On Midair and Miracles

The hardest thing about needing a miracle, I think, is the position required to receive one. It looks something like this:

I promised I would write about the signs and wonders I’ve seen during the birth of The Esther Project, but it’s important to note, I never would have seen them had I not skied off the cliff in the first place.

You could say, any plan that requires divine intervention to prevent a spectacular failure, is foolish.  That’s true, unless you believe in a God who sends a murderer into Pharaoh’s court to demand the release of half a million Jewish slaves.

Moses argued with God about that. “Who me?”

I did the same when my partner at Mercy Ships kept suggesting the best way to impact a bunch of abused and abandoned girls in the worlds’ 6th poorest nation, was to bring them to the Africa Mercy. 

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“No way,” I said. “I’ve got no back up. It’s too wild. Too hard. Too much work. And how do I even ask for such a thing?”

Then my friend Joy reminded me of God talking back to Moses.

So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

“All right Lord, I’ll go,” I said. “Just so we’re clear though, I can’t make this happen, you have to.”

Roger that.

Anatomy of a Miracle – Seven Easy Steps.

Step One: Somebody, somewhere mentions the Africa Mercy recently got new mattresses, and the old ones are still stacked up in the warehouse.

And that warehouse, someone else adds, will be unused the weekend you might bring the girls down, because that happens to be Easter weekend – a fact you overlooked.

Step Two: The next day you discover, the bus you normally take to the port doesn’t run on Good Friday, so you have to come two days early, giving you enough time to say, dress up a warehouse with 50 mattresses on the floor.

Step Three: That same day, someone else mentions, in passing, the Chaplaincy department at Mercy Ships has chosen to focus this Easter season on the Old Testament Book of Esther.

And you remember, 18 months before, when you nicknamed your work with these girls,  “The Esther Project,” and the hair stands up on your neck. 

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Step Four: Soon after, you take a deep breath and hit send on a proposal to the management team of the Africa Mercy, explaining how you plan to, from the United States, organize a beach trip and two-night slumber party on the dock, next to the ship, for 50 Malagasy teenagers, who live ten hours away, don’t speak English and have never seen the ocean.

And you apologize for how crazy that sounds.

But before you hear back, the Captain lets it fly that he’d like to invite the girls up to the Bridge. You laugh because in your three years with Mercy Ships, you’ve never been invited to visit the Bridge.

Step Five: The management team mulls it over. There is yes. There is no. You cry in the parking lot. There is yes again. A small no. Then a green light. Your friends on board pull weight for you, and you cry about that too.

Step Six: You build a Go Fund Me page to beg $2500 for transport, pizza, ice cream and other teenage girl essentials. Typically, you’d rather take a beating then ask people for money, but you do it because the Lord is setting bushes on fire everywhere, and you dare not ignore a burning bush. Right Moses?

The first donation arrives 30 minutes later from a woman you don’t know named Ruth. It is for $500. You cry again.

Less than 22 hours later, the campaign is overfunded by 10% and you’re still scheduled to take an offering at Mercy Ships. So, two days later, you do and now you’re overfunded by 90% because your colleagues want to bring heaven to earth too.

Step Seven: With some of that extra money, Tom, your partner on the Africa Mercy, suggests you buy fresh coconuts with the tops lopped off and a straw stuck in them, so the girls can sip fresh coconut water with their toes in the sand.

And you remember the first donation you received when the Esther Project weekend was still a dream – a crisp twenty, sneakily left on your bathroom counter, with a note attached that read:

“Everyone needs the beach.”

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Friends listen….Jesus said follow me but he rarely led his followers to safe and manageable places. He led them into storms, fights, mobs, trials and demonic neighborhoods. He did it to make them at once fearless and hopelessly dependent on him.

I understand something now that I didn’t before about people who are humble after doing cool and selfless things to benefit other people.

It’s not them doing it.

It’s Jesus at work in them, making impossible things happen so nobody could reasonably claim credit. And Jesus does this most often when we are off the cliff and fully midair.

The Esther Project happens March 25th – March 27th, but we leave for midair Wednesday morning.
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Want to Bring Heaven to Earth?

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Meet Mampionona. She’s 15, the president of her class, and working on her third language – English – because she wants to be a journalist. Every time she sees me, she clutches me just like this and chases the other girls away.

I get that, because Mampionona lives at a home in Antananarivo, Madagascar for abused, neglected and orphaned girls. The rest of her story would crush you if I told it, but I won’t because Mampionona isn’t a girl who needs pity.

She needs a champion.

Eighteen months ago, my colleagues and I began taking teams of Mercy Shippers to work with Akany Avoko Childrens Home in Madagascar. Because we knew we’d return to see these same girls four times, we asked ourselves:

How do we bring heaven to earth in the world’s 6th poorest nation? 

What can we do that has eternal consequences for these girls and us?

How do we show them they are royal, beloved daughters of the Most High King?

What we planned became known as The Esther Project and here’s how it looked:

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In two weeks, I’ll fly 10,500 miles back to Madagascar to see Mampionona and her crew of besties again. Here they are.

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But we all know the deal. In May, the Africa Mercy will leave Madagascar, and sail back to West Africa to continue her work in Benin. It’s far. Here’s a map.

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About year ago, one of my partners walked into my office and said:

“What if we brought them to the ship?”

“Did you fall and hit your head?” I replied. “The ship is a ten-hour bus ride away and where would we put them? How would we feed them? That’s impossible.”

“I know. Let me make some calls.”

What happened next is the subject of a whole different post that I promise to write because it’s breathtaking. Remember when I said I had a big decision to make? That was it. As far as I know, bringing 50 teenage girls to the Africa Mercy for a weekend, has never been done.

And now we’re doing it.

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These girls have lived their whole lives on an island and few have ever seen the ocean, much less a ship, much less a hospital in a ship, full of their own people receiving free healthcare.

Africa Mercy management said yes. The hospital director said yes and invited them to visit the wards. The Captain said yes and invited them to visit the Bridge.

What sort of vision will that plant for the girls?  Imagine it!

Of course, guess who has to pay for it? The lunatics who dreamed it all up. Namely me, Stefan and Tom. We need about $2000, for transport, food and a lift to a good, safe beach so the girls can feel sand between their toes and splash in the Indian Ocean.

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But I am not worried, because our God is mighty and his hand is all over this. I promise I will tell you how I know.

Do you want to help us?

This Thursday, we will take an offering at Mercy Ships headquarters in Texas, because a few people above us, caught the vision and said yes. The same thing happened aboard the Africa Mercy – A call for volunteers goes out Monday morning.

If you don’t happen to work for the Ships, here’s a link to the Go Fund Me account we set up. Come help us bring heaven to earth.

I’ll keep you posted in this space, because the Lord will do amazing things among us. I know Him.

**As ever friends, these views are my own. The official Mercy Ships is here.

If Valentines Day Steals Your Mojo

For all the complaining I do about Christmas, there is one holiday I love love love. It’s Valentine’s Day. Some of you, I sense, are making the gag gesture right now. Ladies, stop gagging and let’s get something out of the way:

Kay Jewelers is lying to you.

I have yet to meet one woman, (they probably exist but I’ve never met one) who is surprised with diamonds on Valentines Day by her super hot husband as she drinks champagne by candlelight.

You know what happens in the real world? Me neither, but around here, Sam Kirk draws hearts with a Sharpie on an old pizza box, tracing around the grease spots, and wraps it up with orange bailing twine to give to me as a card. If he doesn’t have a pizza box, he uses his Sharpie on case of Corona – beer missing.

And that kind of Valentine is perfect for me, because love looks different all the time and perspective is a good friend.

So let’s get us some of that, shall we?

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Now, I recognize mating is a biological imperative, and when you really want to do that but haven’t, Valentines Day can be a hard ass bouncer, rejecting you at the door for reasons he’ll leave you to imagine (and you will). So it’s not surprising February 14th can leave you feeling mopey or less than or unworthy.

But you are none of those things.

Enter Heineken. Watch the vid or what I say next won’t make sense.

Of course, it’s lame that the definition of a hero in 2016 is a guy who turns down another beer – that bar is set fairly low – but listen to the lyrics, which by the way were written in 1986.

He’s got to be strong and he’s got to be sure and he’s got to be fresh from the fight. A streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds yes, but no mention of some dude in a hoodie and Beatz, passed out on the subway.

Before I realized this was an ad for moderate drinking, I got excited about a whole bunch of beautiful women getting up from the bar, grabbing their keys and saying “Hey pal, take your Tinder profile and shove it because I’m worth more than this.”

“Yes!” I thought. “That’s feminism.” That’s what it looks like when women reject the cheap goods they know they’re about to get from some dude who can’t hold his liquor, much less the door.

Now before I get in trouble, let me say, I am a huge fan of men. I love them, especially the good ones who know something about strength and courage and self-mastery and commitment, but it seems they are fewer and further between these days. Add “loves Jesus” to the description and the talent pool dries considerably.

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I don’t know if he loved Jesus, but here’s Paul Newman circa 1963

So what’s a smart, Jesus-loving single gal with super high standards for sex and marriage to do with all that? Especially on Valentines Day?

First the bad news:

For better or worse, when it comes to finding a mate, most things are still out of female control. Men are still the team captains, and we’re still lined up on the gym wall. Sure there are exceptions, but the rule dominates: It is theirs to ask, and ours to accept or decline. The problem is, waiting to be picked is a powerless stance – one that’s especially difficult for women who are quite powerful in other areas of their lives.

I think this is deeply motivating fear for a lot of women. It was for me.

Will I get asked? What if I don’t get asked? What’s wrong with me that I haven’t been picked? There’s that Sports Illustrated model, of course she’ll get picked. Look at her abs, maybe I should do situps. Maybe then I’ll get picked.

It’s hardly cut and dried though. Countless women are stoked to be single and they’ll cite dozens of reasons for it. In fact, I was one of them too. My singleness allowed me space and time to travel around the world and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Yet, at a secret level, those questions still dogged me.

So it’s tricky territory. And maybe some of you are scoffing, saying “Hello it’s 2016 not 1950, and dating apps give women all the control in the world.” Do they? Or have they just increased the ease and speed with which people can hook up with strangers and be disappointed by them? Seems Tinder and Hinge have redefined the term “first date” so thoroughly, it’s unrecognizable as a concept, and women have to pretend they don’t care.

But most women I know care a lot, especially about things like respect, trust, mutuality and duration and they’re kind of disgusted with the whole show. Unfortunately, that getting picked thing is a powerful driver and sometimes, smart, strong women settle for deals they secretly know are just wrong for them.

Ladies. Don’t do it. Hold out. Because here’s the good news:

YOU’VE ALREADY BEEN PICKED!

If you choose to accept what Jesus said and did, you already are beloved, chosen, precious and royal. 

But you have to believe it, before you see it, and that’s the hard part. Imagine the deals we’d reject if we could dwell permanently in this spiritual reality, remembering at crucial moments that, in fact, we are worth dying for.

It’s mystical and abstruse and four-dimensional and fathoms deeper than the roses and diamonds kind of love that even the Christian radio stations hum with on Valentines Day.

But when you’ve been filled with the love of God, when you’ve sat long enough with him to be steeped in the fullness of joy, you own something deep and inviolable, and you begin to operate out of that place, like a Queen in her court. Not with pride, with power.

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Queen Mother. Photo Credit: The Telegraph

This is a long way of saying my Queens, if you are single on Valentines Day because you’re maintaining a high standard for your life and the people you allow in it…

GO YOU!

Use Valentines Day to celebrate that hard work. Keep rejecting the deals that are beneath you. Get to know the woman God says you are and repeat it a thousand times a day if you must. Then shove every offer you get through that filter, to see what comes out. Make your choices accordingly.

And while you’re at it, go get your girls. Put on your sparkly dresses, red lipstick and favorite shoes, then go celebrate the fact you’re holding out for a hero – one who believes the same thing about you that God does.

Amen.