This Moment

This moment is painful. This speck of time I want so desperately to escape. Go backwards. Go forwards… any moment but this one. Any time but now.

The enemy is whispering. . .  Failure. Unloved. Weak. Alone. Hopeless. Broken. Unwanted. Forgotten.

His lies. . . Run. Escape. Don’t press into Him. He has no plan for you. Run. Escape the pain. Run. Run. Run. . .

I want to be there, last summer, laughing on the beach and so full I thought I might burst. Two years ago… basking in the Iraqi sun with my Kurdish friends singing Happy Birthday. That college night  surrounded by the family I chose, up until 3AM and laughing so hard I cried. At that gymnastics meet I won, grasping the plastic “gold” medal, my most treasured possession. I want to be 5 years old again, when scraping my knee was devastating, yet all I needed was to be wrapped in their arms to know my world was perfect again.

I don’t want to be in this second. I want it to be next year, my heart more mended, my pain more forgotten. Want it to be that moment when all the puzzle pieces fit and He says look daughter, this is why I created you to be you – this is why I brought you through. I want it to be my wedding day. Want it to be the day I become a mom. I want it to be tomorrow. Next week. Next month. But now? This now I just want to escape. This now-ness is a heavy blanket crushing me – I want to be out from under it.

But now is what I have. This moment is where I grow. Here is where He loves and shapes me. This second is where He picks me up, draws me closer, and urges me to trust.

This moment I choose to give up control. This second I choose to take comfort in El Roi,  my God that sees. This moment is where He has me and so this is the moment I will take shelter under His wings.

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Places

‎”The hardest places to leave are the places God leads us to. Because those are the places where you are shaped and molded into a new person. Those are the places where your heart expands, your minds open to new perspectives, and your eyes begin to really see.” –Environments of Grace

My focus was so narrow before Iraq, I wasn’t able to see how much bigger the world was than my itty bitty bubble of a life. My world centered around me, my private school education, my “faith” based pedastool and my yearning to be perceived as a “good” Christian girl. I had no idea my perspective was so off. I loved the Lord; I loved people; I loved serving. I really thought I had it figured out. I thought I knew what it was to be a Christian; I thought I truly knew what it meant to follow after Him.

But I didn’t.

I made things so complicated when it came to Faith. I was a Pharisee, putting so many rules and restrictions on what being a Christian was suppose to look like. In my naivety, a person of faith was suppose to look a certain way, walk and talk a certain way. I condemned those, though not realizing it, for not fitting into my guidelines. The qualities I attributed as necessities of walking with Christ had WAY more to do with my West Texas-itty bitty bubble of a culture and WAY less to do with what it means to follow Christ. It’s like a veil was taken off my eyes and I realized how much more complicated I was making things than what God had intended.

Living overseas taught me how to love people better, even when they’re difficult to love. It taught me how to live in community instead of pushing away when things get difficult. It made me realize that others think and view things completely different based on where they’ve been. And that understanding the way a person thinks and views life is the key to helping them understand the love of Christ. It made me not want to settle into a normal life living the American dream. And it made the old aspirations of what I thought I wanted in life dim in comparison to how HE could use my life. Living in Iraq made me realize how crucial it is to depend on the Lord and yearn after Him and how scary it is when you don’t.

I DEFINITELY haven’t arrived. If anything I’ve realized now how much I will never completely understand about the Lord this side of heaven. How much I have to be dependent on Him because I know absolutely nothing.

There are days I miss that country so much I can barely breathe. My six months in Iraq were HARD. That time was exhausting. Painful. Draining. Stretching. Uncomfortable. Maturing. Humbling. Joyful. Exciting. Revealing. And full.   I’m humbled that God was so incredibly gracious enough to me to take me half way around the world to shape and mold me into a new person, expand my mind to new perspectives, and open my eyes so that I may see. How great is the Father’s love that He would take me halfway around the world so that I can know Him better?!?

Simply amazing.

Cha-Ching

Spoiler alert: This post might be offensive. Seems like talking about money almost always is. I would apologize but in all honesty, I’m not really that sorry. Just know I’m also preaching to myself  as I write this. I am, however, sorry for the length of this post …

I guess it all started with my trip to Iraq. Seeing how much I live with and how little I truly need. Seeing how little people live with in another country – even those who are not considered poor. Living out of one (under 50 lb) suitcase for six months makes you realize all those things you can do without (and there is A. L.O.T. I can do without).

I came home after Iraq infuriated with the waste in the American culture – especially the Christians in our American culture. Thoughts like “Really?!? You are going to pay someone to park your car?!? Do you realize a family of 10 in a third world country could eat off of that for a week!?!” or “Seriously? You are really trying to convince me that you deserve those $200 boots??? That would almost pay for the airfare of a child in Iraq to get life-saving heart surgery in Turkey!!!” and “What the crap? Our church in no way needs a new 2 million dollar building!!! And they are asking me to pray for it?”

I wish I could say that my anger was righteous. I’m not sure that it was. The way my heart was changed to view money and to be a good steward that there of was a good thing, but the way I let it make me critical (hateful even) toward others was not.

It’s funny how easy it is to drift back into old ways. How easy it is to blend back into one’s culture. It’s one thing to be ignorant of life outside the US and not to have seen what real poverty looks like. It’s one thing to not know how filthy rich our country is because of never experiencing anything else. It’s an entirely different story to have experienced it, lived it, breathed it and chosen to forget. I am ashamed to say I am the latter.

It snuck up on me. Surprised me. My critical spirit toward how Christians spend their money did not change and yet I began to convince myself of things I needed. I was blinded. “Gap’s having a sale! I have to buy clothes at these prices!” “I am way to exhausted to cook this week. I deserve to eat out.” “Everyone has a new Iphone!!! It would make life SO much easier. MUST get one! I can’t survive without it” “Only 80 channels?!? They call this cable!?! What are we going to do without such and such channel???” and on and on and on…

The past few weeks God has taken the blinders off. To say I’ve been humbled would be the understatement OF THE YEAR. Thank you, Jesus. Sometimes I need a good smack on the head – metaphorically speaking.

In Bible study a few weeks ago: We were asked to choose something to pray for in our culture. My prayer was that Christians in America would be able to focus on the needs in the world instead of being so inwardly focused. (At this point I am still critical of others and am clueless to my own selfishness. Sometimes I think I’m so holy that it’s nauseating. Forgive my evil heart, Lord.)

That same Sunday at church: The sermon was on missions. The pastor spoke on how selfish we are as Christians – so content in our American bubble. Blatantly oblivious to the suffering in the world. We skip over the parts of the Bible where God commands us to look after widows and orphans and feed the poor. We nod our head in agreement when Jesus tells us to go out into all the nations thinking that doesn’t specifically mean that I have to go. It should not be radical for someone to devote their life to being a missionary… we should ALL be missionaries wherever our address. It should be radical to be a Christian and NOT be one. (At this point I should have heard my wake up call. Instead I think, “Yes, Lord! This sermon is an answer to my prayer from Bible study! You and I, God, we are going to fix this thing!” Ha! Little did I know that I’M the one He’s talking to.)

The next week is when things start to change…

We get rid of the cable. Good start. I stumble across PLC’s website and think, “Why have I not been supporting this organization that I’ve loved and rallied for these past 3 years?!?” Then, I’m at work and stumble across the World Vision site and a sweet little girl from Uganda stares back at me: I am the orphan – care for me. I am the poor – feed me. I am the least of these – love me. 

I was driving to work the other day and decided to listen to a random sermon. It shouldn’t surprise you that I picked one (at random mind you) entitle ‘Money: a gift or a god?’ About how God gives to us so that we can give away. How we need to be better stewards to what he entrusts us with because that just it… it’s not ours!

And here is the kicker… yesterday I was reading one of my very favorite blogs and this is what I read…

“It is easy to look to God and ask, ‘Why is there so much poverty in the world? Why is there so much hurt, so much inequality and unfairness, so much destitution?’ I bet He would ask us the same thing.”

And He says to me…

Ashley, why is there so much poverty? Why is there so much hurt? Why are there so many orphans unloved and so many poor not cared for? My sweet daughter I’ve entrusted you with SO much. What are you doing with it?

My life needs to radically change.

Does yours?

‘No Eating’

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began yesterday. To be honest, I knew little about this holiday before spending 1/2 a year in a Muslim country. To me the holiday meant no food… a month of not eating during the day.

But I came to find out there is much more to this month than not eating during daylight.

What do you know about Ramadan? Did you know Muslims not only abstain from food, but water also? Did you know Sunnis and Shi’ites break their fast at different times?

For more things you might not know about this celebrated month, read the TIME magazine article, Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ramadan.

So, which one surprised you the most?

Hours to go

… until I leave this country that I have come to love.
This country and culture that is oddly somewhat normal to me now.
It doesn’t seem real, feels like pretend.

The past several days have been full of goodbyes. I hate them. Somehow there aren’t adequate words to depart from a friend turned family member whom I might never see again.

I feel numb towards it all. I’m not sure what else I can say and so I will leave you with a handful of ‘good-bye’ pictures:

With Shohan and Angel in our 'maxi' dresses

Braiding Emma's hair on Thanksgiving morning

Braiding Emma's hair on Thanksgiving morning

With Nageen (left) and her sister at a cafe

With Nageen (left) and her sister at a cafe

Sweet Suzan

Sweet Suzan

Trehan and Aria - a PLC kid

Trehan and Aria - a PLC kid

Brooke

Brooke

Samana and her 3 month baby Tnook

Samana and her 3 month baby Tnook

Kanar - the hardest good-bye is yet to come

Kanar - the hardest good-bye is yet to come

Hopefully these photos can describe what i’m at a loss for words to say. (A picture says a thousand of them right?)

There are so many more stories to tell. Please continue to read as I will be telling many more of them in the days to come.

No More ICU

Quick Update:

Vary in ICU

Honya Sleeping in ICU

These are both taken when Honya and Vary were in ICU.

BUT…
They were both released from ICU into their own private rooms with their moms today!

Also, Mohammad is back in Iraq with his family.

Read more on Preemptive Love’s Blog:
http://preemptivelove.org/blog/

Also, just wanted to give credit to Joshua Gigliotti.
All of the pictures on my blog from Turkey are his and they are incredible!

-Tonight, just in awe of the work of God’s hands.

Nothing But Good News

God is the giver of good gifts.
If nothing else, I’ve learned this today.

Mohammad is in his own private room in the hospital and boards a plane tomorrow to come back home!
Mohammad Coloring

Beautiful baby Honya had surgery this morning.

Honya 1

Mom Kissing Honya

At just 12 pounds, she went into surgery this morning at 10:30.
Her mother watched as she was carried away, doing her best to be strong.

I’ve tried to place myself in the shoes of these moms.
These moms who are hoping for a miracle for their children, their children who are under a death sentence.
These mothers are in a foreign land.
Surrounded by a foreign language and culture.
Sleeping in a room by themselves, many for the first time in their lives.
Putting the care of their dying children into the hands of Turkish doctors and nurses.
The people who they’ve been told are the enemy.

I can’t imagine the uncertainty and fear they must feel.
The enormous amount of helplessness.

My prayer is that during this time, this time of fear, that God would reveal himself to them. And that they would have no choice but to cling to Him.

Honya’s surgery went beautifully.
No complications.
She is resting now in ICU.
Dr. Cicek is hopeful to extubate her tonight or tomorrow.

Praise God!

Honya ICU

Honya & Wires

Vary also had surgery today.
Hers was the scariest surgery of all.

Vary

Upon finding more problems with her heart, the surgery become far more complicated.

The doctors had to cool her body down to 16 degrees Celsius,
drain the blood from her body,
resect a portion of the artery dangerously close to a nerve that could leave Vary with neurological damage,
pump the blood back into her tiny body,
warm her back up
and restart her heart.

The surgery went perfectly.
Not only that. . .
but it was a full correction.
She will not have to have another heart surgery!

Friends
Thank you for your prayers.
Thank you beyond words.

But please don’t stop praying for these children.
Though the surgery is over
Though Dr. Cicek has fixed their hearts.
Now it’s their turn.
They have to fight for life.

-In awe of the graciousness of God

Find out more @ http://preemptivelove.org/blog/

Baby Honya Headed to Surgery

Honya in Hospital

This precious and fragile baby girl gets her chance at life in about 6 hours.
She is still sick with a lung infection but the pediatrician and cardiologist have both cleared her for surgery.

I have fallen in love with her.
I have never wanted life for a child as much as I want it for this beautiful girl.

But the Lord cares for her a million times more than I ever could.

God is in control.

Pray that Honya’s tiny body wants to fight for life.
Pray that God would give Dr.Cicek wisdom in surgery.
Pray peace over Honya’s mother and family as they face the most difficult 4 hours of their lives.
Pray that ultimately God would be glorified and made known whatever the outcome.

Honya

-Heavy heart for this sweet little girl.

Mohammad’s Surgery: A Complete Success

Mohammad received his long awaited surgery this morning.
Doctors repaired a huge hole in the upper chambers of his heart.
No problems.
A full correction!
He is now recovering in ICU.

Mohammed to Surgery

Headed to Surgery

Mohammed Bracelet

Mohammed

Mohammad's Mom

Praying for her eldest son

ICU

Recovering in ICU

Vary has had a tough time the past few days.
She is very fearful of her new surroundings
keenly aware of things going on around her.
The nurses had to sedate her to complete an echo.
Discovered coarctation as well as her VSD
This surgery is so much bigger than previously thought.

Baby Honya is quarantine with a right lung infection.
Pediatrician visited her today and isn’t too worried about it.
She is still all smiles and giggles
Good chance for surgery on Monday!

One surgery down, two to go.
Thank you for your prayers.
And good night from Iraq.