The One and Only Test

snowy sunrise.jpg

So let us look into each other’s eyes

And read the stories written there between the lines

And take a list of all the wrongs we keep

And tear it into pieces

Let mercy be the only thing we’re harboring

‘Cause eventually we’re gonna see

That all that’s left is to love

That’s all that we have

That’s all that we ever really had, (All That’s Left[1]).

Some people are so easy to dislike.  They say and do things daily to make themselves stand out as targets for all your anger and frustration.  Buddy was this for me.  Daily I have had to forgive Buddy, and daily I would slide back and find myself criticizing Buddy to my friends, who also dislike Buddy.  We would point out his faults to each other, building up our mutual reasons for disliking Buddy.  Then, alone, I would forgive Buddy again.  Daily.  And daily my dislike for Buddy would grow until just the sight of him was enough to anger me.

I could list for you Buddy’s many faults, and you would probably agree with me that he has no redeeming qualities.  But I won’t do that.  Listing Buddy’s faults would serve only to reinforce my own dislike of this man.

This morning, God revealed to me that what I was doing was wrong.  And of course, I knew that it was wrong.  But this morning, God made it very clear to me that for all his faults, I am the offender, not Buddy.  The Christian life is so simple.  But it is in this simplicity that many people stumble—I have stumbled.  Daily.

Suddenly I understand that it all comes down to just one simple test: love.  Forgiving is good and necessary.  But forgiving is just the first step toward the ultimate goal: love.  It’s not enough that I forgive Buddy.  I must love Buddy.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord, (Leviticus 19:18, emphasis mine).

Jesus boiled the Ten Commandments (and all of the Jews’ 613 laws) down to two simple ones:

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate.  He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel!  The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’  The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these,” (Mark 12:28-31, emphasis mine).

Simple, but not easy.  1 Corinthians 13 is the guide for love, and according to these guidelines, I have repeatedly failed to love Buddy (and others, too):

  • Love is patient . . . – my patience with Buddy would run out daily.
  • . . . and kind – although I have not been unkind in my direct encounters with Buddy, I have daily assassinated him with my words.
  • It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out – in a completely messed-up way, I was actually delighted to catch Buddy every time he committed yet another offense—and I always made sure that the management knew about it.
  • Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance – all my endurance and hope was based on Buddy continuing to mess-up so that I would be proven right about him.
  • [Love] is not irritable . . . – fail.
  • It does not demand its own way – fail.
  • It keeps no record of being wronged – fail—big time.
  • Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude – fail, fail, fail, fail.

I’m not proud of my behavior toward Buddy, but being honest about myself is the first step toward a real and lasting change.  Forgiving is not easy—especially since we must forgive regardless of whether the offender is sorry or even changes his behavior.  Love, under the same circumstances, is even harder.  This is why we need the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us live a life that truly pleases God.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Forgive me, Lord!  I know that You love Buddy and died for him.  Please help me to truly forgive and love Buddy.  Amen.

[1] Steven Curtis Chapman, “All That’s Left,” Re-Creation, 2011, emphasis mine.

Under His Wings


Mom and I attend Centering Prayer at her church.  Centering Prayer (also called Contemplative Prayer) is Christian meditation.  For twenty minutes we still our minds and listen to whatever God has to say to us.  It’s a great practice because so many times we just go to God with a laundry list of problems for Him to fix.

We even enter and exit the church quietly, not speaking, greeting with a silently raised hand.  We find our seats, gaze a moment at the candle, then a chime signals the start.  For me, the time spent in Centering Prayer simply flies by.  It’s surprising every time when the finishing chime rings—it doesn’t feel like twenty minutes has passed.

I may have been hyperactive as a child.  I’m pretty sure that my mom would say that I was.  But in those days there was no diagnosis of hyperactivity and the cure was often a swat on the bottom.  I think all that’s way better than a dose of Ritalin and making excuses for bad behavior.

Nevertheless, even an active person can get a lot out of Centering Prayer.  Often, Jesus just invites me to listen to His heartbeat.  He does have a lovely, strong and steady heartbeat that is very soothing.  I once heard a sermon that Jesus’ body had been completely drained of blood on the cross.  That caused me to wonder how He can have a heartbeat now.  When I asked Him, He led me to listen to an online sermon telling what it is that has replaced the blood in His veins: Glory.  The Glory of God had replaced the gory of man.  The Glory in His veins is why Jesus shines like the sun, and why we won’t need the sun for light when He reigns on earth.  I could listen to His heartbeat all day.

Recently, the morning after Centering Prayer at church, Mom came into my room and told me about her experience during the prayer.  She said that a big pair of wings had wrapped around her shoulders from the back.  She wondered aloud: “Do you think that God has wings?”  I said, “Of course He does!”  And I read her Psalm 91.  Verse 4 says:

He will cover you with His feathers.  He will shelter you with His wings.

She smiled and told me that the feeling of being sheltered under God’s wings has lasted.  Yes, and sometimes the sound of Jesus’ heartbeat has lasted for me.  As the day draws near when I once again head off to Italy, it’s so good to know that Mom is under God’s wings.  I know that He’s looking out for all my family.

However and wherever you do it, you will never regret drawing near to God.  Take a step toward Him and He will come closer to you, too.  Then you’ll know for yourself what I always say is true: God is good!

Encouraging Missionaries-to-Be


I am back at Dave’s house in Alabama.  I got here this morning just in time for church.  This was great, because I got to meet many of Dave’s hometown supporters (both prayer and financial) for his mission trips.  After church, Dave invited me to come along to lunch with some people from his youth group.  Once upon a time, I might have wondered if I would find a welcome among them because I am clearly older than them and even older than some of their parents.  But I have learned to get over myself.  I’m glad that I did go along because one girl in particular sought Dave and me out to come sit with us and to ask us for advice about how to go about becoming a missionary.

Among her concerns:

  • Do I need to be a member of a missions organization?
  • Where will I go?
  • What will I do as a missionary?

Dave and I explained that it’s not a bad idea to be a member of a missions organization.  But many missionaries have gone into the mission field as independent missionaries.  Independence actually has some advantages, but also some challenges.  Some of the advantages of being part of an organization are:

  • Help in fundraising.
  • Help in getting a visa.
  • Help getting started in ministry.
  • Guidance when you run into problems[1].

Some of the disadvantages of being part of an organization are:

  • Fundraising is high among missionary concerns. But you don’t necessarily need an organization to help you do it.  An advantage of being part of an organization is that you can offer donors a tax exemption on their donation.  But I have found that for every donor that wants that tax exemption, there is one that doesn’t want their “left hand to know what their right had is doing[2],” desiring God’s blessing more than a tax exemption.  It is possible that your home church would be willing to provide tax exemptions to your donors.  It never hurts to ask.

It also never hurts to ask everyone you know if they can contribute (one-time or monthly support).  And by everyone, I mean everyone.  Even unbelievers and people who don’t look like they can afford to contribute may want to contribute.  Don’t deprive anyone of the opportunity to sow into God’s Kingdom.  Their contribution may be the very thing that opens the right door for them to receive salvation or a financial blessing.  You never know, but God does.

Fundraising can be easily accomplished through several websites, like,, or, for example.  And there are many other sites like or that have fun and creative fundraising ideas.

Most missions organizations require that you have all your funding in place before you go into the mission field.  This reduces or sometimes eliminates the faith factor for God’s provision—no wonder people that have faith for all sorts of miracles sometimes still struggle to find faith for finances.  Faith is like a muscle that must be exercised in order to grow bigger and stronger.  If God is calling you to the mission field, He will provide.

  • Depending on the country, it is possible and sometimes actually easier to get a visa on your own. If you need to learn the language, then the obvious first visa can be a student visa.

Some missionaries I know have only a 90 day tourist visa.  They exit the country for a period of time (laws vary), and then re-enter, having had their passport stamped in another country.  This method is great for its simplicity and for the built-in vacation time.  Travel doesn’t necessarily need to be a great distance, so it can even be inexpensive.

  • The first place to go for help getting started in ministry is straight to the Boss. Again and again God’s Word encourages us to ask for wisdom.  So ask God how He wants you to get started in ministry.  If He’s calling you, then He will give you the instruction and guidance you need.  And remember, you don’t have to know all the steps, just be obedient to this first step.  When it’s time, He will show you the next one.

Beware of making assumptions.  I knew that I was called as a missionary when I was a teenager.  I assumed that going into missions meant living in a hut in some bug- and snake-infested jungle.  I ran the other way.  When I finally did enter the mission field, it was in the middle of a big, modern city: Milan, in a country I love, Italy.  Wherever He is calling you, and whatever He is calling you to do will be a perfect fit.  It will be something you love doing in a place you love to be.  So search your heart.  My favorite Bible verse is Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart, (emphasis mine).

That highlighted phrase can have two meanings: the obvious one is that God will give us something that we want and desire.  The more subtle one behind it is that God will implant a desire into our heart.  Then, of course, He will give it to us because that was the whole idea behind putting the desire into your heart.  I believe both meanings are true.  But the key is first and foremost to delight yourself in the Lord.  Love Him, put Him first in your life, and then He will give you the desires of your heart.

To find some great independent missions opportunities in Europe, you can go to GoMissions and register for free.  You can go for as long as you want, and know that you’re helping a ministry in Europe that really need you.

Finally, look into your heart for guidance.  The skills that the world gives little value to can be extremely useful in ministry—especially the creative arts.  What is it that you really like to do?  Where do you see yourself doing it?  How can you use this gift for sharing Jesus?  The answers go back to Psalm 37:4, and the desires of your heart.  God gave you these particular gifts, skills, talents, and abilities for a purpose and a reason.  He will guide you to your niche, and it will be a perfect fit.

  • Some missions organizations are very good at member care. They may even offer periodic counseling or life coaching.  But again, if you’re looking to God alone as your Source, He will provide you with people who will counsel or coach you.

Be careful not to go into missions for the wrong reasons.  Do not go into missions to run away from your life at home.  Do not go into missions because your life is boring and you need adventure.  Do not go into missions to look for a mate.  The only reason to go into missions is because you’re called.  The mission field is fraught with danger (not always life-threatening), pitfalls, and problems you could never have anticipated.  Your relationship with God needs to be close and not superficial.

Either through a missions organization or independently, stepping out as a missionary is going to require some effort on your part.  The organization can give you structure, but the legwork is still going to have to be yours.


Later on, for the first time in my life, Dave invited me to a Young Adult worship service at another church.  He had never gone to that church, either, so both of us were newcomers.  Again, I could have felt awkward being so much older than the crowd, but happily, I have gotten over myself and I thoroughly enjoyed the service.

After great worship and a great message, a young woman approached me and Dave to ask us about ourselves.  When we told her that we’re missionaries, she began to ask us some of the same questions as the girl at lunch.  So again, we encouraged her to explore many options.  Like the girl at lunch, this one was very encouraged by what we had told her.  Of course Dave and I were encouraged, too.  Encouragement works both ways, and we returned home high on encouragement.  Dave’s mom had made us chicken soup and an apple upside-down cake, which was delicious.  God is good!

[1] That’s “when” not “if” because the mission field, whether near or far, will present problems, many of which could not have been predicted.

[2] Matthew 6:3.

Shelter Shopping



My ministry’s American headquarters is in Paris.  Paris, Texas, that is.  I think it’s pretty funny that the headquarters for a European ministry should be in Paris.  But this was just where our US-based corporate secretary lives.  Since Laurie receives mail for the organization, it needed to be somewhere convenient for her.

Once a year, we have a corporate meeting, which means that I come to Texas and visit Laurie.  She has been a dear friend since our oldest sons were toddlers, when we lived next door to each other in a suburb of Dallas.

Laurie, like me, like Sally, and Allegra, has a passion for Jesus, and for reaching Europe.  From the time she heard that I had started this ministry, Laurie has been enthusiastic about being a part of it: first as a prayer partner, then as our corporate secretary.

I arrived in Paris today after two days of driving from North Carolina.  After treating me to a Tex-Mex lunch, she took me to the local homeless shelter run by a local Ministry.  They are about to open a thrift shop, and Laurie had been cleaning out her closets.  We took her donations, and met Delia, the director of the shelter.

Delia was very encouraged to receive Laurie’s items, and offered to take us on a tour of the shelter, primarily a women’s shelter.  The place is quite big, with 52 beds—32 of which are currently occupied.  She explained that before being accepted into the shelter, all applicants must pass a drug test.  They must also be willing to do chores in order to keep the place clean and in order.  There are family bedrooms, single parent and child bedrooms, and shared rooms for single women.  There is a separate hall for single men.  And a big communal kitchen and dining room.  Residents are free to use the kitchen facilities for breakfast and lunch, and there is a shared dinner.

The whole place was very clean and tidy, with everything in good working order.  The next room Delia showed us was the key to keeping the place so nice, and she was especially excited to show it to us: the incentives shop.  Residents are encouraged to pitch-in and help out around the place.  In return they earn incentives that they may spend in the incentives shop.  There was a rack of new clothes donated by Cato[1].  Delia explained that while many clothing stores shred or burn their unsold stock, Cato donates it to the shelter on the stipulation that the clothing will not be sold.  The incentives shop also had scented soap, shampoo, hand lotion, and perfume, nice notebooks, and men’s new underwear donated by someone else.  I realized that if I found myself in a shelter, I would want a notebook in which to write my thoughts and feelings.

All of this was very inspiring, so when the tour was over, I handed Delia a donation.  She was so excited that it moved her to tears.  She asked me how I wanted the money spent.  I told her that at her own discretion was fine with me.  A big smile spread across Delia’s face and she said, “Then I would like to go shopping at the Dollar store for more items for the incentives shop.  The ladies need hose to wear to church, and I’d like to get them some.”

Back in the car, Laurie said that she needed to get some dog food, explaining the problems that her little dog was having with the switch from dry food to wet food.  He’s an old dog, and he can’t handle the kibble any more, no matter how small.  The pet store was in the same area as the Dollar store, so Laurie pulled up in front of the Dollar store, saying, “Let’s take a look in here for those pantyhose.”  We went on a little shopping spree, buying items for men, children, and of course, the women’s hose.  Then we returned to the shelter just as Delia was pulling out of the parking lot.  We stopped her and gave her our purchases—again she was moved to tears.


When we got back to her house, Laurie said, “You know what!  We forgot to get dog food!”  Yes, in all the fun, we completely forgot to go to the pet store.  As we laughed at the oversight, she said, “I guess we’ll get some later.”

While this is not something I do all the time, the joy of having helped and encouraged someone is something I am blessed to feel every day.  Today Laurie got to share in that blessing, too!  God is good!

[1] I don’t normally plug businesses, but Cato deserves some applause here.

Our Two Divine Appointments


Macaulay Culkin

Our First Divine Appointment

Dave and I met in an amazing God-incidental divine appointment a while back when I was traveling in Eastern Europe.  At a free Wi-Fi hotspot, I had been checking email and Dave’s message to me came up.  He needed to exit the country[1] he was ministering in, and a friend of a friend of a friend had suggested that he visit me in Milan.  But he was going to need a place to stay while I was on the road.  Normally, I would have Nina either let him in or give him the key.  But this time Nina was traveling with me, so the house was locked-up tight.

As I started crafting my reply, that it would not be possible at this time, I glanced at his message again and realized with a start that he was in the very same country that I was in.  So I sent a different reply, explaining that I was traveling in his country, and that maybe we could meet and I could give him the key.

Dave’s reply came within a minute: he was in the same city that I was in—just minutes away from where I was staying.  I recognized that this was the hand of God, so we arranged a meeting time and place so that I could give him the key and directions to the house.

When we met, I had Nina’s son, Michael, with me.  Michael doesn’t speak English, but he’s very smart, and understands much of what he reads or hears.  So he was anxious to go with me and meet Dave.

Dave is a man in his early twenties, highly creative, and full of enthusiasm and energy.  When he saw me, he recognized me from the picture in my email and came bounding up to us.  He didn’t have much time to meet with me, having squeezed me between appointments, so we talked very fast.  In the brief time we had, we discovered all sorts of parallels in our lives: his parents live within minutes of my great-grandfather’s ancestral home in Alabama, he had studied in the same town in Texas where my cousin lived, and he knew a lot of the same people.  Even though the demographic of Christians in Europe is a very small world, I never fail to be surprised at how we do all seem to know the same people and places.

As we left the building, Michael asked me in English: “What means ‘oh my gosh!’?”  I laughed out loud because I hadn’t even heard myself saying it, nor Dave, but we must have liberally peppered our conversation with it.  In Italian, I explained that “Oh my gosh!” is used to express surprise, like the Italian word caspita.  So for the rest of our trip together, every time there was anything surprising, Michael threw his hands over his cheeks like Macaulay Culkin and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!”

Our Second Divine Appointment

I came back to the US at the end of October, and Dave came back at the beginning of December.  Mine is the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas visit with family—and also a chance to do yearend personal and ministry tasks.  Dave’s was a Christmas visit home, and also a chance to work on getting a longer-term visa to that country that does not easily grant visas, either short- or long-term.

Dave invited me to come visit him at his parents’ home in Alabama.  Since I had not seen the ancestral home in something like 30 years, I was tempted.  But in the short time I am in the US, I needed to get a lot of things done, including a trip to Texas.  Before I could tell Dave no, I got an invitation to come visit a church in Jackson, Mississippi.  I looked at the map and realized that I could just take the southern route through Alabama and Mississippi to Texas—why not?  It would save me traveling over mountainous Tennessee.  Timewise, it was going to amount to pretty much the same thing: two day’s drive to Texas.

So I told Dave I was considering it.  I prayed about it, asking for clarity.  And the answer came back a resounding yes.  Meanwhile, the pastor of the church in Mississippi suddenly stopped communicating with me.  Funny, most pastors are happy to have someone from out of town visit their church.  But I realized that this had been one of God’s tactics for turning my attention to the southern route of travel to Texas.

Today I arrived at his parents’ home.  Dave had just gotten back from the Post Office, where he had mailed in his application for a long-term visa.  I told him: “It is no accident that I am here on this very day that you mailed in your visa application.”  I had been praying for his visa to be approved, and now I was here to pray together with him and his family about the visa.

Dave’s parents were very welcoming, generous, and hospitable.  The four of us talked, laughed, ate a wonderful meal, and prayed together.  Sometimes I feel like an interloper when I stay at someone’s house, but I don’t feel that way here.  Dave recounted how God had changed his attitude about fundraising for his ministry:

I prayed, telling God how I hate asking people for money, and God said, “Who are you to deprive people of the opportunity to give to the work of My Kingdom?”  I bowed my head and answered, “I’m nobody!”  And ever since, I have unashamedly given people the opportunity to give to my ministry.

Just like Dave, I must learn to give people the opportunity to show hospitality to one of God’s servants: me.  So when Dave’s parents invited me to stay here on my way back to Asheville too, my first reaction came from my head: “We’ll see how things go on the way back.”  But when I prayed about it later, God reminded me of Dave’s fundraising story.  I realized that I didn’t have a good reason to refuse their hospitality, and I enjoyed their company so much that I really want to come back.  So I will be visiting Dave’s family home again on the way back from Texas.  God is good!

[1] Some countries are still not open to missionaries, so it’s better that I don’t name the country.

Learning to Say No

A hospitality ministry faces particular challenges, and one of them is people that try to take advantage of your generosity.  I have done it wrong, and now I’m learning to do it right.


I was contacted by a friend who is a missionary.  She had a friend traveling through Milan and asked hospitality for her friend.  It turned out that her friend was not a missionary—was not even a Christian.  The day before she arrived, the friend told me that she had a dog with her.

That was where I should have said no.  I didn’t want her to bring a dog that might pee on my parquet floors, bark all night, or chew up the couch cushions.  But I had already said yes to her, so I felt obligated to say yes to the dog, too.  She arrived and the dog was not a little travel bag dog.  It was a big, smelly dog.  Both were well-behaved and stayed only two nights.  But during their stay I had to turn away missionaries who were serving God and really needed a place, not just a free flophouse.  Saying yes to her meant saying no to those I am truly called to help.

This is just one example of a time when I should have said no.  As soon as I heard about the dog, I should have said no.  There are people who say no to almost every opportunity, and there are people who say yes.  I have always been a yes person.  Yes is born of faith, but sometimes it is also born of people-pleasing.  Recently I have learned the importance of saying no.

The Blessing of No

I was contacted recently through our website for a one night stay.  But as with many who contact me through the website, they were looking for lodging in Paris.  I told them that I don’t know of any guesthouses in Paris (the most difficult city in Europe for hospitality—second most difficult is Rome), and gave them a hospitality website that they could explore.  They have just recently contacted me again, saying that their plans had changed, and they were traveling to Rome and needed a night in Milan.  We got things all set up for their visit, then this morning they contacted me again, saying that they had forgotten to mention that they have nine children.  But they said that they travel with their own sleeping bags, and that the children are used to sleeping on the floor.

I started to write a response, saying that they need to enter and exit the building quietly, and that the children need to keep quiet in the apartment.  Then I realized that I was asking for the impossible from them.  I also realized that they had not forgotten to tell me.  Just like the dog, this was a deliberate deception, intended to secure a people-pleasing yes from me.

Deception was verified when I looked back over our correspondence and found where I had asked them specifically about how many were traveling and if there were children.  I had gotten no response to that question, then today—the day before their arrival—they wrote the “I forgot to tell you.”

I know it is going to be difficult and expensive for them to find accommodation for themselves and all those children, but that simply is not my problem.  It is a situation that they created for themselves when they “forgot” to answer my direct question.

Some people seem to love to argue.  I hate confrontation.  But confrontation, unpleasant as it is for some of us, is sometimes necessary.  In Italy argument is a sport.  After all, the word polemic (meaning controversy and discussion) comes from the Italian word polemica.

One time I was in a shop where I had been in line.  Just when I was next a crazy person walked in and started yelling at the clerk.  In the US, the clerk would have politely dismissed the crazy person and waited on the next person (me).  Instead, she tried reasoning with him.  When that didn’t work, she shouted back at him.  This went on for about ten minutes, then suddenly both tired of the argument and he left.

Another time I witnessed a shouting argument in which one person kept telling the other: “I don’t care!”  I was sure that Ms. I Don’t Care was going to win, having the stronger position.  But again, after about ten minutes both suddenly abandoned the argument, smiled, and shook hands.  It left me scratching my head, puzzled because nothing had changed.  Ms. I Don’t Care had just given up the fight.

I am learning that there is a time when it’s right to say yes and a time when it’s right to say no.  I don’t have to turn into an argumentative Italian, but I must abandon people-pleasing.  From now on, the only One I want to please is God, who taught me this important lesson.  God is good!