Public Tears

From my 2009 Journal. Grief is a very private affair that sometimes turns public. In America we watch mourners at funerals, and if they don’t cry, we say that they are holding up well. I think Middle Easterners and my African friends have a better perspective. They set aside a time to wail and to mourn—publicly. Their cultural norm is to let the emotions out when a loved one passes away. There’s something healthy about this practice. So why do we keep back tears when we are in public? 

Sometimes when you hurt, you want space to cry alone, away from prying eyes. I remember while at boarding school, crying alone or privately was nearly impossible. Someone invariably would insist on asking why you were crying and then try to fix it for you with platitudes: It’ll be all right. God knows best. Romans 8:28, etc. Or worse yet: Don’t cry! Sometimes you just didn’t feel like sharing your hurt with them, but it felt rude to say it was none of their business. All you really needed was for someone to hold you or cry with you.

FireMy Visual: When I am grieving, I have a secret place in my heart where fire is burning and glowing and I need to release that pain. But if someone opens the door of my heart without my permission and snatches that fire, and I don’t know if I can trust him or her or not with my heart,  it feels like a violation.

It is okay to protect your heart. You don’t have to respond rudely if you don’t care to share. Just be honest: I don’t feel like talking about it right now. If they care about you, they’ll respect your space. If they’re pushy, just walk away. But that fire will consume you if you don’t open the door at some point. Grief needs to be released in order to heal a broken heart.

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord . . . (Lamentations 2:19).

How do you handle grief when you are in public and why?

How Do You Draw Faith?

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The history of the Mission under which I grew up includes a little story about Roland Bingham, one of the founders of the Mission, arriving at the train station with no money in hand, but with faith that God would supply his need. And God did just that. (You can watch a 1968 reenactment of his life here.) So when I heard that story as a child, I began to berate myself that I did not seem to have enough faith. I wasn’t sure I could ever pack my bags and blindly go off somewhere and expect God to meet my needs.

How does one define the word faith? First a little grammar lesson. By definition, a NOUN is a person (man, Mr. Jones), place (home, Iowa), thing (desk, lamp) or idea (love, courage). Concrete nouns like man or desk are easy to visualize or to draw on a piece of paper. Ideas not so much. We do have symbols for some ideas, like a Valentine heart for love or a dove for peace, but how do you draw faith?

Faith became a rather nebulous concept to me. I didn’t know how to visualize it . . . until I read this lovely story in the Bible about Caleb, one of only two spies who believed that the Israelite army could defeat the giants in the land of Canaan.

We pick up the story when the 40 years of wandering in the desert are over, and the leader Joshua is over 100 years old when Caleb approaches him with this request:

Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said (Joshua 14:10-14 NIV, emphasis added).

My conclusion is that faith is not blindly believing something without evidence or deciding to do something based on what I want to see happen. Faith is believing and acting on what God has already said.

So back to the story of the missionary at the train station.  God had clearly told Mr. Bingham to go to Africa, and so he packed his trunk and headed to the train station to begin his journey. It wasn’t until he took this step of faith that he was handed cash for the ticket. (If you want to read more of the story, click here.)

What does faith look like to you? Can you draw a picture of it on a piece of paper?

Keep Your Mouth Shut!

I’ve said some pretty stupid and hurtful things when I’ve been emotionally triggered. And once words were spoken, they were awfully hard to put back in the box. I wonder what set off Miriam, Moses’ sister?

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.  “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Numbers 12:1-2a NIV).

We only meet Moses’ first wife Zipporah a couple times in the Scriptures and then nothing during the wilderness march. Does Moses take a second wife or is Zipporah now dead? We don’t know.

Do you suppose the Cushite wife made a comment over dinner preparations one day to her in-laws about how privileged and great her husband was? And Miriam and Aaron got jealous or defensive? After all, had God not used them (especially Aaron) in a mighty way in Egypt as the front-man speaker to Pharaoh? And hadn’t Miriam felt some ownership in caring for her baby brother when he was placed in the Nile? By association, she was the privileged one, in the inner circle. Who was this Cushite woman who was horning her way into the family business? Why can’t I speak against my own brother? she thinks. Who does he think he is? I’m a part of this team, aren’t I? Did Miriam feel left out?

In any case, this interesting phrase follows: And the LORD heard this. As a parent, I could listen to my children squabbling in another room and not say or do anything. But when the altercation brought one of them to tears or one was teased or hurt or put down, I tried to intervene and mete out justice or punishment to the offender and comfort to the wounded.

Whatever was going on in this family, it got God’s attention, and He came to Moses’ defense. “Suddenly” (without warning, in the midst of their conversation), says the Scripture,  God speaks to the three of them: Come to the tent of meeting.

Uh-oh. Someone’s in trouble. The parent steps in to take control. Only there’s no questioning here about who said what or who’s to blame. He knows! The cloud pillar comes down to the door, and there’s no escaping this confrontation.

“Aaron and Miriam—step forward,” God commands. It’s a lineup of guilty parties. “Step out of the lineup, you two.”

Hear My words. (Words had been spoken by the created. Now words are to be spoken by the Creator.) When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

And instantly Miriam becomes leprous. But why only her? Why not Aaron as well? Had God “spoken by Aaron”? Well yes, He had. But He had never (at least in the recorded word) spoken by Miriam. So perhaps Aaron’s part in the guilt was in not defending his brother?

I’m intrigued with Moses’ reaction. Instead of revengeful thoughts (Ha! Miriam deserved it! She’s getting what she asked for—she had no right to say what she did), he flies to her aid. He pleads with God to restore her. Why?

And Aaron who had just reviled his brother cries out: O, my lord, I plead with you; lay not the sin upon us. (Us? He’s not the one being punished, but he was in the lineup. He drove the getaway car—a co-conspirator.)  We have done foolishly. (He recognizes his/their guilt. The God of the Universe has exposed his heart.)

And God listens to Moses and agrees to remove Miriam’s leprosy—after seven days outside the camp. 

We live with the consequences of our indiscretions.

But Miriam’s response? Nothing. Nada. Silence. Don’t you know Miriam never made that mistake again? What a painful life lesson to learn:

Keep your mouth shut when you’re triggered!

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Command or Culture?

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind (Romans 14:5 NIV).

I just returned home from my mission boarding school reunion in Texas. One topic of conversation among the MKs (Missionary Kids) was the memories of what activities were forbidden growing up (going to movies, dancing, playing cards) and what our parents permitted us to do on Sundays (not much!).

How does one determine in the Scriptures what is an Old Testament command or a promise for the Israelites and what is intended for the believer today? How can we pick and choose which of Paul’s admonitions are meant for us and which for the church in his day?

When Paul asked believers to pray for him while he was in jail, this is obviously not a command for us in the 21st century to pray for him. But when he asks us to remember those who are in prison, we can certainly apply that injunction to someone today who is incarcerated.

What about when he told the Corinthian women to cover their heads? Was this a command for every woman across every culture and ethnic group and time period? Some people believe so. I’m not one of them.

How then do we discern and determine what commands God has for us today? The apostles grappled with this very thing in the first century. Were they permitted to eat meat offered to idols or not? I think every generation must struggle with and debate the controversial topics that arise at the time.

I remember back in the 70s when male Christians were admonished not to grow their hair long or wear facial hair because—at that time—it represented a worldly symbol of rebellion. Today, that connotation is gone. (In fact, I quite like the look of my sons-in-law with their beards.) And a time when women’s hair must never be cut, for that was their glory. Is God less pleased with me because mine is short?

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Two handsome dudes — Josh and Alex

Or take the subject of modesty. There was a time in our country’s past when it was considered inappropriate for a lady to show her ankles. And a time when showing cleavage was quite fashionable (though only in the evening)—and then it wasn’t—and now it is again. Yet where I grew up in an African village, the women all went bare-chested. (Today, not so much.)

So who gets to dictate the standard for modesty? Can it change over time? From one culture to another? Are there any absolutes, or is it always first and foremost a matter of the heart?

So I have to ask myself where is my heart today? Do I hold some pet traditions that I think are biblical mandates when in reality they’re merely cultural preferences? Is it okay for men to wear ball caps indoors today, whereas in the past it was considered quite improper? Does the Bible address this issue?

The Scriptures say each person must examine his or her own heart and be fully convinced as to what’s right for him or her regarding sacred days. We are to listen to our inner conscience as directed by the Holy Spirit. But I don’t like that. I’m just enough of a Pharisee that I want absolutes: put on this, don’t wear that. Give me rules any day over principles and then I don’t have to grapple with the subject. With principles, my judgmental spirit is required to relax and be more grace-filled with those who differ from me.

Guess I’ll go buy a headscarf and see if I’ll feel more spiritual—or not!

What issues, cultural or scriptural, do you grapple with today and why?

Pleasing God

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6 KJV).

From my 2007 Journal. I’m struggling with the concept of pleasing God. I know I fulfill Condition #1: I believe that He is. But sometimes I doubt Condition #2: that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. His rewards, I believe, are for more deserving people—those who have done grandiose things for Him—the Billy Grahams or the mega-church pastors, the self-sacrificing missionaries, the martyrs. Like David, I ask Who am I, that God is mindful of me? But this verse states that if I don’t fulfill Condition #2, it shows I lack faith (and thus it is impossible to please Him).

Because it’s not quantifiable, I think I need to define “diligently.” I find that seeking God is a time-intensive activity. Though my heart and will are always present, there are seasons of my life or times of the day when I feel more earnestness and diligence than at other times. When do I diligently seek God? Most obviously in my quiet time with Him. Second, while I’m in an inner healing prayer session with someone. But what about the rest of the time—when I’m chatting on the phone, writing an email, doing a jigsaw puzzle, or taking a walk? When I’m reading a novel, I’m not actively “seeking God.” We wouldn’t be able to function if that’s all we did—stayed on our knees in prayer 24-7. God expects us to sleep, to eat, to prepare food, to teach our children, to work at our jobs, to take breaks, to recreate, to have fun. Because I’m a one-track-minded person, I seem to be able to focus on God primarily when I’m alone and undisturbed. Even church is not an easy venue for me because there are so many distractions.

I can never seem to attain, never measure up. I always fall short of the glory of God. And It makes me sad that I cannot attain or measure up. He’s too far up, too far away, at the top of a sky-high ladder and I’m at the bottom looking up, like Jack and the Beanstalk.

In this fairy tale, Jack trades the family cow for some magic beans, and when he climbs the vine up into the sky, he discovers an evil ogre who owns a goose that lays golden eggs. I can feel Jack’s fear and dread as he decides to steal the goose—as if I, too, have done something wrong. I have stolen what is not mine, and I feel my mother’s disapproval for my foolishness in trading a cow for some beans. The fairy tale’s happily-ever-after ending seems like ill-gotten gain!

And so I rewrite the story in my mind: I would consult my mother before trading beans. If I had planted them, I would not have invaded the ogre’s palace. I would have attempted to make friends with him, and I certainly wouldn’t have stolen from him. And therefore, I would not have had to chop down the vine to murder him! The ogre would share his feast with me because he would be a generous and benevolent king.

And so God changes the visual for me. Instead of my planting a vine, God lowers a heavenly escalator, safe and protected on all sides to carry me up to His heaven. He has extended an invitation to me to enter His palace, to eat at His table, to sit by His fire and warm myself. He’s even given me a feather bed to lie down on when I become weary. And when I wake, refreshed, there are rooms to explore and meadows and orchards and climbing trees to enjoy.

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Photo by Rick St. John from Pexels

In my new scenario, God is not an ogre in the clouds waiting to clobber me, but a relational Father who has created a child’s fairy palace for me to enjoy.

Am I pleasing to God? He chose me, proposed to me, asked me to be His bride. And I said yes. He’s preparing our home for us right now. And I’m preparing, making ready, having fun planning for the wedding, consulting Him on everything, because He has all the materials I/we need to have a spectacular wedding day.

So do I believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him? The answer is yes. Therefore, I have faith; therefore I do please Him—because I do believe.

“I want to be ready when Jesus comes.”

I’m a One-Talent Gal

From my 2007 Journal. There’s a parable in Luke 19 that has always bothered me. A man goes on a journey and entrusts five talents to one of his servants and expects him to double the gift. He gives two talents to another and expects him to double that, and one talent to the third, “each according to his ability.” Of course the punchline of the parable has to do with the one-talent guy burying his money instead of investing it. But my mind goes to the amount of the gift given in the first place. It seems unfair somehow. I personally don’t want the responsibility of doing the work to multiply five talents, but I’d like to receive the reward for doing so! But you can’t have the one without the other.

I have this feeling that I’m one of the one-talent recipients and I better make the most of it. Yet somehow I equate value or worth with the fact that I’ve only been given one. Why?

AwardI think it goes back to boarding school, Grade 9. I don’t recall anymore what all the qualifications were, but the most coveted award for the end of the school year was “Best, All-round Girl/Boy Award.” I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for the names to be called out. I want it so bad I can taste it. But when I’m given the award, I have mixed emotions. My pride (God forgive me) steps up to the plate and says I deserve it.

On the other hand, I see the shock and disapproval on someone’s face and I feel like a fake—apparently she didn’t think I deserved the award. I knew I was NOT the most talented, nor was I the most gracious. I was stuck up and prideful. I felt like I had hoodwinked the staff who had voted for me, but my peers knew better. That award belonged to someone else who was more talented than I and who certainly had a better attitude. I felt exposed, naked, ashamed. But I held my head up high and marched to the front of the auditorium to receive that precious little piece of metal.

I have long since repented of my pride, and God has covered me with His righteousness, but I still have to address the thought that I may have only been given one talent. Am I willing to accept God’s gift, no matter how small or how large and be faithful to serve Him with it? Today my answer is YES!

How many talents do you believe God has given you and why? And is it prideful to admit you have more than one?

Chosen

He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Worm

Journal 2018. Like many of you, I grew up singing the old familiar hymns and I still love them, but there are two songs that contain lyrics that I just could not identify with as a five-year-old child: “Amazing grace . . . that saved a wretch like me” and “Alas! and did my Savior bleed . . . For such a worm as I.” Mom told me that God loved me and I believed her. I sure didn’t feel like a wretch or a worm! I felt special.

I was unaware of the forces around me as a five-year-old when I chose Jesus to be my Savior. I was like an orphan, and God chose me out of the orphanage to be His royal child. Why? He’s the one who created me in the first place. But why didn’t He choose Susie or Billy or John? Why did I get to be raised in a Christian home by loving parents? Why am I so privileged today to live in a land of abundance, with ample food on the table? It makes me grateful and I feel special. But what about all the little children who are chosen to live in paganism or poverty? How do I / should I feel about them?

And I hear Jesus’ answer to His disciples: that’s none of your business! (Karen’s paraphrase). Am I willing to let God take care of my questions? Let God be God?

Where is the balance of truth between believing “I’m worthless, a worm, a sinful creature” and “I’ve been adopted into royalty”? Just because I got picked out of a lineup, does that make me special? On what basis did He choose me? Gideon’s 300 men were chosen, supposedly, because they were alert and watchful. They passed a simple test of raising water to their lips. But they didn’t even know they were being tested!

There is a balance between predestination and freewill that seems to trip us up. I think the invitation is for everyone: whosoever will may come. All are invited. To those who step out of the lineup and take a step of faith toward Him, these He chooses. He called, I answered, and He gave me my assignment. Not out of any merit of my own did I diligently seek God, however. I deserve nothing, but I would have been a fool to reject or renounce my royal invitation. I’m glad I accepted. But there is no pride permitted there. He is the One who wooed me and loved me and won my heart. When I choose to diligently seek Him, I believe He rewards that choice.

I suspect that the lyricists John Newton and Isaac Watts were feeling bad about themselves and their life choices and therefore believed they were wretched and worthless, but that’s not how God saw them. The truth set them free. And He can do the same for you and me.

Moving Day

By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take (Nehemiah 9:12).

May 2018. Packing and frequent transitions were a normal part of my life as an MK (Missionary Kid), but it’s different now that I’m an adult. Just the thought of moving makes me tired. I have two daughters in transition right now. I don’t envy them. Moving is disruptive, time-consuming, and unsettling to one’s little routines.

So I try to imagine being an Israelite housewife wandering in the desert. When the cloud or the fire moves, I have to pack up everything I own and get back on the trek. When it stays put, I get to stay a little longer in my tent. The pillar can move at any time and I have to trust God for His perfect timing. And maybe I have little kids who need routine and naps and bedtimes on schedule, and maybe I’m about to give birth to Number Six. But God says I must be flexible enough to pack up all my possessions at a moment’s notice and move on. You almost don’t want to unpack because you may only be at this location for 24 hours . . . or 24 days. You just don’t know. At least my daughters know their destinations and plan to stay there for a while.

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Scott and I recently visited Solomon’s Pillars and copper mines in the desert at Timnah Park, Israel

I, personally, would have found this situation most unsettling! I wonder how long it took for the entire camp to start moving? After marching all day, could the Levites set up the tabernacle in just a few hours—with circus-tent efficiency? Up one day, down the next. What a life!

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We visited a full-size replica of the wilderness tabernacle in Timna Park

But they knew that there was a goal at the end of their trek—a land ahead, promised for them, a good land, flowing with milk and honey.

I can’t wait for the day when I reach Canaan Land—when I have a permanent residence in heaven. No more packing and unpacking, no more moving, no more good-byes. No more temporary storing of worldly goods or worrying about breakage because things didn’t get packed securely enough for the moving truck. No more decisions about what to keep and what to throw or give away. I get to leave the worldly stuff all behind because I won’t need it anymore. Everything I need—all my real treasures—will already be there, waiting for me.

How do YOU feel about moving?

Grumbling and Complaining

 

 

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Wadi Qilt in the Judean Wilderness

And the people grumbled and deplored their hardships, which was evil in the ears of the Lord (Numbers 10:37).

May, 2018. When I first heard this verse as a little girl, I piously thought that if I’d been an Israelite, I would never have complained about my lot. Indeed, I determined then and there to stop grumbling when I didn’t get my way. (I may have kept that vow for a whole day.)

Scott and I recently came back from a trip to the Israeli and Jordanian wilderness. After experiencing miles and miles of unrelenting drought and rocky mountains and heat, I have a new appreciation for why the Israelites complained. Of course my observation comes from the cushioned seat of an air-conditioned bus, but still . . . .

The Israelites were fed up. They were sick and tired of manna sandwiches, manna soup, and manna salads, and they lusted after their flavorful Egyptian dishes. They declared, “Now our soul (our strength) is dried up.” And no wonder! With only six inches of rain a year, where is there enough water in a desert for a million or more people? And so they wept and they complained to Moses. I can picture the little kids whining, “Are we there yet? I’m so tired, hot, and thirsty. My feet hurt.” And the moms, carrying their extra loads, not knowing how far they’d have to walk each day, worried about dehydration (they didn’t have ice-cold, bottled water provided by the bus driver).

The result? God’s fire burned the edges of the camp.

The people’s reaction? They cried out to Moses.

Moses’ response? He cried out to God. “Why? Why? Why? Where? I can’t. I’m not able. Kill me. The burden is too heavy.”

So what’s the difference between the words of the Israelites and the words of Moses? The difference is to whom they complained. Moses directed his words to God. The words were melodramatic, to be sure, but honest. His was not an attitude of lust and rejection of God’s provision. His were words of despair because he was carrying too heavy a burden and his knees were starting to buckle.

God’s response: He came to Moses’ aid. He had him choose 70 men to help carry the load.

And the fire in the camp subsided, and they named the place Kibroth-hattaava (the graves of sensuous desire) because they buried there the people who lusted and whose physical appetite caused them to sin.

Buried in the desert? I used to picture the Sinai Peninsula as gently rolling hills of silty, Sahara-like sand. But as we had to carefully watch our footing over rocky ground, I wondered aloud how the wanderers accomplished this feat. I still don’t have an answer.

Anyway, I came away with two thoughts: I have no right to judge another person’s struggles until I have walked 40 years in their dusty sandals. And second, what can I do when I find myself in the desert? Talk to God instead of whining to other people.

I Have Everything I Need–Really?

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (II Peter 1:3 NIV).

In this verse Peter is not talking about having all our material needs met—such as food, clothing, and shelter. He’s referring to everything we need in order to live a godly life. So if this verse is true (and I believe it is), why do we struggle so? Why can’t we just lay everything at the feet of Jesus and quit worrying? Why don’t we always make godly choices?

Money

Is there one area you’ve struggled with all of your life? For most of my married years, it was money. I deliberately chose to be a stay-at-home mom to my three girls at a time when many of my peers were starting their careers. If something had happened to Scott, our family’s bread-winner, I would have had no skills with which to support myself and my little family. I kept laying my worry on the altar and it kept jumping off again! But one day as I was trying to process my emotions, I heard the Lord say, “Karen, I am the husband of widows. I will take care of you.” From that moment on, my heart was at rest.

How did that happen? I had known in my head all the platitudes about trusting God and believing His word and His promises. I had knowledge of God’s character. But I didn’t know it in my heart until the day I agreed to feel and face my fear. Once I laid down my self-protection, my self-preservation, and my worry, God was able to speak truth to my heart that brought me to peace. And there’s my life theme again—In the Pursuit of Peace.

How may I help you today to find God’s peace?