Blank Pages

DSC05405Tomorrow…Brazil! It’s my fifth mission trip to that beautiful country. Our fifth chapel to build. Fifth 9-hour flight south.

Although these trips have similarities, each is unique. We travel with open hearts and open minds. Full of expectancy but empty of expectations. The overall vision is the same: build a chapel, build relationships, and share the good news. The details differ every year. This year there won’t be a Roberto or Renato. We won’t see the warm smiles of Ivan, Paula, and Vivi. No Douglas, Dani, Regicleide, or Pablo.

That’s okay, though. Those marvelous memories are past. The future is a blank page, aching to be filled with new stories.

I journal as I go. Each page slowly fills with miracles and reflections. Times of wonder and times of insight. It is a time of refining…painfully burning away pride and assumptions to reveal a deeper truth. It isn’t always pleasant, but it is necessary.

Clearing away clutter allows growth.

It’s a time of renewal…pushing away from the safety of the comfort zone opens up space to spiritually reconnect and refuel.IMG_1728

The journal mirrors the journey. Not just the journey to Brazil, but the journey of life. The future is full of blank pages yearning to be filled.

It’s easy to get comfortable. It’s easy to get complacent. We surround ourselves with people who look and think like us. We turn off our brain as we fill our eyes with the latest distraction, leaving those blank journal pages empty. We miss the significance of life. We miss out on life’s meaning.

These annual trips are reminders to stretch…to push away from life’s ordinary routines. Joy isn’t found in the middle of comfort.  It can be found by fearlessly venturing forward, into the blank pages of the future.

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The Verse

Renato

Renato

Often people will contact me and say, “I saw the picture.” Even though I typically take 1,000 pictures a month, I always know which one is “The Picture.” Renato. I still love the picture, the man, and the story. Seriously… if you haven’t read the story, go do it now. This page will be here when you return.

As part of my fundraising efforts last year, I added a verse to “The Picture” and gave prints away to donors. The story behind the verse is pretty miraculous, too.

For the past four years, we’ve built chapels in Brazil. We hand-build the trusses out of wood. Before the “all-hands” call to lift them into place, we all write our favorite verses on them. It’s our way of covering the chapel in scripture, ensuring that the Word of God is above all else in the church. It’s symbolic but significant.

In 2013, we were in the lovely town of Queluz. It was nestled between a couple of small mountains, with a river cutting through the middle. Since it was my second trip, I knew we would be called upon to write scripture on the trusses again. Being the non-conformist person that I am, I decided my sub-mission would be to find a verse that nobody else would ever pick. I had recently been through a few studies on Habakkuk. It’s a short book, so I decided to start there. Right there in the first chapter, I found it. That obscure verse that would be perfect for this situation:

“Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5

I scrawled it on a truss and then moved on with my day.

cropped-hab_1_5_large.jpgLater in the week, it was time to lift them into place. Tony Gray, our missions host who has been in Brazil for 20(ish) years, was about to lift the rafter in place above where the pulpit would be. He glanced down and then shouted, “Who wrote this? Who was it? Who wrote this scripture from Habakkuk?”

“Uhhhhhhh……..  wellllll…….  it was me.”

I was afraid I did something wrong. I knew I was going to get kicked out of Brazil and probably excommunicated (that’s still a thing, right?). As I moseyed over (I’m Oklahoman after all), he called for his wife to come over. As Karen approached, he said “Look at this! It’s our verse!”

He shared that this was a verse that he and Karen prayed together. When they had doubt, when they were uncertain, when they needed a miracle, this was one of their “go-to” verses, and had been for years. Decades, I think. And here it was going up over the pulpit in the tiny town of Queluz. For them it was affirmation. For me, it was another example of God using me for reasons that will never be quite clear but are always humbling.

But it was an honor. And it was a miracle.


 

Once again, it’s fundraising season. This year, both Christy and I are hoping to return to Brazil. This will be our 5th chapel-build with Pioneer Missions. If you would like to help us out financially you have a few options: Mail a check to our church, hand us money next time you see us, or donate online here. As always, we appreciate your generosity, prayers, and willing ears. We both love to tell stories of the amazing things we’ve seen God do with us, in us, and through us.

Oh, shoot! He’s preaching! (#31Days)

It’s Sunday. I’m gonna preach.IMG_8802

I’d like to tell you about a prayer that changed my life. When a Christian says that, thoughts generally turn to the gospel. Salvation. Oh, but I already told you I’m preaching today. Praying for salvation is for the lost. I don’t preach to the lost. I’m preaching to the found.

Choosing to enter into a relationship with Jesus is the most important decision you can make. It changes your eternity. But today I’m not talking about eternity. Today is about the time between now and eternity. I’m talking about changing your life.

I’ve had some incredible adventures. I’ve built chapels and relationships in Brazil. I’ve ministered to the lost of midway at the fair. God demonstrated His incredible presence, love, and power while I was in Paris. I’m continually humbled and amazed with the things God continues to do through me and in me. Today I’m sharing the life changing prayer that made it all happen.

As a new Christian many of my prayers were for protection, heath, and comfort. I prayed prayers of thanks as well. Those are very natural and common things to pray about. Sometimes I’d pray for guidance, for help making decisions. There’s nothing wrong with praying this way, but it wasn’t life changing.

Here’s the secret prayer that so many people are scared to pray.

“God, use me. God, change me. Whatever you have for me, prepare me for it, guide me to it, and lead me through it.”

That’s it. Basically, it’s an echo of one of the most famous prayers of Jesus. “Not my will, but yours.”

But it’s scary. What if God sends me to Africa? What if God wants me to quit my job? What if I’m called to open my home to strangers? Or worse, sell my home entirely? These are the fears that keeps us silent and paralyzed. They keep us ordinary. They keep us distantIMG_9455 from the One who knows our heart better than we know ourselves.

I’m not bragging, I’m just telling my story. I’ve done it. I’ve prayed that prayer. I’ve prayed for boldness. I’ve prayed for Him to use me. Any time, any way He wants. And it has been life changing.

I’m not going to guarantee the outcome of praying this way. That’s not up to me. You might not end up in a foreign country. You might not join a ministry that serves people experiencing rock bottom. You may never find yourself talking to a belligerent carnival worker on midway. Oh, but you might.

And wherever this prayer leads you, I DO guarantee that it will lead you into a closer relationship with Him. And that will change your life.

 

 

Oh, shoot! All’s fair! (#31days)

Being a chaplain at the state fair is interesting.Above it all

Our purpose is to minister to the carnival workers. The people that buckle your kids into the bungee cords before they are flung into space. The ones that try and convince you to spend your hard earned money on a game that has worse odds than a casino. The guy that takes your tickets before you buckle into the roller coaster that was in a different town a week ago. Do you ever wonder about the stability of a mobile roller coaster?

That rough looking guy that won’t stop calling you out. Through his toothless mouth he’s yelling at you with his raspy voice to step up and be a real man. Show your gal that you can knock over three milk bottles with one throw. Yeah, that guy. He was in Phoenix last week. He’ll be in Fort Smith next week. But home is in Minnesota. He has a son there. A son that he misses desperately but hasn’t seen in 15 years. He made some mistakes and thinks the relationship is damaged beyond all hope. But he still carries his boy’s picture with him. That is his one possession that hasn’t been lost or stolen since he joined the fair circuit.

Everyone has a story. We all need someone. When I went through chaplain training, Walker Moore told us “when I see that guy that everyone looks down on, the guy that everyone thinks is just out there to scam them, well-I know that God loves him. And since God loves him, I love him, too.” It’s what we’re called to do. Not just at the fair, but everywhere life takes us.Ferris wheel sunset

God loves us even though we don’t deserve it. He loves us even when it’s hard. We are called to do the same with each other. You’ll find that when you get to know someone, things aren’t always the way they seemed. You’ll find more depth, more pain, more common ground, and more soul that you expected. Then you’ll also discover that your own heart can love more deeply than you ever knew possible.

 

 

Hands

I built a church in a week. 

Twelve of us traveled to Brazil together. We arrived on a Saturday evening. All that was there was a foundation. The following Friday night, we held a celebration service in one of the most beautiful chapels on the planet. God couldn’t have done it without the twelve of us! 

Pride can lead our thoughts down some crazy roads. Greater minds than mine have said that pride is the ultimate root of all sin. It isolates us from God.

As I reflect on and process the incredible ten days I had in Brazil this year, one verse keeps echoing in my mind. Really, it’s only half of one verse. Esther 4:14. It’s a critical moment in Esther’s life. Her people are about to be destroyed. It looks like their only hope is for her to approach the king–her husband–at great risk to her own life. It’s a dangerous move for her, so she’s talking to her uncle about it. She’s questioning her role in all this. Maybe she should just play it safe?

Sitting on the plane I reflected on the time I spent walking the streets of Campo Grande, helping with construction, and taking pictures. I tried to figure out what my part of the whole “Brazil” experience was this year. Usually Esther 4:14 is remembered for the second part of the verse, where Mordecai tells Esther, “who knows? Maybe THIS time and THIS place and THIS situation is what God DESIGNED you to do.” (very paraphrased by me)

That’s a verse people like me can cling to. God has a purpose and a plan for my life. These mission trips are part of that. When He is doing incredible things all around me, it’s evidence I’m doing what He called me to do. Sounds like it’s all about me again, though. Pride.

I landed on the other half of that verse. Before he gave Esther that encouragement, Mordecai told her “you can step into risky, radical faith and boldly serve God. Or not. But God’s plan will not be thwarted.” (once again, very, very paraphrased). And that’s it. That’s the key. God loves for us to be part of His story, but we aren’t the center.

As I stood outside the chapel on Friday night taking pictures through the back Looking Inwindow I got a glimpse at the master craftsman’s hand. So many stories were intersecting at this one, miraculous time and place! Pastor Maciel and his congregation have been praying over this land for four years. They only recently purchased it. Four years! I’ve only known about Campo Grande a few months. Maciel told the story of miracle after miracle that led up to Friday night. They acquired the land. They were given money for the foundation. They worked tirelessly to prepare. Each of the twelve of us have miracle Pastor Macielstories as well. None would’ve been able to make the trip without at least one crazy miracle. During the week there was construction, VBS, house visits, social gatherings, giveaways of sunglasses, visits to other churches, times of worship, and a thousand other things. Lives were changed. Eternities were changed. The miracles never ceased. But it wasn’t because of twelve “americanos loucos.

God had a plan. None of us were indispensable. If I hadn’t made it, pictures would’ve still been taken. If our church hadn’t boldly and generously given, another would have. If Pioneer Missions hadn’t partnered with Pastor Maciel, a chapel would still have been built. If Pastor Maciel had stepped away from his calling, someone else would’ve stepped up. That’s the truth I saw Friday night. None of this is about us. It’s all about Him. This was Him demonstrating His power, His sovereignty, and His love to us. And for us.

So why go at all? It’s terribly inconvenient. And expensive. It doesn’t make sense.

The truth is, there’s nothing on this earth that compares to being right in the middle of where God is working. I’ve IMG_5858heard it said repeatedly “I wish I knew God’s plan for my life!” People young and old seek it. I’ve learned the power and beauty of forgetting about plans for our own lives. Instead, figure out what God’s plan is and try and position yourself to be right in the middle of it. He’ll find something incredible for you to do. Beyond your wildest plans and dreams. There’s nothing in the world like having your hands be His hands.

Just Start

StartI’ve heard it said, “The days are long but the years are short”. One year ago I stepped into an experiment. It was a call to do more, be more, and pursue a dream. I’m a dreamer. Hidden underneath my quiet exterior is a risk taker. I dove in.

But what can happen in a year?

Community. More than anything, this year has been about relationships. A side-effect of the experiment has been the “Tulsa 5 Club.” We meet every Friday morning at 5AM at the Village Inn on Harvard Avenue. We’re all pursuing personal goals and dreams. Encouragement helps. Even more, though, we’re community. We’re family. Tears of laughter and tears of sorrow have been shared over bacon and coffee. Just yesterday I posted “I love us” to them and I meant it more deeply than even I expected. I look around the table and there’s not a single person I wouldn’t take a bullet for. I believe in them, I believe in their dreams, and I believe in their futures. I believe they will change the world for the better, and I’m honored and humbled that they let me hang with them. And we’re not exclusive. As new people join us, they are immediately welcomed in like long lost family.StrongerCoffee5

Oh, but it gets better. We wrote and published a book. Who does that? Well, the Tulsa 5 Club did. Then we organized and hosted a conference. It was a life-changing gathering of visionaries…sharing dreams and feeding off each others’ passion. It was energizing. We’re already looking forward to the next one.

Personally, I’ve always been a bit…unfocused…when dreaming. My initial “Risk” was obedience. That sounds pretty odd, but it’s true. You can read more about it here. The journey led me to some unexpected places. My walk with God has always led me on adventures into the unknown that far surpass my own vision.

IMG_0183So I wrote. And I finished. I invested in others. I took pictures. I taught. I went on a mission trip. We brought a kiddo into our family. We watched her leave 9 months later.

Basically, I had adventures. Then I told stories.

Over the entire year I struggled to define “my thing.” My twitter bio used to say “Defies classification and cannot be stereotyped.” Here I was…trying to classify myself. Trying to find the right box to put myself in. I continued to pursue. I continued to attempt to obey. I discovered I don’t have a box-shaped life.

Then I spoke. I presented at our conference. Between the presentation prep and then soaking in the other extraordinary speakers, the fog lifted. The answer is “YES.” All that. All those things…the community, writing, photography, adventures, and–most important–obedience…they all combine into “me.” It’s something that I can share with the world.

Now one year in, I’ve found clarity. I’ve got a mission. Dare I say…I’ve got a brand?

Have adventures. Tell stories.

That’s my life. That’s my story.

Tell Stores

Have adventures. Tell stories.