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Friday, April 29, 2016

And Breathe, Just Breathe

Today we went to Hamra & walked along the sidewalk. I smiled inside. This was where we used to come 20 years ago and we'd rollerblade while Michael rode his bike. There were no vivid flashbacks but I was content.

I'm finding that there are many experiences in my life where God brings me back to places I was before. Often, it is to help heal a sad memory associated with that place. Each time I find myself in one of those places, I marvel at how well God knows my heart and His kindness in giving me a second opportunity to find joy.

There aren't as many memories as I thought there would be. I'd expected a flood of them to appear once I returned to this country but the flashbacks are often based on a photo or a video clip. Sensory flashbacks still occur, most often connected to smell, but they are fleeting and by the time I can lock into them, they've disappeared. Interestingly, some of them are now attaching themselves to America, which I hadn't predicted.

I'm creating new memories now. The old ones may remain buried for all time or perhaps they're no longer there. But now I can laugh and smile and breathe in deep for this time. This memory.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Know When To Fold 'em

We were visiting a nearby campus and as we walked from the cafeteria back to the hall where we were spending the day observing a competition, my 19-year old friend began to sing, you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. I finished the phrase, know when to walk away, know when to run. Then I laughed and asked him how he knew the song. It's one I used to listen to more than 20 years ago, on a cassette tape of country songs my cousin in England had recorded for us.

Prince, a popular music icon, died this week. I didn't take much notice of it, as celebrities often die early due to overuse of drugs and other tragic things, but yesterday I decided to write a short Facebook post about it. I thought it ironic that the world was mourning this man who admitted himself that his music was raunchy and yet the world mocks or ignores the Prince of all princes. Within minutes, my post was being criticized by both Adventists and non-Adventists alike.

The ones who disagreed with the post felt that Prince had made a significant contribution to society and had united people, done significant charity work, and touched or even changed their lives. They believed that how Prince had changed their life had not affected their relationship with God and that the world could not revolve around one thing. They made snarky remarks, saying that he had converted from one fundamentalist religion (SDA) to another (JW). They felt that the post was a discredit to God or insinuated that the post was similar to another made by an Adventist when Robin Williams died.

I hate conflict and I have an equally strong sense of justice. I think everyone missed the point of the post. It was not my intent to say we shouldn't mourn people who die; it was my intent to remind those who read it that what is more important than making a big deal about someone who was a poor influence on society is that we realize there are thousands dying every day who don't know the Prince of all princes--Jesus.

As I replied to comments, I did so trying to find points of agreement but at the same time I found my inner sense of justice becoming riled up. Why is it that we have to be super sensitive to non-Christians so we don't offend them but when we have our opinions, they are allowed to demean us and they get offended if we try to defend the truth?

I am not familiar enough with Prince's music to identify themes and analyze whether his music upheld moral values or not, though it sounds like he led a conflicted life when I read the various reports from CNN, Washington Post, and others. I will be transparent and say yes, I listen to secular artists and I sing along to country or pop music. But when they die, am I going to dress up like them and take to the streets to mournfully sing their songs? No.

Perhaps the post reached the wrong audience. Perhaps those who read the post reacted because their values are different than mine. Perhaps asking why we aren't mourning the thousands who don't know Jesus made them too uncomfortable. It is easier to criticize than to take action. I know. I've done it many times.

I am also an analytical person who tries to learn from others' opinions. I sense when something clashes with my values, which was clearly so when people reacted to the post, and then I struggle with understanding whether I am correct in my conclusion or not. I think so, but I also think that we should all agree. This isn't realistic, though, because everyone has different opinions and values.

When do we defend Jesus? When are we simply to remain silent? Jesus said if those who were created to praise Him were to remain silent, the rocks would cry out in praise. He also said we should turn the other cheek. Sometimes it's difficult to reconcile Biblical principles with real life. I have not been blessed with the ability to reply in a way that challenges people to think or softly persuades them. I speak the truth as I understand it and then I confidently hold on to it.

Yet, there is always the nagging doubt. When I was enrolled in graduate studies, I had several mentors who encouraged me to speak and acknowledged my voice. I've lost that support system and now I'm back to questioning whether what I'm saying is right or whether I'm pushing others further away from Jesus by being bold. I don't want to be someone who is a stumbling block but I also don't want to be someone who was ashamed of her faith. Where is the balance?

Am I a Peter who boldly cut off someone's ear in defense of Jesus? Am I maiming others and damaging their fragile faith with a few words that were better left unsaid? Or am I a Peter who refused to acknowledge Jesus in the courtyard? Am I pretending I don't know what He really stands for because I'm afraid of offending someone and ruining any chances to be a silent witness?

Time is running out. Perhaps these small experiences are strengthening my faith and belief in God so that one day, when someone accuses me of knowing Jesus, I can say without a doubt that yes, I do and I believe in Him. I'm not afraid to answer for my faith. I'm just upset that others don't have a desire to share God's plan of salvation.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

For Such a Time

Have you deliberately committed your will to Jesus Christ? It is a transaction of will, not of emotion; the emotion is simply the gilt-edge of the transaction. If you allow emotion first, you will never make the transaction. April 17, My Utmost for His Highest

There are areas in our lives that we struggle with. Some are socially acceptable, for example eating too much, while others clearly separate us from God, such as drinking alcohol. As I read the section in my devotional today, these sentences stopped my scanning eye. I re-read it and began to think about its implications.

I believe in good and evil. I believe there are only two beings fighting for my allegiance; Satan and Jesus. I believe that Jesus does not force my free will to choose Him but that He does all within His power to make it possible for me to choose Him. I believe Satan works as hard as he can to force my will into choosing him and makes my life as miserable as he is allowed to. 

Yet I think I was missing one belief. To not choose Jesus is to choose Satan. It's a simple formula but I don't think we realize it very often. Do you remember, as a kid, being able to choose which lollipop or which ice lolly flavour you wanted? Were you ever stuck with an uninteresting flavour because you couldn't decide?

I remember going to summer camp in Wales when I was just 9 years old. I went with my triplet cousins and their older brother and we had a wonderful time singing songs, eating fun foods, watching Puff the Magic Dragon, and sleeping under the stars. We'd go down to the beach every other day and I'd line up with the other kids to spend my pennies on an ice cream cone. The only problem was, by the time I got to the front of the line, the strawberry flavour was gone and I had to be content with vanilla.

As adults, we are given freedom to choose Jesus or Satan. By default, if we don't choose Jesus then we are choosing Satan. That is a frightening thought if you think about it. When we deliberately choose to do something that we know Jesus wouldn't approve of, we are deliberately choosing Satan's rule in our lives. Satan doesn't give up his subjects easily which makes it even more terrifying.

There is hope, though. I can choose to hand my will to Jesus and let Him fight my battles. It is not an emotional decision, as Oswald Chambers points out, but it is an intellectual decision. It is a decision based on logic that understands the implications of the choice. When I choose Jesus, when I surrender my right to choose to Him, I know with certainty that He will direct my life towards hope and a bright future (Jeremiah 29).

The next time I'm facing an oversized temptation, I want to step away, hand my will to Jesus, and say Here is my heart; here are my desires. Take them, change them, and use me to honour You in this situation. I am confident He will hear me and He will answer. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Mirage of a TCK's Homes

I'm homesick. I thought that only came the first week or two, or maybe in the first month. Surely not now, after I have settled into life and its routine, have friends, memories already placed in pockets of time.

The other day while we were huffing and puffing our way up the hill, I breathed in deep and I smelled yesterday. I knew sensory memories are the strongest but for me, it has always been attached to smell. If I smell, I am there. It was simple, just something evocative of summer, but I was startled because I thought that smell was attached to a different country.

Then yesterday I breathed in deep and I remembered California. That startled me even more. I hadn't planned to miss that home. All the others, yes, I'd grieved those countless times over to the point that I carried my grief as an identity, always ready to lash out at those who didn't understand even while I struggled to put words to my experience that went much deeper than pain. But this home? The one I'd refused to add to my identity intellectually, even as I wore flag t-shirts with blue jeans and sandals, sang I'm proud to be an American while the missing man formation flew overhead at the state airshow, perfected the slur of accent, and fooled best friends into thinking I was one of them. I was the ultimate banana of TCKs. Yet all the time, I wanted to go home. The other homes.

This has been my battle for the past years. What is my identity? Friends choose to settle into life, raising children, earning enough for a comfortable life, going on short-term mission trips, and giving generously to the work when appeals are given. Then there are friends who've sold anything that can tie them down, packed up their lives into two suitcases each, and taken the next flight to a remote life filled with inconveniences, counting it all worth it to share Jesus with those who've never heard of Him. They have no plan for the future because they are preparing to die where they now serve. And then there's me. Stuck in the middle.

I am not ready to go to a remote country. I don't know how to, I don't have a calling, I don't have skills. I've always felt a desire to help, though, which is my struggle. I want to settle down, have the 2 kids and a house, the stability of knowing life won't change abruptly. The past 17 years were in one physical place but it wasn't until 5 years ago that I had some reassurance that I wouldn't have to uproot my life without notice to battle it out in yet another foreign land.

And now I'm here. In a remote country, without a president, far from family, frustrated because of how life has to move us on and the ones I hold dearest are too far for me to touch and sit close to. I miss them. I miss home. Not the one I sought by coming here. Here I am content but there are no longer living memories. The ones from years past are slowly fading into an obscure haze and I know now I don't need to go back in time to find me. Who I am today has been shaped by who I was then but it is now becoming shaped by my choices instead of passively letting life happen without a choice.

I had a dream once. 17 years ago, I dreamt of returning home, laughing and living the adventurous life with those I loved. I'd had a full life and I spent 17 years dreaming of that life to be restored. Then I returned. My dream has slowly dissipated as I realize that growing up means life changes and so do we. My dream now? It's to find my place of identity. It may be with a person, in a ministry, or a country. I hope it is through connection because that is where I thrive.

Today the tears are close without mercy. If I can manage to smile through them til tomorrow, perhaps it will get easier. I've made it through two months now. Yes, the future after the next 10 months is uncertain and that worries me. But for now, I can only handle learning to trust that God understands my sad heart and is reaching out to hold me, even though I can't feel Him.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Righteous Person

I started reading Luke and in the very first chapter, something startled me. It says that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. (Luke 1:6) Before I look further into that, however, I want to set the scene.

I imagine Luke was sitting in his room, quill pen (or whatever they used!) in hand, pensively looking out the window. Then he begins to write. Dear Theophilus, here is my eye-witness account that describes as accurately as possible the truth of prophecy being fulfilled. And then he begins at the very beginning. Luke is the only gospel writer who mentions the birth of John the Baptist. Jesus' cousin was born before Jesus, so Luke added this important chronological event right at the beginning of his epistle.

The king was the same: King Herod. John the Baptist's father was a priest belonging to the order of Abijah (Luke 1:5). I did a little research and from what I can tell, Abijah was a descendant of Eleazar or Ithamar and the eighth lot of temple tasks was assigned to him and his family (1 Chronicles 24:10). While there is another mention of a priestly Abijah in Nehemiah 10:7, I believe that Zechariah would have traced his lineage to Aaron's son. To belong to a priestly order is more significant than to be the son of a priest (which there were many). Elizabeth was also one of Aaron's descendants. We can assume she was also a descendant of Eleazar or Ithamar since Nadab and Abihu had no sons before they died for desecrating the temple (1 Chronicles 24:2). I wonder if they had daughters?

Both of John the Baptist's parents were from the priestly line and his father was serving as a priest. I don't know if there was the option not to be priest, but it's interesting to consider that Elizabeth had descended from the priestly line also. John the Baptist, then, was a priest by birth or heritage. I never realized that before. He served as a prophet but his identity was defined by the priesthood!

Let me return to my original thought. There are several references in the Bible to righteous people. Noah was righteous and blameless (Genesis 6:9), Abraham was righteous because of his faith (Genesis 15:6), and Abel was righteous because of his faith (Hebrews 11:4). Daniel and Job were described as righteous (Ezekiel 14:14). Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest and Aaron's grandson (not to be confused with Phinehas the son of Eli), stopped a great plague against the Israelites by obeying God's command to kill the Baal worshipers among them (Numbers 25). Interestingly, righteousness is linked with kindness (Psalm 145:17), justice (Proverbs 8:20) faithfulness (Isaiah 26:2), and peace (Isaiah 48:18), among others.

Now we know that nobody is perfect because we are all sinners--this is a Biblical premise. However, to be righteous is to have strong morals that guide your actions. Noah got drunk and Abraham lied about his wife being his full sister so while they were generally guided by high morals, there were lapses in judgement. However, reading this verse in Luke was very encouraging to me. It gave me hope that it is possible to be considered righteous in God's eyes.

I think Satan works hard to keep us discouraged when we think of trying to become good people and honour God in all we're doing. I also think that the only way to combat this is to develop a relationship with God that will guide us into right actions. Daniel, Abel, Job, and Phinehas don't have records of wrong-doing. I know the first three were close to God; I'm not as familiar with Phinehas' story or if there is enough detail in the Bible to learn about him.

Imagine this. Elizabeth was a descendant of the priestly order of Aaron. I like to think she was kind, faithful, peaceful, and had a strong sense of justice. I imagine she was sad they couldn't have children since that was a means of status in that culture. But she didn't become bitter. Instead she followed all the commandments and regulations of God which was an outward evidence of a blameless life that I like to think was rooted in a heart dedicated to God.

To be righteous, we have to look to God. Isaiah 45:24 says that we must acknowledge that God is our source of all our righteousness. Isaiah 64:6 says that what we perceive as righteous deeds are worthless, they are like dirty rags. Rags are used for cleaning and if they are dirty, they have no value or use. Interestingly, if we obey God's commands, then we are considered righteous (Deuteronomy 6:25). There seems to be a paradox here, but I think not. If I do something to be righteous, or to earn merit, then my deeds are worthless. If I obey what God has told me to do because of my relationship with Him and because I want to honour Him in all that I'm doing, then He imputes righteousness to me. Righteousness is a result of faith in God (Romans 4). The deeds naturally follow.

You could simplify it even further. Faith in God = Righteousness. So Elizabeth must have had a strong faith in God as did Zechariah. Though we shall see later in the chapter, Zechariah, the righteous man who had faith in God, doubted the angel who prophesied John the Baptist's birth. But that is for another time.

Friday, April 1, 2016

When God Beckons

Tonight I was tired. I'd been sick all week with a head cold, the second I've managed to catch since I came here, and not taking time to rest properly meant it was dragging out. Supper in the cafeteria was sub-par and there was a fly sitting on the lettuce which made me wonder where else it had landed. My room needed to be cleaned and organized which I hadn't done (again, because I was sick). For a moment, I thought of skipping vespers and staying in my room to scroll through Facebook, write to my family, and then go to bed, but in the next moment I knew I couldn't. If I skipped tonight, then I would skip next week and soon it would become a regular habit. To make it even more difficult, the theme was prayer.

Those who know me understand my phobia of public prayer. I spent 17 years at a self-supporting institution where unfortunately select people in administration or students misapplied public prayer. It became a lengthy time of personal confession, time to gossip about people who need our prayers, or something expected as an all-night vigil. I have no patience for the prayers of the Pharisees and sadly, there were many of those. I do not want to negate the sincere prayers; I am simply presenting a fact that has influenced my hesitation to participate in public prayer. However, I knew I needed to go to vespers so off I went.

It is never a poor decision to spend time with God; a lesson I learned again this evening. As I allowed the Holy Spirit's presence, the fellowship of friends and students, and the reflective mood to permeate my consciousness, I sensed a peace and contentment in my heart. We prayed for a neighbour, we prayed for family who didn't know God, we prayed for the students, and we prayed for the Holy Spirit. Each time we changed subject, we also found new prayer partners which made it nice because we could pray with several people. Prayers were kept short and we sang praise songs inbetween that were relevant to the theme of who we'd just prayed for.

I prayed for the young lady who served me at the fruit cocktail shop down the hill. I prayed for the lights I see at night, each one of the myriad representing an individual or a family precious to God. I prayed for the seven students in my class and I prayed for the Holy Spirit's comfort to be close when we are lonely or sad. And as I prayed with different people, I began to realize that public prayer has a purpose and a place.

Public prayer is not intended to humiliate or shame someone. It is not necessary to pray loud and long, as if to impress others with the eloquence of words. The moderator this evening said, it is not necessary to create a shopping list of prayer requests. Public prayer, rather, is intended to unite those who are praying. I love to listen when I'm in a room full of people praying and marvel at how many prayers are earnestly ascending to heaven right at that moment. When we pray together for something or someone, it is as if we are mentally pulling the burden together. We exert more effort and support each other in affirming the prayer before God.

Public prayer is also designed to remind us that we are not alone in our prayers. I pray to God and I pray often. Whether before I eat, when I'm frustrated or lonely, or if I'm thankful, I'm sharing my heart with God through silent prayer. To pray with someone, though, is a gift because it shows me that others are praying too. You may not know I'm praying if it's silent, but when we speak our requests, they become reality in a more tangible form. This encourages me as I hear someone else praying for my request as I pray for theirs.

Finally, public prayer helps direct us to a solemnity before God. When one person prays up front, it is easy to get distracted by your cell phone, the wiggly kid in front of you, or the fact that 7 minutes into the prayer your knees are starting to ache. Praying together out loud requires concentration and being present in the act of prayer. It is participatory rather than something you observe.

As I listen to the other person's prayers, I also develop a deeper understanding of how to pray and the seriousness of prayer. Simple short prayers, such as God, please bless this food, have meaning but their impact may be less than a heartfelt prayer that invites or pleads with God for wisdom and guidance. As a teenager, I had my standard phrases down pat so that when I was called upon to pray, which was often because I was the pastor's kid, I could rattle off a beautifully-sounding prayer without much thought. Now, as an adult, participating in public prayer helps me develop a richer prayer life as I observe someone else praying in sincerity.

When God calls, whether it is to vespers, public prayer, or another occasion to spend time with Him, it is never a mistake to say yes. I am thankful I went to vespers tonight and I am thankful that the theme was public prayer. I want to become more intentional about praying in a way that encourages spiritual growth and tonight was a wonderful opportunity to do so.