A Slice of Life

orange-food-juicy-fruit-65923

It’s fascinating to me what details we include in peoples’ obituaries to summarize their lives. Most often we include a list of their relatives, but then we talk about what character traits they were known for or what accomplishments they achieved. Fifty, seventy, or ninety years of living are reduced to three to five paragraphs.

Joshua 15:16-19 records an interesting little glimpse into one obscure name—a tiny slice of one man’s life.

The characters in this story:

Caleb, the godly spy

Caleb’s daughter Aksah

Caleb’s nephew Othniel

The Plot: Caleb promises his daughter Aksah to the man who conquers the city of Kiriath-Sepher.

Okay, so we have an 85-year-old man who’s still strong and able to conquer new territory, who decides to use his daughter as a prize. It’s hard to imagine in our culture today, but arranged marriages were the norm at that time. But using her as a prize? I suppose Caleb wanted to find a brave go-getter for her, a conquering hero, and Aksah willingly goes along with the scheme.

So who wins the prize? Caleb’s nephew Othniel. We know nothing more about him except that he is forever remembered as being the man brave enough to fight for the hand of a nobleman’s daughter.

If someone chose to record for all eternity just one event in my life, for what would I be remembered? What one story will be told at my funeral?

Shenandoah

ShenandoahFrom My 2008 Journal. I recently watched Shenandoah—an old Civil War movie starring Jimmy Stewart who plays a widower Charlie Anderson, father of six sons and a daughter. Charlie’s attitude toward the War is non-involvement—“It’s not my war,” he declares—until it affects him directly. When his youngest son is captured by enemy soldiers, it suddenly becomes his issue and he goes out to find and rescue him. He and his sons never do join the fight, but the War affects Charlie profoundly as he loses three family members.

I’ve been pondering his statement, “It’s not my war,” and then “Now it’s my/our issue” when it touches him directly.

I can relate to that. I can hear about wars and floods and tornadoes and murders and causes for this or that, and I remain unmoved . . . until it touches me and my life personally. And then suddenly it’s important to me.

Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt that I don’t respond to news with more feelings of compassion, with prayer, or with a desire to jump in and help. But I recognize that I’m not called to do everything—I’m only responsible for the things God tells me to do.

So am I saying it’s okay to be nonchalant, uncaring, or unfeeling about the sufferings of people around the world? Well . . . yes and no. I’d be an emotional wreck if I could feel everyone else’s pain all the time. Perhaps it’s a blessing and a gift that I’m not able to. I have to trust God to give me the passions that He wants me to have. I was not created to take on the cares of the world, but I know Someone Who can.

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “We aren’t called to pray for every request with the same intensity. . . . God will not give any of us every prayer burden. [What a relief!] Ask the Lord to bring to your mind what He wants you to pray for. Sometimes when I ask, nothing comes to mind. Maybe He’s just calling me to silence.”

What kind of news touches your heart?

Do I Really Need a Grocery List?

Grocery store

I’ve been a life-long student of the subject of intercessory prayer. I’ve read all the books I can find on the subject, tried all the methods suggested, and read biographies of great prayer warriors. But like the majority of us, I still struggle with my inner prayer life. Here’s a journal entry from 2009.

I have a list of people I pray for—but it’s just that—a list, for the purpose of jogging my memory. It serves the same purpose as a grocery list—it’s a reminder so I don’t forget the items at the store. The list doesn’t do much good though until it becomes fulfilled—that is, the item is taken off the shelf, paid for, taken home, and consumed.

There’s no spiritual magic for listing names of people or organizations on a piece of paper. But when I take those names with me to “the store” (the throne room of grace), I can hand the list to God and ask Him to fill the request for me, and then my soul is satisfied. In the process, I give Him permission to make substitutes—perhaps what I put on the list isn’t good for me (or for the person I’m praying for). Maybe there’s a better selection. I ask for generic and He wants to give me the brand name. Sometimes I specify a brand name, and He gives me generic because it’s a better value for my money. And then I need to ask Him to help me remember the people or things I forgot to put on my list. He’s good at that!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35 NIV).

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “The word for ‘praying’ in Mark 1:35 does not primarily refer to intercession for others but to the outpouring of His own soul to the Father for renewal and refreshment.”

Thrasher also said, “God is capable of taking my feeble prayer and interpreting my desires and deep longings and motivations. The Holy Spirit knows. . . .” He related the story of Augustine, a leader in the early church, who lived a sensual lifestyle in his early years. When he planned to go to Rome, his mother prayed, “O Lord, do not let him go to Rome because he will only get into further debauchery.” God did let him go to Rome. But it was there that he was converted. “The Spirit of God pled the deeper desire of the mother for his spiritual well-being, and God answered her heart.”

Maybe next time I go to the grocery store, it’s okay if I forget my list. Maybe I should just take time to chat with the “Grocer”!

Do you use a prayer list? Why or why not?

The Right/Wrong Game

When our girls were little, we used to do a little exercise we called the Right/Wrong Game. For each of the four deeds and motives below, we tried to come up with examples.

  1. Right deed [Give to the poor], wrong motive [makes me look good]
  2. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], right motive [to give to the poor]
  3. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], wrong motive [spend on my pleasure]
  4. Right deed [Give to the poor], right motive [meet a need]

I thought of this little game when I read II Chronicles 25:2.

He [Amaziah] did right in the Lord’s sight, but not with a perfect or blameless heart.

I think Amaziah fell into Category #1.  I want to live in Category #4.

Anyone care to share some other examples for this game?

Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!

Where Is Your Focus?

Focus 3

From My 2009 Journal. Work got canceled, and I had an unexpected, unplanned glorious day to myself to work on the computer and catch up on some work. But one thing after another, my day got interrupted multiple times. I ended up stewing and angry as I headed to the grocery store to pick up some bread, just to discover that the shelves were empty! I’d been trying all day to get rid of my feelings of irritation and hadn’t succeeded too well. Praying for inner peace, I wandered around the store, asking the Lord What was the purpose of all these interruptions to my day?

Just then, I passed a plaque on a shelf that read, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” I laughed out loud. My focus had been all skewed. Thanks, Lord, for putting things into perspective. I chuckled all the way home.

The rest of the verse says, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 NASB).

Where is your focus today?

Shoulds and Ought-tos

From My 2009 Journal. I feel a hesitancy inside when I think that God loves and accepts me just the way I am. I’m still caught in the trap of “I need to.” Being a task-oriented person, “doing for God” feels like a “should” or an “ought to.” It’s a continual mind battle to shed the guilt that I’m not doing more for Him. What is that all about?

I hear in my head the voice of some preacher saying, “You ought to knock on doors for evangelism.” I thought I shed that obligation a long time ago. I know I’ve been derogatory toward those who touted knocking on doors, considering them to be a little kooky, driven by fear or guilt (never mind that I used to be one of them. How hypocritical is that!) But I don’t know their hearts—for all I know, they could be more spiritual or passionate than I am about following God.

Hallway with doorsVisual:  I see an endless line of doors that need to be approached. It’s exhausting and the task is never complete. While walking down the hallway, there appears to be a large hand guiding mine, like I’m a child in training. I thought at first it was the preacher’s voice and hand on me, but now I see him standing to the side at a pulpit. The hand that guides me is that of The Father.

I erroneously compare myself to the famous out-front Christians who have great influence over many crowds of people. They’ve been entrusted with ten talents and have been faithful to use them. Bruce Wilkinson comes to mind. Billy Graham is another. Our faithful pastors as well. And then there’s little ol’ me with a very small sphere of influence. I think somehow I’m supposed to do their work.

I know all the right answers: be faithful with what God entrusts to you. I know that God has not created me with the temperament to spend massive amounts of time with people or in front of people—which is what I seem to equate with the highest rank of God-pleasers.

Here’s my bottom-line question: Is God pleased with me and my performance? I’m fully aware that character is far more important. That’s a given, and I work on that constantly. But I still need the question answered—am I doing enough? Enough for what?

I feel uneasy. Like I’m missing something. How do I know how many talents He’s given me? Yes, it’s His work through me. Yes, I must be obedient to His every command and instruction. No, I don’t have to have the big picture or understand everything God’s chosen for me to do. “Rest in Me,” He says, “and I will guide you. I will show you which door to walk through and when.”

HikeAnd the visual changes. “I’ll make the path for your feet,” He says, “and shed light on the stumbling stones. Just keep walking. I’ll tell you when to put down a stone or pick one up. I’ll let you know when it’s time to lend a helping hand to a fellow traveler, when to give away what’s in your hand, and when to keep walking. Sometimes you have to just keep plodding through the forest. The glen or open spaces are yet to come. Sometimes it’s okay to sit on a rock and rest and take a drink or eat. Doing is not always what’s best for you. Self-discipline is good, but listening to Me is better.”

And so, Heavenly Father, I give to You today my path. I trust You to guide me. Help me not to run ahead of You or lag behind. Give me the energy to keep up. I can walk in Your footsteps, unafraid of the dark and the animals nearby.

“Not enough,” “should,” and “ought-to” are not are not quantifiable concepts and don’t belong in God’s vocabulary for me.

Call It What It Is

From My 2009 Journal. I was in a bathroom stall at the Orlando airport on my way home from my mom’s memorial service when I had an epiphany.

Hook

The hook on the back of the door was missing, and my first thought was, How annoying! Where am I supposed to hang my purse?

Now, I didn’t want to be a complainer about insignificant occurrences in my life—a hook on a door compared to death and dying . . . a little thing like that should not have controled my emotions!

And so I started searching for the right word—because “annoying” or “frustrating” or “irritating” were really too strong to describe what I was actually feeling inside. I wanted a neutral word. That’s when I thought of “inconvenient.”

The circumstance is inconvenient.

How I feel about the circumstance may be annoying, frustrating, irritating.

And so, with the change in vocabulary, there was a shift in my attitude. I would call it what it was and acknowledge that the circumstance was less than ideal, but I didn’t have to have a negative response to it.

What has helped you to “call it what it is”?

Stay put or run?


Run and hideI Samuel 23:2-3.
I’ve always wondered why David went into hiding from his enemy King Saul? Couldn’t God have protected David if he chose to stay put and not run? Did God tell him to run? Did instinct? Would it have been foolish to stay put when a spear was thrown at his head?

God delivered him every time, but it seems He could have done it without David having to run and hide all the time. Daniel stayed put. And Shadrach and his buddies did too. They didn’t go underground when persecution started. Perhaps, unlike David, they had nowhere to hide. Corrie ten Boom went underground when she chose to hide Jews. Risky no matter what. But when caught, God delivered David, Daniel, and Corrie. But He didn’t deliver martyrs in the early church, and He didn’t deliver Corrie’s sister Betsie from death. (Is that a cop out to say He delivered her from further torture?) When do you go into hiding, and when to the lion’s den?

Two things go through my head: this was part of David’s training to let him experience God’s faithfulness in the hard times as well as learn about this part of his future kingdom. Second, man has freewill and choice. God could have knocked out Saul at the first sign of rebellion, but He continued to give Saul chances to repent. And Saul refused. Obedience to God’s command in the moment is the key, I think.

What’s your opinion?

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Frequently asked questions

I was almost 50 years old before I discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up.

My mother knew in third grade. When she took a hygiene class, she decided then and there to become a nurse. She also knew early on that she wanted to teach others to read. If you had asked me in grade school, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would have replied, “a missionary nurse and schoolteacher like my mom.”

In junior high “Uncle” Bill, one of my boarding school teachers, stopped me one day on the sidewalk and challenged me to consider becoming a missionary doctor instead. Because I loved and admired him, I agreed to do so in order to make him happy. The problem was, I neither felt drawn to working with sick people, nor did I have a propensity for the sciences of any kind! But I did know that I fell in love with Miss Pat’s English class.

During my senior year of high school in the USA, I began to panic. What should I do next? My parents were overseas and unable to help me with college decisions. Mrs. Casler, my friend Cindy’s mom, suggested I attend Word of Life Bible Institute, a one-year school of Bible training, before heading to medical school. And so I did.

At the end of that year, I visited a nearby Christian college to check out their pre-med program.  And that’s when it finally hit me—I was pursuing someone else’s dream. With a sense of relief, I gave it up, only to flounder—what do I do now?

Enter Ron, a guy I dated a few times. “Go to TTU,” he suggested. “They’re offering a full tuition scholarship for MKs (Missionary Kids).” And so I applied.

Am I seeing a pattern here?! I didn’t like or know how to make decisions. I just went where others directed me.

I remember sitting in a large classroom when I first arrived on the TTU campus. I was supposed to be filling out forms, including my intended major and class schedule. I didn’t have a clue what to do! The only constant up to this point in my life was that I knew I wanted to become a missionary. I leaned over to the student next to me and said, “I don’t know what I want to major in.”

“Just put down Education,” he replied. “Many students do that. You can always change later.” And so I did.

It was when I took my first education class that I began to back-pedal. A friend who was in the midst of student teaching said she was required to have perfect handwriting and it felt like she was acting all day, and it was exhausting. The thought of teaching frightened me.

Okay, so now what? To become a missionary, I knew I needed to know my Bible, so I switched to a Bible major. Now here was something I was familiar with.

Enter Speech 101 with Dr. Euler. Though the thought of public speaking terrified me, I had enough poise apparently to impress the teacher. “You should consider an oral interpretation speech major as well,” he declared. At first I balked at the idea, but again, a teacher has clout and I listened. The literature appealed to me, and my performances in junior high and high school plays gave me something to build on.

When I got married and didn’t end up on the mission field, I wondered what good my speech and Bible majors did me. I suspect it was my husband Scott who encouraged me to apply for a job teaching English and speech at Berean Academy, a small Christian school. But my four-year teaching experience there exhausted me. It was hard work—mentally, physically, emotionally. I felt intimidated by American teenagers and couldn’t relate to them. I was too young and inexperienced to handle a classroom, but I enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep my students from getting bored. I also enjoyed directing plays and preparing students for speech competition, but again, the work was extremely demanding and I made many embarrassing mistakes. Thankfully, Mrs. Calvert was a sympathetic and supportive supervisor, along with some parents who encouraged me.

Raising three babies and keeping house and moving four times kept me busy by default for the next several years. When we needed the extra money, Scott found out that a local junior college was hiring evening English teachers and urged me to apply. I returned to teaching, but again it was through someone else’s initiative.

It was while we were doing some in-service teacher training that the light bulb finally came on in my mind. We were introduced to the topic of brain studies and were examining how different brains are wired. After taking an assessment test, each teacher was instructed to approach an easel, take a pushpin, and place it in their dominant brain quadrant. I was chagrined to discover that my pin landed on the green square whereas most of the other teachers put theirs in the blue section. Apparently I was working against my natural bent, and it made sense why teaching exhausted me so. And I realized for the first time that all my life I’d been pursuing other people’s directives rather than following my heart.

Shortly after that, we moved to Tennessee, and I had to step down from all responsibilities at church, at school, and in the community.  I was starting over with a new life and many possibilities. One Sunday morning I sat riveted in my seat as Pastor Dean asked the question, “What is your passion?” That sermon, along with its guidelines, became pivotal in my understanding of who I was created to be. At first I didn’t think I liked what I knew about myself. All along I pridefully thought of myself as a professional—someone with status and education. But now I realized that I got far more pleasure out of shuffling papers around than trying to influence and push people to perform a certain way. I had been an introvert in an extrovert profession.

I jotted down in my journal that I loved order, the preciseness of grammar rules and the repetition of data entry.  I also knew I had a passion for reconnecting MKs. I was already meeting those needs as editor of Simroots (a magazine for adult MKs). Life was getting neater and tidier, but I knew I needed more than that to keep me busy while the girls were in school. I just wasn’t sure what.

And then it happened. My world flipped upside down and got messy again. In walked Minna Kayser, a very wounded, suicidal adult MK who landed on my doorstep and stayed. I know now that it was a God-event of epic proportions. (You can read all about it in our book Diamond Fractal.)

I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that working in the counseling field would be a good fit for me. It is far removed from sitting in front of a computer all day and losing myself in organizing script for a magazine. What was God thinking!?

To this day, I’m still not sure what happened. How did I get here? How has a speech and Bible degree and classroom experience and proofreading skills prepared me for this inner healing prayer ministry? How is this related to how my brain works? I’m a visual learner, not an auditory one, and yet what I do requires intense listening. I don’t have the gift or the passion for traditional counseling. I don’t even have the traumatic past that often draws counselors and psychologists into this career. I don’t get it! This calling is so much a God-thing that I am left shaking my head in wonder.

I’m still editing Simroots, and I still enjoy connecting MKs, but my real passion now is watching the light bulbs come on in people’s hearts and minds when God speaks truth to them in a prayer session. What astonishes me is that I got catapulted into this work without the skills or training at first to do it. I got thrown into the deep end before I knew how to swim.

I seem to have lived my whole life in default mode, following instead of leading, listening to others rather than listening to my heart. Was God’s voice in Uncle Bill? The stranger who sat next to me on the first day of school? Did He direct Ron so I’d end up at TTU? Or use Scott to get me into teaching?

Why didn’t God just show me or reveal to me my passions way back when I was a little girl—like He did for my mom? Why did I wander for so many years in areas that didn’t fit me? Am I such a slow learner? Or is that all part of the growth process, the learning progression?

The funny thing is, contrary to my friends’ observations, I don’t feel gifted at all for this ministry. But my mother the nurse, my first role model, claimed she could never do what I do. She didn’t even understand it when I tried to explain it to her. Is this a supernatural, spiritual gift or is it physical—the way my brain is wired to think after all? The fact that God does all the work and I get to watch makes me think that anyone could do this ministry if they just had the training and a willing heart. But I know now that not everyone is called to do what I do. My conclusion? I have learned that when God calls, He equips.

How did you figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up?