.

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Want some evidence of God working out the how?

A month ago, I stood on the aft deck of a big, white, ship in the Indian Ocean and giggled about the course of my life for the last five years.

Let’s see…Sam and I moved to Texas and bought a cattle ranch, which five-minutes later dried up in a 100-year drought, so we sold our cows at a loss, moved to France and went broke. Then I followed Sam to a swamp in East Texas and joined a maritime NGO I’d barely heard of, which sent me to Congo, to Haiti and Madagascar where I, among other things, ate alligator, planted corn and swam with orphans.

Really, how foolish would I be to take credit for writing a plot line like that? Certainly, I participated but I didn’t plan any of it. It happened, I think, because I quit running from one amusement to the next and stared down the restlessness.

And I picked up the Bible and learned who actually God is – not who people say he is.

After a couple of months of reading I quit asking, “What am I doing here?” “What am I doing with my life?” Not because I had a bunch of clever new plans, but rather, a big, shaky hope that someone else did – somebody big, powerful and faithful.

That hope is amazing, but IT IS NOT FREE.

Ongoing humility, surrender and commitment are unpopular practices these days, but they signal that you are probably, finally, running toward something that matters.

The reward for all of it is the person you get to become. It feels like surfacing from a deep green lake, looking up as you swim toward the air, not seeing too clearly through the water but knowing exactly where the light is.

Don’t Stop Breathing

grapesThere’s a weird thing the radiology nurse says as you lie on the biopsy table waiting for more pictures of your right breast – a body part you never thought might try to kill you.

In the nicest, least alarming way possible she says:

“Stop breathing.”

Not, “Hold your breath” because it’s likely you’re already doing that. Not, “Take a deep breath and hold it,” because even a tiny movement will skew the coordinates for the spot the doctor found on your mammogram.

Three weeks is a long time to keep quiet about things like this.

At first, I didn’t tell anybody about my bad mammogram, except Sam. But as each day passed, I felt like a MMA fighter, weak and bleeding, pinned up against the cage, taking hit after hit.

Now I know the scripture is right: Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Are you taking hits? Are you being stoic and brave about it, all by yourself? Not a great idea.

Finally, I did what I tell everyone else to do: I got the biggest, baddest MMA fighters I know* and invited them into my cage. Because I was too far down to do it myself, they used their considerable heft and experience to fight for me. They surrounded me and insulated me in ways that are hard to describe.

Lesson #1 – You can’t really follow Jesus alone, because Jesus didn’t live like that.

As my friend Barry says: You can’t find people working alone in the New Testament, anywhere. Even in the garden, knowing they would disappoint him, Jesus took his friends along, and when he sent them out, he sent them in pairs. Are you a Jesus follower, trying to fight your battles alone? Sorry Charlie. That’s a contradiction in terms.

Yesterday, at 4pm, Dr. Lee called.

I stared at the number before picking up, knowing he would either tell me I have breast cancer or I don’t. I’ve spent three weeks considering my response, because the moment you imagine how it looks to join to the pink ribbon club – the one you’ve had the luxury of ignoring your whole life – you start asking hard questions.

  • If I have cancer, does that mean God is not sovereign?
  • Does it mean he is not good?
  • How does my faith look on a breast cancer journey?

On biopsy day, during my third round of mammograms I started to cry. Overwhelmed by the dozen women in the waiting room, wearing matching robes like cult members; overwhelmed by the woman I prayed for the in bathroom who later got terrible news; overwhelmed by the amazing breast imaging technology that is sure to bankrupt me.

When it was over, I walked into the lobby crying and it scared Sam.

“I don’t want this,” I told him. “I don’t want this to be my life.”

But as it turns out, it isn’t.The biopsy was negative. And this is the most amazing news.

I wonder though, what I would be saying today, if it hadn’t gone my way? Would God still be good? Would he still be sovereign? Would I even be talking to you about it? I want to believe all three answers are yes.

Lesson #2 – It helps to make up your mind about Jesus before the bad mammogram.

Because if I wait to see how my circumstances unfold to decide if the Bible is true, my faith is a house of cards.

Jesus said,Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell– and great was its fall.”

The storm comes. Count on it, but Jesus promises if I build my house on his foundation, it will stand. Not only that, Acts 1:8 says, I will receive power – ability, efficiency and might – when the Holy Spirit comes upon me. Jesus left that here for me to use, so I can be a powerful menace to the enemy that’s trying to kill me…And you.

fireworks-725134_640By the way, that word ‘power’ in the Greek is dunamis, the root word for dynamite. I love that. You can’t imagine the things I want to blow up in the enemy’s camp.

So I decided weeks ago, even if I was diagnosed with cancer, I would be dangerous to the enemy in the Ross Breast Center, and on the days when I wasn’t up to that, I would call in my fighters and let them do it for me.

So tell me, what are you facing and who are your fighters? What do you believe about God? Has he abandoned you in your struggle? Is he punishing you? Or are you just subject to the spiritual laws of a broken world, separated from the God who created it?

Can I bring some dynamite to your fight?

*Thanks to my fighters: Sam Kirk, Stefan & Andrea Schmid, Pieter duPreez, Jenny Case, Karen Ransone, Cassie Bartley, Alicia Kramer, David Warner, Lisa Long, Stacia Julian, Beth Herndon, Krissy Close, Michelle Tucker, Christy Quirk, Jane Quirk and friends, Mike Quirk and the women of Love Dinner.