When You Realize You’ve Changed…

I’m procrastinating by adding to the Pages documents opened on the dock of my MacBook, each one filled with the last month’s random thoughts that I’ve picked up on this road of being a missionary in the Philippines.  Maybe I’ll finish this one before the work day ends and I head down the street to lead devotions at one of the houses.  Or maybe this is a thought that the Lord will continue in me before I post it and that’s okay, too.  But here’s how I start my blog posts.  Hope you’re enjoying it so far…. 😉

So on another, completely different note, my phone was stolen yesterday.  Yes that’s right, my sleek, rose gold, iPhone 6s that honestly helped me keep myself organized and on time to the many pencil marks in my schedule.  It’s also the thing that made me look and feel a little out of place when I sat next to a man on the jeepney with dirty feet and a weathered face, or the one holding my instagram feed when I looked up and spotted the thinnest man I have ever seen in my whole life.

The contrast of wealth and poverty here is so drastic that sometimes I feel like I’m choking on it in the same way I choke on the exhaust that pours into my lungs when sitting in Manila traffic.  It sits on my palate and I honestly struggle through such mixed emotions as I wrestle in my soul over how the one who has so much and the one who has so little can be literal neighbors and never share so much as a conversation.

I am guilty.  I don’t know the scale of poverty of my neighbors, though I see it on a daily basis. There are still some things about my life here as a missionary that keep a bit of my “first world bubble” in tact, like owning an iPhone, yet God keeps inserting push pins into that ever-thinning wall, and I feel my comfort zone being dissolved.  And when my phone was stolen, I felt another prick in the bubble.

For a solid 20 minutes after realizing my phone was missing, I shuffled through emotions of panic, frustration, and confusion as I tried to retrace my steps and recover an item that held so much of my life on it.

And then I felt deeply convicted.  I live amongst women who once had a hard time finding enough to eat.  It was then I chose not to cry about my predicament.

Later that afternoon, a friend loaned me her old phone, and I went to the mall to get a SIM card for it.  I spent some time browsing to see what my options were about getting a new phone, to remedy the current temporary fix.

Even deeper conviction set in as I looked at options, knowing God had blessed me with a larger-than-expected tax return and I was able to purchase an older model of a still brand new iPhone right there on the spot.

I’m still discerning if what I felt at the mall was conviction or shame, but the feeling plummeted itself deep into my soul.  How could I drop this much money on the same day my phone was stolen when so many people have to choose which kid to feed today?

I’m still waiting and praying and deciding on what to do about the phone, but I want to talk about what’s going on in my heart right now.

How do you know God has changed the terrain of your heart?  When the things that you once didn’t bat an eye at are now the things that bat you in the gut.

In a way, I’m glad my phone was stolen, and for a handful of reasons.  First, it gave me an option to choose joy during a frustrating circumstance.  Second, it allowed me to not be a slave to things while operating in a ministry (and in a faith) that promotes freedom. Third, it allowed me to realize that God has undeniably renovated my heart.

So yeah, it is really frustrating to have someone steal something that holds scores of precious pictures, notes that contain pieces of writing that I haven’t had time to develop yet, and all the schedules and to-do lists that kept me organized.  But on the other side of things, there is nothing frustrating about a day where I spent the morning organizing the donations that came from several of our supporters.  I was surrounded by watercolors and ibuprofen and clothes and I was overwhelmed at God’s goodness.  And there’s also nothing frustrating about serving in a ministry where miracles happen daily, dating someone who challenges me and cares for me so well, or simply having breath in my lungs and strong legs to carry me on my run this morning.  And aside from God’s many blessings, I need no other reason to praise Him other than the fact that “he saved my eyes from tears, my soul from death, my feet from stumbling.”  So I chose joy.  Because all of the things I listed outweigh a stolen iPhone.

I also work for an organization called Wipe Every Tear, that works to offer freedom to women and ladyboys victimized by the sex trade through means of education.  We offer options at tangible freedom as well as offer opportunities to experience Jesus, the one who sets us free from sin, death, and the shame of our pasts.  I’m free, body, soul, and spirit, because of Jesus. And as I sat on the window seat in one of our safe houses yesterday, I realized that it is possible to exchange one form of slavery for another. It is as possible for me to be a slave to material things as it is to be trapped by a bar owner.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey?” Romans 6:16

Is my phone a greater source of joy for me than the One who supplied it?  Do I feel lost when I lose it?  Does it unwaveringly dictate the course of my day?  Does it dim my sight for the Kingdom?  These are all questions I must consider now before I simply go purchase a new phone.  Being raised in America, I realize now how much of my identity is in material things, and how much of those things I obey before I listen to the King of Kings.  I have profound qualms about operating in a ministry and professing a faith that promotes freedom while being wrapped around the finger of an inanimate object.

Finally, and most importantly, I thank God for this circumstance because it has given me room to discover that God has transformed my heart.  A year ago if this would have happened, I would have been much more crushed.  But in the very hour I lost my phone, I thought of others and the need in my community before I went out and made an expensive purchase.  I’m not saying this to toot my own horn because I still don’t know what kind of a phone I’m going to buy, and if I feel peace about getting a new iPhone, then I will get a new iPhone.  There’s no shame when the Lord blesses us.

However, I do cherish that my lost phone allowed me space to be more present in conversations and relationships with others.  I am thankful for the blessing of having the capacity to possess a nice iPhone in the first place.  And I’m overwhelmed with joy at the fact that God has cultivated my heart-soil so much that I am able to look and act more like Jesus when difficult things happen.  Again, not saying this to brag, except to boast that Jesus has been working in my heart and life, and that I’m not the same person I was a year ago.

So here I am at the end of the first draft of this post!  Hooray!  Hannah might actually finish this one. 

I may go get a new iPhone in a few days.  Or I may allow the Lord to teach me some more through this if He desires.  Either way, God is moving mountains of materialism and selfishness in my heart and that’s where I’m purposing my mind to dwell.  I am now sitting in a room at one of our beautiful safe houses, listening to several of my newly liberated sisters laugh and talk over dinner, and I breathe in freshly falling rain as the rainy season rolls into Manila.  God is very, very good.

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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.

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.