all things new

shephrt

This is not a street in Wales, but it sure could be.

When God makes a promise, He never forgets.  And all those heart-longings that ebb and flow, pulse and throb through the years hanging on like battered washing on the line braving life’s gales.  No matter how wind-blown and storm-besieged, not one, not the faintest whisper goes unnoticed by Him as His heart cradles ours.

There has been so much going on this last year.  So much I could not write.  Even more I didn’t have words for.  Transition can be a foggy time when shadows seem real and the contraction of what was before overwhelming.  But nothing new ever gets born without transition and contraction. 

Now I stand on the other side of it all with fresh understanding and renewed purpose. It is hard to believe that last year at this time I was neck deep in slogging through the most painful season of my life thus far.  And if you know my life, well… that is a strong statement.

Pictured above is the street and entrance to a precious refuge for my heart, spiritual family, healthy community and leaders who are committed to look after me in the days ahead.  We all need that.  How things have come full circle!

Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship is now my sending church and they are picking up the processing of my mission support.  And they just happen to have a monastery as their residence, houses of prayer forming, a decades-old beautiful ministry to the poor, deep commitment to follow Holy Spirit, creative expression overflowing and as I sat there with my friends of now 14 years, I realized everything God has been putting in me and stirring is reflected in their hearts as well.  Right down to walking in the reality embodied by the ancient Celtic lovers of Jesus as they lived out missional monastic community on a wild journey into His heart.

I still don’t have words.  There is so much more than I can share or express.  And grateful is a cosmic understatement.  It even looks like Wales, a place that has so captured my heart.  Driving down the slopes we pass a street named “Welsh Way.” Everywhere I turned there was more confirmation.  And God sealed it with a snowfall as I was leaving to come back to Florida.  Snow always speaks to me of Him making all things new, washing even the most penetrating stains in white.

So what now?  What does this mean for me as I forge forward into a new season with Create 61 and life here in Florida? 

It means I have a spiritual home base in Pennsylvania.  It looks like family and collaboration and authentic relationship.  Very practically it also means I have a new way to process personal support for ministry. Thank you for your amazing faithful support as I served in Africa the last 7 years.  And I totally understand if you wish to keep supporting those on the front lines there.  But for any of you who want to give financially and partner with what God is doing in this new season of my life, now there is an easy {and tax-deductible} way for you to do so! You can give online via a dedicated PayPal link as well as by check.  I so appreciate your faithful love and support.  It is more needed than ever in this new season.

And what exactly am I doing in Florida?

I am focused on mentoring and raising up others to go and serve in missions, both domestically and internationally.  I’m establishing a church expression and ministry base called Create 61 with the vision for it to serve as a vehicle providing a practical missional context to explore church planting models here in the West that will train participants in skills and understanding critical to the mission field, next door and abroad. I continue to walk in relationship with Iris Global and remain open to serve them in any way God asks.

Create 61 is supporting local outreach to the homeless on the First Coast.  We have launched a monthly creative worship gathering called Mosaic. Soon our missional microcommunities will be launching as will a ministry that focuses on going into local clubs to pray, be present and simply to show His love to the women who work in them. God is moving powerfully and it is an honor to use the skills and experience I have learned from over 15 years on the front line of serving the marginalized to see another generation of missionaries launched heart-first into the dreams of God.

And it is an honor to keep learning more every step of the way.  Thank you for being such a vital part of what God is doing through your prayers, generosity and encouragement.  More on this new season coming soon…

You are Loved- Michele

his face

sonofgod

From IMDb.com

It has been forever since I have written here.  For-ev-er.  Health battles, speaking in several states, God’s amazing faithfulness and yes, more health battles.  Because I am quite sure you have better things to do than listen to a litany of every time I am poked and prodded or a new doctor has a go at figuring out my medical mysteries, well I just haven’t had a lot to write.   Probably I have more to write on than I think, but when a trip to the grocery store qualifies as an epic event in my week, the energy to put words on a page is just a little scant.  I am trying to get back on a schedule that will find me here more than not.  But trying is the operative word.

Mom and I went to see Son of God today.  I hesitated even posting on Facebook that I had seen it.  Because I knew some would want my opinion and opinions in the world of social media psuedo-anonymity can be dangerous things that create unhelpful debates.  I really don’t like debate even when it is helpful.  And most of what I have seen online is unproductive at best.  So with that all said and a caveat that this is just my opinion, here goes.

Ever since Jesus walked into my room and introduced Himself to me when I was seven, I have been ruined for even the best of Hollywood’s efforts.  The Jesus I know looks ethnically Middle Eastern, and I’ve never seen anyone remotely ethnically similar be cast for his role.  But it’s His eyes that are hard enough to describe let alone capture after walking with Him for over two decades.  I have no idea how people, no matter how gifted, who haven’t had the benefit of walking with Him could even begin to capture as much as they do.  And I am speaking generally here.  I wouldn’t presume to know what is in the hearts of those who created Son of God or any other rendering.

I’ve read some very critical, even harsh scene-by-scene dissections of the movie that seem to forget it is movie by Hollywood.  It is not a sermon or a Bible study on the Gospels.  I didn’t go expecting a theologically flawless retelling of the life of Jesus. I could tell it was less than that from the trailer. This was a movie. It never claimed to be a Scriptural anything.

Some of the details I have read others be frustrated by, really don’t bother me because 1. It’s not a sermon. 2. It’s not a Bible study. 3. It never pretends to be.  There are a WHOLE lot of details we don’t have written down that happened in between the parts that are written down so that alone leaves a little room for artistic interpretation.

What about that line in the book of John that there would not be enough books in all the world to contain what Jesus did?  Leaves even more room.  How much?  I’m sure we could swallow whole days chatting about that and still have as many opinions as participants in the conversation.  And that isn’t really the main point, is it?

{I am not in any way advocating creating new extra-biblical doctrine by the way.  Jesus gave us the written word He did for a reason.  It is simply impossible to ever rightly interpret the written word apart from a real relationship with the Living Word.  Jesus isn’t confined by Scripture, He is revealed by it.}

I think God will speak to hungry hearts using just about anything, so how much even more so especially something like this.

Artistically speaking… forgive me ahead of time for being a picky artist.  These are not meant to be statements of merit, merely of preference.  The cinematography, lighting, camera angles, panoramic vistas and overall artistry was gorgeous in parts {not including obvious CGI renders of Jerusalem}. The story-telling being framed through the life of John on Patmos an ingenious angle.  Some of the special effects were average being kind {when put next to epic saga films like Lord of the Rings.  Yes I did see the trilogy and no I don’t recommend them} and the acting was light years better than most genre “Christian films” {if this film can even be considered such as it had Hollywood production talent in it.}

Then there was the character of Jesus.  Honestly, I felt like I was 10 again.  Disappointed after seeing my first cinematic portrayal of Jesus… that they got the eyes wrong. And the skin color and the voice.  Except I’m not ten.  I have had 26 more years to get to know His voice and His eyes, so I perhaps I’m even pickier now.  Peter looked a bit closer to the part than Jesus did, again in my opinion.

I went in with slightly skeptical lenses because I’ve been looking since I was 7 for a realistic portrayal. And I have yet to find one. The actor portraying Jesus really did give it his all- you could tell. He seemed to have a beautiful heart. But he felt pressured and canned to me- can you imagine?  Play the Son of God and get it right? The whole world will be watching, with their blogs and facebook walls ready to fire, right up to how many nose hairs you have thanks to high def everything.

My purely unprofessional {I’m not an actress save my legendary stage appearances at ages 4 and 9} and possibly unsolicited thoughts.  It seems to me like the actor playing Jesus was always trying to become the character instead of simply being “in character”.  I could feel him trying really hard, as if he was deeply concerned about getting it right.  And rightfully so!  But his filter of what “right” was got superimposed on his character portrayal and even the cadence of speech delivering his lines.  He obviously had a picture of Jesus as the gentle soft spoken, cheesy “nice” guy.  A somewhat anemic, hyper-nice version of Jesus with sing-songy voice was prevalent throughout. {I did wonder if they might spontaneously belt out a musical number from Jesus Christ, Superstar.}

I couldn’t articulate the reason for my frustration when I was ten.  I can now.  Jesus just doesn’t sound like that.  Or look like that.  Or act like that.

Jesus is gentle.  He is the kindest person I’ve ever known.  He can be very soft-spoken.  But His whisper can send worlds spinning into place and storm waves crashing to a halt.  There is more power in one whispered word from Him than all the shouts of every major world leader from time began till time ends put together.  I didn’t see any understanding of what that authority might even begin to sound like.

I have no idea whether the actor portraying Jesus knows Him personally or not, but I can’t even imagine how impossible it would be to portray Him accurately without knowing Him experientially for yourself.  And even then.  In my book, this guy gets an A+ for effort at the very least.

The movie did some things well, others not as much, but overall everyone sure seemed to give it everything they had. The Jesus character’s dialogue could have used some caffeine, the timeline less minutes and the movie less opera. But as I said above, I’m a picky artist. These are just my opinions. I was however thrilled I did not once feel preached at in this film. {That’s a whole other topic for another time.}

What has my attention is the response at the box office that reveals a hunger for knowing Who Jesus really is rising in our nation.  I’m ever grateful we still live in a country free to applaud at the end which our theater did.  Regardless of what I liked and/or didn’t like, make no mistake, He will use this movie. I just pray we will put down our social media debates long enough to open our hearts to what part we who DO know the very real, very alive Son of God might play in revealing Him to hungry, seeking hearts around us.

Let’s make a choice to demonstrate the beauty, love and grace of Who He is STILL to a searching world and not get lost in a debate of Who He isn’t or should have been in the movies.  Let’s be so filled that we overflow with His unstoppable love and grace-filled truth that many millions desperately need.  They may or may not find His face in this film, but beloved church they sure should find His face in ours.

You are loved.-Michele

when dreaming is a scary thing

tosaveanation-1 copy Almost eight years ago I first set foot on African soil.  I landed sick, a band of shingles creeping its away around my back.  Sores erupted somewhere over the Atlantic.  I googled my symptoms in Heathrow and managed to find the one open clinic once I landed in the swarming Tazanian metropolis of Dar Es Salaam, Arabic for “the abode of peace.” How a capital city gets named in Arabic when the primary language is Swahili and is nothing like its naming is just one of the many idiosyncrasies rooted in this continent’s red soil.

I hired a car and ventured into the bustle, alone and sick.  The doctor I found told me I must not have an immune system and should leave the continent immediately. I smiled and asked for my medication.  Slept a few hours and got promptly on another plane to my first destination.  I had a dream so strong on the inside of me I couldn’t have turned back even if I wanted to.  I had a God-sized dream the shape of a nation that didn’t yet exist.

My time in Africa was an ongoing boxing match with sickness.  What held me through it all was the dream God put so deep in my heart, it kept me alive as much as breath itself.  Each life saved, each child brought home the dream came a little bit more true.  Through many rounds of AK-47 fire, rebel attacks, lack of food, life-threatening sickness, His dream held me steady in the swirling storm of a nation’s pent-up pain threatening to rip it apart at what few seams were stitched up.

These children, these beautiful peace-maker sons and daughters whom I am so privileged to have walked with even a short distance… lifted their hands in surrender and embraced His dream for their nation.  Even now they are carrying His dreams in the face of all that threatens.  My mama-heart standing with them a world away.

And then for me it was over.  Seven years flashed by, my body gave out and circumstances forced a brutal transition I never would have wanted to make.  A transition that leaves a nation-shaped hole in my heart, the loss of 150 children I love as my own.  Last year my world and the dreams it contained exploded.  This year I see only pieces and truthfully, I’m not sure how one moves forward with only pieces.

Today I was reminded by a sister I love very much {Thank you Ann}: You’ve got to look for the glory and hunt for the grace and seize beauty in ugly and laugh brave and defiant in the dark and you can lose everything but nothing can steal Jesus and He is enough and you have got. to. live. {Read the rest of her incredible words here.}

I  hold on to these words as if they are air. Because they are truth and truth is like air.  You can’t live without it.

Dreaming again, having a dream at all, is utterly terrifying.  White-sheet pale faced, nail biting, hair standing on end terrifying and I am not able to.  Not on my own.

Then there is this thing a few of us are stumbling toward called Create 61I’m holding on because I trust Jesus knows what He’s doing even when I don’t.  And because He’s holding on to me and won’t let go.   It is church like you’ve possibly only seen if you’ve been blessed enough to worship under a mango tree with sons and daughters found in Africa or in hidden villages in Asia or in slums in India.

c61tm-1We don’t have a building.  We don’t have a meeting on Sunday morning.  Create has been nurtured a year in the secret place with a team that is more family than team and a vision to see little communities of world-changers birthed to live as family too all over this city and even beyond.

Just maybe that’s why there is so much pain in the Body today. We have lost in so many places the idea of what healthy family looks like.  Most people my age {I’m 36} and younger don’t have a clue what a whole family would look like and there’s a hole in the their heart longing for something that is whole.

We don’t have a building because a building might constrain what we feel God longs to do with us.  It might define it in a way that is unhelpful.  We don’t have a building because we simply don’t need one right now, not because we think buildings are wrong.  After living in mud huts I can tell you buildings are total blessings!  And our not having a collective meeting on Sunday morning has nothing to do with thinking Sunday morning meetings are wrong either.  We simply want to honor those expressions of church in our community that do meet then and allow for people who feel called to be part of both to have a chance to do just that.

This weekend it all moves forward in one giant leap of faith.  And part of me is just plain quivering because it feels like a dream and dreams are still very scary things. I was meeting with our core team last night at our family time and spilling my heart, because that’s what families do.  Provide a safe spill zone for messy hearts.

Listening to them dream about what’s ahead, something happened in meI began to realize maybe I can’t dream on my own right now because I’m not supposed to.  Most of my life I have dreamed crazy dreams and then had to carry them and everyone that came around them and that is mighty tiring, let me say.

What God is doing now in our midst is less about 1 or 2 people leading the charge and more about a family who dreams His dreams together and then trusts enough to fly into the unknown to embrace them.  What I can’t right now do on my own because I am still more bruised than brave, I can embrace with my brothers and sisters at my side.  And maybe that has Papa’s greatest dream all along.

mosaiccardIf you are in the north Florida area, you are most welcome to join us for Mosaic, our first monthly creative worship gathering.  We’ll be worshiping in song and waiting on Him together as well as have multiple stations where you can explore and experience new ways of connecting creatively with God’s heart with paint and words and much much more. And you absolutely do not have to be an artist, just hungry for more of Who He is.  2-5pm in Mandarin this Saturday afternoon.  Please email create61jax@gmail.com for the exact address and to let us know you are coming.

Remember, We Are Never Alone

undermango-1

As the conflict continues in South Sudan and almost 200,000 people are displaced from their homes, today I remember a journey to the front lines of conflict in 2011.  Please remember with me. And pray.

TURALEI, SOUTH SUDAN :: June 25, 2011

We arrived Awiel on Saturday morning prepared to set out immediately for the border with Abyei.  A small dusty blink of a town home to the tens of thousands fleeing the destruction of their worlds was our destination.  In the middle of trying to arrange transport and purchase fuel, word comes that marauding militias from northern areas had pillaged the area two nights in a row.  We could not proceed.    We decided the next morning we would rise before the sun, take off at first light and return by sun down.  It was a 5 hour journey over barely there roads one way.

The next morning, we shook sleep from our eyes before light peeked over the horizon.   We purchased two huge grain sacks filled with warm fresh bread and off we set.  Villages of Wonyjok, Malual Bai, Akon, Gogrial, and then Wunrok pass by as we drove through landscapes dotted with palm trees where cattle shared the road.

We stopped for a security report at the WFP base in Wunrok.  All was calm in the day the report comes.  On we go.  Nearing the border with the north, we approached Turalei.  Temporary shelters lined the road and filled the open spaces.  We pulled into the dusty center of the market and I flagged down a UN vehicle with two very bewildered westerners and an Asian driver.

Concern crossed their faces.  “You aren’t planning to stay the night?” they worriedly asked.  “What organization are you with? It is very unstable here.”  I was passed a card to call in emergency.  They obviously were not planning on staying long.

We find out that thousands of refugees fled just that morning deeper into the bush to escape the threat of attacks.  We wound our way through some grass mat huts in a field until we happened on a family under a mango tree.  Joy filled my heart at being there despite the real safety risks.  I really have never done tame well.

undermango-2Mama Lina (in the green with her arm around me) came up and enveloped me her arms.  Her eyes glistening.  Her children laughing.  Sitting on a grass mat, the only thing left from their former home in Abyei, they opened their hearts and stories to us.  You would think they were simply having a picnic.  I was undone by their welcome.

They narrated their last weeks.  Bombs started to fall and militias with guns blazing came in setting fire to all in their path.  The story was being repeated again.  The tragedy again.  The ethnic cleansing of a region violently engulfing the people as their world exploded all around them and they ran.  For hours they ran.  Not knowing if children were safe or loved ones were alive.  Running for their very lives with nothing.

These were somehow the lucky ones.  They did not become separated in the chaos.  I will never forget this mama gazing deep into my heart, moist eyes shining and she who ran from bombs living with her children under a mango tree with no protection from marauding militias, this one, SHE grabbed me close and held me long.

She leaned low and whispered His faithfulness.  He will care for you.  Don’t worry about your leg.  He will never leave you.  He will always be there.  Remember, we are never alone.

I choked back tears.  I seriously wanted to pull up a grass mat under the next mango tree and become their neighbor.  I will never forget how Jesus looked at me through Mama Lina’s eyes.  I am stunned again today at the generosity, the compassion and the riches of those we call poor. I left part of my heart under their tree. I still long for the day I can go back and find it.  It has been an honor to walk with my South Sudanese brothers and sisters and call their land home for seven years.  They having nothing, have everything that matters. I am still learning from that.

Read about how the base I started in Yei just gave 90% of their supplies to serve refugees fleeing the present day conflict to their north. It is a real life glimpse into what revival really looks like, what radical trust means and what living in God’s love is all about.  It is such joy to watch them continue to flourish and grow.

Would you like to be a part of the miracle that is unfolding in Yei?  Here’s how you can sow into what God is doing.  Thank you so much for standing with those I love in prayer and for your continued generosity toward the peoples of South Sudan.

Finding the Off Button

offbtn-1For years I have said, I need to find the off button for my brain.  It is usually firing on all cylinders with new ideas all day {and night} long.  Downtime to me is doing 2 things instead of 5.  For the last year, I have had the hardest time getting to sleep at night, which of course affects everything else during the day.

I tried cutting out caffeine.  Didn’t work.  Caffeine actually is calming at night for me.  Go figure that.  I tried quoting every sleep scripture I could find. Psm 127:2 was my nightly anchor.  I tried my timeless trick for overcoming jet lag before it lags and me with it. {Mentally set your clock to where you are going and stay up until it is their time to go to bed. Viola!}

Yesterday, I went back to my doctor to hear the results on the plethora of things I was being tested for.  I had a clean and I do mean squeaky clean bill of health according to the lab work.  Thank You Jesus.  And thank you for praying for me.

Our working theory now is that after 7+ years of being beat up overseas with poor nutrition, little to no quality sleep, extreme stress {war zones are stressful anyway you cut it regardless of HOW much faith you have in them}, 18 rounds of a super-nasty strain of malaria, a plethora of other tropical bugs and a crazy transition year, my body has just basically said, “I’m done being ignored. My turn now.”

{Regardless of the impact, I can tell you this: It has been worth it all to see God pouring out on my family in S Sudan now in the middle of crisis. I am beyond grateful.}

My doc said basically, “Eat 3 meals a day.  Sleep 8 hours or more a night.  Exercise.  Spend time outside.”  And I laughed.  Three meals a day.  Really?  {I am not a big eater, rarely cook and am the antithesis of a foodie.} And 8 hours.  I really laughed.  So I told him my sleep dilemma.

His response.  “Your circadian rhythms are off.”  My circus-what?  Huh?  Dim memories from 10th grade bio made the phrase vaguely familiar.  But I couldn’t quite pull them forward clearly enough to see the definition.

He explained and told me, no more high def TV {I don’t have any TV, so check on that one}, no iPad and no computer 2 hours before bed.  Seriously? I’ve been glued to my screens waiting to feel sleepy until 2 minutes before bed.  And apparently that has been part of the problem.

High def screens emit a full-light spectrum {my Kindle Paper White is fine thankfully} and trick your brain into thinking it is still daylight outside, which translates into wakeful chemicals being produced by a really confused brain and sleep remaining elusive.

Fully committed to become healthy and do my part in taking care of myself {for once}, I dutifully turned off my computer/iPad about 10:15pm last night.  Read a little in my Kindle, journaled and climbed into bed.  And I was out like a light.  Stranger still I woke up with the dawn 90 minutes before my alarm was set.

I realized this morning as I had my cup of coffee, in South Sudan, at night my battery would have died and with no more stored power, sleep was inevitable and came quickly. Being bone tired all the time probably helped as well. Now I actually have to hit the off switch because we have power 24/7 here.

I am still learning the things that were absolutely so natural in Africa, have to be intentionally contended for in the West:   Sleep.  Relationships. Silence.  Intimacy with Jesus.  Solitude.  Family.  Freedom in worship.  Power {as in the heavenly kind}.  The interior life.  Hiddeness.  Simplicity.  I could go on but you get the drift.

To all my late night/creative friends out there who decide to check Facebook one more time or get one more blog post written before you turn in and then toss and turn chasing sheep… Try turning off your computer/iPad/HD TV 2 hours before bed and see what happens. Your brain may have just been confused like mine has been by the light spectrum thinking it was still daylight and it should be awake and you with it.  Definitely first world problems!

Who knew?  The off switch I have been looking for for years is the one found on my computer.  Selah.

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