Sunday, November 2, 2014

It is the ability to choose which makes us human

There’s nothing like being far away from something to make you appreciate it even more.  It’s been a little over two months since I arrived here in the States, and I can’t even begin to define how much I miss the Dominican Republic.  Even though it’s the people I miss the most, the thought of a typical Dominican meal or a conversation over greca-brewed Santo Domingo coffee makes me smile.  It’s why when I’m on a plane arriving to the Dominican, I almost always tear up thinking about how much I love this place.  It’s why my trip to Peru this summer, as enjoyable as it was seeing a new culture, had me thinking about the Dominican constantly, and confirming quite a lot of things.  It’s why I find myself rummaging through tons of old photos that I have on my computer on a nearly day-to-day basis.  

There have been times that I’ve thought and even said that “God has put the Dominican Republic on my heart.”  I could never really explain it in any other way.  And yet I’ve always wondered what I truly meant by that.  Am I destined to live there forever?  And who am I to tell God where I belong, or is He the one telling me?  What if His plan for me wasn’t to move back to the Dominican Republic, but rather to stay here?  Would I reject that?  

In a moment of reflection outside, drinking coffee (the best kind of reflections), I realized that perhaps it wasn’t the Dominican Republic that God put on my heart, rather the Kingdom.  A Kingdom that encompasses the whole world and its people – a Kingdom that is put on our hearts and minds to seek Him first in all things, to show His glory, His love.  A Kingdom that is truly our identity – who God created us to be.  And with His Kingdom on my heart and mind, I made a choice.  A choice to love these people deeply and determinedly.  

I remember listening to a sermon so long ago that reminded us how important our hope was for others – and I believe that’s true wherever we are.  My time here in the States is just as important as my time in the Dominican Republic.  My day to day interactions with people should be just as hope-filled, and our joy goes with us no matter the location.

And although I’ve made the choice to love the Dominican Republic and its people, I cannot decipher what that looks like, and I don’t intend to.  I will keep dreaming with God, fleeing to Him in all my doubts, all my schemes.  For we must be careful in how we dream, or “they no longer feel as gifts, but rights and demands upon our lives. We don’t wait in anticipation; we advance in panic.”  ( 

 I love the Dominican Republic, and I know that God will lead me where He wants me if I’m committed to stand for the Kingdom.

“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

(Romans 4:20-21 ESV)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

We were playing Clue (the Spanish version), and I was just one step away from winning – I had known it was Mrs. Peacock in the Patio for ages, and had just discovered that she did away with Mr. Nobody by way of Poison.  All I had to do was await my next turn.  I meticulously checked my little sheet, acting as if I were marking something…   I was so close.  Then, all of a sudden, and to my despair, I was sent back to my home space, a good distance away from the middle where I was about to arrive in order to make my final guess.

 At this moment, in my mind, I gave up – pretending that I didn’t care by overreacting about how much I didn’t care.  In the next couple of moves, someone else made it to the middle, guessed correctly, and won the game.  I quickly started putting away the pieces, making excuses for my loss, “Well, it’s the Spanish version.” and “I just don’t like that you can play those cards whenever you want.”   I might as well have said, “I hate that I lost the game, and I find no joy in the fact that someone else won who wasn’t me.  In fact, I resent it.”

I realized in those moments that I was having a bad attitude, and I vowed never to play the game again (as though it were the game’s fault that I had reacted so strongly).  I realize now that my resentment had nothing to do with circumstances, rules, or the other players… it had to do solely with my heart.

There are so many times that we react based on our initial feelings instead of truth.  In this case, I wanted to be the clever one,  the one who had made the right deductions, the one who using his craft and cunning, had victoriously won the game of Clue in record time, the amateur Clue players among me declaring, “Oh, Terrill, how ever did you guess the cards so quickly?  You’re a Clue expert!”  Then I would humbly state, “Oh now, now… it takes time to know the nicks and crannies of such a complex game.”  ...In short, I had unrealistic expectations, lacking patience, and a heap of pride, all things that hindered me from responding based on truth. 

I can’t help but constantly thank God that He is God.  The Creator of all things, all concepts. A God that responds perfectly, because it’s who He is.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he states that “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).  

Can we even imagine what perfect patience looks like?  Loving someone no matter what they do, no matter how many times they mess up, no matter how frustrating they may make us feel?  Really putting aside our conceit in order to care for others?  To mourn with those who mourn, rejoice with those who rejoice… And Paul is saying that as the foremost sinner, Christ displays his perfect patience as an example.  What would this type of patience look like in my game of Clue?  I think I would have enjoyed what was instead of having expectations.  The fact that I’m able to be alive, sitting with these amazing people, playing a board game in the Dominican Republic.  I would be glad for those who won, and equally glad for those who lost.  Because it’s not about the game!  It never was...  It’s about something more important!  It's about the heart – the heart of each and every.

I think the thing that I keep failing to realize is that I’m still on this journey.  I still have to learn how to react to things based on truth instead of my own feelings.  I have to learn to be patient on this journey, not expecting things to change in the moment or in a week.  Renewal and transformation is a process, a difficult and necessary one.  Yet one that brings us from Death to Life – from Bound to Free, from Forfeit to Redemption.  It’s a process that I’m not able to do myself.  I must rely on the source of all perfect things! 

Because although my patience runs thin, His does not.   
My arrogance hinders me, His does not.
I can’t renew myself, He created me.
I can’t transform myself, He died for me.
My love fails, His is everlasting.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Pleasure is full grown only when it is Remembered.

There’s something special in the air today. 

 A cool, hoodie-wearing morning, my coffee tasting just a bit better than usual….and I know that it has nothing to do with this specific day, but rather the gratitude I woke up with.  Knowing just how faithful and loving our Father is.  Trusting that His dreams are so much wilder and more precious than my own.  

And it’s February!  A month of perseverance, and reflection; the early stages of a new year.  Today I began reflecting on my Februaries, specifically the last four, and I thought I'd share some pictures!

Let’s begin in Feburary 2011.  It was the first time I walked down that incredible treed path to meet the people who have changed my life.  I had been working for O.O. in Monte Cristi for 2 ½ months when Jaibon was first mentioned.  One of the other leaders had been asked to lead groups there for four weeks and she didn’t want to leave the place she was JUST now getting used to…  So I said I’d go.  After that month, I didn’t want to leave.

It’s the month I got called Mario for the first time, never thinking it would actually become a second name to me.

I didn't have a camera at the time, but the memories are etched in my mind :-)

I love walking down this road!

February 2012.  I had been living in Jaibon for a straight 9 months, making memories that will forever make me smile.  It was the beginning of the Banana Project – from readying the field and picking up the banana bulbs to digging holes and planting them.  It was a month full of celebrations, relationships, and spontaneity. 

Preparing the Field for Bananas

Ramon and I (man, I miss that beard...)

The boys bringing the "sepas de guineo."
They stayed up SOOO late making pizza and cake.

Making new friends.

Mello has definitely grown...

Outreach360 Volunteers at the Jaibon school

Celebrating some Birthdays!

February 2013.  My 6 month mark in San Pedro de Macoris, living an unexpected dream come true!  A month filled with visiting loved ones, and figuring out what it’s really like to live on my own with four teenage boys.  It’s amazing how much happened over the space of a year…

Friends visiting loved ones.

A year ago :-)

Jose and I trying to be bacanos (cool guys!)

Our first house in San Pedro.

The view from my old roof where I had so many realizations!

A "family" photo, missing Galan.

February 2014.  Now.  It’s been month of perseverance, commitments, goals, and Jesus!  I’m saying yes to things I should say yes to, and no to things I should say no to… I’m making and completing my goals! I don’t need to drink more water… I’m doing it!  For years I’ve said that I needed to ‘start drinking more water’, and I’m doing it!!  My heart longs for redemption in this country and I feel like God is doing some crazy things! 

Heather, Jose, and I at the Orphanage.

Friends in Jaibon :-)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Though our feelings come and go, God's love does not.

“For freedom Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1

It always interests me how Paul conveyed this, as though we might think that Christ has set us free for some other reason than freedom.  It’s like saying “For living God gave us life,” wondering if I thought life was for something other than living.  

Yet, I think that’s the point; it’s meant to illustrate to us that we should be LIVING IN FREEDOM, which may be something entirely different than what we think.

This past year has been unquestionably wild and full of unexpected renewal and transformation.  Things I never even dreamed possible have happened, and continue to happen; my old impression of freedom is being wholly crushed and made new!  

Now, my previous idea of freedom revolved around the idea that I could choose to do whatever I wanted; to just be myself, choose my own life.  The thing is: how in the world was I supposed to know who I was?  Was I to base it on my own inner feelings?   In that case, I was free to be a lustful, lying, self-pitying, prideful, ignorant, and uncaring fool (although at the time I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have described myself using any of those characteristics).  But if I couldn’t really understand my identity, then how could I be myself?  

That’s where choice comes into the matter.  We can build walls and invent our own concept of identity based on a number of not-inherently-bad things, or we can give it all to God, the Creator of everything.  One is based on our own understanding, the other one on faith.

2 ½ years ago I would have said that faith was the thing Christians relied on when they didn’t have an answer.  The whole, “just have faith,” idea which used to irritate me.  I equated faith in God to faith in Santa Clause, or the Tooth Fairy; something people have to believe in because they can’t figure out their own life, or because they need to feel like they have a purpose.  Honestly, I didn’t trust in anything I couldn’t personally see or understand.  And THAT became the grand excuse to distract myself and live unknowingly and apathetically in captivity.  I was living based on my own understanding of freedom; a fabricated, deceitful one that cannot even begin to compare to the true freedom of Christ.  As C.S. Lewis stated, "The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded."

For that’s what it’s all about:  Walking in His freedom; getting to know Him as the source of freedom, love, justice, peace, joy, and desire.  The one who can lead us, because he knows us better than we know ourselves, because he created us out of dust, and because he loves us unconditionally! 

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21, ESV)

In my mind there are two types of freedom:  freedom to’s & freedom from’s.  And unlike the list of rules I used to think the Bible was, it’s pretty amazing (and in the end inconceivable) trying to understand just how much depth and width there is to His love.  So here are some of the glorious freedoms that we have in Christ: 

1.      The freedom to love everyone with compassion; to see each and every person through God’s eyes, and to know the value of human life and relationships.  This isn’t something we ourselves can produce.  I may attempt to love those who love me (with my own concept of love), but to love everyone?  Even murderers, rich self-focused scumbags, and judging hypocritical Christians?  Yes.  Even them.  For His love has nothing to do with tolerating them; it’s all about walking the extra mile.

2.      The freedom to see everything as a gift and nothing as our own… not my life, not my time, not my family, not even my thoughts.  It’s so important to realize that we’ve never produced anything from something that wasn’t already freely given to us.  We didn’t breathe life into ourselves, or cause the sun to rise and give energy, or come up with the incredible idea of Grace.  It was a gift.  All of it free.  And none of it caused by us.  It's the reason why we can appreciate every little thing, from a cup of coffee to a sunset to a smile.   

3.       The freedom from fear and taking offense.  No longer do we have to live bound to the approval of our fellow man, meeting their expectations.  We have the freedom to be unoffendable, to love anyway, and to let our yes be yes and our no be no.  Our confidence comes from Him, and in His perfect love, there is no fear.  Not even fear of death, for by God’s grace, Jesus already tasted death for everyone! (Hebrews 2:9)

4.       The freedom from narcissism and the lie that it’s really about me and taking care of myself.  When we love Him who loves all, we finally begin to feel, and realize that the suffering in the world is not just their problem. (

5.       The freedom from the bondage of sin.  I once read sin defined as ‘disordered love’ or ‘building our identity on anything other than the love of God.’  For we are not our own, and therefore do not know what’s best for us… we’re finally free from that pitiable perception of ourselves and brought into our true identities as sons and daughters of the living God.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11, ESV)

It doesn't matter where you are.  It really doesn't.  It's not about location and it never has been. It's about knowing and listening to the Lord.  As David Platt said, "Must we insist on dividing the Great Commission into an either-or-preposition?  Who told us that we had to choose to have a heart for the United States or a heart for the world.  Based on the purpose of God we've seen in Scripture, shouldn't every Christian's heart be ultimately consumed with how we can make God's glory known in all the world?"  

The question isn't "Where are you?"  It's "What are you doing for His glory?"  It's about living for Jesus every single day, because THAT'S who has brought us FREEDOM.

Thank you God for always pursuing us!  It’s amazing how giving everything to you frees us.  My old desires have completely been shattered, renewed, and transformed.  It’s beyond comprehension that you can give us things we never even knew we wanted; things that are so much better than what we thought we wanted.  We keep falling into the same trap thinking we understand what we like, what we want, who we are… but the truth is that you, our Creator, know us so much better.  All those feelings and heaviness that we carry deep down inside of us is revealed.  We just have to make room in our hearts, allow you to search us, and through our trust for your love, we ARE transformed.  I know it’s not an overnight thing… and it’s not easy.  We’ve gotten so used to trusting ourselves that it’s hard to turn everything over to you, and to trust that you can really do anything.  But let us look around at the world, God.  You knew us before we were formed in the womb; you designed the sun and the growth of plants and trees.  You take care of the sparrows and the lilies of the field.  Let us be your field, God, the place you go to find fruit; abundant fruit that you’ve promised us if we trust you.  I pray that we walk in freedom today, in YOUR freedom…that we occupy our inheritance and trust fully in you!