Saturday, June 30, 2012

As Best I Can

        I'm thinking tonight about a story Kate McCord shared in her book about living in Afghanistan.  As probably everyone knows, women in Afghanistan have to be covered in the presence of unrelated males, can't sing  even in the privacy of their own compound lest their lilting, seductive voices tempt a male passerby, and they absolutely  cannot travel solo, unaccompanied by a male relative.
       The rationale behind this is that God will not tolerate sin and  the community is His appointed watchdog, required to sniff out said sin and judge it accordingly.  To judge in Afghanistan means not only to say this is wrong but also to punish the wrong doer; the same type of connotation that the word carried back in Biblical times. (Think the woman caught in adultery in John 8).
      In Afghanistan, Kate formed some close friendships and one friend in particular came, over time, to understand that God really loves us,  something she had never even considered before.  As Kate was visiting with a group of women one night, someone asked her a loaded question: had she ever traveled without a male guardian? Kate had, of course, as she had been involved in international business for many years. However in order not to offend anyone she sidestepped the question by saying that a relative had driven her to the airport in America to start her journey  to Afghanistan and then men from her office in Kabul had greeted her upon her arrival.
       Kate's close girlfriend grew very quiet at this reply because she was able to "read between the lines". She knew Kate had traveled extensively in Europe and she knew Kate was single  but had never considered the implications of all  this.  She asked Kate in a subdued voice  who accompanied her on the  plane or stayed with her in hotels?
     Again, Kate thought about sidestepping the question but because her friendship with this woman was close and because she knew her friend's views on some issues were gradually changing, she decided to respond simply and directly, without arrogance but also without apology.
    As the women understood that she had slept in hotel rooms and sat on airplanes by herself, they gave disapproving looks and began to mentally withdraw from her.
     Her close friend, however, simply looked troubled and  said in a pensive voice, "Then you are unclean." Kate knew her friend had chosen the nicest word she could possibly use in that society to describe a woman who was tainted.  The more common terms for single women traveling solo were not nearly as kind so she knew her friend was trying to be gentle with Kate even as she stated what, for all the women in that room, was an undeniable truth.
    Kate had  expected this reaction however and she even understood the rationale behind it:  in Afghanistan, if a woman is not protected by a male, everyone assumes she will fall into sin. Pure and simple.   So even if no one saw her fall into sin, she had the opportunity so she must have done it.
   Kate responded by talking  to them about how a person can sin in their mind, even when everything on the outside looks "correct".  Their knowing looks confirmed that the women's  own experiences validated the truth of what she had just said.  Then she reminded her close friend that she, Kate, read the Holy Bible every morning and followed her  God who was loving but also pure and without sin.  She asked her friend if she believed this and the Afghan woman  said that, yes, she did. She had "read" Kate's life on a daily basis and knew Kate truly loved Jesus Christ.
   From there,  Kate went on to say that  she believed in an all-knowing God, an all-seeing God, a God of love who had graciously sent His Son to die for her as well as placing  His Holy Spirit to live within her heart. And because she knew that He was with her every single solitary place that  she went -  in taxis, on crowded planes, in impersonal airports, and even in lonely  hotel rooms - even though she had many opportunities to sin, she would never take them.
    She let her friend quietly digest this information before gently asking her, "Do you believe this?"  Her friend said she did- again, because she had observed Kate's heart  closely  over the years.
    Basically, Kate was telling her friend, How can I take the presence of my loving Father into an immoral situation? How can I enjoy wrongdoing when I know He will be  watching me, His child, with great tenderness but also sadness at any  wrongdoing?
    She was telling this Afghan woman, I don't need a male guardian to keep me from wrong; I need only remember that God loves me, has sweet plans for me and is always near to me, as near as the very air I breathe.
    Right now, there is a lot of chatter on the  net about the movie, Magical Mike, and the book, Fifty Shades of Grey.  Some have gotten upset, insisting that others cannot deprive them of the choice to watch the film, read the book (as if a blog could actually do that...)   I would agree wholeheartedly that everyone should have choices. This is America and thankfully, we do have choices. Women can sing, laugh, dance, read,  and go to movies - or not - as they determine and I wouldn't have it any other way.
  Others have said that exposure to these things is detrimental to a marriage while, on the opposite side, people are saying that this doesn't affect marriages at all and only the unhappily married are grouching about this book or that movie  - because they are unhappily married - and therefore simply want to make everyone as miserable as they themselves are.
    I don't think one  book or one film will destroy a healthy or even a semi-healthy marriage. Neither do I think this type of book or film  will make a marriage better.  (I came of age during the hippie movement and while I liked the movie, The Four Seasons with Allen Alda, I never bought into that type of philosophy. I don't have to get grimy in order to appreciate clean and figure out which one is better).
      Nor do I think that going to  a movie, or refraining from going to a movie, says much if anything about the state of a marriage relationship.
       However, like Kate, I treasure  God's love.    As I grow older, He truly does grow sweeter.  Over nearly six decades, He has proven Himself to be  my faithful,  eternal friend, giving me  comfort  in times of sadness and bringing joy to me as well, even in the dark places of life.   Wherever I go, I know He is there and when I feel afraid, I cry out to Him instinctively.     When the birds are singing early in the morning, I am reminded  that His lovingkindnesses are new, fresh, just like the first pure rays of  sunlight  spreading across our yard. And when storms gather round me, whether physical or otherwise, again, He is the first One I turn to. And I know that someday, should Phil go to Heaven before I do, He will still be there for me  - because of Him, I will never be alone.
    And because He has been so sweet to me, so faithful, there are simply some places where I  could choose to go but I just don't think I can. Not because He'll quit loving me if I sit and watch male strippers entice, seduce, and engage in various types of sex acts. I know He won't.  But because I just don't think I can treat Him that way.
   It's one thing to see the sin of the world, which He does. Everyday.  I fully understand that. But I think it's another thing altogether  for a loving Father to watch His precious daughter absorbed in socially acceptable porn scenes with a "redeeming" story line. Please don't get me wrong: no one loves a good redemption story more than my Heavenly Abba.
   But somehow, I just honestly can't see Him sitting in a theater, watching Magical Mike and saying, "This is soooo where I want my precious daughter to be... and this is exactly what I hoped for  when I lovingly breathed life into  all the actors and actresses on the screen - I created them for just this very  thing."
   Again, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And while I realize mine isn't worth much, I'm thankful that I have the right and freedom to express it. And that others have the same right as well.
   I'm not for burqas anymore than I am for Fifty Shades of Grey or Magical Mike.
   I just want to follow Jesus as best I can.  And tonight, this is what following Jesus looks like to me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Are You Kidding Me????

     There are a lot of things I don't understand.
     Today I went to fill out an application so that I can teach a GED class one night a week. A friend asked me to pick up the class she has been teaching temporarily until she can get back to it. The class will be held in a nearby church and I'm as interested in the faith-based possibilities outside the class as anything else since  the church where the class meets seems to have a vibrant outreach to the poor and the at-risk kids in our area.  The class would be held  near my home and doesn't require lesson plans or giving lectures, running off handouts, etc.  Basically, it's not submerging myself back into the tension-warped world of public school teaching and it shouldn't impinge on my current life style, which I love, the way a full-blown teaching job would or even assigned subbing would.
       So I thought, "This is no big deal.  Right?"
       And I went in to fill out an application this morning thinking, "I'll get this done in 10 or 15 minutes or so and have time to go hit the pool before it gets too hot.  Right?"
      Forty minutes later and at least 20 forms later (not kidding), I was pretty much done when the person in charge of the program casually mentioned that I would have to get 30 hours of in-service, which would be provided free of charge.  My heart stopped.
     Thirty hours of in-service????  
     Are you kidding me????
     I looked at the head person and said, "I'm just doing this through December. One night a week."
     She replied, "Oh. Then you don't need in-service."
     That's good. Because if the answer had been otherwise, I would have withdrawn my application right then and there. Without hesitation.
     Thirty hours of in-service, to me, is synonymous with something from the nether regions of the earth. Over my thirty years of teaching, I attended some in-services that were entertaining and some that were even useful.  But the vast majority did not fall into either category. Most of them were, in my opinion (and I am sure others would not share my opinion!) simply hours whiled away at the tax-payer's expense, generating jobs for other employees who were up on the latest education-ese which then generated record-keeping jobs that kept other employees gainfully employed keeping up with the aforesaid  myriad state employees who were either sweet-talked (bribed) into lecturing or, on the other side of the coin, coerced into so many hours of sitting and listening to said high-paid educational lecturers who often spouted philosophies and techniques that did not transfer well to an actual, real-live classroom full of hormonally challenged teen-agers and one beleaguered middle aged teacher...Ha!
     Okay. If you understood that last sentence, then maybe you could have helped decipher the 20 forms or so that I filled out before we got around to juggling the water-balloon issue of "You have to take 30 hours of in-service."  I don't even know what all forms I filled out in order to monitor a GED class one night a week for approximately 6 months. I know I filled out two tax forms and didn't fully understand either one and actually got fed up with, "If you have such and such then check here... Then add lines 2-6 excluding 4 and fill out the next side of the form but only if line 8 applies and you checked box 9..."  Something like that.  I literally got tired of deciphering it after checking "no" to at least 15 statements on another page stating that I did not have any relatives of any relatives who were even remotely related to any relatives who had anything to do with any state job from the legislative body on down to the local dog catcher...
      I came out actually feeling apprehensive, feeling like I had signed my life away and given who knows what permission to who knows whom in the government to do who knows what to me simply because I agreed to temporarily monitor a night class once a week. Until Christmas. Ho-ho-ho...
      And now the governments that brought the world time-consuming, tax-gobbling educational in-service hours and ubiquitous tax forms that dog us from the cradle to the grave - this same government is going to run my health care?
     Are you kidding me????

Monday, June 25, 2012

God is in the Small Stuff

I wrote this last night to some friends and decided to use it for my blog.  I hope that's allowable!

 Frankly, things are a little hectic around here and as proof of that, Phil and I have just been singing, off key, "Make the world go away!!"   (I guess if we sing it off key  loudly enough, the world will go away!)  Phil is cracking me up right now, saying, "We'll fix up the Alfa - it'll only be the equivalent of a mere 4 months worth of car payments -  and then we'll travel the world, well, maybe Arkansas. We'll be like Old Money, staying only in the finest LaQinta Inns and eating the best free Continental Breakfasts they have to offer..."  :)

Sometimes it just helps to laugh!

But seriously, someday our ambassadorship will be finished  (II Cor. 5:18-21) and then we'll get to go Home in style, where Kingdom rules apply.  Where weeds don't grow, snakes don't crawl across your front door steps (!!!It was a speckled King snake so we're sort of keeping it...ugh!!),  different cultures don't cause miscues of the funniest (or gravest kinds), no one has cancer or illness of any kind.  And there is no sorrow, only joy!

In the meantime, God has a purpose for each one of us and age (or circumstances) doesn't change that (just ask Caleb or Joshua...).  Sometimes God's purpose for us is dramatic, like leading a charge against the enemy when you are 85 years old... (Joshua 14:8-12.)    (Personally, I'm glad our military has an age limit...)  

But I think most of the time His purpose for us encompasses the mundane and the things that are often overlooked.  In the Max Lucado Devotional Bible I saw an article where Max described being down and even questioning  his effectiveness in ministry, if you can imagine that.  He was jogging around his neighborhood when a voice suddenly called down from the Heavens, "You are doing a good job!"  He looked up but it wasn't an angel - at least, he didn't think it was.  That is, unless angels are painters who sit on the roofs of houses, painting the trim on dormer windows.  But then it struck him that God was in that moment. That from ages past, He knew that Max would be discouraged at that very pinpoint in time and so He arranged for the painter to be where he was and Max to be where he was and then for the painter to say just the right thing to encourage Max at that very moment.

Then I heard a similar message today when I was playing the audio version of Kisses from Katie. (No. I am not tired of that book yet!!!  PHil may be.. .but I'm not !:)  At any rate, Katie was talking about how she often feels like she radiates the love of God during the day but she seldom feels pretty. Uganda, where she lives,  has lots of red clay, dust,  and heat. And she has lots of giggling, screaming kids as well as  a huge ministry to run.  One day she was feeling particularly unattractive and as she pulled into a gas station, the attendant said something like, "Wow!  Your skin has a beautiful glow!"  Katie was taken aback and said, "Actually... that's sweat!"  The woman replied, "Well, you sure have some lovely sweat!"  As Katie was driving away, she realized that God cares about the smallest details of our lives, even our feelings on sweaty, bad hair days.  And because He cares about even inconsequential things like that, He sent a word of encouragement to her, again at the right time, through  a gas station attendant.

This week, I'm hoping I can find the renewal notice to get our car tags renewed,
 that I can get everybody fed and all the clothes washed, 
that I can do some volunteer work, my Bible study, and Conversation Club,
that I can get the yard mowed and the floors mopped (well, that I can get David to mow the yard..:),
 that I can chauffeur other family members where they need to be as we have more people than cars right now,,
that I can get a little time to do water aerobics where I will most definitely need a word of encouragement as I try to remember what it was like to be skinny and to actually be able to jump,
 that I can get the dog to the vet (and that the dog will learn not to wiggle out from under the fence where there are sharp rocks - duhhhh), 
that I can get the belated wedding present to my Sister Chick here 
 and the package that's been gathering dust the past few weeks actually in the mail to my sister over there, etc... 

I'm sure you get the picture...  But I hope that I can also walk in fellowship and be used by Him, if nothing else than to give someone a word of encouragement at His prompting.  Even when I feel less than spiritual as I lug a 30 pound, somewhat stupid dog into a crowded vet's office or twiddle my thumbs in the revenue office because I lost the renewal notice again!  

Someone has said, "Don't sweat the small stuff!"  I think, for me, this week in hot, humid Arkansas, the message is, "God is in the small stuff .   Look up!  Then look around! And smile!"

 Why?  Because God is in each moment and each person you meet is there for His reason!  And yes, sweaty, somewhat harassed  smiles work...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Very Random Thoughts...

      This has been just a strange week, one of highs and lows.   Good things happening and bad.  And somehow, I can let the bad really whomp on me while the good goes sailing by, almost unnoticed, during "crazy" weeks like this.
      Honestly, weeks like this wear me out.   I find myself thinking, "I'd like a little bit of normal here. Maybe some routine.  Surprises are okay but after a while, they lose their charm, especially when one day it's good and the next day the surprise is bad.  I don't do roller coasters..."
     And then I look on Face Book or I check my blogs that I follow and I see that a little girl's cancer has returned and now it's time for her make-a-wish trip.  Or I see that an ardent Christian worker has had a serious injury and is partially paralyzed and needs surgery.
    And then I see other things, like Christianity is exploding in Iran as God's Spirit draws people to Himself in a miraculous way.  Or I see a video on FB where a little girl who possesses a resiliency  that is beyond my imagination has spent her time on the cancer ward videotaping her nurses as they sample sour Warhead candy:) And I LOVE that!
    And then I receive two necklaces in the mail that were painstakingly shaped by women who used to be beyond poor and were totally without hope and yet here in my hands, their work shimmers and shines and I know each bead is proof that God is working. He is working in  my sister's heart, although she is far away and I've never met her. And through her, He's working in my heart as well.
   He's working in Iran. In ways I can't imagine!
   He's working in a hospital room where a plucky little girl can sweet talk her nurses into the "Warhead" experiment:)
   I have to believe He's working, even in hospital rooms where children can't do Warhead videos and parents grapple with bad news. Even if nothing else, as He calls other people to pray, He's working.
   What I'm saying is:  to me the most important thing to post on FB or anywhere is not about the fact that my mashed potatoes weren't totally mashed tonight or about how the dog got mad at me two days ago and deposited a little surprise for me on the carpet. =/  Or even about more serious things, like how a loved one's house got broken into again.
    Because A) those are minor compared to a child having cancer or a third world sister being pulled out of poverty by God's grace.  My positives and negatives are nothing compared to those.
   And because B) if a day goes by where I don't see and acknowledge that God is working, in my heart, I feel that day is wasted.
   I want to spend every single day standing on tip-toe, watching to see where He is working.
   Otherwise life is just a roller coaster and I don't do roller coasters...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Much love from...

 This week, in doing the ladies' Bible study, This Is My Story, I found that my middle name, Elizabeth, means "promise of God" or "oath of God". This brought tears to my eyes.  Why? Because my favorite verse for the last 30 years has been Romans 4:20-21. The verse is about Abraham and it says, "Yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able to perform."    I have memorized that verse and said it so often that there have actually  been a few  times  when, upon waking, I would realize that the verse was running through my mind as I transitioned from sleep to full consciousness. When I get really stressed, it  is usually the first thing that rolls  through my mind, playing  like a tape and sometimes when I start to say another verse, before I realize it, I'm starting to say the Romans verse instead. I can even remember when I first tried to learn the verse - for some reason it wouldn't stick and I can vividly recall standing in a  warehouse-like grocery store, waiting on someone, trying to learn parts of  the verse unsuccessfully in order to pass the time and then  finally giving it up, thinking, "I've been at this for a week; For some reason, I just can't learn this verse; it's like I've got Teflon brain or something."  Yet by God's grace, the verse obviously finally did "stick" and has stayed with me through thick and thin throughout my life.
     When I came into a relationship with the living God, I was only 8 years old and knew next to nothing besides John 3:16.  Certainly I didn't know the meaning of my middle name nor did I know Romans 4:20-21.  I probably didn't even know who Abraham was.    I just knew  that the world was a scary place (my home was a scary place) and that I needed Jesus.  After I told my mother that I believed in Jesus as the Son of God, I went outside to play and ended up swinging from the "monkey bars" in my backyard.  I imagined alligators were snapping at my heels (unusual in that these alligators lived in dirt and grass on Maple Street in North Little Rock.. ha!). As I reached out and grabbed one metal bar after another I was very  careful not to let my grip slip because I didn't want  the horrible, imaginary creatures below to get me!  I was, I guess, in my own mind, a skinny, female precursor to Indiana Jones!
      On the Sunday that I entered into a relationship with Jesus, this play acting took on  a spiritual meaning in  my unformed, childish  mind.  I remember thinking that the  "alligators" were the bad things in life that could happen to me but it was okay because the monkey bars were like God's hands - I could grab onto Him and He would keep me safe no matter what.  And He had a lot of "keeping safe" to do in my case!  Even at school, I seemed to invite rejection and occasionally, worse, a legacy from my home experiences  where I was loved, no question. But where love seemed ineffective against everyday realities and abuse translated into rejection. Basically I grew up feeling inadequate and without knowing it, I carried an invisible sign saying, "Reject me" throughout my public school years.  Thankfully, that changed when I hit college, formed deep  friendships, found my "niche"  and really began my walk with Christ.
     Today, it hit me like a ton of bricks that God gave me my middle name - how else could it be that Elizabeth would refer to God's promises and my life verse, for the past three decades, would be about the promises of God?  In fact, my whole adult life has been held together by His word, glued together by promises given to me at critical times.  When my sister had a total breakdown and gradually descended into paranoia that was to be the hallmark of her whole  adult life.  When extended family members went through painful things. When we were cut off from loved ones due to divorce.  When I needed to know whether to stay in teaching or not.  When I needed to know for sure if it was His will for me to marry. When we were trying to decide whether to start a family or not. When my mom's health was declining.  When we lived next door to a violent, drug-addicted family for years and needed His protection, His guidance. Even  as recently as Nov. 2010, when I wrestled with whether I should retire or not, He gave me the right promise at the right time. (Joshua 1:9)  At each juncture, when I had to let go of one "monkey bar" in order to grab onto the next, He always had a promise  ready  - a timely word -  waiting for me, guiding me.  Sometimes the fulfillment of those promises would come relatively quickly; others  were in the making for years.  Without them, I simply wouldn't have stayed the course; I would have made the wrong choices and my loved ones would have witnessed  the shipwreck of my faith if not my life. I'm telling you straight - this is the way it would have been. I'm just not a female version of Indiana Jones and there have been a lot of alligators in my life!
     With those promises, however,  He has strengthened my faith and kept me on course.  And I hope He has also received some glory for all the gracious things He has done for me. If you know me personally, you know I'm an accident waiting to happen.  You can tell what I had for lunch by looking at my shirt.  You've heard me complain, numerous times. You've seen me be petty, lazy and selfish.  That's me.
     Today it hit me:  by God's grace,  that's not all of me.
     I am also, truly,  Elizabeth.  Someone who has, by God's grace, been able  to hang onto the monkey bars of God's promises:) and in the process has   grown from faith to faith.
     Today, I really  hope He receives  glory for all that He has done for me.  He's spent a lot of years walking me through one mine field/promise field after another.
     Today, although it may sound funny,  I would like for this blog to be my thank-you note to Him, my Heavenly Abba.
     And, although this is not my normal signature, today I would like to sign it:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Antennae down...

     I once had a friend ask me, "Did you ever want to do something so badly and then... after you did it, you wondered why you ever desired such a thing???"
     The answer in my case was, "Yes, frequently!"
      It seems to me that often, those 180 degree turnaround times involve what I perceive to be God's will.  First, the idea comes to mind that He wants us to serve in one way or another. Then I become passionate about it (unless it's something like fasting or going to help a neighborhood family with four wild kids and a bunch of lice... Thankfully I never had to do the head lice thing but I did have to offer... Basically got off the hook on that one!  Sometimes I think God just tests us to see if we'll say "yes". Other times, He means for us to go through with it, whatever "it" is.) At any rate, within  a few days, weeks or months of embarking on a new, exiting venture, I often get  a spiritual form of  "buyer's remorse" like, maybe I didn't really hear God the first time...
     Some weeks ago, I felt sure that God wanted us to bring an international into our home and couldn't wait for it to happen.  But the honeymoon period for us lasted just a few days.  For one thing, I knew our student came from a country where women were subservient.  So I had my antennae up, looking for signs that I would be treated like a second-class citizen because of my gender. I should know by now that when I have my antennae up, I will usually find what I'm looking for:(     So when our student gave me a funny look or didn't immediately comply with what I asked, I interpreted that as, "It's because I'm a woman!"  Looking back, in light of what I know now, I realize it was probably just that he didn't understand my English!  But at the time, simple transactions - usually in the kitchen - did not seem to bode well for the hopes and dreams I had of blending another person into our family.
    The thing is: culture affects everything, even facial expressions.  Often when I made what seemed to me to be a simple request, I would be met with a "stone-faced" stare, which I interpreted as a rebellious attitude or even a supercilious one.  On the other hand, I found out just this week that he was totally confused by the fact that Americans smile "all the time!"  - who would have guessed! This is just not part of his culture, especially in the classroom - if a kid smiles at a teacher, this is serious business and will get him in big trouble! It's seen as disrespect so it really threw him for a loop to see teachers and students smiling at school.
    So this week he asked,  "Are all Americans happy?"  I was stunned.  Well.. ummm... no.  And then the next question, "How do you tell if they are mad at you?"  Good question...!   It seems that even our facial muscles conform to cultural expectations. Or as Shakespeare would put it: to smile or not to smile! That is the question!
     Culture  also defines what is "clean" and what isn't.  I could see that our student was fastidious in ways that  we were not.  While perhaps we seemed fastidious to him in ways that were odd (although he never complained).  (I knew that a German student told me years ago that Americans were disgusting because we held French fries with our fingers and also touched our hamburgers. I just looked at her and thought, "How can you eat a burger and not touch it???"   I've also had a friend from France tell me that Americans were crazy - absolutely obsessed with bathing.)
     So I'm sure that all of us walked around our small house these past few weeks, wondering at times  why the other person did this but didn't do that, etc. I quickly learned that we all love baths. (We figured this out when the hot water heater ran short a time or two!)  But other things were up for debate!  Not every culture considers eating food in the car a desirable, pleasant thing!  And speaking of eating - our student's culture believes that a man only eats out at a restaurant  if he is unmarried or if his wife is a bad cook. Our student was too polite to tell us this when we took him to a restaurant for our first full family meal together and I only learned it through the internet a couple of weeks later!  (After we'd eaten out two more times and I had brought burgers home twice and instructed him we'd have to eat in the car on one of those occasions because we were in a hurry... My rating as a cook must have been plummeting,  if only I'd known.. Betty Crocker's status is definitely safe!)
     Culture also defines when it's acceptable to marry and have children. I never even  thought about that when I showed our student a picture of our wedding in 1986 and explained that I was 32 at the time and Phil was 33.  He looked stunned - so much so that I was taken aback by his expression!  Then in halting English he  explained that in his country, a woman who married so late in life would do so only because she could not get a husband!  (For the record, I had two other proposals before Phil and I started dating.. Just so you know!)  I decided to tease our student and said, "So! You think I couldn't get a husband???"  Unfortunately, we were not at the stage, linguistically or relationally, where we could tease.  Our student looked worried lest he had hurt my feelings and hastened to say, "In my country! In my country!  Not in America!"    At that point,  I drew a false conclusion:  we will never get through the language/culture barrier in the short time we have together which means we will never reach the place where we can go beyond surface things, laugh, tease, and truly live life together as family. This made me feel sad because I treasure laughter and really wanted our student to be a part of our family.
     Then when I explained that David was born 4 years after our marriage, he looked surprised again and said something that I could not understand. But I did pick out the words "no" and "not sleep together".  To my consternation, I found an article just a few days ago discussing our  student's culture and read that  if a woman does not get pregnant in the first three months of marriage, it is assumed that the relationship is impotent or unconsummated.
      Sooooo.... I can't cook, I had a very hard time finding a husband, and when I did get married, we didn't sleep together for the first three years???  Wow!  Maybe that's why I got some strange looks from time to time, ya reckon??? (I've never asked him if he actually believed  these things about me and trust me, I never will!)
     Culture even determines proper bedtime greetings. I had been saying the same thing to our student that I say to our son at night, like  "Sweet dreams."  Little did I know that in our student's country, they say something like, "May you sleep on a hard bed.":) They are saying it's better to sleep on a hard bed because it's more difficult to get up if your bed is soft.    I like that!  So much so that  now I  wish our son, "May you sleep on a hard bed!" :)
      At any rate, I've said all that to say this:  within just the last  24 hours, the things I thought could never happen - did, like we've had a major  breakthrough.  We were able to laugh, tease and get beyond surface issues over, of all things, homework.  Last night our student needed help with an  assignment. He worked laboriously, reading and typing while I elaborated on some of the more obscure things, pointed out spelling errors, and helped him navigate the websites he had to access.  After an hour and a half, when it was almost 11 p.m. we were done!  We were both tired but satisfied and somehow, working together broke down barriers like nothing else had done.  Then I told him what to do to save his homework and he did exactly what I said. And lost it! The whole thing! Not kidding!
    So here it is, late  at night and  he is looking intently at the computer while  saying something that sounded to me  like, "Aiiii eeeeee" and I'm anxiously going, "Did you lose it? Oh my gosh, is it gone?  Can you get it back?"  We couldn't so I called for David.  He couldn't retrieve it either so it had to be redone which meant we were pushing the midnight hour before it was completed.  When he finished it the second time, I said, "Now we'll save it."  He leaned back in his seat without hesitation and yelled, "Daa- veeed!"  I said, "What?  You don't trust me???"  He laughed and yelled, "Daaa veed, come here! Quick!! "   I leaned back and yelled, "David!  He doesn't trust me!"  By this time we were both laughing and when DAvid came to the rescue, he was grinning from ear to ear.
      Then it hit me.  In just a few short weeks, our student had reached the place I thought we'd never see.   We could communicate, we could laugh and we could even joke.  We could also cautiously explore cultural differences as in: Are all Americans happy?  on his part; with a  carefully neutral  question of "Is it true that in your country people think a woman can't cook if the family goes to a restaurant?" on my part :)
     A few weeks ago, I knew it was God's will for us to welcome a new person into our family. Then in the warp and woof of adjustments, I had doubts. Now, thanks to homework, a computer snafu (I will blame it on the computer) and our student's diligent progress in honing his English, I have no doubts.  (I'm still a bit rusty in his language;  as of yesterday, I could say one word more than the day before - which was zilch.)
    God is good. His will is perfect and acceptable. Just not of the fast food variety with immediate rewards. (Hmmm.. Maybe I should use a different analogy?)
    Anyway, antennae down... Gotta go cook something!  I have a reputation to keep up!

Monday, June 11, 2012

We who are about to do something weird.. salute you..:)

 Sometimes the sermon gets a little too personal and if I don't act on it when convicted, I get a headache.  But, seriously, the headache I have now is due to allergies.... I'm pretty sure.:)  And I really liked the sermon yesterday morning, especially the part about resting on the Sabbath!
    This is the deal - God started working on my heart several days ago, again through a passage in Kate McCord's book, In the Land of Blue Burqas.  I found a passage (page 84-85) that made me stop in my tracks and go, "Wow! I wish I had made a practice of doing that!"  The passage was about how to worship God in the privacy of one's home and also receive guidance for the coming events of the day.
   In Afghanistan, Kate had the same conversations over and over - women tended to ask her the same things.  First about family. (What! You have no children?  What!  You have no husband???  How can that be???  You need to marry an Afghan man...)   But then there were trickier conversations that cropped up periodically.  Are you a Muslim?  Why aren't you a Muslim?  Do you pray?  How do you pray?  Why do you pray that way?  And, of course, even trickier, sometimes dangerous questions arose, occasionally couched in veiled threats or demands.  You need to become a Muslim. It would be better for you in this life and in the next.
    Kate was  not always satisfied with her answers and so she prayed through various scenarios that frequently arose.  And this is her description of how she found the answers that she needed, answers that were true, yet at the same time, couched in terms (usually stories) that drew her Afghan listeners into the conversation rather than pushing them away.  (And also sometimes saved her life).
    This is the passage:
     On most days, I rose just after dawn to either a freezing or baking house.  I boiled water in a kettle over a flaming burner attached to a gas bottle perched just outside the window. I made my coffee in a neoprene-wrapped French press and enjoyed it  with a loaf of hot flatbread brought back fresh from the neighborhood baker.  If I had them, I skipped the bread and ate animal crackers mailed by a friend in America.  That was my treat.
    Each morning I sat in my room with my coffee and breakfast, my Bible, songbook, and turned my attention to God. I worshiped.  I read Scripture.  I settled my heart into the heart of God and leaned into His rest.  It was a good place to be.
     I explored my raging emotions. The hardness of the culture and the life there pressed in on me like the walls that  bound my aouli [walled compound].  I often found myself frustrated with staff members - sometimes an Afghan who couldn't quite get the work right, sometimes another foreigner - all beautiful, precious people who were somehow falling short of my sometimes-appropriate expectations.  I prayed for each of them.  I looked to understand, to remember our Father's love for them, His desires, His always-appropriate expectations for their lives.  And again, morning after morning, I found peace.  This was the way to start the day, the way not only to live but to flourish in Afghanistan.
    After I had resettled my heart into God, I turned my attention to the day before me.  My workload in Afghanistan was always beyond extreme, my to-do list always too long.  Most of those tasks pushed the edges of my abilities, requiring knowledge and wisdom I did not possess.  I could not bear the weight alone.  And yet where could I turn for help?  What mentor was there who could guide me?  All of us, foreigners and locals, engaged in rebuilding a shattered country, were merely stumbling along, picking our way through map-less territory. I turned to God, believing He alone could guide me.
    Each morning I took my notebook and wrote down the things I thought I had to do through the course of the day, the decisions I would have to make, and the situations I thought I would have to deal with.  I prayed through each one and asked for God's direction. I wrote down the things I thought He was telling me. That became my work list.
     I prayed through the conversations I was having with people, the things they were challenging me with and my responses-sometimes appropriate, sometimes not.  I listened hard to hear God's voice. What did He have to say about the situations I faced?  How would He have me react?

    When it was time, I put my Bible, songbook, empty cup, and plate away. I carried my notebook with me.

   I loved this passage because I had never thought about basically praying over upcoming issues and sort of building your daytimer from that prayer list. Also, I realized that's why the stories and conversations that she recounts in the book had such an impact on me - these conversations weren't just her ideas but had been developed in the presence of God, through prayer, drawing on His wisdom and insight - which is limitless.
    So, of course, I thought I would do that too. But that was several days ago and I've had varying degrees of success with this type of prayer; sometimes not getting around to it at all because I didn't "have time".  Because this type of devotional requires time for listening!
    At any rate, Sunday the pastor was telling us that we should set aside time for some  worship every day and then do our work as unto the Lord.  In other words, really pray when we pray and work when we work.  Then he asked us to pray quietly, which I did.  During this time of silent meditation, I thought about my new notebook/prayer daytimer which was still full of pristine, glistening white pages that were.. um.. for the most part, totally empty (except for the first two pages!).  And I confessed that I hadn't had time for the "pray-through-your-day-ahead-of-time" thing.    But I also told HIm that if He would show me how to correct this, I would do it.
   And He did.
   Seriously.  What came to mind was this:  you have plenty of time for Face Book and this is where you look for affirmation, often first thing in the morning.
   My response was:  Busted!  Okay, Father. I won't do FB until I've had some quality time with You.
   So far, so good.
    But then I felt He was impressing on my heart something else to do; something maybe that I really didn't want to do. And that was to post on FB that if anyone sees me on it in the morning, I would appreciate it if they would (sweetly:)  ask me if I've already  had some worship/listening time   that morning.
    I told Him that would really make me look lame, like a FB dork; that it might make other people uncomfortable on FB which I don't want to do; and then finally, I came clean and admitted  that I wasn't sure I was that serious about having quality listening  time each morning.  After all, it's a bit time-consuming and not that easy to do.
   However, as I sat there in the pew, trying to listen,  I got the distinct feeling that A) I wasn't telling Him anything He didn't already know :)  -duhhhh - and B) also that  the choice was mine.
    So this blog is really just an attempt to share a passage from Kate's book that I really believe is worth sharing. And also a way of explaining the weird FB post that I'm about to issue.
     If you read this, you might pray!  :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

May I be like...

     I have been reading about something I would never have the courage to do:  about an American woman who gave up a lucrative career to go and live in Afghanistan for five years.  Her purpose in going was to create and manage projects that would ultimately benefit Afghan women.
     No. That's wrong.  Her purpose in going was simply to follow Jesus where He led her and in this case, He led her to Afghanistan where she quickly learned to love the women and also, maybe more slowly, learned to share the love of God with the men as well.  It was easy for her heart to go out to the Afghan women, who are, for the most part, oppressed and beaten down, literally. It was hard for her to reach out in Godly love toward the men, who were usually the oppressors, the ones who beat the women down. Yet God loves both groups equally.
     Afghans live and breathe a very strict interpretation of Islam. It is with them from the cradle to the grave, in the market place, in the family compounds, and in their hearts and minds; it is ever-present and seldom questioned.  They know that Adam and Eve (Father Adam and Mother Eve) existed and were Muslim, just as they know they themselves exist and are Muslim; for them, this is an unquestioned fact.   This acceptance of spiritual truths makes it easy to have spiritual dialogues with them; in fact, Kate found that  it's much easier to start up a spiritual conversation in Afghanistan than it is here in America.  Religion permeates everything they do: how they dress, how they greet visitors, how men and women interact (or don't interact), how children are educated,what they eat,  what they converse about and even how strangers arrange their seating in multi-person vehicles. (Men and women do not sit on the same seats side-by-side unless they are close relatives).
     ON the other hand, they also know without a doubt that every man, woman and child in the whole world is born Muslim and that to be a Christian means that at some point, the person had to  convert away from the true faith.  For them, this is an unquestioned fact.
     And they also  know that God is kind and merciful to those who learn to obey Him just as they know that He absolutely  hates everyone else. And never do they hear that God loves them.
     So, by definition, a "good" husband in Afghanistan is one who only hits his young wife until she learns how to obey him, how to please him. In this, he is like the one he follows -he is emulating Muhammad and his teachings.
     Again, Afghanistan follows a very strict interpretation of Islam.  As Kate walked and lived among the people there, she came to realize that we are all like the one we follow.  Many times she explained, patiently, politely, and non-threateningly:  I am a follower of the Honorable Jesus.  I have chosen this way and I feel it is right.  

    Many times people  tried to get her to simply say the creed of Islam which is a one-sentence declaration of belief in Muhammad and in Allah as Muhammad presents him.  In Afghanistan, anyone who says the creed is automatically considered a Muslim and this conversion is believed to be irrevocable.  Because Kate understood  how such a declaration would be interpreted by the Afghan people, she was careful never to say it or write it.
    Still, she was often pressed to say it.  Once a clerk let Kate's application for a license  just sit on his desk while, out of nowhere, he told her to say the creed.  His meaning was clear. Unless she said the creed of Islam, she would not get her work permit stamped.   Tension built as she stated simply, neutrally, "I am a follower of the Honorable Jesus."  Other people watched as the clerk looked off into the air and reasonably, simply repeated his instruction:  say the creed.  Finally, God gave Kate the wisdom to say something humorous, everyone in the office laughed, the tension dissipated and after a few minutes,  the clerk shrugged his shoulders and stamped the paper.
    The clerk was like the one he followed.  Muhammad taught that every person - no exceptions - must say the declaration of faith and then he must learn to submit.  He must learn to say the ritual prayers every day in Arabic; whether he understands the Arabic or not is unimportant.  He will be blessed if he simply recites the words.  Once a person has made the declaration of faith and memorized the prayers, he will be presented with their holy book, the Qur'an - but not until.   And this book will also be in Arabic.  Once the book is received, it must be kept in a colorful cloth and never placed lower than a person's waist. It must never be written in and for most of the Afghans, it will never be read with comprehension.  Again, parts of it may be memorized by the children but understanding  is unimportant.
    Obedience, as prescribed by the religious leaders, is everything.
    And so in their whole society, obedience as prescribed by the religious leaders is everything - when a person walks, eats, converses, stands, or sleeps, they must be in compliance.  They must be like the one they follow.
    And so, as Kate entered into the homes of her female friends, as she sat on the floor with them and shared their salt and their bread, as they told their stories and she told hers, she saw Muhammad through them. She learned about his teachings by watching them and listening to their narratives.  They were like the one they followed.
   At the same time, her Afghan friends, who had been told that all Westerners were cruel, immoral, pig-eating beings whom Allah hates, saw her and by extension, the One she followed. Simply put: they saw Jesus in her.  They heard her narratives, which came from the Bible within her.   (Since it was not safe to carry a Bible in her hand she carried it in her heart, read it in her home or the privacy of her office).  They saw her give food and blankets freely to the poor and understood this is what Jesus would do if He were in Afghanistan (which He is). They heard her laugh and also saw her tears mingle with theirs and learned that Jesus is acquainted with grief and because of this,  His followers also respect and comfort the grieving.  They saw her respond in love to less than loving comments and actions, sometimes violent actions and threats,  and realized that even here, she was like the One she followed.
    They fully understood that if Jesus was who He said He was, then He had the right to force everyone to bow down to Him. They perfectly understood when she told about the town that rejected Jesus' teachings and how His disciples wanted to call down fire on them.  Yes!  This is right!  If Jesus is God, then He would have to be obeyed!   The town should have been burned to the ground!  Then they were astounded to find  that Jesus didn't call down fire and brimstone on this town.  Why not? If He was who He said He was, why didn't He punish them? They deserved it!!!
     They saw all stories and all of life through the lens of Muhammad's teachings. Kate saw everything through the lens and love of Jesus' teachings.  When her Afghan friends and acquaintances finally understood the teachings of Jesus, many were amazed at His wisdom and His love and would often comment on how beautiful His teachings were. They saw  His beauty as He walked among the poor, befriended the outcasts, turned the other cheek to insults and directed His listeners to the love of God - directed but did not force.
     They learned that He loved His people unreservedly and asked His followers to do the same - husbands to love their wives; parents to love their children.
     They learned that while Muhammad required widows to be remarried, the Honorable Jesus, as He hung on the cross, directed His disciple to become like a son to Jesus's mother, Mary.  He did not direct that Mary be forced into a union with His disciple  so that she could have food and clothing, the basic necessities of life. Jesus did not require women to be forced into painful marriages.
    They learned that Jesus taught the rich to give their possessions to the poor. In Afghanistan, the wealthy were feared. They were above the laws of the land and could walk into any home and demand any daughter they wanted for a wife.  They could not be refused and, even when complied with,  they could still, on a whim,  use their wealth and their power to bring much harm to the regular people, most of whom were very poor and therefore powerless.
    They were amazed to learn that Jesus praised a poor widow woman who only gave two small coins to the offering and even more shocking, they discovered  that He was not at all impressed with the rich man who made a big show of giving a lot of money to the temple.  Jesus was not impressed with wealth and He honored the poor.
   In short, they -  who for the most part could not read and even if they could, would never be able to find a Bible -  these neighbors and friends and enemies of Kate's saw Jesus and "read" His story on a daily basis. Because she was like the One she followed and she carried the words of the Bible deep in her heart so that when they "read" her life, they "read" His.  She was like the One she followed.
    And as she entered into their lives and they entered into hers, Jesus became so much more precious to her. She saw His beauty so much more clearly in this land of stark contrasts and she gave thanks to Him for allowing her to walk with Him in this difficult land, among people who were so precious to Him and who were so hungry for His love.
    And now I find myself asking God, "May I see more of Jesus' beauty and may I be like the One I profess to follow."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

There is sin... and there is sin...


We have been under great pressure lately, much of it self-imposed.  My husband and I  can both be perfectionistic but, unfortunately, our perfectionist tendencies go in opposing directions.  Simply put, what he feels has to be done perfectly, I usually feel is unimportant and vice-versa.    Instead of realizing that together, from our different perspectives, we have all the bases covered, we often tug and pull to get the other to do things "our way".
     Over the past couple of months, Phil has switched to a new position at work and experiences frequent stress as he trains for this assignment- often staying up late to study after working long hours during the day. He feels that, at his age, this may be the last "new assignment" that he will be given and he wants to do the job perfectly, he wants to eventually retire on a positive note, knowing he did his best.  And I think this is commendable.
     When we felt God leading us to open our home to an international, we both were positive about doing this (and still are!).  But his response was to try to make the house perfect while my response was to try to make the house comfortable and more attractive.  He immediately started talking about how we needed to dust the ceiling fans, the walls, edge the lawn, sweep the porch,  re-arrange the laundry room, etc.
     I wanted the kitchen walls repainted a bright, sunny yellow and I wanted to shop for futons, so our son's friends could still come over and "crash" in the living room if they needed to stay overnight.  I wanted the grass mowed but didn't care about edging - I am more of a "bush hog" the whole yard and we'll be fine type of person.
     We were both agreed that our spare room, which has been a big walk-in closet/storage room for the past ten years, would have to be totally revamped and that it was great that we were finally motivated to do what should have been done long ago.
     We were both agreed that the Christmas decorations, storage boxes and exercise machine would have to find another home. But beyond that, we seldom saw eye-to-eye. He wanted the room to be clean but to me, his idea of clean was clean as in  "sterile", like an impersonal hospital room.  To me, I was thinking in terms of "cozy" - wanting to get just the right curtains, bedspread, etc.  (Graciously, my sister-in-law who has a gift for cleaning,  shopping and decorating went out and bought coordinated bedspread, sheets, curtains, and throw rug for the room, making the room exactly what I wanted.  She also cleaned the room to perfection, making the room exactly what Phil wanted and did this at a time when push had come to shove and Phil and I were almost frantic due to the pressure of time.  Honestly, without her help and my brother's plus my neighbor's, we would never have gotten the house ready to meet both of our specifications in time to welcome our guest!).
     With the stress of reorganizing the house and Phil's new position, which necessitated  several 6 day work weeks for him that ended around 7 in the evening as well as  evenings  of painting that ended often at 1 a.m., by the time our international student arrived, we were physically depleted.   Once he gets here, I kept thinking, we can slow down and relax, the hard stuff will be over!
     But bringing someone new into your home, although rewarding, brings it's own type of stress. Every new person added to the family changes the family dynamics a bit.  Communicating even the simplest needs and desires takes work, which can be mentally taxing at first.  Routines are disrupted for everyone and consequently everyone is scrambling to figure out what is the proper thing to do, the polite thing to do?  Both parties want to please and in order to do that, you have to sort of "climb into the other person's mind" and learn to see things the way they see things.  This is eventually very  rewarding but it takes time and it is not easy.  Good things seldom are easy!
      A couple of nights ago, this cumulative stress and physical tiredness caught up with us both.  When Phil is tired, he is very negative and tends to go on what I call "tirades".  Never raising his voice but going over and over the things that he doesn't like as if I didn't get it the first, second, third, or fourth time he launched his complaints.
     When I am tired, I become self-pitying and waspish.  I grew up in a family where extremely sarcastic, belittling comments were the norm and I learned that lesson well. Even today, at 57 years of age, horribly stinging comments can come to my mind - maybe not always at the very moment I want them:)  But still, they will come!
      Because I realize this type of speech was partially responsible for destroying my parents's marriage and sending all of us kids into some type of counseling in our earlier years, by the grace of God, I refrain from saying a lot of what I think in the heat of the moment here within our home.  I know the consequences can be severe.
      When I was a child, I was taught the little rhyme:
       Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me.
      It wasn't until recently that I realized that little limerick isn't even Biblical - God never said, "Words don't hurt you."  Instead, through the writer, James, God said that the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison, something that no man can tame and something that can even set the course of our whole life on fire and be set on fire by hell itself.
      That's pretty strong - too strong, I thought, as I was meditating on that passage today. But then I thought about my parent's marriage and wondered.
       And then I thought about a couple of  nights ago. My husband was exhausted and to him, nothing was right with the world.  As he was engaging in a tired litany of complaints in our bedroom for what seemed to me to be the upteenth time that evening, my self-pity kicked in. I was tired too!   Life hadn't been easy for me either!  Suddenly, I felt enraged - I was as tired as he was and  I had a right to peace and quiet!  In fact,  I didn't have to sit and listen to this!
      And so, as his words and my feelings of self-pity/entitlement collided with each other,  some of the cruelest comments I've ever thought in my entire married life came to mind, actually bubbled to the surface with great ease, frightening ease.  While he talked, aware that I was ticked but unaware of what was going on inside of me, I seriously considered unleashing belittling, sarcastic, cruel comments his way - not because they were true but because I wanted him to be quiet.  Simply put, at that moment, my needs were more important than his. IN my  mind, I was justified in saying whatever I could  just to get him to be quiet and leave me alone so I could attend my pity-party of one.
     By the grace of God and only by His grace, I recognized that I was on the brink of doing to my loved one what my parents had done to each other and to me when I was growing up, I was getting ready to roll "childhood tapes" and verbally damage our relationship in a way that I knew my husband might never completely forget, even as I knew he would completely, eventually forgive.  At that moment of temptation, God graciously warned me that the best thing I could do was to keep my mouth totally shut and again, by His power, I was able to do that.  I'm sure my expression was hateful but my verbal daggers were never unsheathed.  For that, I thank Him.
    PHil went to take a shower and during that time, God worked on both of us. When my husband came to bed, the first thing he said was, "I'm so sorry for running on like I did.   Will you forgive me?"  And the second thing he said was, "I love you."
     Wow.  How different things would have been if I had let my thoughts "fly" as I had wanted to....
     I asked his forgiveness also and affirmed my love for him. It wasn't hard.
    Today I read something that arrested my attention.  Kate McCord (a pseudonym) wrote:  How we define the source of our problems determines where we look for solutions.  Kate lived for five years in Afghanistan and witnessed a culture where the man has supreme control over the wife, where girls are usually married between the ages of 11 and 15 to men they don't know.  The marriages are arranged by the family and when the girl is wed, she is immediately taken to her husband's village to live with his family.  She said that in five years, she never talked to an Afghan woman who didn't mention being hit or beaten by her husband. It is routine.
     She also said that when she asked a man what was the happiest day of his life, he would inevitably say it was the day he acquired a wife.  When women were asked the same question, they never mentioned their wedding day. However, when they were asked what was the worst thing that ever happened to them, they would frequently say it was the day they got married.
    She also found that many of these women believed the problem in their marriage could be fixed if only they could live in the Western world, where partners choose each other. Then,  they would have the perfect marriage and be happy.
    While Kate obviously doesn't approve of men beating their wives and isn't enamored with the way marriages are run in Afghanistan, she had to point out  something to these women.   She had to tell them that they hadn't found the right source of their problems, their perception was skewed.  The problem in marriage isn't confined to Afghanistan and it didn't originate there; instead, it goes all the way back to  Adam and  Eve, to the introduction of sin into the world, to the beginning of the rift between men and women.  She had to tell them that in the West, even with the freedom to date, there are still problems between men and women, that men and women have difficulty relating all over the world because of sin.
   And that this is not the way God wants us to live. He wants us to experience love and peace with each other but to do this, we have to go to Him as the solution to our sin problem.
   I thought about that. A lot.
   Obviously, I prefer the American way of dating and marriage and my first reaction was to agree with the Afghan women whom  Kate befriended: if the Afghan men would be more respectful, more loving towards their wives, the problem would be solved!  If the women had the right to choose whom they wanted to  marry, the problem would be solved!  If I had been in Afghanistan, I would have counseled these woman to try to get to the West any way they could so that they could experience freedom and live under laws that would protect them.
    Basically, my first response to what Kate wrote was to think, "She is so wrong!"  But then as I read on, I saw where she stated that neither arranged marriages or free dating will solve the problems between men and women.  ANd I thought about how we, in the West,  also mistake the source of our problems. When the Western  marriage hits   bumps in the road, when both partners are tired or sick or worried - or all of the above, it is tempting to think:  my problem is my spouse.  If I were married to someone else, I would have the perfect marriage.  And so we have people who go from one partner to another. People like me - I could easily have been divorced and remarried many times if I had bailed every time I got seriously upset  with Phil and I'm sure he could say the same.  It's just so easy for me to blame him when things are not going well.
   And I had to agree that the basic problem in marriage is sin. And until we correctly identify the source of our problems, we won't find the correct solution.  Again, I'm not saying that if one partner is abusive, the other partner should stay and be endangered or that women in Afghanistan should not be protected.  I'm not saying that at all and as I read more in Kate's book,  In the Land of Blue Burqas, it is clear she is not saying that either.. But I am saying that there is no such thing as a "perfect partner" and that sin is at the bottom of the problem between men and women, regardless of where they live. And the only solution to sin is... Jesus.

Divorce ring...