Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm Not Political, But ...

I just want to say how much I appreciated the coverage of God’s Warriors on CNN last week. Did you catch it? If not, find someone with TiVo who can tape it for you. It’s long, but it’s well done and it has a lot to say about how religion is shaping the politics of our world.

I’m always amazed at how much there is to learn when it comes to people and ideas we think we already know about -- including our own. I’m not sure I was all that surprised, but I did have to laugh when the guy I related to the most on the Christian segment was someone Christiane Amanpour referred to as The Heretic!

But mainly I was encouraged to hear him articulating things I’ve been thinking and talking about in the past few years. I’m looking forward to reading his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church.

(The kids have been sick with a stomach bug, so my post in response The Heavenly Man will have to wait a little while longer before it gets out of my head and onto this blog.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

O Africa!

Mma Potokwani drew a deep breath. “I am always happy when I am in the bush,” she said. “I think everybody is.”

“I certainly am,” said Mma Ramotswe. “I live in a town, but I do not think my heart lives there.”

“Our stomachs live in towns,” said Mma Potokwani, patting the front of her dress. “That is where the work is. Our stomachs know that. But our hearts are usually somewhere else.”

From The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Representing God

I’ve been meaning to post more of my thoughts about Brother Yun’s experiences in The Heavenly Man, but before I get to that I’ve just got to ask:

Has anyone else been counting down the days to CNN’s God’s Warriors report by Christiane Amanpour? Here in England it starts tonight at 7pm -- I’m not sure what time it’s airing where you are. (For an overview of the program, click on the link above and then select “God’s Warriors Show Trailer” under “Behind the Scenes”.)

As a woman who identifies herself as being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ more than a follower of the Christian religion, I’m interested in this report on several levels:

➢ All three religions believe in One God.
➢ All three religions trace their beginnings to Abraham.
➢ All three religions believe that God has clearly communicated His expectations for human behavior.
➢ All three religions believe that, having rejected God’s commands, society is a mess on a global scale.
➢ All three religions believe that, living in submission to God’s commands, they are His favored ones.
➢ All three religions believe that they have God’s solution for bringing peace and propriety to a world gone mad.
➢ All three religions believe that they are working out their salvation with fear and trembling as God works in them to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).

I’m particularly interested in how those who sincerely believe that they are God’s people have managed to alienate one another to the extent that we have. It seems to me that the world would be a lot less scary if we worked together rather than against one another!

In my opinion, here’s a small but significant way that we as women can start: Christian women who value modesty and desire to cultivate inner beauty (think Proverbs 31) have much in common with Muslim women who wear the hijab. By reaching out to one another, befriending one another, finding ways to serve one another, inviting one another into our lives and homes, gracefully giving to and receiving from one another, we’ll not only find a great sisterhood but we’ll also challenge those around us (and even ourselves) to rethink the stereotypes assumed in the name of religion.

I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to friendships with international women (and they to me) is that we share the traditional values of faith and family, modesty and kindness, moral and social responsibility. I’ve found that I have a lot more to talk about with believing women of other cultures/religions than I do with unbelieving women from my own culture. To be honest, it’s probably a bit of selfishness on my part that causes me to seek these friendships -- they’re deeply fulfilling and mutually supportive.

But it’s also a chance for me to share the love and light, peace and joy, hope and grace that I have because of the difference Jesus has made in me. This is my way of representing God, of living out His purpose for me as I understand it. And isn’t that what it means to be an ambassador for Him?

* * * * * * *
Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand -- shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 The Message)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Mother-in-Law Has a Little Saying Above Her Kitchen Sink

"Mothers hold their children's hands for a while but their hearts forever."

Sophie has been climbing UP the stairs for months, and now she's learned to come DOWN all by herself. For her, this means freedom -- she can go anywhere in the house at any time she chooses. For me, this means freedom of a different sort -- my daughter no longer “needs” me in the same way that she has until now. Sure, I’m the one who encouraged her to push past her fears and go for it (on her belly, feet first), but I’m also the one who aches at letting go of that part of our mother-child relationship.

Jack is even further down the road to self-sufficiency. He can get dressed/undressed by himself. He can use the bathroom by himself. He can wash his hands, brush his teeth and put on his shoes all by himself. Man, it still catches me by surprise when we’re on our way out the door to go somewhere and I realize that all I’ve had to do for him is tame that wild hair.

So to console my sentimental heart and help myself come to grips with their increasing independence, I’ve spent the afternoon updating Jack and Sophie's baby books.

Monday, August 20, 2007

He Has His Father's Sense of Humor

"Good night, Mommy. I hope you have sweet dreams... And I hope you have a funny dream!"

Monday, August 13, 2007

What Goes Up Must Come Down… Somehow

I like to think I’m a fairly intelligent person, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how prayer works. I only know that, somehow, God always hears and always answers prayer. And, often, He does so in ways we hadn’t dared to hope. This post is dedicated to our praying friends around the world who constantly lift up our needs in prayer and to our Heavenly Father who loves giving good gifts to His children.

Last week I sent out a prayer request. Jack, Sophie and I were flying to Turkey to meet Matt. He had been on a 9-day assignment in the southern part of the country and was meeting us in Istanbul. Together we were looking forward to several days in one of our favorite cities with some of our favorite colleagues.

I asked for:
• safe and “uneventful” travel
• content kids within the confinement of two seats on a 4-hour flight with no movies
• a short visa line at the Istanbul airport

God answered:
... With a frank, natural discussion about spiritual things with John, our faithful taxi driver, while he navigated heavy morning traffic on the way to the airport. Somehow we managed to touch on life after death, works vs. grace, religion vs. relationship, Good vs. evil in the world and trying to control our lives vs. Trust and Obey. I had amazing opportunities to speak Truth into his life, and when we pulled up at Departures, John said, “This has been a great way to start my day.” Exhiliarating!

... With a BA employee who approached me within 60 seconds of our joining the check-in line and escorted the three of us around the corner to Premium Check-In. (If you’ve ever been part of the chaos that is Terminal 1 Departures, you may understand what a blessing this was!) Somehow, less than ten minutes later, we were headed toward Security... But the line for Security was really long, and I had to go to the bathroom. I opted to find a bathroom in the check-in area rather than waiting in that line first. When we came out of the bathroom, the Security line had somehow dwindled to a handful of people.

... With an empty arm of the terminal where Jack and Sophie could run and play freely and I could sit and watch them, worry-free, until it was time to go. Somehow the woman who checked us in told me where we needed to be, even though the gate for our flight wasn’t announced until 20 minutes before our scheduled departure. It couldn’t have been more perfect!

... With three seats (instead of two!) in the bulkhead middle section of the airplane. In spite of the flight being full, somehow we had extra room for the kids to spread out, get up and down from their seats (without bothering anyone in front of us), get extra attention from the flight attendants, etc.

... With kids’ travel packs from the airline. Among other things, Sophie’s contained a small box of four crayons. Somehow she spent the better part of an hour taking them out of the box and putting them back in again. (No kidding!)

... With an in-flight movie! Not that we watched it, but it was there and we had been told it wouldn’t be. (I could hear God saying, “See? See what I can do? Amazingly, abundantly more than you could ask or imagine!”)

... With a visa line about four people deep. (This is unheard of in the Istanbul airport!) Somehow we got our visas and were on to Passport Control in less than five minutes... And as soon as we got in that line, about 12 people from the front, airport employees came behind us to latch the ropes so that everyone else would have to snake around instead of walking straight up to the front as we had done. I turned to look back and saw an enormous crowd of people heading our way. Three or four flights must have landed all at once, but somehow we sailed right on through ahead of everyone.

So a huge THANK YOU to everyone who prayed for us on Thursday! The entire experience was blessed from start to finish. We've had a tremendous weekend here in Istanbul, full of further blessings, many more than I can describe. All four of us travel back to England tomorrow, and I can't wait to see how God will answer prayer for our trip home. Somehow!

* * * * * * *
God can do anything, you know -- far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Ephesians 3:20 The Message)

I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! (Malachi 3:10 NLT)

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16 NLT)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Feels Like Home

The sun is setting, and the kids are asleep after a perfectly glorious day.

In the morning we went to a park about 30 minutes away. Lakes, sailboats, swans/geese/ducks, lots of grass and trees and an amazing playground! But the best part was going there to meet up with three of Jack’s friends from school. They’ve only been on summer break for two weeks, but the boys were delighted with one another’s company, and it was sweet to watch them running, playing and talking to one another like old friends. And I had time to talk with their mums!

Then in the afternoon we had a nice, long visit with our Asian neighbors. Starting at our house and ending up at theirs, we talked about everything from gardens to chickens, children to church, curries to Baby Einstein -- it was all I could do to tear ourselves away to get Jack and Sophie home for supper/bath/bedtime.

A year ago we didn’t know anyone!

God answers prayer.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Hard Part of Saying Yes

For some reason, Jack has never liked Veggie Tales. (Or, I should say, not as much as I do.) But while we were away last week, one morning when it was really raining we put on the Veggie Tales JONAH movie my mom had given him at Christmas. And, voilĂ ! Now he’s a huge fan. I guess it just took the retelling of a favorite Bible story to help him past the confusion of talking vegetables.

Ever since he was a baby, I’ve sung songs to Jack, and as soon as he was able to talk he started to ask for songs by name. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was the Star Song; the Alphabet was the ABC Song; Old MacDonald Had a Farm was the Farm Song, etc. I guess he thought there were songs about everything because he would ask me to sing about random things -- whatever he was thinking about or looking at right at that particular moment. It was the winter Sophie was born, and we were staying in a furnished apartment in Virginia. On the wall in Jack’s room was a print of a painting with lots of different creatures under the sea. So one night at bedtime he asked, “Mommy, sing me the Whale Song.”

The only thing I could think to sing about was Jonah and the whale! What to do? I had to make up a song that told the whole story. He asked for it again the next night and the next night and the next, and now it’s among the standard line-up of night-night songs at our house.

At the moment Jack’s at that stage of asking “Why?” about seemingly everything under the sun, so in answer to his questions about the meaning of the words in the Whale Song, we’ve ended up talking several times about how God asks us to do things for Him and about our choice to either say No, as Jonah did at first, or Yes, as he did after he had time in the belly of a whale to rethink his decision. We’ve talked about the fact that our willingness (or not) to obey God affects not only us but other people as well. And about how important it is to always say Yes, no matter what God asks us to do or where He asks us to go. Until now I’ve tried to leave it at that. I figured that explanation of Trust and Obey was heavy enough for a four year-old!

But over the weekend, our friend who lives in Afghanistan was here, and Jack fell in love with her all over again (which is really sweet because she was a favorite when he was little, but he can’t remember that). When it came time for her to leave, Jack got really quiet. He came up to me, put his head down and said softly, “Why does she have to go away?” Poor guy. We’ve had lots of people coming and going in the last year (London is on the way to everywhere!), as well as all the hellos/good-byes with our beloved families, and now Jack is starting to be able to articulate how he feels about it.

So I got down on my knees, held him in my arms and said, “Do you remember our talks about how important it is to say Yes to God? Saying Yes is always, always, always the best thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes it means we have to live far away from people that we love. When God asked (this friend) to go to Afghanistan, she said Yes. Right now we feel sad because she’s leaving us. We wish she could stay right here, but if she did that she wouldn’t be obeying God. And the people in Afghanistan wouldn’t have the blessing of having her there among them. We can pray for her while she’s gone, and we’ll look forward to seeing her again next time. But it hurts our hearts to see her go away. This is the hard part of saying Yes.”

I think I said this without crying, which is itself a minor miracle because the pain of being separated from loved ones due to following God is one of my biggest pet peeves with Him. (In addition to all the other times I've moaned on this very blog about this very thing, today is the birthday of my dearest friend from Asbury College. When I called the Bahamas and heard her voice on the other end of the line, I was suddenly both ecstatic to talk with her and devastated that we haven’t been living next door to one another every single day of the past 18 years. To think that she has only seen my children in pictures! I hate it!)

But then I picked up a book I recently borrowed from some friends at church. (We have a wonderful county library system here, but there aren’t many Christian titles.) Several friends in Cyprus had recommended it a few years ago -- it’s called The Heavenly Man. As I began to read the true story of Brother Yun’s persecution for the Name of Jesus in China, I realized that I haven’t even begun to understand how hard saying Yes to God can be!

I’m not sure at what point Jack’s questions will address the expected reality of suffering for our faith, but when they do I pray the Holy Spirit will give me wisdom in how I answer. Right now I need to get back to reading this book. I have a feeling I’ll have more to say tomorrow!

* * * * * * *
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (Jonah 2:8 NIV)

To obey is better than sacrifice. (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Elijah Update (July 31)

For new readers to this blog, the following update is about a strong and brave little guy named Elijah, born February 6, 2007. His mom and I worked together at Rift Valley Academy in 1996-1999. Elijah has Hemophilia B, but more importantly, he has a worldwide prayer support team! Since my initial post about Elijah and his mom's initial update the very next day, posting updates from Elijah's parents on this blog is a small way I can give support from far away and generate much-needed prayer for Elijah's continued growth and healing. So please, join the praying!

Dear Elijah Warriors,

We wanted to start out our email to you with a reminder. Just three months ago our doctors were up against a wall. Just three months ago we were in the midst of a battle for Elijah's life. Last week Elijah went to see his Pediatric Surgeon, the one who was very worried and sad just three months ago. At first he cried when he heard her voice, but once he realized she was not going to do anything, he listened intently to her instructions and smiled. We are excited to start weaning Elijah off of his meds and his special formula. We have a three week plan, and so far Elijah is handling it well. Peas and green beans have been attempted, and I think that green beans must be better. :) Rejoice with us in the improvement in Elijah and his wonderful doctors visits.

Every night we line up all of his medicines for the night, make his formula with all the additions and get things in order for the night and next day. Pray with us that Elijah is able to come off of all these meds and special formula creations.

We are so sorry that we've taken so long to get back with everyone. We've had many people write us in "Elijah Withdrawal" wondering what is happening in his life. Our time at home has been great. He continues to get stronger and build up his muscle control. He is eating very well and gaining weight. Our neurosurgeon was very happy with the way Elijah's brain hemorrhage is healing and does not need to see him again for several months.

On the 4th of July when others were celebrating the freedoms we have in our nation, Joel and I were learning how to give Elijah his infusions. A nurse came to Ness City from the company we get our Factor IX from, and she gave us our lessons. We practiced on her and then practiced on each other. She kept telling us that we're going to be great giving Elijah his infusions. Confidence! That is exactly what we need! We felt 100% better after the meeting with her and our County Health Nurse. God keeps putting people into our path who share our faith and know the only way to explain Elijah being alive is the Power of God. What a blessing.

Judy's mom, dad, sister, niece and nephew drove all the way from the east coast to spend some time with us. Elijah had so much fun laughing and smiling at his cousins and his Mimi and Pop-Pop. It was a great week, but it went by too quickly for us. We also had visits from one of Judy's dorm girls and her family and some RVA staff members, Steve and Nancy Peiffer and family. Steve said that back in March when we asked for people to pray that God would take Elijah quickly and without much pain, he felt he could not pray that for us. He prayed that God would allow him to meet Elijah one day. There were tears as they looked at him and realized this was an answer to that prayer. They got to see Elijah.

During our journey there have been times that we have wanted to "get out". We no longer wanted to be a part of this "story". It has been wearing, tiring and just plain overwhelming. And we didn't know why God wasn't more visible to us.

Once again I'm reminded of a portion of CS Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian. The four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) have been called back to Narnia They've been traveling all day finding their own path, and they are just worn out. They don’t know how to get where they are going, they don’t know what they will find when they get there and they don’t understand why Aslan hasn’t appeared yet. At this point of the story only Lucy has seen Aslan, and the others don’t believe her. Finally Susan is the last to see Aslan, and this is where we pick up the story.

“Lucy,” said Susan in a very small voice.
“Yes!” said Lucy.
“I see him how. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right.”
“But I’ve been far worse than you know. I really believed it was him – he, I mean – yesterday. When he warned us not to go down to the fir wood. And I really believed it was him tonight, when you woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I’d let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and – Oh, I don’t know. And what ever am I going to say to him?”

Judy and I wanted to be out of the “woods” so badly, and we wanted to see God, not just believe He was present. But you know what? God was present. He was with Judy, Elijah and me all the way during this six month journey. Even people who weren’t interested in looking for God were able to see His hand in Elijah’s life.

When the children were willing to follow Lucy and Aslan (who they couldn’t see), Aslan led the children to safety. When we, Judy and I and everyone else reading this e-mail, are willing to follow God, He will lead us through our journey in life. We don’t know where He will lead us and we aren’t assured that the journey will be easy, but we know He is with us, and at the end of the journey we will still be with God.

We are so thankful that God is allowing us to continue our journey with Elijah. We pray that the journey will be a long one, and we pray that the rest of the journey will be easier than the last six months have been. But with God leading, we will accept whatever He leads us through. And we pray that God will give us the strength to accept everything with thanksgiving and joy.

In Christ,
Joel, Judy and Elijah