Leaving Christmas

Twinkling lights filled our home as I left. We spent the morning pulling out boxes and putting up memories.

The tree showing off our years of life together limps this year. Several branches of light have turned dark. Some blink, while others shine steady. Its glorious cacophony of sight is every bit a picture of our family. Where we’ve been and who we are.

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Hallmark mixes with glue and glitter. Darth Vader with the babe in a manger. Mexico, Hungry, Holland, Italy, Austria—they all dance on our tree and bring back pictures of a different place in our lives. It’s beautiful in its mosaic.

Lunch brought conversation of heaven and play and the Spirit and feasts. The littlest asking each, “What are you most thankful for because Jesus was born?” One by one our hearts are filled with the gratefulness of rescue coming. We feel our brokenness. Christmas brings the reminder we are being made whole again. We know the need of our redemption.

The family packs in the car and makes the drive to the airport. I’m headed away for a week. When I return, a son will be a year older and Advent will be half passed. A lot of life will come in seven days.

I wait my turn to prove who I am, and it is not lost on me to where I go. I will leave Christmas behind, twinkling and making merry, to go where Christmas is not seen.

It will not be the Carol of Bells I hear the next week but the call of a people to prayer. The air will fill five times daily with the reminder to those around me.

There won’t be trees decorated with memories or the signs of a Savior in hay.

My heart already feels the stirring of the world opening. It is being captured once again. My little bubble of sunshine and freedom is breaking wide. I am carried on it like waves taking me out to sea—moved to an unfamiliar place before I’m even aware.

I remember this. I remember how this feels. It speaks to my before.

Hope feels different today. It feels big. I welcome it and ask for its continued beating within.

I don’t feel stuck in this moment. I feel the movement of the one who writes my days. It is calling me back to the place of life.

It is good.

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India, Part Three

This is the last in a series of posts about our recent trip to India.

Once again, my life has been changed. I have listened to, prayed for, taught, hugged and laughed with dear brothers and sisters whose sacrificial lives could not help but humble this wounded soul, who feels I am trusting God for so, so little.

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India is a beautiful country in its collective longing for hope. Into every set of eyes I looked, I saw a longing to make life work. In most cases that hope came from karma or beads or industry. But in my brothers, the hope shines from the Light of the One who has called them. Their stories are just beautiful.

What is India like? It is the sound of dogs barking all day and all night. It is the piles of road that, having crumbled beneath the weight of the onslaught of new cars, are swept to the sidewalk and wait a lifetime to be cleared. It is cows, holy cows, walking down the street or feeding on the garbage on the side of the road. It is the sound of the Muslim Call to Prayer five times a day and the corner we pass populated with sheep and goats for sacrifice. It is the sight of temple after temple stacked between the fish monger and the hardware shop. It is people with beautiful brown skin, dark eyes and a longing for hope demonstrated in a thousand different ways.

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Could I offer what they most desire? Does genuine hope exist in my heart?

Joy suddenly fills me all the way to my toes. Yes! Hope exists in this heart! It’s been such a long season of trusting in faith that life will work out. I believed because I was suppose to, not because my heart was moved.  But now the trickle of joy is filling me. It is out of hope that joy springs. Both are bubbling in this heart that has felt numb for so long. . .

I will never forget the humility I felt in hearing our courageous brothers share their thanksgiving for the sacrifice we made to come and teach them. What sacrifice?  I would do it again tomorrow. Our friend Siju traveled for 42 hours–one-way–on train to be with us. Our friend Simon took a 17-hour bus ride from Bangladesh into India, where he took his very first plane ride to attend the training. For nine days, his wife and young son prayed for him, in his absence, and he made the same trek back home.

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Who I am that I get to serve God’s Body in this way? Who I am that I get to help our staff in India to have more resources to tell their countrymen about Jesus?

One day, we were out looking for a few trinkets to bring back for our kiddos. On a sheet laid on the sidewalk, a woman sold beaded necklaces and bangles for 25-50 cents. As we began talking with her, her daughter came to check us out. She wore what I am sure are the only clothes she owns–a dirt-covered sleeveless shirt and skirt two-sizes to be for her. Her hair was cut short, like that of a boy, no doubt a result of lice. Dirt covered her face, but her eyes lit up. She was perhaps six or seven, and she was filled with all the curiosity of any other little girl her age.

Her mom continues to work a deal with us, when a very unsavory man enters the picture. He sits down next to her and listens to every word of her challenge to talk four Americans into buying her bracelets made by hand. Is her her husband? Her owner? We talk about the injustice of human trafficking in the States, and we are rightly appalled. The emotion is that much greater when you witness the fear it brings a woman’s eyes when she knows she has no choice. It made me want to throw up. It made me want to grab this woman and her child and run. But I couldn’t.

I think that little girl will haunt my heart for years to come. I wanted to take a picture of her so badly. . . To honor her simple child-like beauty. To let her know someone cares about her life.

In the end, we had to walk away and return to the safety of the sparse little apartment provided for us. Injustice, gratitude, humility and mercy ripped through me.

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What is India like? It is beauty and rubble. It is worship and idolatry, riches and poverty. It is the wrestling between hope and despair.

That wrestling has left it’s permanent mark. I will walk differently with a heart that has looked into the eyes of both and longed for Jesus.

India, Part Two

As I shared before, I had never been to India. In fact, I had never been east of Europe.

On our way there, the most fascinating thing happened. We flew over Iran.

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Flying over Iran

I don’t know why I was so gripped for this country I was flying over at 35,000 feet, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the people below me. I gazed out the window as long as light remained. The land was filled with brown. Sand and hills were all I could see. Every so often, I would see the spots of buildings of some kind and wonder who lived there. Were Iranians having dinner? What were they talking about around the dinner table? What was their day filled with? What do their homes look like?

Iran would never allow me step foot in its country, yet I was flying over it, wondering what life was like for these people that appear so mysterious on the Nightly News. I wanted to understand, to picture, to empathize, to be weighed down with compassion.

Last year I took a developmental test called Strength Finders. My top strength was called connectedness. The StrengthFinders book says, “People who are especially talented in Connectedness have faith in the links between all things.  They believe there are few coincidences and almost every event has a reason. They are also inherently bridge builders between cultures and belief systems, segments of society, departments, business units, and cliques.”

At first, I could not see that. Heck, I didn’t even understand it. But now I do. My heart is burdened by the stories I know, and the stories I can only speculate on. It’s why I could not let go of wondering about the people in Iran I was so close to and yet so impossibly distanced from. They were made by the same Creator God who breathed life into me. He cares for them so deeply, and yet, there are so many barriers keeping them from Him.

I want them to know Jesus. I want them to know joy despite circumstances. I want each and every one of them to feel treasured by the God of the Universe.

35,000 feet might be the closest I ever get. Yet, as I stare at the land, the actual land Iranians walk on, pray on, become embittered on, I am again drawn to pray. I can not touch it, but as we fly over this hostile land, I pray God’s compassion over it. I pray that one day Iranians, in their own country, will proclaim the name of Jesus Christ as Savior.

India, Part One

* This is the first of a series of posts about our trip to India. It was life-changing. I hope you enjoy reading about some of what God did!

 

I am sitting in the Frankfort, Germany airport. There is a cacophony of languages around me, and I am fascinated.

I am on my way to India. It is not a country I have dreamed of visiting, but I get to go and help Indians to increase their skills in telling their countrymen about Jesus. I am 15 hours into our 25 hour trip.

My eyes are blurred with sleep deprivation. Words are not coming easily. My heart aches.

The first time I went to Italy, we spent seven hours in the Frankfort airport. I sit at a McDonald’s McCafe, maybe even in the same booth I sat in seven years before, and I think of how different I am from the young mom who took two kids overseas for five weeks and couldn’t look back.

There are five Phipps now. I have a few more grey hairs and a few more pounds. There are also places on my heart that have felt a pain I didn’t know existed. I feel more deeply now than I ever dreamed possible. I have learned that I want my life to be about nothing other than proclaiming the gospel–to non-believers, to believers, to myself. I have also learned that as much as I think I know the gospel, Jesus has more to teach me.

Seven years ago, I longed for a country’s salvation like I have longed for few things. I dreamed and pictured a life filled with a language I learned at 34. I believed I could do whatever I put my mind to and tenacity would win out. My life was simple, as was my faith.

Seven years later, I have grown up. I understand now the complexity of life and decisions and missions and relationships. My faith is deeper. I have trusted the Lord for so much more than I dreamed possible.

As I let all of these thoughts wonder through my head, I wish the result was a lessening of fascination. I only continue to dream of my life in Italy, however, and all I wish we would have seen happen in the name of Jesus. It drives me to prayer. What started seven years ago still grips me. It is evidence of the Holy Spirit, and so I participate in what He is doing. I do my part. I sit surrounded by countless nationalities, my eyes struggling to stay open, and I pray.