Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Invitation....

     Today I am thinking of a man named Stephen.
     More than 2,000 years ago, he told his audience exactly who Jesus was and then explained how his hearers had missed every single sign written by the prophets - signs that clearly pointed to Jesus.  He didn't mince words when he told them that they had participated in the  killing of  the Son of God. Basically he presented the claims of Christ in such a way that his listeners could not refute his arguments.
     So they killed him.
     But God honored him. The Bible normally speaks of Jesus as being seated at the right hand of God the Father.  In the narrative about Stephen's stoning, however, it says that Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  I think Jesus stood in order to honor Stephen, the first martyr of the early church.
     How much is Jesus worth?
     Stephen apparently thought Jesus was worth everything.
     Over the centuries, countless others have thought the same thing.
     One of them today is in Evin prison, very  ill and in solitary confinement. His name is Saeed and he's not the only Christian being tortured for his faith. However, today we know for sure that Saeed's  need is great.  He's bleeding internally and will be in solitary for 20 days. He's been in solitary confinement before and has said that this was the darkest time for him, that each hour seemed like an entire day.
     What do you do 24/7 in a bleak, stagnant cell with maybe just a blanket to sleep on?  How do you pass the time away until your next "interrogation" session? How do you cope with rampant worries about your family on the outside, with threats from brutal guards who let you know that they will get your children next if you don't cooperate?
     What would you give just to be able to hear your wife's voice or feel the grass on your feet and the sunshine on your face?  What would it be like to have a normal day without terror sometimes dogging your steps, to have something to do in order to take your mind off of the hell that you are in?
    Maybe if he just renounces Christianity.. or  words things in such a convoluted way that it seems as if he is not a Jesus follower - maybe if he just bends a little here or gives a little there...  What if he says that he believes in Jesus in the way that all religions believe in Jesus?  What if that one sentence could bring him freedom and all he had to do was just say it...?
    But it's not possible.
    For Saeed and others like him, following Jesus is non-negotiable; he simply  can't say what isn't true.
    And this is the point of my blog:  for those of us who have the awesome privilege of following Jesus in freedom, praying for men like Saeed and Farshid  should also be...    non-negotiable.

    Hebrews 13:3

If you don't know how to pray for Saeed, an invitation from his wife, Naghmeh is included below.

  • My name is Naghmeh Abedini and I am writing to invite you to participate in a national day of prayer for my husband, Saeed Abedini, who is currently being held in a dangerous Iranian prison because of his Christian faith. Remember His Chains day of prayer and solidarity for Saeed will take place on the 13th anniversary of Saeed’s salvation and I hope to gather in prayer with hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world united in prayer for Saeed on that day.

    When: May 19, 2013.

    The Vision to Share: What if thousands of church congregations took steps to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison” (Hebrews 13:3) by making a focused, unified effort to support Saeed and remember other persecuted Christians?

    How you can participate:

    · Read the paragraph below on May 19, 2013, telling Pastor Saeed’s story:

    In July of 2012, a Christian pastor named Saeed Abedini left the United States for what was supposed to be several weeks as he continued his efforts to establish an orphanage in Rasht, Iran. As he was about to return home, he was pulled off of a bus by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and placed under house arrest. He remained under house arrest until September, when he was taken without warning to one of Iran’s most notorious prisons, where he has now been imprisoned for 236 days. He has broken no law, but has been charged for peacefully gathering with other Christians, a crime for which he has been sentenced to eight years in prison. For the last eight months, he has suffered beatings, threats, and torturous interrogations as Iranian authorities try to get him to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Pastor Saeed has stated in a letter from prison that they will never get this from him, and has described the joy that he has experienced as God gives him strength even through these intense sufferings. His wife, Naghmeh, remains in the United States with their two children and has invited churches around the nation to take a united stand in prayer and to call on God for his release.

    · Pray for Pastor Saeed and his family. Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, has asked that we pray for the following three things in particular:

    1. Saeed's health. That the Lord would heal him from the internal bleeding and protect him from those who seek his life.

    2. That Saeed would continue to shine the light of Jesus in prison. Ephesians 6:18-20 : “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

    3. Prayer for our family. The Lord would give us continued peace and Grace as we trust Him with what the future holds.

    4. Prayer that the Lord would use this to bring salvation to many, including the Muslims in the middle east.

    · Promote #savesaeed and @savesaeed.org using social media. When Pastor Saeed found out about #savesaeed, he was deeply encouraged by the Church’s support. At www.savesaeed.org, please add your voices to the hundreds of thousands of people who have already signed the petition calling for his release.

    · Spread the news of Saeed’s plight by having church members share his story with three friends or family members.

    Will you and your affiliated congregations join us in a unified effort to support Saeed on May 19th? In order to effect the most widespread participation possible, please also consider inviting at least 3 other pastors of different congregations to join you in this effort.

    When Paul was a prisoner for the gospel, he asked the church to “remember his chains” (Colossians 4:18). As a church body, let’s do the same for Saeed, whose unwavering devotion to the gospel of Christ has resulted in his bearing those same chains. We must pray for Saeed and the millions of Christians who are persecuted for the gospel all around the world.

    To our faithful God be the glory,

    Naghmeh Abedini

    YouTube - Videos from this email


Friday, April 26, 2013

Banished by Lauren Drain

     Bill Bright said that all of man's problems can be traced to his concept of God.
     In  Lauren Drain's book, Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, the founder of the cult, is described as someone who knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that God is indeed an angry God.   Hate is God's overriding characteristic and so, when the Phelps family wave nasty picket signs and shout unpleasant slogans at passersby, they are not the angry haters, they are just the mouthpieces for God.  He is the one who hates, um, pretty much everybody who, well, isn't a Phelps. And even then, not all the Phelps are okay - some are headed for the hottest part of hell because they are "defectors".
    In the book, Lauren brings out some of the contradictory teachings of the leaders.  For example, they picket in order to save souls from the wrath of God but over time they have reached the conclusion privately that no one else besides themselves will be saved. Yet the picketing continues. Hard to explain... that.
   However, it is okay because they aren't into explanations.  Newcomers are allowed to ask questions at first but as time goes on, questioners are shut down, ridiculed, and/or eventually banished from the ark of the inner few, the chosen ones.  The Holy Spirit speaks primarily through Shirley, Fred's daughter, and everyone must adhere to Fred and Shirley's interpretation of the Bible.  If they don't, there will be hell to pay... literally.  So questions are out.
    The book is easy to read; hard to put down. On the other hand, it is very repetitious in some places and there are a few things about Lauren's account that bothered me.  When she describes how they held up picket signs after 9/11 saying that God was happy with that terrorist event, she frankly says that being on the picket line energized her and gave her a bond with the other young people of the cult and I get that.  But she also  said that she never intended to hurt anyone and was too childish at the time to basically identify with outsiders and their emotions - in other words, she didn't know that she was hurting people.  However, by the time  9/11 happened Lauren was a teenager and had only been in the cult for about a year.  (Her family joined the cult when Lauren was 15.  For most of her formative years she was raised in a liberal home with no religious practices, leading a fairly normal life).  I honestly don't understand how a 16 year-old could see the coverage of 9/11 and fail to understand that the yelling and sign carrying she did was indeed hurtful.  Ditto for the nasty signs and yelling at military funerals where families were clearly grieving and wanted only to bury their dead in peace.
     By the time I had made it three fourths of the way through the book, I found myself wanting her to at least apologize for her youthful mistakes.  In the epilogue she finally did apologize for being "disrespectful" but even in hindsight she never apologized for inflicting emotional pain on others.  Yet the book graphically describes her own times of pain, which were tough  indeed but no more so than the ones she picketed against during her 7 year captivity in the Phelps "compound".
     I think what it boils down to, maybe for me,  is that brainwashing is hard to understand.
     In the end, it is a truly interesting look at a group which displays all the characteristics of a cult: extreme control over the daily lives of its members, leaders who speak for God while the rest simply adhere to the new revelations and/or rules, confrontational assemblies which remind me of the "struggle" groups used in communist China and Russia, and ultimately banishment, both physical and eternal, for those who fail to toe the Phelps' family line.
     And all because one man many decades ago decided that God's overriding characteristic is deep, abiding,  hatred for people.
     Which leads me to:
            "For God....
                 so loved the world....
                      that He gave His only begotten Son...
                           that whoever believes in Him should not perish....
                                          but have everlasting life."

      I'm thankful that Lauren was able to leave and make a new life for herself. She definitely has courage as well as an abiding love for her family even though they have turned their backs on her.   I find it hopeful that she and a few others are opting out of this group and I hope this trend continues.  I certainly wish them well in their bid for freedom and hope that each"defector" will  find  a different God, the One of John 3:16 who so loves...
      And, after reading the book, I'm  more than ever inclined to agree with Bill Bright:
      We can trace all of our human problems to our view of God.*
       Undoubtedly, this is the case with the Phelps of Lauren's book.                      

   * Quote is from the title page of The Discover God Study Bible published by Tyndale.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


     Sometimes I just want to write about all the things that are wrong with the world. (And I actually started that blog two days ago... only it's proving to be sort of a big topic... So I shelved it for the nonce..:)
     Tonight has just been a fun evening.  In fact, it's been a fun day.
      Home school was a bit tough this morning as both teacher and student were pretty tired this a.m.  for some reason!    But still we accomplished things, managed to be movers and shakers in the world of academics :)  Well, sort of...
      Anyway...  then lunch at a Mexican restaurant -our Spanish lesson for the day...  (Can you say Enchilada??  Oui!!  Um... Si!!!)
      After that a neat afternoon sorting through things for a huge garage sale...  (Come to Healing Waters on Saturday - I can just about guarantee that you'll find a bargain there and the money goes for a good cause!)   At any rate, my friends sorted through donated things while I mostly talked so, of course, I had a blast... Then home to do some housework, a little cooking - as little as possible actually...   And then internet Scrabble, complete with trash talking and breathlessly risky moves on the board... (Well, I think we were pretty daring, risking it all a time or two on some iffey words...  I mean, come on!  The game is not as tame as it looks:)
      But, seriously, the thing I treasure most about this day (and most days) is just being with my friends, on-line and off.
      They inspire me.  I'm not exaggerating - I don't have a single close friend who doesn't encourage me by their example and I could write about each and every one of them right now and you would see what I mean.  When I am around these ladies, they egg me on  to "faith it" a little more,  whine a little less, and also to ramp up my  love for Jesus, who loved me first.  They encourage me when I'm down and tease me when I'm too self-absorbed, which is often:)  I am blessed!
      Tonight I want to highlight one friend, however.  A woman who is in a wheel chair and has been for some time.  She has a progressive neuromuscular disease but it doesn't define her.  Almost everything I take for granted, she has to think twice about and often has to have help to accomplish the simplest things.
     But she never quits.
     I mean.. she never quits!
     The first time we met face to face, she had a book for me and I had a necklace for her. It never occurred to me that she wouldn't be able to unwrap the necklace and/or lift it up and place it around her neck by herself.  So what does she do? She learns to play the dulcimer... Ha!    She blogs and manages to keep them short as well as to the point. (I really don't know how she does that... obviously)   And when I am "around" her, she brightens my day... She has a sharp wit and is a serious Scrabble player :)  She makes me think and makes me laugh, challenging  me in every area of my life.
     Yet it's true that she also  has to work for every single breath and because her lungs are weak, her voice seldom rises above a whisper. So when I'm at her house, I lean forward because I don't want to miss her pithy punchlines! Seriously!  And when she blogs, I lean forward mentally because I know I'll learn from her about God, about how to "do" life when life, at times, seems simply un-doable.
     She was told years ago that she should have a feeding tube put in. She did the research and decided she would live without one. And she has.
     Some time ago, she was told that she would have to go on Hospice.  She thought about it, prayed about it, and decided she would get better, confound the doctors, and live a while longer, thank you very much.  And she has.
     She would be the first to tell you that God has helped her every step of the way and that the road has not been easy but that it has been worthwhile.
      Tonight I'll undress myself, climb into bed and probably toss and  turn a bit before drifting off. Angie can't do that, not any of it.  Once she's been positioned in bed, she's there for the duration, until morning comes.
     But I don't think there is any way that her spirit can be confined.
     Someday I'll get to walk with my friend.
     For right now, honestly, I'd just be happy if I could keep up!   You may think I'm kidding but I'm not:)
     If you want to get to know Angie and find out for yourself what makes her tick, check out her blog:       http://angiesthatsthat.blogspot.com/  You'll be glad you did, I promise.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Good Traveling Companion...


     This week was one of  viruses, predicted tornadoes, pollen turning the air yellow, dogs breaking out of the back yard fence (again!), a messy house, tons of laundry, and taxes due .  Let us say...my thoughts were not always the best... :)
          Long about Wednesday, I decided that I needed to spend some time with an old friend and that has made all the difference in my outlook.  My circumstances didn't change - in fact, they got worse.  However, I downloaded several books by Isabel Kuhn (my paperbacks are somewhat worn) and "climbed" into them, revisiting Isabel's life story, retracing her steps through agnosticism to faith and then journeying with her through the rugged mountains to live with the Lisu tribal people of China.  
        Who wouldn't want to "travel" with her? Or spend several hours "in her presence", listening to her stories?   Who could complain about loads of laundry and such after reading say, the chapter called "Small Harassments"?   These "small obstacles" cropped up every year just as the Kuhns were getting ready to hold their annual Rainy Season Bible School - imagine that...  The first year it was things like the laundry girl getting sick and the new goat herd proving to be unreliable, just when native students were coming  in from nearby villages for the month-long school.
        Then as WWII threatened to engulf them in the Salween River Valley, the "small harassments" included things like rumors of Japanese "just across the banks".  Was this information accurate?  Even if it wasn't, would the students in the west bank villages be brave enough to leave their homes, knowing the Japanese could still come in at any time and cut them off from their loved ones?
       And then there was the time when Isabel's husband was traveling, she had a baby on her hands, and the missionary teacher, Charles,  who was subbing for her husband came down with rheumatic fever.    Isabel was staying up late with  a colicky baby, trying to care for the students who were temporarily "boarding" in the Oak Flat shelter/dormitory, and she was taking meals to the missionary who was sick, which meant traveling through rain and mud to get a plate of food to Charles three times a day.  Often she said her hands were shaky as she carried the meal to her co-worker simply because she was running on so little sleep.
      One Sunday evening, her co-worker was in a lot of pain but Isabel's helper, Eva, who usually gave  shots, was in church.  So Isabel took the one hypodermic needle she had and blew on the coals in her kitchen fire to try to get enough heat so that she could sterilize the needle.  Although she lived in China for  a couple of decades, she said she never got good at starting fires and keeping them going!  After struggling with the coals and getting the needle as sterilized as she could, she slogged back to Charles' mud hut in the darkness and confessed that she had never given anyone a shot.  He replied, "It's easy!" and then  took the hypodermic and pushed the plunger to show her how to  make sure there was no air bubble in it.  Only he pushed too hard and the needle popped  out and  flew right through the open window, landing somewhere in the muddy slope beside his hut.  She had no choice but to go outside in the dark and sift through the mud until she found the needle. Then she had to go back home, build up the fire from nothing this time, re-sterilize the needle, and go back up the slope to give the shot.
     Small harassments?
     What a crazy life to live, right?
      Wrong!  It was in just such circumstances (and I haven't even told you about the year when a communist spy began to harass the Christians in the area and it looked like the school would start off with no teacher, no paper, and no pencils..) - it was just in the midst of these obstacles that the Rainy Season Bible School flourished and even expanded, year after year.  Every year it was larger than the year before.
     What  Isabel learned through these years of testing on the "platform" of "Small Harassments" was that when God commands, His children need  to move forward by  faith. (If He hasn't commanded you to do something - don't move forward! But that's in another chapter of her book...)
    No paper, no pencils, no teacher, and possibly no students?  Pray!  And if God confirms that it is His will to have the school, then get ready!  Do everything you would do if you knew for sure the teacher, students, and supplies were already in route because in God's eyes, they are! (And truly, everything did come in time for the school to happen - but that is another story..)
    During one of these Bible school times of testing, she said that Philippians 3:21 helped her greatly. From this verse she understood that God is able to bring everything under His control.  So when circumstances caused rebellious thoughts to enter her mind, she would cry out, "Lord, you said 'everything,' that must mean me.  Then control me, control this flaming resentment, O Lord, I pray!"  
    She said that He always did - right after He met with her in the midst of her struggle.
    Later in the book, when discussing another platform that God called her to stand on as His witness, she wrote that she was worried about the uncertainty of the immediate future. Another missionary,  Alice Wishart, said, "Oh, the Lord will have something waiting for us.... He hasn't brought us all this way to desert us now."  Within in a short time they had the provision they needed and Isabel said she never forgot Alice's words.  Over the next years, every time she came to a "corner" that she couldn't see around, she reminded herself that God would have something waiting for her.
    She went on to add that this was Scriptural and then she refers to Psalms 59:10, which in one version reads,  "The God whose love meets me on the way."
    Clearly His love met her on her way over and over again.
    Hiking over the mountains of  spiritual conflict?  Faithing it through the valleys of uncertainty?  Isabel's stories make good traveling companions, I promise!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Speaking as a Spotted Leopard Myself...

         We all have our strengths and our weaknesses.
         And some of us may have more weaknesses than strengths or vice-versa.
         Since I've retired, I actually like myself better.  I still have my unpleasant and/or stressed moments but not nearly to the extent that I did as I neared the end of my teaching career.  This time two years ago, increased paperwork, more deadlines, recalcitrant teens, demanding parents, etc led to longer hours (at least for me) and more anxiety.  Often I was tense simply because I feared I couldn't handle the pressure, that I would mess up or be found inadequate.
         And so I was... at least by my own standards.  I complained a lot, whined a lot, and stressed a lot.  I was not a stellar Christian by any means during those last years... And really not even before those years if I'm honest - I always had my "bad" days and my "good" days. Simply put, although I have strengths, when the pressure was ratcheted up, my "strengths" bent over double like a sapling in a hurricane, allowing my "weaknesses" to rise to the surface.  In other words, my "strengths" weren't so strong (!) and  I found that I  could be sweetness and light one minute and pretty ugly the next.  And I'm honestly telling you that although I seem to have changed, I haven't.  Put me back in the classroom and you'd see the "old" me rise to the surface in a heartbeat - it hasn't gone anywhere, it's still there.
        I don't know if you know this or not... but there  is only One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and only One who has lived a consistently loving, sinless life. And that One is Jesus.
       You see, God doesn't keep a running total  of our "good" days and our "bad" days, tallying them up at the end  to see which outweighs  the other because He Himself doesn't live that way. Plus, that approach to sin would be sort of like playing a game, the way kids do with adults.  Mom said I had to eat most of the peas on my plate so if I have 10 and I eat 6, then I'm done and we're cool, right?   This type of approach to sin makes 40% "wrongdoing" ... um, okay.  It leads to calculating how much one can do and still be able to "earn" Heaven.
       It also makes God a divine  "bean counter" instead of  holy Majesty enthroned on high.    In reality, He is almighty God (and if we don't want to sit around counting peas on a plate, why would we think He wants to sit around counting our good and bad deeds ad nauseum?)   As One who is opposed to sin and its devastating effects,  He's not looking for partial obedience but instead  He wants our hearts to be "sin free" zones and ourselves to be "clothed" in love (ala I Corinthians 13).   And He wants this, not just when things are going well for us, but also when life is tough, circumstances are uncongenial, and the world is watching.  Because this is the way He Himself is, He can't accept less.  Forty percent or even twenty percent  darkness in our thoughts  and actions just won't do in the light of His 100% purity and His desires for us.
       So how can we ever meet His standards?
       The only way we can give what He requires - a spotless life inside and out -  is by believing on His Son, accepting His sacrifice as payment for all our sins (both past and present),  and then allowing the power of Jesus to work in us and through us, day in and day out.
       Life as a self-help, do-it-yourself project which will be graded on the curve?  Not in God's eyes.  Not unless you can find a way for a leopard to change it's spots.
       Speaking as a spotted leopard myself, I'm so glad God sent a Savior to purify us and lead us through this life and on into the next one.
      I hope you are too.

"I can't change my spots, so I'm getting a tattoo."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lisa Harper

      I always like to blog (or in this case, share) something about the current Bible study I'm doing with the other ladies in my Thursday night group.  We've just started Malachi by Lisa Harper and so far it is different from the other studies I've done.  Apparently Malachi is a dialogue between God and His people whom, as Lisa put it,  manage to prove that the apple does fall far from the tree :)  And somehow, in our first video, Lisa Harper also managed to relate this short, argumentative, prophetic book  to,um,  Gone With the Wind - which intrigued me right away! (In her words, has your Tara been trashed lately?) Her novel approach to Scripture plus her "when-you-meet-a-wild-animal-in-the-woods" story won me over to this study immediately:)
     And then there is the  workbook itself - which  is also different. Instead of Day 1, Day 2, and so on, it is divided into Scene 1, Scene 2, etc. and is low on stress, high on Scriptural affirmation.
      So, without further ado, here is a short video of Lisa. I think you'll see why I already like her so much. And I'm just on week 1 - um,  Act 1!
     Enjoy... :)  (It's short!  Promise!!!)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

In the Arena by Isobel Kuhn

       We love platforms.
       We use the expression "take center stage" and by that we mean something good.  The implication is that all eyes are upon us - this is our moment!  Simply put, we want to be in the "limelight".
        A dear sister (whom I've never met) wrote a little book called,  In the Arena.  This lady, Isabel Kuhn, was a missionary to China during WWII and under those harsh circumstances, she often found herself doing things she would never have considered back at home - such as bargaining to ride in a stranger's truck over mountains in order to reach her children who were in a school thousands of miles away.  Back home in Canada, a truly feminine, well-brought up wife and mother never hitched a ride, let alone in a war zone, traveling alone and unprotected.  But as she put it in her book, a mother will do many things to get to her children.
       Still, it was hard.  And as she sat silently in a beat up truck with a rather rough-looking man, she asked the Lord why she was having to do things like this. And immediately the Lord gave her these words from the King James Bible - "For I think that God hath set forth us... last... for we are made a spectacle unto the world."  (I Cor. 4:9)  Well,bouncing around on isolated mountain roads, trying to look confident lest her traveling companion decide to take advantage of her, she certainly felt like a spectacle.
      Through this experience and others, she came to realize that the world is, um, not a stage per se, but an arena. And within this arena there are platforms upon which God's children are sometimes called to stand, not to the adulation of the crowds but to the opposite.
      Isabel writes:  "The purpose of the arena experience is not for our punishment; it is that God might be revealed."
      Okay... Revealed to whom?  Who sees the power of God as it is revealed through our platform experiences?  The answer is both  watchers visible and invisible, both men and angels.  We are in the limelight  as we stand on platforms created by spiritual struggles that swirl all around us.
     Sometimes the platforms that we are called to stand upon (for a time) simply make us very uncomfortable.  Sometimes they go beyond "uncomfortable" and can be classified as fiery trials. When Isabel wrote this book, she was slowly dying of cancer in the late 1950's and it was upon this bed of sickness that she could see clearly how God had used each "spectacle" event in her life to show forth His power to others as well as to herself.
    She goes on to reference a Bible lesson that she learned many years earlier from a teacher named Vanderbreggen.  He  explained that the well-known verse Phil. 3:10 actually should be read in reverse order.  The verse itself says:  that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
    Mr. Vanderbreggen said that in real life, the verse plays out this way:
   1.  The believer is put in a situation where they have a choice - to act like Christ or not.  His will or theirs...  When they choose to respond the way Christ would, they are suddenly on a platform in the arena, dying to self.
   2.  As they live out that choice, they experience suffering.  But with the suffering comes a sweet surprise - a deeper fellowship with Christ than they have ever known before, the fellowship of His suffering.
   3.  Eventually the power of His resurrection will be manifested through this experience and the trial will come to an end.
   4.  But the final result will be lasting - a deeper knowledge of Him whom we love.
    How does this work out in real life?
    Well, this is what the book is all about. Each chapter is about a different platform that Isabel was called to stand upon during her 57 years on this earth.  And each time, her platform experiences yielded the sweet fragrance of His love to those around her and eventually yielded resurrection life in her own walk with the Lord.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Cameos Amid the Big Picture...

   Sunday night blog...published on a Monday morning
   Today has been kind of a down day - they come sometimes.  And I don't always know why.
     As I was crying into the clean laundry tonight - don't worry - it was just a sock that I was blowing my nose on, not a sheet, and the sock went right back into the dirty laundry basket so you won't see me wearing it any time soon - I wasn't even really sure why I was so down, why I was crying.
    Yes, last week had a lot of little stresses that sort of had a cumulative effect. And yes, I haven't felt 100% today.  Growing old is not for wimps, that's for sure.
    But it wasn't until my husband gently suggested that I might want to  put away the sock tonight, get a roll of toilet paper to cry into (I need to buy Kleenex...), and then tell him what was going on, that I began to process exactly what was going on.  It took a while.
    Blogging is easy; living it is not so easy.
    Blogging can be deceptive as most anything in print can be.  You see a life event spilled out on paper and that cameo shot in time becomes fixed in your mind as to how the person really is.  And really, I think the mind prefers human "cameo shots".  For example, the little kid next door moves away and then thirty years later, when you realize the six foot guy standing in front of you is little Johnny who used to tear up your flower beds, your mind can hardly process it. The last time you saw Little Johnny, he was six years old and that is how your mind has freeze framed him - as  a little scrawny kid.
   I think blogs are like that too.
   So the whole picture  is that these past two weeks have been a bit of a  roller coaster for me -up one day and down the next even though my blog has been pretty "steady on".  By this I mean that I can write passionately about two women who were willing to sit in prison in Iran for 259 days in Evin prison and truly be inspired by their story.  And the next day I can be crying into the clean laundry because of leaky kitchen drains (it's okay - it's fixed now!), messy circumstances (it's okay - it's just life, nothing extraordinary), and, I have to admit, playing "footsie" too much with the "what if's" of the world.  Plus feeling a little under the weather, yada, yada, yada and voila!  There you have it - passionately blogging about heroic deeds of my sisters (and there are many!) in the faith one day and crying into a clean sock the next day for no reason.
    Such is life around here :)  Thankfully, my guys have learned how to roll with it...
    At any rate, it wasn't until I had cried my way through 1/4th of a roll of tissue paper and Phil had gently reminded me of the goodness of God in various ways, that I  suddenly knew why I was really stressed.  It wasn't the sink, the dog, the sinus stuff, my husband's  job,  the upcoming dentist appointment - although I'm sure each was a contributing factor.  But it wasn't those.
    It was the news of Pastor Warren's son committing suicide.
    When that hit me, I thought, "Really? How can that be?"  I mean, aside from reading his book, The Purpose Driven Life, I really know nothing about him, his wife, or his ministry, let alone his family. I didn't even know where his church was located or even if he had children or not.
   So I had to wonder:  why am I sitting in my bedroom at nearly midnight, sobbing into a clean sock (I'm going to buy tissues!) over someone I don't even know?
   And the answer came:   because it's not supposed to end this way...
   A Godly couple who have influenced thousands of people to follow Christ... it just shouldn't happen to them this way.  Their youngest son shouldn't commit suicide in spite of anything and everything that has been done to help him.
  The next thing that popped into my mind was:  and yet, this isn't the end...
   From all accounts, this young man suffered his entire life from mental illness and I've seen that type of situation up close in my own family.  Like any other part of the body, the brain can malfunction and it's not always an emotional thing.  Many times it is physical and the meds available are not always effective in resolving chemical imbalances within the mind.   If the brain glitches in a moment of time and a person takes his own life, that doesn't erase a lifetime of knowing God, of serving and loving others.  (If you think suicide sends a person to hell, consider the fact that there are less obvious, more subtle ways of killing oneself - chain smoking when depressed being one.)  And if we can have compassion on someone suffering from mental illness, how much more can God have compassion?
   So I repeat....this is not the end...
   But the thing is: it looks like the end.
   So many times in life, we come up against corners that look like solid brick walls, detours that look like dead ends, yield signs that masquerade as stop signs.
   This was a tough one and my heart goes out to the Warren family.
    But it's not the end.
    For Matthew, it is a new beginning.
    For his family, it is a time of brokenness and anguish ... but it's not the end.
    For both Matthew and his family, there is a tomorrow... and we need to pray for his family as they "pass through" this difficult experience.
    For Matthew, finally, after almost three decades of struggling, he no longer needs prayers. He is whole and well and safe.
   And simply put... this is not the end.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The "So Much More" of God...

Letting His love...
     I had a wonderful time at the IFO Ladies Spring Tea. It's an afternoon when American  women and young ladies give sacrificially of their time, possessions, and talents in order to "roll out the red carpet" for international women living in this area.   It's not easy to be uprooted from your homeland, move to a different country and start a whole new life. How would I handle something like that? Not well, I think.  Strange language, weird customs, most family members thousands of miles away - so many tough obstacles to be reckoned with. And what if you were one of those who didn't come to get an education but instead, came simply to avoid being killed?   What if you came from a place like Syria or Sudan where fighting is rife? Truly, these women - all of them no matter why they are here -  deserve to be pampered and catered to one afternoon a year.
and light shine...

     As for the tea itself, you could look around and see that the women planning it wanted to offer only the very best to their international sisters.   I'm telling you - the food was luxurious and  I'm  afraid I loved every bit of it... At one point, the server standing next to me (who is several sizes smaller than I!) turned to me and said that when the native dress "fashion show" started, she thought she might eat a sandwich while no one was looking. She asked me if I thought that was okay but I'm afraid I couldn't answer - I'd already popped a chicken sandwich into my mouth and, like an anaconda,  was trying to swallow it whole... Ha!
   And as you can see from the pictures, the tables were beautifully arrayed - yet another way of saying, "We think all of you ladies are special and deserving of our very best.  Nothing less will do..." Which I thought was so appropriate.
   Except that there was one table that wasn't really elegant at all.  Instead of beautiful tea things and gorgeous plates waiting to be carried to the tables, there were practical  multi-color bags, plain woven baskets, multi-color place mats, and homemade beaded necklaces. And then, beside that table were two posters with pictures of children on them - children who were clothed and fed and who looked happy.
     This display table actually  highlighted a ministry called Lighthouse Children's Home; the items were for sale and the proceeds would go to help support the children in the photos.  Some of the items were made by the children in Rwanda who live at Lighthouse and some of the items were made by two young American girls who have become "sisters" to our guest speaker and the founder of Lighthouse Ministries, Anita.
    When it was time for Anita to share her story, she did an excellent job. At the beginning, she pointed out several of her "American" mothers and talked about how lucky she was to have them.  However, as she began to describe her life journey from Uganda to Rwanda to here, I realized that it took courage just to share her story, let alone live it.  Seriously.
    To start off, she was an orphan in Uganda for the first five years of her life.  It wouldn't be until much later that she would discover who her parents were and to this day, she doesn't know when her birthday is.  When she was a teenager, through the help of others, she discovered her biological family in Rwanda and lived with them for a time.  However, she never knew her mother, who died giving birth to Anita and she never knew her father either, who was severely maimed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and then buried alive and left to die. Clearly, her beginnings were tragic.
    She lived in the orphanage for five years, at which time she was finally adopted. Unfortunately, she was given to an abusive family who only wanted to use her as a workhorse.  For two years she was routinely beaten and tortured and sometimes went for several days without being fed. She never heard a kind word from her "mother" and didn't even know enough about "family" to understand that this was abnormal.  One day when she had not been fed for several days, she took an egg off the family table without permission.  For that "crime" she was badly burned on her arm and then tied to a tree and beaten with barbed wire.  That night she was able to run away and at that point she entered a new phase of her life, becoming  a street child in a third world country at the ripe old age of 7.
      Sadly, no adults helped her. No officials reached out to her.  Her young  life's focus  narrowed down to  running with other street children and stealing anything she could find.  In fact, she loved to steal because stealing meant she would be able to eat and survive for another day.  She lived like this for several years and it was certainly not easy - even as a skilled thief, she often went to sleep hungry.  But the worst was yet to come. When she was nine, two grown men raped her right in front of a store and no one helped her.
     First the orphanage, then living with her abusive "family", and finally  life on the streets - all of these things served to create an inferno of hatred deep inside her.  She actually began to fantasize about killing people and small wonder....After a couple of years on the streets, a person took pity on her and  arranged for her to go  back to the orphanage but she wasn't the same girl who left it years earlier.  Now, as she put it, she was more like a wounded animal who just knew how to bite and hit and basically strike out at anyone and everyone who came near her. She was trouble (with a capital T) in school.
    Today she is a student at Harding University as well as the founder of Lighthouse Children's Home and perhaps most  importantly, a loving mother to 13 homeless Rwandan children who are now... her children.
     How did she go from hating everyone to loving these  children?
     The answer is Jesus.
      Oh, she didn't meet Him in a vision or even at first on the pages of the Bible.  She met him through the kindness of Christ followers, particularly through a teacher who took it upon himself to love her unconditionally when all she could do was respond in anger, fear, and mistrust.  At this point she was living in a type of boarding school for high school kids and she struggled with asthma.  This teacher would get up in the middle of the night and take her to a hospital - not a poor clinic but an expensive one, the best.  He bought her clothes occasionally and told her frequently that he loved her.  He required her to read The Purpose Driven Life and summarize one devotional a day for extra points.
    None of this convinced her that he loved her. Nor did it convince her that she was lovable or  even that love existed.  Nor did it come close to extinguishing  the anger raging inside of her. By this time she knew how to be respectful on the outside but inside she was still a  wounded animal, distrustful and ready to strike out when threatened. And she still knew how to steal.
    The weird things is that  none of this  mattered to her teacher. Like Jesus, he just continued to love her and provide for her.  And she just continued to go her way, shellacked  heart and all.  Until one day she found out from the other students that when she was away from the dorm, this teacher would go over to her bed, kneel by it and pray for her.  Her teacher was kneeling beside her empty bed and praying for her??? Her teacher was doing that???
    Eventually, over time, she began to seek Jesus simply because her teacher asked her to do so and because she was sick of hearing "Jesus" all the time! She finally thought, "Okay! I'm going to seek this person and figure out for myself who this Jesus is!"
   Clearly, when she found Him, she found a whole lot more than she expected.  She found Family and love.  A love that she could receive and in return, give.  She found a Companion who would never hurt her, betray her, or leave her. She also  found that He is God, He is sovereign, and that, because of Him,  all her past suffering had a purpose - a purpose that would come to fruition at some future date. Wow! This former street child had a future!  Amazing!
    And oddly enough, that future hinged on the horrible things that God, in His sovereignty had allowed her to pass through as a child. As she put it, how can you even know how to approach a  street child if you have not passed through the experience of being a street child your self?  How can you really reach out to someone who is abused if you have never been abused yourself?
    After coming from such a horrendous childhood, this beautiful young woman stood before us today and said clearly,  without any  hesitation,  that everything God allows, He allows for a purpose. She basically told us that the pain of yesterday (and today)  holds the promise of tomorrow ... if it is allowed to rest in the Creator's hands. And then she reminded us that in Ephesians 3 there is a promise that we can put our finger on - or as we say here in America - a promise that we can "take to the bank".   That promise, as Anita puts it, is that God can do "much more" - more than we can ever think or ask or even dream. That is our God. Then she proved it by giving us several examples of how God has enabled her to do His "much more", including making a film of her life story and providing a home for 13 former street children.
    In short, she gave us a lot to think about.
   What resonated with me from her whole story was that first of all, Jesus was the difference - He changed her life from night to day.  Secondly, her transformation didn't begin with Jesus walking off the pages of Scripture into her heart - her journey didn't begin with VBS, a Bible class,  or a video even though all of those things are good.
   No, Anita's story  started with Christians who were willing to take time for an angry, hostile, almost savage girl covered in dirt and scars, both visible and invisible. And it came to fruition under one teacher who showed this dangerously angry spitfire of a teen day in and day out, month after month,  that he loved her without expecting anything in return.
    As I was driving to the International Tea this afternoon, I was praying that the international ladies would feel the joy and the love of God as they interacted with the Christian women who would be helping them and serving them.  I don't know if that happened or not but I do know that I definitely felt His love and His joy as I experienced the privilege of mingling  with these beautiful ladies  from other lands.  Their smiles I won't soon forget, nor their graciousness as I clumsily served tea, spilled water, and tried to grab  plates that they weren't quite finished with yet!
   I wasn't surprised at the joy I experienced being around the ladies at my table. However, I was very surprised to be lifted out of my  elegant surroundings, totally  caught up in Anita's vivid tale and the horrors that it evoked.  I've dealt with angry, dysfunctional kids during my years in teaching but until today, I never really understood why they made "poor choices" that, in my eyes, only made their situation worse.
      However, even beyond that "aha" moment (which came about 30 years too late), I had to wonder...    If I met an Anita in the making today, right now, this very  minute - would I be the one person to extend love to that hostile child day in and day out,  giving verbally, tangibly, emotionally  - without reserve and  without asking anything in return? Would I be the one to extend the love of Christ month after month without seeing any results for what would probably seem like forever? Or would I give up and say, "This kid is hopeless!!" or "I'm tired of pouring my life, my money, and my time into this ungrateful kid's life!"
      And perhaps even more to the point, would I be the one to kneel beside an empty chair or bed and pour out my heart to God on behalf of a kid who literally hated me?
    Today, a young woman named Anita, a true Christ follower, made me think.
    And I'm thinking still..
    Would I be the one???
     Based on my past track record, I would have to say "no".
     It's late as I finish this blog and my knees are not in the best of shape but I promise you - before I go to bed tonight, I will be on my knees, even if for just a short time, and I will be asking God to bring to mind the Anitas of my world who have a future and a hope, simply because He lives. And He loves. Through us who follow His Son.