Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Like unexpected spider webs.......

Ai ya!  Wei lei!  Uuff baba!  Phrases in general usage like 'Oh my goodness!' that have come second nature during parts of my life in different places.  Things you say when something completely takes you by surprise.

Once a day I go to the mail box, gather advertisement circulars, pick up rubbish that's floated into the yard and head to our rubbish and recycle bins.  As I walk through the open doorway under my front porch, pffftttt, I walk through a spider's web.

I haven't seen this spider yet, my son Aaron tells me that I don't really want to (!), but it sure is a persistent creature.  Every day I destroy part of it's web and do a frantic dance of spitting and wiping my hands through my hair, and every day it rebuilds.  And every day I keep looking down at my hands preoccupied and forget that it's there.

Last week I spent a delightful few hours with a visiting friend and former co-worker.  She caught me up on all the happenings of mutual friends around the freedom business in Kolkata where we used to share our daily lives together.  The conversation became more personal and we talked about how important it is to process the things that hurt us while living there.  Things like incredible pain that others experience through being sold into the sex trade and all that follows which, while nothing like theirs, becomes second-hand pain to us when we hear about it, live around it, and love the people in it.

We talked about what it's like to be a woman in that environment.  How we tended to try to brush off our own more minor then theirs experiences of molestation and harassment because it's 'normal' there and that's what you tend to do just to cope.  But how ignoring our own pain wasn't healthy for us in the long run.

Uuff baba.  Unexpected spider's web in the face. I was surprised how my gut still physically clenched in the present as my mind went back there.  Yet for the next couple of days I felt compelled to wear my Indian coin earrings just to have them near me because of the love that I have for the place as well. Profound love and intense pain intertwined, uncomfortable to say the least.

But to avoid the pain also means that we don't feel the love.  Numbing one also numbs the other.  We often need to go where we don't want to in our hearts so we can let healing take place.  And to let love remain.

If you're reading this you may be thinking, "Golly, I've never been sexually harassed living in a foreign red light district," and discount your own pain, whatever that may be, as well.  Don't.

What's important isn't what's caused pain, but what we do with it when, wei lei, it catches us by surprise once again.  Do we retreat?  Do we insulate?  Or do we make ourselves go where we really would like to retreat from in our hearts?  Do we allow Light and Truth to shine into our darkness to let healing begin?

I read a beautiful verse of hope the other day:

"For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart."  (Ecclesiastes 5:20)

Oh, to live like that!  So focused on him that the world around 'grows strangely dim."  Where we're 'occupied with joy.'  Where we've let His light permeate the darkness of our journey so only the love remains.  

Photo credit:  Anita van der Mespel

Here's the start, "Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have  redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God." (Ps. 31:5)  Our spirit, the very essence of who we are.  The eternal part of us, committed into His care, the One who is faithful.  "My times are in your hand." (Ps. 31:14)

It's real.  It's possible.  It's a life-long journey of learning to trust.  Of subconsciously taking the reins back over and over, but through practice leaving them ever more firmly in His hands.  

So today, "Out in the same old life you go today as ever, but down underneath you can be nourished, by the everlasting streams of God."  (L.B. Cowman)

And when, ai ya, we're surprised by that web that brings pain yet again, we can remember that He is the God that can make, "the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." And in this Advent season we can especially remember that the Father sent His son into just such a world as this to experience pain, and loss, and despair-----so that LOVE would remain.  

Photo credit: Heidi Cook

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bearing His Image....

I noticed some new lines on my face recently as I look slack-faced into the mirror. They're by my mouth and I'm certain weren't there a couple of years ago.  I've had my fair share of towards-middle-aged body angst in the past few years and I think I've come out the other side.  It's OK to look in the mirror and see this.  But still it's strange to see changes, to not quite recognize your own face.

I wondered why these particular lines and moved my face around a bit.  What I discovered surprised me!  They're not worry lines, frown lines, lines of discontent.  They're lines put there by lots and lots of SMILES.   

People tell me that I tend to smile a lot, but living inside my own skin the past ten years there were lots of days I sure didn't feel like it.  I feel a bit like I've compounded what was a relatively easy life until that point and had most of a lifetime of experiences since.  It's been exhausting at times.

So to look at my face and see smiles lines was a huge testimony to my own heart.  A testimony of the faithfulness of my Father and to HIS joy that just doesn't make sense--but is authentic all the same.

We all have those times where we feel like we're choking on dust, unable to breathe. Dust of trials, troubles, despair.  Days of feeling like we just can't take any more.  Days when we're tired of witnessing pain.  Days when we feel bloody and flayed.  Days when our own image surprises us because we look so normal, because it's just not a reflection at all of how we feel inside.  

I Corinthians 15:49 says, "Just as we have born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven."  

Hope!  The breath of heaven is coming.  Strength in our bones, joy in our hearts, no more decay. Come, Lord Jesus.  

"Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal......"
                                        ~David Crowder

One day we'll never breathe dust again.  Until then we still have a hope, a compass, a focus.  We can 'fix our eyes' on Him.  (Heb. 12:2)  In fact, that's the only security that will last!   

I saw one of those articles about how amazingly big the universe is yesterday.  Really blew my mind once again!  (The Universe is Scary) It's hard to imagine anything so gigantic while we are so absolutely insignificantly small.  And yet the Creator is unfathomably bigger still.  (Ahhh, breathe in a bit of that Heavenly air.)

"May this be our prayer, "I do not want to turn my eyes from you, O God.  There I want them to stay and not move no matter what happens to me, within and without."
                                        ~Saint Catherine of Genoa

Focused unwavering because, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."  (Is. 26:3) "The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts." (Ps. 28:7) "The Lord sits enthroned over the flood." (Ps. 29:10) 

So we can bring Him our dusty hearts today just exactly as we are. We can be filled with His incomprehensible joy.  We can be blessed by His acceptance and embrace His peace even if we never understand it this side of Heaven.

We can began to 'bear His image' more and more now and live a life that is nothing short of a miracle.

Here's a song that will surely help us on the way today!!!  You'll want to heart this:  Come As You Are

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The God of Glory, Our Friend

Not really an article but a reflection to be read slowly and thoughtfully considered:

Sometimes life seems like we're going from one battle to the next. Trials happen, hurt and sorrow happen. It's easy to be consumed with the present.

But vision only comes when we take a step back, when we focus less myopically on the trials of today. When we see the road already traveled and the victories along the way that bring encouragement.  And that helps us remember WHO He is.

"And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." 
                                                         -I Col. 1:17

God brings order.  He is the glue, the One who brings rhythm, the conductor.  Before all, in all, through all.  He is.  He is the I AM.  He is the One who has already won not only the battle---but the war.  And this is what He says:

"The Lord will fight for you, and you only have to be silent (some translations 'be still')."
                                                                    -Exodus 14:14

"But, God,.....?"  "Be silent, my child.  Be silent and trust me.  Be still and know that I AM."

"Ahhh, right, God, I forgot that for a moment." Or a few days, a month, whatever.  "When my heart is faint (overwhelmed).  Lead me to the rock that is higher than I."  (Ps. 61:2)

He is our Father, our Victor, our Champion.  And amazingly He is our friend.

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." 
                                                                     -John 15:15
Friends with GOD.  


Don't feel like He's there today?  Listen a bit more closely.  Shut out the noise, take time to contemplate and LISTEN.  

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord..."
                                                                              -Jer. 29: 12-14

It's often not an instant fix, it's a process, but His Presence is worth it.  How much value do we place on that?

"But He will not reveal Himself openly and communicate His glories and bestow His treasures save on those who He knows greatly desire Him, for these are His true friends."
                                                                                                   -Teresa of Avila

Our side of the friendship: seeking Him. Showing Him that we want Him, need Him, care.  And ultimately blessing us far more in return.

The God of Glory, our friend.  

Pause and reflect.

A wee smile before you go!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The very best love song......

I have the most amazing sea view out my window.  And that's something pretty special for someone who grew up in the middle of the USA and remembers seeing the ocean for the first time at age 19.   People in New Zealand just can't believe that, but it's true!

The sea gives me perspective.  It speaks of something ancient and timeless.  It reminds me of power greater than my own and that there are things much bigger than me.  It brings me peace.

But I think I just looked, really looked at the ocean the other day for the first time in a while.  There are fruit trees distracting me by blooming in my backyard.  Lovely, lacy things that attract my eyes.  I love the colors, the freshness, the life.  They make me smile.

Now the fruit trees aren't bad, but it's the sea that brings me peace.  And I've been forgetting from my second story window to stop just looking down but to look past and UP. God's been singing His particular love song the way that I best hear it the whole time, but I haven't been paying attention.  I've been distracted by the immediate and have forgotten to look at the timeless.

The Timeless One reminds us, 

"Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?  
He who brings out their host by number,
 calling them all by name, 
by the greatness of his might, 
and because he is strong in power no one is missing."
                                       Is. 40:25-26

He knows us by name.  'No one is missing.'

I wrote this verse down recently,

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me."
                                                 Song of Sol. 7:10

There He goes again singing us a love song.  The Song of Songs is a beautiful example of marital love but widely accepted also as an example of a song of love from our Creator to us.  So imagine, the God of the Universe's desire is for YOU!  He loves you.  He wants to fellowship with you. 

"His desire is for me."

The first time I got asked out by a boy I was far too young to date, but he called me at home and asked to meet at a roller skating rink.  Sound cute?  It wasn't at the time.  It was a boy that I had absolutely no interest in, and it made the immature me recoil (poor guy!).  I got off that phone as fast as I could!  I've matured a bit since then, but for the idea of someone's desire to be for us to be something more than passing flattery, it needs to be reciprocated on our side as well. 

For God's desire to be for us to matter much, He needs to be our 'beloved.'  The object of our affection, dear to our heart.  Then the doorway is opened for the most beautiful of all love songs to be sung by the One!  Otherwise the song is merely somewhat flattering.  Or worthless.

To hear His song better we must silence the other voices in our ears, voices that cry out, "Worthless!  Damaged!  Despicable!" or even, "I don't need Him.  I can do it myself."  All lies that block the purity of the song.

We need to do what it takes to stop and hear His love song today, silence the voices or the white noise that makes it hard to hear.  Tune our ears to hear the song.  It doesn't matter if we haven't done this well for a while.  Today, right now, we can start anew.  In THIS moment.  In THIS place.  We can experience His Presence and find His peace.  Breathe in, breathe out.

It's the love song that will never change, never grow old, never end.  When He says, "I would die for you," He already did.  

"I am my beloved's and his desire is for me."  Let the song play loud!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ripples of faith.....

Peter saw a figure walking across the water and was afraid.  Yep, I think that would make my heart beat a wee bit faster, too!  When he realized it was Jesus, however, he became super-charged.  He asked Jesus that if it was really him for him to call him. "Come!" Jesus said.  (Matt. 14: 22-31) And Peter didn't hesitate.  He lept out of that boat.

Often when we see an amazing display of the power of God and are convinced that what's in front of us is part of what He's doing, it can be easy to leap.  Easy to say, "Yes!" and jump.  Brave and certainly displaying a God-honoring level of faith, but not as difficult as later.

What's hard is when we see the wind and the waves.  When we're out on the lake with nothing firm under our feet and at the mercy of the elements.  We thought that that first jump was the test of our faith, but it wasn't.  It's the walking after that shapes us.

I've lept before.  I jumped on a plan when I was 19 and headed to Asia by myself at His call.  I did it again at 25 with my three month old baby in my arms and moved to Fiji.  I did it at 38 when I boarded a plan back to the USA which was nearly 'foreign' to me by then.  And again at 41 moving to India with 4 kids in tow.  Each time took a measure of faith but it was the AFTER that changed and shaped me.  That taught me to truly trust when the rubber met the road.

When Peter saw the wind and waves and wavered, Jesus didn't condemn.  He didn't berate, didn't let Peter fall.  He 'immediately' reached out His hand and held Peter up.  And gently asked him why he'd doubted.  Something like, "Child, why did you worry?  Why did you doubt?  Did you forget that I am the One who told you to come?  Don't you trust me?  Do you doubt my power?  Do you doubt my care for you?"

Recently I jumped again.  My life-long love of jewelry as an art form crystallized with the realization that there are businesses providing employment for women at risk and for women trapped in the sex trade, and that representing them was underutilized in New Zealand.  I knew that doing something as part of promoting them was right up my alley.  I prayed.  Ideas flooded my head------and I lept off the boat.

You can find Holding Hope Collection on Facebook!
But now, although leaping is familiar territory to me, I've looked at the waves a few times.  I've sold jewelry as a job before LONG ago, but doubt my ability to do it now.  I wonder if I'll have wasted my precious, limited start up funds?  Can I really do this?  What if my ideas dry up?  What if I can't relay the passion for the project that I feel to others?

What if I'm a big, fat flop?

After Peter's fantastic leap of faith his mistake was that took his eyes off of Jesus.  He looked at the wind and the waves.  He must have thought, "WHAT in the world am I doing?  This isn't possible!  I can't do this!  I'm gonna drown!" Until that hand 'immediately' reached for him and held him tight.  Until that voice soothed away his fears and challenged him to trust.

And real faith kicked in.

It's not that Peter never doubted again, but he knew where his focus should be.  The only other real documented time of doubt was right before Jesus was crucified and Peter didn't know where to look. But Jesus himself called Peter 'the rock,' a firm foundation of faith that carried Peter through martyrdom later with a whole lot of steps of faith in between.

Sometimes when the waves roll and winds blow and we're doing our best to keep our eyes on the face of Christ, we need to remember that the journey of faith is still one step at a time.  Eyes on him, take a step.  And another.  And another.  And like ripples in a pond our faith grows, one step at a time.

I've been wearing a visual reminder myself lately.  It's a ring I got this week from someone who works in the Philippines focusing on education to prevent trafficking (I have one more if someone wants it!).  In the middle of my own, "I can't believe that I jumped off the boat!" time it reminds me of the ripple effect.  It's a visual of ripples from a pebble dropped and reminds me that small things become big things affecting and impacting beyond what we even know.

All we need to do is keep our eyes on Him and take that next little step before us, or drop our little pebble for Him and watch the ripples grow.  So simple, yet so challenging and life changing as well.

And it allows us, like Peter defying physics through the power of God, to be part of a miracle!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

That elusive deep down trust......

An old man lay restless and awake in the dark, dreading the morning light.  But at the first peep of dawn, just light enough to see the trail, he arose and woke his son,"We're going to make a sacrifice."

The story of Abraham being asked to offer up his son Isaac never ceases to move me.  Abraham's immediate obedience, his willingness to put God first over something and someone he'd waited his whole life for.  It's a huge 'behind the scenes' story where there is so much left unsaid, but you can imagine.........! Every time I read it something new stands out.  This morning it was the words, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." (Gen. 22:8)  I read it several times.

I have always thought of this as a distraction for Isaac.  "Don't worry son, we'll pick up a lamb along the way," so Isaac didn't fret or figure out what was actually going on.  But what if it was spurred on by a deep understanding that God somehow WOULD provide, because of the promise He had already made; that Isaac would be the father of countless many?  That deep inside he just KNEW.

Abraham certainly didn't understand why, he didn't know how the day would turn out, but by that point in his life he had an unshakable faith in WHO God was, what He was capable of, and in the fact that even at the deepest point of testing, that God's provision can unquestionably be trusted.  Even if it looks like we're being asked to give up something that's been our lifelong dream.

Photo by Karen Eland
I'm far too often guilty of being among the group that says, "But God, you said (insert whatever)!" when something happens that I don't understand.  Whining at God to remind Him of what He's already promised, grasping at what I thought would happen, questioning His sovereignty and without even thinking about it, doubting His character.

Trials, triumphs, victory, despair: things that shape us and build the foundations of who we are.  And unfortunately you can't have the good without the difficult.

Psalm 11:3 says, "if the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Trials and things that we don't understand will come.  Our foundations will be rocked, they will need to resist erosion, they will be tested.  The same psalm goes on to say, "The Lord tests the righteous," and "The upright shall behold his face." (vs. 5,7)  Our foundation is Him. Nothing else will stand.  God, in His mercy, tests those foundations for our sake, so our foundations will be firm and ultimately we will be ready to 'behold' him face to face.

I want to get to the point where my FIRST response is trust.  Where I don't have to work through thoughts and emotions of, "But God?" but I doubt if I ever totally will.  And maybe that's part of the plan.  If we didn't have the doubt, then we wouldn't have the victory.  I very much think that despite the example of faith that we see in Abraham in this story, that he had a rough night beforehand.

But far better the continued struggle than this:

"You will indeed hear but never understand
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes 
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them."  
                     (Matt. 13:15-17)

I hear God's anguish in the 'lest.'  If only, my child.  If only, I would heal you.  If only.

We will be tested, but it's for our benefit.  There will be trials, temptations, even deaths of our dreams; but if not we would never know that there is a 'ram', a provision, a way of escape, a future plan.  We would never truly see Him, hear Him, understand Him, know that the victory is really His, see His face and receive the healing.

And trust, like Abraham, that no matter how things may look at the moment, that God will provide.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The myth of hiding.......

I had oral surgery this week.  There are far worse things to endure, for sure, but this surprised me in the extent it's after effects.  Can you say, 'Chipmunk?'  Bruising and lots of pain killers.  There was a bone graft involved so that's apparently where the worst of it was from.

But on the upside, the infected abscess that's apparently been there since a root canal in India 3 1/2 years ago is gone, nada, shesh, finished.  I'm looking forward to seeing how that feels!

It's a painful experience to endure but wonderful in the aftermath when sin is cut out of our lives as well.

I've been reading Genesis this week.  It's such a book of mystery with many unexplained things that I'm going to chat to God about one day.  Something that hit me this week was noticing that when people lived 600-900 years that they didn't have kids until they were at least 80.  I wonder if that means that they actually matured more slowly?  Does that mean the teen years lasted for 50?  I digress (painkillers talking?)...........!

When Adam and Eve sinned this is what they did, they, "....hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God." (Gen. 3:8)  They hid from the One that gave them life and breath.  They hid in shame.

We still do today.  We may not go out and commit murder, but sometimes we eat of the fruit of a little white lie.  Sometimes we munch on a little worry and anxiety, let the juice of discontent and disappointment dribble down our chin, take another bite of unforgiveness and before we know it bitterness fills our stomachs.

And then, at least for a time, we can try to close ourselves off from God.
Why do we still hide when the way has been paved by Jesus?  God through His Word sings us an eternal song of love.  His forgiveness is sure, He mercies never end.  He's constantly reaching out to restore.  We're the ones that try to hide.  

"Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, 
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you."
                                                             Ps. 139: 7-12

Even when we feel like our bed is in Hell itself, He's there.  When things seem the very blackest night, He is the Light.  

Last year during a particularly dark time in my life something strange kept happening that's never happened before or since. For a period of a couple of weeks at random times I keep smelling the most delicious smell.  The closest thing I can compare it to was something even better than the Frangipani flower. One time I smelled it floating through the house, one time in the parking garage under my supermarket, one time sitting on a beach.  And with the few minutes that the smell lasted came an intense sense of His presence and peace.  A gift and a reminder.

Why on earth would we ever want to leave His presence? 

"But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me."
                                                       Micah 7:7

We can cry out!  We don't need to hide.  He will hear.  Sometimes we may hide because we don't want to hear what He has to say.  But NOTHING is worth the lack of His presence.

I'm currently reading an ESV Bible for the first time and loving it, but written just inside the cover I wrote this verse that I love in the NLT.

"My heart has heard you say,
'Come and talk with me.'
And my heart responds, 'Lord, 
I am coming.'"
                                                    Ps. 27:8

Why would we ever hide today?  He's calling.

Let's come.


I've been working on a project that I'm really excited about!  If you're on Facebook you can see it here:  Holding Hope Collection  Website to come soon.

I've been longing for something I can do to still be involved 'over there' in Asia and the developing world while living in New Zealand. I've loved jewelry since I worked for an artisan jeweler in the USA before Hannah was born, and I also deeply love woman in poverty and at risk.  Holding Hope Collection allows two of my passions to work together by gathering jewelry from social enterprises assisting women and promoting it in New Zealand.  

The first shipment arrives tomorrow!


*I was honored to write for a couple of weeks for a blog designed to encourage the FS staff in India that's running currently.  The first post is HERE*

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Breath of life.....

"For the Spirit of God has made me, 
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life."
                                  Job 33:4

Breathe in, breathe out.  Life.  Given by the Almighty. All around us, flowing through us.  In our bloodstream, in our lungs.

Feel like you're drowning today?  Breathe Him in.
Full of anxiety and stress?  Breathe it out so that only His air remains.
Questioning your worth? Breathe Him in and find identity.
Overwhelmed by pain around you? Breathe out His life-giving air into the world.
Feel empty and tired?  Breathe Him in.
Feel inadequate?  Remember that HIS breath,not your own ability, is the Source of life.
Breathe in that Life and find strength.
Breathe in and out and find peace.
Be joyful because His life is in YOU.

Every breath we take.....Him.
Let His breath like air fill all the cracks and crevices.*

"For the Lord is the Spirit,
and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
                                      2 Cor. 3:17

Spring is coming to NZ!  All photos on my phone just down the road from our house this week.

*I didn't blog last week and short this week because I've been working on a couple of weeks of this: FS Daily Prayer Blog  
Mine published starting on the 15th.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Call from across the waves.....

Storms.  Sometimes they seem pretty constant.  Right now I'm between big waves in a moment of relative peace in the storms of my own life.  Lovely.

But storms are a vital part of the journey.  As Corrie ten Boom said, "In order to realize the worth of the anchor we need to feel the stress of the storm."  Sometimes they're also a big reveal in showing us what we're actually holding on to as our personal anchor........

This photo and the next what Sybille Stahlberg saw outside her window in Germany this week.
The song I can't get out of my head lately says, "And I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves." (Oceans, Hillsong United)  Peter jumped out of the boat and walked on the water as long as he kept his eyes 'above the waves' and on Jesus. (Matt. 14:28-31)

What is our anchor and where do we have our eyes focused today?

My son recently turned 16.  He was soooo excited to go for his Learners license before he was 16, but now that he is he's taking his time.  And that's fine by me!  We'll just let him do that when he's good and ready.  As part of the process we'll teach him one of the first rules of driving well; not to put his focus on what's directly in front of him, but to keep his eyes on what's ahead.  Or to look at where you're going, not where you are currently at.

We can keep our eyes focused on Jesus because we've looked ahead and know what's coming:  the end of life's storms and our destination of Heaven with Him.  We also need to remember exactly Who it is that we're fixing our eyes on.

Who He was:
You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai.  For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking.  They staggered  back under God's command: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death."  Moses himself was so frightened that he said, "I am terrified and trembling." "(Heb. 12:18-21)

Who He is:
"No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering.  You have come to the assembly of God's firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things.  You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect.  You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel." (vs.22-24)

Who He always will be:
"Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.  For our God is a devouring fire." (vs.28-29)

"Our God is a devouring fire."  Selah.  Oh yeah, definitely time to pause and reflect.

When the storms of life rage all around us, when the world that we live in continues to fall apart, we need to listen to the gentle voice that calls to us from across the waves, "Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come ahead.” " (Matt. 14:28-30 MSG)

Peter didn't hesitate.  He knew Who Jesus was and that He could be trusted.  He didn't hope that Jesus would call on someone else.  He, like that kid in school who always knew the answers, waved his hand up high and said, "Pick me, pick me!"

We need to remember Who He is.  We need to remember Whom we serve.  We need to respond to His call based on Who He is not on our own strength and ability.  We need to fix our eyes on Him and remember that when He calls us, "Come!" from across the waves that it's not a duty or a burden------it's a PRIVILEGE. 

What my friend and neighbor Lexi Waterhouse looked out the window into her paddock and saw this week!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Avoiding Destruction......

"Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall." -Prov. 16:18

Words that I have certainly come to believe.  You know that person that walks into lamp posts and stubs their toe on door frames?  Who can somehow fall off of shoes that don't even have heels in public and spills from their drinking cup down their front at least a couple of times per week?  Yeah, I'm that person.  It certainly helps keep one humble........

My kids love stories that involve me and this sort of thing.  Where my mind is somewhere else when it should be focused on basic motor skills.  

Just walking around was more challenging when we lived in India with uneven pavement and steps of inconsistent height. The Metro subway in Kolkata has never flooded even after forty years of torrential monsoons because of cleverly built steps up before you descend.  

One day my daughter and I were headed home loaded down with food shopping bags and I wasn't paying enough attention to my feet.  Yep, I managed to fall UP the steps, arms flailing and bags flying.  In a society where it's normally inappropriate for men to touch women in public, all formality is thrown out the window when there is fear that someone is hurt.  The nearby security guards yelled and grabbed.  They anxiously wouldn't let go until I demonstrated, with the kind of yanking assistance that would have paralyzed me had I truly been injured, that all of my limbs did in fact still work properly.  Then they chattered somewhat accusingly at my clumsiness as I gathered my bags and slunk away.

Yeah, I've always had reason in my world to avoid pride.  Because I'm too good at falling.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to use some of my natural gifts again that have lain dormant for a long time. There's something deeply satisfying about glorifying God through the very way that He's made us.  Very much a deep soul satisfaction of offering back to Him what He gave us.

I so admire those quiet saints who serve faithfully for years, those 'behind the scenes' people who don't ask for any sort of glory.  It must be hard for them at times if no one notices. Some of my very best gifts, however, are things that do gain the notice and praise of others.  And a few times lately I've found myself wondering if I've enjoyed compliments a bit too much.

Pride.  It's a tricky issue to circumnavigate.  It's a fine line between enjoying being part of what God is doing through the way that He's made you---and just feeling good about yourself.  And how do you know the difference?

So many things in life make us keep short accounts with God.  To cry out often, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Ps. 51:10)  Pride is definitely one of those.  Imagine the multitude of troubles around the world that would suddenly cease if selfish pride just died!  Certainly the root of all kinds of evil.

"There are two kinds of people:  those who say to God, "Thy will be done, and those to who God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'"    -C.S. Lewis

My way usually ends up walking into a lamppost in front of someone that I admire or completely forgetting a piano piece that I'd memorized and practiced for months in a public recital (True stories!).

I actually value those little lessons in pride because it's sure better to fail now and then and remember to choose His good, perfect, and so-much-better-than-my-own will than to walk away.  (However, you can be sure that I won't be running for public office where I would constantly be in the public eye any time soon!) 

And in those times when despite our best intentions we think we might be erring on the side of our own pride?  Well our Father is amazingly just a repentant thought away.  You can be sure He, who knows what's truly best for us, wants to help us fine tune our hearts so we can walk more in step with Him.  

As we repent we need to remember, "To be repentant means to be committed to doing whatever is necessary to keep from falling back into sin......Genuine repentance is utterly vulnerable." (Randy Alcorn) 

Yep, kind of the opposite of pride.

All photos today by Sybille Stahlberg
This one is now the screen saver on my laptop because it makes me smile.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pricking our hearts.......

I've struggled with writing this week.  There's something I started last week that I can't quite finish mostly because it doesn't seem the right time to post something introspective.  There's just too much going on in the world at large this week.  In reality there is always suffering, but the last couple of weeks through social media it's been especially in our faces.

There's an interesting power in social media because in the past if we didn't want to know we could just turn off the newscast or put down the newspaper.  Now, however, we see things just connecting with family and friends.  I usually appreciate this because as I'm settling down for now in a first world nation, I don't want to forget what I've learned and how to globally love.  The world is smaller than we think and we ARE responsible to care and to respond beyond our own comfort zones.

"You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know." 
-William Wilberforce

But this week I'm not liking the empathy I feel with developing nation faces, with the suffering of real live people who dress differently and may look a bit different than I do.  I've had friends like them, ate with them, held their children.......

There's a photo on my Facebook feed of dead children and smiling militants that makes me feel like I've been punched in the gut.  Every time I see it.  I'm sure it would/does you, too.

In my first year of overseas life I was based in Hong Kong and had just spent a couple of months in China when Tiananmen Square hit the news.  It was the first time for me where events in far off places had a face. Most of my English interaction in China had been on 'English corners' where students went to practice their skills.  And then real people just like them were being killed.  For the first time, current events brought real, human faces to mind.  And I wept.

Yesterday the world reacted to the death of Robin Williams.  A man who made us laugh and who more importantly let us hear the laughter of our children.  Because of that we feel like on some level that we knew him and can't believe that a true genius of wit would become low enough to end his own life.  And perhaps during a week of terrible news stories we're especially grateful for the lifetime of laughter he gave us.

Some of the social media reaction I saw was along the line of 'let's stop making a fuss over someone just because he's famous and get back to remembering those who have no voice.'  Part of me agrees, but the life of one man is precious---and no less so just because he's famous.  Maybe others with depression won't go unnoticed because someone near them is learning through the life and death of Robin. 

And after all that's what real compassion is all about----the life of one.  And then one.  And one more.

A danger of our modern glut of instant news is something I've heard referred to as "knee jerk compassion."  An emotional response to an event that pricks our hearts, makes us momentarily bleed and quickly respond (partly to make us feel better), but then quickly scabs over and we move on without it turning into something that evokes real compassion.  

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
―Henri J.M. Nouwen

Real compassion is not easy.  But real compassion is the example we have in Christ.  We need to let compassion become action and affect lives, one person at a time.

It's not easy letting the pain of others prick our hearts.  

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." (Jn.16:33) 

There will always be sorrows here----but there will always be Him.  And while pain may have it's way for a little longer, we can walk encouraged that He has already won the battle.  As we let our hearts be broken into action for the sake of others, we'll come closer to what His heart has been all along.  

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:38)

"Jesus wept." (Jn. 11:35)

All photos today by my sister-in-love Megan Lindsay.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Glimpsing Glory

"This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all."  I Jn. 1:5

This week a friend put up a thank-you to people who were working on her local road.  She included with it a photo where she was sitting in delayed traffic at the time.  I immediately 'got' it.  She and I have both lived in places with not-so-good roads.  And when you then get great local services, you notice and appreciate it!  In fact, our main road has been delayed for weeks now because of a new water pipe being put in alongside it. And I don't mind a bit!

The other day we met a man with terminal cancer.  He's doing well right now but if he lives for too much longer, he'll beat unbelievable odds (something like a 3% survival rate).  We didn't meet him before the cancer, but meeting him after, well, it was pure privilege.  He spoke of the faithfulness of his Savior, and how much the internal part of him has changed for the better through the trial.  How he's become passionate about the One that he loves.

Little nuances of how we perceive life experiences make all the differences in how we live. Whether we see things in a hopeful light or are immersed in the negative.  

This morning I drank coffee with my lovely girl for whom life has not been easy, and who has been spending this year finding healing for those scars.  And I listened enthralled as wisdom poured out of her mouth. Words of discovery: healing, wholeness and Him.  Especially Him, and how her whole paradigm has shifted,  moving through the pain to be infused with the belief of His innate goodness and love.  Her hand  unconsciously flitted to words etched on her collarbone, "There is always hope." Words put on her skin when hope was just a seed, but now sprouted and growing.  Same girl but with the perspective that light and healing can bring.

Recently Ann Voskamp pointed out in her blog the two great questions agonized over by the philosopher Augustine.   The first one is, "If there is a God, why is there so much evil?"  And the second, "If there is no God, why is there so much good?"

The first question can bring you to your knees.  But the second will keep you there in reverent awe.  One is despair and the other the essence that is true worship.

One of the things discussed with my girl was the concept that while Creation 'was good,' the appearance of evil has made this place into something we're not designed for.  It's left us with unfulfilled longings and made us homesick for a better place.  The deep understanding that we're actually not all right.

But in the midst of that is the reminder.  The certain knowledge of something better with little glimpses of Heaven along the way.  Reminders of what He's preparing for us. Glimpses of Him.

Days like today seeing hope in the eyes of someone I love more than life.  When the winter storms cease and the sun warms your skin.  When you go to sleep with peace in your heart or wake with the certainly of a smile.  When you walk on the beach and marvel at the power of the waves.  When wrapped in the embrace of a loved one or in the thoughtfulness of a friend.  (And sunflowers!)

All photos today by the brilliant Cathi Geisler
Both of Augustine's questions are worth taking the time to ponder.  But we should never get stuck on the one without the balance of the other.  Light dispels darkness, goodness is the absence of evil, and evil isn't unbeatable----it's just the absence of Him.

"In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind."
Jn. 1:4

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Choosing the better part.........

Our kitten is a kleptomaniac.  She's a bit of a selective thief, but if something's little and shiny, look out. Coins, hairpins, pens, crochet needles, even a small Allen wrench.  All of these items cannot be safely left on tables in our house.  She'll peep over the edge from the corner of her eye for a bit, then a tiny paw flashes up like lightening and the shiny thing is gone.

She knows that we don't want her to.  She's usually pretty good about doing what she's told, but the appeal of the shiny is just too much.  She's easily distracted by the lure of shiny things away from pleasing her masters.

How often do we wander away, distracted from our Master?  How often do we start to spend time with Him, to pray, with good intentions only to be distracted by something we remember to do?  Or some shiny, glittery, attractive 'thing' that is easier to focus on than being intentional with Him?

Photo credit: Rachel Bates
I love corporate worship.  I love the atmosphere and the fellowship.  I also love that it's a place that unless we rudely walk out, we have to stay.  It gives us time to dial down to a place of peace.  To focus.  And if we don't get past what we're doing that day, how our outfit looks, what the scale read this morning, the worries of the week ahead; if we don't get past all the distractions, then we've missed the point---connection with Him.

Corporate worship can make it easier to connect on some level with our Master, but how much more do we need that in our own place of quiet.  To touch Him.  And to feel His touch in return.

We've missed out otherwise.

"Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here."
-Ex. 33:15

Moses frequently doubted himself, but he had seen the power of God.  He had seen the burning bush, the river turned into blood, the parting of the Red Sea.  He had already talked to God, "as one speaks to a friend" (Ex. 33: 11)  He knew enough about his Master to know that there was no point continuing on the journey to Canaan if God didn't go with him.

"Every time we pray our horizon is altered, out attitude to things is altered, not sometimes but every time, and the amazing thing is that we don't pray more."
                        -Oswald Chambers

We need intimate time with God.  We need our perspectives altered through prayer, through reflection on Who He is.  We need the encouragement and wisdom that can only come from Him.

We've missed out otherwise.  And we're the ones that pay the price.

Let's not let the shiny distract us from what is truly valuable today.  Our Omnipresent One is always there---but our own worlds shift when we take the time and effort to connect with Him.  And we leave unquestionably, beautifully altered by His Presence.  Every single time.

Photo credit: Rachel Bates

Sunday, July 13, 2014

We're not all right.......

I often see a little girl walking to the shops in my area.  She's one of those ragamuffin kids who is out and about a bit too much on her own, old enough to care what she looks like, but not sure what to do about it; with the overall impression of some neglect in her world.  She walks with confidence, but if you look into her eyes for whatever the reason may be, she's just not all right.  Not obviously call Child Services time, but her world is somehow not what it 'should' be.

We all see people repeatedly in our day-to-days:  friends, neighbors, workmates, shopkeepers, bankers, cashiers, or whatever that we have some level of acquaintanceship with.  People that we expect to behave in certain ways--and we're slightly offended if they don't.  People who usually smile politely, but occasionally the veneer cracks and we think, "What's up with her/him today?" As if 'not OK' is abnormal.

And then there are our own hearts.  Hearts that after living for a while on this planet, if we stop and sit still for a bit, we know are damaged, chipped, never to be quite the same.

In reality we're not OK.  'Not truly OK' is more normal that not.  I think it's far better to just assume that everyone isn't 'all right.'

I've read some mind blowing abuse statistics lately.  Things like 1 in 6 women in the US are survivors of attempted or completed rape, 1 in 3 women in New Zealand experience physical or sexual violence from partners in their lifetimes.  The majority of sexual violence in both countries is usually by people known to the victim. Men and boys suffer abuse as well.  Almost everyone is touched by something; substance abuse, depression, strained or broken marriages, divorce.  Disease, desperate loneliness, despair.  Stress over jobs and providing for families, mental illness.  And the list goes on.

Behind the smiles we're not all right.

But what do we expect?  We're aliens living in a hostile environment.  Gasping for air, acid on our skin.  Fish out of water.  Death in our nostrils and decay in our bones.  This world is only a flawed picture of the true home that we long for.

"For this world is not our home;
we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come."  (Heb. 13:14)

The point of being here isn't to be all right.  The point is to realize that without Him, that we are NOT.  This world is full of sin and suffering and stuff that doesn't really satisfy.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Cor. 4:18)

We're already living our eternal lives.  We're already on the road that will lead us right into the after-life, only a single breath away.  Where everything WILL be all right.  Forever.

This life is just the precursor, the breath before the sentence, the silence before the music begins.  The time where we get to make decisions as to where our lives will lead; where we will go, whom we will serve, and what is really important along the way.

Life feels like it stretches on forever, like we have unlimited time to do, to become, to LIVE.  It's only in the light of eternity that things snap into focus.  Where things make sense.  Where, like childbirth, the pain is less because of the joy to come.

"Hope is one of the Theological virtues.  That means that a continual looking forward to the eternal would is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next."  -C.S. Lewis

We're not all right.  And that's OK.  And because of that we should be extending a whole lot more grace to those around us who are not all right as well.

And in looking at forever in the context of the present, we know where our help comes from, "From the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." (Ps. 121:2)  **Deep sigh!**  So the very best way to walk through the 'not all right' is to open up our hearts in trust and say:

I'm an empty page
I'm an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark

Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won't You write Your story on my heart

Because our eternal life has already started.  This is just the beginning and the BEST is yet to come!

All photos today by the very talaneted Sarah Faith Hodges

Monday, June 23, 2014

This adventure that we're on......

I love my house.

Several months back we bought a fixer-upper.  One of those houses that no one else bid on at the auction because of the amount of work involved to make it pristine.  But unlike some fixer-uppers our house is quite livable in the meantime, we can recreate parts of it into what we want, and comfortably live in it right now.

Like many houses in our area, it started out as a good 'ol Kiwi batch not far from a beach and has morphed and grown over time.  I love that.  I love that the house is almost as old as we are, that it's already lived a lot of life, and that it's interesting.  I love that my laundry room was somewhat strangely added on later onto what must have once been the upstairs entrance to the house.  That the light fixtures from room to room are from completely different eras. And we're making even more changes.

Like a life that has grown and changed over time, our house has character.  Too much character at present as Rachel tells her friends that we live in the 'crack house' because of the outside badly in need of new paint (!), but nothing that can't be fixed.  And it's ours.

It's a work in progress.

Photo credit:  Ivy Rupani
Adam's teacher rang the other day.  She called about something else but mentioned that that morning the class had been asked to write a speech about an experience from their lives.  She told me that she found Adam's life experience fascinating, but that she was going to have to check with the school administration because she wasn't sure that he'd be allowed to say some of the things that he had written in front of the class.

Adam was incredulous!  He couldn't believe that what had been his normal life experience living in a red light district in India might not be considered appropriate for his classmates to even hear about--because he had lived it.

Granted he has had an unusual upbringing.  His life is a very interesting work in progress.  I wonder what will happen with a boy who at age eleven already passionately points out to other boys the dark side of things that they casually say?  They think in pre-teen mostly innocent innuendos, but he knows how disrespectful they really are to women, and to him women who have been objectified wear real flesh and bone with souls and personalities attached.

We all have our different journeys.  We've all grown and expanded with our own histories, our own basket full of life lessons.  Our own set of rooms that have been added on or remodeled over time.

Life is quite the ride.

Sometimes it's a roller coaster that we'd like to exit for a bit.  Sometimes the fact that it's way beyond our control is scary--we're just passengers after all.  Sometimes it seems like we're forever on that uphill climb waiting for the fun to begin.  Sometimes we linger on that crest looking down below and feeling the fear before the experience carries us away and leaves us breathless.

It changes us.

Hannah has been participating in the art of Spoken Word for a while now.  One line in one of her recent free form poems is this (imagine it being rhythmically spoken out loud):

"You've heard it been said that someone came alive after having been pronounced dead.  The same can be said about my heavy heart and hardened head.

I'm graced."

Changed.  Once dead, now alive.  Once a small, restricted house now expanded and full of character, living. Once an innocent child, now someone poised with a heart awake, a heart that sees through the haze into what really matters.  A voice ready to speak.

I don't know about you, but I'm sure glad I'm on the ride.  Glad I'm in the middle of this adventure called life.  Glad that, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Ps. 27:1)  And that, "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."  (Deut. 31:8)

The ride really isn't up to me.  Sure I can adjust myself in the seat, make sure my seat belt is buckled and hope for the best, but the Master's hand is on the control panel.  He's at the wheel, the helm, the cockpit.  He's directing the ride.  And when I remember to look at the character of the Master Designer, I know that while the ride is full of twists and turns that He is in control.

Let the adventure, this ride called life, continue!  And whatever is around the bend He will be right there with us, navigating it together.  

Photo credit:  Heidi Cook