Friday, July 24, 2015



Or, to be more tech-savvy: #blessed. (the young people on my trip to Swaziland were sweet enough to help me try to be cool last week. They are the best).

I have a real problem with this word. I don't think we fully understand what it means.

I did a quick search on Twitter and FB for "#blessed" and this is what I got: 

Great day at the beach! #blessed.
Look at this cool thing my kid did! #blessed.
{Picture of me looking pretty} #blessed
I'm so glad I'm where I am right now. I love my life! #blessed
My new car!{or other great thing I have}. #blessed.

Are those things really blessings? I'm not convinced they are. Someone once told me how God blessed her while on vacation and arranged for her to meet someone kind of famous who was inspirational to her. But this conversation happened while I was in Swaziland. All I could think about while she was talking was "Really? God blessed you by arranging things in your life so that you could meet someone famous while you were on vacation? What about God arranging things in the life of the child in a hut a mile away so that she could have food and clean water? Or, you know, not be raped?" I'm often left confused and shaken by what we consider blessings.

I cannot follow a God who "blesses" people in first world nations with new cars, fun opportunities, pretty faces, and awesome vacations while people starve, babies die of malnutrition, and women and children are raped just a plane ride away. I can't believe that God blessed my family with our lovely little home, while at the same time knowing the reason Amani's birthmother couldn't raise him had everything to do with poverty in her country.

In the Bible, blessings look quite different. In the Old Testament, blessings are a strengthening of an individual or a people. God blessed people in order for them to carry out his will, to continue his work of restoration and redemption. Many times, the blessing is children: adding to their number - more people to do the work of God.  In the New Testament, blessings seem to describe when someone fully experiences God, or gains a true understanding of God.  In both cases, the blessing doesn't directly benefit the recipient: it's something used to carry on the overall work of God and in turn benefits someone else.

What if we started talking about blessings that way? My heartbreak over poverty in Swaziland and Ethiopia is my blessing. It's an honor to cry and hurt for someone else. Ultimately, it makes me stronger and helps me do the work God has for me. And it makes me fight harder... not just for poverty in developing countries, but for issues here at home. The blessing of being broken-hearted makes me a better justice fighter.

The past 18 months have been kind of awful for me.  Losing my dad was the hardest thing I've ever experienced. But I have learned so much about the heart of God. I experienced God's presence in ways that I never had before and it both shook and strengthened my faith. Is it weird to say that losing Dad was a blessing? I hate it. I'd give anything to have him still here with me.... yet what God did with that experience was absolutely a blessing. And because of how I experienced God through that difficult time, I am following Jesus more closely. I'm more committed to God's work of restoration.

Life's not easy in the Cassell household these days. We planted a church about three years ago and while it could probably support a full-time pastor, we've made a commitment as a church that we will never spend more money on ourselves than we do on others. So until half of our tithes can support a full-time pastor, my husband has to work a second job. And his current second job is a contract position. It ends in two weeks. He's been applying for jobs for the past 8 months with no success so far. Our financial future is shaky at the moment. But we have this amazing little church. We've gotten to see people fall in love with Jesus. We get to be part of teaching others what following Jesus can look like - how we can be part of God's work to redeem and restore all the brokenness and injustice and oppression in this world.  It's a blessing, isn't it? We've sacrificed our financial security (and on some days, our very peace of mind); there has been no material benefit from our church plant. It's scary... but it's a blessing. I'm certain of it because it has made us decide that our convictions are important enough to make the sacrifices. We've decided following Jesus is worth it.

And this. I want to post this picture on Facebook with the hashtag "blessed." This is sweet Ellie with one of the children at the homestead we visited. She's 16 and traveled halfway across the world to bring a smile to the face of a child in Swaziland. Not only that... because of a last-minute problem with documents, she came ALONE. She had to leave her grandmother and her cousin at the airport in the States in order to come and she had about 2 minutes to make the decision to go.  She planted gardens for the hungry. She clothed the naked and while we didn't go to an actual prison, many of the people of Swaziland are imprisoned by their circumstances, held hostage by poverty.  She visited the suffering in prison. It was hard. She experienced what it's like to be part of God's work this week and I pray that her experiences in Swaziland will strengthen her to continue to follow Jesus, doing hard things. That is a blessing. It's a blessing I hope for for my own children one day. I can't wait to see what God does through that kiddo!

And then there's Sharon. I didn't ask her permission to tell y'all this, but she's 70 (I'm confident that she loves me enough to forgive me for telling you). And she has wanted to serve Jesus in Africa for her entire life. I was so excited for her to come with me to Swaziland. She sat on uncomfortable bumpy Combi rides for hours every day (I even caught her in the very back!). She hiked uphill a half mile after helping plant a garden and crawled through barbed wire. She held sick babies for whom she's been desperately praying. She pushed herself so hard she got sick one day and had to stay back at our hotel. She managed international travel and the stress of getting pulled aside repeatedly by security. And the woman with her in this picture pulled her all around her homestead, showing her every nook and cranny. And just this morning Sharon posted on FB that she is forever changed because of her experiences and that she hopes God will continue to change her. That woman never ceases to challenge and inspire me. What a blessing!

May we continue to seek out blessings such as these: hard days, opportunities to put our own needs and comforts aside for the good of others, fighting poverty, standing up against injustice. I pray today you may be truly #blessed.

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