Runaway Prophet

It’s almost 2017 and the internet is buzzing with words like “resolutions” and “vision.” Plenty of counsel abounds in books, articles, and sermons on how to be successful in reaching those goals. Its’ not that setting goals is bad; I personally set goals and trust that God is in my goal-setting.

I struggle not to have preconceived ideas about how God will help me bring my goals to pass. I have, all too often, failed in my attempts to allow God to work His plans out instead of me working my plans out. This began early in life for me. I assumed as a young child that I could excel at any sport or activity, until I actually tried and realised there was more to success than natural ability. No, I was not a gymnast, swimmer, runner, or celebrity. By the time I reached adulthood, I had an idea that I wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. But I still thought I knew enough to figure out how a situation would pan out. When I got married, I was sure that I would be a princess forever (for Jamie called me princess then) until I became a real-life Cinderella and toilets needed scrubbing! When I had children I thought I would be the patient, perfect parent and then found myself talking through my teeth. Things were not proceeding as planned…

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And I wondered after a few years of thinking I knew how things would turn out – what if I was wrong? What if, after all my fumbling around, there was something to be said in surrendering to God and His will when it made no sense? What if the problem wasn’t in my surroundings but in my own reactions and prideful thinking in the depths of my own heart? I found myself to be very much like the prophet Jonah of old.

One of the things I appreciate about Jonah of the Bible is that he’s real. There’s nothing hidden about Jonah. He wears it all on his sleeve and yet, God used him. To me, that meant as I read about Jonah, that there was hope for me!

We can read that God had sent Jonah to the ancient city of Nineveh for a special mission (Jonah 1). God wanted him to go on a three day trip inland from where he was and proclaim God’s message to the people of the city because God had better plans for them; He had better things in mind for them than what they were living. He loved even the people of that city.

The problem with this was the historical hatred that existed between the Jews and the Ninevites (who were Israel’s ancient enemy, the Assyrians). The Ninevites (Gentiles) were a warring people that periodically plundered Israel, destroying their villages, killing their people. So this command given to Jonah by God was more than his mind could grasp – and his solution was to flee.

Once Jonah fled, God had a two-fold problem on His hands: an unrepentant city and a runaway prophet. Jonah took refuge on a ship sailing for far-away lands and hid, but he ended up being thrown overboard and then swallowed by a “large fish.” What living in a fish’s gut is like is not something I care to think of – the very lightest whiff of “fish smell” makes my stomach turn.

God held on to Jonah in the belly of that fish and He holds on to us – He holds on to you. He used a lot of adverse circumstances to “corner” the runaway prophet and get his attention. Had Jonah just obeyed he could’ve avoided a lot of trouble. Just like me. I could’ve, in my lifetime, avoided a lot of adverse circumstances by just obeying. Instead, I found myself wrapped up in attention-getters of my own making.

It took a lot for Jonah to respond to God. Even when he finally did respond to God and go to Nineveh to give Nineveh God’s message – He did so with an attitude.

Nineveh was a huge city, in Jonah 3:3 it says that the city was so large that it took 3 days to travel across it. What that really means in actual mileage is uncertain, but we can be pretty sure it was of substantial size. This meant that Jonah had a big job to proclaim God’s message. He couldn’t just say it quietly at a corner in an obscure neighborhood – it had to be preached.

As I think of it, he must have had to take several days to get the word out that unless the city repented, the city would be overthrown (Jonah 3:4). Can you imagine him looking at the people in that place. We might think that Jonah was just disobedient simply because of how the Ninevites had plundered his people. Have you ever considered that he might have lived through some of the raids of Nineveh on his people and it might even be that Jonah himself lost some family members to this warring group of people? The Bible doesn’t record more than Jonah’s anger against the people for all the atrocities they had committed, but one wonders, had Jonah been hurt? Had he lost loved ones? Friends? It was to these people that he hated that he was called.

As Jonah was, so are we. We are called to this world. The unforgiving, unashamed, hard-hearted, hurtful, mixed up, and angry world. Those who have hurt us, those who don’t help us, those who oppose our beliefs, those who don’t care when we are wronged – these are the ones we are called to.

And just like with Jonah the choice is ours – do we choose the school of the storms and fish or the school of God’s aggressive love?

Let’s pick up the story here in Jonah 3 when Jonah had finally come to his senses and decided to obey God:

Jonah 3:5-10 NKJ “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, ‘But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away form His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?’ Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

Why is it that God is so forgiving? Here in the Old Testament, to a group of people that were pagan, the Assyrians by descent who were ancient enemies of Israel, noncovenant people! And to this people, He extends the opportunity to repent and turn to Him. So much for God loving one group of people over another; He has always loved this world and has sought to bring His message to all who would hear.

Even having gone through the school of “storms and fish” Jonah begrudges God’s love for the people of Nineveh:

Jonah 4:1-4 NKJ “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!’ Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’”

The chapter goes on to account God teaching Jonah about forgiveness and compassion. From this scene, Jonah stomps off to a distant part of the city to see what would happen (maybe he was hoping God would relent and destroy the people anyway). God planted some kind of plant/tree to give him shade – but then sent an insect or worm to destroy it. So Jonah was angry over the death of the tree. God questions Jonah if it was right to be angry over something like the tree, and Jonah says, “Yes! Even angry enough to die!”

God cornered Jonah by saying if Jonah had pity on a plant he hadn’t planted and had withered in a night, why not pity people who are of much greater value?

Jonah 4:11 NKJ “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?”

God’s love is so powerful, so aggressive that nothing can stop it. No one can stand in its way. But Jonah’s life compass was off and couldn’t get a grip on the love of God. He was so wound up in his hate of this group of people that his sense of direction was gone. It was then that God had to “erase his hard drive” and start all over with him. This is the power of God’s great love: He loved Nineveh, that reprobate city, and He loved Jonah, the unforgiving, runaway prophet.

I once had a laptop that had been infected by viruses and for those of you who have even a small understanding of computers, you understand how devastating viruses can be.  The very mention of the words “computer virus” strikes fear in the hearts of those who work at their laptops. Well, I was able to remove the virus that had struck the computer but had to reformat the hard drive (a very scary process for me, this was my only computer). Everything was erased from it and I started over installing all programs and backed up information. I succeeded! PTL!

Sometimes that is what happens to us. We’re infected with a virus from this world and the hard drive needs reformatting. God wants to keep us on His track but for some reason, our internal guidance system has been corrupted and has to be reformatted. How this happens has a lot to do with our surrender. God wanted to send Jonah without trouble – but Jonah chose to flee. This brought him to disaster, but God’s aggressive love brought him back because God had something better in mind for the runaway prophet.

Our plans don’t always pan out in the way we foresee. Often this is because we’ve not surrendered our will and our plans to God. Once our plans become His, we are set onto a playing field that God can use! God knows what is happening when we don’t!

Jeremiah 29:11 NLT “‘For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

This is a very well known verse; many of us can even quote it. However, as we quote, we’re often so busy trying to map out our paths that we have forgotten that the Director knows the way. We reckon that with our wisdom we know the way – but more often than not, we don’t!

As a parent, there have been many times I’ve tried to instruct my kids to do various chores or help with homework. Often, my assistance has come at their request. When I do roust myself from my “unimportant” chores like paying bills or cooking dinner to help them, I am met with “Oh I know, I know Mom.” Bewildered, I’ll pull back and ask, “If you already knew then why are you asking for my help?”

Math has been a subject for my kids whose logic has often eluded them. I would do everything to try and help when things became frustrating for them. What it came down to most of the time wasn’t their inability to count, add, or subtract, but their rushing through the work so they could do what they thought was more important. When their papers would get marked with many corrections, tears and anger would result. Sad to see them sad, I would try to help them and in their frustration they would shoo me away saying, “I know Mom, I know!”

There’s nothing like being told you know nothing when you know that you know something.

Without doubt, my children had some knowledge about their math assignments but that knowledge wasn’t proving sufficient to get the correct answer. Knowledge without the right process of applying it won’t produce needed results. Besides, no one likes a “know it all.”

1 Corinthians 8:1b NLT “…Yes, we all know that ‘we all have knowledge’ about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.”

We are so like our own kids in our relationship with our Father God! I can picture me in the middle of a “life test” and failing miserably and not understanding why. In my frustration I call on my Father and as He tries to help me, I push Him away saying defiantly, “I know, I know!” Then I picture Him standing back, like me with my own kids, wishing I would let Him help!

The wonder of living life in the love of God is knowing that He will hold the pieces together – and we don’t have to! We don’t have to know everything because He is our Father and always has our best interests at heart. He is capable of guiding us when we don’t understand, He is capable of saving us when no one (not even ourselves) can. He really does know a whole lot more than we do!

Hebrews 11:40 NLT Because God had provided something better in mind for us, so they would not reach perfection without us.”

The crux of the matter is this: God, our Father, has something so much better in mind for us – it’s better than our best! God supersedes everyone in that not only does He promise to give us the best (because He is the best), but He also has the power to deliver the best.

In fact, what God has in mind is so good that those heroes of faith mentioned in the earlier portion of Hebrews 11 couldn’t reach perfection (or completion) without our cooperation with the plans and mind of God for our lives.

Consider this gallery of faith-mentors cheering for us from the grandstands of heaven: Moses, David, Samson, Rahab, Gideon, Samuel, Barak, the list goes on and their perfection or completion is seen in us – in our aligning ourselves with His plans and not our own because God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that is always expanding. We’ve just picked up where those who have gone before us left off.

Hebrews 12 goes on to say that because all these are cheering for us, since they “surround us,” we need to run with endurance. We need to bear up with the correcting of our course, with that discipline when it comes. They are shouting, “Don’t run away to the school of storms and fish!” Their lessons, and Jonah’s, teach us to 0bey at the first word, don’t wait or we will learn like they did – the hard way!

Hebrews 12:12,13 NLT “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” 

It’s time to shake off the pain, put a little band aid on there, and get a new grip. As it was with Jonah, that fierce love, that aggressive love of God is meant to flow through you and not sit stagnant within you. This aggressive love will bring the expansion of the Kingdom to those who remain outside; to those of Nineveh. Perhaps they will repent. Perhaps they will turn from their sin and to God. Perhaps, just perhaps, through our surrender we can see God’s plan for them (what He has in mind that is so much better for them) unfold.

Get a grip! Lift up your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees and take courage! God also has better things in mind than for us than to sit angry under a tree that will wither. Our destinies have farther-reaching implications than we ever thought. We’re all more like Jonah than we think – but the good news is this: he, together with many others who’ve crossed that boundary before us, are cheering for us. Jonah made it, and so will we!

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I Remember Angels

The following is an excerpt of the account I wrote of our time serving in Bujumbura, Burundi during a time of civil war (1991-2000). The time was tense, but God’s Presence was there and in the middle of our weakness, He came through. Entering 2017, I’m remembering all of the times God came through for us time and again; He will always be faithful. 

One of the things I value most in my relationship with my husband has been our agreement to obey God, to do His will, no matter where He took us. On very few occasions have we struggled with this commitment. During the time we were in Burundi, our determination to follow God’s plan for our lives was tested time and again. After the onset of the war in 1992/93, and the seemingly endless attacks on the capital (Bujumbura), where we lived, I grew weary of the battle. While my determination wavered, Jamie’s remained steadfast. I found obedience to be increasingly difficult – especially since we had small children in this city that had turned into a war zone.

War is strange. No straightforward rules govern its movement. Generally, when a country in enveloped in civil unrest or war, as Burundi was for so many years, the violence is not continuous in one part of the city or country; it moves from place to place. Gunfire, grenades, mortars, and even rockets being fired (as we had seen shot into the mountains not far from our house) generally occur in a random pattern which may or may not take place on any given day. This uncertainty is what bred so much fear in the city during the times we lived through civil unrest; this ambiguity is what made daily living so difficult. Simple decisions, such as whether to send the children to school on a given day, often became major prayer topics. We could not possibly know whether the violence would erupt near the school, church, market, or even near our home. Leaving the children at school  was difficult beyond description and it was impossible to find anyone with whom we could confide such feelings. Everyone in the city seemed to be desperately holding on to the hope that normal life would one day return to our once-beautiful country.

My frustration and weariness with the situation often spilled over onto Jamie. I wanted to be as steadfast as he was, but in the face of war my determination had faltered. Many times I felt a physical pressure mounting within my chest as I struggled to maintain control of the turmoil brewing just beneath the surface. Each day when I left the house to work in the displaced persons camp to feed children (whose situations were much worse than ours) I would struggle with feelings of incompetence as I stared into their hungry faces. Who was I to complain when, at the very least, every night I slept in a house and on a bed, not to mention the fact that I had never seen my loved ones killed in civil war? As we taught and fed the children, I had to find a way to work through the conflicted feelings that waged war inside my heart.

One evening, after I had tucked our children in for the night, I cleaned the kitchen, cleared my desk of some necessary paperwork, and fell into bed. I hoped we would have a quiet night of uninterrupted sleep. We had experienced a particularly grueling week as we worked in the camps. Because no cooking facilities existed in the camps, every morning I transported the cooked food and feeding teams and supervised the feeding and teaching activities. We had nearly run out of food that week, so I scrambled to write letters to several NGOs for emergency assistance. In our state of things in Bujumbura, food prices fluctuated wildly. From one day to the next we had difficulty accurately estimating what food prices would be. Stress levels often ran high, as they did that week. By the time I collapsed into the bed, my energy and joy were spent. The night was unusually quiet – unusual but welcome.

Suddenly, in the midnight hours, I was awakened by what seemed to be singing – not any kind of singing I had heard before. I could not understand any of the words, nor was the melody familiar to me. I felt unusually calm and seemed to recognize that the singing was praise to God. Our bedroom was set at the end of a hallway, which had a door that led into our living room. I got up from the bed and somehow was able to observe myself as I walked down the short hallway to the door that led into the living room. As I approached the door, the singing grew louder. When I opened it, I was met by a cool breeze, which surprised me as it brushed across my face. The room was filled with light that was shining outside and radiating through our curtains. I remember wondering how such a wonderful breeze could be flowing through the living room with all the windows shut. My attention was inexplicably drawn to the curtains; I saw silhouettes of very tall, almost massive beings standing shoulder to shoulder outside the windows. I immediately understood they were angels. At that moment I not only saw them through the windows; I also saw them all around the perimeter of the house. Their arms were raised and outstretch to heaven – I wanted to get closer. Just as I got to the curtains to draw them back, I felt a Presence in the room with me. This made me fall to my knees. As I knelt, I felt some kind of material as smooth as silk brush the right side of my face and arm. At that moment I knew I was not alone. Great peace filled my heart; all the pressure and heaviness that had, for so long, plagued me just disappeared. The great mercy of God to answer me so profoundly was overwhelming. I realized then that God’s mercy towards me that night went far beyond anything I deserved. From that day to this, I am not afraid about the “what-if” scenarios of life. Serving God, being in His will, is the safest place on earth.

Psalm 37:4 “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” 

Hopeless!

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It’s hopeless!

How many times have you heard yourself say something is “hopeless”?

Since it has been said that confession is good for the soul, I confess that I’ve fallen into that trap of believing and declaring a situation to be “hopeless.” There have been times in life that I have felt utterly and completely down and out and wanted to throw in the towel.

If you’ve ever dabbled in learning a foreign language you know what I mean. No amount of listening to audio recordings or studying a book can magically plant a new language into your mouth. It takes hard work that, for a time, doesn’t seem to pay off. Day in, day out, week in, week out, month in, month out, it seems no progress has been made in your valiant attempt to learn and understand a new language.

I remember each time I’ve studied a language, there were months of “I don’t get it” before something clicked. The first language we learned in 1987 was Swahili and my “aha moment” took longer to come than with subsequent languages I have learned. I had almost given up at one point when, while I was in the market frantically flipping through the pages in my dictionary in another attempt to find a word for “banana.” I had flipped through my dictionary each time I had gone to the market to find the word for banana. In effect, I had tried to say banana “bunches” of times! (Ok, there’s my attempt at a play on words…) My dictionary was worn, why wouldn’t “banana” come out of my mouth after having studied it, said it, written it, and looked for it in my dictionary so many times?

Tears stung the backs of my eyes in embarrassment as the ladies in the market, who knew me after several months of my visiting them, chuckled at my forgetfulness. Banana, banana, banana… Suddenly, through the tears and chuckles of onlookers a word came to my mind: “ndizi.” My “aha” moment! And the words for “I want” accompanied it! “Nataka!” I said, “Nataka ndizi!” How many times I said it I don’t know. A personal victory!!! I ran home with smiles and lots of ndizi!

When we surrender our lives to God, the good news is that nothing is hopeless nor are we helpless.

Romans 4:18 ESV “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.”

Living as children of God means living in His hope – and this hope we live in isn’t like the hope we have when trying out a new cake recipe, “I hope this works!”

There are times when things don’t work as we have foreseen; things turn out very differently. However, in the grand scheme of things, God has a plan in mind. What Satan throws our way to destroy us, God turns around and we ultimately have that “aha moment” when we understand more was at stake than learning how to say “banana.”

It may seem to you today that all hope is lost, 2016 was a difficult year and you have little hope that 2017 will be any better. Let me encourage you, all is not lost. Take what little hope you have and grab your Book of meanings, the Bible, and keep on studying it. One day the answer will dawn – and you’ll go running home, arms full of blessings.

“Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” Augustine

 

Don’t Draw on the Walls!

I remember once being caught by my parents for drawing on the walls. I couldn’t deny it. I have a vivid memory, I think  I was about 5 years old, of holding a crayon at shoulder-level and walking along and drawing a long line the entire length of a hallway in our home. Something about drawing on walls fascinated me; I was a virtual Picasso at home in my younger years.

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I’ve seen a trend in decorating these days where families will actually mount a frame around the drawings that their kids have scrawled on their homes’ walls. Had this been a trend when I was a child, well, there wouldn’t have been enough frames to take care of all my drawings!

While my art was, in my opinion, of art gallery quality, my parents had another opinion on the matter. There were consequences to my actions and, in time, I did figure out that ending my career as an in-home artist was the best thing for me to do.

I’ve noticed in our daily lives that we aren’t as forgiving with one another as we are with children when they draw on the walls. We are far more prone to paint over our own drawings  than we are to forgive the faults of others who have failed to make “the grade” in our opinion; after all, they drew on our walls!

Why are we so quick to throw stones at those who have drawn on our walls?

The problem we face when we throw stones of judgment at those who wrong us or who don’t conform to our standards is that in so doing we restrict the power of God from flowing from us to others.

Does this mean that we don’t confront sin or have standards? Not at all. However, when we face those who have sinned or fallen short of standards, we would do well to first examine what is our end-goal in dealing with that person? Is it to shame them into conformity or is it to love them back into the family? God’s design from the beginning was to build a family, how have we gotten so far from His initial intention?

Jesus has a habit of doing things other than throwing stones at people. When confronted with a woman in sin, those bringing her tried to use God’s standard against sin as a reason to stone her. Jesus, so wise in His response, said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7).

The woman’s act was sinful, that was not in dispute. The judgmental attitude of those wanting to stone her, those whose walls had been drawn on, was what Jesus challenged. Why is it so important to cast stones when we have all been guilty at one time or another of missing the mark?

Jesus won this challenge of His authority by forgiving, not stoning.

If we really want to win our families, friends, and the world for Jesus we would do well to remember that the One Who had the right to throw stones didn’t: He forgave and told her to move on and “sin no more.”

As we end this year, we would all do well to  remember that our Father never throws stones, He rolls them, or takes them, away!

Remember Lazarus? He commanded the stone to be “taken away” (John 11:39).

Remember His resurrection? The stone was also “taken away” (John 20:1).

Those stones are, in one sense, hindrances, judgments, sin, that keep people from the Father. The problem of throwing stones at those we find fault in is that as we close our hearts to the possibility of God working in them, we roll stones in front of our own relationships with God. It is a tangled web that we weave when we step into the shoes of both Judge and Jury.

Let’s not throw stones this coming year; let’s roll them, let’s take them away with soft hearts of forgiveness.  Instead of throwing stones, why not draw signs with our crayons pointing people to the place where no stones will be thrown at them?

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What if There’s a Rat?

I would like to think that I’m “somewhat” courageous.  What I mean by that is that when push comes to shove and it’s important, I find myself able to face almost any situation. Except when it comes to rats. Rats are definitely the exception to my courageous rule. I turn into a snivelling, weepy, terrified, damsel in distress when a rat is in the equation.

Many years ago, while traveling in Africa with our oldest son Tom, we stayed in a guesthouse. Now, guesthouses in Africa range from very nice to very dodgy. This one I’m talking about now was more in the “dodgy” description; in fact, we usually stayed in the “dodgy” places due to budget constraints and joked it made good storytelling which has turned out to be true. We had checked in (such as check in was in this place that was little more than an abandoned house at the farthest corner of a property) and were so tired from a day of driving down the mountains between Congo and Burundi that staying in a dodgy guesthouse was not an issue.

Sleep claimed us quickly and sometime in the middle of the night we woke with a fright when a rat fell from the rafters onto our bed and proceeded to run across the room.  Everything happened so fast I didn’t have time to think or scream and just watched in terror as the creature scurried into the darkness. Thankfully Tom slept through the whole ordeal – and his 3 year old eyes were wide in amazement when we told him about it the next morning.

Since then, I have had several encounters with rats. Some have found their way into the houses where we have lived. Others we encountered at our church properties, airports, and hotels. These creatures are opportunistic, crawling into any space they find and eat whatever morsel they come across along their way.

For this reason, I don’t like areas of darkness or obscurity – there might be a rat in there! Fear of what “might” be hidden grips my mind and prevents me from exploring what might be an amazing space.

John 20:19 “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut…Jesus came and stood in the midst.”

Just as I have feared the invisible rat, there are times when invisible issues are troubling us. We’ve not seen what will happen but we live in fear of what “might” happen and all the doors of escape have been closed to us. The disciples had a similar experience when Jesus had been crucified. They had closed the doors of the house they were in “for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:20) Fear of what might happen or what seemed to be inevitable caused them to close the doors. They apparently had no hope of leaving the house unharmed. But God, in His great mercy, sent Jesus to stand among them – shut doors couldn’t keep Him from coming into their situation.

Psalm 139:7 NKJV “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?”

In just a few days we will once again enter into a New Year and I wonder how many of us will allow the hidden rats, fear of the unknown, keep us from embracing all that God has prepared for us?

The Things No One Ever Tells You

Have you ever felt taken by surprise? Started down a road with “great promise” only to find the road to the promised result is a lot longer and bumpier than you thought it would be?

Disappointed.

Discouraged.

Even defeated.

Normal life events take us by surprise: marriage, children, moving, all of them throw curve balls at us that we had no training on how to catch. More often than we care to admit, we arrive at those events unprepared.

Many of us dream of having children, building a family, something like a Norman Rockwell painting of days gone by: a house, white fencing, a playground in the back for the kids, a dog, and good jobs to sustain it all. What a surprise for the new parents when baby comes home! I remember years ago when we were expecting our first child. We did everything right from the get-go; we wanted the best for our baby. In those days, some of you may remember, Lamaze was all the rage and peer pressure dictated that we attend Lamaze classes to prepare for the baby’s arrival. There, we learned breathing techniques, positions to take to ease the pain of labor and delivery, and were encouraged to have a totally natural birthing experience. In addition to following Lamaze, there was a real push for “supernatural childbirth” in some churches. A cassette tape of teaching accompanied by a small book encouraging women how to believe for a pain-free delivery was circulated. I diligently followed the teachings of both: Lamaze and the process for a pain-free supernatural delivery expecting things to go smoothly.

Fast-forward a few months (mind you I was deep into preparation mode by that time) and one Monday afternoon while walking around in the mall, I felt a strange twinge in my lower back. This came a bit earlier than my due date so initially I thought it was false labor – until the twinges became full-blown knife-in-my-lower-back-put-me-out-of-my-misery pain. My husband, wrapped up in his Monday night football said, “You’re not having that baby!” To which I replied, “Oh yes I am!” It was as if a fire alarm went off and he jumped into action, up and down the stairs, “I’m going! Where is your suitcase?” This was my first undeniable indication that things were not going to go as planned…at all.

It was nearly midnight by the time we cut through all the red tape of checking into the hospital. When I was finally examined, I was told, “Oh this is going to take some time yet.” The night was young, I was strong, and I was determined to follow directions: breathe right, lay on my side, rub a tennis ball on my back, and pray, pray, pray. The minutes turned into hours and the pain, contrary to my great hopes and prayers, went from my determined announcement of, “This is very hard but I’m gonna do this!” To my begging, “Give me SOMETHING!!!” Before my son was delivered the next morning just after 7, I had had two injections for pain and wanted a third but was told when I asked for that third shot that I was too far advanced for more painkillers. Each of my preconceived ideas for a smooth, pain-free delivery went out the door. There was no breathing technique known to man that could’ve helped me – and I wondered how could I have possibly been so ill prepared? Taken by such a surprise? How could I have failed so miserably?

And…the surprises kept coming. My baby had colic for the first full year of his life; sleep was a rare commodity in those days. Slowly, very slowly, I began to predict the unpredictability of parenthood. I threw out books and tapes on perfect parenting and simply listened to other mothers who had walked longer in those shoes than I had. By the time my boy was three, I woke from my disappointed slumber, no longer berating myself for my naiveté, and wanted more children! What was wrong with me? I went through two more deliveries, still unprepared each time, and one adoption but I learned through them all and fiercely loved them all (and still do!). What didn’t bother me so much as time progressed were the surprises that crossed my path. I grew accustomed to rolling with the punches and began to laugh at myself for being surprised; for life, I had learned, was full of surprises.

Life, and its accompanying surprises, has a way of exposing our pride, revealing our lack of faith, and displaying our faults out in the open for all, ourselves included, to see. If only we would enter into adulthood as if we were still children – simply trusting our Father to take care of us no matter what unexpected circumstances arise. When my babies were small, all I had to tell them when trouble came along was Dad and I would take care of it, not to worry. When they heard that answer, they turned over and slept without a care in the world. Mom and Dad were going to take care of everything and that was all the assurance they needed. Oh that we would learn to trust our Father like children again!

Instead of living carefree, we allow the disappointments of life to weigh us down; we’re bent over under the weight of this world.

Age and life experience, another lesson I’ve learned, doesn’t disqualify me from being blindsided by life. Living on the foreign mission field is an unpredictable – and wonderful – adventure. Nothing is normal, anything is possible, and there are unexpected events that take place, sometimes by the hour.

There’s a certain romance in the Western mind about the mission field. I’ve seen it and heard it when traveling stateside and in Europe. We are told by some that they admire what we do, thank God for our service, yet we feel so very under qualified to serve these people God loves so very much and who deserve so much more than we can offer. Somehow, despite our shortcomings, we were given this call and we do our best to be faithful.

While on the subject of missions and the connection between the West and the mission field, I wanted to debunk an idea that some might have about those serving overseas. I get the distinct impression that those on the other side of the pond think missionaries must love everything they do and have lots of faith to get things done. Yes, we love the field, but we don’t always love everything associated with our call and often feel that our faith is so very weak in the face of the great challenges we face. No one loves financial strain that, for the most part, doesn’t come and go for the missionary. It seems financial strain comes to set roots down in everything we do. No one loves to see young children suffer in famine, such as we now have in Malawi, and have our hands tied by finance and circumstance to do anything to bring them relief. No one enjoys rejection, yes, we missionaries and the Gospel we carry are often rejected; we aren’t received with joy and red carpets. It can be a lonely and tiring journey – but the rewards of seeing lives changed far outweighs the bumps we face along the way.

 

Like everyone else, we are not immune to discouragement and find, in the process of time, that we bend over under the stresses of circumstances far beyond our control. Therein our pride is revealed when we think our presence can do anything, for it’s only by the Presence of God can things change. Therein is our lack of faith revealed when we doubt that God hears our prayers when it seems answers are delayed. These are our faults and imperfections and yet God still chooses to use us, any and all of us who dare to walk down this road towards a City that God is building.

Psalm 145:13b, 14 NLT “…The Lord always keeps His promises; He is gracious in all He does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.”

It Began With One

Unless you’re an expert on seeds, it’s difficult to know what any given seed will produce. I rely on the packaging to know what will sprout in my garden. I prefer buying seeds from sources that appear to be reputable as the soil in my garden is prepared for good seed. I’ve had my garden prepared, the soil tilled and fertilised, what a shame it would be to sow good seed in poor soil.

I’ve learned, though, that seeds are resilient things. Driving around in the city of Blantyre, Malawi, where I live, you’ll see random corn stalks growing on the side of the road. Corn (maize as it is known here) is a staple in the diet of Malawians and it is not unusual to see people munching on corn along the road, at work, anywhere! It would appear that those cast-off seeds found a bit of soil where they could set roots down to grow. From the discarded bits of corn on the roadside, corn stalks will grow and produce their harvest that is enjoyed by passers-by.

Once upon a time, as in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk,  a Seed was planted. It seemed outwardly by accident since it was a cast-off Seed that no one found valuable enough to plant in a nicely prepared garden. It was hastily thrown into a stable and no one took notice of the Seed – until, it began to grow. After some time, a great harvest grew and all who passed by and were hungry were free to enjoy the produce. This Seed has reproduced for thousands of years this way, thrown into places where no care was given but somehow finds the smallest piece of soil, and it grows. It grows and fills homes, villages, streets, cities, and nations. If only the world would understand the value of this Seed that those of us have enjoyed and now carry  – if only the Seed could be treated, as it deserves, planted in well-prepared gardens.

I look at this small piece of land where our church meets in Blantyre. It’s rough, there’s nothing special to be seen: the floor is dirt, we have no carpeting, no special seating (our chairs are used and slowly falling apart) and the people who come to service are very poor. It’s a cast-off place where one would wonder how could the Seed consider being planted here? No special packaging to be seen here; yet, there’s more to the Seed than what we imagine for this is the kind of place where the Seed will thrive.

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The beauty of the Seed is that it only needs the smallest bit of soil, one receptive heart, to find a place to grow and our garden is fill of hungry hearts.  It doesn’t need all of the “bells and whistles” associated with “successful” churches. All that is needed is just one heart, one soul, from where roots can grow and produce another harvest that will grow and provide food for more passers-by. After a few seasons, there will be acres and acres of beautiful harvest – but it began with one, just one simple Seed.

Zechariah 8:12 NLT “For I am planting seeds of peace and prosperity among you…”

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