Thank You Auntie Katie
This week has given me a lot of smiles, and for that I am very thankful. But sometimes when I get in a place that is relatively free of persistent heartache, I tend to forget that growing and healing take time, and I avoid praying through the time of struggle along with praising through the time of joy, and I end up rushing through the time of healing in an attempt to relish in the moments of ease. God showed me that realization after I had finished this blog post. I realized that I hadn’t even prayed as I wrote, and thus the words were all mine and not all God’s. And if I am going to write an article about giving my prayers to God, and I do not actively give my prayers to God, then I am a fraud and God will not use my story. So God asked me to delete that post and write one again, this time with patience to wait for His words. So this is a revised post of the same story about a valuable lesson God has been teaching me this week. I pray that as you read these words, God speaks to your heart and you see Him in this writing and not me.
This past Sunday evening I came stumbling home with dirty hair and muddy shoes after a wonderful weekend spent away from the hustle of society at a retreat with some students from the church I attend, Redeemed Community. My heart was so full of love and truth after this weekend. Despite being much more busy than I am on most weekends, I still had a generous amount of time to spend alone with Jesus, where he taught me so much about prayer: that every thought, every word, every breath should be lifted up as a request or praise to God. So I really focused on that this weekend, turning every thought, every word, and every breath into prayer. And it was wonderful. As I focused on prayer in the solitude of my heart, my outspoken prayers became so much more powerful, and I could hear the Holy Spirit speaking through me during the opportunities I had to pray aloud. At the end of the weekend I dropped my friends off at Purdue, and spent nearly the entire hour and a half drive home just talking to God, and presenting all my requests to him. Each person that came to my mind, I prayed for. Each thought that came to my mind, I prayed about. I expected to be exhausted on this drive home after a long weekend without adequate sleep, but my heart soared and my prayers never thinned. But when I stumbled in the house looking like a seasoned hitchhiker, my heart dropped and my prayers thinned. I had forgotten about my shattered mess in the midst of an awesome weekend. But as I sat on my bed that evening, I remembered again. And I sobbed. I’m not sure what set me off really, but I do know that my heart wasn’t entirely pure in all that I was learning to pray for. I clandestinely expected God to give me some kind of blessing or surprise because I had prayed so much for people who may never pray for me, and when the weekend ended without a blessing or surprise, I was disappointed. I didn’t understand how God could ask me to spend my weekend pouring out onto others, but not giving me anything. I didn’t understand why God allowed me to hurt when the people that hurt me were living without even a pinch of the pain I felt. I just didn’t understand why I was still shattered after giving so much of myself. I was so worn out, my energy waned, and I broke. But God sees that deep in my heart, I truly want to make my life a living prayer, and so He has a lesson that He wants to teach me in order for me to take the next step into becoming a closer reflection of Him.
I sulked in my lowliness and cried for a while, but then I opened my journal and began pouring my heart out to God in the best way I know how: writing. And then my heart broke even more; but not for my pity this time, for my selfishness. Christ died for everyone, knowing that some would never love him back. Ever. He knew he would never get anything in return, and he did it anyway. And here I am struggling to even give my simple prayers to God because I feel as though I am entitled to some kind of reward for them. Of course God smiles upon my obedience, and I feel His smile in my heart by His close presence. But I realized that I may never see the tangible fruit of my labor while on this earth, and if I am going to reflect Christ, then I absolutely have to have peace with that. So I asked God to forgive me for my pride, and I wrote, “God, I’ll keep praying and working even though I may never receive anything in return, and You just make me more like You, okay?”
Over the next couple of days I did keep praying and seeking humility in those prayers. But soon, peace began to flow into my heart and I knew that God was pleased with my attempts even though they were amateur and weak. It was a start. And then God gave me the most wonderful blessing; maybe this was “my gift”. I’m not sure if I am right to think of it that way, but it sure felt like a gift. Why? Because it was a book, and God knows how much I love books. For as long as I can remember, people have been raving about this one book, and over and over again I was told that I just had to read it. Although for some reason, I never did. But this semester, maybe as I prepare my heart for missions, I just keep getting reminded of this book. So as I was getting ready to leave my friend’s house, I glanced at her bookshelf and saw a spine that read, Kisses From Katie. I knew she wouldn’t mind me borrowing it since she was the one who has been pressuring me the most to read it, so I slipped it off her shelf, opened to the first page, and tears instantly welled up in my eyes and I realized that this book was a gift, a tangible picture of the lessons He was teaching me. As I got deeper into the story, I felt a huge bucket of love pour over my head, covering me as I was introduced to so many new truths with a connection that was very personal to me.
I could’ve finished the book in hours, it was such a struggle each time I had to put it down. But thankfully I had a busy enough weekend that I was forced to stop reading every once and while, which gave me necessary time to reflect on what exactly I was reading. But near the end of the book, I read something that spoke so directly to my heart that it felt like an explosion went off inside it. Katie wrote,
"As much as I was learning about God and other people, I was also learning some things about myself, and some of the lessons were painful. As many people do, I dreamed of bigger and better things at times; sometimes I dreamed about them too much. I justified my dreaming by saying all these things would be used for the children. For example, our house became way too small for Friday night sleepovers, so I dreamed of a bigger and better house- a large house with separate rooms for my big girls and my small girls and a big wraparound porch. Christine and I often talked about the new, bigger house where a table big enough for all of my family would fit comfortably and we would not have to sit on the floor to eat, a house in which our kitchen would be more than ten feet by fifteen feet, big enough for more than two people to stand in and help cook. One day, in the midst of my wanting more, I dropped in to visit the home of eleven children in our program. They are siblings and cousins who live with their aunt. They all live, eat, and sleep together in one room a little bigger than my little girls' bedroom. The degree of my selfishness hit me like a rock. How in the world could I dream of a bigger house when people around me lived in such need? How could I possibly feel that my kitchen was crowded when twelve people lived in this tiny house? My house is even made of cement while these precious children live in a home made of dirt. I was embarrassed about my desires, but the truth is that everyone has 'flesh' moments.
I sometimes get caught up in 'I deserve this' moments; I still do. I have moments when I compare myself to other people and trick my self into believing that I am doing pretty well. There are still moments when I believe I should be able to relax and do nothing some afternoons, instead of taking care of one more sick person. There are moments when I think that because I have worked hard all day, I deserve to be able to sit down and eat my food instead of answering the door for one more person who needs help.
The truth is that these thoughts are not at all scriptural. Nowhere in the bible does it say that I deserve a reward here on earth. Colossians 3:23 says, 'Whatever you do work at it with all your heart.' It does not end in, 'and after this hard work you deserve a long hot bath and some me time.' It does end with, 'since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.'
Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22 all make exactly the same point: 'Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.' I live in a world that tells me that if I sell what I have an give it to the poor, if I leave my rich American life to live in a cockroach-infested, cement house in a Third World country, I am doing a wonderful and radical thing. The truth is, I am only doing what I love doing, and what God who gave His life for me asks me to do.
By most people's standards, my little family does not have much, but we have more than enough. And we know in our hearts that, really, Christ is all we need. He said, 'Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on this earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor trust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steak. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also' (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV).
Serving Jesus and my family with all of me, that is my treasure."
After reading this, I voluntarily put the book down because I just couldn’t believe I had read something written years ago that God was teaching me today! I sat on my bed in awe and just clutched the book against my chest thanking God for giving me the opportunity to read it. There, through the words of that book, in that moment, God gave me a tangible example of someone who prays, not because they want something from God, but because they want God and all of his mercy and grace and glory to manifest through every area of their lives. Even in my brokenness, even in my selfishness, Jesus meets me right where I am. God knew that my heart’s desire was to get up and continue running with endurance even though I had tripped a few days ago, tripped today, and would trip tomorrow. So he gave me a story to read about someone who runs with great endurance. It was as if God was whispering to me, look, Madison. This is the kind of faith I want you to have. Whimsical. Simple. Powerful. And that felt like a giant explosion in my heart. He knew I was struggling, so he gave me a little help, a hint as to what humble prayer looks like in action. God knows our needs when we don't. And if we ask for them fervently, He'll provide. He always does.
Lately my heart has been split between preparing for my departure from Indiana in January, and living and pouring into my community while I am here. Sometimes I get so excited to live life in community with a group of missionaries in Belize that I forget I’m not actually there yet. And sometimes I feel so much passion and love for the community I grew up in and the people I grew up with that the idea of leaving is too much to bear. But through Katie’s story, I am inspired to have joy in both. While I am here, I can do whatever work God has for me joyfully, and I can also proclaim my joy for Belize. And when it comes time for me to finally leave and live a different life for 5 months, I can live it with joy, and I can also pray for my community back home with joy while I am not there. Katie filled the pages of her book, whether pages she was glad to write or pages she struggled to write, with joy. And I want all the pages of my journey to be filled with joy too. Truly, I experienced God in so many new ways just by simply reading this book. It wasn’t the book itself obviously, it was just the way God used it for my good. It’s just a testament that God can use anything to reveal Himself to us, if only we are obedient to His gentle calls. So I am excited for what God will teach me through my obedience, and how he’ll use my obedience at home to prepare me for Belize, and how through my obedience in Belize, He’ll use my prayers for home.
Even though I was sad to come to the end of Katie’s book, I adored the entirety of her story. It was absolutely magical, and absolutely true. Amazing things happen when ordinary people obey God, things so amazing that they seem almost magical. Katie, a normal girl by all standards, is doing amazing things for the people of Uganda, and she’s only doing it because one day she decided that she loved God more than anything else. So he used her. And he’s still using her. And I don’t know about you, but I want to be used in mighty ways too. So I will begin now to allow God to use me, learning to give everything I am to Him, piece-by-piece, day-by-day. And one day I trust that He will use me in a mighty way. My work may not look mighty to the world, but God, who sees the heart, will know what is mighty, and I hope He looks at mine and sees a strong and faithful warrior for Him.
"Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!" - Psalm 116:2
"For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts." - 1 Thessalonians 2:4
"We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties." - Oswald Chambers
P.S. I hope that my little tidbits of Katie's story made you hungry for more...That was my goal. So I hope that if you didn't know her story before, you want to know her story now. Therefore, I will leave this pretty little link here where you can buy a generously cheap copy of her book (only $3.15!!!!). Now, before you hit that link to purchase the book (which I know you will), I will warn you that this book will force you, against your will, to stay in your room for hours reading and crying tears of joy and journaling page after page about how you want to love God better, love people better, love yourself better, and give everything you are and all that you own to Jesus. This book will change your life. If you are ready for something that dangerous, then proceed with caution.