Drawing Circles

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. And God commanded, “Write this down… this word.” And Daniel wrote. And Moses wrote. And Isaiah and Ezekiel and Malachi and Jeremiah. They wrote it down so that when all went silent and 400 years of silence crept by, people still had the Word. And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and later Paul and John again heard the instruction, “Write it down… this word.” And they wrote it down so that after 2000 years people still have the Word and it is still marvelous and wonderful and awesome, not in the 21st century slang kind of way but in the magnitude and splendor of God kind of way.

So today I have to write it down too. This Word.

You see, some 4 months ago, God called me out of my day and said, “Go for a hike. I have something to show you.” So, I hiked. My dog and I climbed in the scorching sun, in a landscape parched and dead. We passed ponds that raised dust; no trace of mud or moisture left. The sun and dust combined in a glaring golden haze. My mouth felt sticky and dry and the dog kept encouraging me to turn back. It’s too hot and too dry he seemed to be saying. Go home. At least there is shade there.

We circled a pond, the barren remains of a pond.unnamed-11

 

Circled its lifeless perimeter because I was reading a book by Mark Batterson about outrageous prayer. And I was circling this pond in prayer because to me it represented the valley, the whole lot of us parched and thirsty. The dog circled too. Nothing should have stopped him from crossing the pond bed. No mud, no water, no nothing. But he circled like it was holy ground. And I prayed to God to bring the rain, to fill the pond, to restore His people, to heal the land and its people.

I will, He said. The next time you come up here, this will be full.

Faithless that I am I thought it would take a while for that to happen.

When I circled that pond I was also circling Compassion Tea in prayer. We were all reading Draw the Circle. It wasn’t a particularly difficult, parched time for Compassion Tea; we were just wondering what God had in store for His company. Where were the blessings we had been seeing for months previously? Were we headed into a drought ourselves? Wendy had said, “Let’s circle this in prayer.” So we prayed the prayer of Jabez; “Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that thou wouldst bless me and enlarge my border, and that thy hand might be with me, and that thou wouldst keep me from harm so that it might not hurt me!” And God granted what he asked.” (1 Chronicles 4:10) Only our prayer was “Oh bless Compassion Tea and expand our borders, Lord. And be with us, keep us from harm. And God granted our request.”

And God granted our request.

Today, the inability to breath was strong again, as it has been for the past two weeks. And as I fought my way home on familiar roads that nevertheless were raising the hair on the back of my neck, and as I cried out to God again, He called me out of my day and said, “Go hike. I have something to show you.”

The hike up was excruciating, not because of the altitude climb or anything treacherous about the path but because God and I had a little talk about my inability to breath and why it was so bad right now. We had a little chat about hard hearts and how sometimes He allows hard hearts like He did Pharoah’s because His glory becomes even more brilliantly and emphatically displayed. We talked about surrender and about my Jonah heart… not those people God, not those.

Sometimes it is good to walk in the rain. No one can tell if those are tears or raindrops.

I didn’t see much on the climb up because my eye was inward, listening to the pain of my parts pouring out in front of their Maker. And the laying of them down at His feet, those pains, fears, worries, the things that have slowly been suffocating me.

And then, there was this.

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Like searing light, like electrical shock, an invisible hand writing on a wall, He said, “I am the Lord God. I am faithful. I am faithful to fulfill my promises. I will heal my people of their iniquities. I will heal my people.”

The tears came hot and blinding in streams filling the ponds of my soul.

Because here it was, proof that He is faithful and He did fill the pond.

Because here it was, proof that He is faithful and He has expanded our borders.

Compassion Tea now stretches from sea to shining sea, West Coast to East Coast, Gulf Coast to the northern border. St. James Coffee in Rochester, Minnesota, yesterday joined our cause and the four points on the compass are represented. And when you draw a line to connect those dots, you get a circle.

A pond is a circle. A pond is a round bowl full of water. Like a cup of tea, a place to ponder; like a baptismal font, a place to be made clean, sanctified, restored.

You should see the dog. His paws are muddy. He couldn’t help himself. He had to go in the water. Instead of begging to go home, this time he raced farther and harder. And the holy ground… he bounded through it. This is life, this water, this pond, this circle.

And this Word. His Word. “I am faithful.”

I write it down lest I forget. I write it down so that when things are silent and I can’t breath I will know.

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I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas (and why you should too)

The trees gave up their leaves early this year. It was dry and brown has been the landscape color for months now. So, when the scorching heat passed finally sometime in October, the trees seemed to breath a collective sigh of relief and shed their skin. They’d born the weight, the burden of carrying those leaves long enough. The maple and the birch, the pear and plum, the sycamore and the aspen all gave up. Just like that.

But not the oak. Its thick waxy leaf still clings to the branch. And it is being rewarded. unnamed-10

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Yesterday we had rain, the kind we haven’t seen for four years, the kind that rekindles streams, that makes puddles in minutes, that completely washes off the surfaces of the earth. The kind that brings green.

And it’s not done yet. It’s misting today and the moss is back, the mushrooms are pushing out of the mud, the mist is rolling over the hills. It’s a perfect day.unnamed-6

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Taking a walk in the mist today, I remembered back to my 21st birthday when I headed out onto the moors of Yorkshire with little more than a camera, a stout pair of Wellies, and the best wax jacket a college student could buy. I had no mobile phone with GPS to guide, nothing to connect me to the outside world. Just me and a whole hillside of sheep. I felt again today a wonder at the misty clouds breaking over the treetops and at this green in front of me.
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This is a green with nuances of yellow and blue, a green that shouts, “LIFE!” It doesn’t scream it like I almost wrote. No, it shouts it. Not an angry scream but a joyful shout. “I’m alive and I’m growing and this is good,” I can hear the trees calling to each other under the gentle patter of raindrops. Roots long dry, gasping for the last faint hints of water in the soil are trembling today in glee.

I think this year, I’m dreaming of a green Christmas.

And I wonder if I’ve gotten it wrong all these years.

I do understand the romantic appeal of a white Christmas. There is something so delightful about the idea of a silent white snow blanketing the earth, like God is tucking us all up under a white fleecy throw where we are secure, warm, sleepy.

Funny thing is though that God didn’t come to tuck us into a big cozy earth bed.

There’s another side to the white blanketing snow. In Northeastern Ohio, where the sky and the snow make one long horizon-less expanse of a nebulous shade of grey, one feels it and might even call it despair. It’s a trudging dullness, a sleeping of the senses where sound is muted, touch is frigid, and sight is washed out.

Snow, like sand, is barren.

And into a barren landscape, God came to bring green… life. He birthed himself into baby form. Drawing breath, belting out a first scream into the night, He trumpeted His arrival with angels singing in the skies, shepherds running and calling through the streets at midnight, and a star much too bright to sleep through.

Jesus’ life was not one of security and warmth and sleep nor did he call out his disciples to such a life. His family had to flee to Egypt, children were murdered in his place, refugee that he was, vagrant itinerant doctor that he became. He didn’t come to heal the well, but to minister to the poor of heart, spirit, morals. He promised a water that would quench all thirst, a living water. He lifted up the impoverished and the uneducated and he called out the religious and the educated for their hypocrisy.

I’m looking at this brash green all around me and thinking, “This is Christmas!” Life, in your face living, green washed clean exposing the chlorophyll in brave ways, a carnival of green aliveness.

This is life in Christ.

Jesus wasn’t quiet and peaceful and blanketing and warmth and security. He was raucous green, speaking in puzzles, exposing fraudulent ideas about His Father God. And His epic day on the cross sprang forth an evergreen of salvation for those who believe in him.

He didn’t tuck us into a quiet bed to sleep until the angels sing us off to heaven. He empowered us to go into all the world making disciples of all people; he coaches us to let our light shine before others… like a green mossy festival of life.

So. Yah. You may want a white Christmas. But me? I want it green!

It’s On My Heart

There’s a weight, a pressure that has been sitting there in my chest for a week now. And when she honked her horn at me this morning, I thought my heavyweight heart was going to jump right out of my chest cavity.

There are times to honk and times to keep quiet.

I couldn’t/wouldn’t turn right and run down the man crossing the street but apparently that was what she expected me to do. “What’s the rush,” I wondered, “that your getting somewhere is more important than the life of the man crossing the street?”

What is the ever-living rush?

And then, as if to make an exclamation point to her honking, she pulled into the next lane, the going straight lane, maneuvered around my car, and proceeded to turn right in front of me, grazing the last steps of the crossing man. And then, traffic ahead of her stopped. She, in her impatience, saved herself nothing.

Between trying to put my heart back in its chest and marveling at her maneuver I had less than a split second to decide. How am I going to react in front of my children? Because this could potentially be big.

And hadn’t I prayed just this morning that when I come face-to-face with the ugly and the impatient and the rude and the chaotic and the pain of this world that I would respond with something other, something that might look like a ray of light in a dark place, something like a hand-up or the face of God or an unidentifiable calm?

What was the knee-jerk going to look like?

Surely, this could be a time of righteous indignation; any anger I felt could be justified. A man’s life was a stake for goodness sake.

But we also reap what we sow and what did I want to sow in my heart, in the hearts of my children, in the fertile fields of life? So, I laughed. Out loud. And I prayed a blessing over her. Out loud. And while my heart still hurt and while inwardly I felt another little darkening, I waved good-bye and wished her a Merry Christmas and we went a separate direction.

“Why did you wave good-bye Mommy?” came the question from the backseat. “Because that is a very grumpy person and I think she needs a little love. “

“When I’m grumpy I would rather everyone around me be grumpy too,” Little Miss chimed in. “I want them to be grumpy and angry and fight me.”

Oh my heart. Yes. I know. I’ve seen that all my life. Grumpy. Angry. Fight. But what does it solve? We’re all just in the mud pit together. Where no one can gain traction. There is no upper hand although the sharp-barbed arrow of the tongue, the poisoned thought… it feels good to launch… for 1.001 of a second. Just the time it takes for a heart to beat.

I hear Little Miss pouring out her heart and I know. But maybe I can change her course from here. “If we respond with grumpiness to other grumpy people, we never get out of the grumps. But if we respond with love, maybe we can pull the grumpy person out of the grumps. Love stops the cycle of hurt.”

It’s not easy and it comes with a cost. Me, myself, and I, we wanted to rain down chastisement. Indignation was ours to grab. But.

But there was a little baby boy who was born into the dark places. He sought out the dark places and tore the curtains that kept out the light. He tore the curtains of disease and demons and despair and even death. In one powerful gut-wrenching act of obedience, he tore the temple curtain that separated the holy of holies from mankind. Because Love stops the cycle of hurt.

Yes, my heart still hurts. There are arrows from the past that I’ve tried to pull out, but they fester right now. Like arthritis in a joint that developed from an early injury, I feel their pain still. Aching and heavy. And there are fresh pains for friends and family who are going through it right now. Going through the dark, the valley of the shadow of death. And what do we do with our hard, aching hearts?

He stepped into the world. He said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matt 11:30) And He asks us to hand it over. Whatever the it is.

Ann Voskamp is talking this morning about how He traded His heart for ours, how up there on the cross He took our hard, aching hearts and traded them in for His. Heart transplants.

And when we feel it is His heart beating in us, when Love is the beat of our heart, ahhhh. The sigh of relief. Like the sigh of a snowflake falling. Like the milk-drunk coo of an infant. Like peace. The kind that passes all understanding. The kind that waves and wishes a Merry Christmas.

The Crossing Coffee Bar — Another Circle of Hope

The Crossing Coffee Bar in Carrollton, Texas, is now serving Compassion Tea! This addition of venue marks an amazing “crossing” of paths and purposes.
I’ve written about the concentric circles that ripple out from the sale and consumption of Compassion Tea.
And I’ve written about the hope those circles bring.

And now, it’s time to introduce another circle of hope.

Back in April of 2013, the CompassioNow Board of Directors voted to begin supporting Cindy Cunningham’s Village of Hope, Uganda. It wasn’t the beginning of a beautiful relationship, but rather a continuation of one, a solidification of that relationship if you will. Wendy Bjurstrom, CompassioNow founder and Compassion Tea Director, recently traveled to Texas to visit Cindy. As she left, she stocked her suitcase with Compassion Tea. Her goal? To share tea and save lives!
While in Texas, Wendy met with Karen Bledsoe and Marguerite Fenton from The Crossing, the coffee shop arm of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas.unnamed

Bent Tree, the church Cindy Cunningham attends, supports many missions, including Village of Hope. According to their website,

“Bent Tree exists to be used by God as He transforms people into disciples of Jesus Christ here and around the world. At Bent Tree, we strategically partner with people and organizations to send financial resources and mobilize the Bent Tree body around the 4 C’s.
Church Multiplication: 
To see Life-giving, grace-based churches established.

City Transformation
: To see cities transformed by the power of the Gospel.

Crisis Response: 
To provide crisis relief and development through timely and strategic mobilization.

Children at Risk: 
To lift women and children out of three key areas: danger, poverty and illiteracy.”

Village of Hope falls under the Children at Risk category. For more information about Village of Hope, go here!

The Crossing donates its profits to these local and global outreach organizations. And now, The Crossing is going to add Compassion Tea to its offerings!

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The café is located in the lobby of the church. With a weekly attendance of over 2000 people, The Crossing reaches a broad audience. Recent efforts to improve the ambiance of the café have made The Crossing “a place for great coffee and quiet conversation, veiled from the world.”

“This café hasn’t stopped at the church doors however and increases their efforts at reaching those outside of the congregation. Last Easter, the baristas took time to create baskets for employees working in nearby offices and included a free drink coupon. People who haven’t been involved in the community yet have a chance to do so. ‘We want to invite those outside of the church to partake in the refuge of the café. We’re not just serving the church, we’re called to serve the world at large.’”

The Crossing also serves Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee, a coffee with a cause that is grown and produced by small farmers in Rwanda.
Now, when customers at The Crossing buy a cup of Compassion Tea, they will be supporting Village of Hope Uganda in two ways, through Bent Tree’s support of the orphanage and through CompassioNow’s support of the medical clinic in the village.
We are overjoyed at this addition of another circle of hope!