Release

Lord, Give me patience during this time. Give me peace. Give me rest for my weary soul and body. Give me wisdom and discernment so I know what to do. Give me boldness and courage to do your will. Give me joy amidst this heavy sorrow. Give me love for my neighbor. Give me a heart to obey, even in times of trial. Give us, and the rest of the world, protection from this pain and suffering. Give me more of you.

How many of us are praying a similar prayer right now?

Before coronavirus and amidst coronavirus, in my prayers, I’ve noticed that I seem to always be asking God for more. I mean, generally speaking, what human being isn’t?? While I think we can all agree the above is a solid list of things that we should not hesitate to ask for (since God Himself calls us to ask for these things), I think there is one key thing missing that needs to come before all the others. You see, I want God to keep adding, adding, adding to my life but rarely do I ask Him to take anything away.

I want patience, but how often do I ask Him to take away my impatience? I want peace, but do I ask Him to take away my anxious thoughts? I want rest, but do I offer my time up to Him? I want to obey, but do I ask Him to take away my rebellious spirit? I want to be loving, but do I ask Him to take away my hard heart? I want wisdom, but do I ask him to take away my pride?

I’ve realized something about myself. I want to take, take, take from God without ever giving anything up. I want to be filled up, without first being emptied. I want to receive, without release.

Release.

This word has been on my mind for months. In January it was on my mind as I was meditating on a word for the new year and coming up with resolutions; the word release was at the heart of it all. In February it came to my mind again as we entered into the season of Lent, generally known in the church as a time of release in which we prepare our hearts for what is to come. In March with the explosion of COVID19, it seemed the whole world was called to ponder and take part in a season of release as well…release of comforts, schedules, and most of all, control.

And now, we are in April and it is the day before Easter. Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus being tortured, hung, and nailed to the wooden cross for our sins, was yesterday. His body was buried and placed in the hollow grave deep beneath the Earth and collectively Creation mourned in sorrow while taking in a deep breath, not knowing exactly if or when the release from death would come.

Thankfully, three days later it did.

All of Creation was released from the grip and sting of Death itself.

We who were prisoners, bound by the chains of sin and powers of darkness, were set free.

It is finished.

Creation exhales.

The battle is won, now what is to come?

As I lift my eyes and hands upwards in prayer and ask for Him to give me more of His spirit, His love, His wisdom, and His peace… God leans in and whispers back down into my ear.

“It is yours already, RELEASE and take hold.”

How can that be? That He who has released me, calls me too to release? Release what?

“Release the bitterness, the fears and anxiety, the jealousy and pride, the insecurities and shame, the self-righteousness, “your rights” and the things you think are owed to you, the need for control, the expectations of your future, the unrealistic standards of perfection, the desire for the temporary pleasures of this world. Release.”

He has surrendered His life for me, but I still must surrender my own to Him.

He has set me free from bondage, but I have to choose freedom for myself.

The chains are surely broken, but I still have to put them down and let go.

It seems like it would be such an easy decision–choose freedom! So why then does Paul need to remind us not to go back to our captors?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Because we are human and our understanding of the world is severely limited. Sometimes, we are like the prisoner who finds out they have been set free, yet meanders back to their cell, reasoning that bondage, because it is familiar, feels safer than the freedom. We cling to our filthy old rags and cold metal chains, afraid to inch out of the darkness, afraid of the light because it is unknown and shows us things outside ourselves. We cling to them, thinking we can keep some of the old and familiar things with us as we walk into the new. We cling to them not believing ourselves to be truly free…not believing ourselves worthy to wear anything other than this. We cling to them thinking they offer us something that He cannot.

And while I am still clinging onto these broken chains and filthy rags, My Father, My Redeemer gently reaches down to help to pry them from my hands, giving me confidence and strength to let go, while offering me something entirely brand new, clean, and beautiful…something priceless and infinitely better, a robe fit for the daughter of The King.

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Take off and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24).

God doesn’t want to just to just put a new robe over old rags, He wants to remove them. God doesn’t want to just add to what we already have, He wants to transform it. God doesn’t just want to make us better people, He wants to make us His people. God doesn’t want us to just have a changed life, He wants to give us a new life.

To receive this amazing gift, we must first have a heart that is willing to release.

Scripture is filled with these calls to release.

In the gospels, a rich man asks what he must do to receive eternal life and Jesus tells him “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor.” Later Jesus reminds the people that “No man can serve two masters…or he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” You must release one.

In the Year of Jubilee (also known as “Lord’s release”) described in Deuteronomy 15, God reminds the people of Israel every 7th year of the importance of releasing their grip on power, property, and people in order to maintain harmony and closeness in their relationships with each other, creation, and with God.

In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus told the crowd and his disciples “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Our prayer can’t just be “more of Him”, it must also be “less of me.”

More of Him, Less of Me.

He has set us FREE, not so that we can return to the yoke of slavery to sin and the flesh or to the rags of self-righteousness under the law or to shame. But, so that we might walk forth boldly out of the darkness, arms raised in surrender and ready to receive, toward the light of the Son, who long ago orchestrated our release by allowing Himself to be bound and tied to the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

His torture for my freedom. His death for my life. His capture and bondage for my release.

It is here, at the foot of the cross and the feet of my Savior, that I am called to my own sort of daily release. A daily release of self. It is here, in the shadow of His earthly body, that I am called to release control and ownership of my own, offering my body instead as living sacrifice and temple for His Spirit to dwell. It is here that I am called to not only release (let go), but to repent of (turn away from) my selfishness, my pride, and my fears that threaten to bind me once again under the yoke of slavery.

It is here that I myself was released, and it is here that I in turn release my self to Him.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection…when Christ defeated the grave and in turn gave us the chance for new life, eternal life.

It was His choice to lay His life down for us. Will we in return choose to lay down our lives for Him?

Liberia and COVID19

How are things in Liberia right now with COVID19??

This is a question that I’ve been getting a lot recently and I’ve struggled back and forth between giving the short version and the long version of the answer. On one hand, I don’t want people to worry about us nor do I want to overwhelm people with a response when I know how much they themselves are going through.

On the other hand, a some people are genuinely curious and want to better understand the nitty gritty details of how this COVID19 crisis is affecting people’s reality in other parts of the world so they can know how to help and pray. I’ve had a lot of positive and truly humbling and awe inspiring responses from people with whom I’ve shared the “long version.”

I also know that many families are looking for resources to be able to share with their kids that help to paint a picture of what life is like in other countries, especially now.  I actually used a lot of the information in this blog in a presentation this past week with the University of Maryland students in the online course that I am still co-teaching and many really appreciated it. Therefore, I’ve decided to share here on our blog, for those who are interested and want to read through the details, about what life in Liberia is like amidst COVID19. As of today, April 6th, 2020, we have 13 confirmed cases total.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list by any means. Also, this is not meant to overwhelm anyone, it’s OK to not read through this if you don’t feel you have the emotional capacity to do so right now (trust me, I’ve been there too). This is not meant to make anyone feel guilty. This is not meant to compare and in doing so invalidate or diminish anyone else’s feelings or present reality. The struggle for everyone IS real. Every single person on the planet is struggling right now in their own way. I understand that and I know that God sees and cares for them ALL. He sees and cares for those who are struggling financially, those who are struggling emotionally, those who are struggling physically, and those who are struggling spiritually with knowing that He is there. He cares and He is holding close the worries and fears of all His children around the world.

This is merely meant to show what life is like here right now. Each country will have their own unique challenges to addressing this virus (political, financial, cultural, etc) and these are simply Liberia’s challenges (as well as a couple noteworthy assets) that will factor into the fight against this COVID19 virus:

I’ve broken all the information down into categories. Just hover over the image to see the category (healthcare, transportation, livelihoods, etc) and then click and scroll down to read the description of the situation underneath each photograph.

I tried my best to capture both the challenges as well as assets that Liberia has in overcoming this virus. I don’t like it when Liberia, or any other country for that matter, is portrayed as entirely helpless. Liberians are strong, resilient, creative, and hopeful. I have no doubt that ordinary people will be used in extraordinary ways here in the fight to educate, protect, and care for the communities. There are some challenges that seem overwhelming, and that I as an outsider can’t really come up with any good solutions to. But I have confidence that through teamwork and collective brainstorming and resource sharing, along with the precious intervening Hand of God, there will be new ideas shared and that we will all rise together out of the ashes, transformed and hopefully changed for the better. Like many of my Liberian friends are reminding me “God carried us through Ebola, surely He will carry us through this.”

Above all, we know that He will carry us through and be with us in our times of trial. I pray that as we remember these truths and hear these testimonies, that we too will be encouraged to continue trusting in Him and boldly living out our faith in new ways each and every day so that more might come to know Him and rejoice in His Name.

Where does our peace come from?

Where does our peace come from?

(two weeks ago)

Me: “I’m feeling good, surprisingly good. Although it feels like the world is pretty much imploding all around us right now, I feel like I’m handling it better than I expected myself to.” (Go me!)

Husband: “Oh yea?” (his eyes eyebrows raised like “are you sureeeeee about that?”)

Me: “Yea, totally. I’ve just got this feeling of peace, ya know?”  (my brain apparently blocking out all the previous times I’d had miniature freak outs over the past week and he’d been there to witness them ALL)

Husband: “Uhhhh huuhhhh.” (not convinced)

Me: (talking to myself in my head as I walked away): Maybe through living in Liberia, I’ve grown so accustomed to the absolute unpredictability of life and that’s why I’m not stressing? Or, maybe I finally developed that rock solid faith I’ve been aiming for? Must have been that Bible in a Year program. Yep….gotta be it. Thanks, YouVersion. Oh no wait, maybe I’ve just become completely emotionally numb? Maybe the “compassion fatigue” that many international workers struggle with has finally robbed me of my ability to feel emotions? Oh crap, what’s wrong with me? No only is the world falling apart, so am I!!

Yep, totally sounds like the thoughts of a person who is “at peace,” right??

The moment passed, but these thoughts about where this “sense of peace” was coming from and the question as to whether it was even real at all, kept rumbling around in my head over the next few days. In my mind, I actually did feel like I felt good. I wasn’t losing sleep over this, I hadn’t started biting my cheeks or running my hands through my hair endlessly (telltale signs I’m feeling anxious), and I was going about my day-to-day activities the same way I always had.

With no more teaching to keep me occupied (since schools are temporarily closed and online education isn’t really an option here), I had time to reconnect with a lot of friends back home. A couple days later, I was chatting with my one friend and asking her how she was when she sent this back as her reply:

“I’ve had surprising peace about the virus, but I think a large part of that is due to being hunkered down with plenty of groceries and nowhere to go. I’m trying to remind myself that my faith belongs in the Lord, not in social distancing!”

And then I realized. It finally clicked where some of that “peace” I felt might have been coming from.

You see, every time my mind would start to get slightly anxious about the virus, I’d calm it down quickly by reminding myself that 1) My life and soul are in His Hands AND 2) it’s going to be fine because….

  • I don’t live in China…. USA…. ok, fine… Monrovia? (I might not have to deal this)
  • I am young (I’m unlikely to have complications)
  • I am healthy (I can fight this thing off)
  • I’m not alone (there are lots of missionaries still here in Liberia)
  • I live on a farm (we can feed ourselves with what’s here for months)
  • I have decent medical insurance (I will be taken care of if I get it)
  • I have electricity (I can store food and pump water into my house)
  • I can afford to buy soap (I can wash my hands enough that it will never get me!)
  • I have a flexible job (I can “social distance” and not risk my life by going out frequently)
  • I think they will find a solution before it gets too bad here in Africa (I have time)
  • It won’t spread here because of the heat (finally, theses stupidly hot temperature will save me!)
  • I have a US passport (surely, my country will come rescue me)
  • And sort of jokingly (sort of not) at least I have plenty of chocolate (I am comfortable)

While these things are partially true, these things don’t bring true peace. At least not the kind the Bible talks about at least.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isiah 54:10)

These things that I was telling myself made me feel better because they reduced my risk of contracting and the subsequent impacts that getting the virus might have on my life. But it was fleeting. Because guess what happened next? The news started to report that young people were getting the virus too, that healthy people were on ventilators fighting for their life, that famous people with loads of money and connections were dying from the virus, and that Americans were getting trapped abroad. Gulp.

I said I trusted God, but I was also looking for peace in myself, my circumstances, and my status. The peace I felt was was mostly coming from me, myself, and what I thought I could do or had to avoid it or get through it.

I had confidence that my soul’s fate in eternity was secure in His Hands either way, but I felt the need to add on to that apparently…at least to get me through my present reality.  And pretty soon, that list of “ANDs” became more of the foundation for my peace, rather than just an “add-on” at the end.

God’s peace doesn’t require any “AND” to follow it up. Who. He. IS. is more than enough on its own.

If you find yourself tacking on a bunch of “ANDs” to try to bring about your own sense of peace, might I suggest a different list to run through in your head instead?

I’m a visual learner, so drawing this all out in a “this vs that” chart has helped me redirect and recenter my thoughts a lot.

Where I am tempted to find peace: Where I will actually find peace: Bible Verse
Health

Age

God is My Strength Exodus 15:2 The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
Location God is My Fortress Proverbs 18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.
 

Social Distancing

 

God is My Hiding Place Psalm 32:7 You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.
Money God is My Provider Philippians 4:19. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Social Status

Passport

God is My Deliver Psalm 34: 17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.
Temperature

Time

Insurance

Money

God is My Healer Jeremiah 17:14O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed; if you save me, I will be truly saved. My praises are for you alone!
Hygiene Practices

Money

Health

Age

Social Distancing

God is My Protector 2 Thes. 3:3-5 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
Chocolate

Friends

God is My Comforter 2 Cor.1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Friends God is My Constant Companion Duet. 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Every time I catch myself trying to soothe my thoughts with one of the things in the first column, I try to be intentional about shifting my thinking to one of the things in the second or third column.

The key to the switch: “God Is” not “I have” or “I am.

When we turn away from folly (which is maybe the giant list of “ANDs” that we tack on in our heads) and instead listen only to what He says about Who He Is, “He promises PEACE to his people, his faithful servants” (Psalm 85:8).

Do I know whether or not I will get COVID19? No, God didn’t promise me that.

He promised me His peace. Peace that flows endlessly and deeply like a river, peace that rules in our hearts.  Peace that does not vanish when circumstances change. Peace that is with me, even in the valley of uncertainty and the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).

Where does our peace come from?

Our “help [or peace] comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2). Our peace comes from Him, and nothing else. 

This song from Casting Crowns is on repeat in my head, so I thought I’d share with you too. It’s an oldie, but a goodie!