Category Archives for Dreams

Reveal it, deal with it, heal it. A recipe for dealing with racism.

When I was seven, a little boy threw a rock at me.
Because I was white.
I hit me behind the right knee, in the soft spot. Left a mark. And really hurt.

But what hurt more, to an innocent first-grade girl living in another culture, was knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it.
I didn’t know, that then, as now, people who look like me had exploited the beautiful Puerto Rican island, charging high taxes but providing few government services, exploiting lower minimum wage requirements, and living high on the hog while those who worked for us struggled.
I didn’t know I was a colonialist.
I didn’t know that the reason I attended private school was because the schools on the island weren’t considered high-quality enough for my middle class parents.
While I revelled in a multicultural world and learned history differently than my friends back home (Christopher Columbus looks a little different standing in the ports where he landed), the Native Americans in my country, that Columbus christened “Indians” were dying quiet deaths from desperation and alcoholism.
While I learned Spanish and had my first crushes on Hispanic boys, their cousins were carrying out terrorist attacks in the US due to inequities.
That when I gave my heart to Jesus and pledged to become a missionary going into all the world, that others were dying at home, due to racial injustice in my own nation.
I didn’t know.
But I sure do now.
Or, at least, I’m starting to.
They call it getting “woke.”
And the Christian in me is actively believing and praying for another Great Awakening. Many of my Christian friends are. Diligently.
I don’t know that we realized that we might be the ones that got woke.

I don’t guess we knew we were asleep.

 

REVEAL IT
Racism. I was taught, returning home to Texas, that the civil rights movement had won, the racism was gone and we were all equal.
But a quick glance around my third grade classroom, with people sitting in groups according to skin tone, would’ve shown that to be a lie.
It wasn’t gone. It was so much a part of our daily life in around Houston, Texas, that we became immune to it. It became invisible to us.
The first step in racial reconciliation in America today is this: we have to believe that racism actually exists. It has to be revealed to people like me, in the middle class or even higher, with light skin and great schools, who grew up in fantastic churches where there just, um, weren’t very many black people.
Not everyone lives in the same America.
Because any honest look at America will show us that there are differences in the way people live. If you look at income, academic achievement, incarceration, even diseases, people of color fare worse–on almost every measure.
Regarding how and why people of color have it worse, there are only two possible explanations.
Number one is that there is an invisible wall stopping people from succeeding. This is so painful to those of us who didn’t construct it that we don’t want to acknowledge the possibility. And, to be fair, we truly benefit from it. But most of us don’t even see it.

The other possibility is heinous. And that is to assume that somehow people of color are somehow not as smart or as noble. Their failure to achieve is due to defects in character, ability, or just plain poor choices.
If you take a minute to think, that doesn’t even make sense. So, if we assume that character isn’t linked to skin type, and intelligence isn’t linked to the amount of melanin you have as pigment, then we have to stop and realize that the only real possibility is that the playing field isn’t level. The system is not just for our brothers and sisters who have slightly different amounts of brown in their skin than we do.

 

I came to know little bit about this, like I did when that rock hit me behind the knee, when I began to work as a female professional in Fort Worth.I was shocked to find out that even when my qualifications, expertise, and achievement statistics were greater than those of my male colleagues, I was treated in meetings as if I was a little girl. My comments were tolerated, my insights ignored. That is, unless a male colleague repeated them and took credit.
In America women function normally in careers, jobs and professions until they reach a certain level, beyond which the consensus is that it’s inappropriate for them to go. I liked to joke, when I was younger, that I didn’t believe in the glass ceiling until I hit my head on it three times. But it’s too true to be funny. And I like to think that, just like that rock against the back of my leg did, those experiences give me a small window of insight into what it might be like to be black in America. But I admit that they give me just enough insight to realize this: that I don’t know what it’s like, at all.
I don’t know what it’s like, if I step into the elevator, for everyone there to assume I’m there to steal something.

I don’t know what it’s like to tell my son to be very , very careful driving at night, or in wealthy neighborhoods, because his life might be at risk.

I don’t know what it’s like to tell my daughter never to talk back to the policeman because she might die. I have no idea what that feels like.
We have excused atrocities until we are numb. This is the strategy from Hell.

And it seems to me that for many white Christians the question is this: is it a sin, that when your brother is dying, you do nothing?
A sin of omission.

 

DEAL WITH IT
What we need in America is a witness. The Holy Spirit has been calling, for generations, for a real choice from those who have the power regarding the twin sins of slavery and racism. For the descendants of Western Europeans to realize that we are brothers to our family with brown and black skin. That it’s not just glass ceilings. It’s glass walls, glass tunnels. It is past time to dismantle the structures in society that keep people down.
It is time not just to awaken from sleep. It is time to get on our faces before God. To cry out and repent of the sins we have committed. When Jesus spoke of the terrible act of leaving a man bleeding by the roadside, it wasn’t the thieves he castigated. It was the religious, the rich and the legalistic who walked by, because they were busy. and the only person in the story who spent his own time and resources to restore, was the only person Jesus praised.
Interesting that the Master chose a hated minority to play hero here. Making the point that love has no color.
We see signs that say, “No justice, no peace.” I say, “If we don’t deal with it, we can’t heal from it.”
We must find our way back to justice; we must become champions of the oppressed.
It’s not a popular Scripture in American evangelical churches, but the Bible says this:
“”Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” 

But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court?”

James 2:2-3, 6 
The King James actually says, “it is the rich who oppress you.”
Not something you are likely to hear at a “Biblical Values” meeting of Christian Republicans.

 

HEAL IT
After we open our hearts for God to reveal it, we must deal with it.
We have to find wise and just policies for loving our neighbor, for truly being our brother’s keeper. With a level playing field, black, brown and red talent can take off, making contributions and enriching our society.
And then, we must heal it.
Everyone of us must confront the sins of our own hearts.
Racism. Bitterness. Apathy. Anger. Discrimination. Prejudice. Legalism. Religiosity. Slumber.

Ephesians 5:10-14 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light. 

Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
We’re waking up. To a better tomorrow. Together.

Who Knew?

In June of 2014, I had an encounter with a dynamic personality, that left a mark on my life.

I was at a Joyce Meyer conference.  Of course, I was.

And Joyce’s speaking points seemed so simple.  Of the “Of course, I already know that” sort.  Yet, by the end of the 3-day seminar, I felt unusually changed.  Different.  Like, permanently.

Let me back up.  The whole story started with an act of generosity.  (Doesn’t it always?)  A young minister, in a tight place, needed some health care.   I decided to treat her, free of charge.

She turned out to be that most unusual Christian minister.  A former homosexual.  Ok, I can say it.  Lesbian. God had brought her so far, and now she writes books and speaks all over the country, helping gays get free.  The church finds her story very uncomfortable.  And the gay community wants to destroy her.

But…salvation is real.  Or it isn’t.  Make up your mind.

And a person’s past is just that.  Past.

I really liked this woman.  She was warm, real and genuine.  And, oh, so honest.  Gut-level honest.

We started to talk about the church, homosexuality, and teenagers.  All critical topics in this day and age.  I shared with her my plans for a book on parenting teens, mentally healthy teens.  She shared with me that 75% of lesbians were abused or molested as young people.  We bonded over the need to educate Christian parents on godliness, Biblical sexuality, and Biblical empowerment.  Especially for teens.  Especially for girls.

Two days later, I got a call.  It was her.  “I have 6 passes for the ministers’ section at Joyce Meyer.  I have women’s ministers for 5 of them.  The Lord instructed me to offer you the last spot.”  Would I like to come?

Joyce Meyer.  Ministers’ section.  Um, yeah…

So I took 3 days off and came.  And God, through Joyce, changed my life.  Again.

At the end of 3 days, I could tell I was different.  I just couldn’t figure out why.  The Holy Spirit is like that sometimes.

And to be honest, neither Joyce Meyer nor my ministry friend was the dynamic personality I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  That happened after.

At the end of 3 days of amazing ministry, I had a tug on my heart.  I was, at that time, the employee physician for Kenneth Copeland Ministries.  And I just knew I should drive out there.

Now, “KCM”, for those who work there, is not in Fort Worth.  It’s….near.  Sort of.

And Joyce was preaching in Fort Worth.  But, that still small voice beckoned.  Whispered.  Smiled.

And I called my husband.  My quality time and acts-of-service needing, amazing husband.

“Go ahead, take all day if you want to.  I’m working on the car.”  Huh.

45 minutes later, I pull through the gates of a very empty Kenneth Copeland Ministries campus.  On a Saturday.  Scratching my head, figuratively.  And my phone rings.

It’s one of Brother Copeland’s assistants.  And he wants to know if I could possibly drive out to the campus that day for a special meeting…These are the moments I love learning to be led by the Holy Spirit.  Smile.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to detail the private workings of a KCM meeting, and highly unethical.  It was a good meeting.  Great, even.

But it was what happened after that marked me.  Probably forever.

Everyone else left, and I found myself alone with Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.  In their blue jeans.  On a Saturday.  Both of them incredibly sweet. And I did something crazy.  I demanded that they let me pray for  them.

Yeah.  I really did that.  To my childhood heroes and mentors.  On the first day I really ever met them.

If you’re Baptist, it would be like meeting Billy Graham.  And then demanding that he let you preach. (Cue wince here).  And they let me.  Very graciously.

I can honestly say that it was one of the more focused, concentrated prayers of my life.  I pled the blood.  I stood on the Word of God.  I put pressure on our covenant with God through Jesus.  (See, I really have listened to them all of my life).

And a funny thing happened.

God began to move.  Brother Copeland (forgive the formality, but I deeply respect the man) started to pray, too.  Then he preached.  Then he sang.  And, as he sang an old hymn to me and to his lovely wife, the craziest thing happened.  A particular line in the song, completely unintended, yielded the answer.  To our whole meeting.

I can’t tell you how excited we got.  Like only Kenneth Copeland, and Karen Smith, if you knew me, can get excited.

We jumped.  We laughed.  We cried.  We celebrated.

It’s so good to hear from God, through each other.

And he gave me his number.  “Call me, girl, anytime you need anything.”

This happens?

I remembered another preacher, Jerry Savelle, teaching on the favor of God.  And I corrected myself.

“This happens to me all the time.”

And I said, like only a Texas-born, Texas-raised woman would, “You better make sure you wanna give me that.”

“What?” he asked.

“Brother Copeland, I’m a missionary.  I was called at 7 years old.  I’ve been preparing.  And things are changing all around me.  I’m going to need godly counsel.  So I’m just saying, if you say I can call you, I probably will.  Be sure.”

He grinned at me.  “Girl, I said you could call me.”

Gloria smiled at me, and they left.  I just sat down.  And shook my head.  This Jesus.

We met the next week.  And I got godly counsel.

I followed it–all the way to Amarillo, and away from KCM.

And tomorrow I start volunteering at an inner city children’s ministry that serves 21 different nationalities in their ESL program.

I feel like a Rubik’s cube that’s been disassembled, lubricated and put back together.

And now God is spinning all the pieces into their places, solving the puzzles.  (Cue whirring noise here).

CityChurch Amarillo.  By morning.  Here we go.

Pray for me, if you think about it.

Hugs.

Shaking in my shoes.  On anxiety, and achievement.

Anxiety.

What is it about life that makes us spend most of our days with our fists and teeth half-clenched, instead of living as if we’re laying back in a hammock, swinging?
Check yourself.
Right now.
Are your muscles tight?

Is your lower face and jaw tense?

Are your thoughts…racing?

Or are you sitting in the (imaginary) sun, taking a deep breath of…heaven?
What is it that makes us anxious?
What, on earth, are we…So.

Worried.

About.
And, on a related note, do we ever feel “good” enough?
When I was in high school, our Drill Team (women’s halftime dance team, for those not from the South) put on a performance for a few hundred young children.  And we dressed up like clowns.  It was so much fun.

And I borrowed my Dad’s high-school basketball high tops to wear with my navy blue baggy pants.

It was a great costume.  And a fun day.

But my Dad had been a size 15.  Men’s. And, while I have big feet for a woman (anywhere from 9 to 11, depending on the shoe), I couldn’t touch that.  (A men’s 15 would be a Women’s 17, I’m told.  Or something like that).  I had to stuff the toes.
And, I wonder, if sometimes I try to fit into my “heavenly” Father’s shoes.  You see, He’s quite a visionary.  And the “shoes” he gives me to wear, so often feel like they’re..Just. Way. Too. Big.
Big vision.

Big purpose.

Massive calling.

HUGE dreams.

Speaking of spiritual fathers…

I once had a pastor who preached love and faith.  It was awesome.  Really.

But, if you talked with him, or worked side-by-side with him, any given day, you realized you…weren’t good enough.  Pretty quickly.

And staying in church there was an exercise in anxiety.

The disconnect between the pulpit and the personal was… huge.

Insurmountable.

A chasm that made you feel you needed a rope swing, and all of Tarzan’s skills, to begin to measure up.

And, if you were a girl, you might as well just forget it.

(No upper body strength–yeah, we know.

Or substitute whatever masculine trait you deem necessary for excellence here…)

And it rubbed off, inevitably, on my relationship with God.

How I saw Him.
Because, (and I seem to say this a lot), God just isn’t like that.

But I didn’t end up there, with that fiercely disapproving spiritual father,  because I was anxiety-free, coming in.

A high-achieving little girl, fierce in her determination to finish her calling, I knew I was supposed to be a missionary doctor.

And when your high-expectations, strong-disciplinarian  natural father abandons your family right as you enter puberty, it can mess you up.  We had to dig those high-top basketball shoes out of storage, because Dad wasn’t around to help us find them.

Because, no matter what else Dad ever said about our family’s divorce, one thing was clear.

I wasn’t enough, for him to stay for.

I don’t blame my Dad.  Not anymore.

Or my mom, or anybody else involved.

But I talk about it.  Because so many people have been through this.

And it affects us.  Even though we pretend it doesn’t.
But God.

The Ultimate Father.

You know what?  He stayed.

He even died.  For me.

I . Was. Enough.

For that.

And he doesn’t criticize.  Doesn’t condemn.  Doesn’t abandon.

And I have a game-changer for you.

You’re good enough.  Great, even.

For Him.
Because (and only because) Jesus has already made you perfect. Righteous.  Clean in His eyes.

Unbelievable?

Believe it.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 

You.

Are new.

And the shoes God gives you to fill are way beyond your capability.

Even on a good day.

So, it’s time to lay back in the hammock of Grace and the Miraculous.

In an every-day way.

And let the wind of the Spirit blow it, gently.
Unclench your fists.  Your jaw.

Still the voice in your head that questions everything.  Even yourself.

And let go.

Let God.

And put on those big, big shoes.

And dance your heart out for the kids.

Because he really is able–to make you able.

And your feet are just fine.

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,that publisheth peace;that bringeth good tidings of good,that publisheth salvation;that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!

Quit trying to be good enough.

You never were.

And live the miracle.

You are.  Now.  Because of Him.

Peace out.

Goodness. Gracious. Me.

One of the things in my life I hesitate to tell people is that I once spent seven years as an agnostic.

For a girl born and raised in church, saved and called to the mission field at 7 years old, and currently in the ministry, it is an awkward thing to bring up.

But it happened.

And this is how.

After years of breathless waiting, impatient to “grow up” and leave home, I found myself in college.

Still waiting…

Impatiently.

To grow up and start the life God had called me to as a small child.  Champing at the bit to get going, and hating the seemingly-stalled Plan Of God for me.  And, into that void, stepped a very energetic, talented and very demanding/critical preacher.

I was thrilled.  Finally, someone who understood the magnitude of the contribution that I could make.  Someone with high expectations.  Someone who treated me like a grown-up.

And, so it was that I fell into the hands of a cult leader.  (Probably the other thing in my life that I truly hesitate to discuss).

I quit college . (Such a sense of exhilaration and freedom!). I dedicated my days to helping at the church. (Finally, a meaningful life.). And, to top it all off, I married the pastor’s favorite (yes, we played favorites in that church) protégée, and up-and-coming, gifted young preacher who absolutely loved me.

Being an honor student and all-around overachiever, I decided to overachieve as a wife and mother.

I had five children. Naturally. (And I do mean “naturally.”)

In a seven year period.

During which I tried to work, at least half-time, at the church. No kidding.

(And was rejected and criticized, publicly, by the pastor, for not being as dedicated as I had been previously).

And found myself in the pit of depression and despair.  And, of course, unable to admit it.  “Spiritual” people don’t get help for depression.  Do they?  My pastor told my husband how “concerned” he was. (He never said a word to me.)

And I felt more and more alone.

And then a friend and church member…committed suicide.  By driving in front of a train. (If it bothers you to hear true stories of how the church can fail people, stop reading now.  This gets worse.). She was on her way home from cleaning the pastor’s home and helping his wife with their 6 children.

Then another friend started doubting her salvation.  I talked her into not leaving the church.  (A well-intentioned decision I will always regret).  The pastor “suggested” to a young male church member that he marry her.  On her wedding night, her hand-picked husband told her that he didn’t believe in everything our pastor said.  She spent her wedding night having a mental breakdown…in a closet.  She soon left town, still very emotionally unbalanced.

Her family, sweet and devout Catholics, got her into “deprogramming” and therapy.  One day, she called our pastor to ask him if she had lost her salvation.  After a long moment of intense silence, he hung up on her.

The next day she drove her car off of a bridge.

Now minus two friends, I tried even harder to be a pleaser.  But I never seemed to be able to make my pastor happy.

And then all hell broke loose.

My amazing, faithful husband (still a church leader) began to question our leader’s approach.  In private, he asked him to go easier on the people, and not to order their personal lives.  I think he thought he would be received because of their longstanding relationship, his history of service, and the discreet way he went about it.

For the next two years, every sermon would include a reference to “Satan is working in our church elders.”  Because, of course, Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” and my husband had dared to bring up a possible pastoral shortcoming.

The other “elder,” in his late twenties, left the church after about a year of this.  Taking my best friend, (his wife), and their five children effectively out of my life.

It would take George two years to leave.

It took me another year after that.

We got professional help.  We rebuilt our marriage.  Re-tooled how we raised our kids.  Began to go to the (gasp) doctor.  And I slowly began to beat depression.

I finished college.  God, in His goodness, arranged a Master’s degree for me.  One that was really useful for the mission field.  (Education, with studies in bilingual and ESL approaches).  And then, I went to medical school.  At one of the finest scientific institutions in the world.

But I wasn’t done processing the hurt, confusion, and the pain.  OR the losses.

So I made a decision.  I would not call myself a Christian until I saw some real love, coming out of me.

And, on its heels, another one.  I would not believe in God until He proved His existence to me.

I was so confused.  So tired of religion.  So absolutely unwilling to ever be part of anything again that could hurt so many people.  But, I had no idea which parts of my belief system were valid.  So I decided to start at Square One.  With God.  Himself.

And I became an agnostic.

My Christian friends in med school didn’t understand this.  And, honestly, it wasn’t any of their business.

But they followed me around anyway.  And tried to “re-convert” me.  And they probably prayed for me.  I truly appreciate that.

But the sermons didn’t help.

And one day, exasperated, I turned around to a young Asian man who was a dear teammate and said, “Look.  You’re using Evangelism explosion outline #2 right now.  I’ve taught that class.  Leave me alone!”

You see, God, Himself, didn’t do that.

He quietly took up my challenge.

And loved me more than I had ever been loved.

And He blessed me.  It was as if He said, “Well, if you don’t want the blessings of faith and spirituality, how about something else?”

I found myself blessed.

In my family.

In my finances.

In the community.

In relationships.

With my children, who are, incidentally, also blessed.

And this approach, showing me who He really is, eventually brought me back to church, and back into the ministry.

Where I am currently very happy.  And blessed.
The Bible says,

Romans 2:4 Or do you have no regard for the wealth of His kindness and tolerance and patience in withholding His wrath? Are you actually unaware or ignorant of the fact that God’s kindness leads you to repentance that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life?

Maybe we need to rethink some of our evangelism strategies.

God’s kindness.

His tolerance.

Not His judgment and condemnation.

His Goodness.   Was all for me.

His Graciousness.  Was all for me.

I certainly didn’t deserve it.

But, then, I never did.

And that’s the Gospel.

Goodness.

Gracious.

All for me.  No. Matter. What.

Peace out.

Of Jingle Bells and Redeeming the Pirates

Warmth and light filled the room, while snowflakes danced in flurries at the windows.

To the right of the platform, a giant Christmas tree twinkled hundreds of golden lights from its branches.

The twin video monitors scrolled matching electronic snowflurries and encouragement.

Christmas had come to CityChurch.

I sat near the front in the nearly empty auditorium while George prepared to play the keyboard, watching 4 or 5 adults move around the room getting ready for the service.  High-energy updated Christmas carols fill the speakers, worshipful in their intensity.

Later that afternoon I would find myself across the street in a massive dilapidated warehouse, boxing hundreds of books, toys and clothes for kids who live…downtown.  Without a lot of resources.

Behind me, the pastor’s wife walked in with 2 of her young daughters.  Warm and secure in their winter finery, they giggled and laughed while a teenager teased them about crushing on boys.  She happens to be white; her daughters black.  No one notices, in this culture of love, service and frequent adoption.  Many of the kids adopted by CityChurch families were once kids on our bike food routes and in our Bible club programs.  When life falls apart, it seems like God taps someone on the shoulder to step in and help.  We adopt kids we know.  No one plans it; it just happens.

Next troops in the adult Sunday school class, fresh from meeting in the cafeteria.  A CityChurch mix of skin tones, with clothes ranging from suburban to ghetto.  Some faces ravaged by life; others serene.  After class, they all look calm and peaceful.  An older Hispanic woman is crying; she takes the seat next to me.  The second row where I sit fills in with black and brown faces, mostly women and children.  We hug each other.

At the back of the church I see a 13 year old black ballerina.  Oh, she’s dressed for church, but in a bun and full stage makeup.  A former dance mom always knows.  Her brand-new sweatshirt reads “The Nutcracker.”  Today, while I am boxing books and toys, she will be pirouetting before hundreds.  Her mother doesn’t share her skin tone or genetic makeup either, but I have never known a more loyal dance mom.  (And I’ve known a few).  Our ballerina was probably once a kid on someone’s van route.  I don’t know her story’s beginning, but I believe it will end gloriously.

Suddenly a wave of small children come in from preschool Sunday school, laughing and talking.  Playing with each other without regard to height, gender or skin tone.  By now the auditorium is almost full.  Across the way, a white face and brown face, belonging to 2 of our female teenage church musicians, enter the sanctuary arm in arm.

The state of the art video cameras begin to roll behind me.

In the corner, our AV guy, the pastor’s brother , is DJ-ing with headphones on.  Unaware of anyone else, he dances to the beat.  He is middle-aged, balding and white, but the music is spot-on.

As the service starts, the pastor takes his seat…at the drums.  Today he is shaking his official sleigh bells radically; two Hispanic preschoolers in the row in front of me shake the jingle bells on their Sunday school candycanes in time with him.

Later, he will take the pulpit and talk about how God sent the Christmas angels to…shepherds.  Not middle-class, suburban, cartoon-character shepherds. But the down-and dirty, the pirates and construction-workers of their day.  Making the point, without words, that God’s priority is the loner, the outcast, the desperate.  The not-so-well-dressed, not-so-respected.

It is a message that resonates here.

Everyone in the room is a believer, or considering becoming one.

Trusting God is something we work on.  Trusting people is harder.

But if we can be together as a community through the ups and downs of life, it gets a little easier.

And if we can address isues of race and poverty and crime and jail and marriage and sexuality and pain with love and wisdom, we are stronger together.

Our wisdom comes from the Bible.

Our love comes from the Holy Spirit.

Our identity comes from Jesus.

Everything else is negotiable.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Grace Has a Face

So, when Adam was made in the image of God, did he have a face?  And does that mean he had God’s face?

Made in His image.  Hmmm.

Made in His likeness.  Hmmm.

An exact, “carbon copy.”  I guess we would have to infer that Adam’s face…looked just like God’s face.

Mini-me.

Or…mini-Him.

I love this.

Because it gets to the root of what God deeply wanted–a child.  But not just a baby to be loved, and held, and helped along the path.

His first draft was a full-blown, full-grown man.  With dominion over his domain.  And authority.

And, at his side, a fully-grown, mature woman.  With dominion over the same domain.  And authority.

America likes to focus on children.  And that’s good.  They need our attention.  Our love.  Our care and oversight. And some of them need tremendous help to navigate some pretty tricky waters.

But I’ve noticed that we’ve forgotten how to be adults.  We’ve lost sight of the glory that comes, not just from potential, but from real development.  From expertise.  From …maturity.

Grace has a Face.  His name is Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Grace isn’t some nebulous, universal Force.

And Glory isn’t either.  In this verse, the glory of God was displayed in the face of Jesus Christ.

Jesus went the distance.  He developed into everything He was supposed to become.  No short-cuts.  From the manger until His baptism, He waited.  And worked.  And learned.  Patiently.  Letting God work in Him the plan and purpose.

Then He went to the wilderness.  40 days.  40 nights.  No food.  And, when it was over, and He was exhausted and weakened, He had to battle Satan.  He did it.  And He won.

It was after that that God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear ye Him.”  Or something like that.

You see, Jesus earned the right to be entrusted with His ministry.

I know we don’t like to think about that, but it’s true.  And it’s true in our lives. God’s love is unconditional.  Salvation only takes calling on Him, and believing.

But..there’s another step.

Paul said it like this.

Philippians 3:12   Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Paul said that there was more than just receiving a new birth.

He had to grow up.  In another place He calls it “working together with God.”

Now, I don’t mean stress and worry.  You find, as you travel on, desperate to fulfill your potential and calling, that it’s always His grace that helps you.

But it’s not without effort on your part.

Paul also said this:

Phillippians 3:13-14   Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

He talked about pressing.

Development.  Maturity.  A Godly man or woman, with a full-grown face.  An identity.

Jesus did things with His face.

Luke 9:51 And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.

One amazing thing about the lives of Jesus and of Paul was that they. Knew. Who. They. Were.

Jesus “set His face” to go to the Cross.  He knew what waited for Him in Jerusalem.  But, by that point, He was consumed with the desire to finish the work He was called to.

Paul rebuked the elders from Ephesus for telling him not to go to Rome, near the end of his ministry.  Why?  Because God had showed him he was supposed to go to Rome.  He knew suffering was involved, but he was consumed with the desire to finish His race.

These were guys who knew who they were.

And what they were supposed to get done on earth.

Not just what they were supposed to do, but what the end goal was.  And they reached it.

As examples to us.

You have a face.

My question to you today is, do you know who you are?

Women in America, and especially in church (sigh), often let others tell them who they are.

Only God can do that.

Oh, He’ll use your husband, your pastor, your parents, your friends.

And I’m not saying not to submit.

But at some point, you have to arm-wrestle with God.  Like Jacob.

And find the grit to say, like Jacob, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.”

And then, you have to go to the mat with yourself.  And wrestle the flesh and your own pride into submission to God.  Jesus did this in the desert.  Nothing major happens in a Christian life unto these 2 things are done:

1) Find out the end goal of God for your life.

2) Absolutely commit to get there.

Once you do that, you’ll find amazing Grace step in to help you.  And He empowers you every step of the way. Leading.  Guiding.  Teaching.  Creating open doors.  Making a way.

Look in the mirror.  Who are you?

Do you have a face yet?

Peace.

Who Knew?

In June of 2014, I had an encounter with a dynamic personality, that left a mark on my life.

I was at a Joyce Meyer conference.  Of course I was.

And Joyce’s speaking points seemed so simple.  Of the “Of course, I already know that” sort.  Yet, by the end of the 3 day seminar, I felt unusually changed.  Different.  Like, permanently.

Let me back up.  The whole story started with an act of generosity.  (Doesn’t it always?)  A young minister, in a tight place, needed some health care.   I decided to treat her, free of charge.

She turned out to be that most unusual Christian minister.  A former homosexual.  Ok, I can say it.  Lesbian. God had brought her so far, and now she writes books and speaks all over the country, helping gays get free.  The church finds her story very uncomfortable.  And the gay community wants to destroy her.

But…salvation is real.  Or it isn’t.  Make up your mind.

And a person’s past is just that.  Past.

I really liked this woman.  She was warm, real and genuine.  And, oh, so honest.  Gut-level honest.

We started to talk about the church, homosexuality and teenagers.  All critical topics in this day and age.  I shared with her my plans for a book on parenting teens, mentally healthy teens.  She shared with me that 75% of lesbians were abused or molested as young people.  We bonded over the need to educate Christian parents on godliness, Biblical sexuality, and Biblical empowerment.  Especially for teens.  Especially for girls.

Two days later, I got a call.  It was her.  “I have 6 passes for the ministers’ section at Joyce Meyer.  I have women’s ministers for 5 of them.  The Lord instructed me to offer you the last spot.”  Would I like to come?

Joyce Meyer.  Ministers’ section.  Um, yeah…

So I took 3 days off and came.  And God, through Joyce, changed my life.  Again.

At the end of 3 days, I could tell I was different.  I just couldn’t figure out why.  The Holy Spirit is like that sometimes.

And to be honest, neither Joyce Meyer nor my ministry friend was the dynamic personality I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  That happened after.

At the end of 3 days of amazing ministry, I had a tug on my heart.  I was, at that time, the employee physician for Kenneth Copeland Ministries.  And I just knew I should drive out there.

Now, “KCM”, for those who work there, is not in Fort Worth.  It’s….near.  Sort of.

And Joyce was preaching in Fort Worth.  But, that still small voice beckoned.  Whispered.  Smiled.

And I called my husband.  My quality-time and acts-of-service needing, amazing husband.

“Go ahead, take all day if you want to.  I’m working on the car.”  Huh.

45 minutes later, I pull through the gates of a very empty Kenneth Copeland Ministries campus.  On a Saturday.  Scratching my head, figuratively.  And my phone rings.

It’s one of Brother Copeland’s assistants.  And he wants to know if I could possibly drive out to the campus that day for a special meeting…These are the moments I love learning to be led by the Holy Spirit.  Smile.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to detail the private workings of a KCM meeting, and highly unethical.  It was a good meeting.  Great, even.

But it was what happened after that marked me.  Probably forever.

Everyone else left, and I found myself alone with Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.  In their blue jeans.  On a Saturday.  Both of them incredibly sweet. And I did something crazy.  I demanded that they let me pray for  them.

Yeah.  I really did that.  To my childhood heroes and mentors.  On the first day I really ever met them.

If you’re Baptist, it would be like meeting Billy Graham.  And then demanding that he let you preach. (Cue wince here).  And they let me.  Very graciously.

I can honestly say that it was one of the more focused, concentrated prayers of my life.  I pled the blood.  I stood on the Word of God.  I put pressure on our covenant with God through Jesus.  (See, I really have listened to them all of my life).

And a funny thing happened.

God began to move.  Brother Copeland (forgive the formality, but I deeply respect the man) started to pray, too.  Then he preached.  Then he sang.  And, as he sang an old hymn to me and to his lovely wife, the craziest thing happened.  A particular line in the song, completely unintended, yielded the answer.  To our whole meeting.

I can’t tell you how excited we got.  Like only Kenneth Copeland, and Karen Smith, if you knew me, can get excited.

We jumped.  We laughed.  We cried.  We celebrated.

It’s so good to hear from God, through each other.

And he gave me his number.  “Call me, girl, anytime you need anything.”

This happens?

I remembered another preacher, Jerry Savelle, teaching on the favor of God.  And I corrected myself.

“This happens to me all the time.”

And I said, like only a Texas-born, Texas-raised woman would, “You better make sure you wanna give me that.”

“What?” he asked.

“Brother Copeland, I’m a missionary.  I was called at 7 years old.  I’ve been preparing.  And things are changing all around me.  I’m going to need godly counsel.  So I’m just saying, if you say I can call you, I probably will.  Be sure.”

He grinned at me.  “Girl, I said you could call me.”

Gloria smiled at me, and they left.  I just sat down.  And shook my head.  This Jesus.

We met the next week.  And I got godly counsel.

I followed it–all the way to Amarillo, and away from KCM.

And tomorrow I start volunteering at an inner city children’s ministry that serves 21 different nationalities in their ESL program.

I feel like a Rubik’s cube that’s been disassembled, lubricated and put back together.

And now God is spinning all the pieces into their places, solving the puzzles.  (Cue whirring noise here).

CityChurch Amarillo.  By morning.  Here we go.

Pray for me, if you think about it.

Hugs.

The Day Everything Changed

So, yeah, last Thursday, on a busy morning, after I hurriedly pulled on scrubs to run across the street to the hospital I was stationed at, I heard it.

That still, small…voice.

Not a voice, exactly, or I might be required by professionalism to turn myself in for therapy.

Just…an inkling.

A notion.

Stay here.

Don’t leave yet.

So I did.  And what followed blessed me beyond many things I have been blessed with in my life.

I got quiet for a moment, taking time to listen.  And God spoke to me.  He said, “This is the day that everything changes.”  May 21, 2015. So I wrote it down.

You see, another healthcare professional might diagnose me with psychological problems.  Delusions of grandeur. For daring to say what every Christian, and a lot of other people, know.  I have a calling on my life.

It started when I was 7.  Alone in an upstairs bedroom at our home in Puerto Rico, I had an encounter with Jesus.  And it changed me forever.  By the time I was 8, I knew my lifelong calling.  I am a missionary.  And a doctor.

Not so I can make a lot of money.  (cue laughter from lawyers in Congress here…)

Not so I can be famous.  (That part is up to God.)

But so that, one at a time, I can impact the lives of people.  Human beings that God loves.  Some will be saved, and embrace the faith that has kept me sane and given me my purpose and identity.  Others will be served–their illness cured, their hurts heard, their concerns validated, their families strengthened.  Others will be served in other ways–food, education, athletics, mentoring.  Casa Gracias lives to serve.  We aim to walk out the love of God in flesh and blood, mortal, imperfect bodies, so that people can know He is real.

But on that day in 1972, I had no idea how that day would lead to this.

I went back to my little bilingual elementary school, determined to love people and win souls.  In first grade.

Every recess was a chance to witness.  Every spelling test a step toward medical school.  Doctors are weird like that.  Many of us were, yeah, that goal-directed.  That young.  But God blessed my elementary school efforts.  I won awards.  And I started winning people to Jesus.

Along the way, stuff happened.  When we’re young and we decide to yield to our callings, I think sometimes we think nothing bad will ever come.  Like we’re in a war, but the enemy should give us a break just for being good soldiers.

But it doesn’t work that way.  My family split up.  Crazy stuff entered my life, like abuse.  I was shielded from it, but it was there.  In my house.  Depression.  Despair.  Without any answers at home, I turned to the church.

The Methodists embraced me.  And loved me.  They trained me to be a leader, instructed me in song and theater and sent us out on the road.  Winning souls.  Preaching the Gospel.

High school was a blast.  I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that kicked everything to a whole new level.  Owning the school.  Winning the souls.  Working with others.  So.  Much. Fun.

But inside, I was never satisfied.  The calling burns.  It’s like a sunburn on the inside; only satisfied if you apply the Noxzema of preaching, teaching and healing.  It has nothing to do with fame; people misunderstand that.  Everything to do with effectiveness.  Faithfulness.

Cue college; free ride, National Merit, and all that.  Miserable, because I felt farther from the mission field than ever.  Dropped out of pre-med and got really spiritual; delivering food to the poor, going on mission trips.  Not. Satisfied.  On the inside.

So I married a preacher.  Surely that would do it.  Funny how that doesn’t work.  You see, the calling was mine.  Oh, we share parts of it, and he is my greatest confidante, advisor and advocate.  But what God called me to was not to make someone else do it–it was to obey Him myself.

4 kids later, he takes a 20 year break from ministry.  That’s putting it nicely.  After a rough time in church. (Also putting it nicely).  So what’s a drop-out missionary doctor, dropped-out preacher’s wife to do? Sigh.  I got a clue and went back to school.  Finished my bachelor’s in one semester (miracle 1) and got a free ride plus pay for my Master’s in Education (Miracle 2).

But the calling calls.  So, one day, while I washed some dishes, that still small voice rose up inside of me.  Whispered.  Teasing; joyful.  “You can still be a doctor.”  By now, I had 5 kids.  Little kids; the oldest was 7.  But freedom called, and I was a goner.

5 years later, Master’s degree in hand, I entered the doors of UT Southwestern Medical School.  35 years old.  Overweight.  Mother of 5.  How much weirder could this get?  So weird that I passed.  Not number 1 in the class, but without failing a single class.  Taught by Nobel Prize winners.  Lots of them. National Academy of Science members (I had never even heard of that before; trust me, it’s a big deal). At a medical school now ranked #6 IN THE WORLD for scientific rigor and difficulty.  Yeah.

Someone asked a classmate once what medical school was like.  I have adopted his reply.  “Like eating glass,” he said.  “Handfuls and handfuls of very sharp glass.”  For many years.

When it was over, I found myself at a new church, enrolled in leadership training.  Thank you, Eagle Mountain.  I would spend 7 years there, and begin to make a contribution.

Suddenly one day, I hear that still, small voice again.  And move.  Away from everything, and everyone I know.  Kids grown. Me and him, alone together again.  George and Karen 2.0.  And this is the time when God says, “Today is the day that everything changes.”

When I look at the heroes in Scripture, they weren’t that heroic.  Their paths were convoluted.  Their characters took development. Like mine.,

But I still have a calling.  It is more mature, and more developed.  I am more ready.  It still burns inside of me, but the joy of waiting until the “fullness of time” can’t be matched by anything else.  You learn this at fifty; maybe you didn’t know it at 7.

So stay tuned.  Great things to come from Casa Gracias Ministries, medical and missionary both.

And follow your own God-given path.  Don’t let them tell you it’s a delusion.  There are amazing things planned for you.

Peace out.