Saturday, May 31, 2014

(Pt. 2) When we really don't understand what God is up to......

"If you follow Jesus you'll have a good/successful/fruitful/prosperous/blessed life here on the earth."  A line that we in the Western world have caught and swallowed hook, line, and sinker.  Oh, maybe not consciously, we may not admit it out loud, but we somehow unconsciously think that as followers of Jesus that this is what is in store for us.  Wasn't that what we signed up for?  And I say this in a whisper, isn't it on some level of our hearts what we think we deserve for trying to live a 'good' life????

All of this is true (except the deserve part).  God has a plan for us, He wants what's best for us.  But what He calls 'good' doesn't necessary line up with what WE think that should look like.  Just like a child who wants that big treat this instant, but who is told 'no' to by the parent who is more concerned for their health than their light and momentary 'happiness.'

Years ago in my YWAM days, people on a team that I was part of prayed for me beforehand asking God to give them scriptures, etc, to encourage me.  But when they presented them I was a bit baffled.  Separately they all gave me verses like, "For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling, he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock." (Ps. 27:5)  Scriptures about trials and trouble.  Not something 'encouraging' at first glance.

One of the girls also told me that she had a picture in her mind of me.  That at that point I was a butterfly fluttering around, but that God wanted me to make me into an eagle. What?  I have to admit to being slightly offended by that at the time!

I smiled sweetly and thanked them, but walked away feeling more confused than encouraged.  A number of years after I re-read in my journal the things that they said, and they were spot-on-correct with what I needed to hear at the time.  It was right before my first trip ever to India, a trip where I really saw poverty and injustice for the first time and it rocked the foundations of my world.

"But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." Is. 40:31

Eagles handle storms a lot better than butterflies.  Now I want to be an eagle and soar on His wings of strength.

I have many, many blessings in my life.  Things that I know are given by His hand.  Right now I live in a comfortable home, surrounded by family who love me.  My husband still makes me weak at the knees. The autumn sunlight is streaming in and when I glance out the window I can see the beautiful, blue Pacific.  In the background is the swish, swish of my dishwasher; something that I haven't had for ages until recently and definitely appreciate.  My yummy coffee in my cute cup that makes me smile sits close by my laptop.  I am blessed, truly blessed, body and soul.

I could also give you a version of my current life that would seem far less restful, enjoyable, or attractive.  We all could!  Hopefully we choose to try to focus on the good, but the rest is there as well (and we shouldn't just ignore it).  And we shouldn't be surprised at all.  Not in a world where 21-27 million people, some of them Believers, live in slavery at this very moment; where people lie, cheat, use, abuse, scorn and reject each other.

An online friend from a group of American internationals that I've been part of for years just heard that her adult son was found dead in the USA.  She and her family have lived and served in Asia for years and they are still in recovery mode from the kidnapping and later return of their daughter there last year.  This is someone who lives their life as a sacrifice for Him.  

Too much for one family to bear.  Good people who definitely don't deserve this.

Is. 43:12 says;
"When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, 
you will not be burned up'
the flames will not consume you"

'Go through', 'walk through'.  It will happen.  The imperfect world affects us all.

Jennifer Rothschild knows about difficulties in life.  Blind since her teens she writes in her book God is Just Not Fair, "We may have the right to be angry, but I would rather focus on our responsibility to be reverent.  God is kind and just and deserves our respect, not our resentment.  When we give him the honor he deserves by expressing our gratitude, we are the ones to receive peace and life......But I have found the reason.  I am not angry with God because I need him too much....I can be blind with God, but there is no way I can be blind without him."  

Oh, how I know that I need Him.  Desperately need Him.  Can I get an 'amen'?

Gratitude and worship, focus on God Himself instead of the difficulties in our lives. 

When Job's world fell apart his friends tried to offer pathetic explanations.  In the case of enormous tragedy any explanation is pathetic. When Job defended himself and asked God, "Why?" instead of providing answers, God pointed to Who He is instead.

"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"
Job 38:4

God goes on to remind Job not only of His power and might, but of His careful planning, nurturing, and provision for life on Earth.  His character............

Worthy of our worship and gratitude.  When we can't understand why, we can look at the Character of the One who has shown His love in innumerable ways and holds our every breath in His hands.

"Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, 
for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord."
Ps. 89:15

Situations that take us beyond what we can handle on our own are a call to worship, a call to look up, something that makes us run to the Throne Room and to the light of His presence.  They show us that He is the only hope, the only peace, the only real refuge.

In the light of His presence.  What a fantastic place to live!  

And even if we sometimes don't understand what He's up to-----He is faithful.

"Praise the Lord, my soul, .......who redeems your life from the pit."
Ps. 103:2,4

He has already redeemed us through His death on the cross.  Who better to redeem us out of the trials that we face today?  And what better hand to walk us through the 'valley of the shadow', whatever that looks like to us?

His character is this, "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does." Ps. 145:17

And He never changes. So while trials come, and not to be a doomsayer but they will, we can walk through them in Him.  We can 'consider it joy' (James 1:2) because trials teach us to walk closer and closer to the Light.  The, by far, BEST place to be.

Photo credit Harriet Thayre

Friday, May 23, 2014

When we really don't understand what God is up to.....

There were some rough nights recently for this mama.  Adam, our youngest, started a new school that we think will be a great experience for him.  He came home the first couple of nights exhausted and emotionally distraught, however, at the stress of his first days, feeling really out of place and begging us not to make him go back.

On one of those nights I listened, cuddled, and told him I understood, but later tried to give him some gentle advice.  I told him things that are not simply platitudes in my heart.  Things that really do bring me peace, hope and courage.  I told him that God is always with Him, that God will protect Him, that God always loves him and cares for him.  Several members of our family were scattered around the room trying to just 'be there' for him.  But as I gave Adam my little pep talk, one of our kids got up and left the room.  And it hit me...

While I've had hard things happen in my life, there has honestly not been one moment bad enough to challenge my faith in His loving protection to the core.  I've always felt His ultimate protection and care.  Not so of the child walking away.  They've had some terrible things happen to them that would make anyone question the concept of a loving, ever-present Father.  And my little speech to this child must have sounded like empty platitudes.

This child has suffered abuse that I've only recently come to know about.  They know what it feels like to be helpless at the hand of another.  They must have had moments of crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

What do you say to bring comfort and peace into situations like that?  What could I possibly say to my child, or even to myself?

I guess faith isn't really faith if it hasn't been tested.  And we can only grow deep roots in faith when we've been brought beyond ourselves and watered from the rivers of trials.

I remember the first time I felt really, truly, totally beyond myself.  My first husband had died in Fiji where we lived the week before and the shock had begun to wear off.  The previous few years had provided me with plenty of moments to be 'watered' by trial and I was at low ebb even before he died.

Family and friends showed up quickly from overseas, Fijian friends embraced us with loving care, but that morning I needed to be alone.  It was the day of his memorial service, and I didn't know how I was going to make it through the day.

The only 'alone' place I could find that morning was a few moments in the bathroom.  I knelt, face to the floor and cried out to Him.  I felt stripped to the core, naked from the womb.  Nothing existed for those minutes but myself and Him.  I got up moments later with an amazing, supernatural peace that lasted for the next several months.  While things were still incredibly tough as the kids and I packed up, said our good-byes, and moved to the USA (a foreign land), God was as close as the air that I breathed.

What brought me to that place was pure desperation--and a revelation of His grace.  I was beyond asking questions, beyond anger, just beyond.  So I looked beyond the situation and desperately reached out to WHO He is.

Luke 11 talks about how parents love to give good gifts to their children and that if that is so, wouldn't the Heavenly Father be even more so?  The gift that this passage talks about is the coming of the Holy Spirit, something unknown at that point.

When the gift is unknown, the best thing to help us form an opinion about what the gift will be like is to understand Who the Giver is.

Ps. 145:17 says, "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does."  The base of walking through hard times and growing in Him is coming to the point of faith in trusting WHO He is.  In trusting his just character when we don't understand the circumstances or God's plan in it.  We need to trust in the character of our Craftsman.

I love the Pslams.  They're examples of pouring our hearts out in authenticity to God and they never leave you hanging.  They come to a resolution where the Psalmist finds faith again because of Who he is serving;  God's character.

Psalms 23 is an amazing example of His character in relation to us personally as our Shepherd.  But to get to Psalms 23, you first have to read Psalm 22.

"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  Why are you so far away when I groan for help?  Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief?"  -vs.1-2

Note that the question isn't, "Why did you let this happen?" It's a much deeper question.  The Psalmist cries, "Why have you deserted me?  Why have you withdrawn from me?  Do you even care for me at all?"

Christ in the midst of His unthinkable suffering on the cross chose to quote this as His cry to the Father.  It's really the deepest cry of mankind.

When we lived in Kolkata we were totally surrounded in our neighborhood by Hindus.  Hinduism wasn't just their religion, it was their lifestyle and culture as well.  They constantly offered sacrifices at the shrines that dotted the footpaths seeking attention from their gods.  Every night at dusk the neighborhood was filled with the clanging of metal to metal as they asked their gods, "Are you there?" The poor were never able to rise above their humble positions because of the financial drain of participating in the many festivals of the calendar year looking for favor from the gods.

They were asking just like all of us, "God, are you there?  Have you abandoned me?"  

After the first few verses of Psalms 22, the Psalmist begins to focus on God's character.  He says things like, "You are holy."  "Our ancestors trusted in you and you rescued them." "You made me." "No one else can help me." "You are my strength." The words of verses 25-31 are words of faith restored.  Because longings pointed at God rather than at ourselves turn to faith.

Richard Exley said, "We can hug our hurts and make a shrine out of our sorrows or we can offer them to God as a sacrifice of praise.  The choice is ours."  If we have to walk through trials we might as well let them be used for good, after all!

Ultimately those trials let us see Him for Who He is.  And He is GOOD.  Job, in the midst of his devastatingly hard time where he had lost everything said, "When he tests me, I will come out as pure gold." (Job 23:10)  Gold and trials, intricately intertwined.

Humans of New York is a book and a Facebook page with photographs taken of the diverse people that reside there.  Each person is interviewed and a quote found to go with the photograph giving insight into their inner workings as well.  I love this reminder on my Facebook feed that there are people out there totally different than me.  Reminders like that can keep us sharp and open to engage when we encounter someone different in our own little worlds.

Recently there was a photo of a rough looking, middle aged man sitting on a step.  His watery eyes and dangling cigarette made him an unlikely philosopher, but he profoundly said, "Saddest moment?  How am I supposed to choose between loosing my parents and seeing my friends die in Vietnam?  I don't catagorize those things. Listen, a person is like a rubber band ball.  We've all got a lot of bad rubber bands and a lot of good rubber bands, and they've all wrapped together.  And you've got to have both types of bands or your rubber band ball ain't gonna bounce.  And no use trying to untangle them.  You know what I'm saying?"

Trials help make us who we are.  And while I've experienced my own trials that have been keenly separating the gold in me from the dross, and while I don't like the experience one little bit; they've allowed me to see more and more of the Character of the One who made me, the One who died for me, the One who will never leave me or forsake me. It leaves us able to say with Job:

"I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes." -Job 42:5

I've been a Follower of Christ since I was four years-old.  I thought I knew Him before.  But I really didn't.  

Practical Application:  Psalms 23 is an amazing example of God's Character and how that relates to us.  I often use scriptures like this as a barometer of where I'm at and where I may need to allow God to work.  Read Pslams 23 slowly out loud several times.  If there's a section that just doesn't ring 'true' in your heart or causes you pain, you may need to examine what you may have incorrectly internalized about Who He is.  For example, I recently  found the words, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life," difficult to believe and have been talking about it with Him since.

Steve's dad was a bomber plane pilot in WWII.  For the past couple of weeks he's been part of a delegation from New Zealand remembering the Battle of Cassino in Monte Cassino, Italy.  This photo was taken when Prince Harry met the delegation.  As the only pilot in the group, Dad stopped him for a prolonged chat with the words, "Pilot, like you."  Prince Harry said at one point, "Now that was real flying.  Now we just push buttons."

I enjoyed having this lady, Steve's mum, visiting for part of the time that his dad was away!

Last week Steve and I celebrated our 6th anniversary.  He surprised me with a lovely dinner out at Auckland's Sky Tower's revolving restaurant.  The view was amazing, both out the window and across the table.

Our kids a couple of weeks ago.  I wonder if we actually have a 'normal' picture of them anywhere?  Guess this IS 'normal' for them!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lost Girls

This wasn't meant to be a poem, just kind of accidentally rhymed in places.  So please don't read looking for meter or rhyming schemes!

Today I wore my African beads, paper beads.  Made by women in hungry need.  They didn't really match the things that I wore and I really didn't really care.

African beads, paper beads.  Girls now in the news, but they're always in need.  And I wear my beads to remind me to pray.  Pray for lost girls everywhere.

The stolen, the forgotten, the hopeless in shame.  So glad someone made a list of their names (Nigeria's kidnapped girls).

They have a name.

They ALL have a name.  Lost girls everywhere.

African beads, paper beads.  Disposable things made into something that lasts.  Something made beautiful and changed from the past, made by women who want something more.  For themselves, for their families, for their neighbors next door.

And no matter what the despots say, not one life's meant to be thrown away.

African beads, paper beads.  Stealing a whole group of girls?  Nothing new.  Read Roman history from school; Romulus, Romans and the Sabine women.

Humanity's not changed.  Quite a shame but we're still the same.

African beads, paper beads.  There are lots on my necklace.  Two hundred maybe?  Maybe one for each stolen African girl?  I count them a bit, but only ninety-six.  They look like there would be much more.

What does a group of over two-hundred girls look like anyway?  Wow, what a mob to force away from their school.

Two-hundred, I've seen that amount before.  Two-hundred enslaved women freed.  I've sat with them, talked with them, ate with them, held hands, laughed and cried with them.  Not from a 'safe' distance, but right in their world.

What 200 or so women look like.......
FS women 2012 (Steve and I are in there somewhere!)
Beautiful African beads, paper beads.  We're appalled that they're stolen.  With so many more lost girls in the world, I'm glad that they finally got some attention.

So listen.  Really listen.  Remember it happens.  Far too often it happens.  Remember it happens and remember they're real.

A good place to buy paper bead jewelry

Friday, May 2, 2014

When the slippery voice of guilt won't go.....

"I did the best that I could do with what I had at the time."

Words that have brought me a lot of comfort, a lot of freedom from guilt, a lot of peace.

But sometimes my best just isn't good enough and I know it.  I'm frail humanity, flawed, cracked.  No matter how hard I try, I make mistakes.  I have bad judgement. I miss things I shouldn't have.  And sometimes others pay the price for my lack of omnipotence or omnipresence.  I know that the expectation of perfection isn't realistic or logical in this fragmented world.  But sometimes I wish............

Often by far the hardest person to forgive---is me.

Recently I climbed a ladder with sandpaper and a block of wood in hand.  Steve put Gib / plasterboard on the ceiling, hiding pink insulation.  Our garage was pretty basic before, not terribly waterproof or warm.  My hubby worked hard all day; cutting, gluing, lifting, putting screws in place to make a nice space for a workshop.  And my man needs his workshop!

I sanded the rough places that putting in screws had left behind.  Back and forth overhead, letting the dust fall.  Climbing up and down to move the ladder, more holes to make smooth.  My arms gently ached.

iPad music in the background.  Jon Forman (Switchfoot, Ba55) sang, "I believe you're the fire that could burn me clean. I believe you're the fire that could burn me clean, I believe you're the fire that could burn me clean.  I believe you're the fire that could burn me clean," harmony building and intensifying, stirring the desire in my heart for the imperfections to just burn away.  For the evaporating of guilt spawned by circumstances realistically beyond my control.  But I think I somehow should have known, should have prevented.  I could have saved so much pain. Things that I can never take back, never change.  I thought I was doing everything right, yet the perverse 'ol world slipped through my net.

Dust became a mist and fell around me as I sanded.  I felt with fingers to see if the ceiling was smooth.  I needed to feel because sometimes what I saw with my eyes deceived me.

Sometimes my eyes deceive me.

My eyes miss things I feel that I should have noticed, but sometimes they also don't see the rhyme or reason. Sometimes they just see the wound and don't perceive the sanding smooth.  The fire that burns clean.  I ask the unfathomable 'why?'

"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you."
                                   Is. 54:10

In the Hauraki Gorge, NZ.
Unmovable mountains.  How long does it take for water to carve it's way through?  Longer than our blink-of-an-eye lifetimes for sure.  Water trickling, flowing, helped along by raging storms and torrential floods.  Carving through rock, rubbing it smooth.

Rubbing, sanding, smoothing, making something beautiful.  How much more so is the sanding and smoothing of a human soul?  Rough elements that we don't understand.  The abrasives of life; things that we think never should have been.

But without abrasive friction nothing becomes shaped and smooth, without blemish or flaw.  And He will 'work all things together for good.'  Healing hurts, making the broken things beautiful.

So "doing the best that we can with what we have at the time" is really all that is required of us.  It's not our failure, it's our freedom.  Freedom to let Him move even in ways that we don't understand.  He's the Healer. The God who makes all things perfect through His pain on The Cross.

No matter the bumps 
No matter the bruises 
No matter the scars 
Still the truth is 
The cross has made 
The cross has made you flawless 
No matter the hurt 
Or how deep the wound is 
No matter the pain 
Still the truth is 
The cross has made 
The cross has made you flawless 
                                    (Mercy Me - 'Flawless')

So, I continue to sand smooth.  I let the dust fall around my head.  I understand that Craftsmanship involves what looks like damage along the way---but the perfect will come.  And as my own arms tire from the effort, I remember that He doesn't operate from some far off, unaffected place as well.  Whatever affects us in the process touches Him deeply too.  And He already got His hands dirty.

Let self-hate go.  It's His story, not ours.  And HE is the craftsman.

I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
                               Ps. 121

The song I can't get out of my head this week:  Flawless by Mercy Me.  

Happy to be out of the gold mining tunnels and in the sun!
My best guys.
 I have numerous pictures of big carrying little.  Both seem to enjoy it!