Prayers with Skin On: An Open Letter to Our Neighbors

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Dear Neighbor,

I just want to take a moment to say:

Thank you.

Yes, you with the tween daughter just like mine, who took my girls under her wing and gave them a familiar, friendly face on the first day of school. Who has been that friendly face day in and day out since then — who has opened so many proverbial doors and explained the wonderful strangeness that is an American school, and all the traditions and subtleties that come with it.

And to you, her parents, for being people we can talk to, bounce ideas off of, laugh with. Thank you for telling us the best place to watch the fireworks without the hassle of traffic, and the easiest route to school and for being a safe place for our kids.

And you, the couple on the corner with the brood of crazy kids just as loud and laughy as ours. For your son, the same age as mine, and the first one of his kind to live so close by. For playdates and dinner dates and Facebook chats and church hunts.

To the elderly woman on the other side, who baked us cookies the day our crate arrived, who loves our kids and our puppy as much as we do.

You all don’t know it, but you are answers to our prayers. Prayers we have uttered again and again for over a year. Prayers we’ve meticulously spelled out, and prayers we couldn’t find the words for so our souls simply groaned and let the Spirit speak for us.prayers-with-skin-on

You, are flesh and blood, prayers with skin on, tangible expressions of God’s goodness  being light and grace and kindness in our lives.

You see, we asked God for things. For friends, for confidants, for kids who are kind and funny and welcoming.

We asked God for what our souls needed and He gave us you.

Each and every one of you, it brings tears to my eyes even now as I reflect, meet a specific and tangible thing we requested of God. God saw our need, and your life, and saw fit to work His Hand, this way and that, weaving here, cutting there, to orchestrate the tapestries of our lives fitting together into an image more beautiful than I had dared hope. And He’s not done yet! This picture is only just beginning to come together, but even from the messy, thread-jumbled underneath side of the tapestry, I can already see that it’s going to be magnificent.

And I pray that we can be prayers with skin of for you. To bring blessing, peace, love and hope to whatever piece of your heart needs it most.

And now I turn to you, Dear Reader. Where has God been kind and gracious and offered you the answers to your prayers with flesh and blood, skin and bones, perfectly imperfect through the people around you?

And who do you know that might just need your touch of kindness, grace, patience, hope? How has God been weaving and working to move you into just the right place to be the light in someone’s darkness?

I would venture to guess that more of us are meant to be prayer with skin on far more often than we might expect. But if we open our eyes, open our hearts, and look for His fingerprints in our day-to-day chaos, they are there. And we are there. Woven together, holding tight, being stronger together because of the One who orchestrated it all.

Getting a Glimpse

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Back in December, I posted this on Instagram:

Just a Glimpse

We had been back in the States for about 4 months, with zero clue as to what we were doing next. We had no idea if we would head back overseas or stay here in the U.S.

I remember during that time, however, I had so many, many moments like the one above. Moments where my breath was stolen by a love for this place like I’ve never known before.

I was born in Arizona. Other than a few short years in my early childhood, I lived here for most of my life until I got married and we started our whirlwind expat adventure. But never have I felt such a stirring deep in my soul as I did last winter.

I remember this day. And I remember feeling terrified to love so much. I didn’t want to let myself feel because if I let myself truly fall hardcore in love with this place it would be that much more heartache when we left it.

I had no reason to believe we wouldn’t leave. That’s kind of what we’ve done our whole adult lives — and definitely what we’ve done the past few years.

I was tempted to put up a wall. To not let myself feel the full extent of the yearning that comes with falling in love. Tempted to fight the awe one of her sunset brings; tempted to ignore the flutter of palm trees silhouetted against an all-blue sky.

I also remember wondering why. Why in the world was there suddenly this fresh stirring in my heart for a place I’ve known all my life? As a kid I tolerated it. As a young adult, I couldn’t wait to leave it. As a newlywed jet-setting around the world, I appreciated it. But suddenly I was truly loving it. Loving her people. Loving her culture. Seeing beauty where I used to see…nothing.

Of course, we did end up staying here in Arizona, and we’ve made our home not too terribly far from where that photo was taken. Our windows look out over the foothills that made up my childhood home and my kids are stomping the same grounds I did all those years — something I never thought I’d have the privilege of seeing.

Getting a GlimpseAnd I’m so grateful. I’m grateful that I had the impulse to share that image on social media, not so much because you would see it, but because I could look back and see it.

I see now that God was giving me a glimpse of what was to come. Just like He planted a love for Ireland and her people, then Vienna and her people, He planted a love for this place that He knew I would need on the dark days when I couldn’t see the forest for the cacti.

Because when reality hits and the dishes pile up and the 9-5 grinds us down and we look around this place and wonder what in the world have we done?….I can see.

I can see that this is the right place, this is the right time and whatever hardships or difficulties or annoyances we are enduring right now don’t negate that we were placed here in this house, this neighborhood, this school for such a time as this.

We have something this place needs. And that photo, that glimpse, reminds me that this place, these people, have something we need.

And so if you’re in a hard place today, I want to encourage you to go back. Look back to the place, or that time, or that note in your journal or that seemingly random photo on a website and remember.

And pay attention. That longing you can’t put your finger on? That flutter in your belly like a smile from your crush and you can’t figure out why because you’re just doing the same thing you’ve always done? Maybe you’re getting a glimpse. Maybe you’re being given the gift of seeing a tiny piece of the puzzle that is preparing you for what you can’t yet imagine. Tuck that away, dear friend. Don’t let yourself forget, but the time will come when you’ll need that glimpse like an anchor in a storm to remind you that you are where, you are who, you are what you are supposed to be.

When You’re Not Who You Thought You Were

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I slowly sipped the steaming coffee, letting it soothe me with it’s warmth.

As I cupped the mug in my hands, my eyes lingered on the faded Scottish flag painted upon it. We had bought it while in Scotland on a work trip back years ago. Back then there was no mistaking the stark white X slicing through the vibrant blue background. Today? You have to know what it used to be to recognize it.

I feel like that mug.

I’m not sure if it was a thought or a prayer, but I couldn’t let it go.

Some days, the reality of our 10 years of expat life is vivid and strong, shaping and informing the way we see everyday life.

Other times, like today, it seems faded and dull. So much of that lifestyle made up who I was and I couldn’t escape the thought:

I’m not who I thought I was.

When You're Not Who You Thought You Were

You know, I was the American girl living in Ireland, then Vienna, sharing inspiration about marriage, motherhood and faith. I was the one who would post surreal photos of a Viennese cafe or rolling moss-covered hills and declare the goodness of God that could be found there.

This place has sat quiet because I don’t know what to offer you anymore.

It’s a strange thing reconciling this faith journey and where life has taken us.

Can you relate? Have you ever woken up one day and realized you aren’t who you thought you were?

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to know who you are.

Identity.

And what it means when you just. don’t. know.

I started thinking about the woman at the well. You know, the lady who offered to give Jesus a drink of water and He ended up calling her out on her promiscuous lifestyle in the the way that only Jesus can. The way that convicts and cuts you to the spiritual quick, but endears you to Him in the most magnetic of ways. And she ran to her village — the village the had shunned her; treated her like such an outcast that she had to run her errands at the worst possible, most illogical time of day just to avoid running into them — and declared, “Come and see the man who told me everything I’ve ever done!”

Her life changed that day.

Her identity changed.

The more I look at Jesus, the more I see that time after time, when someone encountered Him, they woke up realizing they’re no longer who they thought they were.

Fishermen no longer fished — instead they told other men about the best story ever.

The shamed prostitute no longer damaged and soiled — instead, she was the one given the honor of preparing her Lord for burial with the most fragrant of offerings.

Friends, I still don’t know. I don’t know exactly who I am in this new phase of our lives. I do know as a follower of Christ my purpose never changes, but the manner in which that purpose is carried out sometimes does.

So, I think, dear ones…I think I will look to Jesus. I will seek Him. I will let Him call me out on where I’ve been unfaithful, let His words cut tdeep so that I can adore Him all the more.

And all those years spent overseas in that other life that seems like an eternity ago and only yesterday at the same time? I will choose to believe they weren’t wasted. Because I can still see their imprint on my soul. I may have to squint in just the right light; and who I was then may not be exactly who I am now, but I can’t be who I am now without having been who I was then.

Do you need to join me today? Do you need to run — or crawl, or hobble, or collapse — into the waiting arms of Jesus to let Him speak over you your true Identity? Then do it.

Don’t worry about words or fancy prayers. Let’s just open our hearts, open His Word, open our ears and let Him change us in the miraculous way that only He can.

Shall we?

When You Realize Your Own Insignificance

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I woke up with a jolt.

Something wasn’t right.

I sat up in bed and surveyed my surroundings. Pale blue light seeped lazily through the slats in the vertical blinds, and my husband slept, undisturbed, next to me. No children stirred down the hall, no bird welcome the day with his song.

I’d heard something. It was a pop. Or a bang. Or a…I don’t know. But now all was silent. All I could hear was my own heart pounding in my ears as I became aware of the cool beads of perspiration lining my forehead.

I scanned the room, the doorway, and listened.

Nothing.

I looked at the clock. 4:00 am.

All was silent, but for the gentle rise and fall of my husband’s breath as he slumbered beneath the covers.

I eased myself back onto the pillow and fell into a fitful sleep.

Later that morning while scanning the news, I was made aware of what had roused me.

Photo by: Deibel Photography

Photo by: Deibel Photography

A large asteroid had entered earth’s atmosphere, causing a sonic boom and hundreds of meteorites to scatter all over central and southern Arizona.

A strange feeling washed over me when I read that. Kind of like that feeling you get just after the roller coaster clicks over the crest of the tallest drop.

While I had spent the previous week working, cooking, folding laundry and playing with my kids, this massive rock had been on it’s own journey. It had hurtled towards earth with God-only-knows-what speed, and God-only-knows how many others could potentially join it.

I could suddenly see in my mind’s eye the vast expanse of outer space and all the magnificent goings on that would steal our breath and bring us to our knees in awe if we were to witness them firsthand.

A feeling overwhelmed me. A feeling similar to when I had awoken to the news that our friends halfway around the world had experienced a large earthquake. We were going to the grocery store and talking about schooling for the fall, while their livelihood was being threatened in a dramatic and violent way.

Or like the feeling I got standing on the end of the pier looking down in the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean, imagining all the amazing and wondrous creatures stirring below.

I spend so much time focusing on my momentary and immediate wants and needs, and so little time considering the vast enormity of everything else.

Suddenly I feel like that beloved cartoon character standing beneath the expansive night sky shouting, “I’m significant!”

Except I know that I’m not.

In no universe, other than my own, am I the center-point. There’s no version of this story of humanity in which I am the fulcrum about which the rest of creation swings.

It’s in these moments — these momentous, yet altogether mundane moments — that the severity of my insignificance smacks with the full force of a thousand hurricanes.

In the grand scheme of things, my plans, my agendas, my purposes, don’t mean a single solitary thing.

I am utterly and completely insignificant.

Not in a self-deprecating, I-have-nothing-to-bring-to-the-world sort of way.

No.

I’m insignificant in the most gloriously significant way.

When I see my true place in this majestic, glorious, chaotic and dangerous world, it is then that I am truly free to fulfill the deeper purpose for which I was placed here.

It’s when I realize the petty nature of my shallow desires that I am released to pursue the dreams and callings of eternal significance.

When I remove any claim — albeit a false claim because nothing was ever mine to begin with — of control of my surroundings, I am empowered to reach out with love and compassion to my fellow brothers and sisters traveling this sod of earth alongside me.

I hope to never lose the wonder, and terror, of moments like I had the other night. I don’t want to forget the awe and trembling of the unfettered realization that there is something so much bigger, more powerful, more wild and dangerous, yet more compassionate at the helm. And that He owes me no explanation.

And while I walk along the daily to-do’s and want-to-do’s and passionate-to-do’s of this life, I never want to lose the awareness that there are infinitely more things, people, heartache and joy happening all around me than what I can see with my feeble eyes.

And I never want to stop being grateful for the opportunity to realize my own insignificance.

The Exquisite Ache of Learning Something new

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I started a new job last week. And after a decade of living the non-traditional expat lifestyle, I can tell you the learning curve was steep. Not just the learning curve, but the mental energy stamina.

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve used my brain in this way.

Oh, I’ve learned new stuff while we lived overseas, sure. Languages, cultures, how to parallel park on a busy European street with cars flying by.

But this…its stretching me. Its awkward and humbling and it stings as the proverbial muscles in my brain stretch and torque in ways they haven’t had to for the largest portion of my working adult life.

And I’m loving it.

The Ache of Learning Something New

Oh sure, I’ve had to go to my boss, red-faced and sheepish to admit when I messed up. A lot. It’s not totally dissimilar to learning a new language. Just like when we moved to Vienna, I wanted to be able to have all the complex conversations by day 2, I found myself the second day on the job frustrated at myself that I couldn’t remember all the myriad responsibilities that accompany my job, and unable to independently navigate the databases I had never seen until the day before.

Sometimes we shy away from learning new things because it’s uncomfortable and hard and awkward. We wobble around like Bambi on his newborn legs, and hope no one notices when we slide, limbs akimbo, across the ice.

But the thing is, the struggle makes us so much stronger. So much more flexible. To quote the incomparable Tom Hanks from the movie A League of Their Own, “It’s the hard that makes it great.”

Though my feet are more firmly planted in my new role than they were last Monday, I know that I will still wobble and slip for awhile yet. But I’m really loving the feeling of accomplishment at the end of my day. The delicious mental exhaustion that reminds me that I’ve used my mind, struggled, and overcome.

So, I ask you dear reader, what are YOU going to learn new his week? This month? This year? Are you shaky-legging it in some new venture? Or are you sitting on the sidelines, worried about falling flat on your face? Let me encourage you, to get out there and wobble, Bambi-friends! I’ll be right there beside you.