Jesus loves refugees.

I wish more people could see that God calls us to care for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner among us not just because they have a special place in His heart, but because we do! In allowing us to know and love those whom He cares so deeply about, He spoils us with a deeper experience of His love, joy, provision, and grace–through them!

Hau and her husband came to the States as Burmese refugees in 2011. I met them 2+ years ago through my time with Loving All Peoples. We prayed in her apartment on a regular basis and I witnessed firsthand what the prayers of someone who truly believes in the power of prayer looks like. She would cry out to God without abandon and together in faith, we thanked God for the house He would someday provide her family. We ended each prayer session with a delicious Burmese meal and some play time with her kids.

Two years later, God answered our prayers above and beyond what we asked for by providing them with a wonderful 3-bedroom house where they can freely pray and worship Him. Written across their fence in both English and Zomi are the words: “GOD IS GOOD.” Indeed, He is!

They invited me over to spend the night last night and I was, once again, on the receiving end of their hospitality. As the night went on, we discovered that Hau had forgotten it was her birthday!! We quickly got a birthday cake from the nearest Walmart and sang, “Happy Birthday to Mommy” before her kids ate all the frosting their little bellies could handle.

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I look at this family and see a glimpse of my family from 25 years ago. These kids will grow up fully American, without any lack or awareness of what their immigrant parents went through to provide that kind of childhood for them. Befriending Hau and her husband has taught me to appreciate my parents more. It has taught me to thank God for His provision and to be more generous with what He has given me. I am better for knowing this family.

Today, I’m grateful that the invitation stands for each of us to engage with the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner among us. It’s not a “die-to-yourself-because-it-will-be-so-difficult” invitation but a “taste-and-see-that-the-Lord-is-good” one. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me! #JesusLovesRefugees

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Jesus loves strangers.

I look at these pictures from today and just shake my head at how cool God is.

I met Elizabeth years ago when we both used to work at JCP Headquarters. I was trying to learn Spanish at the time so every time I saw her in the hallways or cafeteria, I’d spit out the only sentence i knew: “Hola Elizabeth! Cómo éstas? Estoy aprendiendo Español!” I only said it a few times before she started finishing my sentence for me and we laughed at how I clearly wasn’t aprendiendo Español if that was all that I knew! We ended up getting lunch a few times and somehow were able to communicate solely through hand gestures, Google Translate, and lots of laughter. That was when I discovered that language wasn’t entirely necessary for communication.

A year after I left JCP, Elizabeth texted me saying she was also no longer at JCP and that she had just had a baby daughter! I went over to her apartment to meet her baby and we relied on Google Translate once again until her 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter came home from school and translated for us.

That was two years ago.

Today I drove out to Elizabeth’s house for some delicious homemade tamales and she showed me the beautiful piñatas she makes in her garage. Her now 9-year-old daughter ran out to hug me and recalled in detail the games we played together two years prior. Her baby is now two and her son is becoming a little man. We reminisced about our lunch dates at JCP and marveled at how we’re still friends all these years later.

God is cool because He sees great value in each person in front of us and sometimes if we’re paying attention, He lets us see it too. #JesusLovesStrangers

 

The time I prayed for Mother Teresa.

I believe that Jesus loves everyone. I also believe that when people accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, He shows them how to follow Him, which often leads to loving the people whom He loves. Based on these two core beliefs of mine, I’ve had the honor and privilege of experiencing moments where I see people through God’s lens. When this happens, I’m usually moved to engage in conversation with total strangers out of this strange love for them–what I believe is a glimpse of God’s love for them.

Which brings me to Teresa.

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I was getting work done from a Panera Bread this afternoon and saw Teresa bussing the tables around me. We made eye contact a few times and smiled, but I had my earphones in and was focused on my computer. She walked past me a few times and then it happened–I felt God’s love for her. The next time she walked by, I took my earphones out and said hi. She stopped and we made small talk for a bit. Then I said, “I saw you working and just wanted to ask you if there was anything that I could pray for you about today.” She looked at me, smiled, and said, “You’ve asked me that before.”

Uhh what? I had never met this woman before.

She continued, “I thought it was you! That’s why I kept looking at you before, but I wasn’t sure. Then when you asked me that just now, I knew I was right. It was you! You asked me that same thing before!”

Ha. What?? Surely she was mistaken. I had never seen her before in my life! I asked her where we were when that happened and she said, “At Walmart. You came through my line and you walked back to ask me that. It was you! I remember.” I asked her which Walmart and she said, “The one on 30. I know it was you. What’s your name?” “Sang.” She nodded, “Yup, it was you!”

I felt bad because I was certain she had me mistaken for another Asian girl she must’ve met before. The Walmart on 30?! I’m never anywhere near 30! That’s 20-some miles away from where I live!

Then I remembered…I spent a few months at a friend’s house near 30 two summers ago and would occasionally swing by that Walmart. I asked her if it was a while ago and she said yes. I asked if she remembered what we prayed for and she said for her work and a new job. Wow, and here she was working a new job!! I started to believe her that we’d met before. How crazy!

I asked her how I could pray for her this time and she shared with me that she recently took in a 19-year-old girl who was homeless and prostituting herself in order to make ends meet. She said she hesitated with that decision at first because she and her daughter live in a one-bedroom apartment and don’t really have any extra room, but she felt like God wanted her to take her in anyway so she did. She brought the girl to church with her and the girl just accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior two weeks ago and is going to get baptized in a few weeks! She shared how the girl thanked her for bringing her to church because ever since she stepped foot in the church, she felt a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. Teresa said, “I told her, ‘That’s God, hija [‘daughter’ in Spanish]. He brings people into our lives like that.”

Yes, Teresa. That’s God!

Picking up hitchhikers for Jesus.

According to the Bible, God’s two most important commandments to us are to:
1. Love God with all we’ve got, and
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

When a religious leader asked Jesus one time who this “neighbor” in the second commandment was referring to, Jesus shared a story with him to explain. One day, a Jewish man was minding his own business traveling in-between cities when he was suddenly attacked and robbed by a bunch of crazies. He was left to die on the side of the road. Bummer.

Lucky for him, a Jewish priest came along. Yay, right? Nope. Because the priest purposefully crossed to the other side of the road to avoid the dying man. Then another Jewish guy who worked at the Temple came along and did the same thing as the priest! The poor beat-up man was still left to die on the side of the road.

Then a Samaritan man (a member of the Jew’s most hated enemy group) approached. And whaddya know, he had compassion for the dying Jew, bandaged up his wounds, and brought him to an inn where he even paid for the man’s care before continuing on his journey and promising to return for him.

Jesus tells this story and then asks the religious leader who in the story he thought was a neighbor to the man who was attacked. You guessed it, the Samaritan. Actually, “the one who showed mercy to him.” Then Jesus tells the guy to go and do the same thing as the Samaritan.

I read this story this morning and thought about how counter-cultural Jesus was. He demonstrated how our “neighbor” is often the person who is the most different from us, the person who is in need, the person who we don’t typically associate with. That’s uncomfortable and challenges me! I asked God, “Will you show me who my neighbor is today?” and then went on with my morning routine.

An hour or so later, I got in my car to get work done at a local coffee shop and drove past two women walking on the other side of the road going against traffic. It was cold and raining. One of the women was pulling a suitcase. What the heck? I thought. They are walking on the wrong side of the road, there’s no sidewalk, and it’s cold and rainy. That sucks.

Give them a ride, I heard God whisper.

Umm…what? No thanks, God. It’s cold and raining and that’s weird. I kept on driving.

Didn’t you ask Me to help identify your neighbor today?

Ugh. No, God. That is weird and I’ve already passed them. I need to go get work done.

Okay, it’s your call!

Haaaa. I knew that feeling too well. That feeling of disobedience. I got in the left lane, made a U-turn, and headed back up the road to find the elusive pair. It took me a while to find them since I had driven that far past them (ha), but I finally found them at the top of a small hill. I put my blinkers on, rolled down my window, and asked if they needed a ride.

“Oh, thank you so much! We are just headed over there past the highway. The closest stop the bus could take us to is still a few blocks away from where we’re going so we thought we could walk there from the stop but we didn’t know it’d be raining!” the middle-aged daughter explained for her and her elderly mother.

As I drove them the block or two down the road, I discovered that they were heading to an imaging center to get some tests done for the mom who had recently discovered some short-term memory loss. “They think it might be a blood clot,” the mom explained.

“Man,” I shared, “Do you know how much God loves you? I drove past you and felt like He told me to turn around to pick you up. I actually passed you guys a while ago but it took me that long to finally turn around and do it! I hope you believe that God sees you and is watching out for you!” They were so appreciative and kept thanking me. I prayed for the mom’s health and then hugged them goodbye when I dropped them off.

I couldn’t help but smile as I got back on the road. Not because I’m such a great person (because clearly I didn’t want to help them) but because God is such a great God! He is so compassionate and kind, y’all. And He wants to use us to love our neighborsthe people who are the most different from us, the people who are in need, the people who we don’t typically associate with.

Who is your neighbor? Will you pull over for them?

my half marathoughts: momentum

Forty-four days ago, I defied all odds and completed my first half marathon. I ran a non-stop, negative-split race (finishing faster than you start) with my dear friend Jenny in the exact time we predicted we’d run it in. I’m pretty sure it was the first time in my life that I set a TRULY impossible (to me) goal, trained hard for it, and successfully achieved it! I have never been more proud of myself and now stand amazed by how much our bodies are capable of when we put our minds to it and invest in training diligently.

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Now that I am an official half marathoner (#nbd…#vbd), I’ve had some people come to me for running advice, which makes me laugh. They always ask if I was a runner before this, as if to see if they, too, can achieve the impossible. I quickly and proudly say no, that the most I had ever run before training was a 5k years ago and that I could barely run 0.1 miles when I began training–no joke, think about it: 0.01 miles…0.02 miles…it takes work to get to 0.1 miles!! (And okay, full disclosure: I did do track in high school but was always a sprinter and never a distance runner.)

Since my race a month and a half ago, I have only run twice and for one mile each time. It’s amazing and embarrassing how much having a goal really helps keep you motivated! So this morning, I decided to lace up my shoes again and hit the ground running (literally).

I’m not going to lie, the first 0.1 miles did feel pretty good. My body surprisingly missed the movement of putting one foot in front of the other, and the chill morning air hit my lungs with a (slightly uncomfortable) nostalgia. “What took me so long to get back out here?” I thought to myself.

…But then I kept going (0.3 miles, 0.5 miles, 0.7 miles…), and I felt my lungs start closing, my muscles start hurting, and my mind start weakening. Ugh. “Why did I think this was a good idea??” Determined to make it to at least one mile, I kept on going.

Earlier this morning, my friend Dave from South Africa shared with me a mental picture he felt like God gave him for me. He pictured a person standing at the edge of a long jump pit and jumping in with all their might, only to look back and realize that there was a whole runway lined up before the point at which he had jumped! The person picked himself up, went to the start of the runway, and attempted a jump again, this time with the help of the momentum he had built up from his run. He jumped higher and farther than he did before and it was all because of the momentum he had built up. Dave felt like God was using that picture to encourage me to use the momentum that He’s given me to keep going strong in life! Wow. Super cool, right?

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Source: wikiHow

I thought of that picture during my run this morning, which was just a little bit shorter than the 13.1 miles I ran not too long ago. 😛 I thought about all of those hours and sweat I poured into training for my race. I thought about the three straight months of running/biking almost every day, committed to the point of packing running gear on vacations (and actually using them!!), and the countless number of conversations I had with my more experienced runner friends about foam rolling and energy gels. All of that momentum brought me to where I was this morning as I was tempted to stop before one mile, and I realized that all I had to do was go back up the runway and use that momentum in my favor.

There are many analogies in the Bible that compare the human life to running a race. Training is difficult and there are times you want to quit, but if you keep your eyes fixed on the goal and faithfully put one foot in front of the other each day, eventually God will help you build up enough momentum to cross that finish line you never imagined crossing! And after you’ve crossed the finish line once, you gain the confidence and joy that comes with knowing you can cross it again. Because God is faithful and will always carry you through.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Hebrews 12:1-2
My life has drastically changed in the last few years as I’ve learned how to love God and what it means to truly follow Him. It blows my mind each time someone tells me how much they admire my faith and wish they could have it too, because just like with my half marathon training, I started from square one not too long ago! I’ve found that learning to love and follow God one tiny step at a time truly does build up momentum to complete this race of life that God has set before us. The journey won’t be easy–I’ve tripped, experienced pains, and been tempted to quit running more often than not, but if we keep our eyes on Jesus as we run with endurance, He will give us the momentum to finish the race with joy!

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Japanese proverb
So no matter where you are in your race of life today, I hope you are encouraged to either take those little steps to begin building momentum or to remember how much momentum God has already given you to keep going! Because “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Hello, I love you, and Goodbye?

Two great loves in my life are traveling and Jesus, so what else would be better than to travel with Jesus?

It’s been two weeks since I returned home from my 3-week adventure in Africa, and since then, I have been struggling to process and put into words what my time away has been and done for me. The first half of my trip was to Zambia “for work” with Every Orphan’s Hope (still can’t believe I can say that), and the second half was to Madagascar to visit my dear friend Katie who is working at an orphan ministry called Iris Madagascar. I also had two overnight layovers in South Africa in between, which was spent with some friends who work for I Am Second – South Africa. So from beginning to end, I really felt like I was traveling with Jesus to visit all of these places where He already was. (Y’know, that whole omnipresent thing. :P)

As I’ve spent time reflecting on the various events that happened in each of these countries and all of the people I was privileged to meet along the way, I am left in complete and utter awe. Why me, Lord? is the thought that keeps popping into my head. Why did You choose ME to meet and love Your kiddos across the world? Why did You choose me to bring Your love and encouragement to Your children there? Why? I feel so spoiled.

Out of all of the sweet faces I met in Africa, the face of this little boy in Madagascar is one that I can’t seem to shake from my head. He. Was. THE CUTEST!! Observe:

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See what I mean? The cutest.

I keep thinking about how one doesn’t just stumble into Madagascar – how you have to really try to go to Madagascar in order to go there. And yet, there are all of these amazing people who live there who will most likely never leave their beautiful African island of a country. And God let me step into it for a few days and fall in love with them, only to probably never return again. Hello, I love you, and Goodbye – all in a matter of days. Why??

On one hand, I feel incredibly humbled and honored to have been able to meet and love these people in person, and I know that I am able to pray for them with a different perspective and from a different position now that I’ve entered their world, but on the other hand, it almost seems like a cruel joke. Why does God allow us to meet and love people from all over the world or in different life seasons only to have us be separated from them? It doesn’t seem fair.

After processing this with my boss, he suggested an idea of why God would allow this…why God would allow us to experience this longing to be with people whom we’ve met in different parts of the world or who have passed away. God has placed eternity in everyone’s heart. And this longing that we have to be reunited with the people we love is just a mere glimpse of the longing for eternity that we were all born with…a longing to be reunited with the One who has placed eternity in our hearts to begin with.

“Humans are unique because we hunger for something the
experiences of this planet cannot satisfy—a quest for eternity.”
-James MacDonald

From a survival standpoint, it doesn’t make sense why we, as humans, still love those who have passed away…why we still love those who we will never see again. This kind of love will never be reciprocated–there really is no benefit for us to continue loving them. But this attachment we’ve formed with them is by definition, “a deep and enduring emotional bond that exists across space and time,” and I believe, evidence of this capacity for eternity that we, as humans, were created to have.

Before Jesus is crucified, He tells His best friends to not worry or be troubled, because He is going to prepare a place for all of them in Heaven. He assures them, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3), and then He reiterates again, “No, I will not abandon you as orphans–I will come to you…Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again.”

It’s interesting that Jesus uses the words “abandon” and “orphans.” He knew that His friends would feel sad and confused once He was gone. He knew that they would long to be with Him again. And He knew that they would be reunited with Him once again. He spoke with such certainty and assurance because He understood the realm of eternity that we all exist in. He saw the despair in His friends’ eyes as they realized how quickly the Hello, I love you, and Goodbye came and went, but He knew that the pain of that Goodbye would help them more fully appreciate the joy of the Hello again someday. I believe that this longing we have to be reunited with those we love is a nod to the longing we were born with to be reunited with God Himself.

And so, I am grateful for this tension that I feel. I am grateful that God has allowed me to travel and meet His kiddos in all different parts of this big world, only to most likely never see them again on this side of eternity. I am grateful because this longing gives me a taste of the inexpressible joy that I will one day experience when I am reunited with these sweet faces and my God in Heaven. And I am grateful for the Hellos, I love yous, and Goodbyes in life, no matter how much or how little time exists between them all, because they remind me that this world is not my home and that I’m just traveling through it with Jesus.

And He’s already on the other side. 🙂

Hugs for Orlando.

There’s a story in John 11 about how one of Jesus’ closest friends died. Jesus leaves where he’s at to go visit that family in their town even though there were people in that town who wanted to kill him, and the shortest verse of the Bible says that when he arrived and saw his friend’s sisters and friends mourning, “Jesus wept.” I read that with some friends the other day and realized that God is a God who not only hurts with those who are hurting, but He is a God who goes to the hurting so that He can love and comfort them.

Immediately, I thought of Orlando and all of the people who are hurting around the world because of the friends and family they lost early Sunday morning. Because of the friends and family who those people represent. God is a God who loves and goes to the hurting so that He can hurt with them. “Go give free hugs in Oak Lawn,” I felt Him whisper. “I want to love My kids there through you.”

I’ve been learning how to hear from God and actually do what He whispers, so I decided that I had to go. My friend Dan joined me and we gave out sweaty hugs in the 100-degree temps. There was a memorial set up to honor the victims of Orlando and we were able to meet, hug, talk with, and pray with many people. I am honored to represent a God who goes to, hurts with, and loves those who are hurting.

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“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35)

Regardless of your stance on gays, Muslims, Christians, terrorists, gun control, etc., what happened in Orlando was an act of hate and therefore, not God. God is love and He tells us to love. I don’t have all of the answers but I know that my role in this life is to display God’s love for all people, because He loved me first.