What I Carried Back from the United Kingdom: Angeles

united kingdom 2I spent last week in the beautiful hills and hollows of the United Kingdom. Quaint villages and ocean-side drives by enormous bluffs greeted us at every turn. We visited lovely towns like Lacock, Bath, Cotswold, Lynmoth and Lynton, to name a few. We witnessed stunning vistas where movies like Disney’s Cinderella were filmed, as well as Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Poldark. There was history and beauty in every moment.

However, it was one single soul in the bustling city of Oxford who captured my heart and overshadowed all else.

I had just finished a walking tour through the cramped town,  a city rife with memories of people like William Shakespeare, King James, Bloody Mary, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tokien, William Tyndale and countless others. Oxford’s infamous colleges rose up on every side. People of all nationalities clogged the sidewalks as they scurried from store to store, their sacks bulging with brand name apparel, souvenirs and other trinkets.

I had just passed “The Eagle and Child” pub and was admiring the spiraling cathedrals and abbeys, the monuments and statues on every corner. A steady rain began to fall. I pulled out my umbrella, looked down the congested street and that’s when I saw him.homeless man

A homeless man sat huddled under a blanket in the pouring rain.

His shoulders were hunched as if he were too weary to fight. An open duffel bag rested near his bent knees. Its contents boasted a folded tarp, a few paltry coins and an empty soda can. Nothing else.

As I passed his slight form, I heard his soft plea.

“Could you spare a coin or some food, me love?”

dirty fingersI dug through my wallet and handed him a few pounds. His dirt-crusted fingers reached for the coins. “God bless ye.”

“God bless you too.”

I walked away but my heart twisted. Suddenly all the shopping I wanted to do, the sights I wanted to see paled in comparison to the emaciated form sitting in the deluge. I tried pushing him from my mind, but I couldn’t. After several minutes, I whirled back and walked up to his hunkered body. After long moments, he blinked up at me and I noticed how incredibly blue his eyes were.

“Yes, me love?”

“May I ask you something, sir?”

“Of course.”

“What’s your name?”

“Angeles, me love.”

“Hi, Angeles. My name is Tara.”

I smiled at him then and he returned it slowly. I eased down next to him on the wet pavement as we shared an umbrella.

“Angeles, do you mind telling me how you came to be in this condition? What led you to these circumstances?”

He sighed and blinked slowly, before a rattling cough shook his chest. “I’ve no one to blame but meself. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve made some bad choices, for sure and certain, but now,” he shook his silver head, “I have pneumonia. I can get medicine but I need money to save for proper housing, food and clothes. No one wants to take a chance on someone who looks like this.” He gestured to his filthy clothes.

Then he smiled before I could respond. “I know what you’re going to say next. Yes, I believe in God.”

I returned his smile. “I’m glad. He loves you so much. So many people believe there is a God, but only a few know Him. I wanted to make sure you know Him.”

We swapped a few more stories and I took care of as many of his physical needs as I could. After we prayed together, I bid Angeles goodbye.

“Thank you for chatting with me, me love. The people here,” he waved his hand, “they don’t see me. They don’t care. Their focus is only on the new thing they want to buy or the site they want to see.”

I blinked back thick tears. “God sees you, Angeles. Always.”

king james oxfordAs our tour group departed Oxford, all I could think of was Angeles and all the other things I should have managed to do for him. As our bus passed by the stone buildings, the hypocrisy slapped me hard. Underneath the haughty eyes of the stone faces staring down from their lofty heights, and the carved inscriptions in Latin declaring the cathedrals were erected “to the glory of God”, a homeless man sat shivering and coughing in the cold. It was obvious from his physical state he was slowly dying.

“Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” ~1 Samuel 15:22

“Now, suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer? Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words.” ~1 John 3:17-18

Oftentimes we think of ministry in terms of numbers, additions and programs…technical, business-like terms we put on a spreadsheet. Real ministry, authentic Christ-like love looks altogether different. It’s sitting in the mud with the broken, seeing those the world ignores, and emptying ourselves for the good of those who can do nothing for us. As God’s kids, may we never forget our economy is people and our currency is love.

In the end, all that will matter is how deeply we love God and how we show that love to others. When we love Jesus as we should, loving the unlovable becomes easy.

Love never fails…even when stone buildings and monuments have long crumbled away.

lee abbey

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The Thief: The Problem with Comparing

Jean size. That dreaded number on the scale. Checking account balances. Facebook friends. Instagram and Twitter followers. Awards and degrees. Points scored by your child at his last game. Job performance evaluations.

So many numbers and none of them are good or bad when rattled off in isolation. The only time we have a problem with any of the above is when we are tempted to compare these numbers to the stats of others.

thief of joy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. Not only is comparison a thief, it’s also a terrible judge. Speaking for myself, I tend to compare myself either to those who are way more put together than I am, or I compare myself to those who can’t seem to get their act together at all. The Ree Drummonds, June Cleavers and James Dobsons of the world leave me wallowing in self-loathing, wondering why I can’t seem to get my hot mess of a life in shape. So instead I look to those who are further down on the proverbial ‘getting-their-garbage-handled’ totem pole and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.”

But does looking down at someone else’s mess make me any better of a mother? A wife? A friend? A sister or daughter? No. It just makes me more prideful…and a much bigger pain.

compare highlight reel

That’s the problem with comparing ourselves to anyone else. It forces us to ride a pendulum that swings between pride and the lie that says, “You’re not good enough.”

The disciple Peter battled the same issue in John 21:19-22.

“He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow Me [walk the same path of life that I have walked]!’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray You?’ So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man [what is in his future]?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to stay alive until I come[again], what is that to you? You follow Me!’ ” (AMP)

God designed each of us with a unique purpose in mind…a purpose we do our best to throw away when we compare and long for the bodies, the families, the plans, the dreams, the goals, the bank accounts or the lives of others. Comparison breeds discontentment and discontentment leads to every other sin we struggle against.

flower comparison

God made only one you. There is only one person with your exact fingerprint. Only one with your exact strand of DNA. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Keep your  joy full today. Be who you were created to be. No comparisons allowed.

When Your Kid is…Different

Sometimes, Moms just know.

They know when all isn’t as it should be. When the other three year olds are able to count to ten but their child can’t articulate “one”, “two” or “three”. Moms know when it’s strange that their three old son can’t ask for a specific food when he’s hungry, but instead opens his mouth and yells, “Eat!”

She knows that something is wrong when her adorable little boy is three and she’s still not heard him say his own name. She knows.

I knew. nate-for-blog

Well meaning people told me not to worry about it. After all, my fun-loving bundle of energy had two big sisters who could speak for him. Why did he need to talk? He just hadn’t found the need to that often. Others told me to chill. He’s a boy. They don’t mature as quickly as girls. Girls are counting early, learning the alphabet, solving world peace and knitting blankets for their future husbands, while boys play in dirt and pick their noses. Nothing to worry about. Right?

I knew, but I didn’t say much. He’s healthy and extremely happy. A handsome boy with mischievous brown eyes, heart-melting dimples and chestnut curls. He makes friends easily and is always smiling. But still, there was something…

The speech delay could no longer be ignored and we had him tested just before Christmas of last year. The results came back for our little guy…severe cognitive delay paired with a severe speech delay. what-if

As I sat at the tiny elementary school table, my legs tucked up under the too-small chair, I listened to the therapists lay out all the options for my little guy. I was calm. I knew God had gone before us and I knew none of this had taken Him by surprise. The therapists told me from what they’d observed, they believed Nate could catch up over time. I listened and nodded and drove away from the school with a heart that was too jumbled for examination. Heavy, sad, overwhelmed, relieved in an odd way that my concern was validated, a thousand ‘what-ifs’ tumbling through my mind, another wash of sadness, and then—

“Hi!”

I looked in the rear view mirror and Nate was grinning that big toothy grin at me, his brown eyes sparkling, one chubby hand waving. “Hi, Monny.” He blew a big, wet sloppy kiss my direction and it happened. That tight bubble of gloom burst in my chest and was instantly replaced with laughter. Joy. Love.

Because in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Nothing has changed. Nate is exactly the same awesome bundle of energy and joy he’s always been, both before the diagnosis and after. The only thing that changed that day was my perspective.

Going through this journey with Nate has been incredibly rewarding. He works so hard to master new skills and concepts each week but here’s the thing…he’s not worried about trying to make anybody happy or do things the ‘right’ way. He just loves life, learning and people. nate-and-susan

And Nate has taught me how to celebrate the small things. After his very first speech session, his amazing speech therapist, Susan Jumper (pictured right), or “Miss Su-Su” as he calls her, led him out of the room with a big smile on her face.

“Nate, do you want to show Mommy what we learned today?”

He nodded and smiled.

Susan asked, “What’s your name?”

He moved his fingers down his arm and tapped his wrist as he said, “Nate!” Perfect enunciation. Perfect smile. Perfect joy.

Perfect tears on this Mommy’s part. Those small victories have turned into big victories for our little guy.

I’m incredibly thankful for his incredible therapists and teachers…people like Miss Diana (pictured below), his cognitive therapist, Miss Su-Su, and Miss Roxie, Miss Stephanie and others who pour endless love and patience into these little guys who have so much to give. And I’m so thankful for a Savior Who sees every need…even before we know we have one. He has provided help every step of the journey.

nate-and-diana

Any more, when people ask me how Nate is doing, I smile and say, “Just fine.” He’s thriving. God has seen to it. If you’re reading this and your child has just received an unexpected diagnosis, a test that wasn’t what you’d hoped for, or is struggling in some other way, take heart. Love fills the gaps where our strength crumbles. There will be days when you’ll have ugly cries in the shower so no one can see. Times when you’ll wonder, “Why?” But there will be victories too. Laughter, love, and joy that will be all the sweeter because of the journey you took to arrive at the place of celebration.

Your child is a great big bundle of love and potential. Tests can’t measure their worth. Focus on what matters. Focus on what will last.

“And the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13

I would love to hear from you. Are you the parent of a child going through a similar situation? Are you battling some scary emotions? What have you learned along the journey? Would you like me to pray for you and your family? Drop me a few lines!