new grief.

“Welcome to hell.” said Mike as we reached the top of the massive hill, flies filling the open-back truck our group sat in. The statement made my stomach drop; what laid before my eyes was indeed the closest to hell that I had ever experienced. Miles upon miles of piles of trash covered the ground, indescribable sourness and filth overwhelming my senses. As the truck came to a stop, we stepped off to see another, delivering the weekly shipment of trash, immediately surrounded by a group of Dominican and Haitian people, who were searching for food as the contents were unloaded onto the ground.

My eyes scanned the masses. Nearly 50 people (although well over 100 were reported to be living there) walked among the filth, many of which were children. Our team began filling cups with soup and delivering them. I first walked mine to a pair of mothers who were perched on upside-down buckets, unable to leave their “nest” in fear that the trash they had stockpiled for their families would by stolen by other inhabitants. I choked out a “Dios te Bendiga” (God Bless You) as I placed the soup in their dirty, worn hands and walked away with my head down. After distributing the soup, Mandy and I grabbed a bag full of peanut butter sandwiches and stepped toward a crowd of hungry people. In about twenty seconds, twenty sandwiches were gone. I rolled up the empty bag and felt my glassy eyes burst. I couldn’t contain it any longer. Here I stood in their “home”, a part of the hope that came once a week to keep them alive. But never had I experienced such darkness and hopelessness.

As the time came to pray over them, we all seemed to be wondering How? How can you pray for these people, who have no education and not so much as a shack to live under? Where is the restoration? What are you doing with this, God, and where is the answer? The shock that had turned into sadness had now become anger. Toward our nation for bathing in such deep prosperity as this occurs, toward myself for my ignorance to such hurting and submission to the “more, more, more” American lifestyle. I held so much indescribable anger over this injustice.

I’ve spent months battling what I saw on that day. Honestly, it’s been a struggle to see God amidst the suffering, and to know what he wants me to make of it. Although it was heartbreaking to experience, I Praise God that I did, because my heart knows that it will not be the same because of it.

Philippians 4:12-13 // I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

We hear verse thirteen constantly recited, and constantly misuse it, ignoring that “all things through him who gives me strength” refers to the act of reliance upon the the Lord to develop contentment. Sure, he can provide the strength we need to get through that game, or that test, or that speech. He can be strong in our weakness. He can be present in our trials. But here Paul is saying that Christ will give us all that we need to see that he is all that we need in every single circumstance.

For he will be my always, in the good and the bad. In the mountains, I will praise him. In the valleys, I will praise him.

The concept of listening to God has become more real to me lately. I have seen that he speaks in the smallest of ways. We wrestle, saying ” Why doesn’t God speak to me?” and “I can’t determine whether my conscience or my creator is doing the talking.”

I adore how Bob Goff puts it: dusting for divine fingerprints…

“God doesn’t speak to me with a voice to make audio needles move, but there are times when I’ve sensed something down deep, almost like a turning fork has just been pinged in my soul. It’s not just one of those “I know because I know” things either. I think we can triangulate on the unmistakable tugs of God’s voice because we know other things about his character and nature. For instance, we know God loves us and how right forgiveness feels. We also know some truths about the world, like the love we have in our family and how we’ve always liked rainy days and cheeseburgers, that sort of stuff. From there, we can get a sense of how God has wired us and use a combination of our hearts and his truths to move ourselves in a certain direction.”

A few weeks ago, an opportunity arose for me to go a camp. I hadn’t planned on going, but decided to jump in last minute, despite the billions of other things planned for the week. On the first night, an issue came up, and because of the impulsive declaration of a friend: “Let’s just talk to her about it”, we decided to confront the issue. So while one minute I sat above, my accusing eyes upon her, the next I found myself on the floor at her side, praying aloud with my friend, crying and shaking, suffering with her. I had completely misjudged the situation and the person, and had neglected the idea that something more might be going on behind the scenes.

In that moment, I knew that God had intentionally placed us there. Because he did, we were there to support her and can continue to do so even now. It also led me to ask myself if the way I look at others is Godly. I had no desire to go, but he made sure that I did. Incredible.

We can’t expect God to speak to us clearly if we aren’t willing to get on our feet and act. I hear from him the most when I’m uncomfortable. I’ve recently learned that I have to stop shoving away the opportunities thrown at me, because the seemingly silly ones and the “out of my comfort zone” ones can be used. If I want to do amazing things for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, there will be some tasks that I do not want to take on, but must regardless. And it is okay. God moves. And he is capable of planting clarity within me that I know could not possibly come from within the depths of my own mind.

Just a whisper. The son of God was born in a manger. The God of the Universe speaks to me in a heart-shaped puddle upon pavement.

I do not know whether those people in the DR will still be living off of trash and weekly shipments of food from the Cups of Cold Water organization in a few years. Neither do they. But I do know that as of right now, I can look back upon that darkness and make something good of it. That something seems to be that my own life may be characterized by daily obedience and gratitude. My feet hit the floor every morning. I’m showered in physical blessings. Most importantly, I share with the people in the dump an extraordinary spiritual blessing, it being that in every day that I am given, I’ve already received everything through God’s grace. Because Jesus came to earth in that whisper and died, we are all blessed enough to cling to the hope of eternity.

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