Culture Shock

My 16-year-old daughter was able to participate in a six-week program in Hungary called "A Vision For Life." It’s basically Bible college condensed into six weeks for high schoolers. It was a mix of Bible classes, outreaches, dorms and general "parent-free living". She had some incredible opportunities to share her story of hope in Jesus. My heart smiled when I saw photos of her talking to a group of hundreds on the streets of Vienna, hosting Vacation Bible School for kids, making new friends, and I knew she would come back changed. I’ve been on multiple mission trips in my life, and the effort is always to go touch other people’s lives, but in the process, it completely changes who we are and what we believe. The same happened for my daughter, and I was so ready for her to come home; we really missed having her around. There was one thing I had forgotten when it comes to mission trips, especially as a teenager…the culture shock.

I remember the first time I went on a mission trip was to Juarez, Mexico. I had never seen such poverty, and when I returned home, it was Christmas time. Talk about culture shock, I was angry at every bit of American excess I saw around me. I had just seen firsthand people who literally didn’t have anything, and I didn’t understand how people didn’t feel guilty for having all they had. The culture shock my daughter faced was different. They didn’t really visit poverty stricken areas, but she had done a lot of really important things for the kingdom of God and coming home just felt, well…ordinary.

It’s no fun coming home to parents and rules and chores, after you just spent two months with a group of awesome new friends who were on fire for Jesus and couldn’t wait to tell everyone they met about Jesus. Now she was back home, picking up her school schedule, locker combination and getting ready to start her junior year of high school. Along with the regular jet lag that comes with international travel, there was a bit of an aimless feeling of, “What am I supposed to do now?” I could totally understand where she was coming from, and my mama heart started asking God how I could help her navigate this moment of uncertainty. I thought about Isaiah 43:18-19 that paraphrased says, “Don’t look back on the old times as if they were the best of times, I have more ahead for you!”

God has promised that He is always doing something new in us, and so, if we keep our head stuck in the past, we may miss the new that is coming. 

It would be pretty mean of God to give us all just one highlight reel to keep looking back at our entire lives. Thankfully, that’s not what He does!

What a great encouragement to us! It’s ok to reminisce about the good old days, but we can’t dwell there as if that’s as good as it's ever going to get. I received a tea towel from the famed Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, that reads, “The good old days are still to come!” I love the thought that in the future we could be looking back on these days right now saying, “Oh man, that was an awesome time!” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get so stuck in the past triumphs that I leave no space for new victories! 

Let’s hold on to this Scripture and to the knowledge that God is doing a new thing today!

Do Hard Things

Maybe you’ve heard of CrossFit. I’m one of those crazy people who have bought into their way of using constantly varied, functional movements at a high intensity. Basically this just means you work really hard, never at the same things, in a way that will make your everyday life better. This isn’t an ad for CrossFit, but I wanted to share a parallel I found in regards to my walk with God. CrossFit is hard and walking with God is far from an easy road at times. One of the benefits of this type of workout is that you should be ready for anything life may throw at you. This can be described as a hopper, think a drum full of different workouts or movements. The idea is that you would turn the cranks, spin the hopper and then blindly choose a workout. Some movements you would excel at; others would be more challenging and make you want to run away screaming. 

THE GOAL IS TO ACCOMPLISH THE HARD STUFF, RATHER THAN STICKING TO THE THINGS YOU ARE ALREADY GOOD AT.  

Otherwise your overall fitness will be stunted. 

Doesn’t life feel like this hopper sometimes? There are seasons when things seem to run smoothly, falling into place like a storybook. Other times it’s as if someone is playing a series of practical jokes on you, because nothing seems easy and everything hurts.  I understand. Greg Glassman, the creator of CrossFit, said it like this: “There is more traction, more advantage, more opportunity in pursuing headlong that event or skill that you do not want to see come out of the hopper than putting more time into the ones where you already excel.”

Paul, an apostle of Jesus, talked about facing hard things like this:
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[a] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).

THE NATURAL INCLINATION IS TO TRY TO RUN AWAY FROM THE HARD THINGS, BUT WE CAN’T JUST WISH THE DIFFICULTIES OF LIFE AWAY. 

We have to be grown ups, don’t we? We won’t get any stronger, wiser or better equipped for what is ahead unless we run straight into what we don’t always know how to accomplish. The cool part is that God gets it; He knows the road ahead and the way to navigate it. If we will let God into our hearts and our lives, He has promised that He will walk along with us, strengthening us when we are inches away from giving up.  

Life is unpredictable, something I am learning more and more each day as my two daughters are now in high school. My list of “conversations I thought I’d never have” is getting longer and longer. But something else I am learning is that once we come through a difficult conversation or an intense situation, we end up being stronger than we were before. Just as I am getting stronger by practicing new ways of fitness, I am learning to not let myself be controlled by the fear of what might possibly come out of the “hopper” of life. I can trust that no matter what is coming next, God is already there, like the best fitness coach I’ve ever had. He will correct things I am lacking, encourage me when I’m faltering and will ultimately celebrate with me when I conquer what felt unconquerable. 

Trust and Faith

I was probably about 11 years old, and we were having a small gathering at our house for some people from our church. A man with a huge glass of iced tea walked over to our rickety piano bench to sit down. As soon as he sat on the unreliable bench, it gave way under his weight. He fell straight to the floor, spilling his cold drink all over himself. I have a vivid memory of being so embarrassed for this poor man. He had chosen a place to sit, not knowing it was going to fail him. When I think back on it now, it makes me ponder how many of us have chosen to sit in unreliable places, and what sort of fear we now carry because of it.

The wobbly piano bench can represent anything in our lives that has let us down. We are people, therefore we fail. We hurt people, and they hurt us.

THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS IN LIFE WE CANNOT CONTROL.

Friendships are broken; jobs fall through, and sadly, people pass away too soon for our liking. How can we trust when life feels just as unstable as that old piano bench?

During youth group the other night, we were talking about faith. How would you define faith if you were asked to describe it? We got a little stuck pondering how trust is different than faith. When I talk about trust, I think of the chair analogy, you know, you sit in a chair, trusting that it will hold your weight and won’t crash to the ground. Well, that’s all fine and good, but what about that poor man who fell to the floor in my childhood home? He trusted that piano bench to hold him up, and it let him down!

THERE ARE SO MANY “CHAIRS” IN LIFE.

We choose friends and spouses. We trust that our family will be around forever. What happens when your trust is broken? You trusted God to preserve that loved one’s life, but they passed away far too soon. You trusted that your friend would always be there, but they let you down and broke your heart. Your spouse walked away from their vows, leaving you shrouded in doubt. What then? What happens when the chairs we choose to trust shatter underneath us?

Here comes faith. Trust leads us to sit in the chair, but faith tells us that even if that chair falls apart, we will still be ok. Having faith in God doesn’t mean that He will protect us from all pain and disappointment. God’s plan isn’t to keep us comfortable, sitting back in a recliner that has cupholders and built in remotes. The chairs we sit in may hold us, but some will most definitely break. So, what are we to do? Should we stay standing our whole life, keeping ourselves safe by never sitting down in a chair that may or may not hold? Absolutely not.

GOD PROMISES THAT HE IS TRUSTWORTHY; THAT WE CAN RELY ON HIM EVEN WHEN EVERYTHING SEEMS BROKEN.

I love the words of Phillip Yancey, “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” We choose friends and spouses and experiences because they enrich this life that God has given us. God doesn’t want us to be timid believers who walk around in fear all the time, waiting for the next chair to break. He wants us to step out in trust, reinforced with faith, knowing that even if the whole world seems to fall apart, He will still hold us.

Little Pink Notes

She was tall and thin, had delicate, freckly skin, and curly, strawberry-blonde hair that was perfectly poofy. Her hair and her sense of style were a perfect fit for back then, the year was 1988. You could always spot her red Toyota RX7 parked in the parking lot of Desert Hot Springs Elementary. Her name was Ms. Nelson, she was my 6th grade teacher, and she was cool!

6th grade was a hard year for me. Well, really being 12 is hard for any kid, especially girls. It’s the age where everything changes physically, emotionally, psychologically, and every other “-ly” you can think of. I started to realize that, despite my parents’ best intentions of instilling confidence in me, I really wasn’t the best at everything. I constantly had to compete against the red head with the perfectly coiffed locks everyday, for first chair in flute, AND for the lead in the school play. And contrary to what we were all told in Kindergarten, everyone is not your friend. I struggled with making friends, being myself, and not sucking my thumb during class. Oh, did I forget to mention the part about me sucking my thumb until I was about 13, yeah, that wasn’t helpful either.

Ms. Nelson was a beacon of sweetness and comfort during this trying time called the 6th grade. She probably didn’t think she did anything all that spectacular. She sure was memorable to me though. Recently, I was looking through some old school work of mine. While I was thumbing through the pages, noticing just how bubbly my writing used to be and how many times I doodled Gumby with a surfboard (the only doodle I knew), I came across some familiar little slips of pale, pink paper. These papers were only a little larger than a post-it note and were probably scraps leftover from printing up notes home to parents.

But, on them were lovely, cursive writing with messages such as, “You are doing a great job…Keep your head up…Smile…I’m proud of you!” They were always finished off with a signature, teacher-styled happy face. These brought back memories of hard days that were brightened ever so slightly by Ms. Nelson’s little, pink notes. The funny thing is, even though I look back so fondly on these little slips of encouragement, I wonder if Ms. Nelson ever thought much of them. To her, maybe she just noticed a sad, young girl, grabbed a scrap of paper, wrote a little encouragement, and thought nothing of it. Quite possibly, she had no idea how much easier those sweet messages made my life as a 6th grader. Evidenced by the fact that I kept all of them, she had a huge impact on me.

WHAT SORT OF IMPACT ARE YOU HAVING TODAY? YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAND UP ON A STAGE, SPEAKING TO THOUSANDS, TO BE AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO SOMEONE.

I learned from my Mom that if someone comes to your mind, God is putting them on your heart, and you should pray for them. Usually when someone comes to my mind, I like to send them a little text that lets them know I am thinking of them and praying for them. I’ve also been on the receiving end of these texts, and I am just so humbled when I hear that someone is praying for me. There is just something special about knowing that someone who may or may not know what you are going through is bringing your name before God and pleading on your behalf. These little prayers are like Ms. Nelson’s little, pink notes filled with kind words of encouragement, an unexpected little blessing in the middle of an unfortunate day. While she may have thought they were insignificant, I still have them tucked away, and she has a special place in my heart.

“Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

God has given us a desire to connect with others. We live in a time where our technological connections make it easier than ever before to maintain those ties of friendship! You can send someone a Facebook message, tag them in an encouraging Instagram post, or just send them a text. If you want to take the old-fashioned route (which is my personal favorite), send someone a card. You know, those pieces of paper that you write on with a pen, then send it to their actual house! It’s always nice to find a personal card between the bills and grocery coupons. It really doesn’t matter which method you choose, you have the potential today to inspire, encourage, and spur someone on in their walk with Jesus.

Fire Breathing Dragon

It was a difficult conversation. Don’t you hate those? I thought I was right; they thought they were right, which resulted in a heated war of the words. Unfortunately, the exchange escalated, and all of a sudden, I transformed into some sort of fire-breathing dragon bent on destroying any words that might come against me. I thought I was good. I thought I was sensible and wise and kind. But, when it was over, as I stepped back to see the damage that remained after my fiery defense, there was no mistaking it. My pride had won.

THERE’S ALWAYS A BIT OF A WAR WITHIN US DURING THOSE UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICTS IN LIFE.

I find that I have a deep desire to be understood, yet the other person longs for the same. So, what I’m forgetting is to try to understand. See, if I am letting God direct my words and my actions, I will seek to understand while I am being understood. Have I confused you yet? Work with me here…my pride had taken hold of my heart and mind and told me, “You do whatever you have to do to MAKE them understand that you are right!”, while the voice of the Holy Spirit, getting softer and softer, was whispering, “Be quiet and try to listen and understand what THEY are saying.”

What did I learn from this? Well, first of all, I was acutely reminded that residing in me is the incredibly awful ability to tear someone apart with my words.

I LOOKED BACK WITH DEEP REGRET AT WORDS I COULDN’T TAKE BACK.

You may be wondering, “Well, what if I really am right, and they aren’t trying to understand?” As always, God is a step ahead of us! Remember in chapter 14 of Exodus, when Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites out of captivity? Well, not too long after they were let go, Pharaoh was like, “Wait a minute! Why would I let all that free labor walk out of here? Let’s go get them back!” Pharaoh and his men went after the Israelites, and as they saw their enemy approaching, the Israelites freaked out! I mean, they were so scared, they regretted being freed from slavery! That is major freak-out material right there! Can I just say how thankful I am that God didn’t call me to be a Moses. What a whining group of people. (We wouldn't have whined any less, I’m sure.)

Moses told the people, whom God had put into his care, “Chill out! Just stand there and watch God take these creeps down!” This is, of course, the Shannon version. But in all seriousness, God, through Moses, comforted His people by reminding them that HE is the one who fights the battles in front of us. The Israelites didn’t need to defend themselves, because they had God on their side. Over and over, throughout the wilderness time of the Israelites, we see God come through for them, feed them and rescue them. He meets their every need, and He indeed fulfilled His promise.

What does this mean for us? It means that we will all fight battles figuratively, and sometimes even literally.

WE HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE.

We can choose to let God fight for us, or we can choose to morph into a really ugly, fire-breathing dragon. I wouldn’t recommend the latter. From now on, I know what I will choose. I will choose to let God come rescue me. Not necessarily rescue me from the person I am “fighting” with, but I need Him to rescue me from my deep, fleshly desire to MAKE myself be understood. The truth is, God gets me, He understands me, and He knows what my motives are. His opinion is the one I care about the most.

And here’s the coolest part…are you ready for this? When I put my efforts into honoring God first, I will, in turn, honor others. He has promised in Ezekiel 36:26 to give me a new heart and a new Spirit. He vows to take away the rough edges and place in me a heart that wants to honor Him. That breathes new life into me, which I can breathe out towards others. It also takes away that fire that I had previously wanted to breathe out. 

Angel's Landing

“Let’s go on a hike,” my husband said. “It’ll be fun,” he said. I was all-in, but I had no idea what I was really in for. My family was on our summer road trip, and our first stop was Zion National Park, a breathtaking valley shadowed by awe inspiring mountains that look like towers jutting from the valley below. It’s one of those things that can’t be described, it needs to be seen. There are many trails to explore in Zion, we decided to start with Angel’s Landing. The park map said it was about a five mile strenuous hike that took four hours. Families with small children, people with heart conditions or fear of heights were strongly cautioned. Since our kids are 13 and 14 years old, had no physical ailments and were pretty active as a whole family, we figured we could handle it.

IT STARTED OFF NICE AND EASY, BUT THEN…WE FACED DRASTICALLY STEEP INCLINED SWITCHBACK TRAILS THAT WERE SPRAWLED ACROSS THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.

My oldest daughter has struggled with asthma and began to have a hard time catching her breath. My husband, having suffered from asthma himself, was able to help her calm down and get her breathing back to normal. She wanted to quit. We assured her that we could see the top from where we were standing and encouraged her that we would make it! After a short rest, we continued on the trail. Little did we know we were really only about 1/4 of the way through our hike, and things were about to get real sketchy.

We entered a slot canyon area that was lovely and shaded, and where you could hear your voice echo when you spoke (or sang, as I did of course). We figured the worst was over and our destination was just around the corner. But, no. There were more switchback trails that were shorter but much steeper. Once we got through those, we came upon a section of the trail that made me internally say, “OK, NOPE, that’s it! We have come this far, and we can go ahead and turn back now. There is NO WAY I am taking my children up there!”

Ahead of us was a mountain that I can only describe as looking a lot like a giant rock potato chip. I mean, who would want to climb a giant rock potato chip? It was towering and thin, with a sheer drop that I later found out was about 1500 feet above the ground below. Along the trail were thick metal chains anchored into the rock to help you climb without falling to your death. Some of the trail in this area was only two feet wide with drop-offs on either side. Hikers at the summit looked like little ants because they were so far away. This is something I would love to do with just my husband, but having our kids with me changed things. I could feel my heart pounding even thinking about traversing this final mile to the summit.

“C’mon,” my husband assured me, “It’s right up there; it’ll be fine.” My kids were keen on the idea too, and I wasn’t about to be a party pooper. I took a deep breath and started on the road of submission, craning my neck back to make sure I still had two daughters. “Be careful girls. Don’t step there. Hold on to the chain. Slow and steady. Oh my gosh, be careful. No, hold on to the chain!” I’m sure I was making my family insane, but I just couldn’t hold back my fear that one of them would lose their footing. Then the rain started, just a drizzle. Sure, it was refreshing, but it also made our hands slippery on the metal chain. You know, the metal chain that was supposed to save our lives. We were just getting to the most treacherous portion of the trail, almost to the summit when it began to really rain on us. OK, I was done. I couldn’t handle anymore.

MY PANIC WAS BECOMING OVERWHELMING, SO I HAD A DECISION TO MAKE. I COULD LET MYSELF BE TERRIFIED AND MAKE MY FAMILY MISERABLE BY NAGGING THEM, OR I COULD GIVE MY FEAR TO GOD.

I chose the latter. I prayed out loud, “OK, Lord, you love my kids more than I do, I need you to look after them and bring peace to my heart. Please take my fear and just keep my kids safe. And it would be really cool if this rain would pass.” About five minutes after I prayed this prayer, the rain stopped, and we came to the end of the metal chain to see the summit! We had done it, and the view was worth it! We spent some time up there, ate some snacks, drank some water and prayed as a family. I reminded our girls that when we admire creation and acknowledge that God is a perfect designer, we are worshipping Him! We were wowed by the vast valley, and the deep, rich, red of the mountains against the big, blue sky. It was a memory that none of us will soon forget.

On our way back down, we passed through the sketchy chain section, then came to the downhill switchbacks. We encouraged those weary hikers still heading up the trail by saying, “You’re almost there. You can make it. It’s worth it!” I told my oldest daughter how proud I was of her pushing through and finishing the hike, and I could tell she was pretty proud of herself too. I realized that our hike resembled our lives. We go through difficult climbs where we want to throw up our hands and say “NOPE! Not today!” But, when we stop and intentionally trust Jesus to protect us and guide us, He takes us higher than we ever thought we could go. And once we finish our journey, we get to encourage others because we’ve been there, and we’ve seen the view. We know that the climb is worth it, even if it’s a giant rock potato chip!

 “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Culture Shock

My 16-year-old daughter was able to participate in a six-week program in Hungary called "A Vision For Life." It’s basically Bible college condensed into six weeks for high schoolers. It was a mix of Bible classes, outreaches, dorms and general "parent-free living". She had some incredible opportunities to share her story of hope in Jesus. My heart smiled when I saw photos of her talking to a group of hundreds on the streets of Vienna, hosting Vacation Bible School for kids, making new friends, and I knew she would come back changed. I’ve been on multiple mission trips in my life, and the effort is always to go touch other people’s lives, but in the process, it completely changes who we are and what we believe. The same happened for my daughter, and I was so ready for her to come home; we really missed having her around. There was one thing I had forgotten when it comes to mission trips, especially as a teenager…the culture shock.

I remember the first time I went on a mission trip was to Juarez, Mexico. I had never seen such poverty, and when I returned home, it was Christmas time. Talk about culture shock, I was angry at every bit of American excess I saw around me. I had just seen firsthand people who literally didn’t have anything, and I didn’t understand how people didn’t feel guilty for having all they had. The culture shock my daughter faced was different. They didn’t really visit poverty stricken areas, but she had done a lot of really important things for the kingdom of God and coming home just felt, well…ordinary.

It’s no fun coming home to parents and rules and chores, after you just spent two months with a group of awesome new friends who were on fire for Jesus and couldn’t wait to tell everyone they met about Jesus. Now she was back home, picking up her school schedule, locker combination and getting ready to start her junior year of high school. Along with the regular jet lag that comes with international travel, there was a bit of an aimless feeling of, “What am I supposed to do now?” I could totally understand where she was coming from, and my mama heart started asking God how I could help her navigate this moment of uncertainty. I thought about Isaiah 43:18-19 that paraphrased says, “Don’t look back on the old times as if they were the best of times, I have more ahead for you!”

God has promised that He is always doing something new in us, and so, if we keep our head stuck in the past, we may miss the new that is coming.

It would be pretty mean of God to give us all just one highlight reel to keep looking back at our entire lives. Thankfully, that’s not what He does!

What a great encouragement to us! It’s ok to reminisce about the good old days, but we can’t dwell there as if that’s as good as it's ever going to get. I received a tea towel from the famed Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, that reads, “The good old days are still to come!” I love the thought that in the future we could be looking back on these days right now saying, “Oh man, that was an awesome time!” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get so stuck in the past triumphs that I leave no space for new victories!

Let’s hold on to this Scripture and to the knowledge that God is doing a new thing today!