Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Relentless

IMG_3984Do you ever have days where you feel like life is just relentless in the beating it hands out? I’ve had a number of those days lately. The word relentless has been resonating in my heart and mind lately.

We have had a ridiculous amount of rain and flooding across Kenya this last month. One morning I woke up to once again hear rain pounding on the roof. I wanted to scream “It’s relentless, this rain!” A few hours later I encountered a woman in my office asking for money. She was so drunk that she didn’t notice that her naked toddler was pooping on the floor next to her. Relentless. I lost a patient. I spoke with and prayed with this young man just a few hours before he died. William drove him to the hospital for a blood transfusion. They didn’t get there in time. He died. Relentless.

A few days later, I was getting ready for the day when my precious son Ryan came running through the door in his pajamas and rain boots. He hollered that I needed to come outside right away. There was a rainbow stretched out over our house. It was beautiful. I stopped in the drizzling, hazy, sunrise and drank it in. Relentless. Our heavenly father is relentless in his love for us.

PZOT7392The rains have been so heavy that our available machinery couldn’t make it through the mud at the hospital construction site. So we called a bunch of men from the area and asked them if they wanted work. Muscles, sweat, shovels, hoes, and wheelbarrows, went into action. A Bible study outreach was planned for the team of workers. Eight people have requested prayer to help them give their lives over to the Lord. Relentless, God’s love, his compassion, his pursuit, his grace, they are all relentless.

 YEWB7168I’m reminded of how frequently we don’t see the big picture. What we saw as a delay was actually a ministry opportunity. The hospital construction timeline was pushed back. And lives were eternally impacted because of the delays. I’m pleased to share that God brought us a bulldozer to use this week. Construction progress is being made. We have a team of local workers who are gathering for weekly Bible study. Hope is being found at the medical center.

Our. God. Is. Relentless.

 “…my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘the Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:20-26

 

When Physical Hope is Gone

IMG_8904Shortly before we left for our recent visit to the USA, I was asked to see a friend’s wife as a patient. I knew she had been sick for some time, but I really didn’t know the details. As I sat down with her in the treatment room, I could see that the situation was serious. I knew she had seen other medical providers and I asked to see the records. The more I read of her file, the more hopeless the situation felt. I realized that she wasn’t just sick, she was dying. Our eyes met. I asked if any of the doctors had explained the reports to the husband and wife. They nodded yes. “We know she is really, really, sick.”

I paused. I was a bit overwhelmed. This wasn’t a patient I was just meeting as a medical provider. This was my friend’s wife. I’d worked with him for a number of years on health projects in the local public schools. This was so much more personal. I was confused. They had been to some of the best medical institutions in Kenya. Every test had been done. Every possible treatment was already in play. What more could I do?

I humbly asked how they felt I could help. In that quiet moment the pain in the eyes of this husband and wife was oh so evident. The husband’s eyes met mine “You can pray” he said. They had come to see not a miraculous medical provider, but a friend who could take their hands and pray. And in that moment I was reminded, this is why hope matters. This is why we exist as an organization. There are times when I do not have anything that I can physically offer a patient; times when the only hope I can offer is actually the greatest hope that ever was. The hope of eternal life. The hope of healing of heart, mind, and spirit. The hope of knowing that one day, when this life is over, we will meet again. And when we meet on that day, there will be no gasping breaths, no pain, no fear, no shadows. And so we prayed. We held hands in that little treatment room and went into the throne-room together.

While in the USA I received word that she had died. We missed her funeral by just a week. Monday morning as I sat down in my office to organize my plans for the week, I glanced up and saw my friend standing in the doorway. He sat down with William and I to share a cup of chai. We began to talk about what it means to say goodbye. To mourn. To grieve. He shared with us some of the platitudes he has recently heard “We loved her, but God loved her more.” Things like: “Now is the time to pull up your socks and be strong.” or “God has a greater plan in this.” Right now to him those are empty words that do nothing to acknowledge his huge loss or the part of him that feels like it died when he put his wife in the ground. And so we did not offer platitudes. We listened. We reminded him that David in the Bible got angry sometimes and that, that is actually, perfectly, okay. That his loss is massive and is worth mourning over. And once again we prayed together. It wasn’t what I had imagined for my Monday morning. But I wouldn’t have started my week any other way. It was a reminder that I’m here because hope matters, it really does.

When Giving Thanks is not Easy

IMG_3617.JPGb“Mungu ni mwema” (God is good) she said with a small smile as her eyes met mine through her tears.

Sometimes giving thanks is not easy. Sometimes it’s downright hard. For Susan, this week was one of those times. Over the last few years she’s transitioned from being merely my patient, to a good friend. To say that her life has not been easy would be an understatement.

As I arrived at her mud house for our scheduled appointment this week, something felt off about her. She shared the latest developments of life with me, and my heart ached. I found myself asking “Lord has this woman not been through enough already?” And yet through her latest hardship she could lift her eyes, smile and make the statement that God is good. She loves and trusts him. Even on the hard days. She has been an encouragement and an inspiration to me. And I was blessed by God’s timing. He allowed this latest challenge to walk into her life on the same morning that I was coming to see her. And because of that, I was able to not only pray with her, but to tangibly help her through this latest difficulty.

I have to confess that in this past week I myself have not felt abundantly thankful. My husband and I have faced a string of deaths in the last few months. The day before Thanksgiving we found ourselves sitting in yet another burial service, this one for a cousin who died at just age 32. Several of the people we minister to and work closely with are facing very difficult challenges during this season. This year I’m treating patients and working in the office on Thanksgiving day.  I’ve faced some pretty tough personal struggles and losses myself in recent times. And yet when I sit down and really think about it, from the depths of my heart I have to confess that God truly is good. I’ve discovered that when we seek him, we find him. That in the cold and dark hours he is the lifter of heads and the one who sees and saves our tears. He knows our personal pains and he cares.

I’m learning more and more that thankfulness is not about being happy or having a perfect life. It’s about being able to recognize and identify the gifts that God has given and appreciate them. I’m learning that even when the heart is heavy, and circumstances are difficult, that it is possible to say mungu ni mwema from the heart and really mean it.

I don’t know where you are at on this American Thanksgiving day. But I do know that God is there with you. Today may be a day filled with fellowship, fun, and good food. Or your day may be lonely and perhaps even a bit desperate. Either way God is there with you. He longs to hold you in his arms and show you his heart of love and compassion. He wants you to see and know that he truly is good and there is always something that we can thank him for.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” – James 1:17

Lent Devotional: Easter

This final devotional in our Lent series is brought to you by Jamie Martos. It is written in the traditional style. May this Easter fill your heart with hope!

Lectio: John 20:1-9

Meditatio: “Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark….” Still dark. Darkness shrouds the earth, dawn has not broken, and the light of faith has not yet risen in Mary Madalene’s heart. The night still seems to reign, yet this is illusion! Something unforeseen, new, living–pulsing with hope–has emptied the tomb of death in the night. Mary is still shocked. Nothing is as it was, yet she does not yet understand what is to be. The idea of Christ alive–risen!–is still unthinkable, beyond possibility. Mary runs to the disciples not in hope, but in desperation: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” She runs in fear, believing the tomb has been raided, the body of the one she loves stolen in the night. She runs, because she cannot face this alone.

Why do our hearts resist resurrection? Why can’t we grasp the possibility of new life? Sometimes, it’s harder to embrace resurrection than the cross! Why? What keeps us from seeing and believing, as John does? Perhaps it is because accepting resurrection means accepting all that came before it. All the pain and confusion were necessary in order to bring us this new life of joy, freedom, and hope. The resurrection cannot exist without the cross. We rebel against this reality, yet it remains true, both in the life of Christ, and in our own lives. Somehow it is often in our times of deepest darkness, in the secretive silence of the tomb, that Christ brings us the most profound gifts of grace, insight, maturation, and growth. Jesus then comes and raids our tombs of death with his new life! And we find that we are a new creation. We are utterly transformed!

We may at times find ourselves with Mary, weeping before an empty tomb. Yet we know that in a few short hours, Mary’s profound grief and fear will give way to profound wonder, joy, and awe!

Oratio: Jesus, what was it like for the disciples that first Easter morning? I can only imagine! To have one’s sense of loss and fear unexpectedly overcome by the unprecedented moment of resurrection! Jesus, I know you are at work in my life too, opening long-sealed tombs and bringing new life. Open my eyes to the glory of your resurrection within and around me. Help me to see and believe. And, in believing, may my spirit be disposed to receive the true joy and peace you bring. For your love has conquered death!

Contemplatio: Lord, I believe!

 

Lent Devotional: Palm Sunday

DSC_1605.JPGbAs he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes.” – Luke 19:41-42

Jesus spoke these words immediately after his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. He was referring to the crowds who had so enthusiastically welcomed him without any true understanding of why he was really there. Palm Sunday was all about wrong expectations. As the people shouted out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 10:9b) they were recognizing Jesus’ kingship. However, they were incredibly short-sited and saw that kingship as an earthly salvation from the daily oppression they were experiencing under the Roman rule. The expectation was that Jesus was there to lead a revolution and bring a physical deliverance. The concept of spiritual deliverance was not considered on that day of celebration. And this fact brought grief to Jesus’ heart. Within a few short days, that crowd who had so enthusiastically welcomed Jesus were calling for his execution as their expectations were grossly unmet.

While contemplating Palm Sunday I’ve really taken some time to stop and ask myself “Michelle, does Jesus weep over the fact that you often miss what would bring you peace because you are so caught up in your own expectation of what you want from him?” So often I think that we miss the big picture by getting caught up in our own personal drama and desires. We lose site of the incredible gifts Jesus has to offer because we have placed our own expectations on him. Not that he is incapable of meeting those expectations; but so often he has something more, something bigger, in mind for us. He absolutely could have led a revolution in Jerusalem and wiped out the Roman oppression of the Jews. But imagine all that would have been lost if that was all that he had come for.

This Easter let’s pause to give thanks for the incredible gifts that Jesus offers. Let us also take a moment to stop and consider if our eyes are truly open to embracing those gifts. Or are we trading God’s peace for anxiety, and his joy for pain, as we struggle with placing expectations on Jesus that are not appropriate or in his plan for our best?

Fifth Week of Lent

IMG_0437“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2: 8 – 10 NLT

Lent may be something you have observed every year of your life. Or it may be a totally new concept. I’ve seen a lot of social media posts talking about Lent this year. In the first week I talked a little about some of the three traditional aspects of lent: giving something up, taking something on, and almsgiving. But I want to make sure that in the midst of observing one or perhaps all of those practices, that we don’t lose sight of the gift of Easter. Ultimately this season comes down to grace. It’s a gift that God gives us through His mercy, an incredible that mercy we don’t deserve.

Yes there are disciplines that when put into practice will grow and enrich our walk with the Lord. But I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that my salvation is a free gift that is offered to everyone who believes. I love the above Biblical passage because it looks at both grace and implementing good works. The author tells us that alone there is no way on earth that we could ever be good enough and earn enough favor to get into heaven of our own accord, it’s purely God’s mercy and our acceptance of that gift. But then he goes on to emphasize that God does have good things that he wants us to do; things that have been planned specifically for us.

As Easter is rapidly approaching let’s take a moment to bow our heads and give thanks for this free gift of salvation. But let us not stop there but continue to search for the good things that God has planned for us to do and to live them out each day. This Sunday morning can you take a few moments to write down a few things you feel He is prompting you to do to grow your walk with Him? If you feel like sharing, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about how God is moving and working in your heart.

Week Four Lent Devotional

This week we have a guest devotional post from Elizabeth Robison, a family nurse practitioner who spent six months in Kenya with Michelle last year.IMG_0073b

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19b

This Lenten Season is an opportunity for us to look with expectancy towards Easter morning- to prepare our hearts for the celebration of what God has done for us. It is also a time for us to acknowledge our humanity, our frailty- our desperate and dire need for salvation.

The truth is, on our own we don’t amount to much. The psalmist reminds us of this often: in Psalm 103 he proclaims:

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16 ESV)

Our lives are short. Like Adam we come from the same organic material that is found in the soil. When we die we will return to that same ground. And the time in between is but a blink of an eye in the span of all eternity.

Our GOD is everlasting. His name is eternal. He is a strong foundation, a sure tower. Our GOD is loving, merciful, slow to anger and full of compassion. He sees our weakness. He knows our frailty. Psalm 103:14 states “For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are but dust.” (ESV) Yet in his mercy, God gave us a gift, his very best gift. He gave us his Son. He gave us Jesus.

On our own we are nothing. On our own we are plagued with a universally fatal illness- humanity. Yet just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and the Israelites that looked upon it were healed, so also Jesus was raised up on a cross so that we also might look upon Him and be saved. We were all born under the curse proclaimed on Adam in Genesis 3. We all are dust, and return to dust. Jesus came into this dusty world of people and took on our humanity so that we might celebrate with Him for all eternity in Heaven.

So how do we live right now, in the in between? How do we live here on earth acknowledging that we are all human, while simultaneously recognizing that we are living for an everlasting Kingdom, a Kingdom that will never end?

IMG_8518I spent 6 months last year in Kipkaren, Kenya, a small community where just about every one you meet is a subsistence farmer. I arrived in April, and everywhere I went I would see whole families out on their small plots of land; tilling, plowing, preparing the soil. The seeds were planted. Time passed, we prayed for rain when there were dry spells, and the stalks of maize sprouted up from the ground. As the months passed by those stalks grew up above my head, and ears of maize peaked out from the eaves. The time came to harvest. Oh that fresh roasted maize tasted so so sweet.

We may be dust, but we are also soil. God wants to plant himself in us. He wants His Spirit to produce amazing fruit, Kingdom fruit in us. But first we must allow Him to. We must let ourselves recognize our desperate need for Him, and recognize that Him in us is the only way for our life to matter. Our lives may be brief, but God’s work, God’s harvest lasts for eternity. Take a moment. Allow your heart to be good soil. And ask that God might work in you- to allow His kingdom work to be done through you.

Third Week of Lent

 

IMG_9798“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

Spending time with small children of Kenya has taught me a lot about God’s grace and mystery. Children have such a different take on life than us more jaded adults tend to have. I love seeing the eyes of a child light up in delight often by the simple things. My two-and-a-half year old son teaches me about both giving and receiving grace every day.

I think there is a reason Jesus emphasized the importance of approaching God the Father as a little child. It doesn’t matter if a child is born in the most deluxe hospital in NY city or a mud hut in Kenya, to a little child the world is a place of wonder and excitement ready to be explored. When a child has a good father, he/she will run and even leap straight into daddy’s arms. We don’t just have a good daddy, we have the best father ever. And this perfect daddy absolutely longs for us to throw all abandon to the side and leap into his arms of safety and assurance. He wants us to share our secret hopes and dreams with him. Our ugly scars and sins won’t scare him away. In fact he wants to heal those festering hurts and ugly things that we hold on to.

This Lent season I’m attempting to stop and remember what it was like to be a child. I’m trying to lay down the parts of myself that tend to make life so complicated and to fall into the grace-giving, loving, arms of my heavenly father. Would you join me?

Second Week of Lent

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This week we have a special guest post from Rachel Whitfield. She and her husband Steve both have huge hearts for Africa and spent 2013 living in Kenya. They are currently living in Steve’s homeland of England.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked “lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38 – 42

Time, that is what the Lord requires of me this Lenten season. What does he require of you?

Different cultures place different sets of value on Time… and there are different strengths and weaknesses associated with each. But I want to focus our attention on two points: time as a service vs. time as a gift.

In the West, we tend to focus on keeping time. We keep schedules, calendars, set our watches, make plans upon plans. We are expected to be on time to things and we expect others to do the same. We get bent out of shape if people are late or things don’t match up the way they’re supposed to. We’re conscientious about keeping other people over time. Time is like a service… it’s more about what we’re getting from it.

In Kenya, well, Time isn’t so much about keeping it as about who you’re keeping it with. The present-tense of time is the most important thing… so stopping along the roadside to catch up with your neighbor is important, no matter what your destination might be (or how late you may be running in getting there). Remaining in the company of those gathered is more important than going to the next thing you may have ‘planned’, sometimes even if someone is expecting or depending on you. Time is like a gift… it’s more about what we’re giving than necessarily what we’re getting.

This Lenten season, I want to focus my thoughts and yours not on how much we’re keeping time, but who we’re keeping it with. I want to keep time with Jesus. Keep it sacred, not replacing it with something else; keep it focused, all distractions set aside; keep it real, as Jesus wants a real, honest, intimate relationship with each one of us. And as we give this gift of Time to our Redeemer… I’m sure he’ll be giving so much more back!

Lent Devotional Week 1

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I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19

That is exactly my prayer for you during this Lent season. Lent is meant to be a time to prepare our hearts for Easter. To meditate on what Christ did for us when he went to the cross and paid the penalty for every big and little sin that we ever have, or ever will, commit. To rejoice in the fact that it did not end at the cross, but that we serve a risen and living king. It’s a time to turn our hearts to the Father and to seek His will in our lives.

Traditionally there are three aspects of Lent, giving something up, taking something on and almsgiving (or giving to the poor). In my introduction to this devotional series I talked a bit about giving something. Whatever it is, the point is to in the absence of that thing/item/concept, to turn your heart to the Father. Here are a few ideas of things you might want to consider taking on: scripture memorization, volunteering some time to help someone in your life or area who has needs, or perhaps adding some dedicated time for prayer each day. There are tons of possibilities. I’d love to hear what you are doing this Lent season. And the final aspect is almsgiving, I also mentioned in the intro that we would love to have you financially support the ministry of Hope Matters during this season.

However you choose to honor Lent, my prayer is that it will bring you closer to the heart of Christ and that you truly will experience His unconditional love for you in a whole new way. Thanks for joining us in the journey. Each weekend we will share one short devotional. Some will come straight from me, but others will be from special guests. Thanks for reading! We at Hope Matters are praying for each of you during this Lenten season.

*Photo by Sarah Ackerly