When my sister’s artwork unraveled me.

One of the most frequent activities we do at Wipe Every Tear is art therapy. It’s not anything official, we just put art supplies on the floor and our sisters express their hearts–the good, bad, and ugly–on the pieces of paper in front of them. Sometimes they create something simple and exquisite, sometimes it’s a watercolor piece that bleeds off the page, and sometimes girls just write. It gets messy, paint splattered everywhere, pencils strewn across the tile, everyone sprawled out, working on their projects.

The other night, a specific painting touched my heart.

Allow me to frame this for a moment.  Lately, I’ve been wrestling with so much shame. I mean, heavy shame, that feels like a crushing cement disc on my chest, stealing my thoughts and joy the longer it sits on me. I know I’m a missionary out here in the Philippines, but man, I struggle. I hurt. I wrestle. I fail. I cry. I sweat. Life isn’t one massive sunrise out here; often it’s a dark night. I’ve realized that there is a deep brokenness in my heart and that I need Jesus more than ever. I just never allowed myself to be stretched enough to recognize the ugly lurking in my heart.

With that said, accepting the Lord’s love and goodness for me has been a real challenge lately. Seems ironic, amidst me constantly reminding the ladies in our care that Jesus has eradicated their sin and shame and that they are no longer chained to their pasts. But when my soul is the sail amidst the tempest, its harder to navigate the way to the Cross.

Yet the love of Jesus has become more real to me here. I can’t even describe it, how much I feel at the true recognition not of just His forgiveness towards me, but how much He truly forgives, each and every day.  This concept of tidal-wave love is equally as overwhelming as my shame–and exponentially more, actually–but it’s weight is sweet and peaceful. Like finally crashing into bed at the end of a long day, no longer obligated to fight off sleep. It just comes, like an inescapable blanket, and washes over.

I sensed the touch of Jesus tonight, as we colored and painted. It was like He pulled the covers over me again, the blankets of his love and grace and mercy.

As we began our evening, one of my sisters started a drawing, barely managing to scribble one figure before she decided she didn’t like the way it looked, and wanted to draw something else. She crumpled the paper, and tossed it aside.

The sister seated to the right of me carefully picked up the page, flattened it out again, and began adding various colors to its center.

I watched as she would pick up her paper and allow each watery droplet of color to run along the crumpled lines, like a stream relocating its course at the first rain after the dry season.  Over and over, she repeated this gesture until every edge was adorned with color.

As she drew to a close with work, she crowned her piece with a red heart, drawn around the summit of paint.

The Lord spoke so deeply to me in that moment.

For all the times I’ve felt like a crumpled, used, discarded piece of paper, He’s picked me up, turned me over, and headed straight to work creating beauty from my plain and simple ugliness.

He doesn’t try too hard to straighten out my edges or cover up my scars. Instead He adds color and creates something out of their unique design. When He’s finished with me, my scars stand out more than they did before, but they constitute my story. They serve as my testimony of God making a masterpiece out of my rough edges and wounds.  My ugliness now has a purpose of letting others know what is waiting for them at the moment of their brokenness: love, patience, care, acceptance, healing, freedom, future, hope.

And the heart. The crowning beauty. The feature that ties this whole piece together and gives it the ultimate meaning.

Jesus’ love is what collects the pieces of my life, the discarded and the ugly, and uses His creative hand to work a miracle out of the chaos. The blood red of the heart reminds me of the only thing that will actually clean me and give me purpose. Only Jesus, only His sacrifice, only His life, can set me free and make me whole.

I truly was shaken (in a fantastic way) by this piece. I told my sister that she truly had allowed the Lord to speak through her artwork, and it was true. The Lord pierced my shame and anxiety that night with a simple, pure depiction of Jesus’ love.

Living here, doing ministry with Wipe Every Tear, and simply developing friendships with my sisters here is such a humbling experience.  I realize I am right alongside them on my own journey of healing and freedom.  Sure, we come from very different and distant corners of the earth, and we have varying sources of our wounds and points where we failed and fell short of God’s glory.  But now we are here, doing life together in the Philippines.  Merely watching the Lord speaking so personally to my sisters is what pierces the hardness in my own heart and conducts an Ezekiel 36:26 heart-transplant.  My stony, calloused heart is becoming clean and supple again by the lives of these women and by the sweet love of Jesus.

What a joy it is to know that God takes the crumpled, discarded, wasted pieces of my life and creates something beautiful.  That’s what He does with all of us.

That’s Right, I Saw That…

In most ways, I’m getting fairly accustomed to the differences of lifestyle here in the Philippines, as opposed to my life in Boise.  For the most part, I’m starting to be okay with almost always being sweaty to some degree.  I am also now taking advantage of the moments when I’m caught in endless streams of Manila traffic as times to think, process, and pray.  I’m used to refrigerating every opened package of food, even nuts and uncooked pasta because ants are the real deal here.  And I actually have a rice cooker that I use willingly and regularly, sometimes even for breakfast.

But there are some experiences, some things I see and stories I hear, that I’ll probably never, ever get used to.  I’ll probably always find humor in the garbage men taking naps atop the mountain of trash loaded on the truck as it hauls down the road at 40 mph.  On a more serious note, I probably won’t ever get used to seeing filthy little kids on overpasses, asleep with a Jollibee cup in hand and 20 pesos inside.

During this last outreach trip to Angeles City, I had a conversation in a bar with one of the parents who attended the Parent Vision Trip through Adventure in Missions.  As my Filipina sister and I led our team through the slimy bars on Walking Street, there were multiple times throughout the night where I noticed the momma’s heart of one sweet lady on my team breaking over and over again.  Every time a girl rubbed her scantily clad skin to relieve herself from an overly air-conditioned stage, or teeter in her skyscraper stilettos, I swore this lady nearly jumped out of her seat to clothe her with the shawl on her back.  Every time a customer did something violating to the dancers, I thought I’d see a purse come slamming down on someone’s head.

But I didn’t.  And as we sat on the torn, pleather seats of the last bar we attended that evening, I fell into a conversation with this momma.  She asked me some pretty tough, thought-provoking questions.

How do you see this stuff so often and keep coming back?

How do you handle these experiences and sleep at night?

Truthfully, dwelling on the fact that a highly-paid dancer at one of these bars gets paid $5 for dancing on a stage all night in a bikini and stilettos while men harass and violate her really does make it hard for me to sleep comfortably in my safe bed.  And knowing that she can get forcibly plastered by men buying her drinks, where she receives the commission of a subway sandwich is even harder.  And the truth that someone can buy her for the night for the price of a jacket at the mall simply takes the cake.

How does one handle all the evil that happens on Walking Street?

Well I’ll be the first Jesus-loving, God-fearing, spirit-filled, Christian to say that at first, it makes my image of God look a little dark.  And I am not about to go into a theological debate over why bad things happen to good people because I don’t have that answer yet, and maybe never will.  I still know in the depths of my heart that if the God I love and know is true, then His heart is completely wrecked over His daughters’ oppression.  I don’t have to question His character.

And as we sit on those bar seats that have seen too much evil throughout the decades of Walking Street’s existence, I wonder if what I’m witnessing isn’t an accident.

We are Jesus’ hands and feet, right?  We as Christians, according to 1 Corinthians 12, are actually called the body of Christ.  If the purpose of our lives was to get saved and go to Heaven, then we might as well just die at the altar (sorry that’s a little dark), but I think you hear what I’m trying to convey.  Jesus loves us so much that He not only came to earth to die and save us, but to use His life as a model so that when He returned to the Father’s side, we could partner with Him, and embody the love of Christ as we do Kingdom Work.  In other words, perhaps we are the eyes that see evil, connected to the hands that reach out, connected to the legs that carry out Kingdom endeavors, connected to the head that gives practical gospel and direction (like helping bar girls go to school), which is connected to the heart.  And I mean, The Heart—The Father’s Heart. 

And that heart is so sweet on the broken.  Jesus’ heart is absolutely, 100% for every one of those girls’ chance at living and experiencing true freedom.  But for Jesus’ body to truly be aware of the task at hand, and for us to adopt the Father’s Heart for the broken, sometimes we have to see messed up things.  Sometimes we have to endure sleepless nights for people who hardly ever sleep soundly.  But how wonderful it is, that God chose me, a young, reserved, quirky, brunette, green-eyed, freckled, 20-year-old girl from Idaho to be His partner in doing Kingdom business.  And He is calling you, and you, and you, dear readers, to be His partners as well.

That thought reawakened something in me as I sat next to that mom on that bar seat that night.  I had a new resolve to be more aware of what I see, and decide what I can contribute to the need I perceive around me.  No, I can’t feed every starving kid in Manila, as much as I wish I could.  But I can continue to fight for the 64 girls who call Wipe Every Tear home, and whenever the Lord allows me to see something that pricks my heart, I will fight for them too, even if it’s only 5 pesos in a Jollibee cup.

I am not responsible for what people do with my love, kindness, and generosity.

I am highly responsible for the heart that sits inside my chest, the cultivation of it, and the love, generosity, and kindness that can, should, and will pour out of it.

So I ask: what do you see today that’s broken?  Is it a starving child or an abused neighbor?  Is it the homeless in Manila or the homeless under the bridge near your grocery store?  Is it the trafficked girl or the burned-out, single mother?  Allow yourself to be more broken for the broken.  Adopt the Heart of the Father for your community.  Be very brave, and very kind. 

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead.”

– James 2:14-17

Renovation of Me

My life was like a run-down house when you found me—a paled shack, really.  My paint was peeling, revealing my aged soul.  The windows were dimmed by the dust and grime of weathering circumstances.  They fogged oustiders’ view of seeing who I really was, and what I could offer if only I was given a chance.  My grayed door barely hung on its hinges, made fragile by one-too-many slams to my heart, and useless in its job to prevent trespassers.  My roof was missing shingles as the winds of many years howled at me, threatening me with every breath. Inside, the once radiant furniture and wall-hangings were covered by filthy sheets of legalism.  These beautiful pieces once offered rest, peace, and joy.  But over time, they only took up space, slowly decaying with complacency.  Outside, the flowers browned and withered, planted in dry dirt.  Thistles and brambles climbed up the railings and walls, as if to menacingly drive away anyone who dared approach me.  There were cracks in my foundation, deep gashes in the cement caused by greed, lust, pride, shame, and bitterness.  These cracks caused me to simply exist as a staggering frame of a home.

This residency now resembled a ghost.  People used to enter the structure of me and leave refreshed, knowing that there was something about me, something that exuded a life and life abundant.  But over time, I had forgotten about upkeep.  I’d forgotten to clean, to polish, to renovate, remove, and replenish.  I’d neglected to consult the Grand Architect on how I should keep my space up-to-date and ready for use.  The result was messy, broken, and unlivable.

Finally, when I couldn’t take much more, I cried out to the Master Builder.  My words woke up my heart and filled it with the relish of newness, with the joy of coming transformation.

“God!”  I cried.  “I’ve had enough!  My life is in shambles; You once called me a resting place and now my life is ashes!  Make me new again!”

So He did.  He tore me down.  In times, it felt dangerous, but I never once felt harmed.  And in times, it was gentle.  But it was never sugar-coated.  Through His entire process of transforming my life, He did exactly what He needed to do with enough authority, determination, and intention to set me back up with strength.

Plank by plank, brick by brick, my old and shameful frame came tumbling.  He ripped my life from its broken foundation.  He filled my cracks and mounted His work upon the characteristics of Himself.  My once deteriorating structure was now composed of love, kindness, patience, gentleness, goodness, peace, joy, and self-control.  He formed me with his blueprints, and determined where each piece should go.  My home began to grow, my life gained height, depth and breadth.  My walls were made of Him, my floors, made of Him, my ceiling, yes, made of Him.

He smashed out the old windows, and installed panes that were clear as a desert sky at midnight.  Those who passed by could see the transformation happening.  Windows once darkened by painful and shameful experiences now offered light and hope.  They gleamed like bright flames despite how cold the weather was around me.  They offered the evidence that something miraculous was happening within the place where they once claimed “nothing good will come from that life.”

He installed a new door, attached fresh hinges on its frame, and polished the handle.  No longer was it a testimony of hurt and loneliness, but of strength and protection.  It stood bright in pigment, washed by the crimson that came from the Cross, and welcomed those seeking refuge inside.  At the same time, it remained as a barrier of conviction, shouting a firm “no” to those people and things that threatened the genuineness of my soul and the atmosphere of this home.

Once the structure was replenished, He wasted no time in refreshing the insides.  He tossed off the sheets of religion from my furniture, and polished up the filthy and worn pieces of my life.  With each new chair, He added to my calling.  Every wall hanging and picture frame served as memories and reminders of how my life had added to His Kingdom.  There wasn’t a scent or trace of phony legalism or heavy burdens.  I asked Him, “why are you so generous in adding to my life?  Isn’t the renovation enough?  Why have you furnished my life with your goodness?  Why have you adorned my home with the dreams of my heart?”

He replied so beautifully that it brought me to my knees.  “Your life is a home in my Kingdom.  I will not only transform you and make you a place for me and my people, but I will equip you to draw others in to me.  Your life will be a place to find rest, hope, and love.  Others will know that when they come to you, they find me always inhabiting this space.  I am generous in my renovations because I care.  I care about you, and I care about those around you.  I am passionate about making you a place of praise.  I desire you to be built on a healthy foundation, with renewed joy and enthusiasm, and the fullness of an abundant life.  I don’t simply change what’s wrong about you.  I am never stingy in my plans.”

“Oh, my dear Jesus,” I said simply. “What else could you possibly add now?  You’ve done it all.  You’ve broken me down and built me back up.  You’ve strengthened me, perfected me, and unraveled me all at once.  You’ve put purpose back into me.  You’ve put life in my walls.  You’ve brightened me to my core.  What more could I ask?”

And then he added color.  Splashes of paint!  Bright lines of trim!  Flowers of red, blue, and purple hung along the railings and in the yard, luscious, verdant grass covered the soil.  Sprawling trees gave shade and life, while the sunshine poured its light down as it traveled through each day’s sky.  From the top, down and from the inside, out, vibrancy filled me and covered me and sprung forth from me.  The grayness of me was washed away and the dirt was scrubbed off.  All that could be seen was adorned by the abundance of the Master Builder, the once who makes beautiful things from dust.

Now when people come here, I am happy.  My life used to turn people away, and now it’s a place that attracts individuals with a spectrum of stories.  They will ask me, “how did you get your house to look this way?”  I just smile and say, “you know, it wasn’t always like this.  But thank God for coming along and remodeling my life.  Do you want to meet Him?  He lives here now.  He couldn’t stay away from His work.  He never leaves a job undone, and He never lets His plans go to waste.  And He never leaves the ones He loves.”

Yes, he really does live here.  He inhabits the space of my life.  I need him for the upkeep.  He continually fills the cracks in my foundation, and adds photos to the walls of all the things we do together.  And He’s more hospitable than me.  Whenever I want to keep His creation to myself, He invites someone new inside, and soon I realize how silly I am.  And each person who stumbles upon this place becomes a pleasure as I watch Him remodel their places and spaces with newness and color.  What’s more, I want Him.  I want Him to be part of everything I do now.  He keeps my life full with joy, humor, and expectancy.

I could go on and on, I really could.  But I’ll just say this one thing: let Him in.  Sometimes the transformation is painful, especially when He breaks down your life and cleans it.  But He never leaves you that way.  He always brings His unique purpose to your space and makes it something radiant.  So let Him in, let Him in, let Him in.  Give Him permission him wreck you, build you, and adorn you with all that is good.  Allow Him to bring abundance into your life and I promise, you’ll never want Him to leave.