Prejudgment

From my 2013 Journal.

I stood in line at the Wal-Mart return counter behind a beautiful, young black lady linked arm-in-arm with a white man. From my view of their backs, it appeared to be an unlikely pairing. His head tilted a little to the left as if in affection. In my right periphery, another strange couple appeared—a white man with a very obese woman. Though there were two employees behind the counter, we all lined up single file so we could approach whichever clerk became available next.

I tsked under my breath when the couple to my right inched their way forward and nudged into line beside me. Though inwardly indignant, I remained outwardly gracious. If they wanted to be rude and ignore protocol, that was their problem.

The couple in front of me advanced to the counter, and I stepped forward to take their spot. At that moment, the couple on the right pushed past me to get in line directly behind the first couple. Astonished at their brazenness, I turned to the lady behind me to observe her reaction and mirrored her surprise. I shrugged and rolled my eyes as if to say, “Some people! Whatever!”

When the first couple finished their transaction, both couples turned and exited the room together. That’s when realization dawned. These were two special-needs people with their caretakers. The second couple was simply trying to stay close to their group. I felt duly ashamed of myself for my prejudgment. God forgive me!

Heavenly Worship

(1950s) Dad building our church out of mud brick and a tin roof. What remains in 2014 after storm damage.

From my 2013 Journal.

My first memories of church included sitting for hours on a backless mud bench, singing mostly American hymns translated into Hausa, accompanied by my missionary mother playing the accordion. Dad’s preaching would lull me to sleep if Mom didn’t occupy me with crackers. Women sat on one side of the church, men on the other, and nearly-naked children squished shoulder to shoulder on the floor or front pews. In later years, local pastors and women playing indigenous musical instruments led the joyful service.

This week, when one of my African-American neighbors died, his dear wife invited three of us white folks over to meet some of her friends who had arrived to provide comfort. They all circled up, holding hands, singing and praying—loud, long, repetitive, simultaneously. We three stood quietly apart, singing softly, joining in with our hearts. Later, at the funeral, the preacher’s sermon included thunderous shouting, huffing with each sentence, accompanied by organ crescendos and a robed choir.

I thought back to an Easter service at the Eastern Orthodox Church where I visited with a Jordanian friend. Worship included quiet a capella music and chanting, solemn contemplative rituals, and a brief homily. Beautiful icons, candles and incense completed the sensory experience.

At my contemporary interdenominational church, the congregational singing predictably goes from loud hand-clapping, hand-raising, drum-beating musical numbers with guitars and electronic keyboard accompaniment led by a group of performers followed by one quiet song before the conversational-style, 30-minute sermon.

Worship cultures . . . each with their own traditions, expectations, idiosyncrasies. There’s no right or wrong way—unless the heart and mind aren’t engaged.

And my preference? I’m somewhere in the middle—neither monkishly contemplative nor exuberantly outward in expression. Quiet suits me best as an introvert. And call me a heretic, but give me an intimate dialogue or deep conversation any day over a sermon lecture. Yet I still choose to attend churches that might not suit my personal preferences. I need the variety of the body.

What will heaven’s worship be like? In the book of Revelation, John records moments of loud and times of silence. Somehow all nations, tribes, and tongues will be unified in their worship and will enjoy Him together. I can’t wait!

Be Prepared!

From my 2014 Journal. For our tour in Israel, our leader, Charlie Dyer, supplied each of us with headphone devices so he could speak to us in crowded places. Each time we arrived at a site, we’d leave our personal belongings on the bus and carry only minimal necessities—camera, notebook and pen, and of course the headphones. Because of their weight, I opted to leave behind the provided spare batteries.

When we arrived in Jerusalem, the climax of our journey, the bus driver dropped us off on the top of the Mount of Olives. It was crucial to have our listening devices with us if we didn’t want to lose our way among the elbow-to-elbow crowds.

To my chagrin, my headphone batteries died just as we began to descend the mountain. I felt like one of the virgins in the wedding parable who had neglected to bring extra oil for her lamp. I learned a powerful and humbling experiential lesson!

But all turned out well. Someone in our group graciously let me borrow his extra batteries. The God of second chances!

How Can I Help You?

What’s in your hand?

From my 2013 Journal.

When someone shares a problem with me, Miss Fix-it here tends to jump in with a solution. I’ve learned, however, it’s better to find out what the person wants or expects first, or I may get a rebuttal. Sometimes people don’t want a solution; they just want a listening ear.

The prophet Elisha asked the prophet’s widow, How can I help you? What do you have in your house?

God asked Moses, What do you have in your hand?

And Jesus asked the disciples, How much bread do you have?

We need to start with what we have and work from there. This is a principle I learned from the book When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert regarding poverty—start where a person is, using the resources they already have. Don’t just jump in to fix it. Let them be part of their own solution.

A 2021 Update. I’m reading The Power of Moments by Chip Heath. In section II, the author suggests a better question for a health professional to ask than “What’s the matter with you?” is “What matters to you?”

Sometimes the solution lies in asking the right question.

Need help?

Unbalanced

From my 2015 Journal.

I have been working at breakneck speed for too long. I neglected to rest after an Intensive Retreat with a client, and when I finally found half a day to myself, instead of relaxing, I trudged right up to bedtime. Drowning in over-commitment and pulled in too many directions, my stressed body and chaotic mind won’t shut down. I keep writing lists and the lists keep growing. My mind’s hard drive is full and, with no margin, I’m afraid it will crash. Meanwhile, any quality time with family and God suffers.

Currently, I’m planning two reunions, five trips, editing a magazine, teaching Sunday school, and preparing for two Bible study groups. And in the midst of these commitments, the floodgates for ministry opportunities opened wide. I crave peace and quiet, but drama reigns. I must cease striving and be still, put down my calendar and to-do list, set aside my goals (for now) and return to my priorities.

Visual: I see a picture of me as a teacher with her pupils (i.e. my to-do list). I delight in seeing a room full of wiggly children, but I have tolerated an unruly, chaotic classroom for too long. I place each child in her own cubicle—a cylindrical tube with a lid. I can keep the lids latched, but that takes away the fun away of watching little fingers waving in the air for attention. I instruct them to raise their hands for permission to stand and be recognized before speaking. The others must sit still and wait their turn. Okay . . . which child wants to go first?

Oh! Now I see Jesus behind me, directing their order. I don’t even have to worry about choosing.

Suddenly, a curtain descends in front of the group, the noise in my head stops, and I am alone with Jesus. Whew! I needed this. Refresh, refocus, return.

Be still before the Lord (Zechariah 2:13).

Unripe Fruit

From my 2013 Journal.

Recently, I broached a subject with a friend about an issue I’d noticed in her life. Her steely hard, plant-the-feet-in-the-ground, defensive posture, and irrational response all told me this subject was a trigger, and I needed to back off. She’s obviously not ready to receive my input, and so I have to let it go.

I know her heart desires truth, but she’s not ready to face her pain. And that’s okay. It’s God’s job to gently woo her to Himself and prepare her heart to be willing.

Don’t pick unripe fruit!

Keeping a Dream Alive

From my 2013 Journal.

Reading a biography or memoir may be interesting, entertaining, or even inspiring—but rarely life-changing, unless it intersects with my own—when I identify with the character in some way.

This morning I read Caleb, the spy’s story in Joshua 14. At age 40, he saw a piece of property he wanted in the land of Canaan, but because of the Israelites’ rebellion, he had to wander with them for 40 years in the desert. At age 85, he asked leader Joshua for that same territory, determined to rout the inhabitants with God’s help. Talk about keeping a dream alive!

Caleb’s faith sharply contrasts with the descendants of Joseph who complained they didn’t have enough land for their families. Joshua said to them, “Go clear the forest and you’ll have enough” (Joshua 17:17-18).

“But they have iron chariots!” they whined.

I can see Joshua rolling his eyes. “You’re numerous and powerful; you can do it.”

So I try to connect with this story. What dream have I held onto? Some dreams, I know, I must grieve and let go. But if God-directed, what excuses do I use not to fulfill it? Sometimes I need patience, endurance, and perseverance to wait.

What dream have you kept alive?

Food for Today

From my 2013 Journal.

All art forms have potential to touch the soul. Some (like paintings, photography, and sculptures) are tangible and static, and you can linger over them. Performances (like music and theatre) are fluid—you can’t capture and freeze them except in your mind. Different art forms appeal to different senses (sculpture—eye/touch, music—ear, performance—eye/ear). The written word can be tactile (holding the book, typing a manuscript) or cerebral, creating images with words.

As a visual learner, auditory input is so transient for me. When the music stops, it doesn’t stay in my head like it does for my daughter Sharon. And, unlike daughters Cindy and Katie, visual art doesn’t linger either, once I look away. Stories, for me, last the longest, though I quickly forget the details.

Could it be that feeding the spirit is also transitory? I learn a lesson or a truth but quickly forget to apply it to the next lesson or circumstance. I have a hard time holding on to it. If I can’t remember the Scriptures I read yesterday, does this mean I may as well quit reading? Of course not. Just because I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday doesn’t mean I wasn’t nourished.

What’s the solution? Daily doses of food for the mind, soul, body, and spirit.

Overwhelmed

From my 2015 Journal.

If I let it, the news this week could leave me feeling overwhelmed:

  • Earthquake in Nepal
  • Flooding and tornadoes in Texas
  • Riots in Baltimore
  • Beheadings in Syria
  • Shootings on campuses
  • Starvation in India

Meanwhile, I go about my sheltered, stress-free, cushy life. Catastrophes in other parts of the world don’t affect my daily life and decisions. If they did, I’d be the one in crisis and I couldn’t function. If I don’t feel pain when you’re in pain, that’s a good thing. I don’t want a doctor operating on me when he has a broken arm. I need him to be healthy and well.

For two full days this week I listened to three abuse victims’ agonizing sobs. They weren’t in any physical danger, but they believed they could not go on living. Was I compassionate? Yes, of course. But I did not absorb their pain. It’s not healthy or productive for me to do so. That’s Jesus’ job.

Whose pain have you taken on that doesn’t belong to you?

Not My Calling

From my 2013 Journal.

I sat ho-humming through yet another yearly “revival” sermon on The Great Commission (Go/going, baptize, make disciples) ending with the usual admonishment that every believer was required to “go and do thou likewise,” when I stopped to take notice of the text. Were this Baptist preacher’s carefully crafted words meant to be taken literally? Though he’d be delighted if I witnessed to my neighbor, I’m sure his face would turn ashen if I, as a woman, volunteered to baptize a convert!

And how would he handle I Corinthians 1:17 where the Apostle Paul says, “God did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel”? Would this preacher berate Paul for not following orders? Or the Apostles who declared, God has called us to preach, not to wait on tables? Can you tell I was feeling triggered!

God has called me to something specific, and if I focus on that, I will fulfill His great commission for my life. Why do I keep questioning this? Because of the voices from outside. As I sat quietly listening to God’s voice, I sensed Him saying, “Read the rest of the passage.”

. . . as the Lord has assigned to each his task. (I Cor.3:5-9)

I have an assigned task. I can quit worrying about whether I should be doing other tasks. Just do the one God assigned me to!

Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. (I Cor. 7:17)

This verse refers to our position at the time of conversion:  whether slave/free, circumcised/uncircumcised. But the wording implies that God is the One Who places us in our position. I want to be faithful and content in the place God has assigned me and, call me a heretic, but I don’t think that includes a literal fulfilment of the three parts of The Great Commission.