What If God Asked?

Cow

From my 2009 Journal. Ezekiel 4 is a fascinating exchange between God and Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel instructions that impose hardships on him, including eating rationed food and water, lying on one side for over a year and on the other for 40 days. But worst of all, God says he must prepare his food using human dung for fuel—like they will be doing in captivity. Ezekiel protests—he’s never defiled himself before with abominable meat. God relents and allows him to use cow dung instead.

In Ezekiel’s agrarian society, using cow dung is normal. It’s not offensive to them. Some tribes in Africa even use it to create shiny floors in their huts. But there’s something inherently offensive, disgusting, repulsive, unclean, about using human waste. At least it feels that way to me.

Ezekiel was used to using cow dung. Was there something in the Law that said human dung was defiling? Or was it inherently known that this was ceremonially or socially or emotionally unacceptable?

The part that really fascinates me, however, is that God relents from His command. He’s already asked Ezekiel to do some pretty humiliating and bizarre things. But He accepts Ezekiel’s protests based on his argument: I’ve never defiled myself—this would make me impure.

Now fast-forward to Peter in Acts 10:14. God instructs Peter to eat unclean animals. Same response: I’ve never defiled myself before. The passage doesn’t say that God made Peter eat them, but He does say, “What God calls clean is clean.”

God could have used the same argument with Ezekiel, but He doesn’t—which makes me think that God understood and took pity on Ezekiel. That He would not require of him more than he could bear.

Both men said they had never been defiled. Pete said, “No, Lord!” Ezekiel didn’t say no, but “Ah, Lord God . . .” Did Ezekiel protest or simply express his dismay?

What hard thing has God asked me to do? Did I protest? Yes, that’s quite normal, I think. But I eventually relented and obeyed. But He’s never asked me to go against my conscience—or has He?

What to Do When You Can’t Do

Jesus judged me and counted me faithful and trustworthy and appointed me to this ministry. (The Apostle Paul, I Timothy 1:12 AM)

From my 2009 Journal. My child-rearing days taxed my time and energy, but these days I wonder sometimes why I have so much free time. You’d think I’d be happy to sit around and read novels and watch TV or do jigsaw puzzles. But I want to fill more of my time with ministry and less with fluff. That’s when I think of the Apostle Paul sitting for months in prison. Did he long to get back into the ministry of preaching? Did he ever feel like he was spinning his wheels? Missionary life was exciting and challenging and suited his drive for evangelism. I know he used some of this down time talking to the other prisoners and guards and writing epistles, but I suspect time weighed heavily on him.

How much of my time is God-directed and passion-driven vs. drifting along day by day, with no goals or excitement to fill my time? Where is my focus—on TIME or on my character development? I fear I think too much like an American—filling time is the driving force and factor of our days. In a warm-culture setting with no calendars or appointments or clocks or watches, relationships become central. Maybe I need to go back to my African roots and sit for awhile under a tree. God appointed me to a ministry of inner healing prayer, so I may as well let Him be in charge of my time as well.

2020. Though I wrote this over ten years ago, it seems to fit today’s challenges with social distancing and forced isolation. I’m grateful that I’m still able to carry on with ministry through electronic means.

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The River of Life

From my 2009 Journal. While Scott and I were visiting his family in Vancouver, BC, I picked up a novel from his aunt’s bookshelf.  Published in 1931, A White Bird Flying, is full of life’s lessons and philosophy and old-fashioned values—a gentle reminder of days gone by in rural Nebraska. Laura, a would-be writer, chooses love and a family over career and a promised inheritance. When her would-be benefactor dies, he sends her the grand sum of one dollar in retaliation for spurning him.

The author, Bess Streeter Aldrich, concludes:

Life is like a river—a groping, pulsing river, endlessly rising and falling, finding its way through mists and shadows to some far sea. Every human is a part of the story. One life touches another and is gone. There is contact for a brief time—an influence for good or ill. And the river goes on, endlessly rising and falling, finding its way to the sea (p. 123).

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For years, I simply drifted in the water, going along with what others wanted for my life rather than following my heart. A lot of the decisions I made were because I didn’t really know what I wanted. And even if I did, I got easily thwarted or side-tracked by the scenery around me or the rocks in the riverbed. I could make goals, but if people or events interrupted the flow, I’d give up on my dreams and let them paddle the boat for me.

So when does an interruption become a distraction and when is it actually a God-event? How can you tell the difference? Is the interruption like a bumper lane in a bowling alley? The rubber is there to keep you out of the gutter. Or is the interruption like a pile of sticks in the river that you want to avoid because it’s a snare or a trap?

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I think the rapids are the events over which you have no control, and you have to be on your guard, alert to navigate well to stay upright. Thankfully, not all of life is calm and not all is rapids. Variety is nice. So is it okay to drift? Sometimes. Those are the resting times. But it’s not okay when the water is rough. And that’s when I’m glad I have an experienced Guide with me Who knows the river and knows where the hazards are. And He’s strong enough to keep us on an even keel. But God expects me to engage in the fight to stay upright. I need to use my paddle as I’m able.

Sometimes, when you’re about to be dumped into the river, you just hang onto the sides for dear life. But you’re not going to drown (unless it’s your time to go Home) because Jesus has the lifeline in His hands. When He comes to rescue you, relax, don’t struggle against Him.

But back to the author’s metaphor. “Life is like a river. Every human is a part of the story. One life touches another and is gone.” What does that look like in the picture? Are we flotsam and jetsam? Tree debris? Turtles swimming downstream? Canoes that bump against each other? What do you think?

What other applications can you see in this metaphor?

Shame on You

From my 2009 Journal. Having a judgmental spirit is like trying to cast shame on another person.

Shame Ben

At my boarding school, kids were adept at using a little gesture that meant “shame on you” or “naughty, naughty.” Left pointer finger pointed at the victim. Right pointer finger perpendicular to the left one. Slide right finger repeatedly across and down left finger. Shake the head. “Tsk tsk.”

Why did we do that? Did we learn it from the grown-ups who said to us, “Shame on you!” or “You know better than that.” Do those words actually correct behavior, or do they simply cause the child to cower, believing there’s something wrong with him? Why can’t we discipline and correct without the shaming?

My judgmental spirit and attempt to shame a person is simply self-righteousness. And shame on me for doing so! I am not your judge. When a kid pointed a finger at us in judgment, we’d remind him that three fingers pointed back at himself.

I should just put my shaming fingers in my pocket.

Guilt and Forgiveness—a Visual

Karekare Black Beach 491

Karekare Black Beach, NZ

Guilt is like strolling on a sandy beach—you leave footprints for all to see. You may try to cover your shame by smoothing sand over the prints; but as you walk away, you create more footprints.

Forgiveness is God sending His wind (the Holy Spirit), blowing across the sand, erasing all the prints. And even if you fail again, the wind continues to blow.

But how much better to scramble up onto a solid, flat rock where no footprints can be made and no guilt and shame exist.

I’m on the Rock, hallelujah,

I’m on the Rock to stay,

For He lifted me from the miry clay—

I’m on the Rock to stay.

 

The Worry Worm

From my 2020 Journal. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of trying to give us encouraging words and uplifting things to focus on during our forced isolation from COVID-19, and I’ve purposefully tried to stay away from the topic on my blogs. We’ve heard and seen enough for a lifetime on the news and in social media to bring fear and anxiety into our hearts. I am not afraid, so don’t tell me not to be afraid! But then it hit me. I’m may not be afraid, but I did identify some worry. Oops. So here’s my response.

Worm dried

Worry

Is like a worm,

Weaseling its way into my brain,

A virus that goes viral,

With nothing to stop the corruption.

Too late to quarantine,

It’s already done its damage.

All I can do is holler for help and pray and praise

To arrest it in its tracks and

To wash away the filth of the residue

Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,

God is love, God is love.

Ahhh, sweet peace.

Going Home

From my 2009 Journal. Home, to me, will forever be Nigeria, but part of me got left behind in Indiana. Every 4 years we packed up our suitcases and returned to our passport country to visit our supporting churches. In 1966 (my 6th grade year) we landed in Elkhart, Indiana, and then again, one more time 4 years later, when I was a junior in high school. When my missionary parents returned to Africa again, I stayed behind with a local family for my senior year. These 3 years of my life left me with strong memories, and in July my big sister Grace Anne and I decided to revisit our old haunts.

It’s the middle of the night and my thoughts are ricocheting so fast I can’t sleep. How does one record thoughts, emotions, and impressions, and for whose benefit? I’m experiencing this trip with my sister, which is hugely satisfying since we share the bond of one year’s memories, and I’m eager for the next day’s adventure to begin.

First, we drove over to the old Lindahl’s home where Grace Anne lived during her senior year of high school. Then on to Concord High where she’d attended. Those memories are hers alone, but I’m happy to go with her. We stopped by 137 Parker Ave, where I lived with the Muehlbergs, my host family for my senior year. The new owner invited me inside to see their renovations. “Uncle” John got me my first job working at Accra Pac, an aerosol packaging plant where he was a chemist.

We drove to Central High School where I attended for two years and from which I graduated with 900 other seniors. Too many memories to recount of race riots, loneliness, and cultural adjustments.

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Next, we visited the Grace Bible Church Tabernacle on 2nd Street where I dedicated my life to the Lord. I’d forgotten there was a laundromat next door. I recall Sunday school, Wednesday night prayer meetings, playing marimba duets with Grace, the ladies giving a Tupperware shower for my mom to take back to Africa, and hanging out with Debbie and Dennis and other kids my age. The elderly saints in the church left such an impression

GBC Tabernacle 2009

Grace Bible on 2nd Street

on me. The current pastor (the 7th occupant of this building), who has a ministry to inner city dwellers, invited us in to look around. The ceiling had been lowered, there was no central aisle, and the platform was changed. I was glad to see that God is still at work here.

Two blocks down the street on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Pottawattomi Drive was the old parsonage, our home where I first learned to use the telephone. This is my story, my history. I’ve relived it in my mind many times. My mom was sick with Hodgkin’s that year, and we didn’t like Dad’s cooking! Snapshots in my mind of Grace Anne collecting fashion photos, of finding marbles in the heat register in my brother Paul’s bedroom, of packing for our summer trip across the USA.

I wanted so much to peek inside and see my old upstairs bedroom and feel the pulse of my mother’s piano and experience again the joy of the Young People’s gathering at our house when we played “rhythm” and ate cherry cobbler with red hots (my mom’s favorite dessert) in the living room. Christmas excitement and playing with Duke our dog and ironing in front of the TV in the basement. Marimba lessons and slip-sliding in the oversize bathtub and begging my mom to buy a new brand of toothpaste because I’d seen it advertised on TV, another novelty to us.

The neighborhood is seedy now and multi-racial. The neighbor across the street came out to chat and fill us in on the state of the house: it’s in foreclosure for $10,000 and no one lives there. So sad.

Jingle Jump

I stood outside our home and “watched” my 6th grade self playing Jingle Jump on the sidewalk. I saw me climbing the tree out front with my boyfriend Terry Bunn and climbing out the bedroom window onto the roof. I see the black walnut tree in the back yard and me practicing baton twirling. When I pose for a photo in front of this old house that’s falling down around itself, my immediate thought is that I want to send the snapshot to my mom who died earlier this year.

2nd and Pottawattomi 2009

The parsonage, now condemned

My best friend Kathy lived on the same block, we walked to school together each day, and we lived at each other’s houses and formed the TGTG (The Glued Together Girls) club. She taught me to make snow angels, and we played king of the mountain. Besides hundreds of

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Kathy’s house

 games of Yahtzee, we biked down to McDonald’s in the winter for a warm bite of hamburger and French fries; and when the A&W opened a root beer stand, we were in heaven. It was the year that Kathy preferred to be at our house because her daddy was raping her at hers, and I was too ignorant to know. Grace and I drove slowly past her house, and memories flooded back.

My Samuel Strong School building now houses a business. Memories, memories. How do I record them all? Open stall bathrooms in the basement, volleyball in the low-ceilinged gym, cheerleading for the guys’ teams, fire drills, skating on ice for the first time, giving my testimony in class, being teased for being the teacher’s pet. My teacher, Mr. Mann, got saved that year. One time I picked dandelions on the way to school to present to him, and the boys ridiculed me for giving him weeds. (How was I to know?) I was elected to be a crossing guard, but I was too scared to accept since I didn’t know what that was!

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Samuel Strong School

Kathy and I would stop on our way home at a Mom-and-Pop grocery store to buy candy cigarettes (yes, I did) and wax pop bottles or wax lips filled with sweet liquid. We sucked on enormous icicles dripping from the eaves in winter and kicked fall leaves across the sidewalks.

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Next, Grace Anne and I attended the evening service at Grace Bible Church (now located on Edwardsburg Ave) where in high school I had sung in the choir, attended youth group, taught Sunday School and determined where I’d go to college.

The next day, we drove by the 1432 Okema Street house where Mom and Dad and I had lived for my 11th grade, and where I learned to babysit for the first time. I rang the doorbell, and I could sense movement inside, but no one answered.

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2009 in front of our Okema Street house

Our short visit had come to a close, and my heart was full. These are MY memories. With whom do I share them? I record them for myself so that in my old age I have somewhere to refresh and keep the memories alive. I don’t share these with my children because they weren’t there. But maybe someday they’ll visit one of these spots in Elkhart and stand there and say, “My mother’s spirit was here.”

You Made Your Own Bed . . .

From my 2009 Journal. A few years ago, I had a friend (A) who adopted two girls from another country. One day my friend injured her leg and she struggled to take care of them. Another friend (B) dismissed it with the attitude “Well, she asked for it.” (i.e. she had no business adopting if she couldn’t afford them.) I was shocked and surprised at B’s attitude. Yes, Friend A had made that choice, and yes, she has to live with her choices, but it wasn’t A’s fault that she injured her leg and needed compassionate help.

Perhaps I should examine my own heart, however. A smoker I know is struggling with emphysema, and I don’t feel like giving him any sympathy. Of course I would never withhold getting an oxygen tank to him if he ran out, but I’d still roll my eyes and think he made his own bed and must lie in it! I guess I’m no better than Friend B and her judgment.

Or I think of someone who struggles with physical challenges because she is obese. Do I withhold compassion and mercy when she has a stroke? In a way, you could say she asked for it, but I don’t think that’s the right response. Instead, I need God’s compassion for her in her debilitating state. In the same way, I need God’s pity and mercy for my own struggles that keep me bound and powerless to change.

The thing is, I can readily see the solution to everyone else’s problem, but find it harder to deal with my own. Quit smoking! Lose weight! Turn to Christ! Let go of your anger! Forgive that person who hurt you! But when I look inward at my own issues, I find I can easily make excuses for my own actions and attitudes.

You may have made your own bed and must lie in it, but I can choose to help you change your sheets.

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Relationship with Adult Children

From my 2009 Journal. I’m still learning what is appropriate and what isn’t in relationship with a newly-adult child under our roof. Is it reasonable to expect our daughter to pick up after herself in family living areas? To help with the dishes? With cooking? With cleaning the house? And if she chooses not to, when is it permissible to speak to her about it? I realize communication at this point can be tricky. My expectations and desires for a neat and tidy house must be subservient to maintaining relationship. Therefore, I am far more tolerant of mess than I would be if I were still trying to train her.

Living in a dorm situation she discovered firsthand what it feels like to have a roommate who never assists in the kitchen. So when she came home from college, I was delighted to hear of her intentions to help out more in the kitchen. But if she’s too tired to help out for a couple days, why do I hold her to her good intentions? Why do I feel resentful when I return home to find breakfast dishes still in the sink? So she slept late that day, worked the entire day, and ran out of energy before the work was done after supper . . . I do not fault her, but I do have to figure out why I feel what I do and what is an appropriate response.

VISUAL: As a young mom, I had three girls in a wagon, and I was pulling with all my strength, trying to get them to follow me. If I tried to get them out of the wagon to assist or to walk on their own, they whined and cried “We’re too tired!” and then they pushed and shoved and fought each other. What am I doing wrong?

How did a friend of mine get her children out of the wagon and behind the thing or in front to help? I don’t know. I just know that I have to quit pulling. It’s time I drop the wagon handle and walk away. There’s work to be done. The trick now is not to become resentful or nagging or whining myself.

The trouble is when people in the wagon get comfortable there, they begin to expect you to bring their food to them and clean the playpen for them. But now they’re old enough to clean their own area . . . and they don’t, and I trip over the toys and have to clean around them. It’s a perpetual issue with a husband too (sorry Scott). Relationships are messy!

I feel so many times like a Martha. Lord have mercy, and God forgive me!

So . . . I can “whistle while I work.” Praise God that I have two arms and two hands. Praise Him that I’m not in a wheelchair and unable to stand at the sink. Change my attitude and enjoy the brief time I have with my daughter. What’s a little mess matter when I can have her company. She’ll soon be gone and I’ll miss her.

God’s Extravagance

From my 2009 Journal. Scott and I are out of town visiting our middle daughter who is pregnant with our first grand-baby. We needed some milk and a vegetable for dinner, so we sent Scott to the grocery store for these two items. Ladies, you can already predict what happened . . . He returned with three bags of newborn diapers (not needed for another five months), a box of cereal, some salad dressing (both of which we already had on hand but he didn’t know it), three bags of cookies, the milk, the requested veggie, and some tea.

I started to grouse about his over-kill when the Lord struck me with this thought: “This is like Me—an over-abundant, extravagant, generous, over-flowing, more-than-you-need kind of God. Do not spurn generosity.”

Thank You, Lord, for Your extravagant gifts and for my generous husband.

Groceries